[Graphic design by Sadie Burrows]
The 2010s are almost over, and we’re already inundated with decade wrap-ups that attempt to convey what this era meant for everything from movies to politics to, well, anything that gets people riled up on Twitter because that’s how you garner the most clicks. In an age where even the most successful music publications periodically lay off employees because not that many people really read album reviews, lists can feel cheap because with every ranking, there are harsh opinions and strict, often-unexplained aesthetic ideologies binding it all together. In other words, lists inherently inspire people to get in on the action, whether to agree or disagree — would you get people to care about music criticism if you take away the ranking aspect?
Still, I do believe lists like these are necessary, and that the absence of them would be worse than the clickbait overuse of them we so often see. The role of canonization in art is essential to understanding and reflecting our biases, influences, and opinions, and there’s no better way to efficiently convey that than a good ol’ list. To rank 250 albums from the last 10 years is to inevitably take a stance on every piece of recorded music for an entire decade; for every album included here, there are thousands that aren’t, and for each one of those, there are hundreds of people that feel like it should be included. The more music you listen to, the more you realize how seemingly infinite the possibilities are when it comes to selecting what the best music of an era is. There’s a hubris to picking 250 albums and ranking them while knowing there are so many albums that (1) I have not listened to, (2) I listened to once on a bad day, or (3) I know are beloved and absolutely refuse to buy in. To keep my hubris in check, I asked each contributor to list some albums not on the list as a honorable mentions feature. They are sprinkled throughout the list. I appreciate all the work each contributor put into this project.
Contributors: Cheyenne Bilderback, Jordan Blum, Nina Braca, Sadie Burrows, Virginia Croft, Mackenzie Cummings-Grady, Happy Haugen, Mia Hughes, Justin Kamp, Caitlin Kelley, Brody Kenny, Chanell Noise, Drew Pearce, Leslie Richin, Erica Russell, Clay Sauertieg, Jibril Yassin
There’s still a month left in the decade, so if any album comes out between now and then that belongs, I’ll edit it in.
Thank you for reading! Comment with your faves of the decade below! A songs list is coming soon..
250. Disasterpeace – FEZ (2012)
It’s the end of the 2010s, and music criticism still has not embraced the obvious allure and ubiquitous nature of video game soundtracks. Sure, FACT put out a list of the 100 greatest video game soundtracks, and Pitchfork reviewed Ocarina of Time, but not much love is given to a field of music where experimentation, progressive electronic, and ambient are secretly thriving. So let this spot be a stand-in for you to seek out some video game soundtracks and recognize how this is a foundational music experience for video game lovers everywhere.
I’d like to shine a light on this soundtrack I discovered recently from Disasterpeace, whom you may know from soundtracking the horror film It Follows. The FEZ soundtrack almost plays it safe in its obvious 8-bit stereotypes, but at nearly 80 minutes and dense, consistent pace, it almost acts as a totem for the history of the chiptune genre. Disasterpeace heavily leans on nostalgia and playful melancholy here and having never played the puzzle-filled indie game, I envision myself with glazed eyes at 2 AM being carried off into sleep by its warm synths. — Andrew Cox
249. Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow (2011)
2011’s 50 Words for Snow isn’t Bush’s best, but it nonetheless demonstrates how well she’s upheld her wide-ranging genius over the years. In keeping with its icy theme, the songs are comparably bare and fragile, with starter “Snowflake” returning to her dramatic pianist singer/songwriter origins before lead single “Wild Man” leans toward bizarre World Music. Special guest Elton John helps make “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” a gripping duet of troubled love, while Stephen Fry (as Prof. Joseph Yupik) gives “50 Words for Snow” some narrative tastefulness. Like all of Bush’s work, it’s effortlessly appealing yet wonderfully weird and inimitable. — Jordan Blum
248. Yellow Swans – Going Places (2010)
Yellow Swans did practically all of their dirty work in the ’00s. The noise band from Portland were famous for their improvisational live performances and had over 50 releases from 2002 to 2007 with their name slightly changed each time (Duh Yellow Swans and Doorendoorslechte Yellow Swans are my personal faves). They even broke up in 2008 before the decade started. Despite all this, Going Places is the album they are most known for, and in a just world, would be immortalized for. This is noise music ready to burst at the seams, and the beauty of it all is knowing it never will. It’s dense and subtle in equal measures like an epic is supposed to be, and with epics, you sense all of what it takes to be alive being condensed into its purest form. — Andrew Cox
247. Mr Twin Sister – Mr Twin Sister (2014)
Mr Twin Sister’s self-titled is a rare collection of genre-defying tracks. Entering their world is unlike any other musical experience — their songs taking full control of all of your senses. While their distinct brand of pop covers the listener in a veil of cool — as if they’ve gained access to an unspoken nightclub — their music is still accessible. Running off from the beginnings of lo-fi, their Steely Dan and Hall & Oates influences allow us to lock into what Mr Twin Sister is serving. Their music offers an escape, as tunes like “In the House of Yes” paint the picture for the void you can join the band in. — Virginia Croft
246. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (2014)
Jessica Pratt was a perfect fit to carry the Drag City aesthetic into the mid-2010s, even if it was just for this album (she recorded Quiet Signs under Mexican Summer/City Slang). On Your Own Love Again features muted classics carried by a singular voice seemingly untethered to any trend, even within folk. She has a habit of underselling her own brilliance like Oldham, Callahan, Berman, and O’Rourke, which ends up gaining her more cult-like admirers. She almost gets swarmed up in her virtuoso plucking in songs like “Greycedes,” but then she’ll offer up a falsetto and rise just enough above it all. Her prowess as a singer-songwriter is truly timeless, and the lo-fi nature of it all makes it sound like a lost ’70s bedroom recording. — Andrew Cox
245. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme (2010)
The Radio Dept. entered the decade after being featured in Sofia Coppola’s cult classic Marie Antoinette alongside New Order, The Cure, and The Strokes. With 2010’s Clinging to a Scheme, they stayed in their lane crafting dream pop delights that hit every predictable-yet-excellent note. They make this list though for the dense soundscapes found in all ten tracks here. Songs like “Memory Loss” and “David” wind up being deceptively complex with the piling up of synths and live percussion. The instrumental vignette “Four Months in the Shade” is solidly in the darkwave territory of some of their Marie Antoinette bedfellows. Oh, and “Heaven’s on Fire” with the Thurston Moore intro is a classic of the highest order. — Andrew Cox
244. Girlpool – Before the World Was Big (2015)
Girlpool, who personify cool indie music now, is the duo of Harmony Tividad and Avery (formerly, and at the time of this album’s release, Cleo) Tucker. But in 2015, they were just releasing their studio debut. Before the World Was Big is a sparse and minimal album: there’s few chords and virtually no percussion. Instead, guitar licks, harmonies, and lyrics are pushed centerstage, demanding your attention. In those lyrics, Girlpool largely deal with the qualms of growing older. “Trying not to think of all the ways, this place has changed,” they sing on the title track. It’s an intimate album that makes use of silence and space, and it’s all the better for it. — Cheyenne Bilderback
243. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place (2011)
The Magic Place — like most great ambient music — is simple in its construction yet complicated in its effect. Barwick’s tools: her vocals, a loop station, just enough instrumentation to give each track a distinct character. Everything you’ll read about Barwick will mention the influence of being raised in a church choir. In The Magic Place, the hymnal and spiritual aspects of her looped vocals are front and center, but you can dig deeper into the physical setting of a church — the acoustics of high ceilings where the reverb is prominent in the echoes and layers. With a church, you’re also dealing with containment — practically and metaphorically; first, the acoustics where outside noise cannot impede on a sermon and secondly, with the conservative nature of the people inside. But on the album cover, we’re not contained in a church. We’re outside with a tree in full green. The reverb is natural and no ceilings are known. I’ve never listened to The Magic Place out in the wide-open; I think she wants us to do so. — Andrew Cox
242. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (2019)
When tragedy hits, awful news breaks, and the end seems extremely near, sometimes we’re able to make one tiny joke or locate the silver lining. These moments — tiny slits of sunlight — are what Weyes Blood’s fourth album feels like. Pointing out that “It’s a wild time to be alive” on “Wild Time,” Natalie Mering continues this motif throughout the album. “Andromeda” listens like a dreamy last dance between intergalactic lovers, oozing with pedal steel guitar and lush vocals. “Picture Me Better” is the goodbye we wish we could all write, with Mering’s haunting words urging closure in hopes for a better tomorrow. — Virginia Croft
241. Toro y Moi – Causers of This (2010)
Chazwick Bradley Bundick (a.k.a. Toro y Moi) has maintained the same level of respect and fandom across this entire decade, which is pretty astounding considering how much his sound has morphed beyond this debut. Causers of This got Toro y Moi the distinction of “Chillwave godfather” from Rolling Stone (yes, the genre that critics from 2009 still won’t shut up about). His later albums would have standout underground pop hits, but they didn’t maintain that Chillwave vibe (ugh) all the way through like Causers of This. He didn’t seem as concerned with finding his voice as he did with finding the sonic space to embolden his voice. This involved sampling, heavy reverb, and a consistent thump that runs through his music to this day. — Andrew Cox
240. Destroyer – Poison Season (2015)
How do you follow Kaputt? This could have been a dilemma for Dan Bejar in the back half of the 2010s, but with a couple great albums in Kaputt’s wake and the recent “Crimson Tide” single, he seems incapable of fading away. Four years separated Kaputt and Poison Season — the longest break between albums for him — and he spent that time crafting an ambitious sound that reflected both his growing live performances and singing style. Classic strings are the backbone of songs like “Hell” and “Girl in a Sling,” with the latter being one of Bejar’s most majestic ballads. The saxophone makes its return on “Archer on the Beach” — a single released before Kaputt. And of course, “Dream Lover” and “Times Square” are pop anthems in a alternate universe that truly values craft. — Andrew Cox
239. Juana Molina – Halo (2017)
Juana Molina was an Argentine sketch comedy actress in the early ’90s and had a show called Juana y Sus Hermanas (yes, a play on the Woody Allen film). She left it all behind to make music, and her first album in 1996, Rara, which ended up somewhere between Stereolab and The Lemonheads. From there, she’s been a strong underground voice in folktronica across 7 albums with her most recent, Halo, garnering the most praise and accolades. It’s grand and genre-less, engaging you with understated freakouts like the back half of “Sin dones” and uneasy slowcore ambience like in “Lentísimo halo.” It adds up to being one of the most underrated uses of bass and percussion across any album this decade. — Andrew Cox
238. Cobalt – Slow Forever (2016)
To come across this album is to be streamrolled by the best pure heavy metal album of the decade. A brilliant aspect of Slow Forever is its inception; the singer and founding member Phil McSorley was kicked out for hateful, derogatory comments — good riddance. What the band was capable of in his wake was an 84-minute double album that reached new levels of cutthroat intensity through the vocals of Charlie Fell. The instrumental breaks like the multiple switch-ups in “Ruiner” are the mark of sludge metal finesse. It takes a lot of that — plus a healthy dose of anthemic earworms — to stand out, and Slow Forever never lets up. — Andrew Cox
Cheyenne Bilderback’s Honorable Mentions
- Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (2017)
Everything Phoebe Bridgers sings or writes doesn’t turn to gold; it is gold. Stranger in the Alps is her full-length debut, where you can hear the uncanny intimacy of her songwriting, steeped in recollections of real-life hauntings.
- Halsey – Badlands (2015)
Halsey’s debut, Badlands, was written entirely when she was 19. I found the album through Tumblr, when I was also 19, and it moved me in a way that other pop music at the time just didn’t. With her world-building and soul-bearing storytelling, Halsey created an album that many — myself included — wanted and needed.
- oso oso – Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters (2015)
An album that I can best describe as “blissful emo.” Catchy and concise, Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters is a must-know — it’s what gave us songs like “This Must Be My Exit” and “Easy Way Out.”
- Liza Anne – Fine but Dying (2018)
Listening to Liza Anne’s Fine but Dying never gets old. It’s packed with pure punchy songs about anxiety, like “Paranoia,” or about the fickle nature of love, like “Socks.” Somehow, Liza Anne makes indie rock sound new.
- The Staves – If I Was (2014)
Produced by Justin Vernon, If I Was is a folk album coated in airy gossamer. The Staves, all three of whom are sisters, truly shine with their effortless harmonies and candid lyrics.
237. Owen Pallett – In Conflict (2014)
Owen Pallett has contributed on five albums on this list, along with working with five more artists featured here. His string and orchestral arrangements are in high demand from Taylor Swift to Caribou to Titus Andronicus. When listening to his best solo album In Conflict, you can hear why. The whining tension at the beginning of “I Am Not Afraid” is unsettling as Pallett sings of his struggle with being able to have children as a gay man. The song also immediately establishes the use of gender neutral pronouns (“I am not afraid,” ze said) with Pallett exploring the possibilities beyond the standard gender binary. Pallett’s sound is also more adventurous with some electronic flourishes popping up in almost every song. — Andrew Cox
236. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran (2018)
NOTHING MORE BATTLE-TESTED THAN VETERAN
JPEGMAFIA is spelled in all capitals because his energy demands it. His critically acclaimed sophomore project VETERAN was released in January 2018 to ears hungry for distortion.
“Got your girl on her hands, Johnny 5 with the cans
Fuck a blog, fuck a fan, hope my record get panned
Least I made you niggas dance, fuck 12 nigga, stamp,” – JPEGMAFIA, 1539 N. Calvert
In an interview with FADER, JPEGMAFIA’s music is praised for his pop-culture references and textured but harsh sounds. VETERAN is both a sonic masterpiece and an experiment. Like much of JPEGMAFIA’s discography, VETERAN leans on the listener’s learnedness and affinity for contrast.
There are poignant verses on the state of industry cats parading around like they are upstanding, Kanye switching up and the futility in higher education in America. And it’s all Peggy; his album has no major features.
The beats are gritty though; there are no harps or warm basslines. Instead, for example, there are panned sounds of marbles in someone’s mouth or a cup? There is a continued heavy low-end, and there is tons of distress in the mid and high percussive sounds.
“I whip your ass like I’m Bruce Wayne with the cape, nigga,”
-JPEGMAFIA, DD Form 214
VETERAN was the most meta, nee the HARDEST release in 2018. No filler, no track is skippable; the entire project tells a relatable story. It was fitting that it was released at the top of the year because it set the bar pretty high for anyone who thought they really were about that life. — Chanell Noise
235. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015)
2011’s Tomboy could be just as easily in this spot, but Panda Bear’s follow-up in 2015 has higher highs that come close to the flawless Person Pitch. The lead single “Mr Noah” was such a refreshing return to form, especially since Animal Collective were so disappointing with 2012’s Centipede Hz. His vocals were mixed higher, and there was a greater attempt to find those childlike melodies that were all over classics like Sung Tongs and Person Pitch. He also found new ground on the stunning “Tropic of Cancer,” which is mostly just Lennox singing over Tschaikovsky’s “Pas de Deux.” The ballet piece becomes a dance between Noah and the trauma of his dad’s cancer, a subject always at the center of his solo work. — Andrew Cox
234. Chuck Johnson – Balsams (2017)
The North Carolina guitarist had never made an album like this before. Across many bands and pseudonyms, his acoustic plucking had defined his sound. But he had also always been an experimentalist willing to tinker with an array of guitar sounds. Johnson’s next challenge was the pedal steel guitar, the classic Nashville country sound. It’s a gorgeous instrument often just associated with the banal ends of mainstream country, and Balsams utilizes it to perfection. An album of 100% pedal steel guitar tones and effects seems dull, but the actual result is flawless ambience that can gut you with a high note. It’s country music distilled to its purest state — a hidden gem of a listen. — Andrew Cox
233. Eno • Hyde – High Life (2014)
According to most, Brian Eno has not made a great album in a while; 1990’s collab with John Cale, Wrong Way Up, seems to be the last one with anything resembling a consensus. They were quick to overlook the art rock brilliance found in his second collab of 2014 with Underworld vocalist Karl Hyde. If critics were expecting some “Born Slippy”-produced-by-Eno result, they were sorely disappointed; Hyde’s work is very much in the background. A few sing-alongs pop up like the “still believin'” in the 8-minute “Time to Waste It,” but the spotlight is on Eno’s masterful guitar work that is more influenced by the global pop of King Sunny Ade than anything happening in rock this decade. High Life is a true classic that sprung out of nowhere amidst Eno’s lackluster few decades. — Andrew Cox
232. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life (2011)
2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life got them good reviews and attention, but David Comes to Life got them cover stories. It was the most discussed post-hardcore album since Pitchfork gave Trail of Dead that 10.0 back in 2002, and much of the discussion focused on if the album’s narrative made any damn sense. That’s right, we’re in rock opera territory. David is in a duel with the narrator, Octavio St. Laurent, who killed his workplace love Veronica. Distractingly meta? Of course. Riveting songwriting? Hell yes. The album’s first half is the best display of Fucked Up’s work with “Queen of Hearts” and “The Other Shoe” still being their most popular songs. — Andrew Cox
231. Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD (2018)
I’m happy to admit that I listened to ASTROWORLD every day for a month after it was released. It was the first hip hop album I had heard in a while that really hooked me in, as if Travis Scott created his own strange niche of the genre. Sure, “SICKO MODE” hooks you in with a top notch beat drop, but tracks like “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” hold something different altogether. The album features deeper moments for Scott, recruiting James Blake to add stunning vocals alongside richly melancholic instrumentals. ASTROWORLD is full of unpredictable turns, pulling the listener deeper with each track. — Virginia Croft
230. Darkside – Psychic (2013)
It might take you 4 minutes and 43 seconds to convince you why Darkside’s only album made this list. That’s when the beat drops on 11-minute opener “Golden Arrow,” and from there, their unique brand of minimalist experimental funk is off to the races. Darkside is the collaboration of Nicolas Jaar & Dave Harrington, who met when they studied at Brown University. Their backgrounds in jazz and electronic music mesh together in music that often drifts in anticipation of a new instrument or sound to enter the mix. Psychic is often more ethereal and shapeless than Jaar’s solo work but also –through Harrington’s excellent guitar work — has some pop and zest on songs like “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” and “Metatron” that you can’t find anywhere else. — Andrew Cox
229. 21 Savage/Metro Boomin – Savage Mode (2016)
“Red Opps” put 21 on the map; Savage Mode made him an icon and changed how violent trap rap could sound. Metro Boomin had already produced “Tuesday” and a few Future hits, but he wasn’t the go-to hitmaker yet. One listen to “No Heart” and you should hear why this is the essential release for both of them. Metro crafts a crystalline mansion out of a synth line for 21 to slither around and shit-talk his way into stardom. The vibe is the Scarface shootout in slow motion — amidst the cartoonish, testosterone-fueled, money-hungry violence, you can take the time to admire the lavish set design. It makes the bloodstains stand out a bit more. — Andrew Cox
228. Iceage – Plowing into the Field of Love (2014)
Iceage’s third album was when Elias Benner Rønnenfelt fully stepped into his role of charismatic frontman. “Come here and be gorgeous for me,” he seductively slurs on “The Lord’s Favorite” like a drunk, even-more-rugged Iggy Pop. The rest of the band matches his attitude with an absolute head rush of cacophonic post-punk with a country flare. Their previous album You’re Nothing felt a little too rigid following their abrasive, blitzkrieg of a debut, but Plowing into the Field of Love was the true “mature” extension of that spirit. Not only did the album feature their first song to go 4+ minutes, but half the songs do so. Songs like “Stay” were allowed to build into epics where pace changes, guitar tones, and Rønnenfelt’s lyrics combine into a rich payoff you never tire of. — Andrew Cox
227. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens (2017)
Just before the start of the 2010s, Kelly Lee Owens left her job at a Wales hospital working as an auxilliary nurse to pursue music. By 2018, Owens was remixing songs by Björk and St. Vincent. In between, she took on an XL Recordings internship, jobs at record stores, and collaborated with the up-and-comer Daniel Avery. By the time “Lucid” and “CBM” started making rounds, it was clear a debut album from her would be nothing but excellent. Her talent for ambient pop and crisp electronics were further solidified on “Bird” and the Jenny Hval collab “Anxi.” Her vocals on “Throwing Lines” also display that she might not stay contained in small-label electronic releases for the upcoming decade. — Andrew Cox
226. Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Taste (2014)
The One Time She Gave Us Everything We Wanted
Ah, Azealia Banks. She’s widely known for dragging other musicians without warning or delivering unsavory takes via her Instagram, but there was a time when it was all about the music. Broke With Expensive Taste, Banks’ debut studio album, was released on November 7, 2014 and was infamous for being delayed for two years due to issues between Banks and Interscope. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Banks’ shared her dissatisfaction with her former label in blunt terms: “It felt like they were playing some sort of head game. And you know I love conspiracy theories. I was like, ‘They’re trying to brainwash me! Fuck these guys!” The album was received well nonetheless and celebrated in several countries like the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Scotland and Australia.
Broke With Expensive Taste is great because it defied traditional genres and honored several sounds. She gave us hard raps, house beats, UK garage influences and more. Broke With Expensive Taste featured so many singles like “Ice Princess,” “212,” and “Heavy Metal and Reflective.” To this day, Broke With Expensive Taste remains one of Azealia Banks’ strongest bodies of work. Too bad for her, she followed up this gem with venom-like assaults online instead of more music. — Chanell Noise