200. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (2011)
The piano teetering over the edge of the M.I.T. building on the cover of Ravedeath, 1972 is doomed. We know this from the cataclysmic opener, “The Piano Drop” as well as this event being a tradition at M.I.T. The arguable crowning achievement in a continually brilliant career, Ravedeath is Tim Hecker’s ode to sound and how much its value can be neglected.
The pianos that are sacrificed for this ritual are past their point of usefulness, but knowing they’re headed for a certain, albeit inanimate death still stings. Largely centered around recordings of a pipe organ at a church in Reykjavík that have been corroded severely in the studio, Ravedeath acts as an elegy for that which we never knew could be mourned. — Brody Kenny
199. The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace Is There (2014)
The unbridled catharsis that comes with singing along with the gut-wrenching lyrics throughout The Hotelier’s second studio album makes Home, Like NoPlace Is There one of the defining emo albums of its generation. Lead singer Christian Holden peels back the layers in nine tracks that discuss issues of mental illness, suicide, and abusive relationships. Perhaps the thing Holden and co. do best is allow listeners to contextualize lyrics on their own, making the album deeply relatable for anyone facing similar struggles. The album is startlingly affecting from start to finish, with “An Introduction to the Album,” “Your Deep Rest,” and “Dendron” shining through as particular standout tracks. — Clay Sauertieg
198. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited (2018)
I slept on Meghan Remy’s experimental pop act until the first time I heard “Rosebud.” Glammed-out and roller-skate-jam ready, the single drew her comparisons to Blondie, and just like that band, she could still excel at a variety of musical styles. “Rage of Plastics” features a blaring saxophone with a dream pop haze like she’s performing at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse. And if you thought she was just doing disco-pop cosplay, there’s “M.A.H.,” which is a scathing criticism of Obama masquerading as a light-hearted romantic plea. In a Poem Unlimited is brisk, flawless, and makes U.S. Girls a leading candidate to lead indie pop into exciting territory for the next decade. — Andrew Cox
197. Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile (2019)
Soft-spoken yet bursting with charisma, Helado Negro’s This Is How You Smile is a heartwarming narrative spun by one of indie folk’s most compelling storytellers. Atmospheric yet masterfully produced, Helado Negro’s sixth effort invites you into a world of solace, where emotional breakdowns are met with empathy and compassion. “Hard to remember what the sun feels like,” Robert Carlos Lange coos to us on “Imagining What To Do,” “and it’s okay to cry when it feels like it won’t ever come back.” — Mackenzie Cummings-Grady
196. Amen Dunes – Freedom (2018)
Damon McMahon often sings like a goat; I say this lovingly. As David Berman once sang, “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” When he pushes his vocals to the edge, you can hear the strain of a drawn-out syllable or the reach of a note just out of his normal range. That’s not the only way Amen Dunes’ breakout Freedom stands out. McMahon’s lyricism is challenging in its religious subtext and unspoken trauma; you rarely leave a song here feeling like you “get it.” You throw in guitar playing that is as reliant on oft-undefinable aspects like texture and aura as much as melody, and it adds up to a rock album so distinctly mystifying, it has no contemporary comparison. — Andrew Cox
195. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Throughout their career, the Arctic Monkeys have tried just about every approach to rock. However, 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was their boldest, assuming their astronaut roles and setting up shop at a “taqueria on the moon” that Alex Turner swoons about on “Four Out of Five.” Tranquility was the logical next step for the British rockers — they’ve done their harder rocking, had their fun, and now want to know what else is out there. It’s a forward-thinking collection of life on mars with the need to stick to standard rock and roll thrown out the window from the first track. — Virginia Croft
194. Jessie Ware – Devotion (2012)
I remember seeing the music video for “Wildest Moments” on VH1 or MTV back in 2013 and thinking ‘This just does not fit in.’ For her debut album, she was already signed to Interscope and was expected to be a commercial success for the major label. One listen to Devotion can explain why that didn’t pan out accordingly. Jessie Ware’s brand of pop is more Diamond Life than Madonna, more Avalon than Can’t Slow Down. It’s the 80s, but not what pops up in Stranger Things and other tacky nostalgia romps. There’s too much serious production flare on songs like “Sweet Talk” and “If You’re Never Gonna Move” to catch on with younger generations that don’t have a built-up appreciation for sophisti-pop callbacks. — Andrew Cox
193. Earl Sweatshirt – Earl (2010)
The consensus favorite Earl Sweatshirt project seems to be whichever one came out most recently, which is pretty unique for a genre where artists tend to release their defining work early in their career. His first mixtape is thoughtful in its wordplay and thoughtless in its intentions. It’s one thing to be inflammatory on the mic, but Earl’s accounts of sexual assault and dismemberment are so viscerally detailed you don’t know whether to call him a prodigy or a problem.
He’s thankfully matured as an artist and a person, in part to time at a Samoan reform school soon after the tape dropped, which inspired the “Free Earl” chant among his fellow Odd Future members and fans. But while Earl no longer aims to shock and appall with what he says, Earl still serves as a work of ugly beauty, a kid being at his best while indulging some of his worst thoughts. — Brody Kenny
192. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (2011)
For a time, Fleet Foxes were considered the quintessential American folk rock band; with a record like 2011’s Helplessness Blues, that distinction is very much earned. It’s their first LP to feature multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson, bassist Christian Wargo, and drummer/backing vocalist Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty), all of whom shine throughout. In particular, “Montezuma” and the title track exemplify their knack for exquisite harmonies and somber introspection, whereas “Bedouin Dress,” “The Shrine / An Argument,” and “Battery Kinzie” are delightfully full-bodied and more instrumentally exploratory. It’s a gorgeously warm and orchestral folk rock journey from start to finish. — Jordan Blum
191. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (2016)
Parquet Courts’ fifth studio album Human Performance is a captivating effort start to finish — from smart lyrics delivered by any one of Parquet Courts’ four members, to the chemistry in their shared musicanship. Human Performance can be anything you want it to be: dance to it, drive to it, reflect upon it; it works in any situation. The single “Dust” is a four-minute, thought-provoking, trance-inducing track, building a sense of anxiety as to what the “it” is they are singing about (it also features Jeff Tweedy on guitar!). “Two Dead Cops” tells the tale of a pair of cops who were murdered in Brooklyn, from the perspective of A. Savage, who was living nearby when it happened. Human Performance is an incredible piece of art from start to finish and is full of lyricism that’s supposed to be unpacked over multiple listens. — Happy Haugen
190. Floating Points – Elaenia (2015)
Sam Shepherd has lived his life as a musical and intellectual glut; he owns about 10,000 vinyl records and has a Ph.D. in neuroscience. It adds up on his debut album to a rich fusion of cosmic jazz and progressive electronic that patiently enthralls the listener. He originally wanted Elaenia to be one track but was swayed to be more accessible; you can hear how the songs bleed into each other with great subtlety. Album closer “Peroration Six” features some of the best live drumming of any record — electronic or not — this decade — how the album takes nearly 40 minutes to reach this catharsis and ends abruptly short after is masterful album sequencing. His new album Crush is set to further distinguish Shepherd as a revolutionary mind in techno. — Andrew Cox
189. Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown (2015)
The growth of his King Krule output from 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon to 2017’s The OOZ was astounding, but for Archy Marshall, it was simply the next step forward following the quiet release of A New Place 2 Drown. Setting aside the guitar and producing enigmatic beats with his brother, Marshall crafts a darkly vibrant urban hellscape that he truly sounds like a king within. The beats are grimy with brilliant details like billiard balls clanging on “The Sea Liner MK 1.” The initial response to A New Place 2 Drown was mixed, and based on my experience, the album took on a grander meaning after the release of The OOZ by sounding like the true inception of a legendary artist. — Andrew Cox
188. The National – High Violet (2010)
Nine years from their self-titled debut album and nine years prior to the release of I am Easy to Find earlier this year, The National knocked it out of the park with High Violet. Matt Berninger and Bryce and Aaron Dessner come together to provide us with brooding, melancholy lyrics over simple sounds. The album opens with “Terrible Love” and “Sorrow” where Berninger reflects on the state of his anxieties, depression, and heartbreak. These stripped-down lyrics and sounds continue through “Runaway” and “Conversation 16” which focus on a failing relationship. The album comes to a head with “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which follows the toil of a character Vanderlyle Crybaby and has become the band’s traditional show closer. — Clay Sauertieg
Nina Braca’s Honorable Mentions
- Kesha – Rainbow (2017)
Kesha took the rainbow metaphor literally and dropped an emotional but beautifully inspiring pop album after a slew of legal battles, rehab and health issues, all attributed to abuse by her producer Dr. Luke.
- Paramore – After Laughter (2017)
The early 2000’s punk band quietly altered their sound on 2017’s After Laughter, switching from teenage angst to late-20s anxiety and depression about the world, complete with a vibrant album aesthetic that became one of their best albums.
- Hop Along – Get Disowned (2012)
Hop Along creates their own world with every album they put out, telling compelling stories with lyrics that stick with you, blended with complex (and fun) musical styles.
187. Solange – When I Get Home (2019)
While her previous album, A Seat At the Table, employs a more traditional style of R&B, Solange gets way more experimental on “When I Get Home.” This is made apparent right off the bat on the dreamy opener “Things I Imagined” and further on in “Dreams.” On this record, Solange gives listeners much more than quality music; she gives them a quality soundscape. Tracks like “Almeda,” “My Skin My Logo,” and “Binz” are hazy and warm, while the likes of “Stay Flo” employ a slightly harder edge. Still, all these tracks manage to keep the ambient feel of the album. Standout track “Sound of Rain” sounds as if it were an Enya song shot through with Solange’s sophisticated brand of R&B. — Drew Pearce
186. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (2011)
The good news about making beats is that anyone with the slightest amount of familiarity with rhythm and melody can do it. The bad news is that, even if you become fairly proficient at it, you’re still going to be competing with countless other producers who can do what you can.
Clams Casino is the most important figure in cloud rap, a subgenre that peaked as soon as it arrived because of how much Michael Volpe’s first Instrumentals tape of blown-out bass and tricked-out samples (see: Adele’s “Hometown Glory” beautifully inverted for “Realist Alive”) perfected it. These beats are put to good use when rapped over by Lil B and others, but they’re at their best when you can appreciate them in full detail. — Brody Kenny
185. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (2018)
The 1975 are experts in experimenting with different sounds while still remaining completely their own. On A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, the band explores the idea of how the internet has evolved (the positives and negatives) along with the probing of romantic and platonic relationships during the 15-track album. The album also juxtaposes serious themes like drug addiction and political unrest, with upbeat pop melodies, almost as if to show listeners that things are not always how they appear. For example, the quiet but moving track “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” is one of the best songs to come out of the online age for its look at the effects of social media on mental health. — Nina Braca
184. Bill Callahan – Dream River (2013)
On Christmas Day last year, I learned of my father’s passing after a years-long battle with Lewy Body Dementia. I had a Greyhound Bus ride scheduled for later that afternoon, and immediately knew what album I had to listen to on the way home. For Christmas 2013, I gifted him a copy of Bill Callahan’s Dream River, having a hunch that his appreciation for meditative lyricists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison would carry over to this formerly lo-fi songman, formerly known as “Smog.”
When he was still able to communicate relatively comfortably and I was able to see him, my dad would gush about how much he loved this album. We would quote our favorite lines (most often, “The only words I said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you.’’) and just bathe in the warmth of Callahan’s baritone and wisdom as well as the bucolic arrangements. When I listen to Dream River, I sense my dad all around and am forever grateful to Callahan for helping our connection not feel limited to the earthly realm. — Brody Kenny
183. Actress – Splazsh (2010)
Darren J. Cunningham’s production work as Actress is as obsessed with hard-edged symmetrical shapes as his early album covers are. The 8-minute opener “Hubble” keeps the same doppler radar motion throughout as a litmus test for the listener’s patience in repetition. The song titles aren’t so formal though; “Bubble Butts and Equations,” “Purrple Splazsh,” and “Supreme Cunnilingus” impose radically-different images in your head than the tracks’ content alone would. Some of the best work here is the smaller cuts like “Futureproofing” and “Always Human,” which widen Cunningham’s palette without creating friction between tracks. His later output has fallen off, but his early discography and label work with Werkdiscs keeps him as one of electronic music’s leaders. — Andrew Cox
182. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (2019)
Legendary Australian outfit Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had a lot to live up to on this year’s seventeenth studio collection. Fortunately, the two-part Ghosteen exceeds expectations by delivering some of the most haunting, personal, and cinematic ambient/electronic/symphonic rock music of their career. Specifically, the lengthier “The Children” chapter is filled with eerily sorrowful tones (“Sun Forest”) and mournful narration (“”Night Raid,” “Ghosteen Speaks”). Afterward, “Their Parents” veers toward beautifully symphonic reflections (“Ghosteen”) and ethereal spoken-word cautions (“Fireflies”). Picking up from the harrowing Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen’s revealing subject matter and sounds linger large on your heart, soul, and mind. — Jordan Blum
181. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (2018)
Cardi’s Started Living Her Best Life
The opening track on Invasion Of Privacy is the hardest opening track for any rap album that came out in 2018.
“They gave a bitch two options, stripping or lose. I used to dance across the street from my school…” -Cardi B, Get Up 10
Cardi B, also known as mother to Kulture and wife to Offset of Migos, released her debut album in April of 2018. The album was widely anticipated after her single “Bodak Yellow,” shut down the world for weeks on end.
Cardi B faced quite the backlash leading up to the album drop — there was criticism for her transphobic comments, her comments on darker-skinned Black women and even her inability to spell online. Despite the haters, every song on her album went on to reach critical acclaim. Yes, every song charted simultaneously and was certified gold or higher by the RIAA. Cardi B was the first female rapper to achieve this with her album. Cardi’s album is truly a group effort though — she managed to amass a team of award-winning artists and producers like Migos, Bo-1da, Chance The Rapper, YG, Kehlani, Murda Beatz, J Balvin, DJ Mustard and more.
Invasion of Privacy has since been certified 3x platinum by the RIAA. The album has spawned several successful singles: “I Like It,” “Ring,” “Bodak Yellow,” “Bartier Cardi” and “Be Careful.” Adding to her success, Cardi B was the first solo female artist to win Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammys.
From Vine to Love and Hip Hop to the Grammys, Cardi B has reached superstardom. Her album landed her a Super Bowl commercial and a sick Reebok collaboration. — Chanell Noise
180. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (2017)
Phil Elverum’s music is cartography. His early work with the Microphones mapped out water, forests, an entire cosmos of death deities and mountains that jut into night. When it seemed like he had eked out a small circle on the map for himself and his family, it felt comforting for all of us who had lived in the worlds he drew. And when that circle was encroached upon by cancer and, eventually, death, it felt like a violation. A Crow Looked At Me is an album of place, but not so much of geography. It’s about the process of being in a place, day by day, as you learn to live without someone you loved. It’s brutal. — Justin Kamp
179. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (2019)
On their eponymous debut album, Purple Mountains gets extremely personal and incredibly intimate, as frontman David Berman sings about being left behind, forgotten, losing his happiness, and more. What hurts most about this album is the events surrounding its release — Berman’s mother’s death, his separation from his wife of 20 years, and his own death less than a month after the album was released. It’s a painful album to listen to, and yet it’s impossible to not want to hear it. Tracks like “Darkness and Cold,” “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son,” and “Nights That Won’t Happen” all showcase Berman’s incredible ability to write a heartbreaking song. — Happy Haugen
178. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (2011)
A good litmus test for whether you have a quality pair of headphones is if Space Is Only Noise leaves you with goosebumps or merely chills. I don’t typically care for the “you haven’t heard it” unless you’ve heard it on Sennheisers or whatever, but not hearing this album in full presence of its richness is doing yourself a disservice.
Released barely a week after Jaar’s 21st birthday, Space Is Only Noise is a debut so good but also so well constructed that it can’t be dismissed as beginner’s luck. Like James Blake’s self-titled album, which came out the following week, this brilliantly fuses spotless production and deeply-felt vocals all the way through. Turn down the lights, close your eyes, get your good headphones on, and get ready to be a true space traveler. — Brody Kenny
177. YG – My Krazy Life (2014)
YG’s Life Essentially Went Platinum
My Krazy Life is Black as shit — it’s specifically a western ode to some rachetry. YG’s debut album is arguably the project to revitalize the west coast’s sound and return the region to prominence in the Hip Hop world.
What sets My Krazy Life apart from its predecessors, peers, and spawns is its production value. The theatrics interwoven throughout are tastefully done. YG tells the story of his life and includes friends like Schoolboy Q and DJ Mustard. The opening track, “Momma Speech Intro,” introduces us in a way that no other album has. His mom warns him against being ridiculous but here we are, following him as he runs the streets, chases women and gets in dangerous situations.
YG simultaneously revived gangster rap while following in the footsteps of greats like Kendrick Lamar in the art of storytelling. At one point, YG is bringing us along on a home invasion (“Bicken Back Being Bool”). In another track we’re getting shot at in a drive-by (“Left, Right”).
The album dropped in March of 2014, just in time for it’s singles to become summer bops. My Krazy Life was supported by “Who Do you Love,” “Do It to Ya,” “My Nigga,” and “Left, Right.” “My Nigga” went on to become certified 4x platinum and the entire album went platnium in 2017.
YG did everything right in terms of rollout. He released mixtapes prior to the album release and followed up the hype with tastefully done music videos. The best move had to have been the remix for the forever-famous song “My Nigga.” The original track featured Rich Homie Quan and Young Jeezy. But the remix included Lil Wayne, Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj. — Chanell Noise
176. Rustie – Glass Swords (2011)
Wonky, purple sound, aquacrunk — these are words you don’t hear much anymore. The experimental strands of dubstep seemed to go the way of dubstep itself — abandoned for its gaudy tendencies and tacky overuse. Flying Lotus overcame this stereotype by honing down his cosmic jazz influences, but artists like Rustie thrillingly succeeded within the style. Maybe that’s what makes Glass Swords sound like it’s from a bygone era; you have a song like “Surph” doing your standard accelerated clapping before the beat drop followed by “Hover Traps” going full-on Seinfeld bass. An interesting aspect of any decade list is reckoning with certain styles that were vital and omnipresent early on but then sputtered to the finish line. Glass Swords still kicks though. — Andrew Cox