50. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
If Funeral was Arcade Fire’s purest statement, The Suburbs is their most complete. In many ways, it’s the midpoint between what they were and what they’d become. A song like “Sprawl II” finds them peeling back their meaty chamber-pop for the synth-struck heart of glass that shines on Reflektor, and while they always swung for the fences, The Suburbs is the sort of high-concept, expansive-to-a-fault album that would come to define the band’s 2010’s oeuvre. But here, they made it work — the 16 songs of The Suburbs are sprawling, messy, and often fantastic. It’s tempting to say they’re just like suburbia, but really, they’re like nothing so much as Arcade Fire themselves. — Justin Kamp
49. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (2011)
Strange Mercy is layered decadence and opulence. As the third effort from St. Vincent, also known as Annie Clark, it’s an experimentation that delves into electronic pop and art-rock. There are haunting moments that feel like taking a deep breath, like “Champagne Year.” There are anthemic moments, like “Cheerleader” (“I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more” is the refrain that always gets stuck in my head). There are beautifully dizzying moments of noise, too — take the instrumental of “Northern Lights,” for example. Strange Mercy is subversive, which is what St. Vincent has come to be known for, tackling ideas of cruelty, kindness, and loneliness. — Cheyenne Bilderback
48. Kelela – Take Me Apart (2017)
Kelela Mizanekristos is currently the only black woman on the legendary Warp record label. It’s no coincidence then that she is also expanding the sonic palette of the electronic label — along with every genre her sound encompasses — more than anyone else going. Take Me Apart is technically her debut album, though Cut 4 Me and the Hallucinogen EP had already cemented her futuristic pop legend status. On 2013’s Cut 4 Me, she was a chameleon collaborating with every “it” producer of the time, but by Take Me Apart, she had honed in on her aesthetic with Jam City and Arca enough to make one of the most sonically-consistent albums of our time. Across 14 fantastic tracks, you’re wrapped in a warm-yet-piercing drape of heavy synths and R&B vocal runs like TLC remixed by The Field. Kelela makes music for the sophisticated poptimist inside us all. — Andrew Cox
47. Swans – The Seer (2012)
If My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky was the successful revival of the Swans name, The Seer was the full-on revitalization. A musical tome that showed Michael Gira could mount an epic on the scale of one-time swan(s)song, Soundtracks for the Blind more than once, The Seer reflects its cover: a creature shrouded in darkness, bearing its teeth.
That creature is a Yorkie, a lovable dog breed, and if you gaze into The Seer long enough, you can see its soul, on tender moments like the Karen O-led “Song For a Warrior.” The shockwaves of the 32-minute title track can be enough to leave you stunned for the rest of the album run, only to be electrified again and again. When we think of artists as being uncompromising, we should be thinking of The Seer. — Brody Kenny
46. Robyn – Honey (2018)
Pop perfection is a lot to live up to, and when you have an album as flawless as 2010’s Body Talk, Robyn’s much-beloved and influential electro-pop opus, everything that comes after can often be held to an impossible standard. Fortunately, 2018’s emotionally charged post-disco album, Honey, finds the innovative Swedish artist pioneering an impressive new pop frontier for herself. Instead of relying on her familiar brand of hyper-dance-pop, Robyn’s eighth studio album (sixth if you count the Body Talk era records as a singular package) finds the singer-songwriter stretching into the future, experimenting with an atmospheric array of house (“Between the Lines”), R&B (“Baby Forgive Me”), lounge (“Beach2k20”) and groovy synth-rock (“Ever Again”). She proves that pop can still linger long in the brain even if it isn’t bopping you over the head with bubblegum hooks. (But don’t worry, Robyn diehards: there’s still plenty of glitter on the dance floor here.) — Erica Russell
45. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today (2010)
Hypnagogic pop: a term coined by David Keenan in 2009, which he defined as “pop music refracted through the memory of a memory.” A year later, the genre would have its defining classic. A ton of music in the early ’10s played with nostalgia, but Ariel Pink stood out by keeping it unmistakably pop. “Can’t Hear My Eyes” is straight-up Hall & Oates complete with a saxophone solo; “Beverly Kills” sounds like the theme song to a public access TV cop drama; “Round and Round” is a lost tape from Soul Train. Of course what makes it all special is that this wouldn’t be mainstream, no mater what era (sorry Julian Casablancas). Ariel Pink is a goofball that has no interest in what’s hip or what’s woke (to a unavoidable fault for many). He will sing lyrics like “rape me, castrate me / make me gay” on an otherwise lovely song because that’s just how he thinks. He’s one of the greatest artists of the 2010s, and an erasure of his kooky talents would be an absolute disgrace. — Andrew Cox
44. Rihanna – ANTI (2016)
If there was ever an album with an instant remedy for romantic frustrations, ANTI fulfills that purpose. Each track is chock full of independence, Rihanna teaching herself the lessons she needs to hear most. Even on the more romantic tracks, like “Kiss it Better,” there’s a constant motif of looking out for yourself. At her most vulnerable, Rihanna reminds herself that she can only look out for herself, encouraging her listeners to do the same. Musically, the album is bold and daring, original in a way that Rihanna’s music had not yet been, expanding her musical atmosphere in a fresh, energizing way. — Virginia Croft
43. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
Equally playful and political, the hip-hop duo of Killer Mike and El-P largely outdo themselves here. For instance, “Jeopardy” kicks off with some humorous declarations before transforming into a pleasingly shadowy and aggressive rap/jazz hodgepodge. From there, “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1″ stays industrial and sparse as both vocalists explore clever alliteration, rhymes, and more linguistic lacerations; meanwhile, “All My Life” is surprisingly melodic and dynamically arranged prior to the penultimate “Crown” bringing in Diane Coffee to accentuate its soulful lusciousness. With such a faultless flow, it’s no wonder why several publications named Run the Jewels 2 the best album of 2014. — Jordan Blum
42. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (2018)
The title of Be the Cowboy sees Mitski challenging white male hegemony and the expectations on her as an Asian woman. She can be the cowboy, that swaggering, cocky outlaw, if she wants to be. Inside the record she explores, or really affirms, what else she can be, with lyrics that are more character studies than they are personal diary entries (as are so often expected mostly of female artists). She can be regretful, lonely, weak, unhappy, desperate — everything that is sneered at in women — and she can swagger while she does it. Musically, too, it’s a masterpiece, its inside-out pop songs captivating beyond much else I’ve heard this decade. — Mia Hughes
41. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)
At 22 songs and over 73 minutes, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is certainly an investment, but it’s one that’s well-worth making. A whirlwind of synth and sound reverberates through both sides of the album and the pacing makes the album feel much shorter than it is in actuality. Anthony Gonzalez’s sharp composing pulls you out of your headphones and into a concert with the pulsing uptempo beat of “Midnight City” and the heartbreaking rawness of “Wait.” While the album could well be, say, 18 songs and 60 minutes instead, the oversized album is matched only by the fullness of the sounds and emotions that Gonzalez pours into it. — Clay Sauertieg
40. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)
Random Access Memories takes me back to freshman year of high school, which I might call the year I discovered music. It was full of car rides to and fro high school with my brother controlling the aux — my ears opened to the explorative, creepy, incredibly beautiful notes of Daft Punk. This album pays tribute to American music of the 1970s and 80s through the way it examines how technology and humanity interact. I was drawn in by its range of alien-like noses, male timbre narration, and orchestral introductions. It redefined what music could be to me and cultured my taste in all different kinds of music. This album was impactful to me and Daft Punk as it is marked as their comeback album, landing them a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2014. — Sadie Burrows
39. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (2010)
I’ve always been interested in how we form narratives around an artist’s discography based on which album came first. For example, how would we approach The Strokes’ Room on Fire if it was the debut instead of Is This It? How often do we knock albums for being too similar to their predecessors? Well, you can see it all over this list. This is the only Flying Lotus album on here, even as the later releases of You’re Dead and Until the Quiet Comes both garnered massive praise. For me, Cosmogramma represents Flying Lotus’s legacy and all else stems from it. It’s the culmination of his Brainfeeder/Warp Records/Coltrane-blood sound that displayed its full force across every vignette. And it’s not like his sound didn’t evolve beyond this; his following releases got bogged down in aiming for dense complexity without that natural cool that Cosmogramma just exudes from the start. — Andrew Cox
Clay Sauertieg’s Honorable Mentions
- Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (2015)
In her debut effort, Julien Baker manages to use a loop pedal and a guitar to cut your heart out and throw it on the floor. The Tennessean exposes herself and speaks boldly and bravely about drug use, religion, thoughts of suicde and failed relationships.
- Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015)
Florence Welch fucks. In her third studio album with the Machine, Welch becomes a bit more vulnerable in the past and yet keeps her big, colorful imagery in bold songs such as “Queen of Peace” and “Mother.”
- Jack White – Blunderbuss (2012)
In his debut solo effort, White remains superb. He strips away some of the edge for a more bluesy, folksy sound and hits the mark spot-on with tracks like “Love Interruption” and “I’m Shakin’.”
- Gary Clark Jr. – Black and Blu (2012)
Gary Clark Jr. is the artist your friend who says “no one makes good music any more” listens to and with good reason. Black and Blu is a blues rock banger that takes you back through the foundations of the traditional Black music scene with soul, spirituals, blues and hip hop.
- Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe (2013)
I’d feel equally good putting either of Chvrches first two albums on here, but their debut album takes the top spot. With the absolute bangers of “Gun,” “Lies,” and “Recover,” this album introduces the world to the wonder that is Lauren Mayberry.
38. Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me (2010)
At just over two hours long, Newsom’s triple-disc third album is twice as lengthy as anything else in her catalog. Thankfully—and as most critics agreed back in 2010—it’s mostly worth the investment. The first disc showcases the singer/songwriter in moderately scaled-down form, with “Easy” residing comfortably as a chamber piano ballad and “’81” demonstrating her trademark plaintive harp presence. The middle collection makes strong use of horns and harmonies via “You and Me, Bess,” while the final assortment finishes off with the patiently luscious and esoteric “Does Not Suffice.” Cumulatively, it’s an excessive but intensely personal ornamental treat. — Jordan Blum
37. Lorde – Melodrama (2017)
Lorde has a unique ability to hide away in the picturesque hills of New Zealand for several years, then come back with dreamy synth tracks that give a glimpse into her life with small but important details, like green traffic lights, sparse punctuation, grocery shopping, and then suddenly she disappears again. It’s what makes Melodrama one of the best albums of the late 2010s — she lets you into her fascinating but mysterious world, shows you pieces of her life (“Supercut”), her relationships (“The Louvre”), her fear of growing up (“Perfect Places”), then leaves you to sit with it, until she’s ready to return again for another album (hopefully soon). — Nina Braca
36. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017)
Top Dawg’s Greatest Storyteller
Kendrick Lamar, one of the greatest rappers neé, musicians of this generation and the next, released DAMN back in April ‘17. The album was inescapable; songs from the project were played by DJs in clubs, at festivals and at rap shows.
The production value of this album was amazing. The beat selection proved to be a sample-treasure-trove of goodies, if you will. Hip Hop’s heavy-hitting producers like 9th Wonder and The Alchemist make appearances in the credits. Grammy-winning producers like Greg Kurstin also came together with Lamar to create a soulful Black manifesto that spoke to the intrinsic value of melanated people. Fox’s criticisms of Lamar’s works are even sampled on the opening track and flipped on its head.
Lamar’s cadence is fierce and his raps clearly enunciated on DAMN. Anyone from a small child to an elder could follow along to Lamar’s pro-Black sentiments. The stories of love, pain, successes and pitfalls interwoven through Lamar’s discography are nothing short of incredible.
What sets DAMN apart and near the top of this list is its versatility and diverse approach to the most relatable stories from our community. Whether slow and melodic or upbeat and aggressive, Kendrick Lamar’s message is clear. Black people, himself included, are more than deserving of love, respect and admiration. — Chanell Noise
35. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (2016)
While immediate reactions of TLOP were torn, there’s no debating the lasting impact of the album and how well it has aged. The album, which was recorded over a number of years, varies in sound and concept from one song to the next. “Famous,” which includes an unforgettable reference to Taylor Swift, sounds much like classic ‘Ye, dropping clever punchlines over Swizz Beats ad-libs before throwing in a chopped up sample of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam.” Meanwhile, “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands,” and “Low Lights” feature gospels samples and features. He’s carried those latest sounds with him into his current Sunday Service project and his latest album Jesus Is King. — Clay Sauertieg
34. Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016)
When The World Gives Beyoncé Lemons
When Lemonade released in April of 2016, it didn’t catch me breathless initially. I wasn’t the biggest Beyoncé fan at the time. When I was able to watch the HBO film that accompanied the album some months later, I was caught off guard.
Lemonade is Beyoncé’s sixth studio album and second album accompanied by a visual and wrapped up under a uniform concept. Her artistry, vision and business savvy came alive with Lemonade like no other.
“Hold Up,” “Sorry,” and “Formation”??? Yeah, you remember now.
That summer ‘16 was relentless; there wasn’t a place you could go to escape the bat signal for women totally over men’s shit: “OKAY LADIES, now let’s gets in formation,”.
Like many of the albums on this list, the production value of Lemonade is amazingly high. From the tantric nuances in the backing vocals on “Hold Up” to the ENTIRE MOVIE that went along with the album.. Lemonade is a masterpiece. The actual beat selection (“Don’t Hurt Yourself“ sounds live!), adds to the listening experience further.
Lemonade won two Grammy awards in 2017 for Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video. The album won a Peabody Award in 2017, was certified 3x platinum by the RIAA and NPR called it the sixth best album created by a woman.
Her album, mostly R&B, also features her range as an artist. There are rock, gospel, hip hop tracks and alternative R&B tracks that bend the genre past where many of her contemporaries have dared go.
This is the album that won me over as super fan. Her lyrics — honest and sad yet relatable — captured the ears of many. It’s hard to believe that a woman as goddess-like as Beyoncé would have to deal with infidelity, nonetheless, folks worldwide needed some Lemonade. — Chanell Noise
33. Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION (2015)
There is no way to prepare yourself for EMOTION, other than to just jump right in head first, which is exactly what Jepsen does when she begins her opening track with a blaring saxophone intro. It shows the pop star at her best: she’s loud, unapologetic, and ready to dance. The album bounces between themes of love, friendships and…boy problems. There is, quite honestly, not a bad track on this album. — Nina Braca
32. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)
While all of Bon Iver’s albums have been hailed as groundbreaking masterpieces, there is something special about his self-titled sophomore album. It’s lush with feelings of nostalgia and expansive in its subtle experimentation. Vernon’s humility and technical subtilties breed new discoveries on each listen. He conveys the agony of self-growth on tracks like “Minnesota, WI,” where he pleads and begs for lessons learned to stand the test of time. He realizes his spiritual insignificance on “Holocene” and captures the sad freedom that emotion brings on. As the album swells, Vernon forces us to face our biggest insecurities as human beings, and in turn, provides us with a relief we didn’t know we needed. — Mackenzie Cummings-Grady
31. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014)
What derisive labels have been placed on Adam Granduciel’s band so that it could be easily dismissed? Of course you can start with Mark Kozelek calling it “Beer Commercial” music, but nobody really cares what he thinks nowadays. More ingrained in how we discuss The War on Drugs is labeling it as ’70s rock cosplay or finding his lyricism weightless and vague. I get that; in the back half of the decade, music critics have heavily leaned more towards the realism found in the style and lyrics of artists like Big Thief, Bill Callahan, and Snail Mail rather than the broader approaches of Real Estate, Mac DeMarco, and The War on Drugs.
But there’s an epic scope to The War on Drugs’ approach in their two classic albums this decade that no other artist is even attempting. The thing about criticizing lyrics is that it usually doesn’t credit how the surrounding instrumentation is just as capable of conveying emotion and telling a story; Lost in the Dream is one of the best albums in recent memory at pulling this off. I remember sounds more than lyrics here — the cascading piano in “Suffering,” the guitar/piano interplay on the chorus of “Red Eyes,” the echo in the drums throughout “Disappearing.” If you have to break out a lyric sheet to try and enjoy an album that sounds this good, that’s on you. — Andrew Cox
30. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)
Using her first four albums to cement herself as the music world’s No. 1 sad girl, Lana Del Rey sheds a bit of that gloomy persona on Norman Fucking Rockwell, the chanteuse’s fifth and most honest to date.
“God damn, man-child,” Del Rey sings on the album’s opener and title track, setting the tone for the rest of the Jack Antonoff-produced LP.
From “Love song,” which makes for the perfect first dance at a wedding, to “The greatest,” which sounds like it belongs as a standard in “The Great American Songbook,” Del Rey establishes herself as one of the best songwriters currently in the game. Where the singer truly shines on this record is “Venice Bitch,” a track that begins as a nice folk piece and evolves into a 10-minute psychedelic rock frenzy. — Drew Pearce
29. FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE (2019)
The thing about end-of-decade lists is that you should probably wait to do them until the end of the decade. Case in point: MAGDALENE, released a couple weeks ago. Despite being at the forefront of futuristic pop, FKA Twigs has been selective with her album releases — just two so far and both top out around the 40-minute mark. MAGDALENE is absolutely an epic though. Any fears of “going pop” fly out the window with opener “thousand eyes,” produced without a doubt by Nicolas Jaar, as she lays the groundwork for the story of a failed relationship. “home with you” sounds like it’s sung by a Skynet prototype of Lana Del Rey on sensational lines like “I’ve never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi;” the future doesn’t have to be emotionless. Every song here is catchy and wholly unique, even from what FKA Twigs has done before. — Andrew Cox
28. D’Angelo – Black Messiah (2014)
This decade was rife with comebacks by legendary artists picking right up from where they left off — none more successful than D’Angelo with Black Messiah. In the 14 years that he had not released an album, D’Angelo had achieved a mythical status with Voodoo now becoming an unquestioned classic. Black Messiah is not Voodoo, Pt. 2; D’Angelo’s instrumental choices are coarser — more George Clinton than Marvin Gaye. Sex and romance are still part of D’Angelo’s core with “Sugah Daddy” and “Really Love,” but the Black Lives Matter protests were shone a light through the album cover and songs like “The Charade” and “1000 Deaths.” His return was necessary as he crafted a dense, stunning R&B classic that rivals anything in the genre while still representing the plights of the 2010s; if not him, who? — Andrew Cox
27. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (2018)
An infusion of country and pop, a magical collection of narratives, and a striking amount of self-awareness make Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour one of the best albums of last year if not the decade. Ambitious in its execution, and succeeding on almost every front, Golden Hour birthed a new wave of country fans and may have changed the accessibility of the genre forever, while for country diehards, she levitated the genre to an exciting new terrain. — Mackenzie Cummings-Grady
26. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (2011)
The initial response to Apocalypse, Bill Callahan’s greatest 21st century work, was muted. ‘Here’s a slight variation of everything great he’s already shown us.’ The variations ended up not being so slight on repeated listens. A song like “Universal Applicant” exists in another dimension of time. Just the mere existence of a flare and its representation in a “pfff” from Callahan is absolutely mesmerizing; when will it fall? This alt-country/folk can churn like a 1880s train or drift like a raft made by the original natives of this country. Our guide through the dislocated myriad spirits of America is the toasted-black-coffee drawl of Bill Callahan. There’s no better place to find your peace in solitude, no matter what you have been secluded from. My, my, my Apocalypse. — Andrew Cox