AOTY 2022

alicore's Top 200 Albums of the 2010s

Music, like all art, is culture. It's a reflection of an artist - whether of the world around them, their personal life and struggles or their background and influences. The world has changed considerably in the last ten years, and with it so have the arts. Likewise, I have changed considerably as a person in the same timespan, and with that so have the sounds and ideas I find myself turning to again and again. Having immersed myself in music of all forms while coming of age within this decade puts many of these albums in a context more meaningful to me than anything I look at retrospectively from the past, and will likely influence my outlook on music in the future more than anything else. With that in mind, I wanted to make a list that reflects both my own tastes and personal identity at this point and time, as well as that of the world I grew up in - a guide not only of what I find the most technically impressive, but also what has defined the last decade in a larger sense - for me, of the people around me, and of the trends, moods and ideas of the world at large.

I know I told some people this list would go out to 400, but over time I realized that was both unnecessary and infeasible. One girl can only write so much in such a short span of time, and it is difficult to argue for many of the albums I had originally planned to include as essential or definitive of the last ten years. However, due to this change in scope there are also several great albums I've omitted that certainly deserve placement on a list like this, a fair amount of which I chose to leave out in favor of a better or more important release by the same artist. I've decided to also make an unranked list of these honorable mentions, which can be found here:

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
While the 2010s certainly have seen the release of several classics in a purely musical context, few can claim the same degree of broader cultural significance as Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. It's a perfection of black America's newest major musical artform over a foundation of some of its oldest, an ambitious fusion of hip-hop and jazz, funk and soul music accomplished with the aid of both old legends and new innovators in each of those styles. Released as America was starting to come to terms with just how widespread racially-motivated violence still is and a year and a half before an election that saw white supremacists emboldened, To Pimp a Butterfly is undeniably the most important political album of the 21st century so far, discussing race, culture, faith and Lamar's own place within each of those with a lyrical expertise unmatched by any this decade. He digs into the history of America and its relation to events of the present - a country built on offenses of oppression and exploitation that have systematically been continued in modern day through police brutality and mass incarceration, yet also one he's found success within the culture of - now treated as a king, but still a slave to the system. Elsewhere, Lamar reflects on hip-hop's glorification of violence and crime and the temptations of lust and greed which come with fame, fighting with the Devil and disillusioned with the life he's now living - but eventually, he finds redemption, and with it self-love. In social commentary and protest anthems, To Pimp a Butterfly is a universal work that will still be discussed a century from now, establishing Kendrick Lamar not just as the greatest rapper of the generation, but the greatest artist of it.

Standout tracks: "Wesley's Theory", "King Kunta", "Institutionalized", "u", "Alright", "Momma", "How Much a Dollar Cost", "Complexion (A Zulu Love)", "The Blacker the Berry", "i", "Mortal Man"
Frank Ocean - Blonde
Blonde is generally considered an r&b album, although compositionally it transcends genres - finding a perfect balance of minimalism and psychedelia-tinged experimentation and creating an experience where acoustic guitars interlock with reverberating synthetic drum loops, glitchy pitched vocal melodies accompany Eno-esque atmospheres and breakbeats serve as the backing to a gospel choir. While the forward-thinking details in its production are much of what make Blonde the instant classic it has become, it's also an incredibly vulnerable and introspective album - fragmented both in lyrics and production techniques but held together by common themes of loss, introspection and failed romance. It's a quintessential coming-of-age album, and through this has become a universal favorite among indie kids, hip-hop heads and art school students alike, feeling timeless in a peaceful atmosphere which offers a brief escape from a world increasingly consumed in chaos. But above its masterful writing, composition and mood, few albums can claim to have the immediate legacy and influence which Blonde has had on music culture. Its stylistic explorations have already shown through in countless of my favorite rap, r&b and pop albums in only three years since its release, so much to the point that some elements of the album now feel derivative without considering that realization. The ideas put forward here by Ocean have influenced subsequent career-defining works by SZA, Lorde, Blood Orange, Brockhampton and Tyler, the Creator, to name a few. That alone is the mark of a classic.

Standout tracks: "Nikes", "Ivy", "Pink + White", "Solo", "Self Control", "Nights", "Pretty Sweet", "White Ferrari", "Seigfried", "Futura Free"
Beyoncé - Beyoncé
Beyoncé's revolutionary self-titled album, surprise-dropped exclusively to the iTunes Store at the tail-end of 2013, immediately served both as an artistic rebirth and a victorious signal to the music industry at-large. The night of its release took the worlds of social media and journalism by storm, and in the following years its legacy has become ubiquitous, influencing both music video production aesthetics and release schedule norms to a degree unparalleled by any other release of the 21st century and completely altering the course of r&b, hip-hop and pop music by smashing boundaries in genres and lyrical content alike. It brought back both the visual album and the full-length album as an artform in a singles-dominated era of pop music, added new phrases to the cultural lexicon and single-handedly changed the standard release date of new music from Monday to Friday. Musically, Beyoncé has a dark and moody atmosphere which fuses r&b with unconventional song structures and textured electronic production, particularly bass-heavy influences in trap, synth-funk and post-dubstep, as well as more traditional roots in contemporary r&b and soul music. The album undertakes a deeper exploration of many of the same lyrical themes that had already defined Beyoncé's work, extensively celebrating sexuality and monogamous love as well as black femininity and empowerment. Beyoncé was already a superstar, but with her self-titled album she instantly became most influential woman in modern music and one of the most iconic artists of the decade. It's not only a pivotal moment in her legacy, but also the unquestionable masterpiece of her discography.

Standout tracks: "Pretty Hurts", "Drunk in Love", "Blow", "No Angel", "Partition", "Jealous", "Rocket", "XO", "***Flawless", "Blue"
Charli XCX - Charli
Charli XCX's semi-self-titled third studio album is the culmination of both her efforts over the last few years and of several trends in the pop music landscape throughout the last decade. It's maximalist in an increasingly minimalist era of pop music, and while it shares that characteristic with other recent releases adjacent to the PC Music label, it feels like her first work completely of her own - an artistic vision that could be created by no other even with closer industry involvement and executive co-production by A. G. Cook. Charli continues down many of the same paths as in her two preceeding mixtapes: over-the-top bubblegum bass-influenced production, crashing choruses, features from several of her best friends in the industry serving mainly as brief additions to the tracks much in the same way rap features do - but the album is not only an improvement on these fronts, it is a perfection of them. And Charli brings more to the table than just that, covering the entire pop spectrum in its showcasing of both the most experimental bangers and most personal conventional ballads of her career so far. It's full of nostalgia for long-gone eras in culture and pop production as well as vocal drawings from emo, pop-rap and several other styles. The fine details in the underlying production blow nearly every other release of the last decade out of the water, whether in layered synth melodies, glitched vocal snippets, chirping birds or distorted samples of screeching car tires - but while experimental, the album remains tethered to its pop roots. Within that consideration, Charli XCX has finally established herself as a leading artistic figure in pop music going forward.

Standout tracks: "Gone", "Cross You Out", "1999", "Click", "Thoughts", "Blame It On Your Love", "Silver Cross", "I Don't Wanna Know", "Official", "Shake It", "February 2017"
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The story behind the creation of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is just as legendary as the album it resulted in. Wrapped in extensive controversy at the end of the '00s, Kanye retreated to Hawaii for a year to work on his fifth studio album, inviting old legends and new stars from every corner of the musical spectrum to the recording sessions. MBDTF is built on extensive collaboration in every sense: between live musicians, guest features, backing vocalists, sampled artists, producers and studio engineers, 117 people are credited in the album's liner notes, and this collective input shows in its maximalist sound. While MBDTF is certainly a rap album, it explores influences in prog, folk, art-rock and classical music in addition to the ones in gospel, soul, synthpop and electronica which have long been part of Kanye's work, a melting-pot of music culture brought together by a musical mastermind. The album's production contains some of the most impressive sampling of any hip-hop release ever, digging into everything from minimalist piano compositions to classics of late-'60s progressive rock pioneers. In his lyrics, Kanye primarily discusses his celebrity status, decadence, wealth, consumerism and the viability of the American Dream in the modern age, at some points boastful and others deeply self-critical, reflections from both his childhood in Chicago's South Side and the fame and success he's found as an adult. MBDTF is one of the most important rap albums of the 21st century, and certainly Kanye's masterpiece - and while we've now perhaps spent the last few years watching his dark twisted fantasy unfold, never was it so clear as here.

Standout tracks: "Dark Fantasy", "Power", "All of the Lights", "Monster", "So Appalled", "Devil in a New Dress", "Runaway", "Blame Game", "Lost in the World"
Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
By the time it received a rerecording, 2011's Twin Fantasy was already a cult-classic album. With the polish of studio production and a full band, the 2018 version is nothing short of a masterpiece. It sees Will Toledo at his greatest as a lyricist - written entirely within the heart of a turning-point in his life, and now with slight revisions put into the scope of retrospection. Similarly, it brings his band into new stylistic territory while still sounding fully like a Car Seat Headrest record. It’s not that it’s innovative, exactly - in fact, very few of its qualities are anything new at all. There’s post-punk influence all over the place, especially in newer revivalist acts ranging from The Killers to The Rapture. There are bits of monologue, readings and vocal samples not unlike those that have defined post-hardcore and post-rock for decades, elements of surf rock throughout the album’s first few tracks and likewise elements of hazy psych and lead-driven art rock throughout the last few. Truthfully, nearly the entire album could fit perfectly among the great releases of late ‘90s alternative rock. And that’s exactly what makes it so impressive – it feels as if every song takes on a different definitive rock music style, and every song not only succeeds tremendously in that but largely are as great as they could possibly be. Twin Fantasy is an incredible listen from front to back, never ceasing to be thrilling and cathartic, and to top that off the greatest album by perhaps the greatest rock band of this decade.

Standout tracks: "Beach Life-In-Death", "Sober to Death", "Nervous Young Inhumans", "Bodys", "Cute Thing", "High to Death", "Famous Prophets (Stars)"
Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise
The first releases from Chilean-American composer and producer Nicolas Jaar, then a literature student at Brown University, were largely outside the confines of any traditional genre. Influenced by microhouse pioneers and classical jazz pianists alike, there's an intricate sophistication to those tracks, expressed in shadowy acoustic instrumentation, samples of winding cogs and geometric puns about foundational communist philosophers - and on the few occasions when it all resulted in a more traditional dance track, it felt like an accident. Now fascinated with post-war Parisian culture, on his debut album Jaar perfects his sound, exploring the moods conveyed in moments of stillness through impressionism and parallels to French new wave film, absurdist lyrical reflections and strange soundscapes drawn from ambient, sound collage and minimal deep house - again built largely on electronic foundations, but anything but dance music. This reserved atmosphere is much of what makes Space Is Only Noise so intriguing - a stark contrast from most of what was going on in the musical circles closest to Jaar's own at the time, a period when dance had gone commercial, brought to festival crowds and pop masses rather than confined to intimate gatherings in basements and small nightclubs, and when everyone wanted to be indie to stick it to the man, but much of the indie scene was trapped in an echo chamber of escapist retro-consumerism.

Standout tracks: "Être", "Colomb", "Keep Me There", "I Got a Woman", "Space Is Only Noise If You Can See", "Balance Her In Between Your Eyes", "Specters of the Future", "Variations"
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
A lot is revealed in the old Polaroid photo that's been immortalized as good kid, m.A.A.d city's album cover - baby Kendrick with two of his uncles and his grandfather, the picture on the back wall of him with his father, the flashed gang sign, the 40-ounce on the table next to his baby bottle - and the Compton rapper's second album reveals just as much about his origins. The album immediately puts Kendrick Lamar among the greats, whether in drawing comparisons to the raw technical ability of André 3000 or the expert narrative storytelling of Nas' Illmatic - but in addition to the skill expressed here, there's also a straightforward accessibility to good kid, m.A.A.d. city, a universal sound which has found commonality between every generation in hip-hop with its expertly-crafted production and songwriting. The album's narrative is semi-autobiographical, jumping between events in the life of an adolescent in Compton as he tries to navigate through the dangers of the city and escape the trappings of his group of friends. Between naturalistic skits made to sound like voicemails and tape recordings, Lamar discusses tales of alcoholism, drug use, economic struggles, crime, gang violence and the subjugation of women, all while analyzing the effects this environment has on the individuals growing up within it, setting a high bar for lyrical hip-hop that has been surpassed by none, except perhaps himself, since.

Standout tracks: "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", "The Art of Peer Pressure", "Money Trees", "Poetic Justice", "good kid", "m.A.A.d city", "Swimming Pools (Drank)", "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst"
Various Artists - PC Music, Vol. 1 & 2
Compiled within two volumes, the early singles from British record label PC Music, mostly released between 2013 and 2015, gave birth to the decade's greatest trend in both pop and electronic music - one which has only come fully into fruition in the last couple years. PC Music is built on a wide array sounds and aesthetics including Max Martin's production, Japanese and Korean pop, video game soundtracks and numerous club music trends, most of which now more than two decades old: bubblegum, wonky, trance, eurodance, garage and hardcore, just to name a few. The tracks across the two compilations provide an all-encompasing sampler of its many flavors, whether in the perpetually-building anthems of label head A. G. Cook, the uncomfortably naïve pop of Hannah Diamond, the more traditional trance throwbacks of Danny L Harle or the explosive, leftfield hyperpop of EasyFun. What began as a satirical, overexaggerated take on feminine clichés and vain consumerist aesthetics - something akin to vaporwave for people with dyed hair - has now become an entire genre (or perhaps brand) in itself, and the ideas put forth by the label have since made their way into surreal memes, Minecraft festivals and McDonald's commercials, all the while influencing new production aesthetics within several music communities. While the sounds explored on these tracks were only the beginning something still being further developed by label-adjacent acts such as SOPHIE, Charli XCX and 100 gecs, PC Music Vol. 1 & 2 are nothing short of being the definitive works of a decade-defining musical phenomenon.

Standout tracks: "Every Night", "Beautiful", "USA", "In My Dreams", "Wannabe", "Laplander", "Drop FM", "Snow Globe", "Fade Away", "Super Natural", "Superstar", "Hi", "Broken Flowers", "I.D.L."
Jamie xx - In Colour
No dance record from the last decade has achieved quite the same atmosphere that is established within Jamie xx's solo debut. It's easily the best work to come out of the future garage sound since Untrue, and contains a handful of moments surpassing even the greatest heights of that record. It's interesting to compare the two - although linked in aesthetic moodiness, minimalism and introversion, In Colour pushes ideas mastered by Burial nearly a decade prior into something far more vibrant - a fitting development considering its name and artwork. Through its brilliant sampling work and throwback sound, it pays direct homage to the '90s UK rave scene, directly incorporating references to and stylistic elements of jungle, hardcore and garage while further adding a deeper, more personal tone to the mix. Beautiful melodies soar through locking beats and tropical instrumentation, resulting in a work just as tearful as it is ecstatic. At its most upbeat, In Colour is endlessly danceable, and joyous in its nostalgia even for someone who never experienced the culture it alludes to. It's not all bangers though - in fact, some of the album's strongest moments are its midtempo tracks, including two fantastic ballads featuring fellow xx band members Romy and Oliver Sim. "Loud Places" in particular is a soaring anthem, and while not the most representative of In Colour's diverse sound as a whole, it is in meaning perhaps the album's most defining piece - an intimate, longing soundtrack to the loneliness of drug-fueled nights in packed clubs.

Standout tracks: "Gosh", "Sleep Sound", "SeeSaw", "Hold Tight", "Loud Places", "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)", "The Rest Is Noise", "Girl"
Beach House - Teen Dream
The first two Beach House albums sit directly in the lineage of Slowdive, Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star, often droning and heavily-laden in reverb, certainly pleasant, but truthfully best serving as background music, rarely accomplishing much requiring the same sort of focused listening as the legends they owe so much to. On their third album, the Baltimore duo cleans up and reworks their sound, jumping out of the distant haze of their early work into a crystal clear new reality, one brighter and more pop-focused which keeps their early influences while also exploring newfound ones in soul, gospel and '70s psychedelia. Teen Dream is simple and pristine, an album of moments that could be captured forever - sunny days in overgrown fields, long walks away from the paths through expansive city parks, warm evenings of relaxation and reminiscence on front porches, late-summer reunions with friends old and new alike around backyard fire pits, as well as an album of lost love, idyllic memories of a relationship that was perhaps never meant to be and an eventual sense of closure within that understanding. It's longing and mysterious, ruminating the events of the past and their influence of the present, yet also hopeful for the future to come despite the anxiety of uncertainty. Most of all, it's the best dream pop release in over a quarter-century, an experience which brings Beach House from a decent act within the genre to the greatest one of this decade.

Standout tracks: "Zebra", "Silver Soul", "Norway", "Walk in the Park", "Lover of Mine", "Take Care"
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
According to legend, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon recorded his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago in the isolation of a cabin in the wilderness of his native Wisconsin. Its follow-up is in some regards its antithesis, seeing Bon Iver morph from a secluded one-man folk act to a collaboration between Vernon and more than ten other musicians - and while retaining a similarly reserved atmosphere, Bon Iver, Bon Iver brings the project and folk music as a whole into entirely new territory. With its martial opener, spacious art pop explorations and throwback '80s-contemporary closer, it's perhaps not entirely accurate to call it a folk album in the purest sense - and even at their folksiest, the compositions are quite maximalist by the genre's modern standards. There are at least twice as many instruments as the musicians playing them, practically making use of an entire orchestra - horns, strings, woodwinds and all - but while often intricate, these arrangements never feel crowded. Rather, every note on every instrument is struck with a purpose, displaying a more understated ambition from Vernon, now letting his artistic vision shine through the intricacies. It all captures a pristine air, and here Bon Iver transcends any and all limitations - those of aesthetic, of sound, above all of the expectations set by a legendary debut - and in that, creates something new entirely, a beautiful, breathtaking and unparalleled vision of what folk music can be in the 21st century.

Standout tracks: "Perth", "Minnesota, WI", "Holocene", "Towers", "Michicant", "Calgary", "Beth/Rest"
Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
From the beginning of her career, Lana Del Rey has maintained an aesthetic rooted in a sort of vintage Americana, even as the connotations of American patriotism have drastically shifted in the time since the release of her debut Born to Die. She's also maintained an often moody, yet composed image - one reshaped in the deeper context of Norman Fucking Rockwell!, her incredible fifth studio album. With a few modern touches, NFR exists in much of the legacy of the women of Laurel Canyon, a descendant of the masterworks of some of the greatest songwriters of the American counterculture. Just as the paintings of Norman Rockwell captured the America of his era, NFR captures the mood of the nation at the end of the decade like no other record has. Whether in nostalgic yearning of classics and storytale romance, contempt of the arrogance of man or indisposition to the careless naïvities and insincerities of a fragile modern society, it expresses a tense air, oscillating from despairing to profoundly hopeful from the title track's opening "God damn, man child" to the last refrain of the final song. The bitter calmness of NFR feels like a reflection of the anxieties of our time in the form of an escape from them, and within this is both her best songwriting and most vibrant and detailed backing instrumentation to date, fully-realized in collaboration with Jack Antonoff, who serves both as a co-writer and one-man band for much of the record. It took much of the decade, but at the end of it all, finally a masterpiece from one of America's most iconic singer-songwriters.

Standout tracks: "Norman Fucking Rockwell", "Mariners Apartment Complex", "Venice Bitch", "Fuck it I love you", "Cinnamon Girl", "California", "The greatest", "Bartender", "Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it"
Rihanna - ANTI
Rihanna's eighth studio album feels like her first complete artistic statement in an album form, bringing out soaring new levels of confidence and maturity from the Barbadian singer-songwriter that have been matched by few of her contemporaries since. Her first album on her own imprint through Roc Nation, ANTI is a statement of independence, in every moment favoring a newfound artistic freedom over the commercial-driven focus of her early career - and clearly, considering the album's eight number-one dance singles, she never needed a traditional commercial appeal to begin with. Compared to Rihanna's earlier releases, ANTI is built around a darker, more minimalist sound and her lyrics are as unapologetic and self-assured as ever. The album is a curious case in the musical canon of this decade: arguably its greatest slow-burn, receiving lukewarm reception from critics at first but soon reaching an era-defining legacy. It brought r&b back to the charts, and a lot of ground is covered here by Rihanna past that - rock, folk, trap beats, dancehall, a fantastic Tame Impala cover - and often, for no reason other than because she can. The album has no real low points, something which becomes clearer with each listen, and through this it's not only Rihanna's best album yet by far, but an immediate masterpiece, unequivocally one of the decade's greatest achievements of contemporary r&b.

Standout tracks: "Consideration", "Kiss It Better", "Work", "Desperado", "Yeah, I Said It", "Same Ol' Mistakes", "Never Ending", "Love on the Brain"
Beyoncé - Lemonade
Beyoncé albums are events much like major studio films, and her sixth puts the audience at the center of the marital feud between music's biggest couple, providing an intimate look into every stage of Beyoncé's emotions as she discovers and comes to terms with her husband's infidelity. Over the course of Lemonade, the pain turns to anger, self-confidence, hope, healing and eventually forgiveness - not quite the story of a break-up, although the climax comes very close to one. Like Beyoncé's self-titled it's a visual album, and the videos certainly add to its experience, but the same cinematic atmosphere is captured through the audio alone, a result of both her fantastic lyrical details and imagery and the tight flow of the album's tracklisting. There's a lot more to Lemonade than just that narrative, though - the album contains both some of the best production and vocal performances of her entire career so far, and fully solidifies her as a superstar without a single genre, exploring roots in several ends of pop, rap, r&b, rock, country, blues and gospel over barely 45 minutes. In a larger context, it's an album of self-esteem and empowerment, one where Beyoncé creates anthems of social justice and civil rights alongside ones of personal condition, and where she again reaps the rewards of her own accomplishments without needing the help of Jay-Z or any other man - and with all of that, an instant classic which remains relevant as one of the best releases of the decade even while its content is based in a short span of time.

Standout tracks: "Pray You Catch Me", "Don't Hurt Yourself", "Sorry", "6 Inch", "Love Drought", "Freedom", "All Night", "Formation"
Robyn - Body Talk
With five additional new tracks, the compilation of the best songs from Robyn's two Body Talk mini-albums feels a lot like a greatest hits album, without a doubt the most extraordinary collective work from the seminal Swedish dance-pop artist. It's her second release through her own record label, and her first that feels completely unrestrained artistically, shattering traditional dance-pop norms in vulnerable lyrics and experimental production touches. Released during the peak of an electropop explosion which Robyn herself helped pioneer throughout the preceding decade, Body Talk has since become an invincible monument of an entire era, a magnificent opus solidifying her as one of electropop's most influential artists in empowering diva anthems and long, mascara-streaked nights of crying in the club alike. It sees Robyn take the place of both a lonely dancer watching her ex-lover with someone else and the affair that tore the relationship apart in the first place, and when she's not singing of heartbreak or wishing she could turn back time and re-do it all, she explores the undersides of club life: bad habits, robots, revolutions, STDs, broken nails and broken bottles - and also collaborates with Snoop Doog in one of the decade's most unlikely bops. Body Talk embodies the escapism that many of us so often seek in nightclubs, resilient even in devastation. Perhaps, that attitude is much of why the album remains so perseverant.

Standout tracks: "Dancing On My Own", "Fembot", "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do", "Indestructable", "Hang With Me", "Call Your Girlfriend", "We Dance to the Beat", "U Should Know Better", "In My Eyes"
Grimes - Art Angels
Grimes' fourth album is easily her most ambitious yet, a vibrant experience which pushes at the edges of pop music and creates something truly one-of-a-kind in the process. On Art Angels, she seeks to disprove prevalent sexist attitudes in the music industry that she's regularly dealt with over her career, such as the dismissal of her songwriting abilities by male collaborators and music journalism's tendencies to discredit female producers - and she without a doubt accomplishes that, as the album is one of the best releases of both pop and experimental music of the entire decade. It's just as eccentric as its creator, perhaps the clearest musical form of the off-kilter persona she's come into in recent years, although rarely as confusing. Art Angels finds sadness in music that on the surface sounds gleeful, exploring a quirky, silly and unsettingly cute atmosphere that, whether intentionally or not, captures an entire subset of internet culture - bright anime escapism, unnecessary SMS shorthand, Tumblr, 4chan, XD emoticons and all - into a pop album that Grimes herself claims was never meant to be treated as pop music. To her credit, Art Angels is anything but standard pop, filled with strange experiments that make it difficult to describe what it is at all - but it's definitely the work of a musical visionary of some sort, even if I'm unsure what kind.

Standout tracks: "California", "Flesh Without Blood", "Belly of the Beat", "Kill V. Maim", "Easily", "REALiTi", "World Princess, Pt. II", "Butterfly"
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest is a masterpiece of indie and psychedelia, a culmination of Deerhunter's signature stylings within shoegaze and indie pop while also both their most rewarding and immediately accessible at the time of its release. Like most of the band's releases, the songwriting is pretty straightforward and the highly-textured but lo-fi nature of its sound demands close listening, but Halcyon Digest accomplishes so much more with the same foundations. The album's instrumental palette is rather large: the traditional rock four-piece, plus at different points banjo, harmonica, autoharp and finally the beautiful addition of a saxophone and a twelve-string towards the very end, and here Deerhunter creates a truly unique experience whether in their most upbeat or most droning. The album's name would suggest a focus on idyllic recollections, and frontman Bradford Cox certainly writes of memories, many of childhood and young adulthood, some real and some not - but instead these songs find a deep sadness in recurring feelings of isolation, sickness, anxiety and worthlessness. As we grow older, the naïve bliss of childhood turns to bleaker understanding of the world's harsh realities, and for many reminiscence becomes a form of escapism. We tend to focus on a positive perception of youth, but here Cox does the exact opposite - and out of this comes a sobering realization that as comforting as it may seem, perhaps the past wasn't so great after all.

Standout tracks: "Earthquake" , "Revival", "Sailing", "Memory Boy", "Desire Lines", "Helicopter", "He Would Have Laughed"
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
About a week before the release of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean posted an open letter on his Tumblr page discussing the album's primary source of inspiration: the experience of his first love, unrequited feelings for a man when he was 19 years old. It was a shock to the world of music in a time when same-sex marriage was only legal in seven states, and perhaps an even greater one to the world of hip-hop particularly, a culture where homophobia has been ingrained since the early days. But cultural significance aside, the musical innovations of Channel Orange are even more groundbreaking, loosely built on r&b foundations in the core sound and storytelling but entirely unconfined in the less traditional stylistic explorations and songwriting. There are unquestionable traces of the legends of r&b, funk and soul - Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Sly Stone, but past this the record sounds like no other, at points taking just as much from jazz, rock, dub and trap in its production and lined with a glaze of psychedelia. With interludes of beautiful atmospheres and field recordings, the album jumps through Ocean's memories and the understandings that have shaped his worldview - past relationships and sexual encounters, makeshift backseat therapy sessions, the luxury of wealth and how it numbs people to the problems outside their own world, addictions, dealers and the destruction of minority communities by the war on drugs - and all with an eye for detail unlike almost any artist in a generation.

Standout tracks: "Thinkin Bout You", "Sweet Life", "Super Rich Kids", "Pyramids", "Lost", "Pink Matter", "Bad Religion", "Forrest Gump"
Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
Titanic Rising, the fourth studio album from Portland-based singer-songwriter Natalie Mering, finds hope in the face of catastrophe. Exactly what that catastrophe is remains unclear, but in our current world crises are bountiful as ever: environmental disasters, political unrest, economic turmoil, perhaps even the complications caused by new technologies on interpersonal relationships - and for many, all of these at once. Difficult as it might be to keep, hope is often the only recourse in a time where suicide rates and seas alike are rising and most of us are powerless to do anything about the causes of that - but acknowledgement of the sinking ship and optimism in spite of it are all Mering pleads for here, anyway. While its topical nature is born of the modern world, most of Titanic Rising could have been composed by George Harrison or The Carpenters, and even the album's least traditional-sounding moments are based in musical innovations of that same era - a modern reenvisionment of the pop and folk of the '60s and '70s, backed by organs, analog synthesizers, a string section and production techniques which tend to stay just as true to the time. It's a pleasant sound, brought to immaculate highs by Mering's incredible abilities in melody and songwriting - and perhaps, proof that even an apocalypse can be elegant.

Standout tracks: "A Lot's Gonna Change", "Andromeda", "Something to Believe", "Movies", "Mirror Forever", "Wild Time"
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
The sophomore album from Vancouver two-piece Japandroids is one of the greatest rock albums of the decade, an experience which manages to capture the pure passion and energy of their incredible live performances into a pristine studio recording. Celebration Rock finds placement among the greats, having the down-to-earth feel of those in indie music, the raw edge of those in garage rock, and the exhilarating songwriting of those in pop punk - however, it also avoids succumbing to the emo-lite tendencies that have dominated that sound since the early 2000s. It feels extremely youthful, even while built in universalist classic rock conventions, particularly thematic contrasts between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell - and of course, generally in the world such a simple distinction between those two extremes is a dangerous oversimplification, but perhaps part of why these themes are so enduring here is that through much of the decade the global struggle has truly felt that clear-cut. At any rate, Celebration Rock doesn't seek to make such a grand societal statement, instead expressing a simple, intoxicating burst of young adulthood - and whether in reckless debauchery, spontaneous love, restless waiting or dreams of success, there's a sense of urgency here, capturing a time in life when everything seems to be happening too fast, yet nothing can seem to happen fast enough.

Standout tracks: "The Nights of Wine and Roses", "Fire's Highway", "Adrenaline Nightshift", "Younger Us", "The House That Heaven Built"
Charli XCX - Pop 2
Charli XCX's second mixtape of 2017 is her first truly classic project, redirecting her career toward her current status as a cult pop icon and bringing a wider audience to her many frequent collaborators. With production by A. G. Cook, Life Sim, SOPHIE and EasyFun, Pop 2 continues Charli's work with PC Music and its adjacent artists alongside an incredible new cast of guests from all over the pop spectrum. Like her preceding Vroom Vroom EP and Number 1 Angel mixtape, it's come into a legacy interwoven with the modern musical culture of the queer community - and with features from Brooke Candy, Pabllo Vittar, Dorian Electra, Mykki Blanco and Kim Petras, Pop 2 also brings several of those artists an incredible new spotlight. The mixtape often feels less like a solo project than it does a series of collaborations all centrally brought together by Charli, and each of these has a unique style and identity within its surroundings, effortlessly jumping between moody synthpop, upbeat dance-pop and chaotic pop-rap. Similarly to much of the work of its PC Music-affiliated producers, every moment envisions a futuristic musical landscape, making heavy use of maximalist synths, autotune and glitchy vocal manipulation to paint a pop cyberspace. It's just as danceable as it is emotional, and above all both one of the most infectious and forward-thinking pop albums of the entire decade.

Standout tracks: "Backseat", "Lucky", "I Got It", "Delicious", "Unlock It", "Track 10"
The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
With a foundation of '80s heartland rock, Krautrock and Americana, the sound of Lost in the Dream is rarely groundbreaking, but its nearly-flawless working of each of these styles puts The War on Drugs into a league of their own within rock music of the 2010s. The influences of frontman Adam Granduciel are well-documented - Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, The Waterboys, J. Spaceman - and at its best moments, Lost in the Dream sits rightfully alongside the legendary works of those artists. While familiar, there's a greater sense of discovery to the record, particularly of one's own faults and insecurities - and with that, Lost in the Dream reflects a restless nature. By legend, these tracks were almost all revised several times over during the recording process up until the point when they were finally submitted to the label, but Granduciel's perfectionist tendencies pay off. The shining brilliance of Lost in the Dream is often revealed in the details as each of the tracks progress, whether soaring guitar leads, reverberating drum loops or glowing keyboards. The album is full of sprawling tracks and long instrumental segments, but not a moment feels wasted, triumphant both in arena-sized anthems and intimate moments that draw the listener into their beautiful, immersive atmospheres.

Standout tracks: "Under the Pressure", "Red Eyes", "An Ocean in Between the Waves", "Eyes to the Wind", "Burning", "In Reverse"
The Avalanches - Wildflower
Released 16 years after their legendary debut, the second album by The Avalanches maintains many of the qualities that made their first so exceptional while also establishing its own unique identity. In its own right, Wildflower has the makings of a classic, capturing a breathtaking feeling of youthfulness, or perhaps escapist childish wonder, through a psychedelic lens of vintage Americana, a characteristic impressive in its near-perfection considering the duo's Australian origins. Although best analyzed as a collective work, in comparison to their debut Wildflower it's split into more distinctive songs, each of which an important chapter within its experience; and with the aid of a cast of guest contributors including Ariel Pink, Danny Brown, Toro y Moi and the late David Berman, it covers greater stylistic territory than its almost entirely dance-focused predecessor. The album seamlessly tackles hip-hop, disco and sunshine pop over its hour runtime, tied together by the vivid storytale plunderphonics The Avalanches are most known for, with samples drawn from late-'60s hippie zeitgeist and classic American musicals alike. While Wildflower could only exist within the scope of modern production, it contains a lovely, rosy look into the past - for me, creating nostalgia for an era I never lived in and for events I never experienced.

Standout tracks: "Because I'm Me", "Frankie Sinatra", "Subways", "If I Was a Folkstar", "Harmony", "The Wozard of Iz", "Sunshine", "Kaleidoscopic Lovers", "Saturday Night Inside Out"
Purity Ring - Shrines
The years around the release of Purity Ring's debut were that of rapid change within the sound of pop production. While techniques originating in hip-hop and EDM had started to make their way to pop radio, indie circles witnessed a resurgence of dream pop and the birth of witch house, accompanied by a renaissance in amateur video production - shifting kaleidoscopic images, pastel colors, smoke-filled jump-cuts and all. Retrospectively, Shrines has now become a landmark electronic pop release, one which single-handedly captures both the sound and aesthetic of its entire era, and in a greater sense has influenced countless pop and electronic music releases throughout the second half of this decade. There are few real contemporaries to the album's sound, with its slick trap production and ethereal soundscapes often made up of ghostly vocal chops and punching synth pieces. These elements provide a soaring background to Megan James' trance-inducing vocals, but within her glossy, lullaby-esque singing lurks dark and at times terrifying lyricism, often containing vivid anatomical references and macabre themes. It's exactly what should be expected considering the album's witchy atmosphere, and a characteristic which only adds to its place as a crowning achievement in 2010s synthpop.

Standout tracks: "Crawlersout", "Fireshrine", "Ungirthed", "Amenany", "Belispeak", "Obedear", "Lofticries"
Kanye West - Yeezus
As the proper solo follow-up to Kanye West's masterful My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus is a curve ball. As opposed to MBDTF's maximalism, it's incredibly minimalist. While MBDTF is among his more accessible works, Yeezus is noisy, abrasive and above all the most experimental of Kanye's entire career, taking heavy influence from acid house, drill and industrial music - each innovations of his native Chicago - with the aid of Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, Arca and Gesaffelstein. It's one of the boldest shifts from any artist of his level of success this decade, but even with a new sound still undeniably Kanye - soul samples, autotune, arrogance and all, and this time with the addition of screaming robots. It shows Kanye at his darkest lyrically, whether in charged political themes, explicit sexual content, insecure breakdowns or reflections of his own self-destructive tendencies, and at less than 40 minutes long it's also his shortest album aside from his output of the last couple years - but within that short length are some of his most thrilling ideas yet. Although the immediate reaction to Yeezus' sound was mixed among Kanye fans, by the end of the decade it has become one of his most influential works, perhaps most clearly from Soundcloud to Worldstar as a foundation of much of the newest generation in rap music.

Standout tracks: "Black Skinhead", "New Slaves", "Hold My Liquor", "Blood on the Leaves", "Guilt Trip", "Bound 2"
JPEGMAFIA - All My Heroes Are Cornballs
The follow-up to Jpegmafia's breakthrough Veteran sees the Baltimore rapper come into his own style, translating to one of the most replayable rap albums of the decade. The lyrics are scattered with feminine aesthetics and references to internet culture, and see Peggy at both his most confident and most vulnerable as he comes to terms with newfound commercial and critical success within the last year, as well as his most profound when he touches on more general societal discussions - but the album's greatest victory is by far its sound and unique the vibe it creates. All My Heroes Are Cornballs plays both to Jpegmafia's established strengths and new ones nobody knew he had, jarringly aggressive and beautiful at the same time - and in its cloudy aesthetics, glitchy production and untraditional samples it establishes him as one of modern hip-hop's most forward-thinking artists. Peggy clearly has a nearly-unmatched skill as a hip-hop songwriter, and AMHAC is an incredible display of this, seeing a much deeper exploration of the melodic pop sensibilities that he only touched on in Veteran. He uses guitars, keyboard presets, static, distortion, field recordings and chopped voices alike as instrumentation, creating an otherwordly atmosphere of post-internet psychedelia filled with skips, warped melodies, ad-libs and bodiless voices. It feels a bit like he decided to throw every idea he ever had at the wall - but miraculously, nearly all of them stick.

Standout tracks: "Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot", "Kenan Vs. Kel", "Beta Male Strategies", "PTSD", "BBW", "PRONE!", "Thot Tactics", "Free the Frail", "Post Verified Lifestyle", "Papi I Missed You"
Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
March 9, 2010 - a little over a year after the height of the worst financial crisis in recent memory, as well as exactly 148 years after the Battle of Hampton Roads, perhaps the most important naval battle of the American Civil War. Historical significance aside, I can't claim to have much of any idea what these two events have in common except for both being inspirations for The Monitor, the highly-ambitious sophomore album by New Jersey folk-punk band Titus Andronicus. Writing an album relating the hopelessness of adolescence during the Great Recession in suburban Jersey to that of the Civil War is a unique choice, to say the least - but while raucous and vulgar, Titus Andronicus are far from the common punk band. Save for two, all of the tracks on The Monitor are more than five minutes long, with one reaching a monstrous fourteen. There's a bagpipe solo at the end of the record, and throughout the entire thing an undeniable degree of literary pretension in frontman Patrick Stickles' lyrics. They sound a lot like a drunken, Springsteen-obsessed bar band - except unlike your local bar band, there's also some Walt Whitman poetry read at one part of the show, by The Hold Steady's Craig Finn no less. At any rate, with fury and energy that have been nearly-unmatched in this decade by themselves or by any other band, it'd make for quite a fun show.

Standout tracks: "A More Perfect Union", "No Future, Pt. 3: Escape from No Future", "A Pot in Which to Piss", "The Battle of Hampton Roads"
Burial - Tunes 2011 to 2019
The last proper full-length album from Burial was 2007's Untrue, with the enigmatic South London producer releasing a handful of singles and EPs in the time since which capture much of the same introverted urban atmosphere while venturing into entirely new and stunning sounds. The two and a half hour anthology of all but one of his solo Hyperdub releases of the last ten years contains some of the most impressive electronic music of the period, exploring an incredible range of styles and ideas yet all distinctly Burial - moodiness, rain, vinyl crackle and all. These 17 tracks, several of which could be divided into multiple subsections themselves, are brought into an entirely new context by the compilation's sequencing, which is with a couple exceptions essentially in reverse chronological release order. The ambient tracks making up much of the first 40 minutes gain from this in particular, before minor footnotes in Burial's discography but now given a new light as a single, heavily-textured movement. When the synths finally hit in "Nightmarket", it's chilling, and the following tracks from 2013's Rival Dealer EP, here intersected by 2019's fast-paced "Claustro", now find their rightful place as the towering peak of his work this decade, transcendent and life-affirming as ever. From there, it's dancefloor music until the end, whether in dubstep, ambient techno or future garage, each immaculately capturing a rave scene which Burial claims to have never been a part of and a longingness matched by few producers so far in the 21st century.

Standout tracks: "Subtemple", "Hiders", "Come Down to Us", "Claustro", "Rival Dealer", "Ashtray Wasp", "Rough Sleeper", "Stolen Dog"
Disclosure - Settle
The debut by album by Disclosure, the duo comprised of brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, is a landmark dance record, showcasing the pinnacle of their talents and serving as a reference point in several following house and garage releases. The production on every moment of Settle is excellent, the album's sound situated somewhere between the deep house classics of the golden age of dance music and the more commercially-focused future house hits which dominated clubs and festivals alike for a brief period only a couple years after its release. It without a doubt captures the best characteristics of both of those styles: bouncy synth melodies, addictive rhythms and soaring vocal performances, here from several of the most talented newly-emerging British singers of this era. On top of these qualities is a strength of pop sensibility, wherein the duo perfects a balance of accessibility and pure, underground-influenced dance music to create a universal record where most of the songs fit just as well in the club as they do in the mall, or in the living room for that matter. It's dance music for people who don't usually listen to dance - and even so, aside from a couple tracks it never lets up, providing track-after-track of impeccable deep house music that when put together stand out as one of the style's best releases in years.

Standout tracks: "When a Fire Starts to Burn", "Latch", "F For You", "White Noise", "Voices", "You & Me", "Confess to Me"
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel
Throughout the 2010s, rapid technological advancements saw the world to become more interconnected than ever, but Fiona Apple doesn't seem to have noticed. She's spent most of her time over the past two decades holed up in her house, working on new music with no set schedule. She has virtually no social media presence and still uses a Hotmail address. No publicist either, giving only a single interview since 2012 and rarely any before that. She's long been one of America's most elusive singer-songwriters, as well as one of its most idiosyncratic, creating unorthodox art pop of little more than piano and percussion, influenced by cabaret and cocktail jazz and demanding every inch of attention from the listener in her powerful poetry and vivid imagery. The Idler Wheel, Apple's fourth album, comes seven years after her last, and is without a doubt her most captivating and refined work, and perhaps also her best yet. The album is a rollercoaster of anguish, seeing Apple fight with past partners and her own brain alike, dwelling on idealistic perceptions of relationships and her own seeming inability to love. She's aware of the imperfections of her lovers, but even more of her own faults, just as vengeful as she is self-loathing, despairing her inevitable isolation while also keeping a shimmer of hope that somehow it'll eventually all work out.

Standout tracks: "Every Single Night", "Valentine", "Jonathan", "Left Alone", "Werewolf", "Hot Knife"
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
By the release of Plastic Beach, Gorillaz were already a worldwide sensation. Whether through FIFA game soundtracks, iPod ads or Cartoon Network placements, the virtual band created by musician Damon Albarn and visual artist Jamie Hewlett was undoubtedly a pop culture phenomenon of the age of LimeWire and CD wallets, due much to the project's universalist genre-mixing and highly-iconic characters and animations. The band's third studio album is another defining piece of that legacy, containing several timeless singles and music videos that have become part of the collective conscious of at least two generations, and for much of the decade - save for the rightfully-overlooked The Fall - also an apparent send-off for the beloved band. Aided by high-profile guest performers from a multitude of eras and genres, including Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mick Jones, Little Dragon and Bobby Womack, Plastic Beach is an experience that reaches far outside the characters and confines of the already-established Gorillaz universe, but this new canon and freedom allows for many of the most soaring highs of the project's entire discography. In quirky hip-hop and disco-soaked art pop, Plastic Beach hones in on the strongest elements of the first two Gorillaz albums more than it explores new ones - but nevertheless, it might be Albarn's most ambitious release yet, as well as the best collective offering in his entire discography.

Standout tracks: "White Flag", "Rhinestone Eyes", "Stylo", "Empire Ants", "On Melancholy Hill", "Plastic Beach", "Pirate Jet"
Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Deafheaven are in a strange position in the music community: metal enough that hipsters on indie music forums can claim to listen to metal despite having only ever fully sat through and enjoyed four albums that can be called "metal", all of which by Deafheaven, while not metal enough to be fully accepted by purists on the metal forums of the same website. Despite being the most prominent driving force in, and perhaps even a pioneer of, an entire subgenre, the band have always worn their influences on their sleeves - post rock, black metal and shoegaze classics alike. On Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, they near-flawlessly execute their signature combination of these influences into their greatest body of work yet, replanting the best qualities of those influences like few other bands have in recent memory and surpassing their previous album-length efforts, all of the works of their contemporaries in blackgaze and many of those of the bands that wrote their playbook, all the while making it sound completely effortless. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is the best album any band that can tangentially be considered "metal" has put out in well over a decade, at times loud and unrelenting, at others beautiful and melodic, and often all at once - and finally, it may be the masterpiece of the band's discography, something only time can tell.

Standout tracks: "Honeycomb", "Canary Yellow", "Near", "Worthless Animal"
D'Angelo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah
With 1995's Brown Sugar and 2000's Voodoo, D'Angelo established himself as one of the most important figures of the early days of neo-soul, but for 14 years following his legendary second album the Richmond-born musician essentially went into hiding aside from a rare few features. His life practically fell apart during the time, seeing battles with alcoholism and drug addiction surrounding uncomfortableness with his status as a sex symbol, a close friend's suicide, a bad break-up, a car crash, several arrests and a falling out with most of his family. Black Messiah is anything but a continuation of the silky neo-soul of his early albums, influenced instead by legends of funk, jazz and rock and blues alike, a seemingly endless list of inspirations - Prince, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Sly Stone, B.B. King, The Roots, Roy Hargrove, so on - and actually, it doesn't really sound like any of these. I'm not sure what Black Messiah sounds like: it's unsettlingly relaxed while also highly chaotic, confident while also completely terrified - and perhaps this is a reflection of the era. Completed during the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street and released in the wake of Ferguson, it's an album about rising up in times of oppression, grasping for something to hold on to in a dire, uncertain world that has only continued to descend into deeper crisis in the time since.

Standout tracks: "Ain't That Easy", "1000 Deaths", "Sugah Daddy", "Really Love", "Back to the Future (Part 1)", "Til It's Done (Tulu)", "Another Life"
Arca - Arca
Having worked extensively with Björk, FKA twigs, Kelela, Kanye West and Frank Ocean, the fingerprints of Venezuelan producer and songwriter Alejandra Ghersi could be heard within all ends the musical experimentation throughout the 2010s. Her self-titled third studio album is her greatest and most focused solo work yet, an incredible step forward in her discography and boundary-pushing for electronic music at large in its execution. It's her first album to contain clear vocals - often in falsetto and entirely in her native Spanish, a language which for Ghersi now most commonly represents a theatrical violence. The result is an apocalyptic opera of sorts, filled with eerie imagery and lyrics that were largely improvised, distant, vulnerable love songs which look deeply into the despair of Ghersi's tortured soul as she confronts the terrifying realities of exploring a queer identity while trapped in a conservative culture. The album's production is as exciting as it is unsettling, filled with dark, claustrophobic soundscapes that range from shrill and industrial to glowing and beautiful, a disorienting experience which wraps classical instrumentation around mutated bass structures and glitched IDM textures. It's without a doubt the most impressive showcasing of Ghersi's sound design talents yet, the first masterwork from one of the most important producers in modern experimental music.

Standout tracks: "Piel", "Saunter", "Urchin", "Reverie", "Castration", "Coraje", "Desafío"
Solange - A Seat at the Table
While the more commercially-successful works of her sister often explore black femininity as a source of personal pride, the third album by Solange Knowles discusses blackness in a wider context. Written over the course of four years, several developments of the time surrounding its creation are worth consideration: the death of Trayvon Martin and eventual acquittal of his killer, of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and countless other unarmed black men, women and children at the hands of police all across the United States, of nine black churchgoers in a racially-motivated mass shooting in Charleston - and rapidly building from each of these, the Black Lives Matter movement, first on social media and then as a broader national campaign. A Seat at the Table is one of the last great albums of the Obama presidency, released less than six weeks before the election of unabashed hatred and racism and serving as a monument of black empowerment in the time since. Through monologues and mellow neo-soul, it captures reflections from a life of dealing with bigotry, whether in outright discrimination or daily microaggressions, finding conversation about each of these forms of oppression with any audience regardless of preestablished privilege or marginalization. Interwoven in this conversation is an expression of the beauty of black accomplishments, a celebration of the culture and traditions which A Seat at the Table has itself become a landmark work within.

Standout tracks: "Weary", "Cranes in the Sky", "Mad", "Where Do We Go", "F.U.B.U.", "Junie"
Beach House - 7
Accompanied by one of the decade's best full album visualizers, Beach House's 7 is a much-needed redefining of the Baltimore duo's signature sound, an accomplishment which feels like magic returning to an old artifact and making it shine once again just as bright as it had before. It's the band's heaviest album, often sitting on the line between what might be considered dream pop and shoegaze, their most electronic release, making use of synthesizers and distortion techniques that were largely unheard at all in their earlier work, and in subtle production textures and unexpected turns generally their most psychedelic as well. This new sound creates a sleeker, more mature aesthetic in comparison to the band's previous nostalgia, a perfect backing for the darker themes which are explored here. In the symbolism of the night sky, dimmed lights or a tale of a woman found dead in the River Seine, the album deals with things coming to an end in an abstract sense, alternating between a stalling relationship and reflections on human mortality. This focus perhaps makes it Beach House's most powerful album, it's sound and lyrics able to attach to the listener's emotions like nothing they've done before, bringing out excitement and deep catharsis all at once - and from that, the band has created a second masterpiece.

Standout tracks: "Pay No Mind", "Lemon Glow", "L'Inconnue", "Drunk In LA", "Dive", "Lose Your Smile"
Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
Originally a solo project of Will Toledo, Teens of Denial is the first (and currently only) Car Seat Headrest album of completely new material made with studio access and a full band. The album was hailed by some on release as saving indie rock, and is easily Toledo's most universal yet, expressing the pure depression of coming of age in witty lyrics and masterful songwriting. It released a few months before the beginning of my senior year in high school, quickly becoming the soundtrack of my life during that year and much of my freshman year in college in all of its anxiety, self-loathing, hopelessness and feelings of unbelonging. The narratives were much the same as the life I'd lived - failed attempts at romance, bitterness towards my hometown and escapist drug use while I aimlessly wandered through each passing day, unsure if my life had any point to it at all. In another timeline, this may have been my personal album of the decade - but I've now largely moved on and matured into a completely different person, more confident in who I am and my place in the world and certainly more optimistic about my future. I still think Teens of Denial is great, but it's now more of a memory than anything which defines my life, a touchstone of a past that I rarely have any desire to revisit, usually collecting dust in my record collection.

Standout tracks: "Fill in the Blank", "Vincent", "Destroyed By Hippie Powers", "Drugs With Friends", "Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales", "Cosmic Hero", "The Ballad of the Costa Concordia"
Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Earl Sweatshirt's third album is an incredible step forward for experimental and underground rap music, and one which showcases the Los Angeles rapper at his most forward-thinking. Earl creates a uniquely modern experience within the often vintage context of his crowd - and while built within the legacy of Madlib and J Dilla, the production stylings on Some Rap Songs have already become a reference board for a new generation of abstract hip-hop, something particularly clear on handful of new releases adjacent to the sLUms movement from the last year. The album is defined by seeming contradictions: it's less than 25 minutes long yet packs more into its runtime than other albums that reach nearly four times its length. The tracks cut into each other jarringly, but the transitions still manage to sound flawless. It's stocked full of some of the Earl's most clever lyrics yet and still has the audacity to mask them behind static, distortion and a lo-fi recording process. The instrumentals are often overwhelming, with brief bits from age-old jazz and soul samples looped over each other at some points six or seven layers deep, but achieve a sound that is strangely comforting and familiar. Some Rap Songs is a crowning achievement, and with current trends perhaps it will eventually find its place alongside its influences among the pantheon of game-changing rap albums.

Standout tracks: "Shattered Dreams", "Cold Summers", "Nowhere2go", "December24", "The Mint", "The Bends", "Veins"
Default Genders - Main Pop Girl 2019
Jaime Brooks’ second album as Default Genders is one with no real contemporaries, an experimental mish-mash of noise pop, lo-fi, '90s electronic music and psychedelia over timeless samples and breakbeats. Main Pop Girl 2019 is a rare album to find cohesion in such eclectic influences, achieving something in a category all of its own, a salad bowl of textures and sounds where each element can be picked out individually but together add up to far more than their individual parts. With masterful lyrical precision and pitched vocals, Brooks tells hopeless stories of a blue-collar world with a distinctly postmodern focus, like a 21st-century Bruce Springsteen with a love for raves and a Tumblr blog - in fact, there's even a cover of Springsteen's "Secret Garden" over a sped-up sample of Underworld's techno classic "Born Slippy .NUXX" on here. The cast of characters is inspired by experiences in a post-industrial Minneapolis: former prom kings and queens turned burned-out drug addicts, disgruntled minimum-wage workers trying to find purpose in a world with no opportunity, recently-divorced young adults figuring out how to start their lives over, prostitutes living in perpetual fear of encountering the cops - and hovering over them all, if only to dismiss each of these struggles, a class of wealthy neoliberals and trust-fund kids.

Standout tracks: "Reverse Chronological Order (Part 2)", "Pharmacoma (For Ben Deitz)", "Christmas Card from a Scammer in Minneapolis", "Vietato Calpestare I Prati", "Black Pill Skyline", "Reverse Chronological Order (Part 1)"
SZA - Ctrl
SZA's proper debut album is a landmark in r&b, bringing the style to new ends in hyper-specific lyricism and genre-bending production. Ctrl is often introspective and confessional, exploring every detail of coming of age and modern young relationships in an incredibly direct conversational tone. SZA's narratives are honest and liberating, flipping between past regrets, revenge sex, body image issues, dead end jobs, Netflix binges, ghosted Tinder dates, late nights of drinking and days of showing up to class stoned - all of the highs and lows of life as a 20 something, a small window of being both young and free. During initial studio sessions, many of Ctrl's songs were freestyled, later stripped-down, reworked and perfected into more minimalist tracks which let deep moods speak through the open air. The approach shows through in the album's sound, generally laid back and freely-flowing, a perfect atmospheric compliment for the casual vibe of SZA's lyrics. Ctrl is certainly an r&b album, although anything but a traditional one, taking production elements from hip-hop, indie rock, art pop and neo-soul - but every single exploration more realized than most albums that focus on just one sound. It usually takes artists several releases to create something this accomplished, and such early-career mastery from SZA perhaps is a sign of a legend in the making.

Standout tracks: "Love Galore", "Drew Barrymore", "Prom", "The Weekend", "Go Gina", "Broken Clocks", "Normal Girl"
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
The music of Jon Hopkins has long been some of electronic's most ethereal and cinematic. Over the first decade of his career, his greatest work had generally been behind the scenes in soundtracks, collaborative ambient releases or productions for Coldplay, Purity Ring and Imogen Heap, among others. On his excellent fourth solo album, the English producer finds himself in a new context, venturing into sleek progressive techno and microhouse and creating one of the decade's most cathartic listens within a four on the floor foundation. Several of Immunity's tracks achieve a rare case in dance music where the long, drawn-out buildups not only are their largest portion - occasionally to the point of literally being the entire track - but are much of what makes them so beautiful. In these thumping loops is always something melodic, whether minimal snippets of live instrumentation, powerful building synths, short bloops or other fine-tuned details, and from front to back the album's compositional nature is seamless and transcendent, sequenced to reflect a night out in the city. It's split at its center by one of the most beautiful ambient pieces released in years, essentially serving as a sort of intermission for two sides - the first pounding, the other more mellow, but both equally breathtaking.

Standout tracks: "Open Eye Signal", "Collider", "Abandon Window", "Sun Harmonics"
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The third studio album from Montréal indie band Arcade Fire is largely focused on a contrast between idyllic youthfulness and the new understandings gained from growing up. The Suburbs takes much of the same influence as 2007's Neon Bible - formative pop-rock artists of frontman Win Butler's early childhood, again translating nostalgic elements of Springsteen, Bowie, R.E.M. and U2 onto the generally artsier and more baroque indie rock sound Arcade Fire helped ignite with their debut. It certainly builds on the foundations of those early records, in the process painting two atmospheres: one of a scorching summer day in endless suburbia through adolescent eyes, careless of the world outside world; the other more matured, now finding greater fault with the setting in retrospect. As we grow up, childhood friends become more distant and the past begins to feel like wasted time. Moving on to a new stage in life can be painful, as independence can be shocking, often then a cataylst for reassessment of oneself and the naïvety of youth - in Butler's case, dissatisfaction with conformity, technological dependence and the realities of the working world, as well as realizations of how suburban life can become lifeless and isolating. The themes are universal, and with this comes a universal lesson: the past cannot be changed, however regrettable it may seem.

Standout tracks: "Ready to Start", "Empty Room", "Suburban War", "Wasted Hours", "Deep Blue", "We Used to Wait", "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"
Lorde - Melodrama
Having found success and now living in New York instead of suburban New Zealand, on her sophomore album Lorde explores the heartbreak and hedonism of fame. Produced with the aid of Jack Antonoff and written within much of the pop industry framework she seemed to be fighting against on Pure Heroine, Lorde builds upon the songwriting foundations of her debut while largely moving away from its minimalist sound into upbeat synthpop and Kate Bush-inspired art pop, as well as briefly venturing into piano ballads, dreamy guitars and trap beats. Melodrama takes the scene of a night-long house party, but despite this extroverted setting and its origins in a life of stardom, it's an extremely intimate album of more universal themes. In passionate writing and clever lyrical details, Lorde reflects on her first big breakup and all of the ensuing pain, sadness and uncertainty in her life going forward, now tasked with rediscovering the world without someone that had previously defined her view of herself. On a grander scale, it's about growing from a teen into an adult and all of the confusion of young womanhood, a time of realizing who you are as a person and who you want to be in the world, and the soaring highs and regrettable outcomes of choices made along the way, from relationships and eventual devastation to wild parties and the inevitable hangover.

Standout tracks: "Green Light", "Homemade Dynamite", "The Louvre", "Liability", "Writer in the Dark", "Perfect Places"
Alongside A. G. Cook, SOPHIE is one of the most important producers at the forefront of bubblegum bass, perhaps the decade's greatest development within both electronic music and pop music at large. Her boundary-pushing debut album, like most of her work, sits at a bizarre musical intersection - chaotic and synthetic enough to be considered experimental while also melodic and catchy enough to be considered pop. It's like bubblegum with an industrial shell, and the feeling it gives off is strikingly reminiscent of electronic music's roots in warehouse raves. While not the most pioneering release to come out of the group of artists within and adjacent to the PC Music label, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is up to this point by far the most lyrically deep and fully-realized, furthered in consideration of SOPHIE's position as one of the most prominent transgender women in the modern musical landscape. Themes include emotional stress resulting from gender stereotypes, dysphoria, isolation and detachment, alongside eventual self-love and acceptance, documenting the process of transitioning and related life circumstances in an often rather abstract sense. In its own right, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is an accomplishment which deserves discussion with the decade's masterpieces - but for SOPHIE, it is likely only the beginning of a career destined for even more incredible works.

Standout Tracks: "It's Okay to Cry", "Ponyboy", "Faceshopping", "Is It Cold In the Water?", "Infatuation", "Immaterial"
The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
In consideration of the one-dimensional mediocrity of their first and mind-numbing length of their second, the third album from English pop-rock band The 1975 is without a doubt one of the starkest jumps in quality between releases of any band so far this century, a stunning display of the band's stylistic versatility and the songwriting capabilities of frontman Matty Healy. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is not quite of any single genre, seeming as if the band chose influences on the whims of a dart board, exploring gospel choirs, tropical rhythm, glitchy breakbeats, autotune trap, jazzy sophisti-pop, soaring alt-rock, at points lifting elements of classics by Joy Division and The Blue Nile, others more recent works by Oasis and Bon Iver - and yet, every moment is done exceptionally well. It's the band's first album since Healy has been off heroin, now in rehab and wary of traditional rockist ideals. He expresses a gloomy view of the modern world, drawing philosophical comparisons to OK Computer-era Radiohead in the album's unease with modern technology and the depersonalization that it's caused, but there's a lot more addressed here than that common criticism: worries about the direction of political and societal developments, reflections on the loneliness of touring the world, longing love songs about a new life without heroin - topics largely drawn from Healy's personal experiences as one of the era's few true rock stars, but perhaps a reflection of much more than that, a deeper look into the faults of us all.

Standout tracks: "Give Yourself a Try", "How to Draw / Petrichor", "Love It If We Made It", "I Like America & America Likes Me", "It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)", "I Couldn't Be More In Love", "I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)"
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
The origins of Vampire Weekend as an indie success story are a unique consideration: preppy white kids at Columbia University bonding over punk rock, hip-hop and world music - art of the underprivileged - and having a record deal less than two years after their first show. While Afro-Caribbean influences had been replanted into pop music by Paul Simon and David Byrne more than a generation ago, in a more politically-conscious age the usage is perhaps a prime setup for accusations of cultural appropriation and parallels to the legacy of European imperialism. With Vampire Weekend, this debate is inescapable - but nonetheless by the release of their third album the Ivy League band had long-since surged into the mainstream, already highly-ranked among the early decade's quintessential indie acts and a central piece of hipster-urbanite culture. Modern Vampires of the City sees the band shift form into something notably less pretentious - a departure from their earlier global instrumentation and scholarly cross-references into something more confined and less all-knowing. The result is their strongest and most cohesive work both sonically and lyrically, expressing reflections of growing older and disillusionment with the state of the world, newfound maturity as the band pieces together a new view from the pieces of their chaotic surroundings.

Standout tracks: "Unbelievers", "Step", "Diane Young", "Hannah Hunt", "Everlasting Arms", "Finger Back", "Ya Hey"
Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION
Enjoying her biggest commercial success in 2012 with the smash hit "Call Me Maybe", the trajectory of Carly Rae Jepsen's career since has perhaps been one of the decade's least predictable. Rather than doubling down on the characteristics of her early success, the Canadian pop artist sought to reestablish her teen-pop image into a more sophisticated one, taking inspiration from the sounds and lyrical sensibilities of '80s synthpop and working those into a more modern context. The result is one of the decade's most impeccable pop albums, a collection of soaring songs about the complexities of love, every bit of the emotional longing, infatuation, joy and heartbreak of relationships. But while E•MO•TION contains some of the best pop songs of the decade, it's rarely the music that makes the album so special, but rather everything else it symbolizes. The album was far from a commercial success - whether due to public perceptions, label mismanagement or its retro sound simply not being what the general public wanted to hear at the time - but E•MO•TION has since become a cult classic within a largely LGBTQ+ audience, and for many of those fans Jepsen's underdog status is somewhat reflective of themselves, a community that through lack of acceptance has often never been given a fair chance by the general public, either.

Standout tracks: "Run Away With Me", "E•MO•TION", "All That", "Making the Most of the Night", "Your Type", "LA Hallucinations"
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
A close friend of mine recently posed to me a question: did Random Access Memories bring back disco? It's an interesting consideration that I've been pondering for the last few weeks. In the two decades since their debut, Daft Punk have left a mark on dance music with nearly each of their few releases. Homework tied together the ends of the '90s rave scene; Discovery blended pop nostalgia into non-stop house perfection; Human After All brought raw dance-rock to a new rave generation - and with each of these, the sound quickly caught fire within dance music. While Alive 2007 didn't rewrite the live album, the high-production light shows of modern EDM owe their existence to the tour it draws from, and even the soundtrack to Disney's Tron: Legacy has become a foundation for much of recent retrofuturist synthwave. However, on their fourth proper studio album, the legendary Parisian duo no longer look toward the future. Rather, Random Access Memories is a tribute to the past, exploring California-centric synth-funk, disco and smooth soul with the aid of those sounds' old pioneers and new innovators alike. It's the first Daft Punk album to use live instrumentation, immaculately produced and attentive to the techniques of its origins even in the details which can't be heard - and while it breaks little new ground, and may be their first to not rewrite dance music, it's nevertheless exceptional from front to back. But did it bring back disco? If so, only within its own bubble, but that is all it strives for anyhow.

Standout tracks: "Give Life Back to Music", "Giorgio by Moroder", "Instant Crush", "Touch", "Get Lucky", "Fragments of Time", "Contact"
Drake - Take Care
The release of Take Care sits at a critical point in the decade's developments in hip-hop, r&b and pop, right before - and perhaps partially responsible for - a transition between two distinct eras of the three increasingly-intertwined genres. It's sound is now often a reminder of the past: a point in time almost exactly a year after the release of the greatest verses of both Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj and long before the feud between Birdman and Lil Wayne. Rihanna's "We Found Love" was the biggest song in the world, Kendrick Lamar had just emerged from the underground and The Weeknd was nearing the end of his fantastic trilogy of early mixtapes. Already a superstar, Drake would go on to become the most commercially-successful artist of the decade, and his second album is the greatest work of that career, building upon the ideas explored on his debut in every aspect. His lyrics are far more impressive, as is his singing. The songs stand out from each other more, in large part due to the album's diverse production, ever-polished and luxurious, covering trap, post-dubstep, jazz samples and pounding house rhythms. By now, Drake's brand of fusing braggadocious rap and sensitive r&b has become ubiquitous in popular music, whether by his fellow Toronto natives or American contemporaries - and while many of those have been less-than-impressive offerings, much of it is still owed to Take Care.

Standout tracks: "Over My Dead Body", "Headlines", "Crew Love", "Take Care", "Lord Knows", "Look What You've Done", "HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)"
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really good list, it's consistent, no album is much better than the other, compact, really really really good. I do think some albums should be higher than another such as 21 by adele i think should be higher than Pop 2 but that's just personal taste, love the inclusion of the various artists' albums
This is a quite fantastic list! Keep up the great work
this is an outstanding list. you should truly be very proud of yourself over this. I could never
A very comprehensive and varied list. You also have an incredible way with words, very thoughtful descriptions. Congrats!
thank you!! yes i started on this some time in october and finished it about 2 hours before midnight on NYE ... but i am so glad to finally have a sort of collective guide to all of these great albums. i think i will do something similar at the end of this year for 2020 (although not with this many entries, good lord - maybe 50 at max)
Amazing list. This must have taken forever. Seriously, good job dude.
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