While we’re only a little more than halfway through, it’s astounding to me how great musically this last decade has been in comparison to the past decades of modern music. The best part? There’s still so much time left for more great music to happen. Let’s take a look back and review who has released the best albums of this decade so far.
30. No Cities to Love (2015) – Sleater-Kinney
The last time this punk trio released anything was nearly a decade ago. It’s nice to see them back, and with energy to spare, with arguably their most consistent release to date. Few returns are as smooth and hip-sounding as this one.
“We win, we lose. Only together, do we break the rules.” – Corin Tucker
29. 1989 (2014) – Taylor Swift
Although 2014 was a lackluster year for music overall, it was great to see Taylor Swift return with her best album yet. While Red was great in parts, her fifth effort saw America’s sweetheart complete her pop transformation. And while others might cry "sell-out", I see a pop triumph, a triumph others can only make in their wildest dreams.
“’Cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” – Taylor Swift
28. House of Balloons (2010) – The Weeknd
While his later offerings would offer disappointingly diminishing returns, this saw Abel Tesfaye master his distinct PR&B style. While Drake rapped his way to the top, The Weeknd crooned his way there with a mixtape that beats out most of the album competition.
“Trust me girl. You wanna be high for this.” – The Weeknd
27. James Blake (2011) – James Blake
It always pleases me to see artists produce their own works. Turns out post-dubstep pioneer James Blake had a divine voice that no one anticipated, as his EP’s leading up to this debut were purely instrumental. Great voices go nowhere without great production though. James Blake has both, and that’s what makes him a force to be reckoned with.
“All that I know is that I’m falling, falling, falling. Might as well fall in.” – James Blake
26. Kaleidoscope Dream (2012) – Miguel
I wasn’t entirely convinced by Miguel’s run-of-the-mill debut, but fortunately, this album came to pass. Unlike The Weeknd or any other coked-up, paranoid R&B singer, Miguel relies on his sincerity (and a little bit of marijuana) to display his love for music and women. It’s dorky at times, but I care little when he pelts out songs like “Adorn” and “Do You”.
“And I can’t wait. It’s the thrill, I feel my heartbeat race. And I can’t wait.” – Miguel
25. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) – Courtney Barnett
Sometimes, there’s just not much to a rock n’ roll musician other than a gift for pelting out great tunes. That’s pretty much Miss Barnett. Along with her sense of irony and relatable humor, she needs little else to make pop and rock n’ roll seamlessly mix.
“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you.” – Courtney Barnett
24. Contra (2010) – Vampire Weekend
No one really expected these guys to last past their excellent debut. It’s a fine one, but many artists fail to live up to that quality, especially when there’s not much to build upon. Instead, they’ve improved on it and have become indie’s most reliably great band. I can’t wait for them to prove everyone wrong again.
“You can turn your back on the bitter world.” – Ezra Koenig
23. This is Happening (2010) – LCD Soundsystem
If this had been James Murphy and friends’ true farewell, it would’ve been a heck of a finale. Just from the first song alone, “Dance Yrself Clean”, it’s already an assured hit. Still, it’s good knowing that it’s not their last, but instead just a fine album.
“Walking up to me, expecting words; happens all the time.” – James Murphy
22. Pure Heroine (2013) – Lorde
“Royals” hit the top spot on the charts, and I listened to it on my own for some random reason. And from that point on, I knew Lorde wasn’t the average indie-pop artist. What’s even better is that album followed through on “Royals” promise, providing non-Top 40 songs that were nearly as good.
“That kind of luxe just ain’t for us. We crave a different kind of buzz.” – Lorde
21. The Idler Wheel… (2012) – Fiona Apple
A couple of years later, this album is still hard to classify genre-wise. If it weren’t so complex musically, it could’ve dominated the charts as well. Indie, jazz, pop: it’s all here and there’s still nothing that sounds like it. Pop music for those who don’t like what’s on the radio.
“The rib is the shell and a heart is the yolk. And I just made a meal for us both to choke on.” – Fiona Apple
20. AM (2013) – Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys never fell off, but it’s obvious their initial hype died down after their second album. The next two albums were by no means mediocre, but they were in limbo while trying to find a new sound. Here, the Monkeys not only feel comfortable making indie rock with R&B undertones, but they actually have a sound they can claim to be their own.
“Do I wanna know, if this feeling flows both ways?” – Alex Turner
19. The Life of Pablo (2016) – Kanye West
The rollout of this album was unlike any other. But aside from all of the superficial aspects of its release, the album was polarizing, even more so than Yeezus. For the first time, West made an album without his trademark perfectionism. I soon came to embrace its unusual messiness, and even deemed it his own White Album. For a man who’s made a career of innovation and unpredictability, he outdid himself once again.
“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.” – Kanye West
18. Currents (2015) – Tame Impala
I liked Lonerism a lot, but not as much as this one. Not much of an 80’s fan, but there’s somewhat of a plethora of artists reviving synthpop, from Sky Ferreira to Taylor Swift. So far, Tame Impala have done it best, and it made for their best album to date. Tame Impala’s strictly-psychedelic fans will sulk, which is a shame. I’m loving this new sound.
“Making such a promise only leads to heartache, closer to an earthquake.” – Kevin Parker
17. A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) – Radiohead
The world’s greatest band (currently) didn’t start off the decade so hot; The King of Limbs wasn’t a bad album by any means, but it was simply too short and underwhelming compared to their other great works. Fortunately, after an ever-so-long hiatus, Radiohead returned. Unlike many of their ambitious works, this album sees Radiohead at their most human, while still being awe-inspiring for its beauty and orchestral arrangements. They are no longer looking to impress or innovate; the music does that regardless.
“I’ll drown my beliefs, to have your babies. I’ll dress like a niece, to wash your swollen feet.” – Thom Yorke
16. good kid m.A.A.d city (2012) – Kendrick Lamar
Before Kendrick could make his bolder ideas more public, Kendrick had to compromise with something more mainstream. Fortunately, this did not mean selling out, and what we got was an album that bumps and tells a story. Not bad for a compromise.
“If a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?” – Kendrick Lamar
15. Art Angels (2015) – Grimes
Pop’s weirdest artist, but she wasn’t always the eccentric banger-making artist she is today. Her previous works were admirable, but rarely stretched beyond that. With Art Angels, Grimes makes pop that’s not quite ready for the radio, but it will definitely please anyone that will listen. And I urge anyone and everyone to do so.
“If you’re looking for your dream girl, I’ll never be your dream girl…” – Grimes
14. Coloring Book (2016) – Chance the Rapper
Acid Rap was exceptional for an underground rapper, but now Chance is with the big boys, and that happened with his extraordinary feature on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”. Then, his third mixtape dropped, and it was official. Call it this generation’s College Dropout, because there are few albums out there with this much soul and emotion. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it this generation’s best mixtape.
“I speak of wondrous unfamiliar lessons from childhood; make you remember how to smile good.” – Chance the Rapper
13. High Violet (2010) – The National
Sad indie boys are hit or miss in music. But these aren’t boys; they’re men. Unlike Arcade Fire’s childlike tendencies, The National know the working man’s struggle, and like Arcade Fire, they achieve grandiose heights with it. Everything after “Bloodbuzz Ohio” could be considered a National’s greatest-hits compilation.
“Sorrow found me when I was young. Sorrow waited, sorrow won.” – Matt Berninger
12. Helplessness Blues (2011) – Fleet Foxes
I rarely get onboard with the lyrical material of indie folk musicians, but with Fleet Foxes, I could care less about what troubles they have or whatever existential wonders they come up with. What I listen to them for is their diverse instrumentation, glorious harmonies, and Robin Pecknold’s mountainous voice. Lyrics? Whatever, we have poetry and literature for that.
“And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be… a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” – Robin Pecknold
11. Halcyon Digest (2010) – Deerhunter
I love it when bands add a pop inflection onto their own sound. Pop music always has the best melodies even if the rest of the elements aren’t so great. This is why Deerhunter’s attempt to make their music a little more accessible is ultimately successful. This allowed them to make more accessible highlights such as “Don’t Cry” and “Memory Boy”, and still create breathtaking epics like “Desire Lines” and “Helicopter”.
“Only bored as I get older. Find new ways to spend my time.” – Bradford Cox
10. Take Care (2011) – Drake
This isn’t the decade’s best album, but it’s arguably the one that defined this generation the most. Drake set out on a mission to distinguish himself from all the others. Picking up where Kanye left off on 808s and Heartbreaks, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib mastered the art of rapping and singing and gave us this gloomy, yet heartfelt, masterpiece.
“We live in a generation of not being in love.” – Drake
9. In Colour (2015) – Jamie xx
Electronic music has never been my thing as far as “art” goes, but Jamie Smith’s debut makes a case for how rave music can be up for consideration. The title and cover art are appropriate, as the music ranges in many sounds, from trap to garage-house. Solo efforts are typically underwhelming, but I would’ve never believed Jamie would’ve been the one do anything better than his work with The xx.
“Didn’t I take you to higher places you can’t reach without me?” – Romy Madley Croft
8. The Suburbs (2010) – Arcade Fire
There’s a reason Arcade Fire have been as successful as they’ve been. Youth is always something we’ll long for; Arcade Fire offers that in spades. Neon Bible showed maturation, but The Suburbs backtracked to the same childlike tendencies seen on Funeral. But I’m not complaining. Not many bands have a third masterpiece…in a row.
“In my dream, I was almost there, and you pulled me aside and said you’re going nowhere.” – Win Butler
7. Modern Vampires of the City (2013) – Vampire Weekend
I highly doubt Vampire Weekend will be able to keep up the trend of making each album better than the last. As masters of songwriting, they and Belle & Sebastian are the heirs to The Beatles when it comes to brilliant arrangements and catchy melodies. This is their best and their wisest offering to date, and it’s hard to imagine improving on such a masterwork.
“Wisdom’s a gift, but you trade it for youth. Age is an honor, but it’s still not the truth.” – Ezra Koenig
6. Black Messiah (2014) – D’Angelo
It’s not a coincidence that Black Messiah came out when it did. After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, D’Angelo sped up the release of the record in a time where a musical response was imperative. Not only was it the most important release of the year, it was definitely the most impressive musically. You could even call it this time’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Nothing really justifies a 14-year hiatus, but D’Angelo seemed destined to come back when he did.
“All we wanted was a chance to talk. ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk.” – D’Angelo
5. Beyoncé (2013) – Beyoncé
Beyoncé is someone I kind of liked, but could never fully get behind. I’d enjoyed her singles despite her spotty discography. Then she somehow surprise-dropped this album, and the world stood still. No longer was she a singles-artist; she was an album’s artist. It also helped that this album contained some of her best singles to date, not to mention the non-single cuts like the bubblegum-pop “Blow” or D’Angelo-like “Rocket”.
“Pretty hurts. Shine the light on whatever’s worse. Perfection is the disease of a nation.” – Beyoncé
4. Teen Dream (2010) – Beach House
Indie pop has never been done this well and it’s hard to believe that it will ever be as enjoyable as this. Song for song, there are no wasted moments, and all of the songs have a distinguishable hook, or even several. Look to the top of the charts, and even that song will have trouble being as irresistible as songs like “Lover of Mine”, “Norway”, or “Used to Be”.
“Need more people to be satisfied. No fear of a god and prayer for the night.” – Victoria Legrand
3. Channel Orange (2012) – Frank Ocean
The album title may be a singular color, but don’t be fooled. This album compares to an artist’s palette in terms of sonics. It would be a crime to generically label it as an R&B album; the genres range as far as R&B, neo-soul, electronica, jazz, funk, rock, and even psychedelia. His mixtape was good, but few music critics would be able to foreshadow just how well Ocean found his footing on his first step. Now the real question is, Frank, where are you at? We need more of this.
“Or do you not think so far ahead? ‘Cause I’ve been thinking ‘bout forever.” – Frank Ocean
2. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Kendrick Lamar
Not many people will admit it, but when this dropped, their feelings were mixed, lightly put. Those who expected a good kid m.A.A.d city part two, including me, were in for a surprise. Feelings ranged from: Hating it, loving it, and admiring it, but not enjoying it. I was the third, but it gradually found its way onto my favorite-albums-list. Kendrick’s sociopolitical album is fantastic in its tunes and its importance in 2015. Few others can sport an anthem for a movement, or make a song showing the contradictions of both the black and white community.
“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was killed in the street, when gangbanging made me kill a n***a blacker than me. Hypocrite.” – Kendrick Lamar
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Kanye West
Kanye never dipped in quality. 808s and Heartbreaks was a genre-changing near-masterpiece, but was underappreciated. His public image never recovered, but that hardly matters when you are the best album-maker since…dare I say, The Beatles? Despite maintaining quality, I’d still mark this as one of the great comebacks in music history. His narrative around this time is quite legendary; he was confused, spiraling out of control, his mother died, he broke up with his girlfriend, he exiled himself to Hawaii, and recorded this album in isolation, and it won virtually all of the critic’s approval. Never before has hip hop been so self-revelatory or so grandiose. If that isn’t a comeback, then nothing else is. If you ever wonder why people are sticking up for this “douche”, then this album alone should provide a clear answer.
“Is hip hop just a euphemism for a new religion? The soul music of the slaves that the youth is missing.” – Kanye West