The Great Albums of the 2010’s
This list is all of the great albums i have heard in the ten year span of 2010-current. No limit on number
2013 edition = 70 entries
2016 edition = 164 entries
2017 edition = 209 entries
2019 edition = full reviews in progress
new! = new addition
Up – moved up the list since last time
down – moved down the list since last time
italics – 5 star albums
regular font – 4 ½ star albums
1.Drogas Wave – Lupe Fiasco (2018)
2.Hidden – These New Puritans (2010)
3.Algiers – s/t (2015)
4.PROTO – Holly Herndon (2019)
5.Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples (2017)
6.A Laughing Death in Meatspace – Tropical Fuck Storm (2018)
7.Marnie Stern – s/t (2010)
8.Viscera – Jenny Hval (2011)
9.Bottomless Pit – Death Grips (2016)
10.Run the Jewels – Killer Mike and EL-P (2013)
11.Put Your Back N2 It – Perfume Genius (2012)
12.Tomorrow’s Hits – The Men (2014)
13.Carrion Crawler/The Dream – Thee Oh Sees (2011)
14.Immunity – Jon Hopkins (2013)
15.You Won’t Get What You Want – Daughters (2018)
16.Seduction of Kansas – Preists (2019)
17.The Underside of Power – Algiers (2017)
18.Have One on Me – Joanna Newsom (2010)
19.A Coliseum Complex Museum – The Besnard Lakes (2016)
20.Half Free – U.S. Girls (2015)
21.Lese Majesty – Shabazz Palaces (2014)
22.Feelin Kinda Free – The Drones (2016)
23.San Fermin – s/t (2013)
24.The Seer – Swans (2012)
25.The Scene Between – The Go! Team (2015)
26.Death Magic – Anna Von Hausswolff (2018)
27.Remind Me Tomorrow – Sharron Van Etten (2019)
28.Slave Ambient – War On Drugs (2011)
29.Loud City Song – Julia Holter (2013)
30.Graphic – Troller (2016)
31.Pears – Dwight Yoakum (2012)
32.Mines – Menomena (2010)
33.Tetsuo and Youth – Lupe Fiasco (2015)
34.One Eye Sees Red – Lonker See (2018)
35.RTJ2 – Run the Jewels (2014)
36.Painted Ruins – Grizzly Bear (2017)
37.Love – Amen Dunes (2014)
38.Return of Luscious Left Foot – Big Boi (2010)
39.The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight,
The Harder I Fight the More I Love You – Neko Case (2013)
40.Schlagenheim – Black Midi (2019)
41.The Idler Wheel – Fiona Apple (2012)
42.Home Acres – Aloha (2010)
43.The Impossible Kid – Aesop Rock (2016)
44.Eleania – Floating Points (2015)
45.Ex-Military – Death Grips (2011)
46.Near to the Wild Heart of Life – Japandroids (2017)
47.Old – Danny Brown (2013)
48.Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae (2018)
48.Mutilator Defeated at Last – Thee Oh Sees (2015)
50.City Sun Eater In the River of Light – Woods (2016)
51.Moon Scales – Alcest (2010)
52.Kendrick Lamar – (2012)
53.Thank Your Lucky Stars – Beach House (2015)
54.Freedom – Amen Dunes (2018)
Amen Dunes exists on his own spectrum, project of Damon McMahon who has only released 4 records total in this decade-plus career. That is because each album is a fine tuned work of beauty and craftsmanship, and Freedom is another solid release. Two of the best songs Amen Dunes have ever made are present here: the soft-spoken and emotional climax present in “Miki Dora” is executed perfectly, a rare example of a prefect song that achieves what it is trying to do, worthy of the best of Van Morrison. It’s not too loud and not too showy.
Secondly there is the underrated “Dracula”, a song I have not been able to stop listening to since i heard it, a spooky sounding yearning for the meaning of life in a world that is constantly set to drain us. The album is full of folk-rock updated for the 2010’s, like the pulsating “Time”, and the patient opener “Blue Roses”, the contemplative “Call Paul the Suffering”, and the brief “Saturdah”. “Skipping School” incapsulates the feeling of freedom itself, as he tells a story of what it was like to break the rules in his childhood. It all works brilliantly and each separate tune sucks you into a unique world where we become one with the universe. Freedom is a record that pushes Amen Dunes’ sound forward, and who knows where it will go from here.
Best Songs: Dracula, Miki Dora, Time, Skipping School
55.Memories are Now – Jesca Hoop (2017)
Jesca Hoop is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the decade for sure with about 7 albums to her name so far. Hoop’s unique, stripped down style is one for the ages, taking a disjointed sound and atmosphere and making it sound very nurturing and immediate as well. “Animal Kingdom Chaotic” is a great tale of technology versus our own brains, told in a nonsensical style. “The Lost Sky” and the abtly titled “Simon Says” recalls Paul Simon is a couple of ways: the former with its mysterious aura and haunting lyrics, the latter having a playful quality like its from another Victorian era all together. The title track “Memories are Now” sets up the template for odd time signatures and catchy choruses and “Cut Connection” is an instant classic of folk music with an airy melody that stays in your head for days.
The second side of the record is a little more of an acquired taste, but no less entertaining once odd tales such as “Unsaid” and “Pegasi” are absorbed into the psyche, the latter is perhaps her prettiest song. Closer “The Coming” encapsulates the entire record, playing like a dirge from down below and making us want even more. Her tunes are unpredictable but very endearing. Jesca has the ability to pull you into her world, as her sound is that of angst portrayed in an often jarring contrast to the minimal acoustic counterpart. The best tunes rival that of Joni Mitchell and Joana Newsom. This is her most successful album, though Stonechild (2019) is about equally as great and her collaboration with Iron and Wine “Every Songbird Says” from 2016 is probably her catchiest song. Hoop’s is a female voice that blows all her male counterparts away, though at times it’s merely a whisper.
Best Songs: Cut Connection, Memories are Now, The Lost Sky, Animal Kingdom Chaotic
56.Beauty and Ruin – Bob Mould (2014)
For me, Bob Mould is one of the most unique songwriters of all time. From his days in the hardcore progressive punk band Husker Du through his radical (or not so radical viewing certain parts of the last 2 Husker albums) change to singer-songwriter afterwards, Mould has wondered back and forth and in and out of almost every kind of music known to man. Though I think he did most of the styles very well, the exception being his club faux disco phase in the mid 2000’s, he is always better when he is rocking out. Mould began rocking like he did in the 80’s and 90’s again on 2012’s Silver Age, a nice return to form after being reminded by Dave Ghrol’s concert in his honor from 2011 that “oh yeah I influenced an entire generation!” Maybe he always knew it secretly and just had to try other things for a while, but even on later albums like Patch the Sky (2016) and Sunshine Rock (2019) he sounds revitalized with a new power trio made up of Jon Wurster on drums and Jason Narducy on bass. I mean he can write rock songs better than anybody, and he proves it with Beauty and Ruin.
“Low Season” beings the record in a depressed mood but its heart is deep in the dirt, and the album progress from there. “Little Glass Pill” and “Kid with the Crooked Face” are fierce and punchy like his best songs always were, while “I Don’t Know You Anymore” brings the irresistible pop chorus from the 1960’s radio into play. “The War” and “Fire in the City” put so much pathos under the distorted guitar chords its amazing they work at all but they can manage to make you tear up for sure telling stories from a master of alternative rock long ignore by the public. “Tomorrow Morning” is an ancestor of The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” if there ever was one.
“Nemesis Are Laughing” and “Forgiveness” are straight up bizarre tunes that only work because of Mould’s will power and determination, seriously these songs they could come from no one else. The record is clean cut like his second power trio Sugar was, but it’s a beautiful mix of punk energy, acoustic ballads, and just plain unique rock n roll like no one else on the planet can do. I can highly recommend a Bob Mould album as one of the greatest albums of the decade, and it feels great has been a while since I have said that! I always had faith he’d come back rocking.
Best Tracks: Fire In the City, The War, I Don’t Know You Anymore, Nemeses are Laughing
57.Inside the Rose – These New Puritans (2019)
Despite a six year silence between albums, albeit a live album and some live performances, the band has lost none of it’s unique sound on fourth album Inside the Rose. They continue to be hard to define, and this is their most psychedelic and laid-back sounding record yet, somehow creating music defined as “rock” without a guitar to be found. Each song feeds into the next in away thought sound well planned out but also sort of a stream of consciousness flow. Title track “Into the Rose” is a traditional sounding mood piece starting out, but halfway through pulls a new age influence a la Enya and shifts by losing its rhythm and form and endures a mournful coda. “Anti Gravity” and “Into the Fire” recall their masterwork Hidden, with intricate percussion by George Barnett and dreamy vocals, full of repeating harmonics and a sort of gothic rock n roll influence (sort of??). “Six” and “Lost Angel” are mainly instrumental, short interludes that allow the listener to contemplate the new cosmic formations they have been witnessed to.
Still, those are the more easily comprehensible songs. “Infinity Vibraphones” as a hell of on opening track to the album, only revealing its bizarre melody upon multiple listens and we get the impression that the song could easily have been twice as long and been just as good. “Beyond Black Suns” is literally two songs happening at the same time, one sang by lead singer Jack Barnett and the other whispered by guest female vocalist, and the way the two songs collide throughout operatic interludes is a wonder to behold. Best of all there is “A-R-P”, perhaps the best song on here brings minimalist synthesizer work of Field of Reeds back to reveal the soul of the group is still lost in the ether; the elongated intro giving way to a pounding crescendo of yearning by the end. Only song that fails to resonate with me is the nursery rhyme “Where the Tress are On Fire”, as it meanders around without purpose a bit much for my tastes. In all, this is the shortest record by the group yet at only 40 minutes, which prevents us from being fatigued at all by the challenging ideas and leaves us wanting more. The art of These New Puritans remains complex and impenetrable, like all great works of art should be.
58.Black Up – Shabazz Palaces (2011)
Shabazz Palaces are one of the great hip hop duo’s of the last five years, and along with Run the Jewels the members were previously active in other groundbreaking rap groups before. They approach rap music like aliens from outer space, not only in the sound effects used on their records but also in their approach to lyrics and emphasis on words. Some words in phrases are brought OUT more than others, if that makes SENSE. “There, I want to be there, let me be in there,” is an example of a lyric that has multiple meanings and one meaning all at once. The way the duo raps has been criticized in a negative way as too old fashioned by some, probably linked to the fact that Ishmael Butler used to be in the 90’s collective Digable Planets, but in reality it’s a whole different approach – to rap as if hearing words for the first time, naive but effective.
Shabazz Palaces don’t sound like anybody because of their odd approach, the act is more about the “album” than the song and more about parts of songs in a larger suite than traditional song structures. This makes Black Up a difficult listen to some, but for the right kind of music adventurer it’s the album and the group that hip-hop has needed for the last 30 years. And it still is very approachable for all of the weirdness: “Recollections of the Wriath” could be a modern r&b single, while “An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum” and “The Kings New Clothes” have catchy hooks. Black Up is the debut album of a group creating a new kind of rap music.
Best Tracks: An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum, Yeah You, Endeavors for the Never
59.Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave (2016)
I’ve tried to write a review avoiding the obvious, but Nick Cave suffered an awful loss during the making of this album, and it is so apparent because the album is his most grief stricken yet. That is saying A LOT of course, and fans of Cave since the late 1970’s know this man has some harrowing stuff in his impressive repertoire. Maybe a better thing to say about the man is that this is his most sympathetic album yet, the record on which the listener is pulled into his personal anguish and feels the pain of losing a child at a young age in full effect. “Girl in Amber” contains some of his most telling lyrics in his current state, and it exemplifies how grave Cave is being by sharing his tragedy with all of us.
Some Songs really stand out as harrowing trips: “I Need You” sounds like Cave is actually crying each word, while “Jesus Alone” demonstrates his tactic if setting up mood brilliantly. “Rings of Saturn” is a ghostly number haunted by spirits of the neither world but it a catchy way and title track “Skeleton Tree” connects the themes of personal and universal yearning like no other Cave album before it. Its one of Cave’s best albums ranking with The Good Son and Henry’s Dream. The trick: the listener almost feels guilty for enjoying the haunting music.
60.Clinging to a Scheme – Radio Department (2010)
One of the most unique pop bands around, The Radio Dept. are a Swedish group patterned off of many of the singer/songwriter acts of the early 00’s. The closest comparison I can think of is Badly Drawn Boy meets Belle and Sebastian. They had many enjoyable laid back hazy pop releases, but this album was their best. Enjoyable and carefree but very well made, electronic fused pop.
The carnival vibe of “Heaven’s On Fire”, pulsating keyboards of “This Time Around”, odd reggae throwback of “Never Follow Suit”, and jubilant “Memory Loss” are among the great pop songs of our time. “A Token of Graditude” plays with the traditional structure of sounds some and fades out with a soothing coda, and “You Stopped Making Sense” is one of the great album closers of the decade. The band succeeds at evoking an image of nostalgia while making an almost perfect pop record.
Best Tracks: Heaven’s On Fire, Never Follow Suit, You Stopped Making Sense
61.Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett (2015)
Barnett filled a void that is always much needed in any year: a solid, hard rock album. There are also echoes of power pop (“Elevator Operator”, “Aqua Profunda!”, “Debbie Downer”) and plenty of darker, more complex diversions (“Small Poppies”, “Kim’s Caravan”) that make the album more than just another traditional release. It had the potential to be the next Nirvana’s Nevermind with a lead single that can appeal to everyone in “Pedestrian at Best”, and she whips up a classic alternative rock sound that channels 1990’s acts such as Pavement, Liz Phair, and Madder Rose.
In a lot of ways, the album feels planned out to show all facets of Barnett’s personality almost to the point of mathematical precision. It expands on her two initial EPs to a fully formed record, and still plays better than anything she has released since. It’s an awkwardly named album that hits all the right notes and proves that she can master any rock music style. That’s rare in any year, so it is a very welcome presence in rock music.
Greatest Songs: Pedestrian At Best, Kim’s Caravan, Aqua Profonda!, An Illustration of Loneliness
62.Aviary – Julia Holter (2018)
For anyone expecting a further adventure into pop music territory for Holter, this album will come as a shock. At 90 minutes and 15 songs, it is a statement of complete absurdity. Stranger and more abstract then even her debut Tragedy, the album is a challenge to say the least. For those up for it, Avairy is very rewarding listen, requiring some time investment to truly unravel. There is still an element of catchy tunes but they are more like invitations to lure you into the darkness. Most of the material on Aviary is dense, labyrinth and quite the sonic journey. It’s a bold career move, if nothing else.
The majority of the songs on the record extend the six minute mark, but among the more memorable is the pulsating “Underneath the Moon” with is keyboard churning rhythm, “Voce Simul” with its beautiful overlapping vocals, “Another Dream” with its use of mysterious atmosphere, and “In Gardens’ Muteness” incorporates expert piano playing as a minimal accompaniment, echoing Joanna Newsom and her most soulful, succeeding in being a classical music composition. It should be reiterated too, that Holter has mastered the craft of over-lapping vocals to create psychedelic atmospheres, as well as The Cocteau Twins before her, and tunes such as “Words I Heard” and “I Shall Love pt. 2” are a joy to behold. “I Would Rather See” defines epic songwriting, in whatever genre you want to contain it in, the song is truly a timeless creation, a tune that Enya or Sinead O’Conner would be proud to call their own.
Overall the successes outweigh the failures, and it is hard to criticize an album to harshly that is so inventive and risk taking, especially compared to bland pop music of the era. Taking the best two-thirds of Aviary is perhaps Holter’s grandest album though, and that is a point (like the majority of double albums on the market) that is hard to argue with.
63.Cosmology – Rolo Tomassi (2010)
One if my favorite bands of the previous decade (2000-2009) was The Fiery Furnaces, and in many ways Rolo Tomassi are their heir for the 2010s. The main brother/sister duo singer/ songwriters are Eva and James Spence, their musical technicality is beyond impressive as a band, and the songs are insanely complex. The obvious difference would be, Rolo Tomassi often scream and growl every word they sing at you. The ferocity if the singing style is usually reserved for metal bands but that’s not really what genre I would put this band in. In fact I’m hard pressed to think of any tag that fits their style, especially with producer Diplo producing and adding his own twist on the sounds.
The record opens as a beautiful kiss off to people who dare to listen, the first three songs are all barley a minute long and grindcore rambles that are barley cohesive (“House House Cassonva” standing as the best of the three). After that begins the complex 5 songs-in-one of “Party Wounds”, truly a new form of compact songwriting somehow catchy though it never repeats itself. “Saika” is an even more extreme variation, “Kaisa” and “Tounge in Chic” are longer versions of the same thing with the latter aiming for the upper atmosphere in terms of a epic chorale. “Cosmology” is an excellent closer leaving that does not let us off the hook by summing up the entire record and leaving us exhausted afterwards.
The combination of angelic melody and screaming recalls both Blood Brothers and Sleater Kinney in positive ways. The band expands on this sound quite a bit on their latter albums Grievances (2015) and Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (2018). Eva Spence has to be counted among one of the greatest front-women of the decade, and the band has formed an impressive cult of their own.
Best Songs: party wounds, tongue in chic, kasia
64.Is Not Defeated – The Ascent of Everest (2019)
The Ascent of Everest Is Not Defeated is a perfect return for the group after a nine year break between records, as it shows how the group has summarized all their collective strengths to make their best record yet. The sound is overwhelming in the best possible way, the song structures are unpredictable and enjoyable, and each new track brings a new idea to the forefront. It’s a dense, seventy-minute plus album that works all the way through thanks to its diversity and unpredictable songs while still maintaining their pronounced post-rock style. “Buried in the Leaves” is an amazing launch into their world, using dual female / male vocals to great effect with a tune that haunts your mind for days; “Aimless” is an apt name for a song that crashes and drowns you like a pirate lost at sea throughout its epic run time; “Dreadful Patient Persistence” might be the most accessible song they have produced yet as singer Devin Lamp brings forth the luminous quality present in progressive rock greats like Pink Floyd and The Church.
The new album has more female vocals than ever before, and it produces some sublime moments: the echoing fairies of “I Could Have Loved You”; the laid back space-country vibes of “Magnolia” which sounds like an alien race interpreting what flowers are for the first time (nice use of phaser effects); the siren wails of “Eyelids Like Anchors”. There are also little gems that only reveal themselves on multiple listens- the perfect ending to the first chapter of the record on “Too Sweet”; the mesmerizing cello of Casey Kaufman on “Words Fail”; the awesome rock n roll ending of “Secret Truth”. “Take Control” starts of as a somber eulogy but quickly transforms into a pulsating march all within the span of four minutes.
The band retains the style they began with on 2006’s How Lonely Sits The City, and the record ends with a 4 part instrumental ballad suite that plays as one monumental song: as the touching “Awake Before Dawn” starts innocently with a naïve melody as it flows effortlessly into “Break the Horizon” and the noisy breakdown of “My Body Broke My Mind Burned”, capping with the crescendo of “The Valley Below” which is some of the most touching and angelic music they or any band has ever produced. The fact that it all holds together so well is a testament to the group and proof that these musicians believe in making music that can shake the soul. Is Not Defeated is an album that matches the groups’ namesake, as it proves some albums should be ambitious double albums and earn their length, and that music has meaning beyond mere words and is truly an art unto itself.
Best Songs: Awake Before Dawn, Dreadful Patient Persistence, Words Fail, Buried In Leaves, Too Sweet
65.Dark Bird is Home – The Tallest Man on Earth (2015)
Tallest Man kept getting better until this album, which is my favorite. Another fascinating thing about this record is it gets better as it goes, the second half is nearly perfect: “Sagres” is a soaring beauty of a melody that may be his best tune yet; “Timothy” recalls Dylan’s Desire era with a Scottish tinge; “Beginners” and “Seventeen” are the kind of epic ballads he has always excelled at; “Dark Bird is Home” is maybe his most complex song to date, lyrically and musically.
It’s strange how good he is at crafting albums since he is not generally credited as an album artist, more for his quirky singing style. True folk rock is rarely done well with apt instrumentation and while its true that he can venture close to Billy Joel ballad territory at times (not always a bad thing), TM’s folk has never veered so close to actually rocking before then it does here. On Dark Bird is Home, it totally succeeds and stands as his best album.
Best Songs: Sagres, Seventeen, Dark Bird is Home, Darkness of the Dream
66.Slowdive – s/t (2017)
In an era of band reunions, Slowdive’s was perhaps the most inevitable. I love how everyone starts off their review of this record like Slowdive have been anywhere the last twenty years. Primary songwriters Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell simply changed their name to Mojave 3 after Slowdive released their last album back in 1995 and though the approach was somewhat different, the couple never stopped making amazing, atmospheric rock music.
This “reunion” album is a merging of what Mojave 3 was doing with their atmospheric folk rock with a little distortion added from the Slowdive of old, and as the band accepts their legacy with songs like “Slow Roving” they also expand it with the eight-minute piano dirge “Falling Ashes” and moody daydreams such as “Sugar for the Pill” and “Everyone Knows”, showing a true lineage between The Cocteau Twins (the dreamy “dream pop”) and the 21st century digital age. It should also be said that Slowdive’s return to their shoegaze roots is more welcome and better complete than My Bloody Valentine’s was, as the two bands will forever be compared to each other. Slowdive made a conscious effort to expand their sound while remaining tethered to their roots. It’s just great songwriting from people who know exactly how rock music should sound.
Best Songs: Star Roving, Falling Ashes, Sugar for the Pill
67.UZU – Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (2013)
Yamantaka Sonic Titan’s influence and original stance make them a standout among contemporary rock artists. Part progressive rock (the ‘concept album aspects), part psychedelic (“Lamia” is pure shoegaze glory), part art rock. The all women combination of Asian-Canadians (!?!) are very true to the history of music, but also very futuristic and unique on their own.
Take a song like “Whalesong”: it sets the theme of the record up like some kind of sea shanty or banshee’s litany, but it is produced like an arena rock song and could only be categorized as pure classic rock, though in the progressive rock category. As the album chugs along there is surely a theme of travel, and of existing in modern times; “One” is one of the greatest rock-fusion songs ever made – it marks the point where Japanese psych music meets black metal tribal wailing. “Hall of Mirrirs” harks bzck to Kraftwerk’s Trabs Europe Exress album. Uzu is some kind of monumenal feat, for sure, even if it remains underrated and too unheralded in our time.
Best Tracks: One, Seasickness, Hall of Mirrors
68.Angels & Devils – The Bug (2014)
In a way The Bug albums remind me of what Massive Attack did on Blue Lines back in 1991: they take the top vocalists they know of for the style they need which is some kind of mix of dance, reggae, and hip hop. The difference is that Kevin Martin has been doing this for 25 years under different monikers (Techno Animal, God, Ice) and refining his craft so that each of his albums keep getting better and better. While the record could be divided into two halves, each one devoted to different kinds of songs, it works as a whole better than almost anything else he has ever done.
The world did not feel the same way, as Martin’s newest record got very mixed reviews but in honesty it is his most touching work. “Ascension” and “Pandi” are instrumentals of incredible power; “Function” and “Dirty” are some of the most badass reggae tracks ever made in any era; “Void”, “Mi Lost” and “Save Me” are some of the most odd and touching tracks Bug has done yet. Hopefully we won’t have to wait 6 years between each album from now on, as this record make you crave for more.
Best Tracks: Function, Save Me, Dirty, Mi Lost
69.Case / Lang / Veirs – s/t (2016)
As different as these artists are, they work together to create a unified whole like few before them. The main comparison is Crosby/Stills/Nash and Young and the tri-vocal harmonies of “I Want to Be There” and “Atomic Number” displays this passionately. “Delirium” would be a true hit single from in alternate universe, with its odd structure and country music sway. Veirs dominates the record with 6 songs, while Case and Lang each have 4, but it is often blended into a unique whole, whereas 14 songs by only one of the artists may get old but together they are unstoppable.
While I personally missed getting a complete Neko Case album this year (as she is my favorite female singer EVER), if these songs are any indication of how strong it would be, I am excited for the future. From the mysterious “Greens of June” (my favorite song of the year) and “Supermoon” to the torch ballad “Honey and Smoke” to upbeat/downbeat travelogues like “Best Kept Secret” and “Down I-5”, the variety is key to making the album work as a wholeThe production takes from late 60’s Nick Drake and Townes Van Zant arrangements with strings that echo the best of Randy Newman, Judee Sill, and Laura Nyro.
Best Songs: Greens of June, Best Kept Secret, Atomic Number, Delirium
70.The Roaring Night- The Besnard Lakes (2010)
The Roaring Night is a continuation of the Besnard Lakes last album The Dark Horse (2007), which is a fine thing. This one ups the ante by being more thought out as a concept and more consistent. This is an album of extreme orchestration and emotion: The suites that begin each side of the album “Like the Ocean” and “Land of Living Skies” are soothing and devastating at the same time, like a wave of shoegaze hitting a wall of power pop chords. “And this is What We Call Progress” is the albums defining song, showing how to glide on the tracks and let the soundscapes truly shimmer.
The relationship to Arcade Fire is unmistakable, but more of a compliment than anything else, as the Canadian husband and wife duo are more in sync with each other and at times form one consistent voice (perhaps more like Low than Arcade Fire). Some of the songs could go on longer than they do (“Glass Painter”, “Albatoss”), and some slightly over stay their welcome (“Land of Living Skies”, “Chicago Train”) but in all it is the tightest record yet from a band that has beat many hyped up bands at their own game. The Besnard Lakes exist in the shadows, waiting to be discovered.
Best Tracks: And This is What We call Progress, Glass Painter, Like The Ocean Like the Innocent Pt. 2
71.Year of the Snitch – Death Grips (2018)
Death Grips are the perfect kind of prolific, only releasing an album when they feel they have enough good ideas for the album. Seriously, the fact that nothing comes off as half assed is pretty impressive, as a follow up to one of the greatest albums I have ever heard (2016’s Bottomless Pit) it still stunning in completely new ways. The production is cleaner, and the thoughts are far more well pronounced than any past Death Grips released, as songs such as “Little Richard” or the stunning “Dilemma” could be taken seriously for contemporary radio hits. However there is plenty of controlled chaos to be had, whether it’s the madhouse ramblings of “Linda is in Custody” and “Hahaha”, the scary power of “Black Paint” or miniature tunes like “Outro” (which summons up the past madness of The Who’s “Boris the Spider”) and “The Horn Section” which still leave an impression despite their brevity. One of the best bands of the decade for sure, even though I never completely understand what they are yelling at me about.
72.METZ – s/t (2012)
I’ll just say it: bands like METZ have become a rarity in the 2010’s. I don’t know what happened in since the dawn of the 21st century, but the term “rock” doesn’t mean what it used to. In the 1990’s, music seemed to be headed in a musical direction that was dark, grungy, and overall just HEAVY. Then came the commercialization of pop music and the pop “teen idols” that never seem to die or go away anymore, and rock music just seemed to take a turn over all towards the bland. Which is not a bad thing: music should constantly evolve. But every once in a while I need a band like METZ to remind me why I started listening to music in the first place, which is to rock n roll.
The mixture of punky madness and noisy guitars are blended in a catchy way on “Get Off”, “Sad Pricks”, and “Headache”, a sort of amalgam of Mission of Burma, Nirvana, and Big Black. “Wet Blanket” is sort of an epic anthem about getting up and making something of yourself. “Rats” recalls the seattle scene of the late 1980’s almost TOO well, while “Knife in the Water” mimics the feeling of the Roman Polanski film in a terrorizing song form. Best of all, the album (and none of their albums so far this decade) overstay their welcome and are nice and compact. METZ doesn’t change the formula of rock music of old too much, but you don’t need to when you are able to be this awesome at making anger seem fun. Their debut album slams home a return to punk rock n’ roll of old and it’s very welcoming.
Best Tracks: Get Off, The Mule, Wet Blanket
73.Masseducation – St. Vincent (2017)
Annie Clark was probably leaning towards a rock-opera style album her entire career, but it still took me by surprise. Maybe the concept itself is not the surprise, but rather how well it all came off. Her last self-titled record was a rather disjointed and somewhat confused sounding affair, and this one is completely confident and shows an artist in complete control of her craft. Since her spectacular debut, 2007’s Marry Me, Clark has always shown a talent for eccentric vocal arrangement, and here she finally marries that to a coherent synthesized sound. As far as lyrical theme, there is something going on about growing up and getting overwhelmed by life in a metropolis. “Sometimes I feel like an inland ocean / too big to be a lake too small to be an attraction.”
Musically, themes are repeated, like the major riff of the mind blowing “Los Ageless” being hinted at in the song before it “Sugarboy”. Just listen in awe at the epic closer, “Smoking Section” with a chords powerful enough to shake the planet to its foundations. There are some varied influences too, the obvious one I hear is The Who’s Tommy but there is something about the mechanical nature of the songs that hints at the delirious industrial albums of Foetus and Pop Group. The old-fashioned torch ballads of “New York” and “Smoking Section” are used to great effect, serving as a break from the controlled chaos of “Fear the Future” and “Masseducation”, two of her best songs ever. I am still waiting for her outright, blistering guitar ROCK album as I have seen her live several times and I know the lady can shred! But until then this is my favorite thing she has done by far, as Clark manages to be both heartfelt and progressive at the same time.
- Brill Brusiers – The New Pornographers (2014)
The New Pornos definitely needed a comeback album, and 2014’s Brill Bruisers busts right out of the gate as just that. It’s not that Challengers or Together were bad, quite the opposite on the latter actually, but the kind of energy the band was known for has been largely missing since 2005’s Twin Cinema. BB gives us that energy, and the overall sheen and production quality is changed enough from the old mold to sound fresh. There were times that the fist two records, as magical as the were, had rather shabby production for music with high aspirations, but no longer! A.C. Newman says his influences were ELO and Xanadu on the record, hence the overuse of keyboards, and it brings a liveliness to the entire album (quite interesting to see on the live tour as well, as there is a dueling keyboard aspect).
However, none of this would mean anything if the songs were not good, and in the rainbow colored “Brill Bruisers”, the haunting synths of “Backstairs”, and the jovial pop of “Wide Eyes” especially, this is a minor masterwork of power pop, heavily recalling the unity and bombast of Twin Cinema! The first half of the record is exceptionally strong, as each song has an entertaining melody or…five. “Champions of Red Wine” “War on the East Coast” have that laid back indie rock chug that the band has perfected, with seductive lead vocals by Neko Case and Dan Bejar respectively. “Fantasy Fools” and “Dancehall Domine” may be the underrated rockers of the albums, both are fantastic singles that stack up with the band’s impressive pop discography (they have truly out beat Electric Light Orchestra at their own game at this point!). Though the last part of the record does have some clunkers (“Spider”, “You Tell ME Where”) and the band has trouble ending an album as strong as they start it, Hopefully they can keep the high level of ingenuity and consistency at this pace in the future.
75.A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson (2016)
Sturgill Simpson makes country music in such a way that it does not matter if it falls in the genre or not. More than trying to be a anyone’s cup of tea, he is always uniquely himself. Covering Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is the most obvious example, and it is quite the unique take on the song. But more impressive is the rang of style present on the album, sometime within the same song: watching opener ‘Welcome to Earth Pollywog” transform from piano ballad to gospel infused Van Morrison style rocker is a wonder; funk music echoing Little Feat in music and vocals rule on “Keep It Between the Lines” and “Sea Stories” that go far beyond the borders of country music; ballads are abundant and well done, with “Breaker’s Roar” and “All Around You” using a symphony’s worth of instruments to create genuine moments of musical pathos.
The greatest moment on the record is “Brace for Impact” perhaps his masterpiece so far; the synthesizer outro to the groove laden tune is the most spine-tingling moment on an already impressive record. “Call to Arms” produces similar euphoric elements, threating to spiral out of control towards the end of the record with a bang. With his breakthrough record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014), Simpson announced his presence as a futurist and traditionalist of country-rock, much like Dwight Yoakum before him. As long as he keeps making records like this one, hopefully the focus will not be on how he is or isn’t country music, but just on the amazing albums he crafts that blend all styles of music. In the end, all that matters is the quality.
Best Songs: Brace for Impact, Call to Arms, Breakers Roar
76.America – Dan Deacon (2012)
Dan Deacon’s brand of rock music will probably never be popular. It’s too calculated, professional, and quite honestly, too old fashioned. But that doesn’t make it any less relevant or necessary to our culture. Even though he gets the most out of overdubs and keyboard effects, kind of music harks back to early 20th century classical composers that made suites instead of short rock songs. The first three tracks on the album work pretty well and are similar to what Deacon achieved on his last record, “True Thrush” and “Lots” especially bring great use to backwards and pitch shifting vocals, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. The main part of this album that works is the last half, titled simply “USA”. It all plays like one long song: “Is a Monster” paints an epic backdrop of sounds first by using a horn section that quickly resolves into a valley of synthesizers and sound effects; “The Great American Desert” has an almost tribal and native American type elegance, as the voices hum and howl over the drums and synth-orchestra; “Rail” paints images harking back to the trans-continental railroad and has marimbas and xylophones that play to the effects of rain drops; “Manifest” sums up the USA suite in a parade of noisy electronic lightening bolts and other-worldly chanting. America is super ambitious and is like nothing else out there, as is all Dan Deacon music, but should be heard if you are thinking seriously about what is possible in music.
Best Tracks: USA, Lots
77.El Camino – Black Keys (2011)
The Black Keys first three albums have always stuck with me. Ever since I heard them back in the early 00’s, they have been a beacon of fun rock n roll when hard rock bands of any form were a rarity (I still believe rock music almost died back around the turn of the century. Boy bands nearly killed it you guys!). Rubber Factory (2004), especially, has kind of been the standard for me, and nothing has really done it like those first three records…until El Camino came along. It wasn’t that this was a departure for the band as Brothers had come out the year right before, but where Brothers felt overlong and kind of labored as a record, El Camino triumphs as a perfect example of what the band does best with its succinct length and perfect song playlist order. I mean the timeless “Gold on the Ceiling”, “Money Maker”, and “Lonely Boy” are the standouts and they are amazing examples of blues rock.
But there is a depth to the album too: album tracks such as “Sister” and “Stop Stop” are tons of fun to listen too while “Dead and Gone”, “Nova Baby” and “Run Right Back” could easily be singles or standouts as well; the album almost plays like a greatest hits of sorts and many of these songs have been picked as standards and sports events around the world. “Little Black Submarines” goes even deeper, picking parts from classic Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty songs and gluing them back together in their own fashion. It is a consistently amazing album of straight up rock n roll, and I don’t care where it originates- it takes a ton of talent and skill to keep this kind of old fashion garage rock fresh in the 2010’s. So kudos to the Black Keys, for keeping mainstream rock music better than it has any right to be. I can’t ask for anything more from a band who just released their seventh record.
Best Tracks: Money Maker, Gold on the Ceiling, Mind Eraser, Stop Stop
78.My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West (2010)
It’s interesting to look back on Kanye’s best album from the end of the decade. West is still loved in most circles, but he has certainly lost some credibility among many of his fans with his politics and personality trumping his actual musical output (haha….). Though it was his fifth full record, MBDTF was honestly the first Kayne record I liked all the way through. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that he is open and fully honest on this one. He is honest about being lost in the world, about being a monstrous personality, about being an asshole, the way few artists let alone people ever are. Kanye first and foremost puts his massive ego and sense of humor on display for the world all of the songs were self-centered, so they worked.
Not to say that he doesn’t tackle other subjects or current politics (see the King Crimson sampling “Power” for a genius example of that) but the fact that most of this album works very well is a tribute to how honest, heartfelt music can produce the best results. It doesn’t hurt that he got the best production money could buy and best collaborators either, but that wouldn’t have meant anything without great music. The opening of “Dark Fantasy” building to the groovy throwback soul of “Gorgeous” culminating with “Power” is a killer one-two-three punch to start a record off.
While I don’t think Kanye West is the best rap artist around and I do think he is overrated to some extent, he is a powerful force in mainstream hip hop. Most rap music that gets played on the radio are one hit wonders with no personality, so it is a joy to hear someone that stands out from the ordinary. In the tapestry of albums released in the 2010’s so far, this one is usually listed by critics one top of everything else. I have no real problem with that, though I would be hard pressed to find people that think “Devil In a Blue Dress”, “Blame Game”, or “Hell of a Life” are great songs. But with the powerful guest roster on “Monster” (creating a well-deserved star out of Nikki Manaj) and “So Appalled”, the stadium epic power houses “All of the Lights” and “Runaway”, and the rather historic closers “Lost in America” and “Who Will Survive In America”, it has plenty of great songs to go around. It is a well thought out and well executed album, as flawed and frustrating as its creator Kanye West. If the modern critical music society were going to pick out one album to champion above the rest, they did a good job of picking this one. But I would say that about any record in my top 100 on a given day.
Best Tracks: Monster, Power, So Appalled, Runaway
79.Years to Burn – Calexico and Iron and Wine (2019)
These two artists blend together so naturally that they must have been born to play together. The ease in which they make beautiful music is rather bewildering, but i am glad they decided to do so once more. The record mostly belongs to Iron and Wine, with “Father Mountain”, “Years to Burn” and “Follow the Water” being clear stand outs. Calexico has a little more of say then on the last collaboration though, with “Midnight Sun” and most of the “Bitter Suite” baring Joey Burns distinct flavor. In fact, Burns’ influence is more detectable this time around on Beam’s singing if not also his songwriting, and it sounds more as of a cohesive unit. It is a very relaxing, laid back, gospel-folk record that i highly recommend once again. Both artists are super consistent, and this is a proper album at over 30 minutes in length proving sometimes 8 songs is plenty to make a complete listening experience.
80.Cancer for Cure – El-P (2012)
Some people forget that before Run the Jewels, El-P had a huge underground career. He started Company Flow in the late 90’s, he produced many artists on his DefJux record label including Aesop Rock and Cannibal Ox, and he has had several solo albums including this one. Cancer 4 Cure could be seen as a precursor to RTJ as it even has Killer Mike a guest a couple of times, most notably on “Tougher, Colder, Killer”. The album as a whole feels very cold and calculated, like rap that comes at you from Antarctica. There are many times that El-P’s raps come flying at you like nothing else he has done before: “The Jig is Up” features a plethora of self hate and loathing; “Works Every Time” and “Drones Over Brooklyn” could almost be an arena rock anthems; “True Story” and “Stay Down” could have been killer singles in El-P wasn’t so independently minded. However it is that independent mindset that fuels the albums manifesto; the hard hitting truth could only come from someone who has been there and done it all. And to think, he was on the verge of re-inventing himself yet again the next year.
Best Tracks: Stay Down, Drones Over Brooklyn, Sign Here, The Jig Is Up
81.Hell On – Neko Case (2018)
I am glad to say I am never disappointed in a Neko album. At best it’s a masterpiece, at worst it’s a fun challenge. This album serves as a break of sorts for sure, a sort of laid-back quieter affair attuned to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. On first listen I disliked this album, on subsequent listens I loved it; so in other words a typical Neko Case release. She never adheres to a formula, and she always fills songs with surprise twists (the multiple vocal effects of “Gumball Blue”) or sustains suspense with guest’s vocals. Her longest song ever on an album is the almost eight minute duet with Mark Lanegan “Curse of the I-5 Corridor”, a nod to her obsession driving down I-5 she first started on the album with K.D. Lang and Laura Veirs. The Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf frontman) collaboration “Sleep all Summer” is less successful, but it is still a haunting classic country ballad. In that same vain we have “Bad Luck”, an easy lead single form the record and one of her most fun tracks ever. “My Uncle’s Navy” is the hardest rocking track, and it is as menacing as it is haunting.
The best thing about Neko is as always her insanely structured songs. I literally don’t know how you write a song like “Dirty Diamond”, it is so full of twists and turns but it SOUNDS very flowing and easy; it literally takes a surgeon’s focus to deconstruct its multiple flowing facets. “Oracle of the Maritimes” would be a metal song if the guitar had more distortion or if there were any percussion at all- just imagine a metal vocalist singing it. Oh and then it breaks into a prog-rock keyboard led instrumental bridge, wtf?? The mutated closing country rock of “Pitch or Honey” (Lyric sample: “moonlight reflected is many times stronger”), perhaps the first half is pitch and the last half is honey? Perhaps I’m not as smart as her so I don’t understand. But I have heard enough music to know a truly dense masterwork when I hear it.
Greatest tracks: Curse of the I-5 Corridor, My Uncle’s Navy, Pitch or Honey, Dirty Diamond
82.In Between – The Feelies (2017)
There are some bands you get into after years and years of listening to music, that really don’t make much sense upon first listens. This band is like that, as their influences at first seem to be obvious but once you really listen there are layers and layers of subtlety to dig out. Do all their songs sound the same or is it just that they have that distinctive of a sound? The Feelies have been around for forty years now, and their music still works because it is timeless and simple. Beyond that, it feels simultaneously daring and effortless as well, and songs like “Stay the Course” or “Pass the Time” prove by sounding exactly like something that could have come off of 1986’s The Good Earth. “Time Will Tell”, creeping in toward the end of the album, is one of the greatest folk/rock jangles to ever come along by any group.
For The Feelies, patience is a virtue as they move at their own pace and make you wait for the big payoff. Every record they have made since the 1980s has depicted stillness as a mood, whether is it being up mellow and remaining on the same three chords on the peaceful “When to Go”, or playing it ferociously busy and distorted such as album closer “In Between(reprise).” They make it seem so easy to make great music and every time they release an album it is a blessing. They will never get into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, but they are always waiting for discovery to the true fans of music.
Best Songs: Time Will Tell, In Between Reprise, Stay the Course, When To Go
83.Anastasis – Dead Can Dance (2012)
Following his 2010 excellent lo-fi self-produced release Ark, Brendan Perry decided to release an album with longtime partner Lisa Gerrard under the DCD moniker for the first time in 15 years as well as do some touring worldwide. By this decade, the group had amassed a following now greater than their heyday in the 1980’s and their brand of world music via gothic and haunting overtones was more fashionable. Their new songs didn’t sound that different than their old songs, and that is a good thing when they are as strong as “Opium” and “Children of the Sun”. “Amnesia” paints a song using instruments like bassoon and tuba to add another layer to a haunting tale questioning the validity and consciousness of memory.
The middle eastern “Agape” is a timeless chant by Gerrard, her voice a more powerful force than any mere instrument, and “Return of the She King” is another stunner: slow and deliberate but utterly enchanting. The eight-minute “Kiko” could be her ultimate attempt on the Gregorian Chant style of music. Each songwriter on their own can become a bit monotonous at times on solo albums, but Gerrard’s stream of consciousness blends with Perry’s more folk driven stories of loss as well on Anastasis as on their early work, and it’s a welcome return by one of the greatest bands to fall under the moniker of rock n roll, as misleading of a moniker as that can be for a style that has existed for centuries.
84.Dude Incredible – Shellac (2014)
I love Steve Albini and Co. approach to rock n roll, so minimal but soooo effective. Just guitar bass drums and vocals and that’s all you need, listening to Dude Incredible constantly revitalizes my faith in music. There is a sort of mathematical precision to any song Albini writes himself, and it makes sense that his father was a rocket scientist (literally). There are tons of imitators, but no one suffices. Steve Albini, Bob Weston, and Todd Trainer make just about every note and drum beat sound awesome. Riding Bikes? Ok! Being totally and utterly “Compliant” in our everyday lives? YES. “You Came In Me”…..I’m confused on that one… but ok! What could only be called an unhealthy obsession with surveyors, because it’s in three of the song titles…..but probably a dig at music critic’s at the same time. Lyrics like “You times son of a bitch SQUARED!” are yelled at us with unbridled passion, as many of the lyrics are just odd mathematical equations. To me it sounds interesting! But I have a mathy brain, you might say.
Every couple of years I gotta have my Albini dose of rock n roll. Albini even gives us one of his own unique ballads with “Gary” and it really sounds unlike anything else I have ever heard. Some would say this music is depressing – I say life affirming. “The People’s Microphone” is an instrumental obsessed with the speed of a song, constantly changing in tempo. The thing with Shellac is this, and it’s always been this: simple is good. You can do more with live recordings, analog tape, and three people in a band then most can do with huge studio budgets and overloads of musicians crowding spaces. Here is more proof, if you have forgotten.
Best Tracks: Dude Incredible, Gary, Riding Bikes
85.Have You in My Wilderness – Julia Holter (2015)
This album gets even closer to approachable then her previous masterpiece, 2013’s Loud City Song. While Holter will more than likely never fall into generic pop music or become accessible to the mainstream, she succeeds in remaining a valuable singer-songwriter for our time. In a different way then her obvious contemporary, Joanna Newsom, she can portray emotions through oblique soundscapes that are out of reach for other artists of her generation. She may be more Jane Siberry than Kate Bush at this point as well, as she aims higher and reaches deeper than most people would dare too. While many of the tracks are aimed to attract new listeners (opener and lead single “Feel You” is actually catchy, and perhaps creates her most carefree tune yet with “Everytime Boots”) she remains impenetrable except for those that dare to rise to her level.
Half of the songs on this album aren’t even anchored to a rhythmic beat at all; they just sort of drift along in the ether. “How Long?” is almost agonizing as is drifts along at its slow pace, while “Lucette Stranded on the Island” has perhaps her most beautiful repetitive climax yet. “Betsy On the Roof” is the most complex composition, remaining entertaining despite its many vocal embellishments, and maybe my favorite song of hers. There is so much existential yearning within Holter’s music and no matter how accessible it gets, it always teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown. ”Sea Calls Me Home” meshes all of Holter’s attributes so far into a haunting sea shanty with a killer saxophone solo! If she falters on a couple of songs (“Vasquez” is maybe too aimless and “Night Song” is a little redundant), the approach still works wonders on tunes that are sublimely beautiful, and that fact alone ranks her among the great experimental composers of our time.
Greatest Songs: Betsy on the Roof, Everytime Boots, Sea Calls Me Home, Lucette Stranded on the Island
86.Mariner – Cult of Luna (2016)
The balance of female and male roaring voices are a joy to behold on the joint collaboration Mariner, as with previous Cult of Luna releases we feel worn out by the end of them but it was worth the exhilarating experience. Guest vocalist singer/screamer Julie Christmas who adds plenty of imagination on opener “A Great Call” is a perfect example of this, building the sound in a very accessible way. For black metal / sludge metal whatever subgenre you want to call it, it doesn’t get much better than “Chevron” or “Cygnus”, both shifting epics that change tempo and melodies several times over the course of nine to thirteen minutes, the latter notably turning into an odd nursery rhyme by the end.
Swedish / Norwegian metal has such a devoted fanbase I’m sure someone could school me in other bands of the genre I will leave out or not recognize fully on this listing, but for a person just trying to listen to everything, this album stood out among the enormous number of releases I have heard this decade. In particular, “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” appeals to me as some kind of homage to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” except you know……if Gordon was a demon from hell. Fun stuff.
Best Tracks: Chevron, The Wreck of the SS Needle
87.Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes (2011)
The second album from Fleet Foxes does what a second album should and expands their sounds in many ways. The album itself is longer with more songs, and the song lengths are longer as well, some exceeding eight minutes. There is a bit of a progressive rock ambition in songs such as “The Plains/Bitter Dancer” and “The Shrine / An Argument”, and it especially succeeds in the latter by becoming an almost experimental art piece. Much of the old folk and jangle pop sound still survives on the albums strongest tunes: “Battery Kinzie” is a jolly tune that matches any vocal harmonies from the previous record, “Lorelai” is giddy with homage to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album tracks, “Grown Ocean” is an epic way to summarize the album with music and lyrics to match; “Montezuma” is a folk tune for the ages that is truly timeless.
Any influence singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold once had (My Morning Jacket, Crosby Stills Nash, Beachwood Sparks, Kingsbury Manx) is more synergized and blended together and combined with the larger ambitions as Fleet Foxes out grows their old sound to form a sound with no stylistic limit. This was to be their last record for a while (though they did end up reforming recently) as the band members would break up and splinter into other projects after this record, notably drummer Tillman’s Father John Misty project. With the promise of this album and the ambition present, Fleet Foxes have the potential to do about anything.
Best Tracks: The Shrine/ An Argument, Battery Kinzie, The Cascades
88.Then Came the Morning – The Lone Bellow (2015)
A great blast of gospel infused folk rock, that reminds one of a more upbeat Cowboy Junkies. The Lone Bellow (that’s ‘bellow’ like a yell, not ‘below’ like I mispronounced it for years) is an apt name for this group, who always sing and perform like their entire life is on the line. The group that is equal parts male /female know when to rock out (“Cold as It Is”, “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home”) and when to use dynamics in the favor of the song with great highs and lows (the masterful ballad “Fake Roses” and the classic rock influenced “If You Don’t Love Me”) not to mention well made anthems like “Take My Love”, one of many songs that im not sure why was not a big hit on the radio.
They also know when to play for the emotional impact: “Marietta” builds and builds into an emotional climax that could last for days, title track “Then Came the Morning” setting the standard for music to grab the listener by the heart and grip on tightly. Ballads are the one area when the band kind of blends into the Americana crowd, but some still stick out like “Call to War”, a beautiful song with a great melody sung by Kanene Pipkin. I had the pleasure of seeing the group live at the Pilgrimage music festival in 2016, and it was pretty amazing to watch the crowd respond to the music, it was very hypnotic effect. It’s old fashioned music for sure, rooted in country, gospel, and folk but it is done with great heart and consistency rarely found. Sometimes it is not fashionable to like band’s like this, but honestly its what keeps tradition alive and that is equally as important as innovation.
Best Songs: Fake Roses, Call to War, Cold as it Is, Marietta
89.We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest (2016)
Most reunion albums from decade’s old acts fall flat on their face, which makes Tribe’s so much more triumphant. A sprawling 16 song album that contains about 20 years’ worth of ideas, it’s really solid for such a long record. Some of the samples used this time around are a little more pop culture oriented, from Willy Wonka at the end of “The Space Program” or Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” in “Solid Wall of Sound”, even sampling samples that have already been sampled : Musical Youth on “Dis Generation” channeling Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet.
All of this reminds us that Tribe were very much originals when it came to the start of sampling back in the early 80’s. Some songs really evolve and change halfway through: super moody “Melatonin”, while other deepen the jazz rap of old, especially “Enough!!” which is my favorite song on here and a great example of a dark love song only Q-Tip can produce. Phife Dog is missed as he had passed away by the time the album came out, but from the vocal examples he was able to leave his mastery of reggae is amazing still as exemplified by “Black Spasmodic” and “Solid Wall of Sound”. “Lost Somebody” is Q-tip and the groups homage to their fallen comrade, and it may cause some tears among hardcore fans, sampling the band Can’s “Halleluhwah”.
Merging new and old guest MC’s reminding us why they are called a Tribe, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, Anderson Paak, Talib Kweli and many more. Album ends with 2 of the best songs, the punching “Ego” where Q-Tip evaluates himself like few rappers do, and “The Donald” a commentary on the current political climate and a great posse track a la the classic of old “Scenario”. I wonder what people think of in the 2010’s if this is their first A Tribe Called Quest Record….I can only imagine they would wanna go check out Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders for the first time, and I’m kinda jealous of that newness.
Best Songs: Enough!!, Ego, Melatonin, Black Spasmodic
90.The Black Angels – Death Song (2017)
The Black Angels have always excelled at making music of a certain blend of older Psychedelic rock icons, but now they have finally branched out into a more soul-searching kind of sound. It’s still got a hard rock edge, it’s still very rooted in mysticism, but this is their attempt at the “death song” mood of the ballads by early Velvet Underground and the like. “Half Believing” is a successful attempt at a new introspective ballad (perhaps a break up song?) as well as the even more underrated is “Estimate”. The native American influenced “Comanche Moon” blends in with the blistering opener “Currency”, as the dour mood of the music often gives glimpses of hope in the cheerful lyrics, “Never gonna lose you darling / never let them shoot us down”.
Death Song is their best album of this decade, and ranks up with Directions to See a Ghost from 2008 as their best record. It’s always hard to decide when there is a band that has a very distinctive sound, especially when that sound is so obviously based in music of the psychedelic genre; the Pink Floydish “Life Song” and Clinic influenced “Medicine” are the best examples of that. Lead singer Alex Mass is just a great songwriter, with songs like “I’d Kill for Her” and “Grab as Much as You Can” really showing off entertaining grooves. Black Angels are that rare mix of trippy and catchy that is hard to pull off, even if their albums are variations on the same theme. The little ways in which they change the formula is the part that remains the most captivating. In the genre of 21st century psychedelic rock, I can’t think of a more hypnotic and entertaining rock band.
Best Songs: Half Believing, Estimate, Currency, Life Song
- Secret Blood – Shannon Wright (2010)
Somehow Shannon Wright keeps changing her sound, ever so slightly. She can still kick ass with her dissonant bass heavy sound, and she can still charm your socks off with her pretty piano ballads. That mix of harsh and fragile produces some mighty rocking tracks once again: the unnerving “Violent Colors”, the brief and powerful “Fractured”, and the angelic but angular “Commoner’s Saint”. This time around the gorgeous ballads like the delicate “In the Needle”, repetitious piano of “Dim Reader”, and epic “Under the Luminaries” display her knack for purging the human soul.
Shannon Wright is aware of her influences in a pretty big way, even though she remains uniquely herself. She dwells in her own sadness but makes it a very moving experience for the listener while she does it. Opening track “Palomino” is an homage to the greatest female artist of them all, Lisa Germano, and many of the tracks retain a quality reminiscent of PJ Harvey, Throwing Muses, and Susanne Vega. Since she started in the mid-1990’s, Wright has proven that she can do about any style of music well – she truly is one of the great artists of our time, male or female. This is one of her greatest albums along with Dyed I the Wool (2001) and Let in the Light (2007).
Best Tracks: In the Needle, Violent Colors, Commoner’s Saint, Dim Reader
92.From Kinshasa – MbongWana Star (2015)
The music created by the ensemble Mbongwana Star on From Kinsasha is a joy to behold, not merely a highly danceable record but one that strikes emotional chords as well. Sung mostly in the native Congolese language, songs such as “Shegue” and “Masoblele” prove music’s universal appeal, the latter featuring a repetitive line that is impossible to get out of your head. While many artists from Michael Jackson to Talking Heads to Paul Simon sampled the sounds of Africa on their 80’s rock albums, it is refreshing to hear the opposite come true here; the sounds of modern Congo republic mixing with the digital language of the 2010’s.
“Malukayi” features one of Africa’s most popular bands of the decade Konono Number One on a tune that mixes multiple forms of percussive noises, and best of all is “Kala” a sort of tribal dance revolution that sounds like the wave of the future. As the album goes onward it picks up more and more of a percussive force, with “Suzanna” threating to fly off the rails and “Kimpala Pala” weaving mystical webs of emotion all over the place. Whether it’s a type of hymn to the universe or just a killer album full of groves, From Kinsasha is a revolutionary album of the 21st century.
Best songs: Kala, Masobele, Suzanna, Kimpala Pala
93.Malibu Ken – s/t (2019)
Aesop Rock has always benefited from having an eccentric producer to match his manic rhyming vocabulary. El-P is his most famous previous collaborator, but here Tobacco produces the album as a perfect accomplice, providing each of the album ten songs with its own circus psychedelic atmosphere. Both artists contribute to the project resulting in a brand-new act named Malibu Ken, and The result is unlike anything I have heard before, a kind of fluorescent armadillo rapping down the interstate, upside down of course. Each methodic rhyme scheme is matched with beautifully flush sound effects, like single ready “Corn Maze’ and the translucent vocals of “Acid King”.
The slow-motion party vibe of “Tuesday” is another highlight, as the sound of the album refuses to quit. The odd topics for rap songs Aesop is famous for continues here, with ‘Churro” being a true oddity about what a vulture considers a snack, and also the down on his luck magician of “Sword Box”. And for over all trippy effects check out the chorus on the bizarre “Dog Years” a song with a slow tempo but a super sonic fast rap. I love that Aesop always tries to new use new words not usually heard in music as well, lyric sample from “1 plus 1 = 13”: “My lucky sevens only ever make it up to six/ Every three tries Satan kind of wins/ Untied shoes aliven a wild goose/ The winner is unrelenting, the kindling is fireproof.” Team ups like this fuel rock, techno and hip hop into the future, fusing all the genres into some kind of fantastic jelly. Drink it up!
Best songs: Dog Years, Tuesday, Acid King
94.Smoke Ring for My Halo – Kurt Vile (2011)
Kurt Vile provided an interesting contrast to most of the musical acts of the 2010’s mainly by just being his eccentric self. His style is a mix of classic rock and obscure British folk-rock from the 1970’s, and such an odd combination had never really been tried before. His breakthrough record Smoke Ring for My Halo is a true masterpiece that has revitalized my taste for simple, haunting and catchy music. Echoes of Nick Drake’s depressing Pink Moon and vocal warbles channeling Tom Petty at his most charming. “Baby’s Arms”, “On Tour”, and “Runner Ups” search the soul and bring back memories of Kevin Ayers early work.
The talented guitar work goes a long way, as Vile can not only really play the instrument but finds creative ways to make memorable guitar licks. “Jesus Fever” and “In My Time” get just about everything right about true singer songwriters making memorable music, providing a mix of Cat Stevens and Lou Reed at times. To those critics who think there is nothing redeeming about Vile’s sound, there is: while it is based in classic traditions it creates something new and effective. For each song that can incorporate more in atmosphere alone (“Baby’s Arms, “Society is My Friend”), the album points forward and allowed for more songwriters of similar qualities (Courtney Barnett, Amen Dunes, Sharon Van Etten, Cass McCombs, etc.) to flourish; and that’s really what it’s all about.
Best Tracks: In My Time, Jesus Fever, Society is My Friend
95.Luxury Problems – Andy Stott (2012)
If this is the techno music of the future, it will be a dark future indeed. Though the light female vocals do sound somewhat comforting at times (especially in opener “Numb” and chanter “Hatch the Plan”) most the album feels like people being used and abused in a systematic way. It might make a good sound track for a dystopian future type scenario like Blade Runner, 1984, or Metropolis. The first half of the record probably works the best, with “Lost and Found” being the most traditional tune and “Sleepless” being the most futuristic – its black hole type beats propel the genre forward in a very unique way. The second half of the record works too, but it’s hardly dance music- more a like a murky ambient mess. For all the downtrodden and dark sounds produced on the record, closer “Leaving” does leave some hope to be found. In all I am glad the record exists, and when I am in the mood to be enthralled and inspired I pull it out for a listen. The claustrophobic atmosphere is enticing.
Best Tracks: Sleepless, Hatch the Plan, Numb
96.Too Bright – Perfume Genius (2014)
Perfume Genius shows a mastery over his odd brand of rock music on his 3rd record. Everything he tries works brilliantly, and he is more adventurous than ever before. He is still his insular self though, with opener “I Decline” and title track “Too Bright” crooning you along like nothing at all has changed in his simple piano lead ways. For every challenging moment, the is a small ballad next up to serve as a brief respite from the terror, for example the old fashioned melody trapped in the middle of “Don’t Let Them In”.
Advances are also shown in “Fool”, a song that is mostly abstract sound painting smack dab in the middle of the song but manages to open and close with a catchy melody. “Grid” and “My Body” are amazingly dark and scary songs that point to a direction of intensity that I hope he explores further on other records; the songs are rhythmic but not meant to be danced too. The opposite is true for “LongPig” a sort of electronic tribal dance party. These kind of tricks are just there to show off how GOOD a songwriter Hadreas actually is, and hopefully his audience will keep expanding. The most accessible example of this type of song is of course “Queen”, penning the immortal line “no family is safe when I sashay”. Too Bright lives up to its title, though the title can be misleading, and it shows that he is full of so many ideas he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Best Tracks: Fool, Grid, My Body, Queen
97.Field of Reeds – These New Puritans (2013)
These New Puritans are the true heirs to Talk Talk in every since of the word. Consequently, that means their sound grows in quality and range of each album. Their debut record in 2008 was inconsistent and overbearing at times, but 2010’s Hidden and 2013’s Field of Reeds take that sound to its (illogical) conclusion. If 2010’s Hidden was their Spirit of Eden, Field of Reeds is their Laughing Stock. The style of music here goes far beyond mere rock music influences, and it still manages to be very insightful.
This record employs opera style singing to free form compositions in “V (island song)”, repetitive synth from the depths of space on “Organ Eternal”, and a sense of longing like no other on the title track and “Fragment Two”. Listening to this album is akin to take your first step on a newly discovered planet in a new galaxy: scary, exciting, and baffling. But Field of Reeds is a triumph for music, it is a step up in sound quality and production much like Tortoise and post rock bands were is the 90’s. Its use of alternate instruments not traditionally used in rock music (collage sample machine, oboes, bassoons, tympani’s,) add to the sense that bands like TNP are needed to push rock music in new directions WHILE ALSO being entertaining and melodic songs. They fight and struggle for their art, like all great bands do.
Best Tracks: V, Organ Eternal, Fragment Two
98.Halo – Juana Molina (2017)
Argentina’s Juana Molina is a lot of fun and transcends boundaries of language. Songs such as “Cosoco” and “Estalacticas” don’t have to be literally interpreted to be enjoyed, and the Portuguese language It has never sounded as charming as when it comes from her multi-vocal approach. At age 55, she shows no signs of slowing down in her efforts to make boundary-defying music. Sometimes there are a dozen different voices, all harmonizing with themselves in alien-trance like patterns (“Sin Dones”, “In the Lassa”). Other time we are treated to her vocals with bare accompaniment (“Lentisimo Halo”) and almost a new kind of Hip hop music in “AOO B01”. She has been making great music this entire decade, and while this album may not be quite as great as 2008’s Un Dia, it is the closest she has come to making the sound of South American rock music valid for the 21st century audience.
Best Tracks: AOO b01, Cosoco, In the Lassa
99.To Be Kind – Swans (2014)
If I wonder one thing about the newest incarnation of Swans it’s why all of their albums have to be so long. I mean, there is nothing wrong with it, and a lot of their best 80’s and 90’s records were over an hour or so (Children of God, White Light From the Mouth of Infinity, and I guess Soundtracks of the Blind would be the template to the future). But at ten songs, this album is loooonnngggg at over two hours. If you took the six or seven best songs off of it and shorten some of the lengths of the tracks, To Be Kind would be the most accessible thing the band has ever done. But only Michael Gira could be accessible while still being uncompromising as hell. Never forget, this is a man with a band whose 1984 anthem was “nobody rapes you like a cop, with a club, in JAIL!” Not exactly the poster band for the Grammys.
Swans have been around since the early 1980’s and the stylistic change they have gone through is like no other band in rock history. In his 60’s now and with a line up of industrial band’s elite players, leader Michael Gira shows no signs of really compromising. If you want more friendly melodies, they come with seven-minute song lengths at the minimum and thirty plus minutes at the maximum. If you want music with verse and chorus and normal structures, look elsewhere because Swans don’t do that: beyond minimalism, the music is repetitive to the point of insanity. But who wants that? The reason Swans are more popular then they have ever been (this album debuted in the Billboard top 40….it’s gotta be some kind of record) is because music lover’s tastes are catching up with Swans. They have always been ahead of the curve, and songs like “Little God in My Hand: and “Screen Shot” just solidify what the true fans have known for years: Swans are the most adventurous band currently in rock n Roll.
Best Tracks: She Loves Us, Just a Little Boy, Nathalie Neal
100.Blues Funeral – Mark Lanegan (2012)
When Mark Lanegan is on, he is ON man. This album is one example of this among many of his others (The Winding Sheet, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, Field Songs), and this is Lanegan at his most experimental. He covers a plethora of rock music genres: “Riot in my House” and “Quiver Syndrome” are pulsating tracks that sound like they could be coming from the Rolling Stones themselves; “Gray Goes Black” and “Ode to Sad Disco” are dance rock at its best, the latter hilariously spoofing disco; “Bleeding Muddy Water” and “St. Louis Elegy” are grieving blues at its best for those who have never been moved by a blues song before; “Phantasmagoria Blues” and “Harborview Hospital” are the traditional ballads, minus the guitar of old and replacing with keyboards. The whole album has a lo-fi self-produced feel that totally works (it was produced by Alain Johannes)
In fact, all of the instruments favor digital and modern age touches which is a nice change of pace from the former master of acoustic instruments like Lanegan was in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. I would almost describe this as Lanegan’s most accessible album as well, as the opening track “Gravedigger’s Song” is the closest thing to a defining song he has ever done: the gravel of Tom Waits meets the raw blues of Morphine with the drive of a modern Jim Morrison. Ditto for closer “Tiny Grain of Truth”, where Lanegan dubs himself the ‘shadow king’ of the 2010’s and I couldn’t agree more. This was Lanegan’s first release since 2004’s Bubblegum and it showed in the strength of the material; there is not a bad track on the whole thing.
Best Tracks: Gravediggers Song, Quiver Syndrome, Phantasmagoria Blues, Riot In My House