Sorry Scholar’s 100 Favourite Albums Of The Decade

Our hundred favourite albums released between January 1st 2010 and today: 

100. DIRTY PROJECTORS – LAMP LIT PROSE (2017)

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99. WE GOT IT FROM HERE… THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE – A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (2016)

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98. SHAKING THE HABITUAL – THE KNIFE (2013)

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97. SOUND & COLOUR – ALABAMA SHAKES (2015)

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96. HOPELESSNESS – ANOHNI (2016)

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95. NO NOW – CLARENCE CLARITY (2015)

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94. TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL AND CASINO – ARCTIC MONKEYS (2018)

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93. BLACK ORAGAMI – JLIN (2017)

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92. THE NAVIGATOR – HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF (2017)

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91. THE LIFE OF PABLO – KANYE WEST (2016)

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90. HONOUR KILLED THE SAMURAI – KA (2016)

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89. ROOM 25 – NONAME (2018)

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88. ALGIERS – ALGIERS (2015)

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87. CONTRA – VAMPIRE WEEKEND (2011)

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86. SOME RAP SONGS – EARL SWEATSHIRT (2018)

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85. DAYS ARE GONE – HAIM (2013)

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84. SATURATION II – BROCKHAMPTON (2017)

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83. TROUBLE WILL FIND ME – THE NATIONAL (2013)

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82. CURRENTS – TAME IMPALA (2012)

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81. HALCYON DIGEST – DEERHUNTER (2010)

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80. ATROCITY EXHIBITION – DANNY BROWN (2016)

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79. LET ENGLAND SHAKE – PJ HARVEY (2011)

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78. LIKE CLOCKWORK – QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE (2013)

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77. HOT DREAMS – TIMBER TIMBRE (2014)

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76. 22, A MILLION – BON IVER (2016)

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75. ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE – LAURA MARLING (2013)

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74. RAP MUSIC – KILLER MIKE (2012)

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73. KAPUTT – DESTROYER (2011)

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72. TEEN DREAM – BEACH HOUSE (2010)

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71. PIÑATA – FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB (2014)

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70. LET THEM EAT CHAOS – KATE TEMPEST (2016)

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69. FEIST – PLEASURE (2017)

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68. ACID RAP – CHANCE THE RAPPER (2013)

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67. VIRGINS – TIM HECKER (2013)

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66. COSMOGRAMMA – FLYING LOTUS (2010)

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65. SINGULARITY – JON HOPKINS (2018)

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64. SCUM FUCK FLOWER BOY – TYLER, THE CREATOR (2017)

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63. A CHURCH THAT FITS OUR NEEDS – LOST IN THE TREES (2012)

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62. RUMINATIONS – CONOR OBERST (2016)

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61. STILL BRAZY – YG (2016)

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60. UTOPIA – BJORK (2017)

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59. BLACKSTAR – DAVID BOWIE (2016)

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58. TROUBLE IN PARADISE – LA ROUX (2014)

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57. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS (2018)

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56. CHANNEL ORANGE – FRANK OCEAN (2012)

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55. THE GRACELESS AGE – JOHN MURRY (2013)

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54. THE SUBURBS – ARCADE FIRE (2010)

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53. THE EPIC – KAMASI WASHINGTON (2015)

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52. MUCHACHO – PHOSPHORESCENT (2013)

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51. NO SHAPE – PERFUME GENIUS (2017)

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50. BEWARE OF THE DOGS – STELLA DONNELLY (2019)

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Stella Donnelly was 26 when she wrote her breezy debut LP, a veritable users guide to being a young woman in the 21st century which navigates both the suburbs of Perth and a dozen loathsome men. These men aren’t just lovers: they’re ex bosses, hipster snobs, politicians and – on the album’s haunting emotional core ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ – her friend’s rapist. The song broke Donnelly’s fame when she uploaded it to Facebook in 2016 and it’s easy to see why it struck a nerve: its barely-concealed anger tells the story of one specific act, and makes its horror universal. Beware Of The Dogs isn’t defined by opposition though: Stella’s wit and charisma brim from every song, capturing the mundanity of low-paid jobs and Christmas dinners in the sun over guitars as light and graceful as her lyrical touch. 

49. ONDATROPICA – ONDATROPICA (2012)

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Less an 80 minute record and more of an ever expanding box of treasures, this cumbia epic was produced as a collaboration between British DJ Quantic and Colombian musician and academic Mario Galeano. With 42 musicians playing across its 19 songs and an eye towards a western audience, it modestly aims to pitch an entire musical lineage to a world which has often sidelined it, while tributing a rich and bountiful history. But if it is a monument, it’s a living monument: raucous, energised and racing between a dozens genres from song to song, from the complex carnival melodies of ‘Tiene Sabor, Tiene Sazón’, the deep dub of ‘Punkero Sonidero’ to a cumbian dance cover of Black Sabbath classic ‘Iron Man’. It features rhymes from Chilean MC Ana Tijoux and various young beatboxers and percussionists, but also octogenarian icons like saxophonist Michi Sarmiento and pianist Juancho Vargas, who apparently left his hospital bed to take part. With sharp melodies and thrilling jams to spare, Ondatrópica is a generous presentation of latin delights. 

48. AWAKEN MY LOVE – CHILDISH GAMBINO (2016)

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Donald Glover made no secret of his desire to channel the spirit of p-funk giants Funkadelic on his first hip-hop departure: his father raised him on the band’s music, and with one eye always on the absurd, it’s more surprising that it was hip-hop he dabbled in first. But the result is far more than a turn in Dad’s jacket: Glover commits himself to the absurd world of p-funk sonically, vocally and philosophically. Existing in the deep-space blue of the LP’s cover, the music is swamped in thick bass, surging percussion and wailing guitars, around which Glover contorted his voice in directions so wild that people assumed studio trickery when there was none. Turning songs as bizarre as ‘Redbone’ into international hits is testament to Glover’s ability to merge weirdo ideas with the accessible, and this vibrant, psychedelic funk record is his truly all his. 

47. FAVOURITE WORRY – THE MILK (2016)

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Recorded in a medieval abbey on the wind-battered Isle of Wight, The Milk’s second LP has the warm hum of a winter night spent hidden away from the storm. Their sound captures the classic soul of the 70s Stax Records era so finely that it’s hard to believe they’re a bunch of white blokes from Chelmsford. Lead singer Ricky Nunn stretches his voice so far on cuts like the hushed ballad ‘Darling What’s Wrong?’ that you can practically hear the sweat drip, and his vocals are a leading light through many a crisp Motown groove. The music is antsier than the smoothness would betray though: ‘What Did I Do To My Love?’ is set on a long train ride home after a sordid affair, and the when the doors are opened to the storm on the jazz-brushed epic of ‘Don’t Give Up The Night’, the results are thrilling. 

46. YEEZUS – KANYE WEST (2013)

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Chopped down from a monstrous three hour chamber of horrors, Kanye’s 6th album starts with a synthesiser that sounds more like a system error, ejaculating incessantly before smashing into a choir recreating a Holy Name of Mary Choral Family hymn which goes “he’ll give us what we need/it may not be what we want”. It doesn’t get much prettier from there. Appropriately, for one of pop culture’s most derided figures, Kanye’s most succinct vision is one of sheer ugliness. On the album he calls the mother of his children “my bitch”, jokes about Parkinson’s disease and invokes a civil rights sign to reference fisting. But ugliness was West’s intention, inspired in part by brutalist Le Corbusier designs he saw exhibited in Paris. If the lesson he learnt from them was that effective art can invoke brutality then it was one he forced upon the masses waiting for this record. Sonically angular, every seam creation is left exposed, and the sounds are maximalist and throbbing. But there is also great emotion in the record: be it under the gripping vice of addition, his exploding ego or rage at racism on the seismic ‘New Slaves’. Yeezus hit like a descending fist and it remains a dark, sordid indulgence of every worst impulse. 

45. A MOON SHAPED POOL – RADIOHEAD (2016)

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Empirically proven to be a notoriously somber band’s most depressive album, A Moon Shaped Pool is as its title suggests: a grey and silver record, filled with cold drum loops and ominous drones, where even the guitar solos are taut and reclusive. But the lunar mood is matched by a grand presentation: the electronics which had been Radiohead’s obsession for well over a decade replaced by soaring, luscious instrumentation. It’s no surprise that the band recorded a Bond theme during the sessions. The songs often sound like components of a score, charting heating political tensions, social anxiety and the loss of love, with Thom Yorke having separated from his partner of 20 years during its recording. The closing song, ‘True Love Waits’, had been sought after by fans since it’s live debut 15 years earlier, but it was worth the wait to have it on this album, the hollowed-out ballad making it’s title sound like a dark joke. 

44. TO BE KIND – THE SWANS (2014)

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The rules all change when your album is two hours long. It becomes a body of work which spends its opening 30 minutes teaching the listener how to listen to it. On its incredible run this decade, Michael Gira’s reincarnated Swans made a business of teaching us to embrace noisy, pummeling meditations like these. On their 13th LP, songs rarely dip below the ten minute mark, and introduce themselves with loops which turn into crushing waves of lumbering instrumentation, thick like soup and unforgivingly loud. ‘Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture’ lasts for over 30 brutal minutes. Perhaps it’s because To Be Kind’s concerns are so cosmic, the notion of time being a minor concern feels appropriate. The album deals exclusively in Big Questions, from ‘Some Things We Do’ to the oxygen we breathe, and the decoration of paganistic instrumentation adds to the notion of music which is timeless and without a creator. Gira howls and cackles over these hard-rock grooves in a way which is both mindless and free, and learning to love music which seems intent on doing your harm is a part of this music’s liberating effect. 

43. IGOR – TYLER THE CREATOR (2019)

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Tyler The Creator is a musician who honed his craft after he became a household name, and his deep love for the sounds of 70s R&B and soul has been a very public affair, sometimes seen professing his love for basic music theory on social media and learning piano after his second album was released. The remarkable achievement that is this messy record is an inclusive one then, not least because IGOR is presented in scrapbook style, with potential pop smashes delivered in their rawest form, but also because of the emotions laid bare by this cathartic piece of work where Tyler presents his own romantic subservience in no uncertain terms. His lack of natural singing ability makes the edited notes he produces all the more stark, declaring himself his lovers’ puppet in one of the LPs deepest lows and feelings are left unresolved in the orchestral, strained closer ‘Are We Still Friends?’. The result is music which holds the listener close, and prompts them to beg its creator to wake up from the lovesick spell which makes the music so rich to begin with.

42. HELPLESSNESS BLUES – FLEET FOXES (2012)

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Inspired by some of the finest British folk music of the 70s, in particular Astral Weeks and Roy Harper’s Stormcock, Fleet Foxes’ second LP is a generous, lusciously composed sequence of songs. If all music was this studious and thoughtful you’d get a migraine, but Fleet Foxes particular dedication to layers of vocal harmonies and carefully chosen showcases for different melodies and ideas is a rare treat. The music is forthright about its best ideas, offering up noodling pieces of classical folk on ‘Sim Sala Bim’ and foot-stompers like the title track when it so chooses, but Robin Pecknold’s lyrics are methodical and introspective. Sung in an angelic falsetto, Hopelessness Blues is a bewildered and transitional album, matured beyond youth but heeled by adulthood. On opener ‘Montezuma’ he rues on becoming older than his parents had been when he was born, and on the exhilarating and insightful title track he surrenders his ego for a life spent serving a wider social good. With this as their offering, Fleet Foxes more than do their part. 

41. ARE WE THERE – SHARON VAN ETTEN (2014)

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Are We There was the album in which Sharon Van Etten warmed up. Like a drive which begins in woodland and ends in the sun, it’s music which holds you close and bears all. As much touched by the warm mood of southern soul as it is by her post-rock foundations, the record is defined by piano-led confessionals like ‘I Love You But I’m Lost’ and ‘I Know’, on which the production wisely gives Sharon plenty of room to extend the reach of her remarkable voice, deployed like she’s permanently suppressing a scream. The journey towards the warm embrace of closer ‘Everytime The Sun Comes Up’ covers a full emotional spectrum however, with the monstrous guitars of ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ and blissful R&B of ‘Our Love’ made possible only by having the unique courage to leave it all laid out on the road. 

40. A CROW LOOKED AT ME – MOUNT EERIE (2017)

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As long as there has been music there have been songs about death. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that that’s what the first song was about… but there have never been any quite like this. With Phil Elvrum often recording his vocals first as a voice memo on his iPhone as he hiked with his infant daughter, the songs haven’t radically transformed since – often placed over unobtrusive loops of guitars or MIDI synths. Phil Elvrum sings about the death of his wife Geneviève, lost to cancer aged 35 just months after their daughter was born, with an unprecedented frankness. The tone is made explicit from the very opening song, where he proclaims that “death is real/Someone’s there and then they’re not/And it’s not for singing about/It’s not for making into art”. The album unfolds as if it was recorded due to nothing but a compulsion, rambling through the moments before her death, and the weeks afterwards. Even if he insists that it’s not art, it’s music which conveys the most universal part of life in a brave and original way. 

39. JAMES BLAKE – JAMES BLAKE (2011)

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It’s amazing how music so quiet can make so much noise. The DNA of James Blake’s sound can be felt everywhere – from many of the most exciting hip-hop producers to chart-conquering R&B – his combination of vocal manipulation, parred back dubstep and piano-led neo-soul is less a direct reference point than a whole palette which essentially didn’t exist before he arrived. Each song on this album radiates like a rippling pool: these are electronic ballads which don’t so much unfold as expand and deepen in all directions. It’s troubled music, where one phrase sung for four minutes sounds like a single thought torturing an anxious mind. Merging bone-rattling sub-bass and ballads which sound like late-60s soul as if its the most natural thing in the world, James Blake is a true original. 

38. E•MO•TION – CARLY RAE JEPSEN (2015)

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There aren’t many better ways to reinvent your public image than releasing one the best pop albums of the decade. That’s what Carly Rae Jepsen did with E•MO•TION where, with the assistance of Blood Orange and Rostam Batmanglij, a warmth and depth was brought to the superstar’s music which was more Cyndi Laupner than Justin Bieber. Jepsen’s undeniable songwriting ability finds a perfect match in the sounds of early 80’s synth pop, each track imbued with complex sticky melodies and a passionate vocal tone. Styles vary between searing electro-pop and the smooth Prince-jam of ‘All That’, complete with slap-bass and finger snaps. Jepsen suits her song’s unashamed eagerness to charm: she’s often the hopeless romantic or lover scorned, but it turns out a PG-13 depiction of love clears an open stage for fun.

37. VETERAN – JPEGMAFIA (2018)

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Absolutely neurotic and schizophrenic, Veteran is a joyride through Barrington Hendricks’s wild imagination. Produced almost entirely by himself, each of its 19 songs feature more sonic switch-ups than most albums, contorting alarm bells and the human voice into twisted loops and banger beats. It’s hard to believe it took 15 years or so for the internet to spit out it’s perfect MC. Hendricks spits out so many contrarian, headline-grabbing bars that the only thing more disorientating than the beats is trying to work out which of his claims to take seriously. Is he for real when he calls himself “the young alt-right menace” and names a song ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’…? His energy and wit hold this disorientating project together, alongside the fact that when he wants to play the game, he can. The amazing ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’ opens with him forming a loop which gets caught in his software and blares out unrelentingly – we hear him swearing his disdain until eventually he decides to just spit to anyway, and the song morphs into one of the hardest bangers of the decade.

36. GIRL WITH BASKET OF FRUIT – XIU XIU (2019)

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While touring this album Xiu Xiu had to take some time off to tend to their mental health, and it’s no wonder: this is truly tortured work, which negotiates and responds to some of the most difficult parts of our nation’s pasts dredged up in the second half of this decade. Rather than the relentless onslaught of some noise groups, the album has extended periods of ambience often marked by strings which which play a little too intensely, making clattering synth rockers like ‘Pumpkin Attack On Mommy & Daddy’ all the more startling when they hit. The title of the album is a gender-switch on Caravaggio’s Boy With A Basket of Fruit, after the band noticed that male martyrs tend to die like cherubs, while female ones die in fear and pain. A society turning on the vulnerable and the marginalised is the cause of the music’s nervous disposition. ‘Scisssssssors’ is set in the Simone Hotel, an LA refuge for the homeless, while the stomach turning ‘Mary Turner Mary Turner’ tells the true story of 19 year old woman, lynched while pregnant, from the perspective of her unborn child. The song ends with Stewart stating simply “fuck your guns, fuck your war, fuck your flag”. He fulfills his mission to ensure that America can never forget it wasn’t so great to begin with by putting stories like these in song.

35. A SEAT AT THE TABLE – SOLANGE (2016)

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Proof that protest music doesn’t have to sound like NWA, A Seat At The Table conveys it’s frustrations by proving it’s point as it makes it. A celebration of African American culture, particularly of the South, this music boasts the sounds of its history; from the neo-soul of the 90s to the boot-rattling bass of Atlanta’s trap takeover. Filled with almost perfectly-crafted pop songs so intricate that they could almost completely pass you by if you weren’t paying attention, this is music of quiet but resolute defiance. A succession of spoken word interludes narrate opposition to those who commodify black culture and black bodies such as on the majestic ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ or the barely supressed cry of ‘FUBU’ that “this shit is for us”. Race is far from Solange’s only concern however, with songs here addressing mental health, and womanhood: the space of the record is resolutely its makers own, with Lil Wayne delivering potentially his sanest verse in a decade on the righteous ‘Mad’. It’s an album which harmoniously enforces it’s will, and offers a hand of solidarity to those who may have waited until this decade to see people who looked like themselves up in lights.

34. FORCED WITNESS – ALEX CAMERON (2017)

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A veritable rogues gallery of sleaze-balls and dirt-bags, Alex Cameron’s sophomore LP is a sticky entrance into a world of seedy posturing and internet obsession. Across ten hilarious and remarkably catchy homages to 80’s yacht rock and power pop, Cameron paints a portrait of a homeless LA romantic, itching for a fight and entirely out of his time. Across the album he can be found waiting for a lover who is “almost seventeen” and becoming so smitten on an Internet chatroom that he doesn’t care if he’s really speaking to a woman or “just some Nigerian guy”. The sort of music created by a man who took one look at Rupert Holmes and found a hero, it’s a combination of oddity and infectious melody which creates many a dilemma when it comes to singing out loud. 

33. GOOD KID M.A.A.D. CITY – KENDRICK LAMAR (2012)

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Kendrick Lamar cemented his reputation as one of the pre-eminient storytellers of his generation with this collection of songs: a truly cinematic work which sprawls like the city made so vivid by his music. Charting this adolescence in Compton – a city filled with crime, drugs and gang-banging – Lamar’s genius isn’t through the telling of a linear story but a psychological investigation into the life of a young man surrounded by the pressures of friends destined for jail, the shadow of drugs and alcohol looming large and a teenage obsession with sex, or rather the idea of it. Take ‘Backseat Freestyle’, the debut single which initially disappointed fans with its crude braggadocio… it turns out Lamar was reverting to his young, cocky self; learning to spit in the back of his friend’s car. Detailing the trap-falls Lamar navigated to find himself releasing a debut album at all, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City is an expansive album which sounds like it was made by a man who had waited his whole life to tell this story. 

32. FATHER OF THE BRIDE – VAMPIRE WEEKEND (2019)

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Unlike many of their blog-approved peers, straining to capture the glory days of rock n roll, Vampire Weekend reject the idea that anything in art can be absolutely original. Their brilliant fourth album wholly embraced the modern songwriting toolboxes of sampling and interpolation: the backbone of ‘2021’ for example is a sample of Haruomi Hosono’s 1980 song ‘Talking’, an ambient track commissioned for the retail chain Muji, while the sweeping opener ‘Hold You Now’ begins as a Nashville ballad, but breaks into a soaring Malaysian choir: a sample of Hans Zimmer’s score for The Thin Red Line. The results of being unconcerned with keeping rock ‘pure’ speak for themselves: this record is a joyous one, racing through influences as wide as The Stones, Tommy James, iLoveMakkonen, Cat Stevens and Lily Allen to paint a picture of ecological crisis and domestic bliss. These songs don’t sound like others, they’re not copies but rather stylistic composites, stitched together so seamlessly that every marriage is a happy one.

31. THERE IS LOVE IN YOU – FOUR TET (2010)

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This may be a record which surprises those whose experience of Kieran Hebden’s music is solely the driving break beats of his club nights at Printworks or Field Day, because There Is Love In You is an entirely different creature. A slow set of angelic compositions which capture the essence of classic soul through vocal layering and intimate production alone. There are foot tappers here, ‘Love Cry’ is build around a throbbing series of vocal snippets encircling a tight and dusty drum loop, but the overriding feeling is a collection of work which is soothing and serene. Songs like the almost childlike ‘Sing’ layer around gentle beeps and boops which change before your eyes like the kaleidoscopic cover of the collection, creating the warm air of romance without a word being spoken.

30. AM – THE ARCTIC MONKEYS (2013)

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This album is so fucking cool. For all that could be written about the way Alex Turner turned his band into an international phenomenon ten years into their career, wrote some of the most exhilarating rockers of their catalogue and incorporated hip-hop into rock n roll in a way that would make Limp Bizkit green at the gills, it’s all really about the cool. ‘Do You Wanna Know’ kicks it off with an internationally-known guitar riff in a decade when it’s hard to name another, and the album ends perfectly with a cover of John Cooper Clarke’s impossibly British ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, rebooted with some soaring guitar licks and doo-wop harmonies. The band soaks every glam-rock hip-swinger, smoothly crooned ballad and reference to getting high or laid in the same jet-black tar which adorns the LP’s cover. If bedroom mirrors were given a million new teenage companions by Jagger in the 60s, Turner did the same in 2013 with AM.

29. REFLEKTOR – ARCADE FIRE (2013)

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A dark disco epic with roots in the Haitian heritage of songwriter Régine Chassagne, their fourth album saw Arcade Fire decamping to a recording studio in Jamaica, and the sticky heat of these circumstances runs like a main line through the music. As they embraced groove and rhythm in a way they never previously had, they delved deeper into the roots of their sound. It’s a record with a vivid sense of purpose and place: ‘Here Comes The Nighttime’ and ‘Afterlife’ overflow with the vibrancy of a carnival, featuring half a dozen percussionists and ecstatic horns. The opening salvo of the album is defined by opposition to screens, cameras and social conservatism before themes surge into Greek mythology, ritual and superstition on the album’s second half. With rough-and-ready production from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, disco cuts like the title track and the Prince-indebted ‘It’s Never Over’ pack tight grooves, sweet melodies and lashings of sweat. Reflektor is filled with ideas, and yet for all its cynicism and intellectualism, gloriously its answer is to throw in the towel and party. 

28. NEGRO SWAN – BLOOD ORANGE (2018)

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Genres and sounds play off one another in Devonte Hynes’ scrapbook approach to song-writing as Blood Orange. Having honed the loose, Janet Jackson-inspired style of funk-pop which he deployed behind the boards on Sky Ferreira and Solange’s biggest hits – he honed and defined the style most effectively on this, his defining work. An exploration of blackness and outsiders, musically it explores various aspects of African-American history from the Chicago-house drums on the soulful ‘Saint’ to an A$AP Rocky featuring banger and the cleansing gospel of the sweetly sung ‘Holy Will’. Packed with the bustle of Hynes’ natural turf – the city – it privileges the queer, the discouraged and the kinky; detailing his own past with bullying as a child in London on the opening song ‘Orlando’ where he sings “all that I know was taught to me young… my first kiss was the floor”. This casual and bright-eyed exploration of all that these weirdos are capable is as good a revenge upon those bullies as any.

27. YOU WANT IT DARKER – LEONARD COHEN (2016)

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On his final album, recorded from a lumbar-strengthened armchair, Leonard Cohen wrote himself a send-off befitting of one of greatest lyricists of the last century. Much can be read into You Want It Darker as a great artist’s parting message, but this record is Cohen’s most hopeful release, with testaments to love, faith and Hebrew scripture. He’s on dry form, singing that  “I’ve been fighting with temptation, but I didn’t wanna win: a guy like me don’t like to see temptation caving in” on ‘On The Level’. For the first time ever in his recorded work, sometimes the instrumentals take front and center: ‘If I Didn’t Have Your Love’ is a gorgeous country ballad featuring a silky smooth guitar solo, while ‘Steer Your Way’ is a magnificent end to a remarkable career, sending the 82-year-old on his way on a sea of elegiac strings.

26. HAVE ONE ON ME – JOANNA NEWSOM (2010)

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Joanna Newsom released three of the best singer-songwriter albums of the decade all at once, under one name. When Newsom announced that her third album would be a triple, many people dreaded an even denser work than her previous, Ys. But the quantity of the songs in this collection don’t bear upon their quality: each of these songs are intricately designed, embellished with her trademark harp and gently tapped piano – Newson’s expressive and bizarre voice stretching in directions anew. Despite it’s uniqueness, as a singer she is capable of a great range of emotion, from the quirkiness of ‘Good Intentions Paving Co.’, perhaps her most accessible song to date, to ‘Baby Birch’ – a mandolin-featuring suite which pays emotive tribute to a child she conceived but didn’t birth. It’s an ambitious album yes, but a generous one first and foremost.

25. KNIFE MAN – ANDREW JACKSON JIHAD (2013)

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Mixing the raw playing and geeky energy of 80’s DIY punk with folk music, Knife Man is the down-and-out companion to every piece of academically minded political music released this decade. Depicting the bums and cast-off’s of an uncaring society, Sean Bonnette sings songs for the drunk drivers, the homeless and the romantically forlorn with sharp wit and a great deal of sympathy. Bonnette explores places in his songwriting most of his peers just don’t: the gutting ‘No One’ is told from the perspective of an employee at a homeless shelter, and he charts the fast comforts of materialism on ‘People II: Still Peoplin’ where he sings “you can buy a salad glove, you can buy an iPod/and you can sell that shit to Bookman’s when your wife dies and you lose your job”. Diving between the deep cynicism of what it means to be anything but a straight white man in the USA on ‘American Tune’ and the gentle compassion of ‘If You Have Love In Your Heart’, Knife Man feels at once deeply political and endearingly human. 

24. GHOSTEEN – NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS (2019)

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Under the unthinkable circumstances of the death of a child, people respond in unexpected ways. Skeleton Tree, Cave’s previous album, was the somber sequence of songs many would assume he would create in its wake. The tragic accident occurred during that albums creation however, making Ghosteen the first written by Cave about his grief, and grieving at large. It is the last thing you would expect. In the album’s manifesto ‘Burning Horses’ he states that “everyone has a heart, and it’s calling for something/And we’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are” – and so the world of this album is his phantasmagoria. Manifesting galleon ships, paradisaical scenery and Buddhist doctrine, the fantastical perhaps works so well because the subject matter is already understood. Imagery comes and goes over some of the most beautiful compositions of the band’s 40 year career: sprawling testaments which lack beginnings or ends, and just ebb and flow through synths that sound more like Tangerine Dream than The Birthday Party. These moments of ascension on songs like ‘Sun Forest’ and ‘Ghosteen’ are moments of divine beauty, like the devotional crests of ashram music, reacting to a very real tragedy with an otherworldly grace.

23. THE IDLER WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER OF THE SCREW AND WHIPPING CORDS WILL SERVE YOU MORE THAN ROPES WILL EVER DO – FIONA APPLE (2012)

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Making music which is at once extremely expressive and entirely enigmatic, the verbosely titled Idler Wheel is a uniquely creative pop record. Being only the fourth LP of her twenty year career, each song is as purposeful as you’d expect. Painted with the baroque instrumentation of gently rumbling drums, cabaret piano and vocals sung between a pillow-talk hush and a howl, each song feels like a pointed statement of intent. Filled with ear-worm hooks, Apple sings in her idiosyncratic style about love and abandonment: her range of expression is as erratic as her delivery, at once proclaiming that she “just likes watching you live” to vitriol when she sees that “you were such a super guy ‘til the second you get a whiff of me”. But then she is, as she proclaims on the looping final song “a hot knife, and you’re my bread and butter”. Maybe that’s not so easy to live with, but the music is a joy to. 

22. APOCALYPSE – BILL CALLAHAN (2011)

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At once stately and psychedelic, Apocalypse is a subtly epic record. If that’s sounds like a contradiction, then it’s an accurate one. Burdened with the stately label of ‘folk-rock’, the music sounds exactly as you’d expect… until you start paying attention. The songs may be embellished with lush strings, strummed guitars and pianos, but there are no Pete Seeger shanties to be found here. These long, strange songs are set within pastoral Texas, a quiet place which can turn upon you without a second’s notice: here characters suddenly find themselves being herded by their own cattle, or having their boat sunk by their own flare. Callahan’s baritone voice moves around the instrumentals like a rambler, airing thoughts as they come to him. As the record ends he puts to bed “my apocalypse” and begins singing the catalogue number of the very album which the song closes. If it was all charting some form of crisis, you’d never know – the artist sounds completely in control.

21. RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES – DAFT PUNK (2012)

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Setting a mythically high watermark for recording quality and costing over $1,000,000 to make, the folklore of Daft Punk’s comeback is just window-dressing of a bigger achievement in the end: Random Access Memories itself. A majestic tribute to the music of the duo’s adolescence, it’s a shameless attempt to revitalise mainstream pop, opening with as explicit a musical manifesto as any released in living memory with the words “let the music of your life, give your life back to music”. Featuring Nile Rogers on some of the finest songs of his remarkable career, an epic ten minute tribute to synth pioneer Georgio Moroder, a slice of musical theatre, underwater synth experiments, Julian Casablancas of the Strokes and Panda Bear of Animal Collective, a slice of yacht rock and a heavy synth closer which takes off like a rocket… it’s an album which shamelessly tries to do everything, a living exhibit of modern songwriting which aims to remind the listener why the fell in love with music in the first place. 

20. BLACK TERRY CAT – XENIA RUBINOS (2016)

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Like the wild and frazzled child which adorns the album’s cover, Black Terry Cat is the sound of a classically trained musician drawing a line in the sand and kicking against the walls of the boxes she was placed inside. Born in America to a Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father, Rubinos less explores the various aspects of her identity as yields them like fists. Her jazz roots comes together with synths and a hip-hop mentality, her soaring voice piercing through deep bass and creating sublime hooks. On the raucous ‘Mexian Chef’ she details the “brown people” behind the scenes of every aspect of American Life, and she captures both the passion and defiance of the record on ‘Just Like I’ where she sings “with the same teeth I smile, I bite you”. It’s music which takes every word said against it’s maker and wears them like badges sewn on a punk’s leather jacket. 

19. PURE COMEDY – FATHER JOHN MISTY (2017)

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Unbounded in its ambition, attempting as it does to depict the human race from an objective point of view, commenting upon our religions, technological addictions and ego, to some the third Father John Misty LP was nothing but pretension. But Josh Tillman’s purview is expressly individual, filled with wit and incredibly careful lyricism, which imbues the sorry state of political culture in the wake of 2016 with a broader context. ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ gleefully imagines a future where virtual reality allows us to be stimulated around the clock, while ‘Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’ lists exactly that. It’s essentially a sales pitch for nihilism, but the bitter pill is sweetened by the fact that nothing comes in for as much as a skewering as its maker himself. On the 13 minute ‘Leaving LA’, backed by the wonderful string arrangement of Gavin Bryars, Tillman offers the kind of self-flagellation rarely matched in music. Tillman’s voice is sharper than ever, with a range and exuberance which ensures even the down notes are delivered with relish. Pure Comedy works because it is a rich portrait, zooming out to the origins of man as a species and back into the very heart of his own relationship, in which he finds at least a little salvation.

18. THE MONEY STORE – DEATH GRIPS (2012)

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There was a time when Death Grips sounded like the most dangerous shit in the world. Like the most successful pioneers, these industrial beats – led by Zach Hill’s furious drumming, manic ejaculating synths and the spat vocals of MC Ride – can be heard in many corners of hip-hop today, but in 2012 there was nothing quite like it. Eight years after they emerged on the scene, it’s still unclear what’s true about MC Ride’s backstory and what isn’t, but the lyrics certainly seem to come from a disturbed place. Some of the songs here express the deranged ramblings of a man dedicated to enacting violence, such as ‘Fuck That’, while other delve into the roots of such mania – like the symptoms of dissociative identity disorder which on the opening track or the dark proclamations on the surging ‘I’ve Seen Footage’, in which MC Ride infers the heinous things he’s seen on videotape. Like the punks of the late 70s, Death Grips forced upon a new generation the lesson that some subjects are better conveyed through ugly music, and gave them some bangers to boot.

17. MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY – VAMPIRE WEEKEND (2013)

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Appropriately for a band defined by their collegiate aesthetic, Vampire Weekend’s third LP sounds like a bright-eyed adolescent moving from the small town to the big city, having their wings clipped by adulthood and a broken heart. Dropping their once-defining afro-pop influence, this is a collection music which dabbles in the ornate and the absurd in equal measure. These baroque songs songs capture the spirit of the transition: be it a rollicking pop tune about loss of faith on ‘Unbelievers’, or an encroaching cynicism reaped by daily life surrounded by thousands of rat racers on the reference-heavy ‘Step’. This song, which samples rap group Souls of Mischief, is testament to the band’s ability to the weave contemporary influence and spontaneity through their music, keeping the music here fast and fresh without removing both feet from the indie-tradition. Auto-tuned 8-bit rager ‘Diane Young’ sits alongside the elegiac beauty of ‘Hannah Hunt’ – in which the composed front of Ezra Koenig slips away and he pleads with his departing lover over searing piano. Ornately designed like architecture but speckled with the angst of transition, the album truly feels like music of the city.

16. PUT UR BACK N 2 IT – PERFUME GENIUS (2012)

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Beautifully, Mike Hadreas closes the decade as a strong, flamboyant man – which makes it easy to forget just how small and fragile his first two projects were. This, the second, is a short, hushed collection of songs, sung with a voice which sounds as fragile as glass. A survivor of childhood abuse, Hadreas crafts a series of songs which are unapologetically intimate about of the realities of such traumas. On ‘Dark Parts’ he recalls that “the hands of God were bigger than grandpa’s eyes/But still he broke the elastic on your waist”. A suffer of Crohn’s disease and suicidal thoughts due to his repressed homosexuality, Hadreas places himself back in his head at 17, singing “take everything away/This gnarled, weird face/This ripe swollen shape/I want blank, I want frozen lake”. But while the subject matter is serious, it’s not a record without hope or beauty. Musically, Hadreas has an ear for sharp melodies, and the swirl of synths and razor-sharp piano which circle these songs are an apt soundtrack for the fragility of his words. Moments of defiance scatter the album too, and these are all the more poignant standing against those moments of lost hope, singing on ‘Normal Song’ that “no violence, no matter how bad/can darken the heart/or tear it apart”. Hadreas has moved on, but this work remains an intimate broadcast from a place most hope to never find themselves.

15. POMEGRANATES – NICOLAS JAAR (2015)

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Released on the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and intended as a revisionist score of Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 film The Colour of Pomegranates, this free-release is a deep and patient depiction of a world which isn’t there. A musique concrète-style conception, the 75 minute work is an ever shifting ambient landscape, with detailed electronics existing alongside found-sounds and baroque piano. The result is a world as textured and vivid as cinema, with images of Soviet Russia – from it’s factories to it’s art – detailed in Jaar’s remarkable conflations of minimalist house and ambient drones. With titles which aptly evoke the sentiment of the instrumentals they label – be it ‘Divorce’, ‘Three Windows’ or ‘Club Kapital’ – it’s easy to reach the end of this complex and intricate work and feel like you’ve completed a revelatory thesis, forgetting that not a word had been spoken. 

14. BLONDE – FRANK OCEAN (2016)

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After four years of waiting, Frank Ocean’s Blonde rewarded impatient fans with the same passion, craft and soulfulness of Channel Orange, complete now, however, with a newfound maturity, depth and a head for exploration. These tracks are minimalist and atmospheric, and what initially seem like the shortcomings of this album – its ambiguities, it’s stripped back tone, the near total lack of percussion on most tracks – become its strengths. It’s the product of an openness to collaboration – with production and vocal assistance from James Blake, Beyonce, Pharell Williams, Johnny Greenwood and Yung Lean. André 3000 is even allowed to steal the show on his ‘Solo (Reprise)’ feature. Diverting from the sounds of the hip-hop mainstream, it’s an album which sounds as much like the Beach Boys as it does Travis Scott. Veiled in a sheet of obfuscating fog, layers of instrumentation are easily missed, while other moments like the chorus of vocoders of ‘Solo’ are immediate in their beauty. It’s a confounding release from a pioneering musician, and one who refuses to give it all away at once.

13. TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY – KENDRICK LAMAR (2015)

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A concept album of almost unparalleled depth and complexity, To Pimp A Butterfly is an opus on no uncertain terms: messy, ambitious and, miraculously, successful. Picking up where his previous album had left off, Lamar continues the narravitisation of his life in the wake of his fame, charting the follies of his celebrity, a sense of survivors guilt and the trials of being a black man in America. He does so with the through-line of a poem, which gains lines at the end of songs with correspond with it’s themes, and is read aloud in its entirety during in the 15 minute closing epic ‘Mortal Man’, which features an edited conversation with the deceased Tupac, one of the few men in history who could understand Lamar’s situation. It’s remarkable that through all this, the songs stand in their own right, featuring lolloping jazz instrumentation with assistance from virtuosos like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat, and legends like George Clinton and Dr Dre. Each song is a miniature showcase, whether the g-funk hit of ‘King Kunta’, the speed raps of ‘For Free?’, the anthemic ‘Alright’ or the reggae-tinged intensity of call-to-arms ‘Blacker The Berry’. With the detail and depth of an entire anthology, the album is that rare piece of art which can be picked apart for years, and yet remain as impactful as the day it first played. 

12. CRACK-UP – FLEET FOXES (2017)

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In the title of the essay of the same name the band took their third LPs title from, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”. Apt, considering it is intelligence and maturity which are the defining traits of the band’s approach on this album. Crack-Up is defined by ebb-and-flow: the sweet rushes of luscious guitar chords and beatnik harmonies which defined them on their debut LP and sophomore Helplessness Blues are released only in waves. Such restraint made their defining sound all the more sweet: moments of orchestrated bombast delivering euphoria and catharsis while drawing attention to the details of their songwriting in the way a wall of sound doesn’t allow for. In these moments, Pecknold shows an ability to drag 21st century concerns into his traditionalist wheelhouse, with ‘Cassius-’ reliving his experiences of protest following the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge in 2016, while nodding to Muhammad Ali at the same time as Roman conspirator Gaius Cassius Longinus. Such moments help to inform an intellectual strain to the album’s lyrics, informed by Pecknold’s studies at Columbia in the band’s six-year downtime. Crack-Up is special because its moments of meditation are as important as its moments of release, charting the breakdown and recovery of friendship, and an intellectual neurotic-ism which is mature and slow burning. This is the kind of music which sounds inoffensively pleasant upon arrival, only unveiling its deeply complex tapestry once one learns how to listen to it.

11. OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES – SOPHIE (2018)

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Far from the garish, maximalist pop of her early career – making bangers featuring lyrical insights which ran as deep as “lemonade, l-l-lemonade!”, on her debut LP Scottish producer SOPHIE crafted a state-of-the nation record for the entire the western world. It contorts the sound of early 2000s pop and EDM, two of the century’s most garish and commercially-expedient scenes, into maximalist club bangers, ridden with eroticism and neuroses about the body, gender and commercialism. By synthesising the sounds of party hits and saturating them to an almost intolerable degree, SOPHIE embodies an ethos which questions the ideals of the society in which it exists, by turning our favourite things against us. On ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ she teases one of her trademark bangers, only to drive the sound into the dirt across the course of ten minutes, while the forever-ascending ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’ sounds like a euphoric trip. She saves her sharpest messages for her bangers though: the ingenious twisting of the phrase “my face is the front of shop/My face is the real shop front/My shop is the face I front/I’m real when I shop my face” on ‘Faceshopping’ containing all the horrors of commercialism, and it’s manipulative dance with our bodies. 

10. IMMUNITY – JON HOPKINS (2013)

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Opening with the sound of its creator walking down steps and opening the door to his studio, this organic techno record allows the sounds of the outside world inside it’s electronic shell. From the sampled sound of fireworks and the use of acoustic instrumentation and analogue synths, Immunity is a restless, warm album that reinvented electronic production for the decade we are now leaving behind. From the raging ‘Open Eye Signal’ to the serene ‘Abandon Window’, Hopkins’ productions are tactile, non-linear and thoroughly enthralling when taken as an hour-long whole. The natural evolution of these compositions leave room for thought in a way that the maximalist productions which propelled electronic producers to the top of the charts this decade fail to, making the Immunity meditative even at its most propulsive. 

9. I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR – FATHER JOHN MISTY (2015)

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Love is a complicated emotion: such is the sentiment of the sardonically titled I Love You Honeybear, a cynical and devotional sequence of songs which act as a rebuttal to music which would dare to paint romance under such gushing terms. In these soft-rock songs, Josh Tillman is a drunken mess, a jealous guy and a lovesick hipster: the sort of man who’d scoff at the idea of marriage suddenly proclaiming that it’s “so bourgeoise to keep waiting/dating for twenty years just feels pretty civilian” to the soundtrack of a mariachi band. The love between Tillman and his now wife Emma is presented as fast and messy, where doubt and ego played alongside moments of earnest devotion to his newfound love. Its singer’s voice is expressive and seemingly limitless, making even the most cynical moments ones of sharp insight. On it’s best moments, Tillman remarkably unites the personal and political: only ‘Holy Shit’ he lists modernity’s “mobile lifestyle/loveless sex/independence/happiness” but insists that he “fails to see what that’s got to do with you and me”. All of the concerns of the previous record are swept aside by the closer ‘I Went To The Store One Day’, the origin story of his and his wife’s chance encounter at a corner shop and the certainty of Tillman’s commitment to this stranger sweeps away the complications of all that came before it.

8. BLACK MESSIAH – D’ANGELO (2014)

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D’Angelo makes freaky music. Sticky, off-kilter and sexy, Black Messiah is a collection of funk songs which give their pleasures slowly and, once the tunes open up, bountifully. Take the lolloping slap bass of the opener ‘Ain’t That Easy’ in which D’Angelo sings like the words are being stolen from his throat, or the politically fraught ‘1000 Deaths’ which doesn’t reveal itself as the blood-thirsty rocker it is until all the instrumentation is stripped away to reveal only a thunderous drum beat in its final moments. For all the weirdness though, the songs at the core of the intricate compositions are rich and soulful: from the delicate Spanish-guitar ballad ‘Really Love’ or the gently devotional ‘Betray My Heart’, and the whirlwind of howled vocals, guitar solos, deep bass and jazz piano which surround them just serve to make them endure all the more. 

7. THIS IS HAPPENING – LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (2010)

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There’s no better way to make your audience sit up and pay attention than by opening your album with ‘Dance Yrself Clean’. I can specify the moment when I got really, seriously interested in music down to the exact moment its first three minutes of soft percussion and welcoming synths explode into a rave. The album is relentlessly tight from there, from the quirky rocker ‘Drunk Girls’ to the perfect 80’s synth pop tribute ‘I Can Change’. For all of the energy of the music, James Murphy is often on anxious form in the lyrics: sweetly insisting that his lover doesn’t have to change for him, but pleading that he’ll change anything she wants if it makes her fall in love. Few bands can lock into a groove better than LCD Soundsystem, with Murphy’s perfectionism and love for analogue synths resulting in nine succinct and razor sharp dance-punk compositions. The closing track is one of the most enthralling, and a point of closure for an album of anxious concerns where the Murphy resolves that ‘home’ may just be where we already are. 

6. BENJI – SUN KIL MOON (2014)

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In between Mark Kozelek the hushed slow-core balladeer and Mark Kozelek the rambling spoken word artist came the perfect intersection of both: Benji. A veritable storybook, each song of intricately performed guitar tells a tale from a different part of its creator’s life. Some of them are heartbreaking, such as the tale of his cousin who tragically died in a fire in her front yard, or his thoughts on hearing of yet another school shooting on ‘Pray For Newtown’ – but others are sweetly endearing, such as the tale of his reaction to being sat with an albino kid in class as a child, or watching gigs with a growing beer belly on the foot-stomping ‘Ben’s My Friend’. Across an hour, Kozelek really does cover it all – from family to death, sex and crime – and his careful playing and haunting voice are enough to leave the impression that, after spending some time with it, you’ve lived through it all too. 

5. MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY – KANYE WEST (2010)

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There is something colossal about the vision of Kanye West unveiled on this album, which comes labelled with a title as apt as any this decade. As a display of raw ambition, it would be hard to find a greater successor: an appropriate work by the most notorious ego in music. Each song is a set-piece with its own embarrassment of riches, but the tunes of each somehow ably contain all of their embellishments. From the musical-theatre piano which follows Niki Minaj’s spoken word intro, to Kanye somehow out-rapping a member of Wu-Tang on ‘Gorgeous’ and the synth-pop of ‘All Of The Lights’ which counts John Legend, Elton John, Drake and Alicia Keys as backing vocalists. The epic ‘Power’ samples King Crimson and sees Kanye succinctly conveying the anxiety of the great amount of influence he yields, while ‘Monster’ contains the career peaks of both Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj within it’s six minutes. ‘So Appalled’ is a posse-cut featuring Jay Z, Pusha T and RZA, and ‘Runaway’ is a ten minute violin-led epic, in which Kanye wails in inaudible audio tune for the final five minutes. It ends with the adrenaline-enducing ‘Lost In The World’ which features then-folk-singer Bon Iver and ends with a unedited performance by Gil Scott Heron, who highlights the sheer American-ness of all this madness. For all the politics of the record, and the self-immolation Kanye brings upon himself, ultimately it’s just a thrill to listen to, with one of the most creative minds of a generation outdoing himself at every turn and truly revealing the sky to be the limit. He likes to insist that that’s all he ever wanted to do. 

4. LP1 – FKA TWIGS (2014)

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It’s rare in popular music that something feels like a completely new idea, but that’s what FKA Twigs sounded like upon her arrival in 2013, from the digital-body dysmorphia in her videos to her blend of glitchy electronic production melded with sweetly sung R&B on wax. It’s should be no surprise: to look at the production credits for her debut album is to list some of the most forward-thinking musicians of the decade: Arca, Clams Casino and Devonté Hynes of Blood Orange to name just three. The result of their collaboration with Twigs is a sweeping, strange and fresh body of work which sounds like little before it. Deep beds of glitchy electronics swathe songs which boast some indelible pop hooks, but many of them stubbornly hidden or teased out until the final climax of each song. In the music Twigs is something new also: fragile and paranoid to the point of submissiveness, these songs are fraught with fleeting phrases like “are you the girl from the video?” and “when I trust you we can do it with the lights on”. The escalating synths on the latter song turn a simple repeated phrase into a plea, and breathless sexuality is another defining trait of Twigs’ music. It’s easy to forget that when ‘Two Weeks’ was released as a single, our sole impression was Twigs was overridingly acquiescent, the woman from the ‘Water Me’ video with eyes made childlike begging to be cared for. It made this epic synth song sound like an absolute revolution: from her taunting “give me two weeks, you won’t recognise her… feel your body closing/I can rip it open” to the hi-hats and deep bass which submerge like the waves of an orgasm, FKA Twigs was clearly a woman reborn, bringing much of music with her.

3. YOUR QUEEN IS A REPTILE – SONS OF KEMET (2018)

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The third album from this London four-piece is, first and foremost, some of the most compelling and distinct jazz music released anywhere this century. It’s often easy to forget that they’re just four players, consisting only of tuba, clarinet, saxophone and drums… half the time, the band sounds like a whole damn carnival. Each song seems to be drawn from a distinct part of the world: from the dub squelches of ‘My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark’ to the sub-bass creep of ‘My Queen Is Anna Julia Cooper’. It’s more raucous moments seem indebted to the D&B scene which has emerged since jazz last held the zeitgeist in England’s capital city; the thrilling ‘My Queen Is Harriet Tubman’ recreates with tuba the drum patterns which have filled clubs for decades. This is a record which is distinctly modern, with a strong sense of place. The opening and closing tracks even nod their heads towards grime, thanks to appearances from MC Congo Natty and poet Josh Idehen, whose fiery verses provide the only verbal confirmation of the politics which you can sense scorching through their music throughout.

But even without lyrics, the work comes with a concept executed with rare clarity and purpose. The title of the album dismisses the monarch who supposedly reigns over these Londoners, and each song name begins ‘My Queen Is…’: naming a series of nine inspirational, but far less praised, black women in her place. It’s an example of a political album being done absolutely right: choosing not to eulogise, but instead to revive forgotten histories. Just reading the Wikipedia entries for the names which appear across the track-list counters the education many of us received in our school classrooms: referencing South African activist Albertina Sisulu and modern heroine Doreen Lawrence OBE to name just two. With this simple idea, Sons Of Kemet have given us the kind of political statement which comes through the medium of jazz once in a generation, in the vein of Fela Kuti and Nina Simone before them. 

This record’s very existence is a rebuttal on various levels. It rebukes the colonialist mentality which has found mainstream footing again in the wave of populism which continues to rock the liberal status quo in the west, and the system of aristocracy which never went away. But also, musically, it provides an answer to those who’ve said that jazz was dead: it’s rarely sounded more alive than this.

2. SKELETON TREE – NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS (2016)

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There were many powerful albums about grief this decade, and Skeleton Tree is simply the most poetic of them all. While artists such as Sufjan Stevens and Mount Eerie chose to speak frankly about loss, after the loss of his son during the recording of this LP, Nick Cave remains somewhat evasive. Instead of reducing the musicality of his work, he produced his most haunting set of songs: a succinct body of work which seem to have had the fire stripped out of them, like the almost-empty cover which sits like a black hole in many a music collection. While the choral vocals of ‘Girl In Amber’ may have once been sung by a full gospel choir, here they are a feeble, electronic throb haunting the corridors of the tune. Warren Ellis’ roaring violin is reduced to just a taunt pulse on the opening ‘Jesus Alone’, while ‘Anthrocene’ seems to have had the very melody ripped out of it, leaving Cave alone offering just hushed whispers. 

Many of the albums from the second half of Cave’s long career have seemed personal, but music doesn’t get much more intimate than this: the instruction on ‘Magneto’ for him to deliver again “one more time with feeling” feels like a cruel joke. While often indirect, the lyrics which clearly elude to the tragedy are remarkably sad, such as his admission that: “They told us our gods would outlive us/They told us our dreams would outlive us/They told us our gods would outlive us/But they lied”. ‘I Need You’ depicts the night of tragedy, and Cave sings with a strained falsetto he never previously had, sounding like little more than a plea as he repeats the title of the song with increasing urgency. 

Yet if this is the record’s lowest point, there comes at the end two glimmers of hope. Cave has rarely so generously allowed beauty in his compositions as he does in ‘Distant Sky’, which boats both a wrought violin solo from Warren Ellis and an appearance by Danish opera singer Else Torp. This moment of beauty feels colossal in the context of what has come before it. Closer ‘Skeleton Tree’, most conventionally led by acoustic guitar, ends promisingly with Cave cooing “it’s alright now/it’s alright now…”. To express a tragedy so poignantly through eight songs is a feat in itself, but to end it with words like these is nothing short of remarkable.

1. AMERICAN DREAM – LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (2017)

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Around 400,000 albums have been released since 2010 and, no matter how obsessive you are, no matter how many episodes of TheNeedleDrop you’ve watched or how many Bandcamp pages you’ve dug through, it would be impossible to listen to all of them. So to argue why LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream is the best album of all 400,000 of them, with the most meaningful lyrics and catchiest hooks… well, I’m not qualified. But I can say why it’s my favourite.

LCD Soundsystem secured their place in my heart when I first heard This Is Happening in 2012. I made the decision to listen to music which wasn’t from the iTunes Charts or my Dad’s CD collection and it was named number one on a list like this one for 2010. Shortly after I found out they’d broken up for good months earlier, in a ceremonious way, and that was that. But in 2017 they announced they were back… for some who were there the first time round, this was a betrayal – for me, it was the most exciting thing to happen all year. I was in Vietnam when the album came out and I’d been with my girlfriend, who I now live with, for four months. She was flying to Ghana and, as far as far as we knew, we wouldn’t be able to speak for the month she was there. As anyone who’s ever been four months into a relationship knows, not being able to speak at that crucial, smitten time was pretty gutting. The album was released on the day she flew from London, we FaceTimed and, stressed, we argued… and then she was gone. It was 2am in Hanoi and I lay on my back in the hostel lobby in front of a fan, pressed play on the crushing opening track ‘Oh Baby’, and felt very sorry for myself.

The next day me, my mates and two Belgian women we’d met at the hostel headed down to the sea. In an effort to stop myself looking at my phone every two minutes to see if Beth had sent me a text, I decided go for a run down the beach. In only my trunks, infront of hundreds of Vietnamese families and in 38 degree heat, I ran along the edge of the water so the sea splashed up my legs and I listened to American Dream for the first time in full. I heard for the first time the monumental slabs of synths which opened ‘How Do You Sleep?’ which soon burst into a disco epic, decided that it was a work of pure genius, and I actually felt pretty great.

I must have listened to the album more than 200 times since then, which means looking at that pretty crummy album cover more than I ever thought I’d have to. I love it. I think that ‘Oh Baby’ is one of the most heartbreaking songs to ever grace my ears and that ‘I Used To’ is one of the darkest; one of the finest pieces of post-punk to be released since Unknown Pleasures. ‘Tonite’ is an amazing tribute to house and dance music of the 80’s, capturing the highs and depressive lows of the dance-floor like few others. ‘American Dream’, with its cacophonous and fantastical climaxes, captures the political turmoil of our age better than whole albums which attempted to do exactly that and the drums on ‘Emotional Haircut’ sounds fucking phenomenal. Perhaps everybody else feels the same, or maybe it’s just me.

WORDS BY LIAM INSCOE – JONES

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