Welcome to WV’s retrospective of the decade so far – my favorite records from 2010-2014. I’ve been toying around with the idea to make a list like this for a while now, mostly for my own personal nostalgia quencher. What better way to rediscover albums that I enjoyed in high school by pitting them against records I enjoyed in college and then make a list out of all of them? This was also a good way to reevaluate the “best of” lists I made from these years to see which albums really stuck with me and which ones kind of fell to the wayside.
I’m really proud of this list and I think it’s a pretty complete summation of my music taste in this moment and a snapshot of how it’s developed over the past five years. These five years have been pretty busy, too: two graduations, a big move, my first love, two jobs that made me listen to music, loads of new friends, etc. Lots of development here. But not just me personally, but the music industry as a whole has radically changed in five short years: “true” indie music is barely a thing anymore, streaming battles between corporations, hype cycles spin much faster now, and so much more. Things overall seem like they’re going so fast.
By taking the time to re-listen to all the albums on this list, I was able to slow my own listening processes down a bit, which was really refreshing. I’ve been working on this for about two months now, so it’s not something I just whipped up in a weekend. It was seriously a difficult trial to narrow down only 50 records from the past five years to highlight on this list. As you’ll immediately see below, I couldn’t find just 50. I’m weak. Hope you enjoy!
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(51.) Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Unfortunately this one got bumped out of the #50 spot, but I still wanted to write a little something on it since it was in the selection process up until the very end. Gorillaz are the only band on this list that I’ve liked since middle school and this album is the first one from this decade that I was legitimately on the edge of my seat for. I remember going out and buying the CD the day it came out and being delighted that my favorite band at the time had not let me down. I feel like my mind has this record’s nostalgia factor turned up pretty high, but it’s still a real good listen.
50. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
I got into this album during the dregs of my senior year of high school after seeing the massive praise it received on basically every music blog I followed at the time. The mix of airy, ambient textures with the definite piano instrumentation motif, I loved how relaxing some songs on this record were. I even submitted my AP Psych class to listen to “In The Air III” for a presentation about brain auditory functions. I owe it to this record for getting me into more ambient music, which I thank it dutifully for.
49. Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
The patron saint of the ‘10s cloud rap movement, Clams Casino single-handedly made some of the most ear-catching instrumentals of the year so far in an extremely short amount of time. The lavish, bass heavy production was the sound of the first few years, with artists like A$AP Rocky, Lil B, ScHoolboy Q and countless others gaining tons of blog attraction, mostly in part for the great Clams instrumentals. I haven’t heard anything recently that got as big as this early stuff did, but I hope something comes along.
48. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Oh how the mighty have fallen. I ranked this record as my favorite of 2013, but clearly it hasn’t stood the test of time. At the time, though, it was a euphoric blast of fun – a brand new taste of Daft Punk after so many years of waiting! What could be better? Well, I guess since Daft Punk stuck around to make a biopic about themselves and starred in a Tidal commercial, the mysterious freshness kind of disappeared. There are great songs on here, but sometimes the cheese factor overloads my senses and feels aged poorly, even after two years. Still a fantastic return from a much-beloved band, though.
47. White Denim – Last Days Of Summer
The true music taste is coming out with mention this record. White Denim is a criminally overlooked band and this is their best album in a pack of great albums. Each song is a happy burst of sunshine, with killer grooves and an overall relaxed atmosphere. There are some slight math rock/jazz rock elements tucked away in the barbeque-scented melodies, along with definite classic rock influence. Undeniably pleasant and wistful, this record needs to be on your summer playlist.
46. Ovlov – AM
Dinosaur Jr./90s noise rock rip off bands are about a dime-a-dozen these days with the advent of labels like Exploding In Sound that pick out all the best ones, such as Ovlov, but this record & band is another story. The shredding on this record is just out of this world, with sludgy, carnal guitar textures and song structures that focus on buildup. All the best songs on the record finish with intense, climactic guitar solos that emotionally guide the listener so perfectly. Unfortunately they don’t exist anymore, but I can surely say that this brought me into the world of local-ish bands and a whole new appreciation for the state of Connecticut.
45. Grimes – Visions
Where would indie pop music, or even mainstream pop be in 2015 if it weren’t for Grimes’ smash success Visions? This record may not be the most musically complicated, but it has undoubtedly changed the contours of the indie music scene following its release. This prompted countless reproductions of indie & mainstream synth hybrid records, none of which even come close to the catchiness and effectiveness of this one. Simplicity in this case is key, with unique synth textures that are easy to listen to multiple times, along with ultra-catchy pop melodies and a super unique, pixie-like voice.
44. Grouper – A|A – Alien Observer & Dream Loss
This double album, along with Ravedeath, 1972, were definitely my introductions to ambient records, with Ravedeath occupying the electronic spectrum and Grouper’s A|A filling the lo-fi singer songwriter type approach. I absolutely adore Grouper’s music, since it’s perfect to zone out to. The muffled, smudged tones all over this record is like being at the bottom of a murky pond: you can only feel shapes around you and your sense of hearing is severely impaired, but you’re at peace surrounded by the warm water. There are some moments of sadness and darkness, but that’s for you to feel around in the depths.
43. Beach Fossils – Clash The Truth
Let’s be honest: the market for lazy, lo-fi indie rock records from this decade is a little too overcrowded. It’s definitely the most popular style I’ve seen in indie rock in recent years, developed by bands like Real Estate and this one here, Beach Fossils, in 2009 & 2010. So what happens when there are too many Stans in your genre pool? Make a record that is so damn catchy, inventive and captures the original aesthetic of the original trend. This record is the epitome of dreamy, lo-fi jangle rock, bringing in plenty of timbre changes in the form of varied instrumentation, guest vocals, interludes & connected tracks.
42. Fear Of Men – Loom
It always helps to have a good singer in your band. Now when that fantastic singer is singing great lyrics, that’s another great layer you’ve added there. Now wait a second, are you saying that the mix of great vocals that are saying the great word pairings is actually paired with perfectly arranged instrumentals? Now that blurb is so dang general and pointless, but in the context of this record it’s everything. I don’t know exactly what it is about this band, but every song they write is a 10/10 twee/jangle/indie pop piece of gold.
41. Ford & Lopatin – Channel Pressure
This record had to have gone under a ton of people’s radars in 2011, which is so sad, because this record is so good. Ford & Lopatin is the pairing of Joel Ford (Airbird) & Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), resulting in an over the top synth pop epic with OPN’s signature obsession with technology of the past and its relationship with the future. It’s unabashedly 80s, but that’s the point. It sounds like someone’s been trapped in an old TV and each song is a different channel the hero has to escape through to get out, only to find it was all a dream.
40. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
The last item I talked about featured Oneohtrix and now we have his 2011 album Replica, an electronic album comprised of micro samples from a bunch of VHS tapes, but It’s clearly more complicated than that. The whole feel of this album makes the listener feel like they’re being engulfed by outdated technology, like the gadgets that are piling up around us are constantly becoming obsolete, eventually burying us all in an electronic tomb. OPN is SO good at conveying that idea in the simple, eerie loops of his music. Unsettling yet comforting at the same time. So bizarre.
39. Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP
For a long time I had said that this was Sufjan Stevens’ best work, but now with Carrie & Lowell, I have to reconsider. Anyways, in the scope of Stevens’ unique trajectory, I feel as though this album carries all of his crazy music man ideas the best in one place. There are the futuristic synth pop jams from Age of Adz; there are the more intimate singer songwriter moments; the grander, folkier times; and then the grandest moments of them all – two songs over 10 minutes, cramming tons and tons of ideas into one song, my favorite being “All Delighted People.” I’m all about getting it all, so a sampler platter that isn’t a greatest hits from crazy music genius Sufjan is nice.
38. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Arcade Fire was the band that got me into this whole “indie rock” mess in the first place. I’m sure I would have gotten onto it eventually, but if it weren’t for this silly Canadian band I might have still been listening to exclusively Led Zeppelin and Rush right now, which honestly doesn’t sound too bad. However, this trajectory was from Funeral, though The Suburbs did get super amped to be alive and in high school, which was a pretty interesting effect. A great mixture of wistful, driving, fun, serious and catchy tracks from modern indie’s most beloved.
37. Burial – Kindred EP
Choosing which Burial I wanted to be represented here was a tough one and even thought of combining them since they’re all so short, but then I remembered the thrill that “Ashtray Wasp” is on this EP. This song is about two or three songs altogether, going from the usual two step beat + hypnotic ambiance that Burial is known for, then evolving into a totally different combination of two step + hypnotic, rainy ambiance. The whole EP is urgent, dark and driving, something that Burial is so dang good at. His other two EPs from this decade, Street Halo and Rough Sleeper are fantastic as well.
36. Neon Indian – Era Extraña
This is another record I’d like to say was pretty overlooked when it arrived in 2011. Neon Indian’s sophomore record Era Extraña might have been overlooked due to it’s lack of pop immediacy that its former surged in, but I think some of the hooks, melodies & textures on this record are phenomenal. It’s a weird, psychedelic, retro-futuristic good time in my book and one of the highest points in the chillwave timeline from this decade. He has a new album coming out this year – let’s hope it continues his streak of great records.
35. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Aw hell yeah – y’all knew this one was coming. The ultimate breakout record from one of the decade’s hottest rappers and musical/political minds, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, is by far one of the best-balanced hip hop records in a long time. The balance of course is that of fun, badassery, wordplay, politics, message, and musical quality, which it succeeds in all categories. It got Mike together with El-P, which we all know yielding Run The Jewels. A seriously important milestone for hip hop in this decade for sure.
34. Real Estate – Days
I saw Real Estate play in a gorgeous church at 2am at SXSW 2014. They were the last band to play on a seven or eight-band bill, all high profile names of varying styles stacking together in this old church. With that information in mind, hopefully the scene of a bunch of bros wearing sports jerseys, backwards hats and board shorts jumping up and telling everyone to dance in the aisles during “All The Same” will be shocking. This is the band that brought the chill to the masses, unfortunately creating a trend of ultra-lazy music in other bands, but spurned a revolution of cool among its listeners, yielding bros demanding people dance in a church at 2am.
33. Beach House – Bloom
Marvel at the only band with two records on this list – Beach House. There were a few groups that had doubles on this list through the creation process, but this one was always going to make it on there. This record is more of an extension off of Teen Dream their record from 2010, with similar, syrupy melodies & instrumentation, but damn I can’t say that I don’t LOVE that about them. This album has a lot more gimmicky hooks on the tracks to make them standout, but by being surrounded by such quality songwriting makes them all okay.
32. The Weeknd – House Of Balloons
I love it when a record surprises me with how much I like it after the first listen. This record came out around the end of my high school career, where my music taste was slowly blooming into being more inclusive. Before this, I had never really considered pop/RnB/hip hop to be in my favorites of all time, but the magic of The Weeknd swayed me otherwise. Man, his voice is so dang good and silky smooth, plus all the instrumentals on this album are memorable and include TWO Beach House samples. The obvious highlight of his career so far.
31. Laurel Halo – Quarantine
It makes me sad that people probably forgot about this album after it came out in 2012. I can’t see how it would be easy to forget about with a cover like that, but something tells me that Laurel Halo’s current incarnation of more straightforward, techno-leaning mutant house is more popular than the spaced-out, unsettlingly futuristic dystopia she created on this album. Halo’s vocals here are pretty abrasive, purposefully jutting out in the mix, flat and angular, fixed between dreamy, buzzing/orbiting electronics. It’s a psychedelic, electronic odyssey that I haven’t managed to find anything similar to. Maybe the closest thing would be some moments on Björk’s latest, Vulnicura. It’s like being in a pristine, sleek space station and you just so happen to be the only alive passenger on board; surrounded by marvels of technology and science but on the brink of death. Just perfect.
30. Saintseneca – Dark Arc
This is another record I didn’t expect to like as much as I did, but here I am, listing it among modern greats Destroyer & Chromatics. A small band from Ohio, Saintseneca makes some sort of folk-punk/pop punk/indie rock hybrid that I don’t want to put a label on. Short and simple: their songs are anthemic, expertly arranged & performed and uniquely crafted. Some songs can be quaint and vulnerable while others are valiant and bombastic, with explosive instrumental cacophonies and bold vocals. This record is beautiful. Please listen to it.
29. Chromatics – Kill For Love
Have you been reading through this list but you’ve been pining for some vibes? Well here we are, one of the vibiest records here. This steely masterpiece sees Chromatics at the top of their game, making music unlike all else but clearly pulling inspiration from obvious sources: italo-disco, Bruce Springsteen, 80s films and synth pop. The imagery on this is crystal clear and plays out like a film, especially in the second half with all the atmospheric instrumental tracks. Everything on here is purposeful: every note is where it should be and its perfection is blatant. As my dad said: “that was the wildest Neil Young cover I’ve ever heard.”
28. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
When you name your album “It’s Album Time,” you better have something good up your sleeve, or else you’re going to come off as a sleazy hack promising something you can’t own up to. Thankfully, Todd Terje brings it all on his debut record, slinging hot, bubbling grooves all over the place to turn any space into a makeshift dance floor. But maybe you don’t want a dance floor, but a high speed, romantic car chase scene from a European movie. Well it’ll house that for you to. With It’s Album Time, it is not just album time- it’s your time. (Jeeeez why.)
27. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
Oh well would you look at that – the namesake of the title of my blog. Sure, this music could have come out way back in the day and it’s being re-purposed, but it’s being reformatted to evoke totally new emotions. The album starts off with its most accessible tracks, ones with bumbling little melodies, bougie horns, melancholic piano and a right amount of dust crackle. But as the tracks progress, the melodies start drifting further and further away, slowly being consumed by analog fuzz and endless echo chambers. The previously relaxing lobby jazz music has descended into madness, devoured by amnesia and confusion. The obvious Shining references are there, which are completely valid. By the end, the melodies return as if the process is beginning to start all over again.
26. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Welcome to your moment of respite after the harrowing tales from the haunted ballroom. Barwick’s music is also haunted, but of a different kind. Decaying memories and a desperate longing for the past plagues The Caretaker’s music, while Barwick’s ethereal drones are composed of beautiful choruses, made from mostly her own voice repeated over itself. This album has a lot of additional instrumentation and vocalists (Jonsí from Sigur Ros) too, compared to her other works and they all play together perfectly. It’s a crystalline swarm of sound, pirouetting around your mind, pristine and shining.
25. Women – Public Strain
I still haven’t heard anything quite like this record yet, besides of course the work from Viet Cong, the new project from the Women guys. I have yet to hear a record that’s this skeletal and jarring, something that sounds like it’s loosely bound together with barbed wire, something so bleak and nasty. It’s like as if catchy rock music got transcoded through the Necronomicon or something. It’s droning, it’s monotonous with rotten notes, dissonance and eerie feedback abound. Find me something like this and I’ll thank you endlessly. But for now, it’s just this record.
24. Jai Paul – Jai Paul Demos
This is the only record on this list that’s an unofficial release. I’m not even sure this counts as an “album.” The story behind this one is that someone got into mysterious UK singer Jai Paul’s computer and put whatever work he had together into an album and put it on Bandcamp. XL Records & Paul came out to say that this is not an official release and it was taken down immediately. Now it’s a bit hard to find, but if you do find it, cherish it. Ultra-futuristic pop music with glitchy, maxed out instrumentals, mashed with odd samples coming at you at whip fast speed. Sounds just pop out of nothing, but everything is appropriate in it’s outrageousness. We need more material, Paul. What on earth could you be doing right now??
23. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Behold, the majesty, the thunder, the trident of destiny, and the harbinger of judgment – Sunbather. Now, some metal purists are probably like “haha look at this guy.” First off, I feel like I don’t have that many metal purist friends, who are the only people who read these anyways, so whatever. This was my introduction to things vaguely “metal” and I’m still just dipping my toes in, but this I can get into. The wretched, terrifying vocals are backed up by brilliant hurricanes of guitar noise and thunderous drums, delving into realms of shoegaze and noise rock. There are also interlude tracks, something like breaths of air during a giant storm. It’s a majestic beast, this record, and I love it a lot.
22. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Gotta give credit where credit is due. Even though I don’t really listen to this album as much anymore, the quality of these songs is heavenly. The entire thing is gorgeous, beautiful, magnificent, etc, etc, etc. It’s inspirational, lush and expertly crafted. Every time I listen to it I enjoy it. I could say it’s timeless. It’s ambitious, with long song lengths and varied instrumentation, all while keeping the focus on acoustic, folky sounds, resulting in a majestic product that’s really once in a lifetime. We’ll see. This album is really good.
21. Mac DeMarco – 2
This record may have brought on the advent of the rock n roll goofball in acceptable, mainstream society, which I’m all for. Huge indie rock before this prided itself on astute college boys like Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear. But then comes Mac DeMarco, a self-described river person, with his wackily tuned guitars and laid back gait, coming to show you a good time and maybe sing you a love song or two. Sometimes you just gotta kickback, have a brew or two and enjoy some good ole rock n roll. This is what this record is for.
20. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek
Back in 2014 this album wowed me. Now in 2015, it’s surpassed the wowing and has ventured onto consuming. My feelings are tied to lyrics, melodies, timbres, and thoughts all associated with this album. I love the variety it offers, with songs like “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” bringing some of the hottest lyrical heat on this list, while “Drunk Walk Home” brings the fiery, emotional energy. I really don’t know what to say besides this album deserves to be so high in this list.
19. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?
Always and forever, this will be the album I will return to when seeking moments of deep introspection and calm thoughts. Sure, there are other ambient albums out there that are probably much more soothing or what have you, but this one makes me really think out of the box. It sounds like the sounds of robots dreaming. Absolutely sublime washes of textures flood together in perfect harmony, while rogue bleeps and bloops filter in and out of the subconscious layer while a backbone of subtle guitars guide the track with what sounds like mindless jamming, but they’re there to aid you. And when this album does get intense, it goes all out. Flying arpeggios and oscillations every which way. A complete, understated masterpiece. Pick this up if you can.
18. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell
Jeez. #1 album of 2014 and now in my Top 20?? What do I like about this album so much? Well, I guess that’s people might be thinking at me right now, which might not be the case, but that’s how I am. I just love Hundred Waters. What isn’t there to like? They’ve got the super interesting instrumentals with great variety, awesomely structured songs, lovely vocals, etc. There’s just a magical element to their music, like they’re playing about a certain universe that’s commonplace to them but unknown to the rest of the world and they’re doing their best trying to convey this alternate plane to the rest of us through albums.
17. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
I honestly haven’t listened to this album in a few years but still had no problem putting it in the Top 20 – I still love it that much. I got hooked with the incredible catchiness of singles “Cold War” and “Tightrope” and stayed for the incredible variety that the rest of the album employed. There are tracks with Of Montreal, Fleet Foxes-esque folk via Deep Cotton, poppy tracks, slower tracks, experimental tracks; you name it and this album probably has it. It’s the album that breathed new life into the pop/RnB concept album, setting a new standard on how they’re judged. Plus, it’s a ton of fun to listen to. Always love that in an album.
16. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Question: How do you make “psych rock” cool for young people trying to get away from their classic rock upbringing while also bringing in classic rock kids into the indie scene? Answer: you introduce them to this album, or, let them live their own damn lives, you creep. Stock full of Beatles, Pink Floyd and self-referential Led Zeppelin charm, this is the gateway that I’m sure many high-schoolers saw into the magical, mystical world of this crazy thing called “indie rock.” Well, now Tame Impala are bonafide festival headliners, bringing in new fans of the yellow-tinged rock n roll that they’re famous for bringing back. Snark aside, this album is good.
15. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
I don’t really know what to say about this record. This is probably Deerhunter’s most popular album. Totally loved by tons of people. It’s got some damn good songs on it; that’s what I can say. I remember there was one fall/winter day in 2010 where I only listened to the song “Helicopter.” Seriously, at a certain point I was like “alright, this is my life now.” A perfect balance of delicate and brash in the songwriting. Wish there was a bit more noise, but that’s all good. And of course there’s “He Would Have Laughed,” the tribute to the late Jay Reatard that gets me every time. If you haven’t listened to this album, go get into it.
14. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
While revisiting records from the last five years to make this list, I went in with hesitance towards Swing Lo Magellan. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it could have been because I listened to Bitte Orca so much more than this one and that one is more finely tuned; but still, this album is pretty fantastic. It’s got more accessible songs on here while still cramming in that undeniable Dirty Projectors wit and charm. It also really personifies the band, showing some of the conversation behind some of the otherworldly harmonies by including little snippets of studio talk and bits of imperfection in the recording. That might have been it, actually. There are bits of imperfection, compared to Bitte Orca, which was built off of perfection. The imperfectness of this record is actually really appealing now and fun to smile and laugh to.
13. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
Let’s start this anecdote with a prediction: Vampire Weekend will be voted as one of, if not the most important band birthed from the extremely formative period of the late 00s and early 10s music scene. They’re clearly super important to me and a bunch of other people my age. I feel as though Vampire Weekend never “sold out” either, which is a qualm that a ton of at-one-point-budding indie bands face once they become bigger and start seeing that big money come in. Whereas Contra was a building block record for the band, proving that they could overcome the “sophomore slump,” Modern Vampires is more of the crowning achievement of VW’s songwriting and instrumental progress. It has so much more dimension than the other records, but it still carries that lightweight, breathability that the other records had as well. This record also introduced young twenty-somethings to other side of the growing up song, the “slow-builder/life-examiner.” We see this in “Hannah Hunt.” Being a post-grad isn’t all about having a fun time. It’s a time for thinking, too. A bridge into adulthood. Cmon now, no one wants to listen to that. Well, now you do. Thanks, Vampy.
12. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
Clocking in at around 2 hours over three LPs, Have One On Me is a marathon of an album. Truth be told, I’ve only listened to it once all the way through. I made a day out of it, honestly: I put the LP on and I sat in a chair while it played in my room. I’m sure I had a glass of water with me, maybe a sandwich at some point. This album might be huge, but it’s meant to be consumed whole. Or at least, to get the full experience it would be good to experience it all the way through at least once, like a piece of classical music or jazz odyssey. Folk records just aren’t being made like this anymore and they weren’t before either- it is pretty much just Newsom, weaving wondrous tales with her harp, piano and fairy-like voice. This shit is my jam.
11. Destroyer – Kaputt
I gotta be honest – I’ve probably listened to this album the least out of all of the records on this list, but after listening to it more and more as I’ve narrowed down my selection, the higher it’s climbed. Every time I listen it’s like I’m settling into a bubble bath, with Dan Bejar creepily, yet appropriately, singing to me from across the lengthy hotel suite bathroom. The instrumentals are plush and blemish-free, yet smarmy and sound like they could pick your pocket with the slightest of hands. It reminds me of the character James Wait from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galápagos. I read someone’s negative review of this album saying that “they didn’t like their pop to have delusions of grandeur.” Well why not? It’s pop music! It’s supposed to be the biggest thing possible, occupying giant spaces and achieving things that normal music couldn’t dream of reaching. This album is huge, outrageous, but lovely. The richness gets to its head, but it’s a cool enough guy to let it all slide.
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Hey so here it is. The final 10 of the decade so far. Spoiler alert: it’s not too surprising. A lot of these albums are adored by tons of people. They’re overall adored albums. There’s maybe like, one to two surprises AKA albums that aren’t normally seen in “Top Indie Babby Releases” lists, but that’s about it. A lot of these descriptions really don’t do the albums justice, unfortunately. A lot of these were written at 3:00am in bursts while others were written. But anyways, it’s a pretty complete list, I’d say. I personally adore all the albums here. They all mean something to me, so that’s why I’m writing about them. So there. Hope you enjoy.
10. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
I have to be honest: aside from “Criminal,” this was my first full Fiona Apple experience. I mean, yeah, this record is incredible and it’s a good first experience, but I didn’t have the years of fantastic pop songwriting and the weight of her hiatus leading up to it. Nevertheless, MAN did this album slay me back in 2012. Apple’s voice is undoubtedly great, but the simplistic, cutting instrumentals on this album is what sold me, I think. Little details like the children laughing and screaming on “Werewolf” and the strange mechanical sounds on “Jonathan.” The theatrics of her voice while singing about all this pain she’s going through is just something special. I definitely don’t do it justice. I won’t be doing any of these albums justice. Just go out and check them all out if you haven’t already.
9. Hop Along – Get Disowned
I was introduced to this album in early 2013 via the Internet and boy howdy has it latched onto my psyche like an extra limb. The stellar, ultra-unique voice of front woman Frances Quinlan originally hooked me in, but then after repeated listens and digestion of the lyrics, plus the excellent variation of rock and folk instrumentation, this album was certified gold status for me. If you haven’t listened to Hop Along, I’ll bet that the exact same thing happens to you. Quinlan’s voice is just so striking and incredible. The rest of the album is just a backdrop, a good backdrop at that, to her stories. And the stories, lemme tell you: these lyrics rip me apart. Although I don’t directly identify with all the tales she’s spinning, I get easily wrapped up in them all. This album is essential.
8. Death Grips – The Money Store
Oh Death Grips, I owe it all to thee. This is definitely the breakout point for me that got me into other more “aggressive” forms of music, for sure. I was aware of Death Grips before The Money Store, but this by far got me into the band, like many other current fans. At the time, there was just nothing else that sounded like it. I mean, even now there’s nothing that I’ve heard that captures that visceral madness that this record still stirs up in me. It came out at the very end of my freshman year of college and I don’t remember showing it to a lot of my friends due to paranoia that they’d destroy me. Anyway, this album is super unique and I love it endlessly.
7. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
I didn’t come into fully adoring this album until mid-2014 when I first started commuting by train to NYC. That time in my life really helped me cement truly favorite albums of mine, since it helped me slow down and not make me listen to a million things at once. But back to this record: it’s incredible! A flawless fusion of funk, jazz, hip-hop and more forms of electronic music than you can count on your fingers. It’s cinematic, the songs flow into one another, and it’s original and thought provoking as well as being groovy as all hell. In my last year of college I wrote almost every paper to this album. It really put me in the zone. Overall, it’s just a really great, psychedelic ride through variable, imaginative soundscapes that influenced a ton of hip hop production in the current state of 2015, as we’ll see on my #2 album of the decade so far.
6. Beach House – Teen Dream
Wow! How important is this album to me? Pretty dang important, I gotta say. I discovered Beach House before this album came out when I saw them open for Grizzly Bear in 2009. I thought they were decent and enjoyed the overall aesthetic of this whole “dream pop” thing. Oh if I had only known that this album would absorb me into its phosphorescent effervescence and establish in me a hopeful lifelong relationship with this thing called “dream pop.” This album gave the dream pop scene gallant wings, helping it break out of the bedrooms it had been trapped in for so long. With wings outstretched, lead singer Victoria Legrand’s gorgeous voice was able to soar over grassy plains and mountaintops and waterfalls and blinking cityscapes and into the hearts of yearning lovers everywhere. But these wings gifted to Beach House could retract as well, allowing them to transform back into their previous bedroom pop incarnation and facilitated accessible, simple songwriting for all to enjoy, not just the lofty romantics. With a bold depth upgrade to their sound, Beach House cemented themselves as pop heroes with Teen Dream as well as inspiring a whole new generation of full-hearted romantics, searching for their love in the sky thanks to their newly-granted wings.
5. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
With an artist like St. Vincent, I’ve found that there’s no clear-cut fan favorite album in her discography. Each person has their own favorite, but the other ones always come close. Mine is obviously Strange Mercy. I also found that people are usually in two St. Vincent fan camps – those who prefer pre-Strange Mercy St. Vincent vs. those who prefer post-Strange Mercy St. Vincent. This record is a clear turning point in Clark’s career, establishing her as an extremely gutsy and amazingly talented musician by branching out to explore how to fit bizarre, alien sounds into porcelain-contained indie rock songs. Her 2014 self-titled record is the marker of how far out she can reach out in terms of experimentation and bold songwriting, but at times feels a little too overblown and stuffed & scattered with ideas. Strange Mercy, however, is in my mind the perfect balance of experimental songwriting while sticking to a single voice to be carried throughout the album. This is not to say that all the songs on the album sound the same. There’s plenty of variation on this record, but it’s just that in this record all the songs exist in the same universe and have their feet planted on the ground, where in St. Vincent Clark is pulling songs from all different planes of existence and sticking them together like an intergalactic all-star team. Strange Mercy also has great pacing, with songs smartly transferring energy from one another starting with throbbing “Chloe In The Afternoon” and ending with triumphant “Year Of The Tiger.” The organic transfer of energy between songs throughout an album is crucial – each song flexes their dynamic and tempo ranges, with one song starting as a slow plod and ending with a wicked, mashed out guitar solo. But going back to pacing, if a song ends low energy, chances are the next song will start with a slow, building energy. The other faction of pre-Strange Mercy fans I’ll explain later, but for now, let’s just bask in the brilliance of this one.
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
This was my favorite album of 2010 back in high school. It’s an album that soundtracked my final years of high school and my final years in my home state of Michigan. It’s an album that I would listen to after hanging out with friends, with this nagging thought in the back of my head that I might never see these people ever again. These are the thoughts that are associated with this record, believe it or not, and I still voluntarily listen to it often. Songs like “Home” and “All I Want” inspires feelings of homesickness within me, but that’s okay. That’s what life is all about. LCD Soundsystem disbanded in late 2010 after this album was released, which is kind of like a group of friends moving away to different colleges and eventually different states to work full time jobs. The death of youth. The awakening of adulthood. The little pleasures derived from ephemera. The little rush of seeing a notification on Facebook. Letting loose on the weekend and on weeknights. Becoming a better person, maybe if only in baby steps. That’s what I think this record is all about. That’s what it means to me, besides being a fantastic electronica record. But the fact that it still inspires the same, ardent message within me every time means there’s something going right in the woodwork there.
3. Arca – &&&&&
As we venture near the end of the Top 10, I feel like the less I have to explain why these albums deserve to be in their respective spots. In the case of most of these records, thousands if not millions of fans adore them. With &&&&&, I feel like I still have some ‘splaining to do. This was my first taste of Arca’s demented, futuristic breed of electronic music and it effortlessly hooked me in upon first listen. It functions more as a mix rather than an album, since it was originally posted on Soundcloud as a continuous ~25-minute mix that was eventually broken into individual tracks by fervent fans. This means that tracks transition and flow into one another, making the listening experience easy, despite the sometimes abrasive and alien sounds flying at you at a breakneck pace. Speaking on the sounds of this project – they’re just all over the place. There are warped pianos, samples of Dan Bejar, digitally stretched babble, highly synthesized choirs, pained calls from beyond, delicate plinking synths and oh so much bass. The bass! There’s nothing else like this I can think of, except for isolated moments on Kanye West’s Yeezus, which Arca had a hand in producing, so there we go. It’s murky, it’s alien, it’s incredible, and it’s likely unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, so you should start listening right now.
2. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
I feel like it makes sense for there to be so much hip hop and electronic music in my top 10, since they’re some of the newest and quickly evolving forms of music right now. One vital aspect of hip-hop, especially in this time period, is that it seems like the most conducive art form for social commentary. Social commentary in mainstream rock n’ roll seems pretty played out and indulgent at this point, but with hip-hop, there’s space for social issues to be brought up and addressed by the community that listens to said hip-hop songs. In the case of Kendrick Lamar, I’d say he’s been using this platform to the best of his ability with two already classic-status albums, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City & his latest, To Pimp A Butterfly. The topics range from gang violence & politics, alcoholism & drug abuse, success & fame, hip-hop politics, love, to life in poverty, all with incredibly dreamy and impressive instrumentals definitely taking inspiration from jazzy electronic hotspots Flying Lotus, along with other accessible trends in hip hop today. So accessible that it can be acceptable in parties as well as chilled out, introspective moments. It even has a Beach House sample. How incredible is that?
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Do I really need to say anything about this one? Sometimes when I listen to this from the start, I think back to high school to when I first listened to this record and was completely blown away. In fact, this album actually still vividly reminds me of winter 2010-2011, since I had this CD in my car for about three months straight. Just really great memories synced with this album. But as an album, or maybe even a moment in history, this is such a significantly important moment for hip-hop and music in general: Elton John? Chris Rock? King Crimson? Gil-Scott Heron? A fishy Aphex Twin lift? A plethora of other relevant pop and rap stars? All united under one massive stadium roof? In some universes, especially one set in 2015, that formula spells disaster with visions of memes, ad campaigns, PR fiascos, etc. But under the jurisdiction of Mr. Kanye West in the year 2010, it could have only meant a wild success. Sure, there are some weaker songs on here and especially some weak features, but the fact that these features are even there is impressive. It’s a giant palace of an album. An estate, if you will, with each artist residing in gold-plated rooms with red carpets, with West acting as the type of Great Gatsby that actually gets what he wants in the end. Nothing at the time sounded like this and still nothing quite does. Truly a landmark moment for this century for sure.
- Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
- Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
- Arca – &&&&&
- LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
- St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
- Beach House – Teen Dream
- Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
- Death Grips – The Money Store
- Hop Along – Get Disowned
- Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
- Destroyer – Kaputt
- Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
- Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
- Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
- Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
- Tame Impala – Lonerism
- Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
- Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell
- Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?
- Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek
- Mac DeMarco – 2
- Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
- Deafheaven – Sunbather
- Jai Paul – Jai Paul Demos
- Women – Public Strain
- Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
- The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
- Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
- Chromatics – Kill For Love
- Saintseneca – Dark Arc
- Laurel Halo – Quarantine
- The Weeknd – House Of Balloons
- Beach House – Bloom
- Real Estate – Days
- Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
- Neon Indian – Era Extraña
- Burial – Kindred EP
- Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
- Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
- Ford & Lopatin – Channel Pressure
- Fear Of Men – Loom
- Beach Fossils – Clash The Truth
- Grouper – A|A
- Grimes – Visions
- Ovlov – AM
- White Denim – Last Days Of Summer
- Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
- Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
- Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
- Gorillaz – Plastic Beach