From Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly to Swans’ To Be Kind, the 2010’s has had tons of amazing albums of all genres and forms, and is in my opinion the strongest decade for music.
These are the albums that I feel have the best elements in their own respective genres. Whether it be hip hop with fantastically produced instrumentals and complex and clever lyricism, or experimental music with loud, abrasive, and transgressive production along with violent and surreal lyrics, these albums are important to their respective genres and have great replay value.
10Blackstar – David Bowie (2016)
On his final studio album, one of the most influential, culturally iconic, and legendary artists of all time, David Bowie, closes out his life with one of his best albums yet, which simultaneously acts as a beautiful celebration of his life. Even though this album came out nearly three years after his last studio album The Next Day, which admittedly was just okay, Bowie returned to his amazing form on Blackstar. Bowie goes in a completely different direction soundwise from his previous albums; moreover, since this record was released just two days before Bowie’s unfortunate passing in 2016, it is easily his most depressing, heart-wrenching, and introspective record yet. Considering how fantastic this album is, with its amazing songwriting, vocals, and production, as well as how introspective and depressing it is, this record in my opinion was the perfect way for Bowie to say goodbye to the world.
Favorite Track: Lazarus
9Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown (2016)
On his sixth full-length studio album, Detroit rapper Danny Brown proves himself to be one of the most unique voices in hip hop right now. Danny’s high pitched and nasal voice, combined with the sharp, psychedelic, and smooth production, makes this album a very odd listen, to say the least. The instrumentals on this album can range from tons of different and complex atmospheres. From the trippy, warped, psychedelic, sucked into a black hole feeling on tracks such as “Downward Spiral” and “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” to insanely loud and catchy instrumentals on tracks such as “Really Doe” and “Ain’t It Funny,” this record offers tons of incredibly diverse sounds and atmospheres, all throughout the tracklisting. The features on this album are also impressive: Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, and BJ the Chicago Kid are just a handful of features on the album. However, the features do not steal the spotlight from Brown’s incredible rapping and unique and strange voice.
Favorite Track: Ain’t It Funny
8This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem (2010)
Nearly three years after their last studio album, electronic/dance punk outfit LCD Soundsystem returns with their classic dance sound that made them such an amazing band in the 2000s. It is amazing that a band that has been around for nearly two decades has not lost their unique sound or their flavor even in the slightest. Everything that’s great about their previous albums such as their debut self-titled album or “Sound of Silver,” turns up on this album as well. Everything from lead singer Jame Murphy’s phenomenal and visceral vocal performances, to the amazingly crafted crisp and loud dance instrumentation all over this record, LCD Soundsystem has created yet another adrenaline and fist pumping album, with every cut after the other being extremely danceable and replayable. The opening track “Dance Yrself Clean” stands out to me the most, it is also, in my opinion, one of the best songs of the 2010’s. If you are looking for a great dance punk album to have a fantastic time to, I highly recommend giving this album a listen.
Favorite Track: Dance Yrself Clean
7Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes (2011)
On their second full-length album, Seattle-based Americana and indie rock band Fleet Foxes perfect the act of introspective, romantic, and poetic lyricism; beautifully arranged and mellow production; and incomparable vocal harmonies, exerting a heavy influence on upcoming and aspiring folk/rock bands. The luscious, layered, and gorgeous vocals on this album, accompanied with the amazing folk/americana instrumental arrangement, makes this one of the best and most pleasing listens of the decade. The songwriting on this record is also incredible. Robin Pecknold, the lead singer and songwriter of the band really has proven himself to be an incredibly talented songwriter and poet as well, and that is showcased beautifully in every single track on this record. I highly recommend this album for fans of indie, folk, or just amazing feel-good vocal harmonization.
Favorite Track: Helplessness Blues
6Benji – Sun Kil Moon (2014)
Mark Kozelek’s sixth studio album is easily his most introspective, dark, and depressingly written album yet, and in my opinion, makes Kozelek one of the best and most talented songwriters of all time. Now, although this album is not an easy listen by any means, I put it in this particular spot due to its extremely well written, heart-wrenching, and surreal lyricism. Like with Mount Eerie’s 2016 album A Crow Looked At Me (another amazing album you should check out), the storytelling on this record is not abstract in any way. Rather it is an exact, precise, and sometimes gruesome description of the events that inspired this album: the deaths of some of Kozelek’s family members, friends, and relatives when he was young. Kozelek is able to tell these stories in an impeccably crafted, emotionally gut-punching way. An amazing album, and simultaneously a very challenging listen.
Favorite Track: I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same
5Pure Comedy – Father John Misty (2017)
Pianist, singer/songwriter, and former Fleet Foxes member Josh Tillman (a.k.a. Father John Misty) proves himself yet again to be one of the most talented lyricists and composers of the decade. Not only is this album beautifully arranged, composed and produced on all fronts, with piano, guitars, violins, and saxophone, but the lyrics on this album go from absolutely hilarious and politically charged to introspective and poetic, which is a huge part of what sells this album to a lot of people. Tillman’s incredible lyricism on this record is not only socially conscious and moving, touching on themes of human nature, but Tillman is able to present these incredibly serious topics in a hilarious, self-deprecating way. Even if you take away the amazing lyrics, the overall sound of this record is somber, moody, and gorgeous; it sounds exactly like something Billy Joel would make. I definitely think that is one of the most beautifully arranged albums of this entire decade, and makes for an uplifting, relaxing, and sonically pleasing listen.
Favorite Track: Pure Comedy
4The Money Store – Death Grips (2012)
The Money Store makes this Sacramento industrial hip hop and avant garde electronic group Death Grips one of the most interesting, forward thinking, and boundary pushing music acts of all time. This album is not only arguably the best album in their entire catalog, but it is probably the most important as well. The record was instantly praised by the small handful of Death Grips fans at the time, but it also caught the attention of several popular media outlets such as Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, and Rolling Stone, which in turn gave even more recognition to this group, and made them the widely praised and boundary pushing music act that they are today. Some of my favorite Death Grips tracks are from this album. “Get Got,” “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “Hustle Bones,” “I’ve Seen Footage,” and “Hacker” are all amazing and are some of my favorite hip hop tracks ever. If you want to get into Death Grips but do not know where to start, I suggest starting with this album.
Favorite Track: Hacker
3To Be Kind – Swans (2014)
Post-rock, noise, and experimental band Swans is one of the most intriguing and odd bands of this generation. The incredibly stretched out, psychedelic, and crescendo type songs that appear on every single Swans album make for an experience that is not for everyone, especially the impatient. On this album specifically, Swans embrace that exact sound. Each track is very long, starting off slow and low key, but then grows much louder later in the song, making you believe that the beginning of the song felt like forever ago. On this album, Swans incorporate great guitar and bass riffs, as well as fantastic drums. Like with every Swans album, this is both an artistic statement and an experiment on how people have been indoctrinated and oversaturated by formulaic and incredibly boring and generic music that is short, easy to listen to, and does not challenge the mind in any way at all. Swans is the exact opposite of that, and that is why I love this band, and this album.
Favorite Track: Oxygen
2You Won’t Get What You Want – Daughters (2018)
Rhode Island noise rock band Daughters create what is arguably the scariest, loudest, most visceral, and haunting album of the decade. Now, I will admit that noise rock is a genre that definitely is not for everyone, but the people who do like it will not get enough of this album. The loud distorted and haunting guitars, the blaring and abrasive drums, and the insane vocal performances make this album one of my favorite noise rock albums of all time. Whether you can tolerate noise rock as a genre or not, you cannot deny the creativity and the incredible risks bands like Daughters take when making these types of albums. This album is even more of a leap of faith, and even more of a haunting experience than their debut self-titled full length. You Won’t Get What You Want is hundreds of times more extreme and finely tuned than its predecessor. For those who are into this kind of abrasive music I highly recommend this album if you are a fan of noise or industrial rock.
Favorite Track: Satan In the Wait
1To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Where do I even begin with this absolute masterpiece of an album? Everything about this album is just so amazing—from the funky, jazzy, and smooth production, to the incredibly poetic, detailed, and meticulous politically charged lyrics—Kendrick’s harsh and raspy voice on this album as well, makes it the best album of the 2010s and in my opinion, the greatest hip hop album of all time. Not only does this album sound great, but the messages and themes Kendrick conveys and explores on this album are beautifully told and preached and completely break the boundaries of what is taboo in mainstream hip hop music. At the time of this album’s release, a handful of the tracks on this album, such as “Alright” stood as African American power anthems, especially as police brutality regularly made headlines. This album’s phenomenal production, amazingly well written, poetic, dense and layered lyricism and themes is on such a tier that no other hip hop album comes close to. This album is an impeccable masterpiece.
Favorite Track: U
Here are some albums that I absolutely loved from this decade, but did not quite make the top ten list:
- The Powers That B – Death Grips (9.6/10)
- Virgins – Tim Hecker (9.6/10)
- A Crow Looked At Me – Mount Eerie (9.6/10)
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West (9.5/10)
- Unsilent Death – Nails (9.5/10)
- Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt (9.4/10)
- The Epic – Kamasi Washington (9.4/10)
- Have One on Me – Joanna Newsom (9.4/10)
- good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar (9.4/10)
- Ondatrópica – Ondatrópica (9.3/10)
- Bloom – Beach House (9.3/10)
- Sunbather – Deafheaven (9.3/10)
- Have You In My Wilderness – Julia Holter (9.3/10)
- Piñata – Freddie Gibbs and Madlib (9.3/10)
- A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead (9.3/10)
- Twin Fantasy – Car Seat Headrest (9.3/10)
- Caligula – Lingua Ignota (9.3/10)
- …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age (9.2/10)
- IGOR – Tyler, The Creator (9.2/10)
- Liturgy – HAQQ (9.2/10)
- Crumbling – Mid-Air Thief (9.2/10)
- Blonde – Frank Ocean (9.2/10)
- The Glowing Man – Swans (9.1/10)
- Fetch – Melt-Banana (9.1/10)
- Veteran – JPEGMAFIA (9.1/10)