As with our Best of the Decade in Film list, these album lists should be taken less as definitive statements on what was objectively best, and instead be considered as their own entities, to enrich rather than compete with other lists on this page (or other sites) – each a meaningful observation with a strong personal bent.
Be sure to also check out Felix Rodriguez’s list, presented as a separate article.
You can find a spotify playlist made up of material from these lists at the bottom of this page. However, it is worth noting that you owe it to yourself to explore music outside of spotify, as they are missing some crucial works (namely Jim O’Rourke’s Simple Songs, which made it onto two of our author’s lists).
Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY. (2016)
The middle entry in Rosenstock’s powerful trilogy on anxiety, apathy and anger in the face of America’s self-destructive streak closes with an epic rock medley that trades in Abbey Road‘s ballads, blues and pop for ska, hardcore, and soaring anthems (“We don’t wanna live inside a hellhooooooooole“).
Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy (2015)
I’ve been a sucker for rock operas since I first discovered The Wall in high school. And over the past decade my taste has leaned ever punkward, until peaking in 2015, when I kept a roster of albums like We Cool? (Jeff Rosenstock), Never Hungover Again (Joyce Manor), Just Married (Glocca Morra), Local Business (Titus Andronicus), and Their/They’re/There (self-titled) in regular rotation on my ipod. Partway through that summer came The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Titus’ most fully-formed work to date. Over-indulgent as it is (at a whopping 92 minutes), it is consistently invigorating with numerous highs, lows, and surprisingly little filler.
Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs (2015)
O’Rourke’s discography with Drag City Records (aka his rock & otherwise non-ambient work) is made up of sporadic release dates; with rock releases in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2009 and 2015. For my money, O’Rourke’s rock albums are some of the greatest (not to mention humble) collections of folk, prog, and jazz ever assembled, and I have the 2015 release of Simple Songs to thank for introducing me to the rest of his discography. Avant-garde film enthusiasts might recognize him as a frequent collaborator of Takashi Makino. Indieheads might recognize him as the Grammy-winning producer of Wilco’s A Ghost is Born, or former Sonic Youth member, among numerous other distinctions on a seemingly never-ending CV. Oh and he releases those ambient albums at an alarming rate.
WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (2011)
World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation’s appearance on Letterman is among the best and most baffling things ever broadcast on major network television. Though the band was a case of the nearly-perfect ‘one-and-done’s, their former singer is still semi-active with his girlfriend Ebony Hoorn as the duo LUH (Lost Under Heaven).
Death Grips – Year of the Snitch (2018)
Because nothing else musically captures the terror of free-falling through a hopeless universe as the last thirty seconds of “Flies” does.
Everything Everything – Get to Heaven (2015)
Between Man Alive, Arc and A Fever Dream, it was difficult to narrow this entry down to one clear winner. Across the decade and these four albums, they have consistently presented intricate instrumentation, musical prowess, compositional clarity, and big thinking. Indeed, their music covers nearly everything. Thanks to their lyrical focus on futurism and conspiracy, I’m still not convinced that the 2017 film Everything, Everything wasn’t an attempt to bury the band.
Tera Melos – Patagonian Rats (2010) / X’ed Out (2013) / Trash Generator (2017)
I didn’t realize until making this list what an enormous and career-defining decade this has been for Tera Melos. In 2008 drummer John Clardy joined the band, establishing their current line-up. Across three albums brimming with talent, showmanship, excess, brilliance and tight musical cohesion, Tera Melos have established themselves as the one-of-a-kind weirdo band. Drugs for people who don’t do drugs, music for listeners with absurd expectations, a skating soundtrack for car drivers. They scratch an itch which no other band can reach.
Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again (2014)
The biggest surprise that came with seeing these guys live was their cover of a ’90s Weezer track from the unfinished album Songs from the Black Hole, some songs from which would go on to become Pinkerton.
Glocca Morra – Just Married (2012)
The first time I heard this album I thought ‘not bad.’ The second time, I was hooked for life. Fans of Algernon Cadwallader, Cap’n Jazz and pop punk; look no further, this is the perfect album you have sought for so long.
Joan of Arc – Life Like (2011)
A 20-year-old band with a varied career and 23 albums of wildly varying styles might not seem an ideal choice for any list beyond that of their own discography, but Life Like is a highly overlooked gem of electric guitar tomfoolery and bravado.
Tame Impala – Currents (2015)
BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER (2019)
JPEGMAFIA – Veteran (2018)
Travis Scott – Astroworld (2019)
The National – Sleep Well Beast (2017)
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)
Mitski – Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014)
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (2011)
Michelle Gurevich – New Decadence (2016)
Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love (2014)
Cities Aviv – Black Pleasure (2012)
The album that engendered an ever-developing search for music similar to it all throughout highschool, arguably the most formative years of one’s music listening career. A brief dalliance with the likes of Spin and Pitchfork aside, Cities Aviv has come to be a true underground artist, intent more on consistent output and championing his peers than he is writeups and other critical flimflam. Black Pleasure is the project to have set this rewarding artistic process in motion, an uncompromising 15 tracks of straight bars being swallowed by harsh digital noise, making no concessions to any sort of conventional hip-hop tenets. Melody presents itself fitfully across the no-wave indebted soundscapes, which ring with a true us v. them attitude; or, “I hope you kill me if you ever catch me wearin’ True Religion.”
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Where the fall begins: an operatic opus then fragmented by warring hedonism and faith. Pop music this decade – including Kanye himself – has been in a perpetual state of catch-up with it. Now given the benefit of hindsight, this is the album that should’ve at least hinted at what was to come.
Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)
Some of Frank Ocean’s greatest inspirations are able to facilitate a sense of intimacy just through their voice (think Stevie Wonder, or Aaliyah), and Blonde is the artist’s bid at just the same. Stripped-back and soulful, though still not without a backbone, especially considering the auxiliary performers (Kendrick! Beyonce! Alex G! Yung Lean!) Ocean’s preternatural confidence with his own voice allows for all the moving-parts to be more on display than there would be on a record by a lesser singer. Choruses and bridges and verses and beat switch-ups all compartmentalized, an infinite collection of peaks and valleys that blur the formal distinction of a tracklist; pop as a holistic experience.
FKA Twigs – LP1 (2014)
A reclamation of agency shot through the fractured post-Yeezus experimental landscape. LP1 has a who’s who of collaborators –– foreseeing the ascent of the likes of Arca, Sampha and Dev Hynes –– but there stands FKA Twigs in the middle of it, her malleable voice serpentining throughout.
Jeremih – Late Nights: The Album (2015)
Or, how to sculpt pop out of negative space. Feathery vocals spooned atop equally effervescent R&B, the silences of Late Nights: The Album are downright thrilling, pockets of tension just waiting to be filled by a honeyed, sexed-up Jeremih. Not even a trainwreck of a J. Cole verse can compromise things.
Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe (2013)
Dev Hynes’ time as a behind-the-scenes songwriter for some of the best songs of the early aughts (Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing” and Solange’s “Losing You”) gave his Blood Orange project a much-needed kick of universality. No longer the twitchy, pragmatic chamber pop outlet it once was, Hynes embraced drum machines, rap verses, Prince, spoken word, immaculately placed guests, and a generous dose of heartbreak. Blood Orange has since become one of the most kaleidoscopic, collaboration-heavy indie acts in recent memory, and Cupid Deluxe is the thrilling sound of its leader realizing such potential.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (2010)
Indie rock as translated from a dream.
Solange – A Seat At the Table (2016)
Although Solange’s prior nuggets of pop perfection hinted at something inevitably greater, A Seat At the Table was still gobsmackingly fluid upon release, a chronicle of black womanhood and ownership which managed to link disparate icons across its sonic thesis. Lil Wayne and Master P and Sampha and Kelela, all thoroughly absorbed into the album’s supple compositions, whose outward melodies never belie the apt politicism – and even necessity – of the project.
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)
Tin-pan alley orchestration gives an overflowing amount of verve to what’d be otherwise stuffy baroque pop arrangements (imagine Jon Brion was involved again) on Fiona Apple’s long-gestating, long awaited fourth album. The Idler Wheel… exists as an impossible confluence of tightly-wound textures and pure viscera, with Apple conducting the maelstrom with the quivering nerves of her voice.
Lil Peep – Hellboy (2016)
Sun City Girls – Funeral Mariachi (2010)
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (2011)
Micachu and the Shapes – Never (2012)
Laurel Halo – Quarantine (2012)
Ben Vida – Sleeping Control (2014)
Actress – Ghettoville (2014)
Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs (2015)
Richard Dawson – Peasant (2017)
Tirzah – Devotion (2018)
Show Me The Body – Dog Whistle (2019)
Strange Ranger – Daymoon (2017)
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Grouper – Ruins (2014)
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (2013)
Hayden – Us Alone (2013)
Sun Kil Moon – Benji (2014)
Fidlar – Fidlar (2013)
Sarah Davachi – All My Circles Run (2017)
Aldous Harding – Aldous Harding (2016)