80. Run the Jewels, RTJ2 (2014)
Run the Jewels came into this world gift-wrapped for hip-hop fans on a free 2013 album everyone assumed was a one-off, but it was on the duo’s blockbuster sequel that they established a headliner’s agenda that would go on to dwarf their well-respected solo careers. The scrap-metal beats are meaner and the energy at once more ferocious and comedic. With a supporting cast that includes Zack de la Rocha, Gangsta Boo, and Travis Barker, Killer Mike and El-P aim their merciless rhymes not only at sworn fuckboy nemeses but at the perpetrators of all society’s ills. RTJ2 tackles economic inequality and militarized oppressors by shooting at exploitative CEOs and pedophilic priests. Sadly, the album has only become more relevant as America has rotted under the Trump presidency (which is why we need them more than ever). RTJ2 is the album that made Run the Jewels not just a sick what-if, but a downright important musical alliance. — Kat Bein
79. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma (2010)
Steven Ellison was already an elite beatmaker as the decade began, weaving hip-hop groove with wonky electronic drums and disorienting samples on his 2008 breakout, Los Angeles. But he truly became a Low End Theory legend with the filmic, kaleidoscopic dreamscapes of Cosmogramma: Probing deeper into jazz and psychedelia, pulling A-list guest vocalists into his orbit (always forward-thinking radio-head Thom Yorke, bass virtuoso Thundercat) and blending live instruments into his uncanny swirl of off-the-beat programming. It’s the pinnacle of symphonic jazz-fusion/New Age/IDM since, ya know, no one but Ellison could even conjure up that combo. But Cosmogramma also helped Ellison and Thundercat set the stage for an experimental jazz renaissance following an all-time sales low, inspiring Kendrick Lamar’s off-kilter To Pimp a Butterfly and blazing a path for Kamasi Washington, Makaya McCraven, and others to repopularize the genre for a brand new audience. — R.R.
78. Zeal & Ardor, Devil Is Fine (2016)
The most original metal album of the decade proved everything (to 4chan, naturally) that Manuel Gagneux had to, in under 26 minutes, when some racist dared him in unprintable terms to fuse black metal and Black spirituals. Asking himself “what if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?” Gagneux produced this work of art (and a perfectly titled follow-up, Stranger Fruit) that transcends its thought-experiment beginnings by leaving them there. He deploys gospel-blues and kvlt noise only as needed — they can’t all be as incredible as “Blood in the River” chanting “a good God is a dead one” against clanking chains — so they coexist with synths, piano, and music box incorporated mainly to turn a great idea into a great listen. — D.W.
77. Charly Bliss, Young Enough (2019)
There was no way to improve on Charly Bliss’ effervescent 2017 debut, Guppy, which jam-packed a frankly absurd amount of caramelized hooks and riffs into 30 minutes of authentic Letters to Cleo-style bubblegrunge. Thankfully, their less crunchy follow-up aspires for something completely different. Young Enough is a longer, more patient, more dynamic listen that engages with much heavier subject matter while adopting a lighter sound more Carly Rae Jepsen than Kim Deal. Nowhere is this more carefully balanced than when Eva Hendricks bravely recounts the abuse she survived over the hyperglycemic bounce of “Chatroom.” Whether mimicking the silly rush of infatuation on “Under You” (“I’ll occupy your nation, fool!”) or bringing the Arcade Fire-worthy title track to its skyscraping emotional peak, her best moments on Young Enough harness something more than just a catchy melody, and feel, as Hendricks puts it, “almost too alive.” — P.L.
76. Eric Prydz, Opus (2016)
Eric Prydz is not flashy; surely there are more fun things to name a two-hour, two-CD opus than, uh, Opus. But it’s also his debut album, and what more needs to be said? It’s the ultimate musical stealthbrag. It’s also the best traditional EDM record you’ve ever heard, not least because it holds up for two fucking hours but it’s also a hell of a simulated rave for your airbuds, a window to the boundless paradise of desk-chair dancing and not caring how stupid your co-workers think you look. Still, it’s surprisingly austere for EDM — after all, the guy’s signature trick is one big heavy snare drum hit used as a fill the way you’d use a shot of a TV being thrown from a hotel window in a music video. It just lands beautifully, as punctuation, as ASMR, as circulatory system for your moving ass. Austere is good, though, because for once you know the simple, Kraftwerkian hooks of “Black Dyce,” rising and falling percolations of “Last Dragon,” and the accelerating title track are always taking you somewhere melodic rather than lulling you into highway hypnosis. It’s almost enough to make you want to pay festival prices. — D.W.
75. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer (2018)
Janelle Monáe’s third album features the electric nonbinary in slick and accessible mode; and the results are sparkly and spectacular. Monáe had always been creative and ambitious, but her earlier, conceptually driven work’s never this much fun (nor were her Grammy-winning collaborators fun., either). In the earlier days of Monáe’s career, she’d crafted a detached, otherworldly persona as a literal android; that slowly gave way to a more uninhibited version of the singer on Dirty Computer. Employing a serious Prince jonez (with an assist from the late-royalty himself) on “Make Me Feel,” rapping on “Django Jane,” and indulging Grimes at her freakiest on “Pynk,” this song cycle affirmed that Monáe’s craft is just as strong as her creative spirit and performing virtuosity. Monáe sustained her freewheeling persona, recruited legends like Brian Wilson and Stevie Wonder to ride shotgun, and delivered the best inter-being human/techno orgy since “Computer Blue.” — S.W.
74. billy woods + kenny segal, Hiding Places (2019)
Talk about hiding places; we’ve never seen his face and billy woods probably isn’t the rapper’s real name. He may be in his 40s, which would line up chronologically with the childhood memory of jostling the joysticks at the arcade he didn’t have quarters for on the gorgeous centerpiece “A Day in a Week in a Year.” But we know this guy: “Came back to God like, ‘Motherfucker, you promised,'” “You can’t eat pride,” “Salt, pepper, ketchup, barbeque sauce the eggroll,” “Ass kinda flat but that’s fine.” The very specific fucked economy that he and segal’s dilapidated beats evoke inspires the contemporary contempt of his Public Enemy update “I got a letter from my insurer the other day / Opened it and read it / Said the treatment wasn’t covered.” That song’s called “Bigfakelaugh.” He probably works in an arcade. — D.W.
73. Colleen Green, I Want to Grow Up (2015)
Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up might as well be called This Is 30. Blunt self-reprimands like “I’m sick of always being bored / I think I need a schedule” and “Got to stop doing things that are bad for me / ‘Cause I don’t want to live with disease” mark a coming-of-middle-age album that struggles to reconcile with the fact many traditional aspects of adulthood (marriage, homeownership, children) are now increasingly at odds with or completely out of reach of her listeners. This newfound maturity-in-immaturity’s clothing elevates I Want to Grow Up to a near-universal statement for a generation haunted by fading memories of the ’90s. It’s also a sonic evolution for Green, who leveled up her Orange County punk-meets-bedroom bubble-grunge sound with a proper backing band and real studio recordings. And because the 2010s scarcely produced an intimacy phobia song as gut-wrenchingly detailed as “Deeper Than Love,” she sings her truest love song to her TV. — J.P.B.
72. Lady Gaga, Born This Way (2011)
If The Fame, Lady Gaga’s 2008 debut album, introduced her as a pop-disco chancer with an artsy, NYU-alumnus aura, 2011’s Born This Way permanently cemented her as an international superstar on an Elton/Bowie/Freddie/Madge IV drip. Mother Monster conquered the world by upping her game on her sophomore effort with a bag of not just timeless dancefloor bangers but also a country power-ballad, one song apiece sung in deadpan German and theatrical Spanish, and some of Clarence Clemons’ final sax riffs. The world recognized the anthemic power of “The Edge of Glory” – full of cascading trance-tinged verses and a pounding house(-on-E-street) chorus – and the all-conquering number-one hit “Born This Way.” But the deep cuts also bounced around from “Hair,” a power-ballad tribute to her own locks, to the repurposed heavy metal guitars of “Bad Kids.” Born This Way made a feel-good story out of believing in one’s own hype, finally turning out songs as fascinatingly odd as her videos (and album cover), and turning our weirdest chart-topper in years into a stone-cold icon, albeit one who wouldn’t give up her meat couture for Lent. — Jolie Lash
71. Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator (2017)
Though Hurray for the Riff Raff’s sixth album partially takes place in an ultragentrified New York of the future, at every turn, it is a eulogy. The Navigator is an Americana story, built around Navita, a teenage Puerto Rican runaway struggling with the limits of her freedom, much like singer Alynda Segarra after she left the Bronx at 17. Interpolating Puerto Rican bomba, salsa, and son into the band’s repertoire of roots, folk, and blues, Segarra’s storytelling is a hybrid folk history that displaces the shame that capitalism and migration force onto the individual responsibility of the colonized. It culminates in the achingly sung “Pa’lante,” titled after the newspaper published by the Young Lords and the Caribbean axiom for survival. Echoing the voices of Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, and Manuel from Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary,” Segarra places Navita (and herself) in a long lineage bent to liberation and whose compass always points forward. — Stefanie Fernández
70. Playboi Carti, Playboi Carti (2017)
In the middle of the last decade, rap writers got really obsessed with creative descriptions for cutting-edge artists that downplayed their brilliance: Young Thug was “post-verbal,” Chief Keef “drowned his voice in processing like someone bent on murdering their personality through technology,” Playboi Carti’s self-titled 2017 debut was “a glorified beat tape with ad-libs.” Moreso than any contemporary, Carti fundamentally broke down what was previously thought of as “hip-hop” and reassembled it in his zooted image with no concessions to convention or tradition. The paradoxical, minimal-massive result is captured effortlessly on Playboi Carti, which was as much a coming-out party for prodigious synth wizard Pi’erre Bourne as its marquee name.
Before getting tapped to work with Kanye, Drake, and Travis Scott, the producer’s calling card was the woozy, oddly propulsive sleeper-hit “Magnolia,” where Carti cut a linear path through Bourne’s swirling textures. The duo is unstoppable whether they’re teaming up with Lil Uzi to flip a Beyoncé line into God-tier shit-talk on “wokeuplikethis*,” or robotripping to absurdity on “Yah Mean.” Playboi Carti throws every textbook it can find out of the window of a moving Benz, hits a puddle at full speed to drench nearby nerds, then sprouts rocket thrusters and jets to the moon. “Damn this shit so radical,” Carti proclaims in wonder, before authoritatively correcting himself: “Damn my shit so radical.” — P.L.
69. Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica (2011)
As the famous adage goes, Replica only sold several thousand copies, but everyone who bought one immediately went out and got a Roland SP-555, an Akai MPC sampler, and a hard drive packed with audio samples of ’80s television commercials. JK, it’s hard to imagine how you would go about imitating music like this even if you wanted to. Daniel Lopatin’s breakthrough album sculpts mesmerizing melodic fragments out of sampled voices from forgotten advertisements; “Sleep Dealer,” for instance, splices together disembodied bits of a 1988 Wrigley’s gum commercial. Although it was released at the height of the chillwave boom, Replica doesn’t employ its vintage source material in the service of a nostalgic haze. From the constantly mutating ambient desolation of “Remember” to the manipulated youth of “Child Soldier,” its textures still feel alien and unsettled nearly a decade later. — Z.S.
68. Britney Spears, Femme Fatale (2011)
Looking back, Femme Fatale was perhaps the album that helped solidify Britney Spears’ Las Vegas stint. Along with 2007’s Blackout, these twin mirrorball masterpieces found her embracing her full shamelessness and finding her comfort zone as a result. The pop star’s seventh studio LP is a swirl of sex and sadness that married then-burgeoning EDM and dubstep in a drive-through chapel. Since its 2011 release, the record’s swirl of Eurodance, electropop and trance has become even more infectious. Singles like the Kesha-penned “Till the World Ends,” “I Wanna Go” and “Hold It Against Me” aren’t lyrically complex by any means; Neil Strauss once wrote about trying out gross pickup techniques on Spears when he interviewed her, but lines like “If I said I want your body now / Would you hold it against me?” turned these around on such men for fun.
Often shortchanged by critics, the once-teen idol became a thrilling album artist six or seven albums in — and her high-quality control has now outlasted all of her TRL peers, inching her legacy closer to Donna Summer or Diana Ross (whose biggest album was her 10th) than most would care to admit. Femme Fatale has only gotten better with time, allowing deep cuts like “Gasoline” and “Selfish” finally get their due, and if anyone can keep us dancing ’til the world ends, it’s still Britney, bitch. — Ilana Kaplan
67. Hop Along, Painted Shut (2015)
The wandering, discursive song structures are Frances-Quinlan-the-writer’s. They pile syllables atop each other with the casual density of folk songs while a rhythm section led by her brother Mark ensures every twisty offshoot keeps rushing for a goal even as it wanders, like vines climbing a wall. Hop Along isn’t the only Philly band this decade to wrap singer-songwriter indie around northeastern-corridor emo, which knows a thing or two about piling up syllables. But they’re the only one that has Frances-Quinlan-the-singer, whose sharpened Leatherman of a voice can do crisp Jenny singsong, gravel-blasted Courtney howl, and/or the giddy elasticity of Bob vowels. It’s her expert shifts in register, as much as her band’s breakneck swing, that drive songs like “The Knock” and “Waitress” cathartically sunward. — T.W.
66. Honey Dijon, Essential Mix 7/22/17 (2017)
As an artist who cites four different countries’ editions of Vogue as influences, Honey Dijon had better have style. So that goes without saying. The Chicagoan DJ’s simultaneously runway- and underground-friendly sets find that happy midpoint between fashion and individualism, genre classics and curveballs that defy definition, giving a fuck about craft and not giving a fuck about rules. She’s a house DJ, and isn’t. You could play her 2017 BBC Essential Mix to impress someone with deeply entrenched guidelines about what dance music should be, and you could equally blow someone’s mind who doesn’t care for that culture’s regimentations at all.
For two hours it never lets up, from the queered-Sugarhill Gang single-entendres of Ragtyme’s “Fix It Man” to her own PLUR-funk “Look Ahead” with Tim K and Sam Sparro, the unrelenting basslines, squelchy synth chirps, and countless timbres of traditional 4/4 percussion all familiar and soul-massaging even when you haven’t heard one of them in your life. “It’s not my job to make other people feel comfortable about who I am,” Dijon stated matter-of-factly in a Channel 4 News segment on trans visibility. But like any world-class DJ, she’s great at making others feel comfortable about everything, and you just want to return the love. — D.W.
65. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me (2017)
The latter half of the 2010s felt dominated by grief, and we’re still mourning so much now. That’s how Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me could be so widely beloved and identified with. We were more ready to take in Phil Elverum’s overwhelming grief from losing his wife, Geneviève, to cancer, and to having to raise their daughter alone. A detail like Elverum collapsing over a just-arrived backpack his wife had ordered for their daughter in “Real Death” is beyond devastating. Being in public feels insurmountable (“My Chasm”), taking out the garbage is a test of will (“When I Take Out the Garbage at Night” — no metaphor will do). Grief tests you far more than the initial shock of death does. A Crow Looked at Me captures this honestly, without much dressing from Elverum’s hands or voice. These words of praise, like all of the ones that came in this album’s wake, feel all too faint. — A.O.
64. Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
Beyoncé has reigned as popular music’s most undeniable force for the better part of a decade; and no event in her career was more obvious in its world-changing ambitions than Lemonade. A magnum opus that tackles the pain of history and heartbreak in equal measure, her sixth album remains a groundbreaking audio/visual marvel. On emotional bloodlettings like “Sorry” and “Daddy Issues,” Bey navigates a flurry of topics and genres, working her way through contemporary country, protest marches, and hard rock, daring you to tell her what she can’t do. No work of art was more polarizing, more scrutinized, more conversation-worthy in 2016, and frankly, the entire decade gave us no album that was more talked about. Hillary Clinton quoted Lemonade, SNL parodied it, and phrases like “Becky with the good hair” and hot sauce in bags permanently entered the lexicon. It was enough to bring back memories of the monoculture. In an age where albums were beginning to feel arbitrary, Mrs. Carter reveled in the creative power of the medium — while pushing it to new heights. Lemonade is the rare pop album that positions itself as “important” and not only affirms that status but raises the bar on what a pop-culture event can be in the first place. — S.W.
63. Javiera Mena, Mena (2010)
Chilean dance-pop queen Javiera Mena has spent the past 15 years as one of pop music’s unsung visionaries, perfecting a unique style of analog-synth Hi-NRG back when guitars were still in vogue. And Mena is her masterpiece, an aural Molotov cocktail of disco and electro genres blended with Technicolor slow jams. From the blacklight stomp of “Hasta la Verdad” to the vivaciously minor-key pan-American anthem “Luz de Piedra de Luna,” there’s no shortage of bangers for your next foam party. Yet it’s love songs like the Jens Lekman duet “Sufrir” and closing tearjerker “Un Audífono Tu, Un Audífono Yo” that truly showcase the beauty behind the beats. It’s not often that a pop album can make you simultaneously dance and cry. — Andrew Casillas
62. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel… (2012)
If piano-blues dispatches from Fiona Apple’s inner storm system have become increasingly infrequent, they’re no less potent and heartfelt once they finally reach our ears. Her fourth LP is her most outwardly generous and internally conciliatory, as though she’s figured out how to solve the puzzle of herself. The hooks here are tauter and subtler, the playing rambunctious, lyrics unsparingly sharp, husky voice wistful and direct. The powerful bridge of “Daredevil” lays bare those needs felt by anyone who’s ever half-fallen in love: “Wake me up / Give me, give me, give me what you’ve got in your mind, in the middle of the night.” The gleaming “Every Single Night” self-diagnoses in mid-tempo; “Left Alone” and “Werewolf” offer long, searching glances in rearview mirrors. And the intricately arranged “Anything We Want” is the blessed promised land, free from strife and anguish, that everyone seeks in pursuit of romantic love. Here, as ever — see her 1997 VMAs “this world is bullshit” acceptance speech for the ignition — she remains a guiding beacon for any creative questers donning hearts on fraying sleeves. — R.C.
61. Mitski, Puberty 2 (2016)
Mitski Miyawaki’s Puberty 2 is an album for the adolescence that comes after adolescence. The devastating crunch of “Your Best American Girl” was far and away Mitski’s most universally lauded song of the decade, an everygirl vindication against the lame white guys in whose image were taught to shape ourselves. Yet that hard-won self-acceptance is even more powerful in the context of the album, where Mitski charts a path to self-intimacy that is necessarily ugly, embarrassing, and self-denying, as on “Thursday Girl,” begging to be cut down: “Somebody, please / Tell me no, tell me no / Tell me no / Tell me no.” Puberty 2 isn’t just an album about being seen, but about the pain of being perceived, and the ecstasy that sometimes comes with disappearing.— S.F.