The 101 Best Albums of the 2010s

50. The 1975, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018)

For all the ink spilled on the idea that Matt Healy is the millennials’ designated spokesman, he’s really a classic wiseass British frontman in the tradition of Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, and Jarvis Cocker. “I’m sure that you’re not just another girl / I’m sure that you’re gonna say that I was sexist” is one of Healy’s best Twitter-baiting bon mots, delivered over a swaying neo-soul groove on “Sincerity Is Scary,” which features one of late jazz-trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s final performances. The 1975 are shameless magpies for different sounds on their third album, where drummer George Daniel proves as adept with a drum machine as with a live kit on the cod dancehall of “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” and the glitchy two-step garage of “How to Draw/Petrichor.” But it’s also their darkest album  not because it’s the purported Tumblr-era OK Computer with a “Fitter Happier” knockoff but rather a rehab record where the glossy, no-jacket-required love song is sung to heroin and the majestic, “Champagne Supernova”-style ballad finale is called “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes).” — A.S.

49. Sightings, Amusers and Puzzlers (2015)

From their beginnings in 1998 through their 2013 split, the uncompromising NYC trio Sightings stalked a blazing line between noise-skronk and industrial-blitz. Their bromides were photo negatives or undersides of standard rock’n’roll fare: twitchy, anxious, lunging, and impeccably honed despite a sometimes garbled fidelity. A broad range of snarls, howls, and mutters from singer-guitarist Mark Morgan lent the catalog an extra tension, additional grit. Sightings’ music sounded, often, as though it was in the thick of a war for its very right to exist. Morgan, bassist Richard Hoffman, and drummer Jon Lockie concluded their tradition of gradual evolution on strong swan song Amusers and Puzzlers  knock-about spasms and cramps, the Geiger-counter scrawl of “13,” brutalist ambient misadventure “Syllabus of Errors.” All bands change and grow; one might locate Sightings’ influence in its diligent willingness to edit, limiting output to only the most absolutely essential material. They were always on point, always essentially themselves, and they ended the way so many more compromising bands only wish  to go out on their absolute best. — R.C.

48. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (2012)

All she know is flower crowns, Pabst Blue Ribbon, charge her phone, watch David Lynch, laugh like God, sound like Napoleon Dynamite’s brother, eat hot chip and lie. — D.W.

47. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains (2019)

Comeback stories are never as uncomfortably honest and ultimately heartbreaking as David Berman’s brief return. Silver Jews’ poetic singer-songwriter “spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion,” as he sings in Purple Mountains‘ opening seconds, before recruiting Brooklyn psych-folkers Woods as his backing band on his first album since he disbanded the Jews following 2008’s Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. A realist to a fault, Berman had always been startlingly adept at depicting the bleakness of the human experience, but Purple Mountains, with divorce, death, and depression hanging in the air, goes even deeper into despair. But despite its brutal imagery — sleeping in a “Band-Aid pink” Chevy, the “icy bike chain rain of Portland, Oregon,” “drinking margaritas at the mall”— and the crushing postscript of Berman hanging himself amid tour rehearsals, Purple Mountains somehow balances itself with dark humor and cheeky wisdom like all of Berman’s work only catchier. If there’s any solace to be had, it’s offered by Berman himself on “Nights That Won’t Happen”: “the dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind.” — P.L.

46. Huerco S., For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (2016)

Ambient swag is the best swag: “nine of the densest ambient and meditative music pieces since the dawn of music!!” quoth Brian Leeds about his second collection under the alias where he does this thing rather than that thing. And as the album title implies, ambient is the perfect fill-in-the-blank music, auditory illusions for the ear that lets your mind fill in the blanks. So why is the second Huerco S. album so full-bodied, so melodically thorough, so devoid of vagueness that you can wake up humming a spirographic pattern like “Marked for Life?” The rare ambient collection that does all the work, so you can get some damn sleep, which in 2020 makes it the most essential album of all. — D.W.

45. The Weeknd, House of Balloons (2011)

Long before the Weeknd became known as an ‘80s synth-loving chart-topper, he was a faceless enigma. Not only was his given name unknown (later revealed to be Abel Tesfaye), but we didn’t even know if he was one person or a mysterious group. With the production assistance of frequent collaborators Doc McKinney and Illangelo, the Weeknd lured in depraved Tumblr girls and eager R&B fans alike with his beguiling (and crass) debut mixtape, House of Balloons. The titular location was haunted by drugs, despondency and bleary-eyed perversions. “Wicked Games” reflects toxic love, “The Loft” turns a placid Beach House sample into an ominous brain warp, while the head-rattling beat switch on “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” mimicked a coke-binge comedown. Although the Weeknd has since polished up that sinister tone for the mainstream, nothing can compare to this startling stranger’s first request of an audience: “You wanna be high for this.” — Bianca Gracie

44. No Age, Everything in Between (2010)

Randy Randall and Dean Spunt belligerently announced themselves on the 2007 collection Weirdo Rippers and perfected their volume-first/melody-second approach on 2008’s Nouns, but Everything in Between is where the Los Angeles duo opened up their scuzzy sound and allowed some sunlight in. Sure, the screeching feedback that passes for a riff on “Fever Dreaming” is classic No Age, but the two noisemakers eagerly veer into veritable pop-punk on “Glitter,” Shields-ian soundscapes on “Dusted,” and a disarming noise-pop duet on “Chem Trails.” Ten years later, it remains No Age’s most varied album, at once abrasive and sour-sweet. It’s also a time capsule from the days when a regular gig at the Smell, a well-trafficked MySpace page, and a formidable command of distortion pedals were enough to win you blog-rock glory. Always glad to have them back underneath our skin. — Z.S.

43. Pusha T, Daytona (2018)

This is the Purple-Tape umbrella for the rainiest of days. This is the scalpel that drew first blood in a dangerously “surgical summer.” This is the greatest seven-song hip-hop project of all time. Pusha T’s fourth solo venture, produced entirely by Kanye West during his 2018 production run (which may be remembered as his last stroke of genius), was the stone that toppled the 25-track algorithm Goliath known as Aubrey Graham. King Push proved all he needed to in 21 minutes that made bestsellers 10 years younger look tired. The bars are tight enough to cut off your circulation (“Still pull them whips out, still spread the chips out / Might buy your bitch some new hips and yank her rib out”), the samples are otherworldly (George Jackson perfects “Come Back Baby” with a simple vocal snippet), and even when the industry wanted nothing to do with him, Kanye chops it up like he had the world in his corner. Like Taco Bell, Daytona showed that less is more, but any dosage is lethal. — B.B.

42. Syd, Fin (2017)

As an early producer for Tyler, The Creator/Odd Future and the co-founder/lead singer of Los Angeles-based stoner-groove band the Internet, Sydney Bennett is beloved for her modern take on classic soul and funk melodies. But she decided to sink deep into previously hidden inspirations on debut solo album Fin. It’s a stunning display of languid ‘90s R&B-driven escapism, as Syd unveils even more layers of vulnerability and engaging vocal subtleties. “Shake Em Off” finds her dismissing incessant haters (“Young star in the making / Swear they sleeping on me”), she channels the late Aaliyah’s soft coos on hook-up anthem “Know” and drowns in bedroom sensuality on “Body.” She’s most human on album closer “Insecurities,” as she struggles with leaving her partner. Syd juggles this versatility with ease, all while shaping a refreshing queer perspective on how it feels to be both artistically independent and uneasy with love’s unpredictable game. — B.G.

41. Power Trip, Nightmare Logic (2017)

Thrash in the ’80s remains metal’s high point, yet some of its progenitors were hurtling toward irrelevancy through a hail of headlines in the 2010s. (Lulu was by far not the biggest embarrassment from the Big Four, though.) Despairing this isn’t — Power Trip more than took up the mantle as thrash’s loudest, fastest, and most conscious band. Nightmare Logic trades nuclear winters and PMRC panics for broader anxieties in dehumanizing complacency and misplaced aggression. It makes sense that vocalist Riley Gale would eventually collaborate with Body Count, as “Waiting Around to Die” and “Firing Squad” aim squarely at killing the cop in your head. “If Not Us Than Who” lays out this generation and next’s most important question, Discharge’s astute-brute duality hanging large. There was a reason that Power Trip was a cult band among Texas metalpunks, and Nightmare Logic let the whole world in on the secret. Like a certain band they were beefing with earlier this year, they’re headstrong, they’ll take on anyone. — A.O.

40. Young Thug, 1017 Thug (2013)

We have Peewee Longway to thank. In his 2017 autobiography, Gucci Mane describes inviting Longway, a longtime acquaintance, to his studio and offering the up-and-coming rapper a considerable sum of money to sign to his 1017 Brick Squad label. Longway, apparently rich enough as it was, declined, and suggested that Gucci instead give the money to his friend, a lanky kid standing right behind him. That’s how we wound up with 1017 Thug, a street-rap tape by an exhaustingly inventive vocalist who sounds like he’s miles above the pavement. Thug would soon develop a fluency for his signature style, gathering a cadre of open-minded producers around him, but what’s so fascinating about his 2013 breakout release is how much it sounds like a Shawty Lo or Jeezy tape — workmanlike, straightforward “trap music”— while Thug ceaselessly shape-shifts atop it, inventing a million voices a minute over, say, the rubbery twinkle of “Picacho” alone. “I can change your ears,” Thugger raps on “Scared of You,” and for hip-hop devotees at the turn of the 2010s, he did. — P.L.

39. Ariana Grande, Sweetener (2018)

In 2018  a year after a terrorist attack took the lives of 22 of her fans in Manchester and as Ariana Grande’s longtime relationship with Mac Miller came to an end fans were unsure of how she’d emerge from this onslaught of turmoil. But Grande bleached her gargantuan ponytail, sat on a gigantic staircase, and promised not to shed another tear. And with that came the Pharrell-produced, “Yuh”-coining Sweetener, which now stands as Grande’s most left-field work to date and, hands down, the most purely uplifting pop record of the decade. She layers her vocals into a Neptunes-style bouncy house on “blazed,” makes love to her own self-love anthem on “successful,” and sets aside 40 seconds of silence for the Manchester victims on “get well soon.” Her playful moments never lack empathy, and on “the light is coming” she manages a tricky vice versa with an unusually appropriate Nicki Minaj, who always soars on her Grande collaborationsSweetener had legs like no Ari album before it, and Grande was so full of inspired determination that only six months later, she earned her first Hot 100 No. 1s with a couple hits from the almost-as-beloved Thank U, Next. To listen to it today is to hear an artist prepare to embark on a winning streak that has yet to end, even if her memorably-memed chapter with “Pete Davidson” has. As she sings on the title centerpiece, somehow her method touches our soul (ed. note: sheesh!). — B.B.

38. Death Grips, The Money Store (2012)

The Money Store wasn’t just an album, it was an ideal. Death Grips achieved what nü-metal failed to do: They brought rap and hardcore closer together with all the fury and none of the cringe, even if portions of their fanbase have big Szechuan sauce energy. The permabanned’s favorite band united industrial’s harsh, anti-music roots with its dancier outgrowth on heavy music with dissipating borders. Many futures were ground up coarse and mutated into one: “I’ve Seen Footage” took Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” beat to new heights of raw ecstasy; “The Fever (Aye Aye)” felt like moshing to nuclear-bomb alarms with societal collapse as the ultimate dancefloor; every song was a rallying call to move beyond commodified subcultures and to embrace new extremes. Calling things punk in the 2010s more often than not felt like just another coat of paint in a city apartment with suburb soul, so here’s a thought if you canceled the grand exception for their litany of no-shows, leaking their own albums, and going about their business as abrasively as their music: Isn’t wasting rich peoples’ money on uncommercial, purely cacophonous anarchy just a good thing? — A.O.

37. Taylor Swift, Speak Now (2010)

Taylor Swift was already a household name and by no means a country purist when the seasoned vet made her third album at the age of 20. But Speak Now was the last album Swift wrote on her own and co-produced with longtime collaborator Nathan Chapman before she decided to call Max Martin and draft a press release announcing her intention to become a capital-P pop star (even though any Kardashian could tell you she already was). And it’s an inspired last hurrah for Taylor 1.0, as the girl named after James Taylor sings some of her best acoustic ballads, including the proto-#MeToo, scorched-earth six-minute John Mayer breakup epic “Dear John.” But the album also contains propulsive rockers like the glittering Shania disco of “The Story of Us” and “Better Than Revenge,” a petty-Paramore homage so dead-on the band themselves had to change direction. Each song on Speak Now was addressed to a different unnamed person, and over the course of 14 Carly Simon-style blind item pop songs, Swift (allegedly) settles scores with everyone from professional boomer Bob Lefsetz to some guy named Kanye. — A.S.

36. Elza Soares, A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (The Woman of the End of the World) (2015)

When producer Guilherme Kastrup approached her about making a new album, the septuagenarian samba legend told him it should be about “sex and blackness.” After enlisting dozens of writers, session performers, and producers, the result was an extraordinary amalgam of profane and divine, electronic and organic, traditional and experimental. Yes, it features the incomparable Soares using the full range of her distinctive — and highly emotive — vocal instrument, which alone would make it singular. But musically, it’s also a masterful assemblage of “dirty” samba suja infused with serrated alt-funk, Afro-Brazilian jazz, and electronic effects. For lyrics, she critiques the racism, classism, and sexism of Brazilian society historical and present-day: Police violence, domestic abuse, political corruption, the disillusionment that follows repression. Lest you think the late-career opus is a downer, every grievance is matched by feminine power and joy; the opening lines of “Pra Fuder” translate to “I look at my body / I feel the lava ooze down.” Even if you don’t know a word of Portuguese, the only way to get anything else like this will be to encourage Soares to “sing until the end” as she implores in the title track — hopefully well into her 90s. — H.B.

35. Solange, A Seat at the Table (2016)

At the start of the decade, the millennial Black generation’s feet were placed in our ancestors’ shoes as a demoralizing sociopolitical society continued to fail us. Solange compartmentalized these emotions she grappled with on her eye-opening third album, A Seat at the Table. Narrated by Master P and her parents, the world inside this record became a necessary healing space. “F.U.B.U.” was a call to reclaim our culture, “Mad” (featuring a pent-up Lil Wayne) possessed Black anger and the deceptively lush “Cranes in the Sky” is an uncomfortable recollection of self-denigration.  Nearly four years following its release, the album still resonates with the current state of Black grief as the issues we faced just years prior were shoved in our faces once again. As society continues to carelessly destroy Black lives like a twisted game of Russian roulette, A Seat at the Table reminds us to hold our chins up and get to building our own table. — B.G.

34. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love (2015)

No Cities to Love proved what many of us already knew: That Sleater-Kinney is a band not confined to its era, or the infantile mischaracterizations of Riot Grrrl that followed them in the ‘90s and ‘00s. Ten years after 2005’s The Woods, the trio re-emerged in total lockstep musically and viscerally, from the clean slice of Corin Tucker’s and Carrie Brownstein’s harmonized snarls on the titular phrase to the dark engine of “Fade.” The post-punk energy and feminist urgency of their prior body of work are instantaneously cued here without repetition. Instead, they sustain the anger they always masterfully articulated into the absurdity and morbid drama of aging into the political present. Put simply on “A New Wave”: “No one here is taking notice / No outline will ever hold us / It’s not a new wave, it’s just you and me.” — S.F.

33. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)

Listening out of context, one can be easily forgiven for assuming that Kendrick Lamar’s major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city was the album that earned him a Pulitzer Prize, as opposed to 2017’s DAMN. Expanding and deepening the themes introduced on his prior effort, the independently released Section.80, Lamar created a musical bildungsroman that added intimate texture and vulnerable nuance to the life in South Los Angeles’ gang culture. Where milestones like N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, marked the frustrations of young Black American L.A. and the Hughes brothers’ Menace II Society established the gradations and hopes of gangbangers, m.A.A.d. city declared that those multitudes could be contained within the story of one person — a young aspiring rapper dealing with lust, revenge, temptation, and parents who were at once comic relief, peanut gallery, and spiritual conscience.

The parts of Lamar’s experience that are romanticized are fleeting flights of fantasy — backstreet freestyles about chasing money trees. Instead, he makes love seem endangering while meditating on addiction, breaking and entering, drive-by shootings and even his own death while declaring “what we have common is pain.” Over a dozen producers contributed to make this project that varies from the melodic to the abrasive without every sacrificing a sense of cohesion. Everything here feels powered the same similar sonic storm and at its center is Kendrick Lamar’s voice which — both figuratively and literally — seems of the madness and detached from it. “I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies,” he rhymes, but he never gives the homies too much weight because he knows the best way to tell his story is to focus on the kid and treat the city as an antagonist. — kris ex

32. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager (2014)

As the bandleader of Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis never fully received the respect she was due in the 2000s. But the band’s fourth, final, and most polarizing record Under the Blacklight has had a ripple effect since its 2007 release, kicking off an ‘80s yacht-rock resurgence and predicting HAIM’s Fleetwood Mac infatuation years before anyone was ready. Lewis was ahead of her time, and with The Voyager, the world caught up to her in some ways. She was ready; her best solo record navigates the messiness of life through (polished) sunny, Californian pop as she makes like a walking Petty-Nicks duet and spits out harsh, unapologetic realities, like when she suddenly drops “I’m just another lady without a baby,” into the air on “Just One of the Guys.”

There aren’t many songwriters who would croon something as equally vulnerable and blunt, but she’s never been lacking for complex emotions or details, whether she’s referencing Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All in “The New You” or spying someone getting a handjob in “Aloha & The Three Johns.” On the brassy, emotional rollercoaster “Head Underwater,” she battles insomnia but exhales on a glimmer of hope: “There’s a little bit of sand left in the hourglass.” On The Voyager, Lewis pushes back on society’s expectations for women with grace and levity by simply being her own complicated person. So stop dragging her heart around. — I.K.

31. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time (2013)

The perennially label-troubled model-actress-singer’s still-unfollowed debut imagines with perfect confidence and unclouded vision a world in which ultra-hooky beat-and-riff-driven pop albums slathered with gradually thickening My Bloody Valentine guitar fuzz are normal things that model-actress-singers put out all the time and might deliver more of any year now. Work to bring such a world about: Play “I Blame Myself” in the first half of a party, answer each and every guest as they approach individually to ask who it is; then wait a couple of hours and play “Omanko.” — T.W.


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