30. Paramore, Paramore (2013)
Rock’s mainstream did not produce many quality rock stars in the 2010s, but Hayley Williams is very much an exception, and possibly commercial alternative’s greatest hope. On their sprawling, diversified self-titled LP, Paramore’s Warped-friendly punk began to take on an inevitable pop sheen, but no one could’ve predicted that losing two members (Josh and Zac Farro on guitar and drums, respectively) would bring out their experimental side. This skeleton crew took four years and banged out a whopping 17 tracks.
Paramore is still rife with the band’s foundational angst and Williams’ boisterous spunk, but the bounciness of the gospel-tinged “Ain’t It Fun,” glockenspiel-flanked “Anklebiters,” and slow-burning, eight-minute closer (“Future”) all pushed the band into new territory — making it the perfect midpoint between the rebellious attitude of Riot! and their eventual ‘80s makeover on After Laughter. You won’t find pointed tracks like “Ignorance” or “Misery Business” here, although Williams and co. acknowledge their battle scars on opener “Fast in My Car (“Been through the ringer a couple times / I came out callous and cruel.”) By and large, Paramore is a coming-of-age record: “Some of us have to grow up sometimes / And so if I have to, I’m gonna leave you behind.” And while she sings “Ain’t It Fun” with the resounding sigh of a coworker on a Monday, how did she manage to make adulting sound so, well…fun? — I.K.
29. Rosalía, El Mal Querer (2018)
El Mal Querer is one of this era’s best albums, and also one of the most fascinating to examine beyond the music. Sonically, its mix of Old World folk and flamenco with American hip-hop and “Cry Me a River” challenged conventions of all the above while simultaneously becoming one of the biggest cross-Atlantic artists of a generation. That is to say, one doesn’t need to be up-to-date on palos or recognize that this is a concept album about a 13th-century text to know that “Malamente” fucking rips. It’s also a delayed victory lap of sorts for El Guincho, whose manic beats provide the perfect backdrop for the room-stopping command of Rosalia’s operatic vibrato; together they’re the greatest Spanish combo since Xavi and Iniesta. Its legacy may well be the reckoning it caused regarding race, class, the Latinx diaspora, and cultural appropriation in contemporary pop. But that conversation wouldn’t have raised above a whisper if El Mal Querer wasn’t such a landmark musical achievement. — A.C.
28. Future, DS2 (2015)
What do you do after breaking off a high-profile engagement with a major R&B star? Dive deep into your innermost toxic thoughts, of course. After Future and Ciara messily called it quits in 2014, the Atlanta rapper truly leaned into his heartbreak to create DS2. Heightened by the bleak production of go-to collaborators Metro Boomin and Southside, Future makes it clear that his soul wasn’t worth saving. The audible swigs of codeine in a styrofoam cup kick off the “Thought It Was a Drought” opener as the rapper seethes: “Bitch, I’ma choose the dirty over you / You know I ain’t scared to lose you.” DS2 grows more nihilistic, with the rapper drowning his sorrows in a mountain of Percocets and nameless strippers whom he fucks with his chains on in an unconvincing self-reminder of his pimp status. While there are a few unlikely club anthems and somewhat radio-friendly moments (the Drake-assisted “Where Ya At,” “Freak Hoe,” and the already-huge “Fuck Up Some Commas” tacked on as a bonus), Future is quick to remind you that he’s not anyone’s hero: “Tryna make a pop star and they made a monster.” — B.G.
27. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (2011)
The music of the 2010s is beautifully divorced from the organic sounds and forms of bygone eras — the big beat of hip-hop layered with the synthetic soundscapes of prefab pop. But slickness is a virtue in a hi-def age, and before Fiona’s sui generis apotheoses, Merrill Garbus was ebulliently pursuing the joys of just making noise. No one else with Audacity software and a head for ideas was as deft at turning cacophony into kitchen-sink gold, though the lyrical musculature of bassist Nate Brenner grounded her in music and eventually life. Her voice is a mid-range missile of unbound enthusiasm, wry but exploding with conviction, she flings euphonious torrents of uncommon combinations at targets like racism (“Gangsta”), fatophobia (“Es-So”), sexism (“Killa”) and police brutality (“Doorstep”), years before the best among us woke up and said fuck this. And in “Powa,” her body nearly floats away from her in a sex song that could take Al Green back to the river. — R.M.
26. Deafheaven, Sunbather (2013)
Nothing was the same for Deafheaven after 2013, and that would be true even if guitarist Kerry McCoy wasn’t a Drake stan. The subversive black metal outfit’s breakthrough record Sunbather came at the tail end of the early 2010s’ omnipresent uncertainty, and it felt brighter and more confident than what came before, signaling an optimistic dawn for metal and the world at large. The loudly evident but somewhat unspoken truth that we never recovered from the 2008 economic crash (if you’ve ever played this record during a 12-hour Uber shift, smash that mf Like button) haunts it now. Surging opener “Dream House” and the title track both gawk at expensive real estate through singer George Clarke’s intoxicating wonder, and over time it’s morphed into bitterness over dreams deferred indefinitely. Even with all the malaise, McCoy’s shimmering Britpop-black metal grandeur and new blood Daniel Tracy’s forceful drumming turned discomfort into shrieking beauty and both proved to be key in Deafheaven becoming the small-c crossover metal band of the decade. — A.O.
25. SOPHIE, PRODUCT (2015)
If you like your sugar served on a piece of sharpened glass, Scottish Elektron Monomachine alchemist SOPHIE and her attendant chipmunk divas are for you. Her 2015 singles compilation sounds kind of like leaving your Aqua CD in the sun for 18 years and playing the melted, holographic disc. SOPHIE’s maniacal sound is intensified by her astounding, nearly VR tactility; the drips on “Lemonade” and “Bipp” are so round and gooey, you can feel them splash and spring against your eardrums. The relatively normal “MSMSMSM” is just straight bossy, while “L.O.V.E.” sounds like a teakettle being put to death, and “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” proves she could make straightforward, even emotive pop hits if she desired. And the PC Music alumnus has indeed produced for Madonna, Charli XCX, and Vince Staples and others, nabbing a Grammy nom for Best Dance/Electronic Album while only getting weirder. Unlike plenty of button-pushers, SOPHIE can always make you feel better. Which is why she sold this collection with a limited-edition sex toy. — K.B.
24. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday (2010)
Regularly assailed for imperfect aim in the 10 years she’s outstayed Hot 97’s welcome since her “Monster” breakout that’s widely considered the verse of the decade, it can be hard to recall what a miracle Nicki Minaj was at her advent. Unflappable and proudly eccentric, lightning-sharp and razor-fast, her debut is the sound of someone who’d paid shrewd enough dues to know she already had a shot at the crown. Whether cavorting with will.i.am and the Buggles, out-threatening Eminem by way of Busta Rhymes, staring sincerely at stardom with Drake and Natasha Bedingfield, or proudly defecating on her competition, Pink Friday practically proved there was nothing she couldn’t sell on the diamond-impermeable force of her skill and personality. “Haters, you can kill yourself,” she trills, blissfully unaware of how badly they’ll get to her in the years to come. — R.M.
23. M.I.A., /\/\/\Y/\ (2010)
One of the more musically challenging artists to find mainstream success, M.I.A.’s fractious third album had to follow Kala, her commercial breakthrough, and it came on the heels of a backlash against the rapper by way of a controversial video for “Born Free” and a scathing, distorted New York Times hit piece. Nonetheless, /\/\/\Y/\ stands as arguably the final act of her first trilogy. Squealing, Bomb Squad-indebted tracks like “Teqkilla” are a streamlined version of her style at its most abrasive; as conspiracy theories, romance, and Auto-Tuned party anthems are blended into this chaotic, anarcho-funk stew. She samples Suicide, blasts Google, and raves about motherhood. Her firebrand persona was at its peak as a brash, rich, pseudo-guerilla genre hacker and a sign of her internet-fried times. Like Fear of a Black Planet-era Public Enemy, M.I.A. fell out of media favor just as she was releasing her most uncompromising music. And just as Planet’s legacy outlived its own morass of controversies, the potency of /\/\/\Y/\ reverberates beyond any backlash. — S.W.
22. Pistol Annies, Hell on Heels (2011)
Ten laid-back but bladed ditties about shotgun weddings, opiate habits, serial gold-digging, contested inheritances, domestic arson, and buying on layaway. The triple-helix songwriting — arming Angeleena Presley’s bleak class consciousness with Miranda Lambert’s bottle-blonde ruthlessness and softening both with Ashley Monroe’s wistful detail — also provides a handy model for solidarity and survival. The characters they sketch may stand alone, but the Annies’ intertwined vocals and familial noms de guerre imply adopted sisterhood as a remedy to every ill, from deadbeat husband to unplanned pregnancy to late-capitalist death drive. — T.W.
21. Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste (2014)
Overshadowed by her long-brewing Twitter ban, hot-and-cold Trump fandom, and singlehandedly causing the SEC to investigate Elon Musk are this volatile NYC musician/actress’ rich musical gifts. Her sole LP to date — released two long years after debut-single-of-the-decade “212” — made good on Azealia Banks’ artistic promise fifteenfold. On Broke With Expensive Taste, she sang, rapped, and scatted over kinetic productions commingling calypso, hip-house, dance-pop, and more. (There’s even a bizarro faux-Gidget Ariel Pink co-write on this LP. How zeitgeist can you get?) At her best here, a rhythmic vortex flow and uranium-dense lyricism reveal Banks as a successor to Missy Elliott, who largely sat the 2010s out, and, with bionic fare like “Soda,” a Crystal Waters stand-in for the era. If “Miss Amor” was insult-comic dancehall and “Wallace” crammed Dadaist onomatopoeia into a skeletal elegance, “Heavy Metal and Reflective” felt more attuned with the gully Banks the world got to know via social media. “I be Cherry Deeky when I swell up, get that best dick,” she bragged. “I be in Osaka with that papa, took that best trip.” — R.C.
20. Sleigh Bells, Treats (2010)
In 2010, Sleigh Bells startled everyone by slicing through that spring’s laid-back fare with their thunderous debut album Treats. The Brooklyn noise-pop duo, comprised of ex-hardcore guitarist Derek E. Miller and dedicated pop student Alexis Krauss, crafted a confectionery of metal- and punk-inspired riffs (which felt more like jackhammers), sticky-sweet melodies, and vibrant pop enthusiasm. “Kids” possesses a schoolgirl charm thanks to Krauss’ delicate vocals, but refrains from getting too saccharine ” with Miller’s discordant, blown-speaker sonics. The cheerleader chant of “Infinity Guitars” would have the Neptunes wishing they compressed Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” at an RMS of -4dB. And more surprising than any of their thrashers that melt the whole ice cream truck, the questionably sane-volumed “Rill Rill” transforms 1971 Funkadelic chestnut “Can You Get to That” into a postmodern summer jam. Treats is an exhilarating jolt to the brain and an open threat to the eardrum. — B.G.
19. A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service (2016)
In the 2010s, albums from hip-hop’s elder statesmen were met with acclaim and accolades — as opposed to cynicism and snark. Hip-hop’s audience has expanded, gotten older, and “elder” no longer feels dismissive of the old school. It had been almost 20 years since A Tribe Called Quest released The Love Movement before they unveiled what would be their final release. A triumphant return to Midnight Marauders-era form and an uncommonly urgent swan song for the legendary crew, service also functions as an elegy for the late Phife Dawg. Tribe’s unflappable everyman died just six months prior to the album’s release, but he shines on legacy-amplifying tracks like “Dis Generation” and “We the People.” Q-Tip’s broadened production is immaculate throughout, and guest spots from the likes of Elton John, Jack White, and André 3000, not to mention Busta Rhymes’ best role in years ensured that Tribe’s final word was well worth the wait. This is a strong case for the best reunion album ever made; it grants immortality to Tribe’s eminence by extending it. — S.W.
18. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019)
When most of us were 17, we were failing chemistry finals and causing our driving instructors to inadvertently teach us new swear words. Billie Eilish, on the other hand, made one of the best records of the decade and swept award ceremonies as a green-haired, sleepy-voiced goth who casually gamed the pop system with her brother FINNEAS’ help. Her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, is the perfect culmination of loose 2010s ends, when “bedroom pop” reached critical mass even before quarantine. Produced entirely by these sample detectives alone, it leans into Eilish’s ASMR-friendly zombie-angel contralto and interrupts its eerie atmosphere with samples from The Office because no fantasy world is safe from commercial breaks. The rambunctiousness of her runaway smash “bad guy” winds down into dreamlike ballads such as “i love you” that probably impressed Thom Yorke because Radiohead’s recent stuff can’t hold a candle. Eilish once again reinvented what a pop star could be: An all-inclusive, xanny-rejecting, tongue-stapling, lonely Lucifer who has just taken out her Invisalign. Duh. — B.B.
17. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (2012)
No bass, no ballads, no bad songs, no synths, no interludes, no time for indulging cynicism or restraint. Celebration Rock, the still-thrilling second album from Japandroids, is a master class in stripping rock music down to its vitals and discarding all the other nonsense. Across seven originals and one Gun Club cover, two Canadians snarl, roar, overload their amps, and deliver the first-through-eighth-best whoa-ohs of the decade — all while reveling in the idea that just because youth is fleeting doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it forever: “Remember that night you were already in bed / Said ‘fuck it’, got up to drink with me instead.” Records this unironically bombastic and joyful weren’t exactly commonplace in the indie-rock scene of the early 2010s, which made Celebration Rock stand out all the more (and the prospect of competing with it all the more onerous). Not since Sleater-Kinney’s redlining The Woods (another bassless wonder) has there been a rock album so likely to have your neighbors humming along while they’re on hold waiting to make their noise complaint — Z.S.
16. DJ Rashad, Double Cup (2013)
A prominent producer once told me it’s easy to make a banger, but it’s making something hard and funky that’s impressive. Double Cup, the only album footwork’s greatest practitioner was alive to make, shows just how rare that talent is. Soul, house and R&B samples are warped and dribbled into hyper post-juke anthems without sacrificing an inch of sensual touch. Tinny percussive beats explode in midnight shades, daring clubgoers unafraid of the 160 bpm speed limit to fuck up the dance floor until they slip on their own sweat. No wonder the Teklife collective’s founder is regarded as one of the most influential producers and Chicago cultural figures of his generation. Rashad tragically died from a drug overdose in 2014, leaving behind his cohorts DJ Spinn, DJ Earl, Taso, and others who all make appearances here, a big collaborative family that revolutionized dance music — and a too-large hole where their star used to be. — K.B.
15. Frank Ocean, nostalgia, ULTRA. (2011)
Remember that “dying world” Frank Ocean warned us about in his Coldplay-slaying rendition of “Strawberry Swing?” Maybe he was referring to the major-label industry before he sabotaged it from the inside. Before the now-king of musical secrecy finessed Def Jam for millions while building a staircase, his debut mixtape revolutionized R&B entirely and gave would-be radio-seducers the green light to experiment, to drive right off the road, head-first into the ocean. A onetime ghostwriter for Bieber and Brandy, Christopher Breaux became fed up with the major-label machine, changed his name, and became one of the 2010s’ most famous examples of an artist showing how far he could reach without pandering to labels, radio, or award shows.
His self-made, word-of-mouth mixtape was like nothing else in R&B or anywhere else. The coked-out narrative of “Novacane,” the on-the-run storyline of “Swim Good,” and the Radiohead-sampling interlude he dubbed “Bitches Talkin’” all made nostalgia, ULTRA. an audacious introduction to a superstar who does it his way, especially when rewriting some of music’s biggest hits. MGMT’s “Electric Feel” became the biblical porno “Nature Feels.” The Eagles’ “Hotel California” significantly improved as the emotional plea of “American Wedding.” Not only did Ocean set himself up for a decade of unpredictable greatness with nostalgia, ULTRA., but he actually made a long-ass Eagles song bearable. — B.B.
14. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (2014)
At this point in their young career, Parquet Courts had mastered their particular vision-illusion of shaggy spontaneity, expertly selling the sense that every song was being written even as it was being committed to digital tape. Were primary songwriters Austin Brown and Andrew Savage even singing? More “like”: they gang-chanted chestnuts into existence, deadpanning over crude, spindly indie rock-outs that faded before they could properly ignite. Those listening to Sunbathing Animal might blink and miss a killer tune, so swiftly they came-and-went that, starry-eyed and only nominally about anything significant. “Always Back in Town” and “Ducking & Dodging” are thematically self-explanatory — garage-y, chugga-chugga-chugga gems that lodge in memory like gilded splinters. Not since Slanted and Enchanted (or at least Is This It) had stray slack been so beguiling, so brilliantly casual. Their ripping spontaneity wouldn’t last — it never does — but Sunbathing Animal also showed a path for tenderness and conscientiousness that few rippers have managed to mature into. As with obvious forebears Reed, Boon, and Malkmus, they laid down a marker for their 2020s counterparts to pick up. — R.C.
13. Robyn, Body Talk (2013)
“If you’re an outsider, you can always find a club where there’s other people feeling the way you do,” Robyn told SPIN in 2010 while promoting Body Talk from the set of Gossip Girl. The Stateside teen fluke turned Swedish pop icon reclaimed our shores on her seventh album by speaking directly to the inner monologue of wallflowers, loners, and led-on souls she’d rather party with anyway. No 2010s dance-pop triumph had better songwriting – or more astute clubbing observations, right down to the “bad kissers clicking teeth” on “We Dance to the Beat.” Sometimes she’s downright minor-key: “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” made a rhythm out of life’s headaches, and the ominous, Röyksopp-paired ragga “None of Dem” tapped into the simmering resentment of one’s predictable predicament. The album’s career-making Mona Lisas, though, are the aching, bittersweet “Call Your Girlfriend,” wherein those glowing synth chords help the other woman coach her flame to gently break it off with his girl, and the flip — “Dancing on My Own” — wherein a heartbroken singleton finds comfort under the warmth of strobe lights. — J.L.
12. Danny Brown, XXX (2011)
The idiosyncratic Detroit MC’s breakthrough delivered as advertised: A profane quadruple shalom of pathos, poverty, partying, and no-holds-barred comedy rap in the vein of pre-ubiquity Eminem. It was difficult to say with certainty whether Danny Brown would survive any given banger, or whether he even wanted to; anyone who went four or five rounds with XXX unlocked a brilliant narrative portmanteau linking chemical excesses to their sociological roots. But it’s also worth noting there’d never been a hip-hop star quite like him, peeling off verses in a strangled, corkscrew yelp or a braying bark. Each segue seemed to begin before the last one had a chance to end.
Other rappers didn’t look or act like him. He’d conked his hair, rode hard for 1990s alt-rock touchstones, and even sounded charming as he declared “no apologies for all the misogyny.” And while Brown sold assertions like “I’m Ferris Bueller with Frank Muellers / Ya blank shooters on stank hooters / I’m in Aruba, sipping wine coolers” with Adderaled conviction, his influence on the decade that came down to a profound fearlessness, in championing outré production, skinny jeans that got him rejected from G-Unit, and the free mixtape as a sink-or-swim calling card. — R.C.
11. Burial, Tunes 2010-2019 (2019)
It’s been over a decade since Burial was unmasked as mild-mannered British homebody William Bevan, who insisted via MySpace that “im a lowkey person and i just want to make some tunes, nothing else.” Well, in the 11th hour of the 2010s, he did finally give us Tunes, a compilation of the most essential non-album tracks by anyone in the last decade. Following 2007’s landmark Untrue, these miniature epics have mostly come in the form of increasingly ambitious EPs that pushed the boundaries of his atmospheric, trip-hop-informed garage shuffles.
This 150-minute Christmas gift re-sequences nearly all of that work into a stunning (and deservedly long) narrative that reveals the quietly profound and wide-ranging achievement of this notoriously reclusive legend behind the boards. The reshuffled six tracks that comprise 2012’s frenetic Kindred and 2013’s uplifting, even pop-aware Rival Dealer are the cornerstones, defining Burial’s bespoke blend of two-step and house overlaid by various rained-out ambiences. But the entirety of Tunes 2010-2019, awash in warm vinyl static and peppered with field recordings, is essential listening for understanding the current landscape of electronic music and some of the darkest comfort food your ears will ever consume. Many artists offer hope in a hopeless world. Burial builds his own hopeless world from scratch and imbues it with hope. — J.P.B.