Slow Motion Panic Masters' Top 100 Albums of the 2010s
The world is crumbling. Between hyper-militarised police brutality, a global pandemic and an Australian forest fire that you probably forgot even happened this year, 2020 hasn't exactly offered up an optimistic look towards this new decade that we find ourselves in. While we continue dismantling the establishment from the ground up, however, let's cast our eyes back to the 2010s...
Pokémon pushed us all outdoors for an entire summer, England nearly went to a World Cup Final and Jeremy Lin briefly became the greatest basketball player of all time. Best of all, there wasn't a single instance of political controversy. Nope. I can't even remember anything even slightly outrageous happening between 2010 and 2019. Truly it was a harmonious decade without police brutality or political dishonesty - just an endlessly happy decade insulated in the warm embrace of global governments protecting their citizens from harm.
Now that some months have passed however, now is an excellent time for a deep dive into the music of such a utopic decade. Allow us to present:
Slow Motion Panic Masters'
Top 100 Albums of the 2010s
- Content Warning: naughty words and nudity -
(including one penis, lol)
- 100-91 -
The wonderfully sincere Down The Way from Australia's soft-folk siblings Angus & Julia Stone opens out our list at #100, followed up by the charismatic rap chameleon Princess Nokia and 1992 Deluxe. Does thrash-metal-inspired flamenco guitar music sound interesting? Of course it does. Go listen to Rodrigo y Gabriela's 2014 LP 9 Dead Alive to experience it for yourself.
Without Mac Demarco, a whole generation of slackers might never have picked up a guitar, and his style was perfected on studio debut 2, while Dirty Projectors returned with a well-considered reinvention on their 2017 self-titled LP. Don't miss out on Robyn's killer electro-pop album Body Talk for some of the decade's best pop music, and rest assured that Modern Baseball's uber-efficient blast of Philadelphian indie-punk on Holy Ghost will not be the last album from 2016 featured on this list (spoiler alert: it was a very good year for music).
Scottish singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini reinvented himself *extraordinarily* into a soul-funk style with Caustic Love while Songs of Praise pushed Shame forward as an essential voice in the UK post-punk revival of the late 2010s. At #91, The Internet proved in 2015 with Ego Death that even with the demise of Odd Future, it's members were poised to go on to dominate the world of music in the years to follow.
- 90-81 -
Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit And Think... announced the Aussie DIY rockstar as an utterly distinct creative force for the 2010's. Magma is angry, foreboding and intimidating - everything you want from a Gojira record, and at #88 Tyler, the Creator opened up both sonically and emotionally with (Scum Fuck) Flower Boy. Despite not featuring on our list for the best albums of 2019, Billie Eilish and WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? cannot be ignored for its widespread successes and innovative approach to production and songwriting, and, if you want to hear genuinely beautiful music, through Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla's masterful, flamenco guitar-led instrumental score to 2013's The Last of Us there is an unmissable sonic satisfaction on offer.
At #85, Grammy-award nominated rock album Sound & Color marked Alabama Shakes and lead vocalist Brittany Howard as deserving recipients of critical attention in 2015, and the LP still sounds every bit as confident and incomprehensibly tight as it did five years ago. Childish Gambino perhaps underwent the most incredibly stylistic shift of any artist in the decade with his Funkadelic-inspired sex-soul odyssey "Awaken, My Love!" in 2016, even if (like Tame Impala's Currents at #84) the album was largely carried by the quality of three or four phenomenal singles rather than a constant stream of songwriting perfection. PJ Harvey delivered an impressively crafted LP with her eighth studio record Let England Shake, and lastly A Tribe Called Quest said goodbye with 2016's We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, being one of the finest final albums in hip-hop history and a fitting tribute to the late Phife Dawg.
- 80-71 -
At #80, Wolf Alice and Visions Of A Life stood out as yet another emerging talent from upstart UK label Dirty Hit in 2017. Another Australian talent stood out with Julia Jacklin's Don't Let The Kids Win; a wondrous country/western styled expression of malaise and optimism delivered through Jacklin's achingly beautiful vocal style. #78 has New Zealand guitar-virtuoso Ruben Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) further demonstrating his songwriting acumen on 2015's Multi-Love while #77 sees Dirty Hit appear again with their flagship record-breakers The 1975 embracing Duran Duran and shiny synthesizers on the egregiously titled I Like It When You Sleep For I Am So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (more like The *1985*, am I right! Why are you booing me?).
Angel Olson's MY WOMAN was an accomplished combination of indie rock and talented singer/songwriter ability in 2016. Above that, sexiness and shiny teeth reigned supreme on Anderson .Paak's 2016 LP Malibu, deservedly earning its position at #75. IGOR needs very little introduction. Tyler, the Creator ended the decade with his finest album to date, while Saskatchewan's most endearing weirdo Andy Shauf charmed us all with his socially-inept concept album The Party, combining gorgeous instrumentation with some of the most devastatingly melancholic songwriting of the decade. Natalia Lafourcade's second volume of Musas fused traditional Mexican songwriting with Lafourcade's pitch-perfect vocal delivery in 2018, arriving deservedly at #72 on our list. Drake dominated the decade, but compared to the bloated and repetitive Views, Nothing Was The Same remains an excellent project, featuring 'Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2'; certainly one of the finest hip-hop instrumentals of the decade.
- 70-61 -
Mali's Songhoy Blues continued their obscenely exciting guitar work on Résistance with the performances of Garba Touré among the greatest of the 2010's. Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer is ambitious as hell, and stuck the landing without fault. Thank SMPM's Spanish contributors for the recognition of Rosalía's El Mal Querer as an unmissable LP fusion of Catalan flamenco and experimental R&B, and don't let it pass you by. The #67 spot belongs to an album that many of you might have gone without hearing, but shouldn't do any longer. Adult Jazz's Gist Is is a brilliant expression of experimental singer/songwriter stylings and deserves your undivided attention.
Michael Kiwanuka's Kiwanuka was our fifth favourite album of last year, and the return of The Avalanches in 2016 with Wildflower had me shouting "AH FRANKIE SINATRA" to a fucking Tuba line. At #64 Open Mike Eagle's Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is one of the decade's best underground hip-hop releases, revelling in MF DOOM-reminiscence and achingly vulnerable lyrical genius. Kojey Radical did something silly on 2019's Cashmere Years, but Chance the Rapper really doesn't get the respect he deserved for his endearing mixtape/LP Coloring Book. It is filled relentlessly with exceptionally charming songwriting from a (former) wonderkid and we just hope that Chance can return to the style that made his project so entirely enjoyable in 2016. Then at #61, the ground-shaking yellow dress of Lemonade showed a side to Beyoncé beyond(é) anything the artist had attempted prior, completing what to many represents her finest LP.
- 60-51 -
Big Thief's 2016 debut Masterpiece is a soft and sensitive record of singer-songwriter/indie-rock, and is in excellent company alongside Palace and So Long Forever: one of the most optimistically beautiful break-up LP's of all time. In 2012, the world's newest hipster phenomenons arrived on the scene with alt-J's debut record An Awesome Wave, and awesome, it was. Flying Lotus's Cosmogramma is of course among the most influential projects of the decade with its masterful experimentation with hip-hop instrumentals and jazz composition, while the spirit of blues rock lived on through Brothers and The Black Keys.
There is absolutely no-one that sounds like Danny Brown. Atrocity Exhibition is a tour de force of aggression, experimentation and frenetic energy. At #54, politics, totalvoetball and post-punk shoutiness fused into the downright phenomenal Wide Awake! from Parquet Courts while Canadian pop-experimentalist U.S. Girls, blasted onto the scene with 2018's In A Poem Unlimited. JPEGMafia is a genius, and Veteran is a sensational record of glitchy instrumentation and relentless energy but, just missing out on the top 50, Travis Scott's Rodeo remains perhaps one of the most significant records of the 2010s in terms of its influence on the style of so many of Scott's copycats. It stands out as a seismic moment for the history of trap and hip-hop, embarking into psych-rock influences and delivering phenomenal songs like 'Antidote', '90210' and the exceptional 'Maria I'm Drunk' to mainstream success.
- 50 -
Gil Scott Heron’s final album is the end of a remarkable journey. Gil’s low voice and soulful production had dealt with a magnitude of political issues such as oppression, exploitation, racism, and nuclear power throughout his career, where his earlier projects had dealt with exterior societal issues, I’m New Here used the personal to paint the political, paying tribute to the women who shaped him into the person he was, his struggles with addiction and the evils of life - furnishing autobiographical recollections of his darkest moments in his final LP.
Scott-Heron sounded astonishingly adaptable over a fresh new sound; his voice buzzing over the sparsely minimalist production of XL producer Richard Russell. Here, Gil is an insomniac, a restless person who feels isolated, lonely, on a project that fittingly sounds unlike anything else. The sampling of Kanye West’s ‘Flashing Lights’ is a nod back to Kanye’s sampling of Heron's own “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” hook, and the poet's widely celebrated recognition as the father of hip hop.
Yet, in spite of all the pain, all the struggle and darkness that the album secretes, Gil feels larger than life, formidable and as prolific a poet as ever. I’m New Here is a breath-taking final project from an artist that needs no introduction. It is at once beautiful and haunting, and provides the perfect album for any contemporary listener to begin tracing back through his discography. Which they definitely should. If you want to read more about the legacy of Gil, and his immense contemporary importance, start here. When you're done with that, start listening to I'm New Here immediately.
- FIN COUSINS
- 49 -
Shields was the definitive evolution of an incredible band and an ambitious excavation of loneliness that paid off extraordinarily well in 2012. Opening with 'Sleeping Ute' Grizzly Bear's fourth record spoke of restless nights, paired with a restless beat that only calms down at the tracks end. Was that sleep at last? Maybe, but if it was then it was awoken instantly with 'Speak in Rounds', riling itself up into a frenzy; while the lyrics actually demanded to "learn how to be alone". It is a sombre conclusion nestled within music that grows faster instead of holding us still into the moment. And that contradiction, somehow, is what makes the song, and the album itself, so memorable.
The fantastic 'Yet Again' saw Droste weave through a plural melancholy, and that’s the sweetness of this song: How a plural experience can coexist within a general loneliness. How navigating relationships leaves us alone with the aftermath. 'The Hunt' is a sudden break from the last hectic sonic moments of 'Yet Again', one that fits well with Shields’ emotional scope. 'gun-shy' is sensory overload, feeling like a musical representation of hearing voices. It’s haunted. Possibly by Droste’s painful struggle with tinnitus.
Shields is lyrically beautiful. There are other moments that could have gotten to me more, but it is this honest nugget that does more than others. It shows the evolution that the tracks bring you to on this journey through the album; loneliness is messy. It can be deafening when you’re trying to connect and can’t. Closing with the scorchingly epic 'Sun In Your Eyes', the final lyrics "So bright so long, I'm never coming back" left listeners feeling almost uncomfortable after a record full of such deeply personal introspection. So much so for wanting to have the last word!
- MARIA ORLANDO
- 48 -
Our fourth favourite album of 2019 (though now leapfrogging Kojey Radical in our estimates), The Japanese House's gorgeous debut album Good At Falling stands out as the true peak of UK independent label Dirty Hit's incredible output through the 2010s. Though it may seem overshadowed by the immeasurably scale of label-mates Wolf Alice or The 1975, the music of songwriter Amber Bain is quite entirely its own creature, and Good At Falling stands in a league of its own.
Co-produced between Bain, The 1975's George Daniel and BJ Burton (22, A Million, Bambi, How I'm Feeling Now) TJH's album features some of indie-pop's most phenomenally well-produced music, sounding astonishingly tight between roaring synthesizers and the cracks of meticulously refined snares. Good At Falling combines traditional indie tropes with rich textures and soundscapes, laced with Bain’s intimate and introspective lyricism. Seemingly infinite layers of percussion, diegetic audio and sung vocals accompany nearly every track but it never grows stale.
The project grows more and more interesting as the record progresses, with Bain’s love for harmonies continually highlighted with a scale of vocal stacking beyond even that of Billie Eilish record. Even when Bain sings with minimal effects her voice is still excellent, rather than just covering up with sounds to hide a below-average vocal performance, embraced playfully with the purposeful imperfections of the surprisingly inclusion of 'Saw You In A Dream' as a perfect epilogue to the album. ‘Maybe You’re The Reason’ displays one of my all time favourite guitar tones. Dreamy and ornate, this opening track (barre an intro) truly sets the scene for Bain’s heavenly world. Whether its a ballad, an acoustic cut or electronic-fused indie pop, there isn’t a single dud. Good At Falling is an incredible record, let alone a debut.
- JAMES MELLEN
- 47 -
The first (and still the only) video game to score a Grammy nomination, what Austin Wintory achieved in his compositions for thatgamecompany's 2012 masterpiece Journey is among the most lusciously constructed instrumental soundtracks ever created. Led by Tina Guo's virtuosic solo cello performance, what is contained within Wintory's masterful creation is endlessly playful, meditative and vast. Even removed from the game, to which we awarded a spot on our list of the greatest video games of the last decade, what can be enjoyed through the orchestral meanderings is so inexpressible in words that you simply must sit down and listen to it in order to appreciate how infinitely calming the music of Journey is.
Journey is a work of genius in combining motif, theme and instrumentation in order to fashion together an album that totally represents everything its accompanying game stands for. Better yet, the game that Journey became simply would not exist without Wintory, with the music and the game combining in a beautiful symbiosis, completing each other to a faultless degree. It is utterly transcendent, and the best way to experience this gorgeous composition is by playing the game itself, but listening to the album on spotify is certainly an exceptional experience on its own.
- BEN WHEADON
- 46 -
The Life of Pablo is still an immensely popular album from the ever-metamorphosising Kanye West. Released in 2016, Kanye delivers songs with an impressive consistency of quality, furnished with the help of an unbelievably accomplished list of features (Rihanna, Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper just to name a few), on what is an impressively realised, yet simultaneously accessible project.
At its core, the album contains a dark duality that Mr. West needs the listener to feel. On one hand, Kanye is back to his peak wankerism with songs like ‘Famous’, unapologetically taking credit for Taylor Swift's artistic achievement by way of his TMZ-shaking stunt back in 2009. Yet, on the other hand, Kanye produces stunning gospel-inspired tracks like ‘Ultralight Beam’ in which he expresses an unwavering faith in God and the beauty of spirituality.
Though certain songs like ‘Facts’ and (Father Stretch My Hands) 'Pt. 2' fall flat with Kanye sounding astonishingly vapid, even by his standards, some of this artist's absolute best work is to be found on The Life of Pablo. The fact that Kanye West was able to channel his creativity into songs of the quality of 'No More Parties In LA', '30 Hours' and 'Fade' this far into his career proves that his seventh studio album remains a great contribution to the legacies of Kanye West, and amongst the very best of his work.
- ALEX KUTSCHER
- 45 -
There it is. Chekhov's penis.
Death Grips had a year in 2012. Not to give spoilers for other albums that *may* feature further down this list, but for the group to release two phenomenal LPs within six months of each other is astounding, and No Love Deep Web is just one half of the group's exceptional output that year.
Let's not fuck about here. Hip-Hop changed with the emergence of Death Grips. Combining aggressively abrasive drum performances from Zach Hill (fun fact: it's his penis on the cover art!), keyboard avant-garder Andy Morin and the relentlessly irate MC Ride, Death Grips are exhaustingly combative in their music making, and landed with a seismic significance on the world of rap.
Before Yeezus, before Veteran, before Atrocity Exhibition, there was No Love Deep Web. Crossing punk, noise rock, hip-hop and more, Death Grips are still trend-setters and on the frontiers of musical invention, eight years on. This album will make your ears bleed as much as it's cover might do the same to your eyes, but it's just so, so enjoyable to endure the auditory assault that this group offers to you.
- BEN WHEADON
- 44 -
Bjork is Icelandic marmite. You are either going to have a good time with 2017's Utopia, or you're not going to understand how anyone could possibly enjoy it. Bjork has never been an artist much interested in making universally loved music, instead dedicating her career to some of the most groundbreaking experimental compositions in the realm of popular music, and Utopia is a phenomenal addition to her discography.
Working alongside co-producer Arca, the flute-led expanses of this album are eye-watering in execution. The intricacies of this album's creativity fold into itself, spiralling down into an endless expanse of meaning and artistic intention, and it's all there to be explored for the listeners that will take the time to pull apart its messages.
Following 2015's exceptional Vulcinura, an album dedicated to depicting the disintegration of a relationship, the romantic optimism of Utopia offers a wonderful second act to that 2015 album. Swirling together amongst soft woodwind instrumentation and Bjork's distinctive delivery, the emotions on Utopia soar so brilliantly. It is just one more feather in her Icelandic cap, and is a beautifully compelling listen for those that will allow themselves to be consumed by it.
- BEN WHEADON
- 43 -
Considering how often the idea of 'love' forms the basis of songwriting, it's surprising that so few albums have been directly dedicated to exploring the intricacies of love itself. Enter Father John Misty and 2015's I Love You, Honeybear, and one of the greatest love albums ever written.
After quitting his post as drummer for indie folk gargantuans Fleet Foxes in the early days of 2012, Josh Tillman's subsequent reinvention of his solo career underneath the moniker of FJM demonstrated his potential with his debut record Fear Fun, but it was in 2015 where his talents truly demonstrated themselves. Lavishly describing the beauty of a loving relationship, I Love You, Honeybear is relentlessly sincere, self-aware, playful and emotionally abundant. From the overwhelming passions of its title track, to the infinitely intimate closing moments of 'I Went to the Store One Day' the experiences within this album convey precisely how it feels to attach yourself to another, so much so that the album itself almost seems to wonderfully mirror the personal romantics of whoever comes to listen to it:
Insert here a sentiment re: our golden years
All 'cause I went to the store one day:
"Seen you around, what's your name?"
Tillman has a gifted ability to express himself through his songwriting, and it is on I Love You, Honeybear that the artist arguably best struck the balance between accessible and enjoyable folk songwriting and an utterly enviable ability to perfectly describe not only his own experiences, but the wider experiences of love that everyone can recognise some element of themselves reflected in.
- BEN WHEADON
- 42 -
This album is nuts. An oroboros of heavy psych-rock, if Australia's King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard could be defined by anything it would be that they do precisely *nothing* by half measures. With this album already Gizz's eighth studio LP at the time of its release in 2016 (there have been seven since) Nonagon Infinity was for many listeners an introduction to the world of the Gizz, and it still stands out as an essential rock album of the 2010s.
Creating the album with an aim to craft an LP that wraps around itself, flowing seamlessly between every track, and then seamlessly again from its final track back around to its opener, very quickly listeners can find Nonagon inescapable in its thundering riffs, jet-propelled tempos and Stu Mackenzie's inexplicable screams of "BIG FIG WASP" and "ROBOT STOP". It is relentless. It is blistering. It is an angry sea urchin of demonic motivations. It is an album with two whole drum kits, playing at the same damn time.
Nonagon Infinity is fun, fast, and it just fucking rocks. You cannot keep still to 'Robot Stop' or 'Gamma Knife', and you simply cannot listen to 'People Vultures' without enjoying yourself.
Just sit back and embrace the Gizz.
- BEN WHEADON
- 41 -
Few albums emerged from the decade as instantly iconic as Arctic Monkeys' 2013 reinvention AM. Returning from what is widely considered their most dull record with 2011's Suck It And See, the stylistic metamorphosis that Alex Turner and co. engineered with AM is now the stuff of indie rock legend, and bagged the Sheffield foursome their first proper breakthrough into the American airwaves - transforming the band from UK record-breakers into a colossus of leather jackets, 1950's hair style revivals and utterly iconic basslines.
The story is well known now. Arctic Monkeys release 'R U Mine?' in early 2012, love it, and set out to make an album that squeezed every drip of versatility from its irrepressibly sexy vibrations. What followed was an LP that, while sonically did little to experiment beyond the sounds established on 'R U Mine?', managed to craft together some of the most iconic rock songs of the 21st century - packaged together in what is arguably the Monkeys' most consistently exceptional record from song to sensual song. And, after all. The album just doesn't miss. 'Do I Wanna Know?' Yes. 'Knee Socks'? Yes. That solo on 'Arabella'? YES. The album is sensational, front to bottom and a worthy addition to the Arctic Monkeys' very best LPs.
- BEN WHEADON
- 40 -
Right, I know I have some explaining to do. For a great deal of people this is the greatest album of the decade. For some it is among the greatest of all time. But I just don't see it.
Don't get me wrong, I love Kanye West, and I really like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but when people claim it's a perfect, transcendent record, I can't agree. I'm no expert, these are just the opinions of some white guy an ocean away from the true cultural significances of this record after all, but I remain unconvinced of MBDTF's genius. Are some of Kanye's greatest song's within this project? Yes. Does it mark a revolutionary shift in Kanye's creative style? Definitely. Is it an artistic masterpiece? I just don't think so.
I'm probably summoning the ire of Kanye West fans for this opinion on MBDTF, but I am very glad to see some other people ranking the album as one of the 2010's greatest. There's a lot of incredibly interesting things going on in this record, but personally there's a few too many misses on it that push down the album's quality. It's a great album, but for us at SMPM it is far from perfect. Anyway, I'll just keep listening to those piano notes on 'Runaway' and shut up for now.
edit: Kanye West is running for president. I don't know how I can possibly even begin to respond to that, so I just won't bother. MBDTF great, MBDTPOTUS please god no.
- BEN WHEADON
- 39 -
As much as it is an undeniable cliché to declare my love for the Oxfordshire Alt-Rock legends, it has to be appreciated that Radiohead are one of the most important bands in popular music history, and are one of the few groups that can rival The Beatles when it comes to the sheer scale of their groundbreaking achievements.
When you've created records as phenomenal as OK Computer, Kid A and In Rainbows though, it's pretty hard for Radiohead to live up to the legacy that they have constructed behind themselves, but with A Moon Shaped Pool in 2016, the group added to their phenomenal discography by producing an LP that pushed their sound into new and interesting realms, all while justifying that Radiohead still had music left that was worth listening to.
The release of 'Burn The Witch' along with an iconic music video retelling the plot of The Wicker Man via Trumpton stop-motion announced A Moon Shaped Pool as a new sound, but still emblematic of everything that 'makes' Radiohead. The paranoia of Hail To The Thief and the melancholy of The Bends are here, but in being produced with the same level of consistent quality as Radiohead's best albums, A Moon Shaped Pool is a totally worthwhile continuation of their incredible output.
- BEN WHEADON
- 38 -
If this album was a party manifesto, a lot of the country would've voted for IDLES.
Defiantly refusing the toxic constrictions of 'masculinity', what Joy as an Act of Resistance managed to say went so far beyond the music itself. It is Joe Talbot telling men it's alright to grieve, to have bad days and to cry. Twisting together the hyper-intensity of post-punk performance and the sensitivity of 21st century progressivism, this album is a political triumph becoming all the more significant with every year that passes.
I wrote my dissertation on the legacies of punk rock and how this album can serve to contextualise the entire history of gender politics in punk. I won't hassle you with a lecture right now, but just know this: There has never been a band that talked about masculinity quite like how IDLES managed it in 2018, and that's not even *touching* upon the incalculable intelligence of this LP's other political interests.
With Bristol proving itself recently again to be at the very heart of the world's progressive movements this summer, IDLES are increasingly demonstrating themselves as one of the most important bands in the world. Fighting austerity, sexism and men with perms, nothing goes unnoticed by IDLES, and it's all expressed with such infectious energy. Add to that some of the most exciting guitar-led music of the decade and you have an album that's phenomenally politically informed and phenomenally musically constructed. Downright unmissable.
- BEN WHEADON
- 37 -
2017 was the year of BROCKHAMPTON. After taking on the seemingly impossible task of three LPs in one year, the LA boyband solidified themselves as one of the most exciting groups in hip-hop, as well as pop music. The final act in their now hailed SATURATION trilogy, Saturation III is hit after hit.
The BH gang proved they were here to redefine what it meant to be a boyband. Never before had a band cited their two biggest influences as One Direction and Kanye West, but due to how close-knit the members (and then housemates) existed, the sonic chemistry stands impeccably. Each vocal performance transitions to the next seamlessly, and the way the artists engage with the instrumentals underneath them demonstrates just how much work and effort went into this project. Little references to previous SATURATION records, like how the outro of 'TEAM' would fade into 1 opener 'HEAT', make this record feel like the perfect end to a trilogy that would catapult BH to superstardom.
- JAMES MELLEN
- 36 -
LCD Soundsystem’s third LP is a hard one to pin down. It is a post-punk/art rock/electronic dance album that is at times playful, at times sad, and at times deeply frustrated and even angry. However, it is precisely within the experimental and changeable nature of This Is Happening's tracklist that makes it so very laudable. Its complex instrumentals, chock full of weighty synths and reverberating basses, carry frontman James Murphy’s vision forward through an intricate exploration of human relationships and connections; of boozy nights out, failed relationships and music-industry negotiations. ‘You Wanted a Hit’ rebels against the production of music solely to appeal to mass markets, ‘Pow Pow’ examines Murphy’s musical and evolution since his early punk days, and ‘I Can Change’ deals with the desperation that can arise when a loved one leaves, the conviction of a wounded loner who is willing to put their very identity on the line when love is involved - indeed, the conviction that “love is a murderer”.
Alongside its punk-inspired lyrical complexity though, LCD Soundsystem’s dance influences also care a great deal about making you dance. This is Happening’s opening track, ‘Dance Yrself Clean’, shatters its long, muffled build-up with a now iconic-ly electrifying drop, packed with heavy synths and strong percussion that is sure to get you on the dancefloor. ‘Drunk Girls’, with its dark humour and unrelenting guitars, will make sure you stay there.
Borrowing from, transforming, and reinterpreting rock legends like Talking Heads and David Bowie, Murphy managed to make This is Happening something fun, unique, and powerful, a fantastic example of what a dancing post-punk masterpiece can look like in the modern age.
- AINHOA SANTOS GOICOECHEA
- 35 -
I'll say exactly what I did back in December of 2019: I didn't like Lana Del Rey. I found her music repetitive, relentlessly depicting an image of ultimate New York upper class privilege; fuelled by Nabokov and funded by a father in the record industry. I could see the appeal, and I'm not one to cast aspersions on whatever music people enjoy, but Lana Del Rey always made me feel at least a little gross (which was re-awoken after the recent anti-blackness of her twitter tirades).
Back in 2019 however, I was totally won over by the music of Norman Fucking Rockwell! It's absolutely one of the best pop records the decade had to offer, but I think the greatest testament to the LP's qualities resides in the sheer amount of former 'haters' that had their head turned by this album. I am absolutely not the only person to have finally been convinced of Lana Del Rey's capabilities by her 2019 album, and if even I could love this Lana Del Rey album, I don't know who out there could possibly hate it.
- BEN WHEADON
- 34 -
"What's up guys? You are now listening to, uhhhh.... Car Seat Headrest!"
Car Seat Headrest's Will Toledo was a defining creative voice for music in the 2010's. In a decade that would increasingly become consumed by exciting creative voices of an internet-led, DIY bedroom-produced movement, Car Seat Headrest emerged as an early breakthrough of a youthful indie style. Releasing a slew of unique and self-made solo LP's, the recording of Teens Of Denial marked a moment of tangible maturation from Toledo and the birth of his best project to date.
Still true to the lo-fi honesty of his earlier material, Toledo's songwriting on this LP fused CSH's stylistic sound with tight, refined production, creating an album equal parts exceptionally tight and irrepressibly distinct. The majesty of Teens Of Denial's exceptional lyricism jumped out time and time again, but what remained most constant throughout the impactful guitar rock of this album are Toledo's desires to express the realities of depression.
Through the astounding 'Fill In The Blank', the meandering 'Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales' and lyrics describing "a portrait of Van Gogh on the Wikipedia page for clinical depression" on 'Vincent', few artists have encapsulated the difficulties of depression like Will Toledo and Car Seat Headrest, and even fewer did it this well in the 2010's. Teens of Denial is a sensational demonstration of just how impressive this songwriter is, and deserves all the acclaim that it has accumulated in the past few years.
- BEN WHEADON
- 33 -
Written as a memorial to his late mother, Sufjan Steven’s seventh studio album is widely considered his best. A masterpiece in subtle lyricism, Carrie & Lowell is a candid narrative of Steven’s fractured relationship with an absent mother, but it is also a reflection on death, love, faith, addiction, forgiveness, and loneliness all wrapped up in soft folk compositions and intimately fragile vocals.
The gentle string sounds and weaving harmonies that compose songs like ‘Death With Dignity’ and ‘Should Have Known Better’ lend their beauty to the depth of feeling in lines such as “I forgive you mother” and “When I was three, three, maybe four / She left us at that video store”. Similarly, the ginger simplicity of ‘Fourth of July’s piano coupled with the song’s morbid closing vocals: “We’re all gonna die”, made for a song as comforting as it was sad, a feeling echoed by the lyrics:
“I love you more than the world can contain
In its lonely and ramshackle head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking, I'm dead”
from ‘John My Beloved’ - lines as heartfelt as they are heartbreaking. In all its delicacy, Carrie & Lowell is an album that sings of abandonment, trauma, and depression without neglecting the soothing effect's of beauty; the impact love, hope, and hindsight can have in coming to terms with grief.
- AINHOA SANTOS GOICOECHEA
- 32 -
The Epic isn't just the best "traditional" jazz album of the decade, it is a monumentally significant LP in the recent history of the genre. Led by the generationally gifted talent of Kamasi Washington, The Epic is an astonishingly massive declaration of a "Change of the Guard" in the history of jazz music. While it isn't a groundbreaking or revolutionary record, sticking closely to the sounds and styles of traditional Jazz, Washington's major label debut nonetheless proved the announcement of this musician as one of the 21st centuries most important jazz voices, and the delivery of its best LP.
I don't know anyone who's actually listened to all three hours of The Epic in one sitting, considering its vinyl release necessitates *three* LPs, but in truth I don't think this is an album best enjoyed by powering through it relentlessly. This is an album that you enjoy, pause, and fold the page corner for - returning a few days later, taking each of its ten minute jazz odysseys one at a time. Listen to 'The Rhythm Changes' to get a sense of what this 3xLP has to offer - I don't think you'll be underwhelmed. In truth, Kamasi Washington's follow up project Heaven and Earth is similarly deserving of praise but when it comes to the decade's great albums, you simply cannot look past the cosmic gravitational obscenity that is The Epic.
- BEN WHEADON
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If Courtney Barnett's first record was fun, rough-nosed and a little naive, then 2018's Tell Me How You Really Feel should be seen as the perfect development of one of the most impressive emerging talents of the decade.
Where the first album kicked the door down with the thumping anti-corporate anthem 'Elevator Operator', Barnett's second does the total opposite. Unfurling with a slow, unsettling drone, 'Hopefulessness' is a statement of intent. Emotionally it hits with a phenomenal sense of maturity, but with an even greater emotional vulnerability than anything achieved before it. Building in intensity, this opener is, in my opinion, the best five minutes of music the Aussie sensation has produced so far, which is a great compliment when considering that her exceptional collaboration with Kurt Vile in 2017 was also a great release from the decade. It is crafted with a lyrical immediacy surely enviable by any other of the decade's great songwriters, and should be seen as the standard from which all of Barnett's music should strive to match from now on.
- BEN WHEADON
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Jesus, 2016 really was great for music. We're not even in the top 30 yet, but with albums like Nonagon Infinity, A Moon Shaped Pool, Teens of Denial and so on, its clear to see why 2016 in particular has amassed such a reputation as one of the greatest years in the history of album making. Solange better not be ignored from that conversation.
A Seat At The Table sounds so effortless, but it's clear that Solange accessed the deepest recesses of her heart to withdraw the music of this album. Contemplating the experiences of African American identity and the position of women through her music, the songs of A Seat At The Table are unified by just how wise the wandering thoughts of this artist prove to be. Listening to the record, its impossible not to hang on every syllable that Solange breathes life into. If 2016 is to continue to be recognised as one of the most politically significant years of the (still young) 21st century, albums like A Seat At The Table need to be read alongside as one of the most crucial expressions of that year's political landscapes from an intimately personal perspective. It's brilliant.
- BEN WHEADON
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Baloji's 137 Avenue Kaniama is quite probably the most under-appreciated hip-hop record of the decade. Born from the life experiences of the Congolese-Belgian artist, the fusion of stylistic and continental influences on this album transcends the "one-inch high" barriers of its non-anglophone lyricism and language. Describing this record as 'Hip-Hop' is reductive though. In truth, 137 Avenue Kaniama is the product of Baloji's unique connections, absorbing the styles of European and African songmaking, resulting in one of the most distinctive albums of the decade.
Each song enjoys and celebrates the synthesis of a wide ranging collection of sounds. Along with the influences of the artist's upbringing in Liège, the genius of 137 Avenue Kaniama can be found in its fusion of a plethora of rhythms and melodies sourced from different African musical identities. Congolese influences are audible throughout, but at times it feels as if the breadth of African songwriting speaks through Baloji's experimental approach. Songs like 'Ensemble (Wesh)', 'Soleil de voit' and 'Tropisme: Start-Up' combine West African guitar concepts, western hip-hop cadences, a multitude of different beats from various African traditions and an incredible ability to shift between tempos and song structures with unbelievable success.
Additionally, the artistic direction that accompanied Baloji's exceptional 2018 album is downright astonishing. Connecting incredible set design, fashion and photography, I highly recommend looking through a few shots from the 137 Avenue Kaniama era of Baloji's music. Check out some of the incredible shots from 'Peau de Chagrin' as published by GRIOT in 2018 and the short film 'Zombies', one of the best music videos that the decade had to offer.
Baloji is amazing, and 137 Avenue Kaniama is just one demonstration of how much excellent music you can miss out on if you don't open yourself up to the music of different languages. It's one of the decade's best albums, even if I have to read translations whenever I listen to it.
- BEN WHEADON
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Ah shit, this album is so cool. UK phenomenon FKA Twigs released her debut full length LP1 back in 2014, and still remains as one of the most interesting artists in the UK ever since. Seeing Arca listed on the production credits (with Twigs herself managing the bulk of the record's production) is unsurprising, as this album is full of exciting forays into experimental sounds and aural oddities, but where Arca's production could often be imposing or purposefully jarring, on LP1 the record's forays into jagged-edged sounds serve only to accentuate the album's quietly emotional introspection.
This album defies description in many ways, it's not really much use trying to put into words the soundscapes achieved on LP1, but just know that they evoke the soaring emotional highs and the despondent lows of FKA Twigs with a faultless capability to pull the listener in a million different directions at once. 'Lights On' is one of my favourite songs of the decade, and, if you haven't listened to it yet, I bet it could be yours too. Go listen to this album.
- BEN WHEADON
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One of three albums that I wrote about *obsessively* during my time at university, Earl Sweatshirt cemented his place in the tapestry of hip-hop history on Some Rap Songs with a surprisingly experimental continuation of Sweatshirt's honest lyrical approach. Written as the reconciliation of a son with a lost father, Thebe Kgositsile's album rejected preconception and put forward a nuanced and frenetic expression of doubt, grief, optimism and uplift; all packaged within a tight 25 minute run time.
Like with Joy as an Act of Resistance, I have to restrain myself from regurgitating my essays on this album here, but know this: the intricate philosophies and emotional vulnerability of Some Rap Songs remains *so* unique in the pantheon of hip-hop music history. Reflecting on life experiences both in remembering the past and forgiving in the present, the strange approach Sweatshirt took to the music with skittish samples and uneasy beats fuses so utterly harmoniously with the lyricism of this project. This album sounds odd, particularly following the relatively traditional approach of Sweatshirt's earlier work, but this isn't Death Grips-ian "blow the fucking speakers up" weird.
Something altogether more subtle, Some Rap Songs fades in and out of view. It fluctuates unpredictably with lightning quick two minute songs, constantly flickering between totally different moods and atmospheres, managed largely by the staggering imagination of its approach to production. This is one of the most distinct LPs of the 2010s, and when you can interact with the context of Earl Sweatshirt's personal history there is an inexpressable amount of heart-aching story telling weaved within this rapper's incredibly efficient lyrical style. Odd Future are responsible for some of the most impressive figures in the landscape of popular music at the moment, but Some Rap Songs might just be the best hip-hop album that ever emerged from the collective.
- BEN WHEADON
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If one word could best encapsulate ANTI it would probably be sensual. Shifting from colossal pop tracks to a fusion of influences ranging from dancehall to psych-rock, Rihanna's ability to configure her incredibly vast musical interests into an album of incredible feeling is remarkable. None of the artist's music prior to ANTI was capable of expressing herself as effectively as the music housed within her 2016 effort, but that is not to say that Rihanna's progression reflected a drastic change to her own musical spectrum. Instead, ANTI is the realisation of all the wide-ranging interests that were always held within the artist's music, now finally teased out; able to explore a variety of genres without compromising her own impossibly high standards when it comes to the creation of her music.
It would be obvious to highlight ‘Work’ as the most recognisable track from this album, but in truth this record just has so much more to offer. With songs like 'Consideration', 'Never Mind' and 'Love On The Brain' showcasing Rihanna’s musical range and capacity flawlessly, ANTI is phenomenal, but it is phenomenal in so many different registers. ANTI epitomises Rihanna's journey as an artist, exploring new genres without losing her own individuality or distracting from her extraordinary artistry, and if there was any doubt about just how good this album was back in 2016, just look at how desperately the internet is still praying for a much anticipated follow-up. No smoke without fire.