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
- 31 -
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
- 30 -
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
- 29 -
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
- 28 -
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
- 27 -
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
- 26 -
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.
- GUILLE FERNANDEZ
- 25 -
"Welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach"
introduces Snoop Dogg, inviting you into the stylistic medley that is the brain of Damon Albarn. The most complete album to emerge from Gorillaz, it's so hard *not* to love the songs on Plastic Beach. A stylistic chameleon, before one style has the chance to grow stale on this record, Albarn has already dropped it, switched genre and pushed Mos Def and Bobby Womack centre-stage. The feature list is staggering, ranging from Little Dragon to the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, as this album proves dedicated to just having a good, nautical-themed time. 'Rhinestone Eyes' is sensational, 'Stylo' is an all-time great driving song and 'Superfast Jellyfish' has a drum groove that, quite frankly, takes the piss. 'On Melancholy Hill' evoked an implacable sonic nostalgia from the moment it arrived, and that's not even mentioning A THIRD of the incredible tunes within Plastic Beach. This album has pirates, manatees, flying makos and Lou Reed. Unmissable.
You've either heard this album and agree with me, or you've already wasted 10 years of a life that could've been spent listening to 'Empire Ants' on repeat. Personally, Gorillaz's collaboration with the incredibly talented Swedish collective Little Dragon is the LP at its wondrous best. Opening out with gorgeously sedate acoustic guitar strumming, underpinned by a softly synthetic drum beat, the transformative volta that switches into gear at [2:25] still hits with all the groovy emphasis that it did when I first heard it, now a decade in the past.
Long live the Casio on a Plastic Beach.
- BEN WHEADON
- 24 -
The Money Store is incredible. 2012 was a stupid year for Death Grips, releasing two phenomenal albums in quick succession, but where No Love Deep Web was an excellent second-part, nothing in DG's discography comes close to The Money Store. In all honesty, there's very little I can add to the immense reputation that The Money Store has acquired. Between preposterously erratic production and relentless aggression, this is one of hip-hop's most energetic records.
This isn't just the birth of hyper-violent rap production though, this is a realm of strobe lights and expansive sounds. The construction of this album was not only ground-breaking, but is so impressive in the birth of a distinct style. There is a reason why seemingly every vaguely experimental hip-hop act of the 2010s has had their music referred back and measured against this record. It's impact on the genre was an earthquake of invention, and it is still the best album at what it does. If this little entry hasn't convinced you, listen to the first few tracks of this record. I stand by my belief that 'Get Got' into 'The Fever (Aye Aye)' is one of the strongest openings to an album in history, and it perfectly sets a firm right foot into the ground for The Money Store to build upon in its 40 minutes of sheer invention.
- BEN WHEADON
- 23 -
Shedding his indie-folk skin and labelling his songs as pretentiously as "____45_____", it's almost like Justin Vernon didn't want people to like 22, A Million. Disrobing from the established sound of Bon Iver's acoustic heartache, 22, A Million sparked a stylistic shift comparable only to the earth-shaking left turns of Kid A in 2000 or "Awaken, My Love!" in 2016, - nobody quite saw '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' coming from the guy that brought us all 'Skinny Love' in 2007.
But, maybe they should have done. Returning to 2011's Bon Iver, the signs were all there for Vernon's slow shift into more and more experimental songwriting. Even so, it's difficult to express just how surprising the change was. If the first song was a logical progression from one album to the next, then '10 d E A T h b R E a s T' was a statement that 22, A Million was only interested in rupturing all expectations of what a Bon Iver album should sound like, and delivered staggering results. '33 "God"' and '8 (Circle)' remain among Vernon's best songs, but with time passing I find myself more and more drawn to this album's oddest moments. Ever inventive, and ever compelling, this might not be the best album of the decade, but it might be one of its most essential listens.
- BEN WHEADON
- 22 -
The sophomore LP is often the hardest, especially when following up an incredible debut, but Tame Impala’s second album was better than the first. Lonerism is a psychedelic, phase-shifting, vintage, aural acid trip. Pairing early psychedelia with modern indie and rock, Kevin Parker firmly cemented itself as one of the leaders of the genre. When writing an album, this is the level of songwriting an artist strives for. Twelve tracks of sheer kaleidoscopic paradise. Despite heavy influence from the psych-rock bands of the 60s and 70s, at no point does this record feel outdated, or cliched, or drowned in influence.
The tracks are polished while still retaining a slightly grainy analogue touch. Every performance is stellar, and the fact its all done by Parker alone makes the Tame Impala experience even more mind-blowing. Lonerism flows like an album should, showing consistency while still maintaining the element of surprise, always obscuring precisely where Parker’s genius will take the listener next. Ground-stomping mega-highlight ‘Elephant’ melded fuzzy guitars with a punchy swing rhythm, before an intense battle of duelling guitars and chaotic synths, whilst the most commercially successful cut, ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, proves a perfect piece of pure psychedelic pop. Even the longer, more experimental tracks still serve the album with purpose, never feeling bloated. Closing track ‘Sun’s Coming Up’ rounds off the record brilliantly, and the outro will make your head hurt (in the best possible way).
Kevin Parker’s perfectionism clearly worked out for the best, and Lonerism stands as one of the best albums that rock had to offer in the 2010's. Rarely can an artist make you lose yourself so completely in their sonic landscapes like Tame Impala can, and Lonerism is the very best that the Impala has to offer.
- JAMES MELLEN
- 21 -
Tierra Whack’s audio-visual work of art Whack World is an absolute pleasure for music and film lovers alike. A fifteen minute "visual and auditory project", Whack World is best enjoyed when listened to and watched. Centred around 15 songs lasting exactly one minute, Ms. Whack's unorthodox approach is best appreciated with a good pair of headphones and a comfortable space to let you immerse yourself within the world of Whack.
Whilst the artist's unique approach to songwriting can leave the listener wanting more, Whack manages to squeeze interesting beats, catchy hooks and creative samples into each track that feels endlessly compelling and never wastes a moment of its run time. Highlights include ‘Bugs Life’, ‘Hungry Hippo’ and ‘Pretty Ugly’ with Whack exploring themes of femininity, death and success through her poetic lyrical play and the film direction of Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Léger.
It’s hard to label Whack’s musical style and that’s exactly what makes her so special. ‘Fuck off’ perhaps encapsulates this best as Whack raps in a quirky, hyperbolic Southern accent about her dead-beat dad. At only fifteen minutes long, it would be a shame to miss out on this album any longer than you already have.
- ALEX KUTSCHER
- 20 -
Our favourite album of 2019, Melkweg is an astoundingly phenomenal collaboration of artists transcending the expectations of live music to deliver what I already consider to be among the greatest live albums ever made. Performing the music of Dutch producer Jameszoo, this album is an inexpressibly tight demonstration of the capabilities of a world-class orchestra and a conductor/arranger capable of incredible genius, and what Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest achieved in realising the music of Jameszoo is still as undeniably magical now as it was last year.
This album is an endlessly shifting whirlwind of expression. Recorded with an exceptional clarity, Melkweg constantly twists and contorts itself, filling its concert hall (and in a replicative sense doing the same in your living room or in your headphones) with simultaneously intimate and expansive sounds. Not a single moment is out of place, delivering an overwhelming sense of power and emotional catharsis without a single word being said. Each track is phenomenal, exploring the possibilities of the orchestra in a distinct way, but now, a year on from its release, I still cannot stop myself from listening to the album in full every single time.
There are few records as mesmerisingly impressive as Melkweg, and even fewer are capable of delivering such emotional intensities entirely through instrumental music. This album is phenomenal, and I will probably never stop talking about it.
- BEN WHEADON
- 19 -
In November 2016, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard made an ever so slightly ambitious claim that in 2017, the band would release five, full albums, all in one year. Five albums in 12 months? That is a downright obscene achievement.
With all due respect: Fuck The 1975. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are the greatest band of the 2010's, due in no small part to their unbelievable output in 2017, with Flying Microtonal Banana shining out as the gleaming, radioactive diamond in the Lizard Wizard crown.
Though perhaps some of the group's 2017 LPs came across as inconsistent in quality, none such criticisms surround the phenomenal Banana. Pushing psych-rock into an under-explored sound, Gizz's experimentations with microtonal instrumentation produced notes *between* those found in common Western scales, creating a sound far more in line with Ravi Shankar than Frank Zappa. What emerged from the murky, 'Open Water' of this sound was an album equal parts Middle-Eastern and other-worldly. It is an essential listen from the 2010's and marked King Gizz (rightfully) as among rock music's great bastions of individuality, and houses one of psych-rock's greatest ever tunes in the wonderful, perplexing and indescribable fever dream that is 'Rattlesnake'.
Go listen to it. After that, go put Nonagon Infinity on loop again. I know you want to.
- BEN WHEADON
- 18 -
For a long time, A Deeper Understanding wasn't even on this list. I don't know how I could've been so utterly stupid. This is one of the most enjoyable listens the 2010's has to offer, and is undoubtedly the best album The War On Drugs have managed to date.
It's really boring when people lament the state of rock music in the 2010's, because I find it's normally delivered from a position of musical elitism, upset that guitars aren't on the radio when rappers are. After all, the 2010's have provided some of the most interesting rock and psych-rock in decades. But that being said, it is really nice to hear bands like The War On Drugs surviving the legacies of traditional heartland rock with solid songwriting while still maintaining a constant presence in the mainstream. I'm always cautious of sounding like an angry 40-something at the back of the pub when I say that I do miss hearing a song that dedicates about a third of its run time to an absolute screamer of a guitar solo, so please excuse the beaming smile that invariably wipes across my face when 'Strangest Thing' kicks into gear. It's one of the greatest guitar tones I have ever heard - it is absolutely *euphoric*.
The War On Drugs aren't "Bruce Springsteen for a new generation" like I've seen a few silly people suggest, but they are an excellent testament on how precisely to repurpose the sounds of the past into a fresh new style. For every imitative Greta Van Fleet there's an inventive The War On Drugs, but either way: no, rock is not dead.
- BEN WHEADON
- 17 -
This album is sad. No, not Marley & Me sad, not Edvard Munch sad, not even Carrie & Lowell sad. In my mind, there has never been an album that delivered a more excruciatingly upsetting experience than Sun Kil Moon's 2014 album Benji. Behind the pseudonym of SKM, the songwriting of slowcore pioneer Mark Kozelek is devastating, even *torturous* in the sheer despondency of the singer's recollections of real-world loss and a personal battle with ageing and the ever-presence of mortality.
It is an album about recalling the death of Kozilek's second cousin, incinerated by a freak aerosol fire while taking out the trash, and it's about his uncle, who coincidentally died the exact same way years before. It's about Richard Ramirez, a Californian serial killer from the 1980s. It's about school shootings. It's about a grief-stricken widower, being sent to prison for euthanizing a wife, stuck in a vegetative state. Benji is not fun to listen to, in fact, it almost exists as if it desires to be forgotten and unheard, lost in a haze of insurmountably upsetting content. You will find yourself despondent and damaged if you leave yourself vulnerable to the album's misery, and you will very likely end up destroyed by its intense sadness.
So why does Benji find itself ranked so highly on this list? Because it's fucking genius.
As our love for Carrie & Lowell demonstrates, when an album sets out to evoke the most difficult of emotions in its listeners, if it succeeds, the resonance of that art can be indescribable. Benji does precisely that. Taking aim at the most sombre of topics, Sun Kil Moon's 2014 LP is not enjoyed so much as it is endured - informing the listener of the emotional extents of ageing, loss and depression in an astoundingly brooding low-tuned acoustic guitar. The tunes are stripped back to an obscene degree, all revolving around Kozelek's slurred melancholy. Removed of all embellishments and all distractions, Kozelek's autobiograhpical approach to songwriting is unavoidable - demanding to be heard in all of its utterly torturous necessity. But from that, a beautiful meditation on mortality emerges from the colossal melancholy of this album, and it is a wonderful beauty to understand when a listener gives Benji the time to say its peace.
edit: Mark Kozelek has of yesterday had serious allegations of sexual abuse and rape surface. The abuses are disgusting and will rightfully re-frame the legacies of Sun Kil Moon as the product of an abuser. As the allegations progress, we will regularly reconsider the merits of Benji and whether it should be removed from this list for its connection to Kozelek's abuses, and the extent to which the album itself reflects the abuses of its creator.
- BEN WHEADON
- 16 -
Every now and then, an album just seems to allow a listener perfect access to the emotions of its creator. Listening to SZA's debut record CTRL, I get that sensation. There aren't many records that just seem to beg to be empathised with, but this is one of them. So intimate is SZA's songwriting, and so fantastic are her performances, that you just can't help but feel yourself absorbing her heartbreaks for yourself.
The sexual philosophy of 'Doves In The Wind' feels like a discussion the listener is contributing to themselves. The break-up on 'Supermodel' somehow feels like my own. All of CTRL serves to put SZA's feelings to paper with outrageous talent, and the album's featured artists bring even more to the table. Offering up Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy and Travis Scott, there is a sensational amount of talent on show with this LP, but noone comes close to SZA's ability to express herself with a contradictory concoction of confidence, despondence, jealousy and acceptance.
This album is an open invitation into an artist's heart. Every moment of the project is one that feels impossibly shared between SZA and her admiring followers, and when you add to that the relentless quality of its music, CTRL is one of the decade's absolute best R&B albums.
- BEN WHEADON
p.s. this is the probably the best time I'll ever get to talk about like, three seconds of music, but listen to SZA's vocal glissando on 'Go Gina' from [0:42-0:44]. I'm convinced it's the best thing I have ever fucking heard. Like seriously, what the fuck. So good. DM me about it.
- 15 -
For a long time, I really didn't get Beach House. Acclaim seemed to swirl neverendingly around their (supposedly) phenomenal creations, but for me: nothing. The band's aesthetic of soft, whispered vocals above subtly layered synthesisers, programmed drum machines and guitar effects seemed hollow and dull, and for the longest time their "masterpiece" of a third album Teen Dream passed me by. If anything, Beach House bored me - I couldn't see the hype.
One night, I was driving home late. It was cold, it was raining and I was sad: conditions were perfect for Teen Dream to become the most important thing in the world for 49 minutes of my life. I cannot do justice to the subtleties of this album's emotional range in words, but what is held within the camouflage of Beach House's misty music-making is a vast universe of sensations and feelings. Each song within the album is perfectly constructed to harmonise with whatever emotion it's listener finds themselves approaching the album under the influence of. Its sparse and melancholic but at the same time, paradoxically, utterly joyous.
What is packaged within this album is an electronic duo responsible for more than just pleasant soundscapes and nice sounding melodies. It's a chameleon of expansive capabilities. Teen Dream, if you give it the time to hook itself into your heart, is a *companion* of an album. It is a shoulder to lean against at the worst times, and a soundtrack to moments of euphoria at the best. It's a ready-made soundtrack to high-school heartbreak, college depression and adult ennui. It's the music you imagine when you wish your life had a film score, and it gets more achingly wonderful with each listen.
- BEN WHEADON
- 14 -
Frank Ocean’s first studio album after splitting from decade-dominating collective Odd Future is simply outstanding. We all know that this album is incredible, but what is perhaps most impressive about the artist's 2012 LP, however, is just how well channel ORANGE has stood the test of time.
Ocean’s album feels like a project that could have been released last Friday so indescribable has the artist's impact on popular music come. This is one of those albums that you just want to lay in your bed with some headphones and absorb everything. Every time I listen to it I pick up on a new detail, whether lyrically or instrumentally. The album’s most famous track ‘Thinkin Bout You’ kicks off the project in style, but it is channel ORANGE’s final few tracks that the album really blows me away. Ocean’s therapy session scored by unnervingly beautiful organ chords in ‘Bad Religion’ is immediately followed by what is, in my opinion, the project’s crown jewel in ‘Pink Matter’. Featuring the mythical André 3000, who delivers an incredible verse and also plays the guitar, ‘Pink Matter’ provokes introspection like no other song. Another personal favourite is ‘Super Rich Kids’, with the equally enigmatic Earl Sweatshirt, one of the more fun songs on the album. Whether you like R&B or not, this album is a must listen.
- ALEX KUTSCHER
- 13 -
Being an incredibly successful debut album, it is unquestionable that 2004’s iconic Funeral set Arcade Fire squarely upon the indie rock stage with fully established trademark meditations on youth, suburbia, and wanting to just escape it all. Those feelings, however, as relatable as they were, existed in a mental space that was more than a little naive. What made The Suburbs remarkable, then, was how it built upon Funeral’s adolescent hopefulness and Neon Bible's disillusioned disaffection, injecting the group's third LP with the maturity and disenchantment of a more experienced band.
Arcade Fire’s third studio album stings with the nostalgia and pessimism of non-conformist Canadians, finding themselves trapped in the mind-numbing suburbia that they had fought for all of their youth to escape. Title track ‘The Suburbs’ unfurled with a tame, metronomic rhythm, and coupled with lyrics that decryed the decay of a past that “meant nothing”, an abandonment of a revolutionary flare that remains only in singer Win Butler’s dreams and, perhaps, in the modern kids he seems so skeptical of in 'Rococo'.
Yet for all the chaos and pessimism ingrained in the lyrics and guitar noise of tracks like ‘Suburban War’ and ‘Month of May’, The Suburbs still held hopeful beauty within. ‘Sprawl II’’s vast electronic beats carry the song forward and upwards through its fears of an endless suburban landscape, and the album closes with a heartfelt continuation to its opening track, a subdued, momentarily orchestral refuge set in the time-wasting habits of their youth. Indeed, this closing track encapsulates what The Suburbs is as a whole: a remarkable sign of growth from a band that evolved beautifully from its roots.
- AINHOA SANTOS GOICOECHEA
- 12 -
Transcending the beautiful balance of romanticism and satisfying songwriting on 2015's I Love You, Honeybear, what Father John Misty achieved with his following album was simply astounding. In one hour and fourteen minutes, Pure Comedy paints a colossal picture of the human experience, taking on topics as impossibly expansive and wide-reaching as climate catastrophe, political evil and virtual reality pornography - all delivered with the insightful glare of Josh Tillman's wit and songwriting ingenuity.
I know some listeners found themselves put off by this album's tone, declaring authoritatively the failures of humanity and the pointlessness of religions, consumerism and all the other humanities buzzwords that English students like myself so liberally espouse, but what cannot be ignored on Pure Comedy is that a great deal of FJM's observations prove so incredibly astute. Even on the obscene length of 'Leaving L.A.' (a thirteen minute expression of Southern Californian disaffection that never changes chord progression) Tillman's personality jettisons Pure Comedy forward as an album that is incredibly difficult to put down, hyper-charged by FJM's incredibly charming persona.
Now, add to the phenomenal lyrical creativity of the album the fact that it houses a brilliantly captured scale of baroque instrumentation and softly strummed singer-songwriter acoustic guitar contributions, and this album serves as one of the most generous albums of the decade. There is such a bounty of interpretation and meaning begging to be gleaned from the music of Pure Comedy, that it stands out as utterly essential listening for the 2010's if you have not yet enjoyed its sardonic company.
- BEN WHEADON
- 11 -
Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut in 2012 catapulted him to the pinnacle of modern hip-hop, with Lamar immediately proving himself to be one of the genre's truly essential artists. Rapping on a project autobiographical to its very core, actually subtitled, the album cover is a grainy polaroid - functioning as a visual allegory for the project it introduces. A young Kendrick sat on the knee of an older relative, their faces censored by stark black lines covering their eyes. It’s a statement that feels almost invasive, but the message is clear.
Yet even the highest of highs on the project are entwined with the ever growing anticipation of struggle, uncertainty and pain. A song like ‘Money Trees’ should be a triumphant anthem, but the idea of money as the "perfect place for shade" re-contextualises its celebration as a temporary place of security. Shade is temporary, and so is the release it provides.
Kendrick's project perfectly ties the thrills of rap, lyrical braggadocio, heavy beats and massive features on ‘Backseat Freestyle’, ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ or ‘Poetic Justice’, but also condemns the shallowness of it all. The album is not a celebration of women, drugs and money, instead meditating on the hollowness of this lifestyle, but it does so in a way that remains radio-ready. A listener can rap along to the rich vocals of the Dr. Dre featuring ‘Compton’, or the perils of alcohol on ‘Swimming Pools’ at a party, and this is where the genius of the album lies.
In all of this shallowness, Kendrick is a gem, delivering verses from the perspective of vulnerable characters, breaking his voice up into different characters like the prostitute of the unbelievable ‘Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst’. Kendrick Lamar cements himself as a voice of a generation, resisting the tendency to preach in a way that is removed from listeners, and instead embracing the perils of life, addiction, tragedy in order to move past them. good kid, m.A.A.d. city set a new standard for conscious rap projects, digging footsteps so deep they would be hard to fill for any rapper throughout the decade.
- FIN COUSINS
- 10 -
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
...And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
No album has ever captured the overwhelming malaise of realising the world doesn't revolve around you quite like 2011's Helplessness Blues. Following on from their meteoric rise at the close of the 2000's, Fleet Foxes' second record was a testament to maturity, growth and the beauty of Robin Pecknold's internal monologue.
Likely sparked by my own personal uncertainties, now graduated and preparing for a life as a "functioning cog" of society's enormous clock, HB has recently expanded into an unprecedented significance. It was an album that always spoke to me on an immediate, guttural level, but now it has unfolded into even more astonishing value, and looks to continue doing so with each year that passes me by, but to suggest that the wonders of Helplessness Blues are restricted to its title track would be a grave error. Contained throughout this album there is some of the most fantastic songwriting of the decade, overflowing with a gorgeous curation of imagery and symbolism delivered through Pecknold et al's resplendent harmonies. 'Bedouin Dress' enjoys brilliant folk instrumentation, 'Grown Ocean' is astonishingly bombastic for an FF tune and 'Lorelai' stands as perhaps the most beautiful break-up song ever written.
Helplessness Blues is a gorgeous tapestry of folk songwriting. It is one of the decade's most enjoyable records, and is valued by a great many of Fleet Foxes' fans as the band's greatest ever LP, and deservedly so. It is not to be missed.
- BEN WHEADON
- 9 -
David Bowie - Blackstar
David Bowie’s Blackstar (stylised as ★) marked a bittersweet farewell. Described as a swan song from an artist to his loving fans it would be a colossal understatement to describe the album as lyrical, thematic and musical genius. Taking major inspiration from electronic music, alongside a fascination with hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar, when listening to the album you can *feel* the impending death of the artist: it just keeps coming closer and closer.
Death wraps itself around this album, but it does not take centre stage. Instead, it gives Bowie a final chance to show the world what a truly amazing artist he was, but crucially it represents Bowie's finale on his own terms. That is the most important message from Blackstar: even if the star has turned dark it will still shine as bright. Being an album that sought to distance itself from pop music, perhaps more than any other of Bowie's LPs, Blackstar is a concept album with a cryptic storyline to be deciphered. Deep emotions fill the album, forcing you to come to terms with the pain and sorrow of an artist who knows that soon they will not be able to transmit their artistry. It is still unshakably Bowie; fun, risky and characterful, and even though the album swims in that ominous feeling of death, it does not feel rushed. Blackstar accepts Bowie's fate but takes full advantage of the emotions that surround it, portraying them in their most beautiful (and sorrowful) way possible.
I need to highlight two songs as the absolute best the album has to offer, being, ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’. ‘Blackstar’ is quite the song to digest at first, with the album version extending to an almost ten minute listen. Somewhere in the aether between "art rock" and "jazztronica" the track fuses the sounds of disparate genres, creating a sound of epic storytelling proportions. As the song expands, the listener becomes ensnared by it; hypnotised by its instrumentation and slightly distorted vocals. You cannot help but sit down and concentrate when taking in such mammoth of a song. It is the perfect song to start Bowie’s last album with, but secondly, Bowie’s final single ‘Lazarus’ is bittersweet. Intended especially as a self-epitaph from Bowie himself, the song is raw and seismic in emotional force. With Bowie looking back on his life and saying goodbye, both to the good and the bad, the emotional resonance of the track proves earth-shattering: a final reminder of the spacefaring genius of a Starman. Blackstar is impeccable.
- GUILLE FERNANDEZ
- 8 -
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
With Random Access Memories, France's favourite robots might just have created the best sounding record in history.
Reportedly costing over $1,000,000 to make, Daft Punk spared no expense in their latest love letter to the dance music of the 1970s. Fusing authenticity with an original spin, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo weren't content with simply sampling the music of the past as achieved on 2003's fantastic Discovery (get it? Disco-very). This time, Daft Punk just cut out the middle man, hiring the legendary figures of Nile Rodgers, Giorgo Moroder and Paul Williams to bring the sound of the 70's into a robotic 21st century.
If there was a word that encompassed what was achieved so phenomenally within RAM, it might just be 'fidelity'. Ever single track, every single instrument, every single frequency feels totally in place, perfectly wrapped up in it's own little sonic compartment. Everything is orchestrated with the same meticulous precision, from sweeping synthesizers to Nile Rodgers' percussive guitar tone (which has never sounded better).
The record is somehow both Daft Punk's most flawless and its most human. Between the laser-tight drum patterns of 'The Game of Love' and the artificially soulful distorted crooning within 'Beyond', this is simultaneously robots making disco noises, and disco making robots sing. It is unspeakably phenomenal. In a world where the chance to see Daft Punk perform in the flesh is so painfully rare, this album is the closest thing you can get to being in the room with the musicians, it just sounds that pristine.
Anyway, check out 'Get Lucky' when you get the chance. Sound of the summer.
- BEN WHEADON
- 7 -
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
On his 2011 self-titled sophomore record, Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) stepped out from underneath the tale that had defined him for so long. The story of a faux-lumberjack, isolating in the woods of Wisconsin and recording an album about a life-altering heartbreak on For Emma, Forever Ago, yet on Bon Iver, Vernon shifted into songs far broader in scope and far more sophisticated in style.
It was the first transition away from the late 2000's coffee shop indie-folk style that Bon Iver was largely responsible for igniting, adapting it into a kind of experimental, rustic music, synthesising touches of folk, pop and soul together. Vernon’s voice is wounded and earthy, phasing in and out of an utterly astonishing upper register, yet when reaching into the lowest depths of his voice it still yields power, such as on ‘Minnesota, WI’ as his voice floats across the instrumental, humming low before reaching into the higher notes for the evocative and yet simple refrain “never gonna break, never gonna break”.
Where the preceding album had been strung together by heartbreak and sadness, Vernon’s storytelling on Bon Iver was far more oblique. Song titles referenced geographical locations: ‘Perth’, ‘Calgary’, ‘Lisbon, OH ‘and fictional places: ‘Hinnom’, ‘TX’, and ‘Michicant’. The imagery throughout its lyrics above the rich production was sometimes concise, on ‘Holocene’ Vernon lamented
“3rd and Lake it burnt away, the hallway
Was where we learned to celebrate”
before giving the short but powerful admission that Vernon 'was not magnificent', all illuminated by faint claps and a short, dainty riff. Yet the lyricism is more often unreliable and intentionally imprecise, as Vernon paints songs about people as he remembers them, blurring them into landscapes, only described by the name of the place, the location, the state. The difference between the two do not really matter, it is more the feeling, the semblance of a person.
The result is a project that leaves the listener feeling as though they don’t quite understand, because it is a project that asks more questions than it answers. Using horns, banjos and auto-tune to indulge an intentional vagueness, the result is utterly stunning. ‘Michicant’ is a song of loose semblances of childhood images, memories of swimming, changing seasons, fear, blankets and “tender age”. Opener ‘Perth’ is an awakening, the birth of the project as expansive drums gain control, and the songs trickle, similar to the stream on the album cover, through transitory occasion and instance with a tightly woven structure into the final concluding track ‘Beth/Rest’ which feels like the project’s death, but a pleasant one, more like a memento mori. It is more of a moment of clarity or realisation than a final end point.
The conclusion is a paradise at the end of an album that seems so grounded in reminiscence, with surprising but brilliantly placed 80s synths and stunning pitched vocals as Vernon espouses “danger has been stole away”. The world of Bon Iver is a soft-rock bliss, with entwining locations, people, and souls. It makes a suggestion that we can find comfort and clarity in an exploration of our most intimate and vulnerable memories.
- FIN COUSINS
- 6 -
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple takes her time. From her debut in 1996 to the release of her staggering brilliant fifth studio album Fetch The Bolt Cutters in April of this year (read our review here) the one thing that all can be assured of with this artist is that her music will come precisely when it is ready, and only then. But when that music arrives, it is invariably genius.
A seven year wait preceded the release of 2012's The Idler Wheel..., but much like Bolt Cutters this year, when finally hearing this album the wait itself is almost audible in the music itself. The songs of Idler Wheel almost feel as though they have been ageing, stewing in the emotions of Apple's experiences day after day, before being released from the shelves of the artist's heart with an eruption of feelings. The result is one of the most evocatively personal albums of all time, connecting a tether between Apple's profoundly private experiences and the ears of her adoring fans.
It also sounds fantastic. Deep double bass and Apple's gritty vocal punches swirl together adjacent to a wonderfully captured piano accompaniment. The artist's vocal performances are astonishingly good, as is her lyrical ingenuity, but wrapped around her wonderful voice is a stylistic approach to music-making so utterly unique to this artist that it is at least as deserving of lavish praise as her singing itself. Often underscored by a distinctly homemade direction to percussion, when drums are actually heard on Idler Wheel they sound phenomenal, but it's often even more satisfying to locate the improvised recordings of scrapes, bangs and claps that form Fiona Apple's percussive universe.
The album sounds as though Fiona Apple's heart and mind locked themselves away for every day of the seven years that passed between 2005's Extraordinary Machine and her 2012 follow-up, finding musical purpose in any object of experience that happened to be locked inside with her for those years. The wide expanses of emotional expression from songs like 'Every Single Night', 'Werewolf' and 'Hot Knife' remain some of the most impactful songwriting of the decade, and The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is one of the decade's most impressive records.
- BEN WHEADON
- 5 -
Noname - Room 25
Noname should already be getting her recognition as an all-time hip-hop great, and with Room 25 she presented to the world one of rap's greatest ever albums, delivered by one of the most intelligent and politically informed voices of the 2010's.
Self-appointing her style as "lullaby rap", the Chicago artist's distinctive blend of quiet hip-hop, jazz rap and neo-soul was perhaps the genre's most instantly recognisable style in 2010, but to celebrate only the uniquely laid-back attitude of Room 25 would be to overlook its mastery of so much of its music.
Sharing an ability with MF Doom and Tierra Whack to populate her projects with obscenely dense tracks of incredibly efficient songwriting, a great deal of Room 25's songs blast through without choruses, layering incredible verse upon incredible verse while benefiting immeasurably from Noname's ability to balance scope, wit, lyrical talent and brevity:
Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music
My pussy teachin' 9th grade English
My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism
In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus
And y'all still thought a bitch couldn't rap?
Even more so than her (excellent) debut LP Telefone, the artist's political agenda inhabits every second of the LP - delivering the progressive politics of the artist with relentless conviction. Battling inequality, police brutality, gentrification and every other far-reaching facet of systemic racism in America and beyond, Room 25 already sits as required listening for the 21st century just in terms of its impeccable construction of political consciousness through music.
Then you get to the music itself, and fuck. I keep changing my mind on what the best *sounding* record of the decade is because the 2010's provided such an embarrassment of sonic riches, but this album puts forward a compelling argument. The strings that open 'Window'? Amazing. The latin beat on 'Montego Bae'? Head-shaking. THE TRANSITION INTO 'BLAXPLOITATION'? BACK-BREAKING. The performances on this album are rude with just how unbelievably creative they are, and every song is absolutely bursting with personality and carefully selected feel. This is one of the most pleasant listening experiences I have ever had with an album, but when crossed with the albums particularly adept ability to identify and criticise the violence of the establishments to which black people find themselves forcefully contained within Room 25 is identifiable as a work of total genius.
- BEN WHEADON
- 4 -
Frank Ocean - Blonde
After his critically acclaimed first album Frank Ocean was lacking inspiration, wary of major label mechanics and disenfranchised by the weight of releasing his next project. Ocean moved to London and started recording in Abbey Road Studios while planning a way to buy himself out of his contract with Def Jam, a move that would result in the creation of the visual album Endless, (which we talked about here.)
Living a secluded life and successfully avoided the public eye and in July of 2016, the world received Blonde, a project as elusive in the date of its release as the artist who created it. Blonde switched the warm ‘Orange’ soul tones of Channel Orange for stripped back, dreamy Beach Boys inspired rock. The project is impressionistic and avoids a linear narrative, skittering through moods, ecstasies, lows and highs through a series of tracks that twist through balladry, such as on the heart-wrenching ‘Self Control’, futuristic glitchy pop on ‘Nights’, and nostalgic songs that fight off dejection with a wretchedness that feels incredibly tangible, on ‘White Ferrari'. Ocean’s voice is potent and dexterous and his song writing at a career best, stringing together songs that inhabit abstraction but somehow remain cohesive and carefully constructed.
To Ocean, the journeys he embarks on are reckless and fleeting, and he meditates on these hazed occurrences throughout the album with impressionistic detail. Materialism becomes artistry, masculinity is queered and malleable. Blonde is an album of transience and liminality, the front seats of various cars he describes are spaces of comfort and control. The soft and elegant surf rock blends with spoken word melodies as Ocean often sounds as though he is speaking without thinking, eyes closed, meditating in a stream of consciousness that is heady but graceful, often plaintive and longing. The songs bleed with duality, from the beat switch in ‘Nights’ falling exactly 30 minutes through the 60 minute project, the masculine and feminine spellings of “Blond” and “Blonde”, the self-aware double entendre of ‘Solo’, or “solo/ so low” and lines such as “inhale, in hell there’s heaven”. The album is masterfully cinematic, minimalist and capricious. The short meditations on the abstract themes of nostalgia, death, materialism and love are punctuated by concrete references - BMW X6s, Quaaludes, Flesh. It’s a world which is simultaneously abstract and silkily real. It beckons the listener to live a little, but to be hyperaware of life around them.
Ocean is a songwriter above all, and the tones and afflictions of his voice, often pitched up or down, layered and at other times devolving into a scream or a whoop from somewhere deep in the background draw the listener into a psychedelic dream state. The features are similarly understated, with Beyoncé quietly harmonising in the background on ‘Pink + White’, Tyler, The Creator’s drums on ‘Skyline To’, Johnny Greenwood’s guitars on ‘Seigfried’. The features are carefully placed, and add to the understated beauty of the album. (With only the exception of a fantastic Andre 3000 verse to make up ‘Solo Reprise’.) With the pain of 2016, a turning point of a world of chaos and uncertainty, as those young and old felt constricted by political turmoil, Blonde is a vignette that loosens the tightness around necks of listeners through themes of nostalgia, intimacy, sadness. It is a place to breathe while breathless, with sweeping choruses and hooks, and feeds the need for the blurred, the softened, the existential. The aches of the body, the tiredness of moving and the walls of rooms melt away with the assurance that we are a little ‘taller in another dimension’. Ocean draws the listener in renders them ‘free to roam’ in delicate and ethereally beautiful world.
- FIN COUSINS
- 3 -
Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
I really don't think you shouldn't listen to Have One On Me.
That sounds pretty counter-intuitive, considering I think it's the third best album of the 2010's, but hear me out. If you're a fan of Joanna Newsom, you've definitely already heard this record. You know it's phenomenal. But for those of you that have never entered the world of Queen Joanna, I feel obligated to tell you that this album is quite possibly the worst place to start.
Have One On Me is a record that you have to work your way up to. This isn't just a masterpiece of an album, it's a final boss. At 124 minutes long, Newsom's third studio LP is mammoth, gargantuan, and every other big word that describes big things combined. Starting off with this record is the equivalent of climbing a mountain before you've learnt how to tie your shoelaces, and if jumped into headfirst I worry that many might quickly give up.
Joanna Newsom is undoubtedly the world's most famous harpist, but combined with that she could well be the world's most gifted songwriter and storyteller. She is, quite frankly, a musical genius - and HOOM is certainly her masterpiece - but it is simultaneously her least accessible project in both depth and scale. Most songs on the album exceed six minutes long, and are laden with such tantalisingly complicated lyrical passages that the artist even forgets them herself, but trust me (please) this album is one that you cannot afford to miss out on.
You can't listen to her on Spotify, with Newsom remaining one of the few high profile figures to boycott the site for the disgracefully low revenue the service provides for the artists who actually provide it with content, but I promise you that her music is worth the effort to seek out. Once you familiarise yourself with Joanna Newsom (I recommend the astoundingly beautiful Ys as the best introduction) Have One On Me will be waiting, staring back at you with all the foreboding menace of an unopened Dostoevsky novel. It's intimidating, much like the defiant weight of Ulysses or Don Quixote in your arms, but it is not to be feared. It's intimidating, but that's just because it is filled with an impossible scale of wonderful musicianship, just begging to be analysed and pulled apart, string to loving string.
Every second, every note and every word of HOOM has been selected with a painstaking attention to detail. Newsom's lyricism is inspired, her music-making is joyous and the scale of this project is astonishing in its relentless perfection. From the first seconds of the album it should be apparent that this project is a work of immense achievement, with Newsom's wonderful tone harmoniously met by reams of eloquent instrumentation and this quality lasts unerringly for its entire run time without a single. fucking. fault.
The stories that HOOM wants to tell are so utterly enchanting, and so absolutely deserving to be heard, that there is nothing I can say against the album. It inhabits a world all to itself, and that world is utterly, unspeakably magical.
- BEN WHEADON
- 2 -
Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
Crack-Up is rarely valued above 2011's Helplessness Blues when it comes to ranking the discography of Cascadian indie-folkers Fleet Foxes, but in my mind this LP stands as the absolute pinnacle of the group's creative forces, pushing the possibilities of indie folk far beyond what could be expected of the band behind the coffee shop folk serenity of 'Mykonos' and 'White Winter Hymnal' before the great "hey-ho" apocalypse of the late-2000s.
Returning from a long-term hiatus, the band that emerged on the other side of Helplessness Blues was a noticeably different one, both in style and lyrical content, but where HB felt projective, looking forward with a worried eye at the thoughts of maturation and worldly responsibilities, Crack-Up was present: focused on distilling the emotions of the here and now, and engaging with the world on Fleet Foxes' own terms.
Continuing on from the last album in the exact same key as the HB-closing 'Grown Ocean', quickly the songwriting of Robin Pecknold demonstrated a sharp evolution, fascinated with exploring extreme dynamic shifts and further developing Pecknold's commitment to fantastically dramatic multi-sectioned songs. The music dilates from intimate whispers to shouts into the void, brushes and thumbs across guitar strings into explosive horn lines and cymbals, crashing against the record like the coast against the cover art's cliffs. Crack-Up's multi-part songwriting is joyous. With songs like 'I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar' and 'Third of May / Ōdaigahara' built upon an exploration of sprawling songwriting featuring multiple distinct phases and musical passages, Crack-Up is perhaps the only album of the 2010's that can challenge Joanna Newsom's ability to compose such a quantity of consistently remarkable songs.
This also happens to be one of the most fantastically well produced records of the decade, rivalling even Daft Punk in the eye-watering layers of pristine vocal harmonies, echo-soaked horn sections and gargantuan percussion. Much as 22, A Million proved the possibilities of fusing folk songwriting with extreme electronic influences, Fleet Foxes' 2017 LP sought to demonstrate the subtle capabilities of electronic music, while still retaining the naturalistic air of the group's aesthetic and style. School choirs are sampled, layers of water lapping at the coast sit gorgeously against repeating synth notes, all while the overwhelming honesty of Crack-Up's beautiful musicianship shines through all the brighter.
To me, this is Fleet Foxes's masterpiece. I've never heard an album that fills the room like Crack-Up, and when played loudly this album simply commands appreciation in its ability to orchestrate such a scale of sounds. Each emotional high point lands with all the more incredible impact as a consequence of a perfectionist's approach to recording quality, and the sheer amount of wonderfully captured sounds populating the record. Crack-Up is an incredible record, and marked an incredibly welcome return to the music of Fleet Foxes.
- BEN WHEADON
- 1 -
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
To Pimp A Butterfly is unquestionably the greatest album of the 2010s, and it is on its way to becoming recognised as one of the greatest albums of all time. Kendrick Lamar's 2015 masterpiece is one of the most accomplished concept albums ever devised, and utilises the potential of the form to its fullest extent. Constructing a metaphor of through the symbolic metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly,To Pimp A Butterfly expressed the impossible scope of the African American experience in 2015 in such a way that it shall be looked back upon as an incredible expression of the times, but also as a timeless record, only accumulating relevance as more and more years pass with the structures of systemic racism and police brutality remaining intact.
This album is not only a work of unspeakable musical genius (I'll get to that later) but it is also a masterpiece in a literary sense. Depicting the commodification and commercialisation of black bodies in a world which simultaneously values black lives as expendable, the position of a black celebrity becomes so crucial to Lamar's conception of American politics. If you gutted the lyrics to To Pimp A Butterfly and published them separately, you'd have one of the decade's most essential poetry anthologies - that's just how egregiously talented Kendrick Lamar is. I can't come close to listing all of the achievements of this work of hip-hop spectacle, but much like with good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Lamar's ability to curate an equilibrium between unbelievable musical appeal and phenomenally nuanced political consciousness is astonishing on this album. The craft of Lamar's storytelling and narrative design rivals that of all canonised literature, and for that reason I have spent most of my time at university arguing the position that To Pimp A Butterfly should be marked as the first "classic" piece of literature from the 21st century.
Every song on To Pimp A Butterfly could've been the best song on 95% of the albums released in the last decade. 'King Kunta', 'These Walls', 'Alright', 'The Blacker The Berry' - all on the same album??? Unbelievable. Complimented by an embarrassment of associated artists and features not limited to Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, George Clinton, Rapsody and Bilal, the weight of talent that furnishes Lamar's outrageously distilled vision for this album's intentions. Whether it's the horn blast at [3:33] of 'Wesley's Theory', the Saxophone mimicking a vibrating phone into 'For Free?', the delayed snare hit at [0:09] of 'How Much A Dollar Cost?' or the surprise inclusion of a faux-live re-recording of the album's lead single 'i', there is an unbelievable amount of intensely brilliant musical design within this album.
The finalé to this album is fucking bold. The whole album is bold, but there is an incredibly bravery to ending your album with two poems and a fictional conversation with the late Tupac Shakur. Repurposing an old interview with the hip-hop legend, Lamar's questions indicate an artist not only hoping to present himself as Tupac's peer, but is entirely confident in doing so. Lesser artists would have signed their death warrant with a move like this, but Lamar's confidence is entirely justified. Kendrick Lamar is the most talented rapper making music today. He is indisputably one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time, and To Pimp A Butterfly is one of most impressive musical achievements of all time.
If you haven't heard To Pimp A Butterfly. You need to.
- BEN WHEADON
Slow Motion Panic Masters' Top 100 Albums Of The 2010s:
listen to a spotify playlist with one song from each album with the link below:
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly [USA]
Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up [USA]
Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me [USA]
Frank Ocean - Blonde [USA]
Noname - Room 25 [USA]
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... [USA]
Bon Iver - Bon Iver [USA]
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories [France]
David Bowie - Blackstar [UK]
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues [USA]
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city [USA]
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [USA]
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs [Canada]
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange [USA]
Beach House - Teen Dream [USA]
SZA - CTRL [USA]
Sun Kil Moon - Benji [USA]
The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding [USA]
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana [Australia]
Jameszoo, Jules Buckley, Metropole Orkest - Melkweg [Netherlands]
Tierra Whack - Whack World [USA]
Tame Impala - Lonerism [Australia]
Bon Iver - 22, A Million [USA]
Death Grips - The Money Store [USA]
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach [UK]
Rihanna - ANTI [Barbados]
Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs [USA]
FKA Twigs - LP1 [UK]
Baloji - 137 Avenue Kaniama [Belgium]
Solange - A Seat At The Table [USA]
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel [Australia]
Kamasi Washington - The Epic [USA]
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell [USA]
Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial [USA]
Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell! [USA]
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening [USA]
BROCKHAMPTON - Saturation III [USA]
IDLES - Joy as an Act of Resistance [UK]
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool [UK]
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [USA]
Arctic Monkeys - AM [UK]
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Nonagon Infinity [Australia]
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear [USA]
Bjork - Utopia [Iceland]
Death Grips - No Love Deep Web [USA]
Kanye West - The Life of Pablo [USA]
Austin Wintory - Journey [USA]
The Japanese House - Good At Falling [UK]
Grizzly Bear - Shields [USA]
Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here [USA]
Travis Scott - Rodeo [USA]
JPEGMafia - Veteran [USA]
U.S. Girls - In A Poem Unlimited [Canada]
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake! [USA]
Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition [USA]
The Black Keys - Brothers [USA]
Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma [USA]
alt-J - An Awesome Wave [UK]
Palace - So Long Forever [UK]
Big Thief - Masterpiece [USA]
Beyoncé - Lemonade [USA]
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book [USA]
Kojey Radical - Cashmere Tears [UK]
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream [USA]
The Avalanches - Wildflower [Australia]
Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka [UK]
Adult Jazz - Gist Is [UK]
Rosalía - El Mal Querer [Spain]
Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer [USA]
Songhoy Blues - Résistance [Mali]
Drake - Nothing Was The Same [Canada]
Natalia Lafourcade - Musas, vol. 2 [Mexico]
Andy Shauf - The Party [Canada]
Tyler, the Creator - IGOR [USA]
Anderson .paak - Malibu [USA]
Angel Olson - MY WOMAN [USA]
The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful... [UK]
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love [New Zealand]
Julia Jacklin - Don't Let The Kids Win [Australia]
Wolf Alice - Visions Of A Life [UK]
A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service [USA]
P.J. Harvey - Let England Shake [UK]
Childish Gambino - "Awaken, My Love!" [USA]
Tame Impala - Currents [Australia]
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color [USA]
Gustavo Santaolalla - The Last of Us [Argentina]
Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? [USA]
Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy [USA]
Gojira - Magma [France]
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think... [Australia]
The Internet - Ego Death [USA]
Shame - Songs of Praise [UK]
Paolo Nutini - Caustic Love [UK]
Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost [USA]
Robyn - Body Talk [Sweden]
Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors [USA]
Mac Demarco - 2 [Canada]
Rodrigo y Gabriela - 9 Dead Alive [Mexico]
Princess Nokia - 1992 Deluxe [USA]
Angus & Julia Stone - Down The Way [Australia]
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in South Wales.