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Top 100 Albums of the 2010s

on December 30, 2019, 12:00am
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10. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (2018)

Mitski Be the Cowboy Cover Album Artwork Makeup

Dubbed Consequence of Sound’s 2018 Album of the Year, Be the Cowboy sees Mitski ask us to unbend our arm to receive her hypodermic needle of expansive sound and meticulously chosen words of wanting. A lyrical leviathan armed with her best overall work to date, Mitski gravely looks her listener in the eye while pushing further, filling every artery with acute self-awareness that comes from painstakingly excavating the messy pantheon of our most human desires. It’s a straight-to-the-vein shot of impassioned, other-worldly indie rock delivered by one of the best songwriters of our time. Born out from under a society that seems to be all but burning, Mitski’s latest decrees proudly that to Be the Cowboy isn’t all spit-shined spurs and high-horse saddles; to Be the Cowboy is to be big, sure, but it is also to be small in equal measure and in constant flux. –Irene Monokandilos


09. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (2011)

St Vincent Strange Mercy

“How could they be casually cruel?” Oof, if there was ever a line to sum up the past year, the past decade, the past century even, very few come to mind. Alas, here we are, some eight years after St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, and things have only gotten worse. Every institution is morally bankrupt. People are literally tearing each other apart. Despicable men are getting away with despicable atrocities. It’s a tragic scene, alright, but one that Annie Clark saw with 20/20 foresight way, way back in 2011. Put on “Champagne Year”, or “Cheerleader”, or “Surgeon”. It’s hard to imagine any of these tracks were written nearly a decade ago. After all, we’re still surrounded by “lost boys”, related to “honest thieves”, and told “it’s not the perfect plan, but it’s the one we got.” Because of this, Clark has certainly grown angrier over the years (see: 2017’s Masseduction), but she’s never been this perceptive. This is Clark as Fitzgerald, as Didion, as a true St. Vincent. –Michael Roffman


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

good kid, m.A.A.d city artwork good kid, m.A.A.d city artwork

On his breakout album, a 25-year-old Kendrick Lamar paints a granular picture of his tumultuous upbringing in Compton, and he does it with profound eloquence and wisdom. good kid, m.A.A.d. city provides a cohesive account of K. Dot — a young and impressionable Lamar whose involvement with the wrong crowd leads to a series of regrettable decisions — and his transformation into the introspective and sharply intelligent Kendrick Lamar we know today. In this nonlinear narrative, K. Dot gets jumped by two men, and as he and his friends attempt to carry out revenge, his friend Dave gets shot. There are more developments, but a thread of literal and figurative sobriety ties them all together. There’s also a veneer of hedonism over songs like “Backseat Freestyle”, and tracks such as “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are frequently played at parties. As such, good kid, m.A.A.d. city has the two-pronged quality of indulging those who search for meaning and entertaining those who don’t. –Garrett Gravley


07. Robyn – Body Talk (2010)

Robyn - Body Talk

Pop music has always made people move, but Body Talk saw Robyn officially bring the genre to the club. Whether heartbroken or simply operating with heart-on-the-sleeve candor, she made the dance floor a sanctuary and safe space. Under the strobe lights, the emotional outpouring was physical — in the sweat and in the tears, in the way our figures twist and dip. Beneath the glittering disco ball, we can ruminate in isolation, in the homes of our own bodies, and yet still feel part of a larger community of humans just looking to shimmy the night away. In a decade that’s been marked by an influx of both communication breakdowns and advances — we’re all hyper-connected through the Internet but still so damn lonely — Robyn taught us to listen to our hearts and find comfort in its rhythmic pulse. –Lake Schatz


06. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

When Frank Ocean dropped Blonde in 2016, scores of critics rushed to publish their takes as quickly as possible, to start a dialogue about what Ocean was doing and saying. But that event only happened because of 2012’s Channel Orange, Ocean’s monumental, gobsmacking debut LP, which introduced the world to his singular perspective and opened up a bigger space for the many brilliant queer artists in hip-hop and R&B. Every second of Channel Orange is sharply crafted and thoughtfully considered. Ocean’s series of soulful vignettes established him as a wry, erudite, heart-on-your-sleeve outsider, offering piercing observations of contrasts in wealth while revealing an equally devastating personal vulnerability. Smart and soft and tender and skeptical and curious and wise all at once, Ocean is a force on Channel Orange — and it all comes so naturally to him that all we can do is marvel. In 55 genius minutes, Ocean showed us the world through his eyes and left us eager for more. –Kayleigh Hughes


05. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

 

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City Artwork

It’s arguable that some culture critics never really wanted Vampire Weekend to be the defining indie band of the 2010s, what with the tired narrative of privileged over-intellectualism that still occasionally surrounds the band. But as each album they released improved upon their sophisticated formula, it was clear they owned the genre for the decade. Modern Vampires of the City is the apex of this progression, a refinement of songwriting via Ezra Koenig’s spectacularly referential lyrics and a warming of Rostam Batmanglij’s production, elevated by the addition of co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid. The songs explore growth in aging (“Diane Young”, “Step”), belief (“Ya Hey”, “Unbelievers”), and romance (“Hannah Hunt”, “Finger Back”) with a shrewd wit so lavish in composition and language that the themes penetrate through layers: art, humor, and pop appeal. It’s indie music firing on all possible cylinders, setting the pace for the genre’s modern iteration at large. –Ben Kaye


04. Lorde – Melodrama (2017)

Lorde - Melodrama

Perception is reality, and for Lorde, her world became everyone else’s following 2013’s Pure Heroine. “Royals” alone turned the New Zealand singer-songwriter into a worldwide phenomenon, a voice of a generation, and expectations were higher than ever going into her followup. Rather than rush, she spent four years toiling away at Melodrama, culling together all of that chaos, all of those stakes, and all of those expectations into some of the most earnest and affecting pop to ever scale the charts. Yet it’s in her own personal heaven and hell that she managed to mine even more anthems to rally around. Anthems that speak to the interchanging wins and woes of growing up, finding courage, and accepting tragedies within the triumphs or vice versa. Melodrama is Lorde at her strongest, her weakest, and everything in between, but that humanity is what we were starving for, and boy did she call it. –Michael Roffman


03. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
In 2010, Kanye West gathered a near-mythic council of A-list collaborators in Hawaii to witness him raise a glass in Faustian bargain — a baroque, Auto-Tuned toast to the assholes still reverberating around the world a decade later. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy deftly dissected wealth, celebrity, and hedonism with a maximalist touch so symphonically unprecedented and unrivaled, West’s deal with the devil had all but deified him. MBDTF was the sonic slash-and-burn of a near-vegetative rap industry. Its opulent ashes fertilized a lush landscape of blue-ribbon albums and artists. From Kendrick and Drake to Nicki and Pusha — hell, even Bon Iver and Beyonce — several names on this list would not be where they are today had it not been for West’s beautiful, dark, and twisted masterpiece. As for Ye, and for you and I, MBDTF will forever exist in a vacuum — a Stanley Kubrick-esque monolith of modern music. “Can we get much higher?” it asks. The answer, dear reader, is and will always be, “No.” –Irene Monokandilos


02. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

kendrick lamar to pimp a butterfly vinyl release

If Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, was his breakout, To Pimp a Butterfly was the breakthrough. Taking an alternate route from hip-hop’s traditional indulgence of self-gratification, TPAB is multilayered, as Lamar grapples with perseverance through racial tensions, depression, and avoiding the dangers of “Lucy” (a friendlier term for Lucifer). He also relies on a diverse-yet-seamless production team, including LA natives Thundercat, Terrace Martin, and Flying Lotus, whose jazzy flair intricately molds Lamar’s spoken-word prose. Perhaps Lamar’s vision of TPAB is best captured in 2015 short film God Is Gangsta in which he drunkenly slurs along to “u” in his personal rage room, later reaching baptismal waters during “For Sale?” Or maybe it was the album’s revolutionary core and unofficial Black Lives Matter anthem, “Alright”. Relentlessly striving to find a commonplace between faith and industry temptations, To Pimp a Butterfly expanded not only Kendrick Lamar’s perception of his environment but the nation’s plight. –Jaelani Turner-Williams


01. Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016)

Beyonce Lemonade

Soul bearing, politically unpalatable, and unapologetically black, Beyoncé’s sixth solo album Lemonade was surprised released on a Saturday night, following the premiere of its hour-long visual film counterpart. Where “Single Ladies” beckoned even the least acute pop patrons to the dancefloor, lead single “Formation” parted that floor with hashtags like #BoycottBeyonce or #IStandWithBeyonce. The conceptual short film sparked cultural conversation around Black Lives Matter, the complications of reconciliation post-infidelity, and was punctuated with poetry on the black female experience and keen observations from Malcom X. Tracks “Sorry”, and “Hold Up” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” were eloquently positioned fuck yous, “Freedom” a call to arms, and moments like “Daddy Issues” laid bare a typically buttoned-up Beyoncé. Lemonade also reveled in its own arena of sound: Whereas her sonics before could be described as R&B with an inclination towards pop, here she enlisted country, funk, and New Orleans Jazz, as well as collaborators like the Dixie Chicks, Jack White, James Blake, and Kendrick Lamar, to create something that was distinctly her own. More importantly, Lemonade, through sound, lyrics, and visuals, set the bar for what an album should do: pull you in, call you out, make you question yourself, your society, and your own comfort, all while somehow leaving you entertained. –Erica Campbell

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