Believe it or not, the 2010s are almost gone, so it's time to explore the records that made an impact over the last 10 years.
This was a pretty interesting decade for music. As pop radio became increasingly myopic in its focus and we all got sucked into our own bubbles as the streaming culture took its place, this was probably the most divided decade -- musically speaking -- in quite some time.
With that said, just because an album you loved didn't make this list, doesn't mean it isn't a classic. For the most part, with a couple exceptions, this list is a summation of a decade's worth of listening and reviews.
50. TAYLOR SWIFT – "LOVER" (2019)
Sure, "1989" and "Reputation" furthered Taylor Swift's quest for pop domination, but "Lover' is in many ways, a much bolder and brighter record, which will not only appeal to her old fans but will get her some new (surprised) ones, as well.
The title track is perhaps the best song she has ever written while other standouts like "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince" and "False God" show growth. It all makes for a well-made collection that balances happy pop numbers with some appealing maturity.
49. TOVE LO – "QUEEN OF THE CLOUDS" (2014)
Swedish singer Tove Lo has delivered one of the best and most infectious pop treats of the decade with "Queen of the Clouds," a connected concept album following the beginning, middle and end of a relationship. These parts are dubbed, "The Sex," "The Love" and "The Pain," and each section has its tone-appropriate songs.
Single "Habits (Stay High)" is about the self-destruction that occurs in response to the end of a relationship, but really "Talking Body" is the best part of "The Sex" portion of the record. "Not on Drugs" is the most appealing track on "The Love" section.
Tove Lo has a true gift for writing songs that are both erotically charged and emotionally gripping. On this record, she was at the top of her game.
48. PHANTOGRAM – "VOICES" (2014)
Electro-pop duo Phantogram really pushed themselves forward with "Voices" exploring pop, trip-hop, alt-rock and a touch of soul. This is a varied disc full of potential hits.
There's something unsettling hiding underneath both "Black out Days" and "Nothing but Trouble," while humorously titled "Bill Murray" brings to mind one of the more ethereal scenes from "Lost In Translation." "Fall in Love" is a slick dance number while the "drum'n'bass" touches on "I Don't Blame You" show some effective fortitude. This is one of the decade's best examples of left-field, experimental pop.
47. DAVID BOWIE – "BLACKSTAR" (2016)
The first great album of 2016 is also the saddest and probably the most challenging listen. When David Bowie dropped "Blackstar" on his 69th birthday, it was initially a peculiar offering.
Two days later, when he died as the result of a previously unannounced battle with cancer, the album's darkness made complete sense. Yes, this is an often unsettling record, but it also ranks among one of Bowie's best.
He was a fearless icon and he will be greatly missed. It helped that he ended this record on a hopeful, somewhat wistful note with the soaring "I Can't Give Everything Away."
46. LIZZO – "CUZ I LOVE YOU" (DELUXE) (2019)
Lizzo's breakthrough album is a tour de force of raw talent, effectively fusing hip-hop and R&B into a commanding collection. From the summer-funk of "Juice," to the show-stopping boldness of the title-track and "Jerome," Lizzo packs each track with a stunning level of charisma.
When she joins forces with Missy Elliott on "Tempo," it sounds like a dream team. This is not only one of the best albums of the decade, but it also is evidence that Lizzo will probably have even more captivating records in the future.
45. DOE – "SOME THINGS LAST LONGER THAN YOU" (2016)
What makes this record so special is its timelessness. It could have easily been released 20 years ago and been recently unearthed as a lost classic. The band's double-guitar attack and the vocal-interplay between guitarist Nicola Leel and drummer Jake Popyura stand as clear signatures.
The glorious "Last Ditch" was one of the best rock singles of the decade, while the Elastica-esque "Sincere," effectively calls out men who pretend to be feminists for attention. The band played their last gig in September 2019, but over a brief period, made quite an impression.
44. PETER BJORN & JOHN – "GIMME SOME" (2011)
Back in 2007, these Swedish tunesmiths topped the list with their album, "Writer's Block." Amazingly, "Gimme Some" is every bit as good as that record.
Switching up their sound, the band members turn up their amps while adding some pop infection as well. This is a fast, catchy bulldozer of a record that demands to be listened to on a repeated loop. Songs like "Dig A Little Deeper," "Second Chance" and "I Know You Don't Love Me" are mandatory listening. This is a rock-driven pop record of the highest order.
43. CHARLY BLISS – "YOUNG ENOUGH" (2019)
On their second album, New York band Charly Bliss trade up the grungy power-pop sound of their impressive 2017 debut, "Guppy," for a more electronic and pop-tinged approach. Adding to the album's appeal is singer Eva Hendricks' often raw and confessional lyrics.
The therapeutic ring of "Capacity," the deceptively bouncy "Chatroom," written in the wake of a sexual assault, the moving ballad "Hurt Me," and the lyrically dense sugar-rush punch of "The Truth" all serve as key highlights. "Guppy" wasn't a fluke. Charly Bliss prove themselves to be one of the smartest, most dynamic indie-rock bands working today.
42. …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD – "TAO OF THE DEAD" (DELUXE) (2011)
Trail of Dead aren't anywhere near as scary as their name might have you believe. Members Conrad Keeley and Jason Reece know their way around a catchy pop tune and yet they often make it as hard and as rocking as they can.
Elements of psychedelia and prog-rock keep things interesting. "Weight of the Sun (or the Post-Modern Prometheus)" is indeed a key highlight. Other great moments include "Pure Radio Cosplay," "Ebb Away" and "Summer of All Dead Souls."
41. GEMMA HAYES – "BONES + LONGING" (2014)
Irish singer Gemma Hayes' fifth album continued to showcase the acoustic-singer-songwriter-meets-shoegaze-guitar mashup formula that she'd been mining since her 2003 debut. Listening to this spellbinding album, it is amazing Hayes isn't a huge star over here.
Her music is like an undiscovered treasure and potential hits "Making My Way Back" and "Chasing" offer some of her best work. "Palomino" is gently haunting and affecting while "Iona" is an ace slice of romantic dream pop. After many repeated, addictive listens, it is clear that this is Hayes' best album and five years after its initial release, it still maintains its appeal.
40. CHARLY BLISS – "GUPPY" (2017)
Yes. That's right. Charly Bliss have two albums going nearly head-to-head on this list. "Guppy," is a tight, half-hour, retro-'90s throwback of the grandest kind, delivering sugary fuzz-pop with a grungy core. At the center of that sound is Eva Hendricks' high, girlish snarl which is able to cement standouts like "Westermarck" and "Ruby" indelibly into your brain.
Other standouts include "Black Hole," "Glitter" and "Julia." This is the kind of rock you might wish the radio still played. This sounds like a stupendous lost record from 1995.
39. KELIS – "FOOD" (2014)
For her 2010 album, Kelis switched from making R&B to making dance and club music. For "Food," she changed career directions once again, choosing to work with TV on the Radio's David Andrew Sitek whose production gives this album a seamless sense of sophistication. Elements of Afro-beat, acoustic folk and orchestral soul are felt throughout. This is the singer's best album since her debut, if not her best album of all time.
Tracks like "Floyd" and "Jerk Ribs" are classics that deserve repeated spins. Kelis somehow sounds equally at home working a funky groove like "Hooch," as she does on the folky acoustic ballad, "Bless the Telephone." If all you know about Kelis is the song "Milkshake" or "Caught Out There," you need to hear this album immediately.
38. KACEY MUSGRAVES – "GOLDEN HOUR" (2018)
This is the album in which Kacey Musgraves has blown it wide open, between the opener, "Slow Burn," to the low-key pop of "Lonely Weekend" and "Wonder Woman."
Musgraves keeps her country twang intact, but this set isn't an easy record to classify, with funky numbers like "High Horse" and laid-back, synth-led grooves like "Butterflies." As a songwriter, her knack for detail remains strong, and this record has extremely wide appeal.
37. THE BREEDERS – "ALL NERVE" (2018)
The same lineup that recorded 1993's "Last Splash" came back together to record "All Nerve." As a songwriter, Kim Deal is still at her peak, judging from the title-track and the haunting beginning of "Spacewoman."
The left-turn of "MetaGoth" proves to be a nice touch, as does the madly funky "Archangel's Thunderbird." The Deal twins unsurprisingly continue to prove their coolness, and this album should be considered Exhibit A in the argument that this lineup of the band should continue going for years to come.
36. TOOL – "FEAR INOCULUM" (2019)
This sprawling, 86-minute landmark came in 13 years after its predecessor, it showed the band as a mature beast, working Eastern grooves. Sure, in places, it is much more sprawling, and not as hard-edged as its predecessors but it is difficult to listen to the title track, "Pneuma" or "Invincible" without being immediately pulled in by the many sonic textures on display. It's an immensely compelling slice of atmospheric prog-rock that was indeed well worth the wait.
35. RUBY – "WAITING FOR LIGHT" (2014)
Lesley Rankine's return to her Ruby moniker after a 13-year break still stands as a stirring collection, from the meditative, impressively poetic title-track to the trippy ode to motherhood, "Fireweed." A lot has changed since her 1996 alt-rock hit "Tiny Meat," but this album effectively still delivers a dose of punk and industrial-fueled trip-hop.
"Rain," "Spin" and "Lush" serve as other key highlights for this record that should please fans of Bjork and Garbage alike. This is one of those under-the-radar records that never lets go.
34. SKY FERREIRA – "NIGHT TIME, MY TIME" (2013)
Sky Ferreira's debut full-length is still an immense achievement, possessing pop-appeal and artistic fortitude in equal measure. From the retro-eighties feel of tracks like "24 Hours," and "You're Not the One" to the intense drive of "Nobody Asked Me (if I Was OK)," this collection explores many sounds with ease.
It's hard to imagine an album that can have something as straight-forward as "I Blame Myself" and something as foreboding as the title track, but this album offers a surprisingly seamless sonic journey.
33. VERUCA SALT – "GHOST NOTES" (2015)
"Ghost Notes" is the Veruca Salt album no one thought would ever be made. In 1998, Louise Post and Nina Gordon had a huge blowout fight which broke up the band. Gordon went solo and Post kept the Veruca Salt name and recorded two excellent records backed by other musicians. After 14 years of not talking, Post and Gordon thankfully made peace with each other and re-formed the band's original lineup which also included bassist Steve Lack and drummer Jim Shapiro. (Shapiro is also Gordon's brother.)
"Ghost Notes" is an astounding record full of heavy emotion and large hooks. The collection has some serious gravity. Songs like "The Museum of Broken Relationships," "Empty Bottle" and "Lost to Me" find the two leaders working out their issues and essentially apologizing to each other. If you know the story behind it, it is truly a cathartic record. "Ghost Notes" is their masterpiece.
32. ELBOW – "THE TAKE OFF AND LANDING OF EVERYTHING" (2014)
Elbow is an underappreciated British band in the States and their 2014 offering continued their pattern of stellar releases. Led by Guy Garvey and his very Peter Gabriel-esque voice, the band here really focuses on nailing a certain kind of atmosphere and they sound completely like they are playing together live in a giant room.
This album also boasts two of the best singles of 2014 from the semi-drunken nostalgia of "My Sad Captains" to the wistful optimism of the gorgeous "New York Morning." "The Take off And Landing of Everything" is the kind of masterful work that deserves close listening by a wide audience.
31. BLACK THOUGHT – "STREAMS OF THOUGHT VOL. 1" / "STREAMS OF THOUGHT VOL. 2" (2018)
Until he dropped an epic freestyle in 2017, Black Thought seemed destined to be one of the most underrated emcees in the game. Maybe the love he received in the aftermath inspired him to finally release some solo material after playing with the Roots for more than 20-plus years. Put these two EPs together and you get a 41-minute album.
Most of Vol. 1 is produced by 9th Wonder, while on Vol. 2 you get some ace work from Salaam Remi. "Twofifteen" and "Making a Murderer" serve as key highlights of the first half, while the longer second half sports immediate ear-worms like the bass-heavy "Soundtrack to Confusion," "Long Liveth," and "Streets."
What is most clear is that with his unrelenting, constantly adept flow, Black Thought is truly a gifted lyricist and poet. His verses play like dense, rhyming paragraphs.
30. KENDRICK LAMAR – "DAMN." (2017)
Kendrick Lamar followed up "To Pimp a Butterfly," with an intense, album-length exploration of life and death in modern America. Each track is named after a concept and Lamar has woven a tapestry so tightly that it is designed to be played both forward and in backward track order.
This is a record that is built for these chaotic times. From "HUMBLE" to "DNA," this record is packed with hard-edged classics. Rihanna drops by on "LOYALTY" and U2 guests on "XXX," which the two artists would later further flesh-out on the latter's "American Soul."
29. FLORENCE + THE MACHINE – "CEREMONIALS" (DELUXE) (2011)
"Ceremonials" essentially continues where Florence's 2009 debut, "Lungs" left off. That album was a stunning piece of work and yet somehow this record is even bigger, brighter and bolder. Florence Welch can belt out with the best of them and this is almost exclusively a collection of singles.
Religious symbolism is spread throughout the record, but make no mistakes, this is a secular party record that plays with religious imagery in a fun and almost gothic sense. "Shake It Out," may refer to "shaking the devil off your back," but it could just as easily be about dancing your worries away in a club on Friday night. "Leave My Body" could be a funeral hymn or it could be an escapist anthem.
This is an album about redemption and Florence likes to be a bit of an enigma.
28. LORDE – "MELODRAMA" (2017)
Lorde's second album, "Melodrama" upped the ante from her debut, "Pure Heroine." Joining forces with producer Jack Antonoff, she made a mixture of songs that combined tales of picking up people at clubs and ballads of regret. This sounds like a breakup and rebound record.
"Green Light" is a dance number intended for medicinal purposes while "Liability" and "Writer in the Dark" tug at the heartstrings in the best sense. Lorde made a classic here. While club-hopping and singing about heartbreak, Lorde delivered one of the best pop albums of 2017 and one of the best albums of the decade.
27. RAY LAMONTAGNE – "OUROBOROS" (2016)
Ray LaMontagne was once known as a quiet singer-songwriter, releasing reflective, soulful hits like "Trouble." In 2016, he teamed up with another fellow-rocker behind the boards, My Morning Jacket's Jim James. Together they made a masterpiece.
"Ouroboros" is a hard-hitting suite of songs. The psychedelic edges from the previous record remain intact, although this album is more of a throwback to '70s classics like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." This is the kind of record you want to listen to straight through from start to finish.The slippery guitar-funk of "Hey, No Pressure" and the mammoth "While It Still Beats" sound lifted from another era and it is evident that this is a rock album that will endure for decades to come.
26. THE AVALANCHES– "WILDFLOWER" (2016)
Australian crew The Avalanches' 2016 record a mixture of hip-hop, electronic music and turntablism. This is a music fan's dream of a record, as many sounds combine to make a whirling analog-minded mass.
You can tell The Avalanches are crate-divers since obscure snippets are openly interspersed with more recognizable passages. This is a commanding mood-setter. It is also a fun record to deconstruct and examine for its samples.
25. PAUL MCCARTNEY – "NEW" (DELUXE) (2013)
At 70, Paul McCartney made what is perhaps his finest solo album to date. Pairing himself with four modern ace producers (Paul Epworth, Mark Ronson, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns), McCartney took the opportunity play with newer technology. The end result was like a modern re-imagination of a late-period Beatles album.
The forward-thinking "Appreciate" is a startling electronic-tinged rocker while "Queenie Eye" is packed with vintage charm. The collection has a spacey, driving undercurrent.
If you can, pick up the deluxe edition, which features two bonus tracks. You'd swear George Harrison's ghost was in the studio with McCartney on "Turned Out." "New" is a stunning sonic document and a true testament to McCartney's evolving genius.
24. LORDE – "PURE HEROINE" (2013)
Lorde's debut album didn't seem like the work of a 17-year-old, but here it was in all of its minimalist glory. Perhaps it is that minimalism that still makes it such an enduring effort.
From the decadent fantasies of "Royals," to the stark imagery of "Buzzcut Season," to the immediate bombast of tracks like "Tennis Court" and "Team," it was quickly evident that Lorde had a clear vision. While "Melowdrama," would take her to more intense and more adult places, this record still plays with both innocence and inherent sophistication.
23. NINE INCH NAILS – "HESITATION MARKS" (2013)
With each successive release, Trent Reznor has honed his craft bit by bit. "Hesitation Marks" found a weird sense of balance unlike any Nine Inch Nails album before it, showcasing dark electronic exercises like "Copy of a" and "Came Back Haunted," with uncharacteristically (surprisingly) happy tracks like the New Order-esque, "Everything."
"Hesitation Marks" still stands as a timeless piece of work and yet, in some ways it feels like Reznor still could potentially have just as classic work ahead of him.
22. BASIA BULAT – "GOOD ADVICE" (2016)
Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat released essentially a perfect record with this, her fourth album, "Good Advice." Interestingly, like Ray LaMontagne's "Ouroboros," this record was produced by My Morning Jacket's Jim James, which means James should definitely be producing more records.
Bulat here sounds like a cross between Florence Welch and Natalie Merchant and she delivers ten striking, soaring bits of memorable pop. The instrumentation is lively here, complimenting Bulat's songs and giving them a vivid, live, natural feeling.
"Infamous" really should have been a monstrous radio hit. The same could be said about "Long Goodbye," "La La Lie" and the sweeping "Someday Soon." From end-to-end this record holds up and shows Basia Bulat to be a major talent. In the States she should be a much bigger name. The good news is that she will release a new album in 2020.
21. SPOON – "HOT THOUGHTS" (2017)
On their ninth proper full-length, Spoon delivered a sharp, electronically-hued album that took their signature sound and gave it a pop sheen. The title-track is a sleek dance number, while "I Ain't the One" is full of loaded intrigue.
"Do I Have to Talk You into it" should please longtime fans while closing instrumental, "Us," throws an experimental log into the fire. Here, the Austin, Texas band gave us an album with pop appeal and enough experimental edges to please all corners of their fan base.
20. THE JOY FORMIDABLE – "THE BIG ROAR" (2011)
The Joy Formidable are a Welsh trio who made major waves in 2011. Balancing infectious pop melodies with heavy guitar assaults, their album, "The Big Roar" found a glorious meeting place between beauty and dissonance.
Lead singer/guitarist, Ritzy Bryan could easily write songs with gentle acoustic arrangements, but then she wouldn't have so much fun rocking out. She's an expert at making her guitar collapse into a wall of feedback. "Whirring," "The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade" and "Austere," are strong highlights from this epic record.
19. MITSKI – "BE THE COWBOY" (2018)
On her fifth album, Mitski jam-packs 14 tracks into a brief 33 minutes, resulting in many, compact exercises in succinct composition. Give "Geyser" a listen as it quickly builds and explodes, the country-tinged "Lonesome Love" or the distorted new-wave of "Remember My Name."
Other highlights include "Me and My Husband" and the broadcast-esque "Come into the Water." Mitski proves herself to be a sonic scientist, especially as she crams a complete song's worth of ideas into a mere minute-and-a-half. This is a sometimes chaotic, genre-shifting set, but it is a love letter to pop-craft at its core.
18. MARTINA TOPLEY-BIRD – "SOME PLACE SIMPLE" (2010)
The idea was as simple as it is brilliant. Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz told Martina Topley-Bird that she should rerecord some of her songs with minimalist, stripped arrangements. Like a great "unplugged" record, some of these stripped down performances really blossom in ways that the fuller versions don't. Topley- Bird's sweet voice becomes the center, and the true beauty in these songs comes forth.
17. KENDRICK LAMAR – "TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY" (2015)
Kendrick Lamar released the most politically important album of 2015. In the aftermath of Ferguson, Trayvon Martin and the countless similar cases around the country, this album stands as a modern day protest record. When Lamar declares, "I love myself" on "i", it comes off as an act of defiance, playing off a society that has downplayed and disrespected an entire group of its citizens.
Songs like "King Kunta" and "The Blacker the Berry" to various degrees are pointed anthems of black pride. "To Pimp A Butterfly" is a truly dense work with a great deal of pull. It is a spacey, often jazzy and psychedelic record that sometimes embraces controversy in the name of positive change.
It is essentially an essay about power, economics and racial injustice. It also illustrates in a variety of ways the importance of respecting one's self-worth when others are trying to take you down.
16. WOLF ALICE – "VISIONS OF A LIFE" (2017)
The sophomore album by British rockers Wolf Alice is a perfect example of what they can do. The first four singles sound like the work of four different bands. It's hard to believe the blistering punk of "Yuk Foo," the focused pop drive of "Beautifully Unconventional" and the shoegaze/dream-pop of "Heavenward" are all from the same source.
The closing title-track has a near Zeppelin-esque backbone. All throughout, leader Ellie Rowsell distinguishes herself in her ability to shift with her ever-changing backdrops. This is a awe-striking record in many respects.
15. ADELE – "25" (2015)
This is the album many people were waiting for and it delivered. Is it ballad-heavy? Indeed. But no one today sings ballads quite like Adele. It is the subtle edges that really make this album a winner. The hints of trip-hop embedded into the ethereal "I Miss You" or the way Adele uncharacteristically lets her voice lilt upwards on "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)." The classical details in "A Million Years Ago" play like a timeless serenade while "Remedy" is a sweeping piano-ballad that somehow doesn't wind up being cheesy.
"25" is a touch mellower than expected overall, but its sheer quality cannot be denied. It will be remembered as the album that (perhaps only for a moment) turned the music industry around, but it also offers a strong batch of songs performed by a very gifted singer. When it comes to remembering 2015, a great many people will have strong, personal associations with this album.
14. BECK – "MORNING PHASE" (2014)
This was the album that (deservedly) won the Grammy for album of the year and effectively catching the ire of Kanye West. This was Beck's first proper album since 2008's "Modern Guilt." It places him and his band back in the classic, slow, ethereal mode of 2002's "Sea Change."
The one difference is that this album is a tad sunnier and tracks like "Morning" and "Waking Light" are brimming with positivity. Beck appears to be someone who aces every genre he touches and he also is still making high quality records that generations will be listening to for decades to come. This is truly a stunning and beautifully intricate and intimate record.
13. CAR SEAT HEADREST – "TEENS OF DENIAL" (2016)
Car Seat Headrest began as Will Toledo's home recording project. "Teens of Denial" is Toledo's second proper offering, but thirteenth overall. There's a warm D.I.Y. aesthetic at work here that brings to mind records like Pavement's "Slanted And Enchanted" and Liz Phair's "Exile In Guyville."
Toledo is an engaging lyricist, telling stories about lives gone wrong and in the case of the song "Vincent," making observational points like how "they've a portrait of Van Gogh on the Wikipedia page for clinical depression." "Teens of Denial" is a gutsy, hard-rocking record and Toledo is a tremendously witty writer with his own sarcastic slant.
12. MICHAEL KIWANUKA – "KIWANUKA" (2019)
British singer Michael Kiwanuka's third album is an old-school soul collection which brings to mind confessional, moving singer-songwriters of the past. Sure, there are bits of Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers in this collection, but the crunchy psychedelic guitars on songs like "Rolling" and "I've Been Dazed" bring to mind Jimi Hendrix or even the Animals.
The heavy orchestral build of "You Ain't the Problem" or the frank sadness hiding just under the surface of "Hero" cement this album as one for the ages. It is instantly vintage in the best way.
11. BROKEN BELLS – "BROKEN BELLS" (2010)
From "The High Road" to "October," this initial collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and Danger Mouse still shines quite brightly. The freaky, futuristic falsetto funk of "The Ghost Inside" still haunts, as well. This was and still sounds like a sum of its parts.
10. WAXAHATCHEE – "CERULEAN SALT" (2013)
The best album of 2013 was "Cerulean Salt" by Waxahatchee. If you don't know, Waxahatchee is essentially the one-woman recording project by singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield. Six years later, "Cerulean Salt" still sounds like a master-class in bedroom recording.
Part fuzzy and part acoustic, it hits that perfect alt-rock sweet spot. Ghosts of Liz Phair's "Exile In Guyville" and Elliott Smith's "XO" ring throughout but, ultimately, it's Crutchfield's knack for crafting quick, highly effective songs that shines through. You'd be hard pressed to find a song as heart-stopping as "You're Damaged," and yet the song is just her voice and a guitar.
9. BAT FOR LASHES – "LOST GIRLS" (2019)
Natasha Khan's fifth album as Bat For Lashes is also her best to date, showcasing a warm, earthy, electro-pop glow. Key standouts like "Kids in the Dark," "The Hunger," "Peach Sky" and "Mountains," are jam-packed with dreamy retro-eighties sonic textures. It is if the relocated British singer has crafted a stunning soundtrack for California dusk.
8. THE BETHS – "FUTURE ME HATES ME" (2018)
The Beths are an indie-rock band from New Zealand with a knack for pop hooks and unpredictable shifts. "Future Me Hates Me" is as assured as debuts come and it doesn't get much more mind-blowing than the constantly adjusting "Little Death" or the intense "Not Running."
"Uptown Girl" is an insistent bit of pop-fueled punk, while "Happy Unhappy" is a sunny bit of power-pop. The Beths set the bar extremely high with this record and this album offers the kind of sudden surprise you hope for but hardly ever get.
7. BECK – "COLORS" (2017)
This album was the best album of 2017. "Colors" finds him back in party mode after the downbeat shift of "Morning Phase." In fact, this plays like a less freaky, more honed cousin to "Midnite Vultures." This is a glassy pop album with Beck's experimental side still intact.
"Dreams" and "Wow" were released long before the record, but this is tight, concise pop statement with some unexpected turns. This is a fun, exhilarating record that only gets better on repeat. It is perhaps his brightest and most accessibly pop-centric album to date.
6. FRANK OCEAN – "CHANNEL ORANGE" (2012)
Only time will tell if Frank Ocean's "channel ORANGE" will stack up against the masterpieces of the soul greats. His chances look good. Seven years later, it is still a striking release. Put quite simply, "channel ORANGE" is the best and most moving modern R&B record to be released in the last decade. Ocean combines older sounding instrumentation with modern touches. His voice is a multi-octave force.
On "Thinkin Bout You," he suddenly rallies into the stratosphere. On "Forrest Gump," he affectionately targets the title character with an unlikely Motown-esque love-ballad. "Bad Religion" finds Ocean using a taxi as means for confession and then finds his confessions soundly rejected by the driver. "Pyramids" is an extended, club-ready, electro-funk jam, while "Sweet Life" shows off a seductive bachelor-pad groove.
The songs on "channel ORANGE," borrow from the past while forging ahead to the future.
5. BJORK – "VULNICURA" (2015)
"Vulnicura" Bjork released "Vulnicura" in a rush back in January 2015. The rush was necessary because the album had been leaked. This is quite possibly the most beautiful and heartbreaking work of Bjork's career and it plays like a classical orchestra piece.
The album tells the story of a break-up in chronological order. As it progresses, it gets more chaotic and more intense in order to illustrate the devastating effects of heartbreak. This record comes from a very tragic, real place. With "Vulnicura," Bjork has crafted a truly touching and very personal masterpiece. This is more than an album. This is sonic art.
4. REGINA SPEKTOR – "WHAT WE SAW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS" (2012)
"What We Saw from the Cheap Seats" only clocks in at a concise 37 minutes and it finds Spektor continuing the work she has done on her previous albums.
The thing is, here, she has perfected her craft. She brilliantly re-casts museums as prisons for timeless masterpieces on "All The Rowboats," artfully compares politicians to strippers on "Ballad of a Politician," breaks her listeners' hearts on the break-up ballad, "How," and ends with a brief Wes Anderson-soundtrack-ready, guitar-strummed reverie, "Jessica."
Spektor has a unique way of fusing words with melody. On "How," when she sings to a soon-to-be ex, "You are a guest here, now," the soul-crushing pain is felt. At its core, "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats" is a deceptively straightforward singer-songwriter record. It is also a record packed with unabashed romanticism -- the kind that will simultaneously break your heart and somehow keep you warm.
3. R.E.M. – "COLLAPSE INTO NOW" (2011)
R.E.M.'s final record may not get the respect it deserves but it packs in 30 years of knowledge and know-how into a closing set. They sounded more cohesive than ever and when they rocked, they rocked much harder than ever before.
It seemed like they were headed in an excellent direction, leaving fans looking forward to hearing more. "Collapse into Now" may actually be a perfect R.E.M. record because it has bits of everything they have done best over the last thirty-one years. There are ballads and rockers sitting side by side living in harmony. This is classic R.E.M. at its highest level. R.E.M. ended on top. That being said… they need to get back together.
2. SIA – "1000 FORMS OF FEAR" (2014)
This is one of the most gripping and emotional pop albums ever made. The songs are about real struggles. Sia, once readily seen on television, started getting panic attacks a few years ago that led to her not being able to perform live or appear on camera.
She didn't like the pressure and being hounded by the press, either, so she made a deal with her record company so that her face would never have to appear on screen. On top of the panic attack issues, this album discusses quite a bit.
Hit "Chandelier" is a song about battling alcoholism while "Eye of the Needle" addresses the pain in remembering her boyfriend who was killed in a freak taxi incident a few years back. All along, even though she's singing about seriously painful subjects, Sia keeps her composure and sings them with talent, grace, ease and honesty.
This album is an endlessly beautiful and heart-wrenching exercise in catharsis. On top of that, it is intelligently written and extremely catchy. "Elastic Heart" and "Free the Animal" and "Burn the Pages" are also essential standouts.
1. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – "WE GOT IT FROM HERE… THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE" (2016)
When A Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg died suddenly in March 2016 due to complications related to diabetes, few people knew that the group had secretly reconvened in November 2015 to work on their first album in 18 years. "We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service" works really well because it effectively pays tribute to the group's back-catalog while still sounding new and current.
Phife appears quite a few times on the record and the other members include a number of loving send-offs to their fallen brother. Recorded in Q-Tip's home studio, it is an album with a fresh DJ-mix-style to its sound, boasting high profile guests like Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, Andre 3000, Consequence and even Elton John.
It also marks the official studio return of the group's Jarobi White, who only previously appeared during spoken interludes on their 1990 debut. This is a poignant, sometimes politically charged record that keeps the group's core vision intact. It has melancholy moments but also is thick with a celebratory energy. It has bite and is still accessible. Tribe came back better than ever.