175. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest (2017)
Paul McCartney gave away the song “Songbird in a Cage” to Charlotte Gainsbourg for her best album to-date Rest — man, it would be great to have famous parents. Still, that Gainsbourg name is a hefty burden to bear if you want to strike out on your own musically. After the solid IRM in 2010 and being an acting favorite for Lars Von Trier, Charlotte had remained in the spotlight but not quite the zeitgeist. Rest is the most acclaim she has received with her bold French pop on songs like “Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses,” “Kate,” and “Deadly Valentine.” The lead single “Rest” was produced by Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and is a perfect match for her breathily-romantic singing style; it’s familiar territory for a Gainsbourg. — Andrew Cox
174. Jay-Z – 4:44 (2017)
Jay-Z’s career can be read as one long hall of mirrors. From his documentarian 90’s work to the self-conscious legacy-making of the 2000’s, Jay has always been first and foremost a historicist, organizing his own narratives for us in real time. But if The Blueprint was when rap grew up, then 4:44 is when it settled into middle age. It’s more than his response to Lemonade –– the bars here are about generational wealth, infidelity, and where your family falls in the story you tell about yourself. The revelation of 4:44 is Jay’s ability to make these things seem as subversive as his stories about the streets. — Justin Kamp
173. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (2013)
Waxahatchee began as acoustic solo material from songwriter Katie Crutchfield (previously of the punk outfit P.S. Eliot). But then came Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee’s sophomore effort, where Crutchfield gathered together a full band to support her songs (all of which were recorded in a basement). The result is dynamic, while never losing the personal familiarity and tactility. In Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield’s writing hinges on vulnerability, with a sizable dose of existentialism. On “Brother Bryan,” Crutchfield sings, “We are 30% dead and our parents go to sleep early.” But Cerulean Salt doesn’t feel completely hopeless; it just feels like mourning. — Cheyenne Bilderback
172. Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife (2015)
The debut album from Mississippi brother duo Rae Sremmurd was nothing short of a star-making performance. The album was brash, boisterous, and perhaps most importantly, a ton of fun. The album came a year after the group exploded onto the scene with college party bangers “No Flex Zone” and “No Type.” On an album highlighted by features from Big Sean (“YNO”), Young Thug and Nicki Minaj (“Throw Sum Mo”), SremmLife highlights Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi bringing an unmistakable energy over beats that are equal parts gritty and intense with a clear trap music vibe throughout. Perhaps most importantly, the album checks in at a compact 11 tracks and 45 minutes, never feeling like a chore to listen to. — Clay Sauertieg
171. Charli XCX – Pop 2 (2017)
Perhaps no artist has left such an enigmatic mark on the decade of their debut as British pop visionary Charli XCX. She found loyal music blogger devotion with 2013’s goth-hued True Romance and attained a measure of mainstream radio clout with 2014’s spunky Sucker, but Charli rewrote the rules of pop with 2017’s innovative, features-stuffed mixtape, Pop 2. Featuring collaboration after collaboration with some of the coolest and most diverse music makers on the planet, Pop 2 finds Charli spilling her guts over a futuristic, crying-in-the-club electronic soundbed that pulls from various underground music genres. From ruminating on loneliness and heartache on the dreamy Carly Rae Jepsen assisted “Backseat” to comparing falling in love with a fast ride on euphoric hyper-pop track “Unlock It,” which features Kim Petras and Jay Park, Pop 2 pushes Charli into new, challenging emotional and musical lanes. — Erica Russell
170. Noname – Room 25 (2018)
On Room 25, rapper and spoken word enthusiast Noname embraces the jazz influences and minimalist production from her debut, expanding on them in the process. Using live instrumentation, the Chicago native’s smooth, casual flow feels simultaneously intimate and engaging.
With her unique rhymes, clever wordplay and natural rhythmic ability, Noname’s bars are almost poetic on each and every song. Using elements of jazz and blues in a simplistic style, this avant-garde project is among the best in hip-hop.
Highlights on the LP include the rambunctious “Blaxploitation,” the introspective “Regal” and “Montego Bae,” which features a stellar verse by guest artist Ravyn Lenae. — Drew Pearce
169. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights (2017)
Julien Baker is among the all-time greats at writing songs that are comprehensively emotionally devastating, and Turn Out the Lights is a masterclass in it. The instrumentation is rich and textural, yet simultaneously feels cold and haunting, while Baker’s voice — whether piled with harmony or alone, whether a holler or a whisper — is always such a powerful force. Lyrically, every line is breathtaking, measured like a punch to the gut or a cold gust of wind. It’s a record that haunts you from the first note, but still it’s comforting; like a spectre in the corner of your room who’s just as human as you. — Mia Hughes
168. Pusha T – DAYTONA (2018)
Perhaps the best work of his career, Pusha T’s DAYTONA enters bold, brash territory. He lets loose on each track, holding nothing back, not afraid to point out his peers’ flaws when necessary. The album, produced entirely by Kanye West, is rather dark in its sample choices, creating a constant sense of anxiety and unease. Opener “If You Know You Know” sets the hardened tone Pusha T emulates over the next 21 minutes. It’s a short album, but is an intense listen, carrying the weight of Pusha T’s experiences. DAYTONA is packed with emotion, strife and the results of hard work. — Virginia Croft
167. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L (2011)
It’s been a while since W H O K I L L was voted the best album of 2011 in the Pazz & Jop critic’s poll — so long that tUnE-yArDs are now simply stylized as Tune-Yards. On this album and 2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs, Merrill Garbus was the perfect meeting place of David Byrne and Paul Simon, crafting worldbeat-infused pop with a dynamic voice affably contorting its way into your heart. I saw her open for Arcade Fire at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, and she filled that space hitting every note on classics like “Powa” seemingly with ease. “Bizness” still resonates with me as a formative indie track from my high school years. — Andrew Cox
166. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom (2014)
The lazy assessment of Ariel Pink’s success this decade is that he cleaned up his lo-fi sound enough for his music to be accessible. While more professional-sounding, his newer work hasn’t been given anything close to a distracting sheen. (Case in point: an acquaintance of mine who, upon hearing Mature Themes, asked, “is this a demo?”)
The truth is that Ariel Pink is one of the best pop songwriters working today and Pom Pom, with its bubblegum cover and array of flavors within its tracks — from the heat of “Not Enough Violence” to the bittersweetness of “Picture Me Gone” — meld so very well. Alternate title for this 17-track exercise in creative joie de vivre: The Pink Album. — Brody Kenny
165. Danny Brown – Old (2013)
Side A of Old is my favorite Danny Brown. “The Return,” “Lonely,” and “Torture” features Danny Brown in his low register at his most earnest in detailing his childhood anxiety growing up in Detroit streets. Without any songs truly standing out — apart from the poorly-aging “25 Bucks” featuring Purity Ring — the side flows magnificently. It’s not like side B doesn’t pull its weight, but it’s aiming for a hype-up vibe that’s certainly more disposable than Brown’s best work. “Kush Coma” does come near the end with a fantastic A$AP Rocky feature to act as a course-corrector; Old sticks the landing and is a great document of Danny Brown’s aesthetic variety. — Andrew Cox
164. Mac DeMarco – 2 (2012)
The massive hit record 2 by Mac DeMarco captures him perfectly: a talented guitarist, incredible songwriter, and one who is passionate about his craft, but also wants it to be fun. 2 features some of DeMarco’s most beloved songs, such as “Freaking Out the Neighborhood,” “Ode to Viceroy,” and “My Kind of Woman.” There’s also “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name,” a song that captures the wistful feeling of dreaming of something great; “Cooking Up Something Good,” a perfect DeMarco-ian groove that also is the best song to start off the album; and finally, “Still Together,” the closing song, is a sweet acoustic number that is DeMarco being as true to himself as possible. 2 is his best album, full of unforgettable moments and unforgettable music. — Happy Haugen
Virginia Croft’s Honorable Mentions
- James Blake – Assume Form (2019)
The most honest album Blake has released, Assume Form removes all veils between Blake and the listener, with the songwriter taking the opportunity to invite us into his brain. The album beautifully tackles mental health and love in a truly compassionate way.
- Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs (2019)
Rarely has a debut album felt so independent, strong and necessary. On Beware of the Dogs, Australian by way of Wales singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly grapples with Australian politics, abortion, and dirty old men.
- Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (2017)
Full of sorrow, reflection, and even a little hope, Bridgers’ debut is haunting and melancholic, examining love and what lies beneath it.
- The National – I Am Easy to Find (2019)
Musically, the album is stunning, featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Sharon Van Etten, and Kate Stables. There’s an aftershock to some of the songs, like the impossible-to-describe beauty of the piano intro to “Light Years.”
- Metronomy – The English Riviera (2011)
The tracks have an infectious haze of cool to them, instantly transporting you to the “bay” they sing of, relaxed synths and soothing guitars providing a distraction from everything unwanted.
163. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors (2019)
In a recent interview with Bob Boilen for All Songs Considered, Angel Olsen remarked on the making of All Mirrors: ““What making this record was about… is erasing my own thoughts about where the song should be, letting go and being more open to other ideas.” Olsen more than excels in this goal, pushing her musicality to new spaces. Many of the tracks are heightened and brightened by Olsen’s use of a 14-piece orchestra, achieving a bold new sound. “Lark” is the standout, a tremendous musical creation pushing Olsen to the edge, allowing us a peek into her inner monologue, providing the backbone for the source of the album. — Virginia Croft
162. Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti (2017)
Playboi Carti is the maxim of saying more with less. Before the Atlanta rapper released a full-length project, he had an affinity for releasing brief snatches of music capable of whipping people up into a frenzy. When Playboi Carti finally arrived, it crystallized the fear every self-professed oldhead has ever had about the state of rap music. Carti’s laconic sneer of a voice seems barely interested in anything resembling conventional rap. But it’s that voice that makes his self-titled debut so enthralling and what makes it feel like a superstar vehicle in the making. Carti sounds giddy, treating his ad-libs with more reverence than his lyrics. It’s an approach that has landed accusations of laziness, but Playboi Carti is radical in how lyricism doesn’t matter as much as feeling does — especially when one is playing in a druggy, hazy playground soundtracked by Pi’erre Bourne. Here, Carti rises to the occasion, contorting his voice to meet every shift in color. — Jibril Yassin
161. Arca – Xen (2014)
Alejandro Ghersi has quite the résumé this decade — production and writing credits of Yeezus, LP1, Take Me Apart, and Vulnicura, and oh yeah, three great albums of her own (she came out as non-binary and prefers feminine pronouns). The 2017 album Arca saw her morph into an avant-garde pop virtuoso with her vocals on full display, but I still prefer her work staying behind the mask on Xen. There’s a free jazz improvisational aspect to the production work where you’re better off sitting back and appreciating the big picture rather than meticulously tracking each note. The tones are vibrant and the pace is constantly changing (and not just because most songs here are under three minutes). She’s brilliantly unfocused. — Andrew Cox
160. Arcade Fire – Reflektor (2013)
A worthy yet sufficiently different double album follow-up to Arcade Fire’s celebrated The Suburbs, 2013’s Reflektor maintains some key components while also delving deeper into electronic tapestries, danceable hooks, and shared vocals between Régine Chassagne and Win Butler. Standouts include the mesmerizing glitziness of the “Reflektor,” the avant-garde accessibility of “Flashbulb Eyes,” the Beatles-esque upbeat poppiness of “You Already Know,” and the vintage ‘80s zeal of “Afterlife.” True, some other selections are less interesting and substantial (“We Exist” and “Joan of Arc,” for instance), but the majority of Reflektor earns its praise from outlets like Rolling Stone, Spin, and Pitchfork. — Jordan Blum
159. Rich Gang – Tha Tour Part 1 (2014)
Everything Young Thug touched in 2013-’14 turned to gold — “Danny Glover,” “Lifestyle,” “Stoner,” “Old English,” 1017 Thug, etc. The best of all this was his mixtape Tha Tour Part 1 as Rich Gang with Rich Homie Quan. Early in 2014, Quan declared his collabs with Young Thug as the best since OutKast, and he turned out to not be hyperbolic. If we stretch this out, Young Thug was our André 3000 and Rich Homie Quan, our Big Boi. Eccentricity and talent shine through in equal spades from each of them. When the two feature on the same track — “Flava” & “Tell Em (Lies)” in particular — you already know it’s a classic. — Andrew Cox
158. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (2011)
When Girls broke up in 2012, it felt like the last flames of jangle pop had officially faded out. The revival of the genre with The Feelies and R.E.M. in the ’80s came back in the late-’00s with bands like Surfer Blood, Smith Westerns, Yuck, and Best Coast, but it was Girls, who were capable of epics like “Carolina” (off their stellar Broken Dreams Club EP) and “Vomit,” that still remain vital. Elsewhere on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, songs like “Honey Bunny” and “Saying I Love You” succeed through a blatant rip of ’60s pop rock, sounding like they belong on Rubber Soul. With this coming from frontman and songwriter Christopher Owens, who was born into a religious cult and fled Slovenia at age sixteen, the music of Girls sounded like bright-eyed escapism. — Andrew Cox
157. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (2013)
Acid Rap Is Our Favorite Mixtape
Acid Rap is one of the greatest musical projects to-date and as proof it makes our Top 200 Albums of the 2010s List. To be clear — this project is not an album but a mixtape released by Chance via Soundcloud and Datpiff back in April of 2013! Only recently, Acid Rap was made available for streaming on major platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. For those who don’t know — Chance The Rapper, born Chancellor Bennett, is an American rapper hailing from Chicago, IL. He is the older brother to musician Taylor Bennett, a husband and a father. Prior to Acid Rap, Chance The Rapper built a fan-base of disgruntled teens with 10 Day, but it was his drug-induced reflections on his surroundings, friends, family and future that sprung him to major success.
From the melting self-portrait cover art to the soulful production on the tape, Chance spared no amount of creativity and camaraderie. Many artists broke on this mixtape, from Saba to Noname. BJ The Chicago Kid to Nate Fox. Even Twista appears on young Chance’s mixtape that still currently holds it’s own amongst studio albums.
156. A$AP Rocky – Live.Love.A$AP (2011)
For a brief moment, A$AP Rocky was the coolest rapper alive and Live.Love.A$AP felt like it spelled out just where rap was going. Born out of a purple-tinted cloud not bound to regional aesthetics or Internet connections, Live.Love.A$AP wasn’t the first New York rap project to liberally borrow from the South but it was the first to suggest that this would be inevitable for the rest of the decade. Rocky will never have a flair for quotables like Drake or possess a sheer technical prowess a la Kendrick Lamar, but the biggest thing he has going for him is his magnetic delivery, making him sound amazing on just about everything. Live.Love.A$AP puts that to the test, feeding Rocky’s Harlem drawl through dark, woozy sonic landscapes that never encroach on his superstar charisma. The approach paid off; Rocky the pretty motherfucker took off and never looked back. — Jibril Yassin
155. Future – DS2 (2015)
Future Became A Rockstar With DS2
DS2, short for Dirty Sprite 2 is the third studio album from Future. The album serves as a follow-up to Dirty Sprite, Future’s mixtape that was released in 2011. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
Released in the middle of the summer, the album received heavy club and radio play. DS2 is another jewel in the crown that is southern trap. Future played into the raunchy underbelly in all of us.
Tracks like “Freak Hoe,” “Trap Niggas,” and even “I Serve the Base” rose to prominence as backng tracks for viral videos on social media. Marketing campaigns for products and services, like Sprite, also featured DS2 tracks.
The production was deftly handled by the southern captains of the trap sound; Zaytoven, Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital have production credits on DS2. The infamous beat drops and heavy low-end from these producers were highlighted and given room to shine.
Another iconic point is Future’s flow — his raps were essentially drug-slurred vocals. This is most clear on “Where Ya At” — compare Drake’s clear vocals to Future’s crunchy and guttural first verse. Perhaps the album title was not just a reference to the popular narcotic/soda mix but an actual tool used by Future in the booth.
Drugs or not, the album is a true masterpiece. His album, sitting at around an hour of music, has little to no features. The deluxe edition of the album features a 25-minute outro with Hip Hop legends like Rick Ross, Pharrell and more.
Future is a rockstar and DS2 solidified his spot in not only trap’s hall of fame but Hip Hop’s legacy. — Chanell Noise
154. Caribou – Swim (2010)
You could strip Swim of its vocals and it would still be intoxicating. There are entirely instrumental tracks, like “Bowls” and “Lalibela” as well as ones where Dan Snaith’s vocals are more about adding another textural component than creating a narrative of any sorts, like the iridescent “Sun.” But it also contains character portraits like respective opener and closer “Odessa” and “Jamelia” that encapsulate how to be evocative even without using specific language, with the latter leading to an explosion of all the potential energy left in the album, with immense help from Luke Lalonde of Born Ruffians.
Although Snaith has a doctorate in mathematics, Swim is where his music starts to seem like it’s really playing with formulas, but never to the point of it being clinical. Its techno/house roots give it something of an outline, but Snaith’s heart and passion for surprising himself as well as his audience keeps it beyond the stale. Not bad for someone who once released a project called If Assholes Could Fly This Place Would Be an Airport. — Brody Kenny
153. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
By the time 2015 rolled around, Drake had the music world in the palm of his hand. It had been two years since the wildly popular Nothing Was the Same, which also served as one of his most critically acclaimed albums. This time, Drake ditches the introspection and sorrow for a grandiose, almost braggadocious sound. He demonstrates this most on tracks like “Energy,” “10 Bands,” and “6 God” where he scoffs at social media haters and rappers trying to use his name for publicity and shows off his continually-growing wealth. Drake’s almost casual rhyming cadence over head-bobbing beats from PartyNextDoor and Boi-1Da serve as a giant middle finger to the haters and anyone who dares stand in his way going forward. — Clay Sauertieg
152. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love (2018)
Yves Tumor’s name had been floating in the margins for a few years before Safe in the Hands of Love. There was 2016’s Serpent Music that weaseled its way onto some end-of-year lists that promoted obscure releases. Then the Mono No Aware compilation’s standout track was “Limerence” by Yves Tumor. He was known to people more likely to read Tiny Mix Tapes than Rolling Stone, but with a few tracks here, that changed drastically. “Noid” is about as pop as he gets with a constant repetition of lyrics on depression, PTSD, and social anxiety that connects back to his conservative childhood in Knoxville. “Licking an Orchid” and “Lifetime” are both beautiful and grand in their attempts to redefine the parameters of experimental music. Those three songs in the middle here make up the most exciting new sounds in the last few years. — Andrew Cox
151. Jon Hopkins – Singularity (2018)
Singularity flew under the radar for me last year. I enjoyed it, but what about it was revolutionary or made it deserving of high praise? But Singularity isn’t an album of moments; it’s one massive, brilliant thud. It’s an album that can only ever be listened to front-to-back because there are no peaks or valleys here. Hopkins’ sound hiccups and pulses its way into your bloodstream until it locks into an awe-inspiring, mechanical beat. Few albums that sound this big can maintain it for an hour. Hopkins stays the course and begs you to complain that it’s the same song over and over again. Here’s your meat & potatoes of progressive electronica — enjoy. — Andrew Cox