125. Lorde – Pure Heroine (2013)
New Zealand singer Lorde exploded onto the music scene with the 2013 single “Royals,” featuring what some would call sick beats and ethereal harmonies. The single was the perfect introduction to her debut album Pure Heroine, which is accurately named as it spawned a sort of addiction to her rich feminine vocals and poppy production. This effect is showcased in tracks like “Team” and “White Teeth Teens.” I remember being obsessed with the angsty-teen track “The Love Club,” which was added on the extended version of Pure Heroine. It, alongside hits like “Tennis Court” and “Buzzcut Season,” touch on darker matters, which underlines the entire album’s electric energy. Overall, it left me wanting more Lorde, which was fulfilled by her long-awaited release of her second and more raw album Melodrama. — Sadie Burrows
124. HAIM – Days Are Gone (2013)
Alt-rock trio HAIM certainly made waves when they entered the scene with their critically acclaimed debut album Days Are Gone in late 2013.
Treating the record as if it were a jam session in their living room, sisters Danielle, Este and Alana Haim put out banger after banger, ultimately creating an ’80s-and-rock-influenced project where every song is irresistible.
Whether it’s the hard-hitting “My Song 5,” the pulsing breakout hit “The Wire” or the fervently funky title track, Days Are Gone has something for everyone. Even slow burners “Go Slow” and “Running If You Call My Name” inspire listeners to belt along and rock out, making this LP something truly special. — Drew Pearce
123. Frank Ocean – nostalgia, ULTRA (2011)
nostalgia, ULTRA is the beginning of Frank Ocean’s story. It’s his debut mixtape, first out in 2011. Currently, as I write this, the album is not available on Spotify, but download links and free streams are easily found elsewhere. nostalgia, ULTRA was — and remains — a fresh R&B project, sunny and untouched by a big label. It includes a Coldplay cover, “Strawberry Swing,” and “American Wedding,” which reworks the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” There’s love stories, childhood nostalgia, and social commentary that still holds up today. There’s even Radiohead and MGMT samples. nostalgia, ULTRA is unendingly interesting, fulfilled by Ocean’s dreamy creativity. — Cheyenne Bilderback
122. Ariana Grande – sweetener (2018)
I have been following Ariana Grande since the release Yours Truly, drawn in by her mind-blowingly silky runs and sweet strength. By 2018, she celebrated the accomplishment of sweetener being her third album to top the charts in the United States. sweetener feels like the right next step in her album progression, displaying softer sides and a level of personal, vocal, and production maturity. Despite disappointing tracks that were hyped up like “the light is coming (feat. Nicki Minaj)” and “blazed (feat. Pharrell Williams),” most of the songs hit. “raindrops (an angel cried)” is a beautiful introduction to an album that flows with the signature Grande suaveness alongside a new tenderness, showing up in songs like ”R.E.M.,”and “pete davidson.” sweetener is unique and impactful, acting as a major stepping stone to the equally as incredible release of thank u, next. — Sadie Burrows
121. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (2016)
Sierra Leone is a tiny country on the southwest coast of West Africa and is a fixture of two of the best pop albums this decade. Frank Ocean has a song called “Sierra Leone” on channel ORANGE, and Dev Hynes’ third album is named after Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone and where Hynes’ father was born. Freetown is the oldest capital founded by African Americans as it was a safe haven for free-born, freed, and liberated African and Caribbean settlers. Dev Hynes’ version of freedom is found all over the album — freedom to be black and queer, to feature artists as diverse as Debbie Harry and Ta-Nehisi Coates, to present the personal and political as one continuous, interchangeable struggle. Freetown Sound is not where Dev Hynes made his name, but it’s where he defined who he is. — Andrew Cox
Mia Hughes’ Honorable Mentions
- Paramore – After Laughter (2017)
With After Laughter, Paramore prove that they’re an even better pop band than they are a rock band. Rich and colorful instrumentation, bouncy rhythms and undeniable melodies back up some of Hayley Williams’ most vulnerable and affecting lyricism yet. Unconstricted by expectations, they reach the top of their game.
- Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) (2018)
This is a re-recording and at times re-imagining of 2011’s original Twin Fantasy, He’s tweaked the production, the performances and the songs themselves to better illustrate the epic, heartbreaking love story that unfolds within. No persona on this one — it’s transparent and cathartic.
- Shannen Moser – I’ll Sing (2018)
A hidden gem, from the tiny Philly DIY label Lame-O. Moser’s storytelling is both stark and hazy, simultaneously the cold breath of winter and the warm shimmer of summer. The brilliance of her songwriting is that you almost can’t picture it as songwriting at all; the songs feel old and cozy, structures that have always stood.
- Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning (2018)
Last Building Burning is a noisy, chaotic strike of post-hardcore, yet one that manages to weave compelling melodies amongst it without losing its bite. One gets the feeling that Dylan Baldi could write pop songs, which only serves to enhance the vitality in the record’s instrumental harshness.
- Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again (2014)
The songs on Never Hungover Again are vital and biting bursts of punk, with lyrics that are heartfelt yet witty — catharsis with a sense of humor. Barry Johnson avoids emo excess with abstract lines in place of grand emotional statements; he cuts to the heart with understated precision.
120. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness (2015)
Have You in My Wilderness is a lushly layered album filled with fleeting impressions of larger-than-life stories. “Can I feel you? Are you mythological?” asks Julia Holter on the popular “Feel You.” Like the album’s title suggests, she uses vivid natural imagery, ranging from the sea to “rattlesnake winds.” Each song is given its own unique landscape. Holter also uses literature for many reference points and song origins (Chance Acquaintances by Colette directly speaks to “Lucette Stranded on the Island”). It’s impressive, but not too heavy-handed; instead, Have You in My Wilderness invites the listener to explore. — Cheyenne Bilderback
119. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (2010)
During a recent ranking of his band’s records, TItus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles put his band’s second and most acclaimed album near the bottom. It’s a sentiment that’s easy to disagree with but also easy to understand when you see his reasoning. Looking back on any emotionally-charged work from your younger days can be uncomfortable, especially when its analogizing the U.S. Civil War with a mental breakdown and continues refrains like “You will always be a loser.”
But The Monitor’s unabashed brattiness carries some actual gravitas and some of the best lyricism you’ll find on any album this decade. Just reading the lyrics to closer “The Battle of Hampton Roads” can make you feel sorry for Stickles, both for his experiences and for having to try to find a way to top this album (I’d argue he never will). Titus Andronicus got their name from Shakespeare and have been compared to Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, and The Pogues, but on The Monitor, they’re in a league of their own. — Brody Kenny
118. Chromatics – Kill for Love (2012)
Setting The Standard for Years to Come: Kill for Love
Kill For Love, the fourth studio album by electronic powerhouses Chromatics, was released in March of 2012. Regarded as one of the best albums of that year, this album definitely deserves space on the 250 Best Albums of the decade list.
“[Kill For Love is] meticulously well thought-out… [it] feels less like an album and more like a feature film.”
This album is retail gold. Its not odd to have walked into a XXI or Hollister Co during your highschool or college years and heard the title track, “Kill for Love,” over the speakers. What this album does very well is center chords, synths, effects and song progression over percussion like its electronic peers.
In fact, the remixes to “Birds of Paradise” prompted Chromatics to share the entire album stripped of drums online. The album’s soft, yet playful overtones pushed Chromatics into a sphere that classic rock fans could appreciate and indie rock kids would emulate.
Publications held this album’s emotional honesty, high production value and sonic creativity in high regard. Kill for Love is where simplicity meets seductive.
What the album also does well is pivot within itself. Whereas the first tracks are softer and melodic, the latter tracks like “These Streets Will Never Look The Same” take on a duskier and more upbeat energy. The album goes from day to night in a matter of songs. Kill for Love is a beautiful and diverse array of electronic emotion. No wonder so many artists sample, are inspired by, and cover Chromatics. — Chanell Noise
117. Spoon – They Want My Soul (2014)
Coming from one of the most consistent rock bands in recent memory, Spoon’s They Want My Soul is still one of the band’s best records. The band hones in on the driving rock and roll that makes them great while taking their tried and true practices to new heights. The result is an album full of unique surprises: the gentle harp on “Inside Out,” the Electro beat on “Knock Knock Knock.” Meanwhile, tracks like “Do You” and “They Want My Soul” show the band in their element, and seemingly at their peak. — Mackenzie Cummings-Grady
116. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Pt. 2 (Return of the Ankh) (2010)
Erykah Badu makes classic albums; that’s just what she does when she decides to give us one. With New Amerykah, Pt. 2, she was still sifting through the 75 or so tracks she had compiled in 2005 using GarageBand through a Christmas gift of a computer from Questlove. Part 1 from 2008 was a dense sociopolitical record that made no attempt for mainstream success; by contrast, Part 2 is more of a collection of ready-made singles that rivaled the work of her commercial peak on Baduizm. “Window Seat” is her most popular solo track since 2000’s Mama’s Gun, and the other singles “Get MuNNY & “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” manage to stand out in her loaded discography. New Amerykah, Pt. 3, please?? — Andrew Cox
115. Bon Iver – 22, A Million (2016)
I first heard 22, A Million when it debuted at frontman Justin Vernon’s Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin. I had been walking down a path in the woods when the show started (stereotypical but honestly, perfect). At the time, 22, A Million marked a significant departure from Bon Iver’s folky sound, garnering strong reactions after its release. Experimental and conceptual, the project featured new software developed specifically for Bon Iver. Called “The Messina,” the tool enabled Vernon to achieve unique effects and harmonies both on record and in real time. The results are atmospheric, brooding and uplifting all at once. — Cheyenne Bilderback
114. Burial – Rival Dealer (2013)
How much have we learned about Burial since he revealed his identity a year after Untrue back in 2008? Not much, and he has remained as distant as ever without even releasing an “album” this decade. What we got were nine EPs with 2-3 tracks; the most substantive of them all is the 28-minute Rival Dealer that Burial even offered a unifying theme for: “anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them.” Wholesomeness within electronic music is frankly uncommon, but even with Untrue, there was a rich humanity behind his work that implied affection and caring and that captivated listeners beyond his impressive sonic achievements. Here, that spirit is plain to see with a heavy sample from transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski. With Rival Dealer, the recluse briefly came down to us. — Andrew Cox
113. Four Tet – There Is Love in You (2010)
With a 1-2 punch of “Angel Echoes” and “Love Cry,” There Is Love in You was destined to be a classic. Four Tet has said on Twitter that the vocal sample for “Angel Echoes” will never be figured out (he has since deleted it, probably for inspiring too many people to search for it.) It was that mysterious vocal chop that helped convert high school me onto electronic music beyond what was simply danceable (a.k.a. Daft Punk & Justice); the melody’s ability to stay with me caught me off-guard. Released in January of 2010, There Is Love in You set the standard for smart electronic music in the decade with a vibrant mix of IDM (“Sing”), microhouse (“Plastic People”), and folktronica (“She Just Likes to Fight”). — Andrew Cox
112. James Blake – James Blake (2011)
Something seemed off about James Blake when he first started making waves. The hype for the post-dubstep producer turned singer-songwriter felt so egregious, any sort of recognizable weakness or derivativeness seemed rife for exposure. At the very least, his name was certainly boring.
But his self-titled debut album is anything but boring. It comes across as minimalist and maximalist at once, with its economy of lyrics and song movements, but those words and transitions are so deeply felt that everything about James Blake matters. With his vulnerable, Michael McDonald/Justin Vernon falsetto, Blake is also the crooner that ties us into the past, present, and future. — Brody Kenny
111. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (2017)
I remember Vince Staples being featured on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah while promoting Big Fish Theory. His presence was cavalier, nonchalant and laid-back. Noah questioned him on what the album meant, what it stood for. Staples shrugged the question off and said that it wasn’t up to him to interpret his art for others.
“Sometimes people disappear, think that was my biggest fear. I should have protected you.”
-Vince Staples, Alyssa Interlude
Big Fish Theory came out at the top of the summer of ‘17. The “Norf Norf” emcee created a diverse project that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. From the high production value (beats featuring crisp natural sounds, voice samples, and nuanced percussive themes) to the introspective lyrics and iconic cover art, Big Fish Theory is an elevated sophomore effort from Vince Staples.
“All my life pretty women done told me lies,”
-Vince Staples, 745
BFT includes some star power such as Kilo Kish, Ty Dolla Sign and Flume. Yes, Flume. This album is a pivot from Staples gangbangin image. His range as an artist was put on full display with each house/electronic dance track that made up this album.
Perhaps one of Staples’ best decisions was the beat selection (shout out Zack Sekoff). “Yeah Right,” although not a single for the album is my favorite overall. The low-end is nuts but manages not to eat up the tin-slaps and hi-hats. Plus this track features Kendrick Lamar.
His consequential tour, Life Aquatic Tour, was successful as well. The album, regarded as a hip hop release, was a jewel in the trap landscape of 2017 and remains a testament to Vince Staples’ creativity. — Chanell Noise
Caitlin Kelley’s Honorable Mentions
- Thundercat – Drunk (2017)
The bass-wielding virtuoso constructs self-contained worlds around bizarre storylines, gifting listeners with one of the decade’s greatest songs: “Them Changes.”
- Ty Segall – Melted (2010)
The Bay Area songsmith proved his garage rock chops, imbuing the catchiest melodies in the simplest of compositions.
- Red Velvet – Perfect Velvet (2017)
K-pop’s reigning queens of B-sides explore the contours of their smooth R&B sound.
- MGMT – Congratulations (2010)
The psych-poppers rebelled against the Top 40 by shirking accessibility in favor of surrealism.
- f(x) – Pink Tape (2013)
The quirkiest girl group in K-pop (literally) outsold your indie-pop faves with this experimental tour-de-force.
110. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (2011)
Replica is not where Daniel Lopatin made his first great album; Returnal and the 2009 compilation Rifts had already been released. It might not even be his best album (keep reading), but it is the album where he proved he had no competitors in the sampledelia/ambient field. Replica sprung out of advertisement samples from the ’80s and ’90s seemingly inspired by the rise of Vaporwave and nostalgia-based electronica. OPN doesn’t allow the aesthetic to just be fuzzy VHS tapes, though; I actually had to research to find out what Lopatin was actually sampling. Nostalgia is a one trick pony, and there is enough manipulation of these late-night, time-traveling pieces to where you’re not sure if you’re in a musty wooden basement at 3 am or another galaxy. Among the electronic classics this decade, Replica remains the most perplexing. — Andrew Cox
109. Swans – To Be Kind (2014)
Swans has never been a group for the faint of heart, and To Be Kind furthers that notion. Spanning the course of 121 minutes, Michael Gira is at his prime on this project. Released during their big return and comeback, this album is one of their most critically acclaimed and well-received. Two years after an album like The Seer, most would believe it would be hard to top an album of that magnitude. And yet, Gira and company did exactly that. To Be Kind is as intense as it is beautiful: big, powerful, epic chords sweep your speakers, as it flows into beautiful and rich soundscapes. Tracks like “Bring the Sun / Toussaint l’ouverture” provides an example of these two stark contrasts. To Be Kind is a Swans masterpiece that is sure to be known as one of their best. — Happy Haugen
108. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Improving upon the ambient focus on its predecessor, Radiohead’s latest LP is still lacking for those who preferred the more guitar-driven and structured songwriting of earlier releases. Still, it possess several idiosyncratic essentials. For instance, “Burn the Witch” is an arresting amalgam of Thom Yorke’s unique falsetto timbre, panicked strings, and programmed percussion. Afterward, “Daydreaming” captures the exquisite loneliness of prior triumphs like “How to Disappear Completely,” whereas “The Numbers” evokes the angelic drive of OK Computer. “True Love Waits” is no “Videotape,” but it nonetheless concludes and cements the disc as another emotional triumph that only Radiohead could create. — Jordan Blum
107. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes (2012)
Following the surprise greatness of Before Today, Ariel Pink’s next album, Mature Themes, was undersold as a streamlined disappointment that lacked evolution. Some of the songs suggested Ariel Pink had “matured” somewhat; the title track and “Only in My Dreams” stripped the lo-fi aesthetic for gorgeous jangle pop, but that wasn’t the focus of critics’ complaints. You just have to skip a few tracks later to “Schnitzel Boogie” — the one where Pink orders some drive-thru and is absolutely just fucking around — to find the perfect representation of what people hate most about this guy. A review in FACT Magazine concluded, “Ultimately, the overall feeling of Mature Themes is of a band and songwriter that don’t really care. So why should we?” Music critics needing to connect with an album beyond light-hearted enjoyment can be absolutely grating sometimes. — Andrew Cox
106. DJ Koze – Knock Knock (2018)
Since Knock Knock fully seeped its way into my consciousness last year, I’ll hear moments from the album playing in my head, unable to pinpoint where it came from until I listen to Knock Knock again — a guitar line in “Colors of Autumn,” the odd synth line at the two-minute mark of “Planet Hase,” etc. It’s dense, playful music that’ll find a way to pull you in. Its closest sibling this decade was The Avalanches’ Wildflower that missed the mark in its farcical nature at times, but Knock Knock met the challenge in creating a varied, psychedelic masterpiece. We get All Things Must Pass beauty with “Music on My Teeth” to a Trip Hop club bounce in “Scratch That,” and Koze makes it sound absolutely natural. I often can’t find the source when his music plays in my head, not because his music is indistinct, but because he found a way to tap into the natural collage of sounds we carry with us at all times. — Andrew Cox
105. Perfume Genius – Too Bright (2014)
“Queen” came in like a hydrogen bomb in the summer of ’14. Here was this underground singer-songwriter that played small ball across two well-received but admittedly-minor releases now providing a proud gay anthem: “No family is safe when I sashay” (*a star is born*). Mike Hadreas also found confidence in the sinister sounds of “My Body” and “Grid,” with the latter featuring a devilish kid chorus raising the stakes until Hadreas has to scream his way out of the song. Another highlight is “Fool” where the song takes a break halfway through to allow for one of the most impressive falsettos on tape this decade. Too Bright was shocking and established Perfume Genius as an art pop savior. — Andrew Cox
104. Björk – Vulnicura (2015)
Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk has always been in her own world, and her penultimate LP, 2015’s Vulnicura, is a great example of why. Focused around her break-up with American artist Matthew Barney, Vulnicura has her trademark pained vocals match with eloquent strings to form the album’s core quality. Opener “Stonemilker” is a breathtaking introduction into that fusion, and later gems like the sparse “Black Lake” and the ingeniously nightmarish “Family” maintain it. Elsewhere, “History of Touches,” “Notget,” and closer “Quicksand” tap into her digital persona, allowing Vulnicura to remain relatively subdued yet still quite eclectic. Above all else, it’s unmistakably and endearingly Björk. — Jordan Blum
103. Jai Paul – Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) (2013/2019)
When Jai Paul’s album first leaked in 2013, the world was ready for him and his orchestral dream-funk. We wanted the album, fully-furnished and complete. We were, ravenously, waiting. But what we’d come to learn from Paul — and later from mega-stars like Kanye — is that sometimes an artist can’t escape their urge to continuously self-edit. The leak took the steam out of Paul’s drive to perfect the songs, and in turn ended up shelving the project for six years. The eventual release is a document not so much of a gifted songwriter, but of what it means to be an artist on the Internet, where you can be celebrated, hated, forgotten, and remembered all at once. — Justin Kamp
102. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual (2013)
First off: “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized.” Any listen to The Knife’s last album — and only one after the all-time classic Silent Shout — has to reckon with this thing. It’s basically a 19-minute ambient interlude that has a few rumblings of that iconic Knife sound here and there, and boy, is it still tough to get through. The magnificent “Raging Lung” is waiting next for you to skip to it, but no doubt, you’ll still regret it. The Knife gave us so little in their time together, and it took a few albums to even hit their stride; the least you can do is listen to a 19-minute ambient noise song, not to mention “A Cherry on Top” and “Fracking Fluid Injection,” which challenge “Old Dreams…” in its inscrutable behemoth stature. “Full of Fire” and “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” are your rewards for patience. — Andrew Cox
101. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (2017)
A masterful multi-instrumentalist, lyricist and composer, Adam Granduciel’s absolute control of production is on full display in what is the group’s best album. It deservedly took home the Grammy for Best Rock Record and is an overall transcendent experience. Each track moves meticulously into unexplored territory, with Granduciel serving as our geographer and puppetmaster, with highly affecting results. By the album’s end, you leave almost reborn, experiencing exactly what the title hinted at. — Mackenzie Cummings-Grady