100. Tierra Whack – Whack World (2018)
Whack World is the shortest album on this list but features as many memorable lines and melodic phrases as anything released this decade. Before my first listen, the concept felt gimmicky — ‘ok, if these snippets were good enough, then they would’ve been made into full-length songs. Also, isn’t it easier to make a 1-minute track than a 4-minute track?’ But then I listened and was floored by the decision to end songs like “Hookers” and “Hungry Hippo” at 1-minute. That takes guts. Us music snobs are always clamoring for artists to make sacrifices for the holier-than-thou album concept. Well, here it is. With a corresponding 15-video concept, Whack World presented the most compact pop/rap classic we’ve ever seen. How much influence will this album end up being credited for? The sky’s the limit. — Andrew Cox
99. Sun Kil Moon – Benji (2014)
Mark Kozelek masters beauty in simplicity throughout his sixth and most critically acclaimed album Benji. The 11-track folk rock album relies on strong narrative storytelling and simple chords. The theme of mortality is constant throughout, as Kozelek starts us out with “Carissa,” which tells of the recent death of a cousin, then reinforces that idea with “Truck Driver” and “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes.” The album is not all doom and gloom however, as “Dogs” and closing track “Ben’s My Friend” bring a bit of levity as Kozelek waxes poetic awkward encounters with girls and the toils of middle-age life, even adding some soothing saxophone on the latter and percussion to each to create a more layered sound. — Clay Sauertieg
98. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (2015)
Far from a sophomore slump, this second LP from the former Fleet Foxes drummer is a thoroughly gorgeous mixture of baroque pop, indie rock, and folktronica. The opening title track radiates the sort of sunny production and songwriting that made mid-60s Beach Boys so lovely, whereas its successor — “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” — incorporates seemingly incongruous digital tones in a sensible way. Likewise, “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” rests on a lovely gospel foundation and the relatively stripped-down yet symphonic penultimate number, “Holy Shit,” is immensely sobering. It’s simply a great record all the way through. — Jordan Blum
97. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe (2013)
Devonte Hynes, the master behind Blood Orange, can collaborate like no other. His knack for teamwork is refreshing, and Cupid Deluxe allows him to take hold of this strength. Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors provides beautiful vocals on “No Right Thing” — his representation of Hynes’ lyrics melding beautifully with the instrumental arrangement. Caroline Polachek lends a hand on opener “Chamakay,” a groovy rendition of unrequited love. Polachek and Hynes’ vocals are glorious and entrancing as they join each other each chorus. Throughout Cupid Deluxe, Hynes maintains his reliability: creating diverse, unpredictable tracks with the ability to heal and comfort. — Virginia Croft
96. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
You might call Atrocity Exhibition a “cathartic” album, given how much emotion erupts over its runtime, but it doesn’t exorcise demons as much as it gives them and their irascibility the floor. Also: the person who needs the catharsis from this album the most isn’t you or me; it’s Danny Brown.
After Old, the closest Brown has come to a bid for the “mainstream,” Atrocity Exhibition, with its references to Joy Division and Nine Inch Nails, is an odyssey of depravity illuminated only by an erratic strobe light of chaotic production. But all the while, Brown’s voice, unmistakable as a nervy squawk and in more subdued terms, keeps us at attention. — Brody Kenny
95. Fever Ray – Plunge (2017)
Fever Ray is two for two on solo albums, with each coming a few years after making another classic with xer brother in The Knife. Xer first solo album in 2009, Fever Ray, was disturbingly spare electro-pop meant to haunt your dreams; xer music video attire matched the mood. Here, Dreijer felt a bit more approachable even as xer persona became more alien — look, xe’s smiling and has some friends. Plunge felt like the true sequel to Silent Shout that The Knife had absolutely no interest in making. The songs pop and have beat drops, especially in the singles “IDK About You” and “To the Moon and Back.” Probably the most interesting development in Karen Dreijer’s approach was the blatantly political “This Country” with lyrics like “Free abortions and clean water / Destroy nuclear / Destroy boring.” With xer every move, Fever Ray’s already destroyed boring. — Andrew Cox
94. Big Thief – Capacity (2017)
Some would call Big Thief ethereal, Adrianne Lenker’s voice floating as it does so gracefully above arrangements that feel so delicate. But the emotional core of Capacity is found when Lenker digs into the dirt and the blood and the guts, the earth and the body, the most real things we have. Her recollection of a freak accident from her childhood in “Mythological Beauty”; her dark yet reverent portrayal of sex in “Pretty Things”. It’s not that the sonics are deceptive, just that they’re one dreamlike layer through which the sharp things pierce. Capacity is friction; ugliness and beauty becoming one and the same. — Mia Hughes
93. Rosalía – El Mal Querer (2018)
Combining the enchanting folkloric elements of traditional flamenco music and fusing them with modern-facing pop and R&B sensibilities, Spanish musician Rosalía’s mesmerizing sophomore album, 2018’s El Mal Querer, defies all odds, giving birth to something entirely new and undeniably compelling. Whether she’s belting a dire forewarning against a doomed union (the hypnotic “Que no Salga la Luna (Cap. 2: Boda)”) or delivering breathy, existential hymns on love and sorrow (the spiritual “Maldición (Cap. 10: Cordura)”), Rosalía is a spellbinding storyteller on this sensual, genre-defying concept album that merges the past with the future. — Erica Russell
92. ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS (2016)
I subscribe to the belief that social activism must forgo some of its cool gate-keeping to allow a cringe-worthy amount of outward emotion. People will have to express their anger and sadness in awkward and embarrassing settings to save the millions of people and animals at risk of climate change within our lifetime. And it’ll take artists like ANOHNI singing choruses like “Execution, it’s an American dream” as melodically and earnestly as Debbie Harry sings “Once I had a love…” In her new name and style, ANOHNI gave us the template for making political music that is proudly the furthest thing from campaign fodder. I haven’t seen anybody dare be so political on record since then; the album title remains poignant, I guess. — Andrew Cox
91. Jlin – Black Origami (2017)
Jlin’s distinct brand of footwork should shock you in its eccentricity on first listen — mainly because it isn’t footwork, as Jlin herself has said. Even with the rise in footwork’s mainstream acceptance (lead by DJ Rashad) Jlin still felt the need to carve out her own space and push the genre into indefinable territory. A prominent evolution on Black Origami, her second album, is the world music percussion influenced by Eastern music and the sounds of Bollywood. The result is a complex polyrhythmic approach that is closer to the IDM of Autechre and Aphex Twin than footwork. It’s topped off with vocal samples that sound tribal and inspire a cult-like fervor best exemplified on highlight “Nyakinyua Rise.” — Andrew Cox
Brody Kenny’s Honorable Mentions
- Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation (2011)
Trevor Powers’ took the emotional nakedness of Daniel Johnston and amplified it with a cinematic drive that could make any bedroom hermit feel at peace with themselves and their own version of the world.
- G.L.O.S.S. – Demo 2015 (2015)
Sadie Switchblade and the rest of G.L.O.S.S. are taking no shit from transphobes and other miscreants, in a demo that says more in 8 minutes and 6 seconds than other punk bands can say in five times that length.
- Iceage – You’re Nothing (2013)
Iceage is the best modern embodiment of nihilism in music and while the Danish outfit has been great since the beginning, their second album showed how much they really cared, despite what their snotty jadedness might have you believe.
- Xiu Xiu – Girl with Basket of Fruit (2019)
The greatest Xiu Xiu albums have shock, value, and, of course, shock value. Jamie Stewart capped off a fairly inconsistent decade with one of his boldest and most gutting artistic statements yet.
- The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (2010)
Armed with rarely more than an acoustic guitar that he alternates between strumming furiously and picking wistfully, Kristian Mattson didn’t try to refute the Bob Dylan comparisons on his second album. Instead, he demonstrated how to be an heir apparent.
90. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
Courtney Barnett hits the ground running on her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, with the earworm-inducing “Elevator Operator.” Barnett’s ability to write a variety of songs is the biggest takeaway from Sometimes I Sit and Think. Throughout the eleven-track album, her songs contrast one another. There’s the distortion-driven, Scott Pilgrim-esque “Pedestrian at Best,” but the album closer, “Boxing Day Blues,” is a haunting track that finds Barnett realizing the truth about an unrequited love. Courtney Barnett is only just getting started on her debut, and these eleven songs are an amazing way to start what is sure to be a just-as-amazing career. — Happy Haugen
89. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism (2017)
On his debut, Aromanticism, Moses Sumney stuns the listener through minimalistic tracks that enthrall and entice. Many of the quieter moments on the album listen like an outtake of Radiohead’s In Rainbows with Sumney creating the same far away sing-song tone Thom Yorke has crafted. But with Sumney, his sound is deeper, richer, and ingrained in something almost holier. His voice goes places Yorke’s never has; on “Lonely World,” Sumney’s vocal register soars through a new galaxy, shocking and soothing in its voyage. The track builds to an exciting finish, compiling horns and heavy drums to create a trademark sound for Sumney. — Virginia Croft
88. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days (2014)
Listening to Mac DeMarco is one of the most personable experiences as a listener — with each record, it feels like he’s just inviting you to kick back and drink a beer (or two) with him, making actual obligations seem so far away. Salad Days is perhaps Demarco’s finest work, a crisp collection of slacker rock tunes perfect for any lazy day, best listened to in the sun. Throughout the album, Mac takes away the stress of everyday life, finding the brighter spots instead of stress. “Goodbye Weekend” is a charming way of declaring his choice to live as he pleases, while “Let My Baby Stay” is a gooey love ballad, asking the government to let his girlfriend stay in the states. — Virginia Croft
87. Miguel – Wildheart (2015)
Miguel truly found his voice here by expanding his horizons into rock and psychedelia and refreshingly sounded uncontainable, especially on the album’s perfect first half. “the valley” is as lewd and head-bopping as Prince’s “Erotic City.” “coffee” is the only standard R&B hit here, and he simply knocks it out of the park. “NWA” is a thumper you blare out with the windows down that features a perfectly-suited Kurupt. The back half of the album features enough of versatile guitar work and Miguel’s dynamite approach to make up for some less-than-perfect songs. If you consider Miguel’s career trajectory now, Wildheart is a bit of a flop. War & Leisure had bigger features and some actual hits for Miguel, and Tame Impala’s remix of “waves” has more streams than anything on the album. Oh well, Diamonds and Pearls sold twice as much as Sign O’ the Times. — Andrew Cox
86. Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013)
When Deafheaven emerged out of the American black metal underground at the start of the decade, they did so without a single image of the band making the rounds. Early first impressions of the band were already challenging enough and this was only confounded with the release of Sunbather, an album seemingly more interested in referencing slowcore and dream pop than any black metal you’ve heard before. That’s not to say there is no metal – the opening to “Dream House” is laden with plenty of aggressive blast-beats and George Clarke’s vocals competing for attention in the mix. Yet, Sunbather’s radicalness lies in its skyward ambitions and epic scope. This is an album where the stakes have never been higher, where beauty and destruction are romanticized in the brightest of tones. Six years removed from Sunbather’s release and every mixed review, raging forum thread and pointed thinkpiece about the band now look positively ancient. Is it black metal? Is it shoegaze? Is it atmospheric dream metal? More importantly – who cares? — Jibril Yassin
85. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze (2013)
Kicking off with the addictive lick of “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” Kurt Vile retains his knack for painting a nostalgic image of America. His brand of rock lends itself to the same tinge of yearning that bands like The National and Wilco can bring about — and just like them, Vile creates an environment to come together and figure out the confusion of life. Wakin’ is simple in its message but complex in its innerworkings, tracks like “Pure Pain” unraveling towards an unknown end, as Vile waxes poetic on indecision. Listening to Wakin’ makes the dream of nonchalance real, if only for an hour and ten minutes. — Virginia Croft
84. Beach House – Bloom (2012)
The year is 2019, and there are still jokes about how all of Beach House’s music sounds the same.
They’re not wrong. When the dream-pop duo released Bloom, the toolkit was still the same. Alex Scally’s index finger is perpetually extending toward the lower reaches of his guitar neck. Victoria Legrand’s smoky voice bends skyward. Of course, the drum machine remains omnipresent.
But does that matter when their heavenly dispatches inch that much closer to transcendence? The Baltimore duo’s discography is more grandiose than the sum of its parts. Their approach to minimalism has a way of genuflecting toward the sublime. The “natural growth” of their sound is marked by incrementalism. This album is just a closer “Walk in the Park” with Thee. — Caitlin Kelley
83. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (2016)
I was late to the game. Coloring Book was released in 2016, and I heard the first glimpse of his horns and wisdom in late 2017. I quickly became obsessed with his exploration of gospel; his rapping was preaching, and his sound was angelic, beat-driven pop/rap and jazz. As I re-listen now, I am drawn in the same as I was back then. It is undoubtedly one of the top albums of our time because it is as important as it is catchy. He freely released music that told stories of the presence of poverty, the challenges of true love, the reality of addiction, the power of fun, and the salvation of faith. More, he showed the world the possibility for diversity and cohesion within a mixtape. It — the first streaming-only album ever to win a Grammy — is rightfully and widely successful because the spirit of this album is seen in each song. Particularly important tracks include: “All We Got,” “Same Drugs,” “Blessings,” and “Angels.” Okay, they all matter. Go bless your ears. — Sadie Burrows
82. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (2012)
Andy Stott’s breakthrough album is tremendous for many reasons, from the eargasm of a drop during the first third of opener “Numb” to how beautiful Stott’s bass tones pummel, rumble, and even soothe. However, the vocal contribution from Alison Skidmore, previously Stott’s piano instructor, are what turns the Manchester producer’s second album into one of the defining contemporary classics of electronic music.
Skidmore is as critical to the success of this album as Nico was to her album with the Velvet Underground. Like Stott’s compositions, her voice is never trying to give away too much, but it also never comes across as burdened by stoicism. The partnership between the two has continued, because how could it not? — Brody Kenny
81. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy (2017)
Tyler Okonma’s fourth studio album Flower Boy marks a major turning point in the rapper’s career. After the instant classic that was Cherry Bomb, Tyler’s production ability shines through even more on this album – the entire thing was produced by Tyler. Flower Boy is a confident and proud album, from a deeply personal and reflective lyrical standpoint to the music that Tyler works tirelessly on. It’s also full of tracks that became instant cultural phenomenons: “November” had an entire generation asking themselves what their November was. The album marks a pivotal period of growth for Tyler, the Creator, as he continues to hone his craft. — Happy Haugen
Chanell Noise’s Honorable Mentions
- Kali Uchis – Isolation (2018)
VA-native, Kali Uchis, released a hell-of-a-debut album in April of 2018. All of the hurt, heartbreak and growth from her personal life was too relatable, and her funk influences mixed with her Latin sound was not like anyone else’s at the time. Isolation was a nice contrast to the pop mainstream that fed us the same boring fodder and same boring chords.
- Denzel Curry – ZUU (2019)
Denzel Curry’s albums don’t make the list once, much to my surprise and chagrin! His fourth studio album, ZUU, came out at the end of May this year. His sound, long since matured from the Soundcloud days, evolved into a full-blown Florida-Man story.. crazy, loud and unbelievable. He can use the patterns of yesteryear and still rap circles around your favorite — he’d just prefer not to.
- Flatbush Zombies – Vacation in Hell (2018)
Flatbush Zombies (aka Meechie Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott) snapped on their second studio album that came out the same day as Cardi B’s inaugural album in April of 2018. I definitely think their sophomore effort was overshadowed by New York’s princess, but their album was still a cult classic instantly. Their guttural raps explore social inequality, drug abuse, urban ills and of course…the problems that come along with falling for crazy women.
- Flying Lotus – You’re Dead (2014)
Flying Lotus captured me as a fan with his weird-ass fifth studio album that dropped in October of 2014. The psychedelic cover art drew me in, and I fell in love with his entire discography. You’re Dead! played with time and texture via sound; whether you enjoy the album with headphones or speakers, you’ll make out the tiniest nuances. The production value is that high.
- Demi Lovato – Tell Me You Love Me (2017)
Demi Lovato’s sixth studio album was released at the end of September in 2017. Lovato continued to flex her vocal and musical range on the album jumping from slow and sultry R&B ballads to upbeat-powerful pop anthems. Tell Me You Love Me featured more mature heartbreak themes but ultimately elevated Lovato’s career and revitalized her fanbase.
80. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator (2013)
Whoever thought the son of the guy who played Windom Earle on Twin Peaks would be one of the most empathetic lyricists and performers working today? After some sonically rougher beginnings, Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto’s fourth outing as Majical Cloudz brought their sound and message stunning amounts of clarity.
One of the first things Welsh says on the album is “I’m a liar; I say I make music.” It’s not just false modesty, because Welsh never seems concerned with “making music” or producing art that falls into one sort of trend. Majical Cloudz was disbanded not long after the release of their followup, Are You Alone?, but the permanency of their themes and tastefulness in sound show keep Impersonator immortalized among those who know authenticity can’t be faked. — Brody Kenny
79. Aphex Twin – Syro (2014)
The Comeback Album: Syro
The 2015 Grammy winner for Best Dance/Electronic Album was Syro by Aphex Twin. Up to that point, we hadn’t heard much from Aphex Twin, aka Richard D. James since Chosen Lords back in 2006. So how does one fall off the face of the music plane and pop back up with a fruitful piece of art?
Syro features work created in the break James took away from the limelight. The vocals are distorted snippets from him and his family. He described the album’s sound as his “pop album,” in an interview with Q magazine. or as “poppy as it’s going to get.”
Syro is James pushing the buck with where electronic music can go. The genre, already set aside as counter-culture, made its way into major cities via underground parties, dark web leaks and word-of-mouth co-signs. The rollout was anything but poppy — it was the steampunk-esque reality the fans needed.
Syro came about when an unreleased test-pressing for Caustic Window, another body of work from James, raised over $67,000. Seeing the interest in his work, James went to work to build a studio that eventually spawned some tracks that made Syro.
For those unfamiliar with the album, its sound is certainly ethereal. The affinity for synths and break-beat is there. The disco-like textures and fat bass lines are overtly present as well. Syro is the album that shows how important textures are in music. — Chanell Noise
78. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne (2011)
Watch the Throne is partly about self-indulgence. It’s the kind of album that should only exist in barbershop discussions and Internet forum threads. The muted reception to lead single “H•A•M” said as much. The final bells of the financial crisis had yet to finish ringing and Kanye and Jay-Z were prepping the big luxury rap collab album – how much more rich shit could we tolerate from these superstars before we throw them to the wolves? Thankfully Watch the Throne carried far more. Sure, there was self-indulgence. There was excess. You had “Niggas in Paris” which sounded every bit like the gold on the cover. There was Jay bragging about planking on a million while Kanye fantasizes about getting married in a shopping mall. Yet the two rappers, stylized as The Throne, made the idea of being millionaire rappers sound fun. Kanye was running Nina Simone samples through autotune and chopping up Otis Redding just to brag about his handwriting and it sounded joyous. There was plenty of pathos to mine too; tracks like “Murder to Excellence” and “New Day” found both men in an introspective zone you’d rarely see on solo albums. There’s nothing quite like Watch the Throne, which makes the lack of a sequel all the more regrettable. — Jibril Yassin
77. Taylor Swift – Red (2012)
Swift’s fourth album Red is the perfect sweet spot between country and pop. Red was a follow-up to the self-written country album Speak Now, and the precursor to the record-breaking supreme pop effort that is 1989. Swift perfectly orchestrated a crossover of her country influences with the occasional synth and electric guitar, showing off her artistic ability without taking away from the intricate lyrics and melodies. Red features some of Taylor’s best work, not just the obvious fan favorite and devastating “All Too Well,” but also the monumental opening track “State Of Grace” and the underrated but genius “Treacherous.” — Nina Braca
76. FKA Twigs – LP1 (2014)
On her debut album, FKA Twigs proves herself a true contender, singing in a soprano too rare in the pop sphere. Consistently throughout LP1, she presents a collection of irresistible lyrics, drowning in her stunning vocals, with seemingly no weak spots. On “Two Weeks,” shimmering synths propel the listener deep into FKA Twigs’ world, painting a mosaic of musical greatness, haunting us with both her bellowing and whispering vocals. “Pendulum” dives deep into the monster of unrequited love, and the pain and suffering it can release. As FKA Twigs sings “So lonely trying to be yours,” we can only sigh at the all-too-familiar feeling. — Virginia Croft