The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

The music that defined the past decade

Music Lists Best Albums
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

If it’s not already obvious, we love to rank things. The best movies on Netflix, the best horror novels of all time, the best hazy IPAs. It’s not because we believe we have the definitive opinion or we can accurately distill something like a decade of recorded music into a simple list, but because we love to share what we love, to celebrate great art. This is especially true with music, and even more so with music that has stuck with us over time. So I’ve been thinking about my Best Albums of the 2010s ballot pretty much since we published the Best Albums of the 2000s a decade ago.

But what makes this list interesting, to me, is that my ballot is just one vote among many. This is a group effort involving all our music editors and writers, who’ve listened to an untold number of albums over the last 10 years. Dozens filled out ballots, and the votes were compiled with great care by Paste’s Ellen Johnson and Lizzie Manno. Everyone is going to feel like some of their favorites were left off (even those of us who voted), but the point of a list like this—the only point, really—is to celebrate worthy albums and help our readers discover music they might have missed.

So here is our take on the best albums of the decade, whether they sold millions of copies or just a few thousand. —Josh Jackson, Editor-in-Chief

Listen to the Best Albums of the Decade Spotify playlist here.

Here are the 100 best albums of 2010-2019:

DrakeCare.jpeg 100. Drake: Take Care (2011)
Take Care is certainly impressed with itself, but often rightfully so. It’s one of the quietest affirmations of confidence the scene has ever seen. The gorgeous “Marvins Room” was not a specific exception; the record smolders in the same auburn glow—downtempo bass-pulses, dulled synths, tinkering, unattached pianos and Drake’s feathery voice. It’s sexy, progressive, and surprisingly listenable for its hefty 80 minutes. In fact, “Over My Dead Body” is one of the calmest, most wistful openers in rap history. A few simple, James Blake-ian chords, a faraway drum, and Drake in full loosened-tie mode—tossing hearty punchlines like he’s already on a comfortable slope. —Luke Winkie

99. Japanese Breakfast: Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
Michelle Zauner, sole creator of the indiepop project Japanese Breakfast, made 2016’s Psychopomp amid the death of her mother from cancer, a catastrophic event that can easily send anyone down an unfamiliar path. For Zauner, it meant an ongoing search for solace in loss. Soft Sounds From Another Planet continues that journey. It’s a somber, starry lullaby that results in periods of fitful sleep marked by struggles with fading love and death’s vague mystery. But there’s something comforting about the record too, with its interlocking muted chords, muffled drums, and sudden shocks of electric guitar that add sharp slices of lightning. Soft Sounds is full of pretty interludes of ambient noise mixed with shoegaze and electropop touches. —Emily Reily

98. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree (2016)
Like Beyoncé and Frank Ocean before him in 2016, Australian auteur and reigning prince of darkness Nick Cave also opted for a visual aspect accompanying the release of his 16th studio album with his band the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. The album’s release was coupled with a series of global screenings the night before, of a 3D black-and-white film, One More Time With Feeling. The film is hardly a behind-the-scenes peek to satiate Cave die-hards still begging for a possible Birthday Party reunion. Nor is it a visual play-by-play of Skeleton Tree. Instead, it’s an act of survival. In 2015, Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur died following a fall from a cliff in Brighton, United Kingdom. The magnitude of this tragedy casts a long shadow over Skeleton Tree, serving as a wrenching reminder that grief is a shifty, many-tentacled being. It has the capability of coming on fast, then slow, then fast again at the most unsuspecting times. Still, Cave also uses this record to show that grief isn’t something that can be easily eradicated, but rather, eventually, it can be wrangled down in a way that makes it possible to keep living. Cave fans may still nitpick about how this album instrumentally stands against avant-garde classics like Kicking Against the Pricks and Let Love In. But there’s something to be said about Skeleton Tree and its starkness, which is as familiar as life and death, an elegy, and a hell of a thing to forget. —Paula Mejia

Sunbather.jpg 97. Deafheaven: Sunbather (2013)
Although Deafhaven’s full-length debut Roads to Judah dropped in 2011, the San Francisco group became one of the most engaging metal bands since that time when Alcest actually sounded like black metal. With 2013’s Sunbather, Deafheaven took that very influence, framing it within compositional nods to “totally unmetal” artists/bands such as Johnny Marr, The Edge, and My Bloody Valentine. The vocals are most definitely harsh and the black metal foundation is ever present, but Sunbather primarily works so well due to the fact that that otherwise abrasive ferocity is carried by way of an unrelenting beauty and atmosphere. While the word “beauty” often results in the unfortunate gag reflex of many a metalhead concerning Deafheaven, it’s the selling point of one of today’s most captivating bands, metal or not. —Jonathan Dick

96. Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy (2017)
While hip-hop media has been fixated on the line about “kissing white boys since 2004,” the truth is that Tyler, The Creator’s 2017 album Flower Boy is much more than a revelation about his sexuality. In fact, the reference is only in passing, buried mid-verse on “I Ain’t Got Time!” and again on “Garden Shed” when he says he “thought it was a phase.” Stylistically and lyrically, Flower Boy shows us a softer, more thoughtful Tyler who seems to have moved past the vulgar, sometimes violent rhymes that made Odd Future and his early solo work famous. On Flower Boy, Tyler ditches his shock jock persona and dark, aggressive sound, instead opting for mellow, sun-soaked beats and lyrics that probe emotional complexities. Flower Boy introduces us to a new Tyler that seems interested in cultivating lyrical and sonic beauty instead of testing his listeners’ tolerance for profanity. “See You Again” featuring soul singer Kali Uchis, for instance, is an adorable ode to a crush, with gorgeous, swelling strings and trumpet riffs that are probably the influence of Odd Future-affiliated jazz group The Internet. “911/Mr. Lonely,” featuring Frank Ocean, whose velvety voice is all over the album, makes poetry out of boredom and depression: “Check in on me sometime/Ask me how I’m really doin’/So I never have to press that 911.” Siren-like synths (that will sound familiar to old-school Odd Future fans) and frantic, uneasy drum beats are offset by dreamy strings and jazzy improv, melding Flower Boy’s 14 tracks into a cohesive listening experience that accurately illustrates the rapper’s ups and downs. —Nastia Voynovskaya

R-2276858-1391418145-8752.jpeg.jpg 95. The Black Keys: Brothers (2010)
Yes, Danger Mouse produced a track (“Tighten Up”) for this blues-rock duo on its sixth album. But the name to note in the credits is mixer Tchad Blake, who gives the songs a swampy texture that nevertheless carves out individual space for each instrument. Guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney swing more loosely than usual, too, particularly on the Bo Diddley-gone-glam stomp “Howlin’ For You.” “The Only One” incorporates droning organ chords to nice effect. And Auerbach’s vocals on Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” are reminiscent of vintage Todd Rundgren. —Michaelangelo Matos

skyf.jpg 94. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time (2013)
Many in the acting and modeling fields also find their way into music, but Sky Ferreira’s foray was no ill-advised stunt. Ferreira had been putting out music on MySpace since she was a teen, which resulted in a major label bidding war and album deal with EMI that turned sour. She scrapped plans for her debut album and put out two EPs with Capitol instead—2011’s As If! and 2012’s Ghost. While electronic met acoustic on the disjointed Ghost, Night Time, My Time arrived with much more gusto than many would’ve thought. Equipped with soaring pop hooks and smudged textures, Ferreria sounds melancholy yet mature. “I Blame Myself” is a vulnerable display of self-loathing (“I know it’s not your fault / That you don’t understand / I blame myself”), “Kristine” is a biting roast of abhorrent rich kid behavior (“Stabbing pens in my hands / And I’m never working, I’m just spending”) and the title track is a glimmer of morbid transcendence (“I wouldn’t feel anything / When we burst into dust forever / And no angels will help us out”). Her dense, rough-edged pop proves both danceable and insightful. Despite its yearning melancholia, it’s a constant rush of instrumental and emotional uplift. —Lizzie Manno

93. Charles Bradley: Victim of Love (2013)
On No Time For Dreaming, Charles Bradley primarily addressed some of the societal issues of a country that had continually beaten him down (before he got his break, Bradley led a hard life, working odd jobs across the country, enduring a spell of homelessness and discovering his brother’s murdered body). But ever since Daptone head Gabriel Roth discovered him performing James Brown covers in a New York nightclub, all Bradley had to give is love. Part of what made Bradley so appealing was how freely he opened himself up to his listeners. In every song on Victim of Love, he lays the entirety of his heart and soul out on the table, inviting the audience in to experience the highs and lows and all the overwhelming emotion right along with him. The album’s songs are uplifting and instill hope even when they touch on pain. —Ryan Bort

travis-scott-astro.jpg 92. Travis Scott: ASTROWORLD (2018)
Hip-hop’s psychedelic era may have reached its peak with Travis Scott’s third studio album. The 28-year-old artist feels barely in control throughout, holding onto a thin thread of reality as dozens of figures float in and out of the room by way of samples or guest appearances. They take on the form of headlining legends (Stevie Wonder, Beastie Boys), pop superstars (Drake, The Weeknd), genre fluid cult heroes (James Blake, Björk, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala) and rising hip-hop stars aplenty. Scott and his team somehow maintain focus, connecting to a throughline that allows him to dangle explorations of his personal life, his somewhat dangerous embrace of fame and his often tenuous grip on the real world. —Robert Ham

91. Lucius: Wildewoman (2013)
Co-lead singer Jess Wolfe once told Paste, “We’re two voices singing as one.” And from the first vocal notes of “Wildewoman” on Lucius’ eponymous debut, her description couldn’t be more perfect. Wolfe and fellow frontwoman Holly Laessig sing in unison or in close tonal harmony throughout the record, bringing an extra dose of force to an album already fortified by strong song structures, substantive lyrics and precise playing. At times almost country and other times impossibly hip, the band’s influences ring clearly, but not overpoweringly so. Most prevalent is a soulful ’60s vibe, courtesy of Wolfe and Laessig’s matching voices and wardrobes. But Wildewoman’s true success comes by reintroducing retro girl-group swag to the 21st century at a time when it’s most needed. The album offers empathy for the heartbroken and sultry fun for partiers, all backed by fuzzy guitars and polyrhythmic percussion. The Brooklyn band’s infectious melodies, keen self-awareness and shameless authenticity sweep through all 11 songs, making Wildewoman one of the most complete indie pop LPs this decade. —Hilary Saunders

90. Julien Baker: Turn Out The Lights (2017)
Julien Baker’s debut album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, was a bolt of lightning from out of nowhere, zapped down from heaven directly into a bottle bobbing in a vast and lonely ocean. Turn Out the Lights snuck up on no one. That’s a tricky place to be, but the Memphis singer-songwriter handled it with grace, never overreaching. Intimacy wasn’t sacrificed to make way for chilly distance or flamboyance. Instead, it was replaced by a brighter, more muscular beauty. This is most evident on the album’s first single, “Appointments,” which finds Baker unfurling a tale of sadness and hope atop guitars that sparkle and pulse like a dramatic post-rock band, not an indie-folk artist. —Ben Salmon

savages.jpg 89. Savages: Silence Yourself (2013)
The music of Savages is a logical derivative of post-punk that draws on Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and any other of the greats from that period that you picture draped in black and never smiling. And, in a whirlwind of sexuality, violence and gender roles, the most contemporary connection to draw is something like Metz, minus the screaming. And while the genre distinction is far from unique, Silence Yourself satisfies both in its details and its scope. A song like “No Face” features calculated guitar effects and tones, ranging from blown-out fuzz to a more precise, tin-plated sound, shifting deliberately throughout the song, both Gemma Thompson’s guitar and Ayse Hassan’s bass weaving around each other in a well-rehearsed dance. Hear the immediacy of the music and live your life in the same manner. This might all sound a little abstract, and, well, Savages as a band is a little abstract, but Silence Yourself evokes very real sensory and emotional connections, leaving it up to you to get something out of it. —Philip Cosores

HurryUp.jpeg 88. M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)
Maybe Anthony Gonzalez is just working his way back through the years, one album at a time. On his 2005 breakout as M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us, he combined the shoegaze guitars of My Bloody Valentine with cinematic electronics with sci-fi trappings. For 2008’s Saturdays = Youth, he turned his space-loving disposition toward the John Hughes 1980s and all its synth-heavy jams. For his ambitious double-album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez dug even deeper into the ‘80s and even the late ‘70s, channeling Simple Minds here (“Reunion”) and Kraftwerk there (“Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”). As with everything the Frenchman’s done so far, the album is lush and ably produced, crescendo after crescendo. Zola Jesus guests, chiming guitars dominate and even some saxophone makes an appearance. —Austin L. Ray

a37784539765.jpg 87. Hop Along: Painted Shut (2015)
Painted Shut was Hop Along’s first release after signing with Saddle Creek Records in 2014, a fitting label for Philadelphian four-piece’s sensitive indie rock. Drawing inspiration from punk, freak-folk and emo, Painted Shut is reminiscent of iconic late ‘90s albums from bands like Built to Spill, Saves the Day and Sleater-Kinney. Although Hop Along’s lyrical content can be heavy at times, Painted Shut’s tracks are well-balanced between catchy indie pop with an edge and more discordant fare. It’s a more cohesive statement than 2012’s Get Disowned, and remains a thorough introduction for new listeners. —Liz Galvao

42bf6de8.jpeg 86. Grimes: Visions (2012)
Grimes’ Visions might be the Canadian artist’s third LP, but the album was no doubt her breakout as an emerging artist. The LP showed her sound refined after Geidi Primes and Halfaxa with looped, warping vocals, twisting synths and sequenced beats. With its constantly shifting tonal landscapes and non-standard structures, it’s the kind of music that’s exceptionally hard to peg on paper, but that never stops Visions’ tracks from looping in your head long after it spins to a close. —Tyler Kane

Big Thief Capacity Art.jpg 85. Big Thief: Capacity (2017)
Big Thief may have emerged in the latter half of this decade, but they’ve quickly become one of its most authentic and moving acts around. Fronted by the extremely warm-hearted, wise and nonjudgmental Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief thrive on the magic they unearth seemingly from a past life. Lenker delivers poetic lines about nature that never appear trite with a voice that ranges from gentle to fierce, always with a mother-like comfort. Their second album Capacity draws on earth’s passing moments that are taken for granted—”the money pile on the dashboard fluttering” (“Shark Smile”), “Shrapnel and oil cans, rhubarb in the yard” (“Mythological Beauty”), “The sugar rush / The constant hush / The pushing of the water gush” (“Mary”)—but it’s grounded in humanity’s brightest and darkest tendencies. Their tender, evocative indie-folk transcends any musical categorization—it’s dirty, heartbreaking, trustworthy, gorgeous and armed with a childlike wonder and well-worn sagacity. While their 2016 debut Masterpiece offered raw charm, 2017’s Capacity has a keener eye and an intoxicating richness. —Lizzie Manno

tune-yards-whokill.jpg 84. Tune-Yards: w h o k i l l (2011)
At times, Merrill Garbus is Annie Lennox, and at others, she’s Prince. One thing’s for sure though—she’s always entertaining, and her powerhouse voice makes W H O K I L L one of the decade’s must-listens. Although she can do ethereal and understated better than most, Garbus is truly in her element when she’s belting, her hurricane of a voice ripping through a uniquely layered soundscape of ukulele, bass, saxophone and percussion. On “Killa,” she proudly declares, “I’m a new kind of woman, I’m a new kind of woman, I’m a don’t-take-shit-from-you kind of woman.” It’s nearly impossible to listen to a Tune-Yards track and not feel empowered. —Bonnie Stiernberg

soccer-mommy-clean.jpg 83. Soccer Mommy: Clean (2018)
Amidst the verses of “Still Clean,” the opening track off of Clean, the as-of-yet latest album from Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy), she’s grappling with a temporary tryst, a seasonal fling—the kind we often pretend to have gotten over, while we replay the minutiae of the affair over and over again in the privacy of our own heads. “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while,” she sings—still dazed months later from the abrupt departure of her summer love’s affections. Those are the first lyrics that jumped out at me, instantly conjuring up a face, and a name and my own replayed reel of amatory memories and now-hollow words. This speaks to Allison’s songwriting, a craft she honed for years in her Tennessee bedroom before releasing 2017’s acclaimed Collection. With Clean, she may have again left her bedroom for the studio, but her introspective and comfortably confessional lyrics maintain their intimacy and diary-scrawl relatability. Only this time, Allison is zeroing in on the freeing, but often painful realizations that we all experience at one time or another—the kind that usually only come with the ending of something. Allison is young (not yet 21 at the time of this release), evident not only in her youthful voice, but her talk of missed calls from mom, parked cars, and hanging around after school. But she does it all in an honest, uncomplicated, and well-crafted way that Clean is anything but juvenile. You might just forget how old you are for a second, as her bedroom melodies carry you back to when feelings were freely given and many lessons still had to be learned. —Madison Desler

kurt-vile-smoke-ring.jpg 82. Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo (2011)
Philadelphia songwriter Kurt Vile was only half-boasting when he named his official debut album Constant Hitmaker. Before signing to Matador in 2008, he had been releasing homemade recordings and singles at a marathon pace for years, winning over local fans and vinyl collectors while continually refining his idiosyncratic, “midnight in a smoky dive bar” take on classic-rock balladry. Vile’s 2011 album Smoke Ring For My Halo, sees him working in a professional studio with a real producer (Dinosaur Jr./Hold Steady helmer John Agnello) for the first time, but the added sheen fortunately doesn’t dilute the nocturnal atmospheric approach he’s spent years cultivating. —Michael Tedder

91NovGzIXgLjpg.jpg 81. Kaytranada: 99.9% (2016)
If you stay only on the surface of Kaytranada’s 2016 breakthrough debut album of electro hip-hop productions, you might miss that it’s one of the most intentional and calculated masterworks in sampling of the past decade and beyond. The Canadian producer’s Polaris Prize-winning 99.9% weaves in a diverse slate of deep cuts to create incredibly immediate dance music featuring a wave of stars at every step. Kaytranada interpolates traditional Ukraininian folk alongside Karriem Riggins’ drumming on “BUS RIDE,” Australian soap opera theme music into a Vic Mensa hook on “”DRIVE ME CRAZY,” a 70’s Brazilian folk lost classic paired with Craig David’s revival on ”GOT IT GOOD” and even laces drunken ’70s and ’80s funk & soul into an absolute banger with Anderson .Paak on “GLOWED UP” for good measure. Seamlessly and consistently presenting these musical obscurities of the past while creating an aesthetic and stylistic flow that has been as influential as 99.9% ushers Kaytranada into an elite class. —Adrian Spinelli

jamesblake_300x300.jpg 80. James Blake: James Blake (2011)
British dubstep-minimalist artist James Blake first brought his unique sound Stateside with the release of his self-titled debut album. With a stripped-down, uncluttered sound, Blake’s creations are hauntingly beautiful. His voice echoes soulfully throughout his self-titled album, with lyrics as deliberate as the heavy beats that accentuate each track. Part of what’s so potent about his songs is that Blake tends to replicate the environments he sings about. On the track “Wilhelm Scream” he sings, “I don’t know about my dreaming anymore, all that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling, falling, falling,” and the floating music drops the floor away. Here, Blake managed to create something new, balancing his understated vocals with funky, dub beats, synthesizers and a vocoder. —China Reevers

712MmK5HQoL.jpg 79. St. Paul and the Broken Bones: Half the City (2014)
St. Paul & The Broken Bones is not a band that’s easily ignored. The Birmingham-based sextet gets in your face—literally—during shows, and managed to transfer that intensity to each of the 12 songs on their debut LP Half The City. With strong roots in the Pentecostal church, frontman Paul Janeway seems to deliver entire sermons in three-and-a-half-minute opuses throughout the record. He narrates entire parables like “Grass is Greener” and “Like A Mighty River” in his emotive tenor that evokes both preacher and crooner. And the built-in, two-man brass band arrangements add depth, rhythm and soul to Half The City, especially on tracks like “Broken Bones & Pocket Change” and “Sugar Dyed.” Inspired by funk and R&B acts like Prince, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, St. Paul & The Broken Bones understands the power music has to make you weep, dance and rejoice, sometimes all at the same time; each track on Half The City serves one or more of those roles. So while the band released its first EP, Greetings from St. Paul & The Broken Bones, in 2013, and two more albums later this decade, it’s this full-length debut that still serves as the ultimate conversion for believers and heretics, alike. —Hilary Saunders

rtj2.jpg 78. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
Functional hip-hop duos are a rarity. It takes work to balance strong personalities that have a lot to say. It makes you respect what a group like OutKast accomplished, and it explains the appeal of Killer Mike and El-P on Run The Jewels’ ambitious debut album. Hip-hop hadn’t been this fun in a long time. Their second album, RTJ2, was an equally fierce release. The opening track, “Jeopardy,” is the ultimate “LISTEN UP!” moment. And if you didn’t get the message on the first track, then it’s surely chiseled into your core on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” It’s one of the rawest and hardest hip-hop beats to come out this decade with Mike and El-P trading bars. The bass is so encapsulating, and Mike’s “oh my” peppered into the background makes it a haunting experience. They test each other’s hip-hop fluency often. It’s almost as if they’re competing to see who can rap faster, better and more articulately. But there’s a darker undertone to this record than the first time around; they’re happy, but they’re also pissed. Run The Jewels borrows from a range of hip-hop techniques, but they always deliver. You can feel the effort with every syllable, that this music is coming from their very core. It’s a comprehensive essay on the style and vernacular of hip-hop. —Adrian Spinelli

77. Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (2010)
Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me was the finest two-hour, harp-driven, three-disc opus of the 2010s. Newsom—still your best possible icebreaker at a dinner party of hipsters, Renaissance Fair staffers and woodland creatures—released her last solo record, Ys, in 2006 to a response that ranged from gleaming to marry-me-I’m-begging-you. But if that sophomore album was a vivid glimpse into her weird little world, this sprawling sequel, conceived in flagrant defiance of conventional logic, is legitimately bananas. It’s like tumbling into her world and getting lost for weeks. Devotees thrilled to Newsom (who produced the record, with Jim O’Rourke intermittently mixing) emptying her quiver of tricks here, and the results are indeed glittering. The title track is a serpentine fairytale of harp, mandolin, piano and other elfin instruments. A jaunty piano opens the fantastically titled “Good Intentions Paving Company,” which briefly spirals off into diner pop. Best of all is gossamer showstopper “Baby Birch,” which will shut down your world for nine and a half minutes. The album is not for the fainthearted. It’s also not for anyone with a tendency to bristle at resolute self-indulgence. But over the course of the album, a weird thing happens: Her flutters and flourishes become comfortable, even at their saddest, and her babygirl voice takes on a grand assuredness. It’s difficult to imagine another situation in which plinking pixie sounds, recurrent madrigal noises and radiant folk poetry could be categorically described as honking huge, but for all its girth, Have One On Me is packed with magic. —Jeff Vrabel

Also in Music