The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

The music that defined the past decade

Music Lists Best Albums
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idles-joy.jpg 76. IDLES: Joy As An Act of Resistance (2018)
While discussing even the most harrowing themes, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance forces you to find hope in any circumstance. The Bristol-based punk outfit’s second album is loud and raucous while still embracing melody and sing-along (well, yell-along) choruses. From the utterly addictive single “Danny Nedelko” (a pro-immigration, in-your-face track about the band’s personal friend) to the haunting, grieving “June” (about the still-born death of singer Joe Talbot’s daughter), Joy as an Act of Resistance encapsulates the title of the album, standing up against personal, social and political strife with abundant confidence. —Annie Black

75. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)
Ever since Fiona Apple began to comprehend the darkest realities of pop celebrity, she’s been on a tear, and all of her eccentricities seem to be intact on The Idler Wheel: the reliance on big words and jumbled phrasing, the delivery that’s somehow both intimate and operatic, the seemingly nonsensical poem-as-album-title. But musically, it’s gaunt and foreboding, with Apple’s voice and piano squarely at the forefront, while tour drummer Charley Drayton adds ambient flourishes of percussion rather than rhythmic propulsion. The fact that she can’t get out of her own head—can’t even begin to write a song that doesn’t build on layers of self-conscious self-absorption and gritty self-loathing—may in fact be one of her greatest and most distinguishing strengths as an artist. And for all her famed prolixity, Apple can also fire off a startlingly concise line that puts her entire life into a new perspective. “How can I ask anyone to love when all I do is beg to be left alone?” may be the most perfect lyric she’s ever written, neatly summing up both her neediness and her self-possession. To her immense credit, Apple never flinches at such uneasy insights and insoluble contradictions, which makes The Idler Wheel a tough but rewarding listen. She may work in a form that’s notorious for its introversion, but at heart Apple’s a pop extrovert: She makes it painfully and gloriously clear that her pain is our pain, that her horrors are universal. —Stephen M. Deusner

74. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014)
With the exception of a few artists, modern country has taken a hard left turn for the worse over the past two decades. Ask some people, and they might even say country’s become a shell of its former self. Sturgill Simpson is not one of those people—mostly because he doesn’t seem to care what is happening within the confines of the country music world. Instead the Kentucky-born singer looked to more far-out places on his second full-length, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. One of the first things you’ll notice is Simpson’s voice, which conjures the ghost of Waylon Jennings. Producer Dave Cobb’s warm production can’t be overstated—it holds the entire thing together and also makes Metamodern Sounds a shelf-worthy addition next to the greats. If you don’t like country music, don’t bother. But if you do have an ear for Waylon and Willie and the boys, then you’ll find plenty to love. Simpson may reside in Nashville these days, but he’s operating on a completely different plane. Here’s hoping his own mind-expanding experiments will expand the minds of listeners as well. —Mark Lore

73. Kevin Morby: City Music (2017)
Singing Saw, the third solo album from L.A. singer-songwriter (and former Woods bassist) Kevin Morby, was one of the great “growers” of 2016. Dusky and unassuming, it revealed its considerable charms slowly but surely. Morby’s follow up, City Music, mines a similar aesthetic, though its songs in general seem to endear themselves more quickly. Where Singing Saw was inspired in part by Morby’s sleepy neighborhood in the hills northeast of L.A., City Music is about the metropolis: city life, city noise, city people, a city’s pace, and so on. Morby has said Singing Saw was Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, while City Music is Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and the comparison is clear in Morby’s speak-sing deadpan and bulging crescendos from brooding guitar-folk to driving rock. (The barreling “1234” makes a beeline for the Ramones.) City Music doesn’t hustle and bustle. But it won’t let you miss it, either. —Ben Salmon

716qLGBp1nL.jpg 72. Frightened Rabbit: The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010)
On each of its first three albums, Frightened Rabbit’s ambition grew. The Scottish band was so good at juxtaposing minimal passages with rousing dynamic swoops. But on The Winter of Mixed Drinks, their songs are sandbagged with sighing keyboards, screaming layers of melodious distortion, nested rhythms, choral harmonies—all the doodads that rock bands are liable to employ circa album number three. These more laborious arrangements occasion stirring moments on the epic scale of Coldplay or U2; this is burnished, stadium-sized, cloud-cover rock. The change is more one of scale than style. Hutchison’s earthy, inviting voice cuts through the vast instrumentation like a ray of sunlight. This is a different sort of intimacy: The Winter of Mixed Drinks is less of a breakup record than a post-breakup record, the more pathetic feelings having hardened into self-reliant moxie. Hutchison offers the usual wallowing introspection and off-kilter epiphanies (“She was not the cure for cancer,” he suddenly gleans midway through the album), but from a bird’s-eye view. On lead single “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” which includes a string arrangement by labelmate Hauschka, the singer is a tiny, bobbing speck, way out past the waves, nothing but a sea of chiming guitars and swooning strings on all sides. Frightened Rabbit wrings a winning simplicity from all this august isolation. A cardiac pulse animates many of the songs, a mightily thwacking unison at the core of all the kaleidoscopic embellishment. Sprightly rhythms still canter through the drafty corridors. —Brian Howe

71. Caribou: Our Love (2014)
As early as “Twins,” a track off 2003’s Up in Flames, Caribou hinted at the prospect of pristine pop music. Of course, about a decade back, he was recording as Manitoba. But there surely was an overriding eclecticism that assured listeners of a future that could be anything from synthetic dancehall hits to peaceful moments fit for supine wonderment. Caribou—government name, Dan Snaith—possesses a clear affinity for breakbeats and technological advancement, as evidenced on 2010’s Swim, but wheedles it down to the most exacting electronica of his career for Our Love; gone were the Pink Floyd touches that hued his 2007 Andorra all psychedelic. Instead, the producer extends electronic conceits expressed on 2010’s Swim and efforts like “Kaili,” shorning tunes of his singing, opting for samples and snippets, coming off just left of a Michael Jackson opening act from sometime between Off the Wall and Bad. Snaith’s latest disc further just distills the guy’s most synthetic interests and occasionally winds up sounding like something playing at a club while Tom Cruise, circa 1988, enters the room. Women would swoon—dudes, too—and he’d sidle up to the bar to order some fluorescent-colored drink. Not everyone will be pleased, but those hooked on Swim will be thrilled. —Dave Cantor

70. Destroyer: Kaputt (2011)
Always a cagey artist, Dan Bejar sheds his skin seemingly with every song. His 2008 album, Trouble in Dreams, was his indie rock record, full of scabrous guitar riffs and churning grooves; before that, he did ornate chamber pop on Rubies; before that, dreamy MIDI-fied synthscapes on Your Blues. He’s a chameleon who changes color to suit a background that only he sees, which means his 2011 release, Kaputt, was a typical Destroyer album only in that it sounds so little like previous Destroyer albums. These songs find inspiration in a musical moment decades in the past, when noir lite jazz offered the world processed drums, sculpted synths, fretless bass, gauche backing vocals, and smooth sax, all set to languid tempos and deceptively laidback songwriting. Think Chuck Mangione or Steely Dan or—because Bejar has the benefit of 30 years’ hindsight—Martin Hannett doing easy listening. He’s not being ironic; despite the low standing this music has had critically, Kaputt is not bracketed by quote marks. In fact, it’s generously lush, the sonics fitting his stage-whisper vocals beautifully. —Stephen M. Deusner

69. Leon Bridges: Coming Home (2015)
In 2015, Fort Worth, Texas’ Leon Bridges first brought us back to an era of soul that few have been able to revive with such style and grace. Bridges evokes shades of the great Sam Cooke at just about every turn on Coming Home and the result is simply beautiful music. The album was co-written by Bridges and a team highlighted by Austin Jenkins and Josh Block of psych-rock band White Denim, who’ve captured a classic, lo-fi feel with production from Niles City Sound. From the dashing romanticism of the title track to the gospel of the magnificent “River” closing out the album, Bridges re-introduces us to American soul music forged alongside the essence of rock ‘n roll. And even decades after this special music peaked, Coming Home still managed to be a sign of the times. —Adrian Spinelli

decemberists_king is dead.jpg 68. The Decemberists: The King is Dead (2011)
The Decemberists’ medieval rock opera The Hazards of Love pitted the band’s diehard supporters against those with little tolerance for Elizabethan syntax and folk-metal guitars. Released two years later, The King is Dead is a tuneful concession to the latter group. Most of the frills and festoons have been trimmed from the Decemberists’ sound, leaving behind a lean, rootsy mix of Americana and Celtic-flavored folk songs. Meloy still tosses multiple SAT words into his lyrics, whose portrayals of the American heartland owe more to William Faulkner than, say, Larry McMurty, but he doesn’t sound so overzealous here. Framed by crisp layers of pedal steel, acoustic guitar and harmonica, the album’s tracklist is an exercise in rustic restraint, with only one song topping the five-minute mark. Gillian Welch sings harmony on seven numbers, playing the Nicolette Larson to Meloy’s Neil Young, while former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck lends his familiar jangle. The King is Dead is one of the Decemberists’ most personal efforts to date, packing light and still packing a punch. —Andrew Leahey

cardi-b-privacy.jpg 67. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (2018)
For just a moment, I want you to forget about Offset. Forget about Kulture, Cardi’s instagram rants and those rad Bardi Gang earrings you bought your roommate for Christmas. Cardi B’s celebrity may be an well-earned aspect of her now famous rags-to-riches story (and oodles of fun to observe), but it’s completely irrelevant to enjoying Invasion of Privacy, one of the most uproariously fun rap albums of the decade. The worst thing you can do is dismiss Cardi B because you’re skeptical of her oft-outrageous star text and/or Offset’s notorious stage crashing. The Bronx-born entrepreneur first attracted attention after speaking openly about her work as a stripper on social media. Then, in 2017, she released “Bodak Yellow,” only the second single ever by a solo female rapper to top the charts and a “look at me now” anthem that even rivals Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” in its unapologetic bragging. Turns out, Cardi had lots more “money moves” where that one came from, and her highly-anticipated full-length debut made good on the promise of more self love lyrics, Latin-influenced rap and twerk-worthy trap. There are too many great one-liners to count on album kicker “I Do,” one of Paste’s favorite songs of the 2018. “My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?” Cardi observes, later followed by what might be the best imperative sentiment in music that year: “Leave his texts on read, leave his balls on blue.” “I Do” is Cardi B’s way of saying “I’m done explaining myself,” and in doing so she speaks on behalf of all women who’ve ever been told to shut up. Cardi B does not need a man to make music (or do anything else), and heaven help the fellow who tries to stand her way. SZA anchors the song with the nonnegotiable chorus: “I do what I like.” In 2018, an unapologetic woman was the most powerful voice we needed. —Ellen Johnson

girls.jpg 66. Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (2011)
While not exactly a pop savant, Owens sharpened his songwriting in the few years between Album and his next release, and the tunes on Father, Son, Holy Ghost sounded more open-ended, allowing them to build on and play off one another naturally and easily, without being forced into a self-conscious song cycle or concept album. This is an album about juxtaposition and contrast, so the yearning “Alex,” which sounds lit by a beach campfire at twilight, segues into the riff-heavy “Die,” with its classic rock noodling and harried lyrics. Girls do pop melancholy and metal misanthropy equally well. The whole album is full of such odd, unexpected pleasure, which all the more impressive considering how familiar the elements are. That’s perhaps Girls’ most impressive trick: finding so many new ideas and emotions in pop’s well-worn sounds. In that regard, this album not only surpasses its predecessor but raises the bar for any band, indie or otherwise, mining the past for inspiration. —Stephen M. Deusner

65. Future Islands: Singles (2014)
The status of “next big thing” is a coveted position, and most bands never get there. Future Islands have been there three times, with three consecutive albums. But where their second and third Thrill Jockey releases, In Evening Air and On the Water, were able to nab strong reviews and cult audiences, bolstered by the group’s kinetic performances, the Baltimore-by-way-of-North Carolina outfit never quite broke out in a way that deserves that kind of superlatives being lobbed in its direction. Singles, the audaciously titled fourth LP from Future Islands, is upfront about its ambitions, beginning with the strongest stand-alone the band has made yet. “Seasons (Waiting on You)” sees a universal experience portrayed with respect for the human condition, and Samuel Herring showcases an even-handed distribution of youthful longing and frustration with mature wisdom and perspective. Herring’s deep, husky and often untamable delivery peppers this spread with personality, sounding like an only son of Dracula raised in an ‘80s disco. Future Islands are direct in their influences, with ’80s pop music and contemporary synth-pop both pretty obvious touchstones. But trying to pinpoint the sound of the band ignores the originality that is at play. No one sounds like Future Islands, nor have they for several albums. —Philip Cosores

64. D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (2014)
At midnight on Dec. 15, 14 years dissolved. One key-stroke, and the mythic follow-up to D’Angelo’s Voodoo could be yours. Luxurious, raw, crashed-up, silky, a funky collage of sounds and grooves, Black Messiah takes listeners ever deeper into the dozen songs with repeated listening. More heartening than the hodgepodge of elements and seeming precision of their interweaving is the social consciousness rising. Yes, D’Angelo, that glorious objet d’amour, has not eschewed his romantic bent, but with the exhortative-sample, wah-wah guitar-slither collapsing into writhing moans on “1000 Deaths,” the drum-rolling phased vocal delight “Til It’s Done (Tutu)” and the elegantly moody “The Charade” with its wailing chorus “all we wanted was a chance to talk/ ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk…” his desire to expand higher societal awareness dominates. Evoking Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On and Prince’s Sign O’ The Times, as well as P-Funk, Sun Ra, Band of Gypsys-era Hendrix, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and The Temptations and The O’Jays at their most fraught, D’Angelo brings intent. Citing uprisings in Ferguson and Egypt and the Occupy movement in the liner notes, D’Angelo seeks to empower those reaching for equity beyond color and economics. —Holly Gleason

63. Haim: Days Are Gone (2013)
Most of the talk about HAIM in 2013 had little-to-nothing to do with Days Are Gone, the excellent collection of pop songs the three sisters put out that year. Instead, Este Haim’s SNL “bass face” and a slew of ill-conceived thinkpieces concerning their authenticity (they made their debut on a major label performing Wilson Phillips-style pop and yet they got accused of misrepresenting themselves and selling out…why? Because they look like they shop at Urban Outfitters?) dominated the conversation. But when you strip away all the blog chatter and just dig into Days Are Gone, the fact remains it’s an incredibly strong debut. “The Wire” is the obvious, undeniable hit with its Gary Glitter-esque drumbeat and Danielle Haim’s staccato vocals, but opener “Falling” and “Forever” form a potent 1-2 punch as well, and “Don’t Save Me” serves as an emotional centerpiece, as Haim pleads, “Take me back to the way that I was before, hungry for what was to come.” It’s a fitting lyric, considering all the undeserved backlash directed at these talented women. Can’t we all go back to the way we were before, just entranced by their earworm tunes? —Bonnie Stiernberg

62. FKA twigs: LP1 (2014)
FKA twigs’ debut full-length LP1 was a blend of glitchy futuristic R&B we hadn’t heard before. A music-video dancer turned singer, FKA twigs experiments with sound and space, her beats stuttering and stoping like a modern dancer. Although it may not sound like it, FKA twigs is essentially a singer/songwriter fearless in her approach to experimentation. Her vocal range forces a new take on desire, and puts her own personal signature on a theme we’ve heard before—sex. On LP1 we get all sides of FKA twigs: She sings to us digitized and Auto-Tuned from far off in space before whispering in our ear, intimate and bare. Beats drop in and out with no warning or obvious structure, and yet it’s catchy. Yes, these 10 disjointed anthems somehow manage to be catchy songs. FKA twigs released a video for every song on the album, a testament to her clear vision for LP1, a truly unique and noteworthy debut. —Alexa Carrasco

Blood_Orange_Cupid_Deluxe_album_cover.jpg 61. Blood Orange: Cupid Deluxe (2013)
Melancholy R&B grooves, shards of minimalist funk—many artists delved into such textures during the 2010s, but none as skillfully as Dev Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange. Before Hynes became a sought-out hired-gun songwriter for everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen and Haim to Blondie, he rose to indie prominence at the end of 2013 with the phenomenal Cupid Deluxe. Six years later, the album remains a kaleidoscopic career-making gem, drifting from the supple funk of “You’re Not Good Enough” to the elegiac brooding of “Chosen”—home to the decade’s single most mournful sax solo—without flinching from the overarching haze of sadness and longing. The London-born Hynes draws on his adopted hometown of New York City for the disco-tinted “Uncle Ace” and even reimagines an old Mansun track (retitled “Always Let U Down”) as his own. —Zach Schonfeld

60. Lorde: Pure Heroine (2013)
A 16-year old girl not looking to twerk, whine or sugarshock? Meet Ella Yelich-O’Connor, who emerged in 2013 as a distaff Holden Caulfield, by employing a sangfroid that punches through an acquisitional society which measures worth by a flauntatiousness divorced from meaning. “Royals,” that summer’s surprise lo-fi trance-ish alternative No. 1, finds Lorde ironically checking rap/video staples. She merges Lana Del Ray’s flat affect, Queen-evoking curtains of disembodied vocals and Massive Attack’s electronica over an anything but fizzy electro-pop. Superficiality falls beneath her razor-scrawled lyrics, which skewer the sexualization of violence (“Glory and Gore”), the willfully blissfully unaware (“Buzzcut Season”) and the unattainability/desirability of faux perfection (“White Teeth Teens”). For Lorde on Pure Heroine, youth is both the ultimate revenge and burden. To know so much, to feel so little and to embrace what is, she illuminates being young, gifted and bored with a luminescence that suggests life beyond Louis Vuitton. —Holly Gleason

59. Iceage: You’re Nothing (2013)
Punk rock used to be strictly a young man’s game. It’s still a young man’s game, but it’s also a young woman’s game, and even an old fart’s game—Zeus knows you don’t have everything figured out after the age of 23. Or 33, for that matter. But that pure recklessness, that feeling of invincibility, can only be truly captured and bottled in those formative years. No one’s embodied this in recent years more than Danish four-piece Iceage. Their 2011 debut, New Brigade, raged quietly in Denmark before finally exploding in the States six months later. Live shots showed these baby-faced, teenaged lads and their audiences sweaty, screaming and sometimes bloodied. It was everything you wanted in a punk band before you even heard a single note. New Brigade lived up to Iceage’s notoriety, too. The band absolutely pummeled, mixing hardcore with moments of post-punk tweakage. There’s plenty more of that on You’re Nothing, a record that’s as jittery and unhinged as it is perversely spot-on. Iceage isn’t as refined as fellow Scandinavian hardcore band Raised Fist, but they have a similar menacing tone that’s almost frightening. These aren’t just angry punk anthems—they’re absolutely dark and riveting, even if you can’t understand what Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is yelling about. —Mark Lore

58. (Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (2017)
Alex Giannascoli, aka Sandy, spent the early ‘10s cranking out fuzzy, guitar-driven folk-pop whose lo-fi nature couldn’t contain its creator’s natural knack for a memorable melody. He bounced around from label to label and built up a big following on Bandcamp, breaking out a bit with 2014’s DSU and then signing to Domino Recording Co. for 2015’s Beach Music. But his 2017 album Rocket comes with a significant bump in interest and attention thanks to Frank Ocean, who recruited Giannascoli to play on his two 2016 albums, Endless and Blonde. But Giannascoli’s work stands on its own, never more so than on Rocket, a 14-track travelogue of the 24-year-old’s varied interests. The album has been called Giannascoli’s country album, and there are a handful of songs that make prominent use of banjo (“Poison Root”) and violin (“Bobby,” the title track). No doubt about it, these songs leap from the speakers, thanks not only to Giannascoli’s generally easygoing way with a tune, but also violinist Molly Germer’s vibrant parts. Elsewhere, however, Giannascoli is in exploratory mode. “Witch” and “Alina” are shimmering dream-pop trips, and “Horse” sounds like an experiment in loosely organized, not-so-harsh noise. He doesn’t seem satisfied with being a preternaturally talented indie-pop-rock singer-songwriter. He wants more. He wants to try it all. He’s as interested in misshaping a great song as he is perfecting it. Most of the truly great ones have that quality. —Ben Salmon

artworks-000174220367-i7610z-t500x500.jpg 57. Noname: Telefone (2016)
On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was later acquitted of the crime despite Facebook video of the incident. Just over three weeks later, Chicago rapper Fatima Warner, aka Noname, released her gorgeous debut mixtape Telefone, a smooth, jazz-inflected listen packed with heartbreaking social commentary about life as a black woman in America. One particular track, “Casket Pretty,” hauntingly echoes the fate of Castile and so many others, as Noname repeats the lines, “I hope you make it home / I hope to God that my tele’ don’t ring” and raps about “Too many babies in suits.” Opener “Yesterday” serves as a woozy, dreamy thesis; she both laments the discrimination people of color face (“Check my Twitter page for something holier than black death”) and finds solace in the smiles of her loved ones. The rest of the record unfurls with the same bittersweetness—contemplative and cerebral, balanced out with a playful plinking piano or sunny “doo doos.” With Telefone, Noname invites us into a meaningful conversation, and we’d all be fools not to be on the other end of the line. —Clare Martin

8f09545c.jpg 56. Jamie xx: In Colour (2015)
Jamie xx  wasn’t doing anything new—he pulls from dub reggae and West Coast rap; he cribs minimal house as willfully as he dips into shoegaze; he uses steel drums without irony—and yet In Colour feels as refreshing as the work of someone who knows he’s touched upon territory net yet plied. With his official debut (a full-album remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s last LP that, while an endlessly blissful team-up, served as a partnership nonetheless), Jamie Smith had no apparent goals, no clear concept. But, there is the Burial-esque thwomp-n-creak caterwaul of “Gosh” and the smoky “Loud Places,” a song The xx should’ve penned. There’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” which is somehow ebullient even with the terrible idea of bringing in Young Thug, and the rhythm and blues of “The Rest Is Noise” in which each is given its effortlessly ecstatic due. In total, In Colour isn’t anything in particular, just an irrefutable example that Jamie xx is more than a producer—he’s a composer and curator, a musician with an ear for optimism, a guy with boundless, Technicolor love to give. —Dom Sinacola

adele21.jpg 55. Adele: 21 (2011)
Ahh, the wisdom that comes with old age. British alt-soul prodigy Adele Adkins’ debut, 19, was stunning in spots, earning both a watchful eye from critics and a should-have-been-huger hit single, “Chasing Pavements,” that perfectly demonstrates what makes her offbeat charm so appealing: a panache for gigantic hooks strung together in melismatic webs of old-school vigor; an instrumentally-dense arrangement equally referencing big-band and indie-rock; and most importantly—that voice. Oh, God, that voice—a raspy, aged-beyond-its-years thing of full-blooded beauty. On 21, she sounds refreshed and poised to attack. There’s no change in style—this is still the stuff of a sensual modern pop-noir landscape, heavy on retro textures and relationship drama. But she’s sacrificed some of her debut’s sparse moodiness, resulting in a more cohesive, immediate batch, littered with knock-outs. Working with an eclectic all-star production team (including Rick Rubin, Paul Epworth, and Ryan Tedder), Adele emerged with a well-manicured batch of songs that, while still showcasing her interest in layered musicality, shoot straight for the pop charts with each go-round—which is exactly where she should be aiming. This is what American Idol should sound like. This is what pop radio should sound like. This is what Adele should sound like. —Ryan Reed

54. Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (2016)
Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, Whitney’s songwriting duo, were preparing to release this debut album since shortly after their last band, the Smith Westerns, split in 2014. When writing songs together, Kakacek and Ehrlich developed a persona: Whitney is a lonely guy who drinks too much and lives alone. It was probably a pretty easy idea to embody. Both Max and Julien are quick to admit that the songs for Light Upon the Lake were written in the midst of consecutive breakups. They felt a little bit like Whitney, so they built this as a bit of a concept album. But, the weird thing about labeling this record as a breakup album is that it’s both accurate and—paradoxically—widely off base. It’s not angsty, or hastily prepared in a few drunken nights off of some fit of red-eyed nostalgia. Sure, literally speaking all of the songs off of Light Upon the Lake conjure up failure to maintain a relationship with a loved one, but how can you relate a new band’s debut record—and one that’s so so fully realized to the point of even having a mission statement in the Whitney, as a man, as a writing prompt and concept—with a break up? If anything, it was the start of something new. —Nikki Volpicelli

51Zzc7PUDML.jpg 53. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)
Kendrick Lamar’s debut LP opens with a prayer—“Lord God, I come to you a sinner and I humbly repent for my sins,” begins “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter”—and his personal quest for redemption bleeds into the next track (the not-so-piously titled “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”) as he reminds us that “I am a sinner who’s probably gonna sin again.” Lamar’s bleak candor is highlighted by voicemail messages from his family members that are expertly woven into the album’s narrative. His father teaches him the true definition of responsibility; his mother pleads with him to return her car and later, towards the end of “Real,” delivers what feels like the album’s mission statement: “When you do make it, give back with your words of encouragement.” —Bonnie Stiernberg

Anderson-Park-Malibu-Cover-Billboard-650x650.jpg 52. Anderson .Paak: Malibu (2017)
All thanks and praise to Anderson .Paak for releasing this warm, boozy album right at the start of a chilling year in both temperature and social climate. Malibu is a wonderfully generous cocktail of rap, R&B and soul. It’s intoxicating music, the kind of stuff that gets you up and moving without realizing it. Paak is more than just good vibes though; he’s conscious of the issues regarding his mixed race, and uses his pro-sex slow jams like “Room in Here” and “Without You” to encourage the world to toke up and leave the problems at the foot of the bed. Whether it’s the brass blasting funkdown of “Come Down,” the champagne-soaked “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance,” or joyous victory lap of “The Dreamer” .Paak is more than happy to welcome all for a good time “whatever the occasion/fuck your reservation.” —Reed Strength

51. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (2015)
Of course Sleater-Kinney was going to reunite—everybody reunites these days—but Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss were stealthy about it: the trio didn’t let slip that they had been working on their first album in 10 years until it was already finished. And what an album! The interplay between Brownstein and Tucker has rarely been tighter or more ferocious, their voices and guitars twisting, turning and intertwining over explosive drumming from Weiss on songs that are as tuneful as they are hard-hitting. Sleater-Kinney had built an enviable catalog before dissolving in 2006; No Cities to Love was a staggering return that ranks among their best work. —Eric R. Danton

1989whataYEAR.jpg 50. Taylor Swift: 1989 (2014)
Like her archnemesis Kanye West, Taylor Swift is polarizing. She is as fiercely loved as she is hated, both by culture and critics. 1989 was a rare moment of some consensus regarding Swift and her music. While Red has arguably aged with a bit more grace, and her earliest releases are more earnest and, at times, forthright, 1989 triumphs over every Swift album in terms of production and overall vision. The gap between Red and 1989 remains Swift’s best and most important artistic leap forward. The winds of change started to blow in on Red, as she fortified her traditional weapon (acoustic guitar) with slicker production, rock ‘n’ roll drums and one bad-boy EDM beat-drop, but 1989 was a new pop wonderland. Her wide-eyed love songs (the saccharine “This Love,” as well as the love-letter to her city, “Welcome To New York”), boisterous break-up ballads (both the pop song perfection on “Blank Space” and the bittersweet reflection on “Clean) and campy teen crush tunes all sounded better than ever before. She tried experimentation again with Reputation, angling to keep up with her ever-maturing audience, and all but failed miserably. Two years later, critics looked at 2019’s Lover through rose-colored glasses, happy to hear anything that wasn’t the half-baked snake charms of Reputation. But 1989 remains Swift’s most experimental and exciting release, and it’s also one of the best pop albums of the decade, on par with Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion and Charli XCX’s Sucker and Pop 2. It’s so good, even the ever-annoying “Shake It Off” is forgivable. —Ellen Johnson

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