The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

The music that defined the past decade

Music Lists Best Albums
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49. A Tribe Called Quest: We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service (2016)
The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders are great Tribe albums. But We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is a great Tribe album that has André 3000 and Kendrick Lamar. That’s just math making a strong case that this LP is the best thing this group’s ever done. With absolute certainty, “The Space Program” and “We the People…” are the greatest one-two opening punch in their catalog, and fairly strong arguments that a band would make a better President than our current one. On the latter, these everymen know what unites America (“The ramen noodle”), and they know the bigotry that rips it apart (“Muslims and gays / Boy we hate your ways”). And in one career-best verse on the former, Q-Tip rightfully salutes Confederate flag-capturer Brittany Newsome, the murdered Eric Garner and a doomsday premonition from his own “Excursions.” Inverting a storied history of legendary African-American musicians from Sun Ra to George Clinton to Lil Wayne, Tribe cement their rep as the most earthbound crew of all time: “There ain’t a space program for niggas / You stuck here nigga.” Call it “Incursions.”Yet, We got it from Here… proceeds from one crucial innovation since Tribe last made a record in 1998: the jazz-rap album you cannot relax to. Kendrick himself pioneered this with last year’s unanimously received masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, and Tribe’s most political album by miles is almost as fraught. All sorts of arresting, arrhythmic junk clutters their chewiest grooves while Q-Tip, Jarobi and the one-of-a-kind Busta Rhymes one-up their own high-anxiety flows in these secretly recorded tracks like the Navy playing war games. Just listen to Q-Tip’s hiccuping breathlessness on “The Donald” or Busta’s exorcisms on “Dis Generation.” These guys never rapped like this before, and they never will again, at least not in this configuration. —Dan Weiss

alabama-shakes-boys.jpg 48. Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls (2012)
Undeniably at the center of The Alabama Shakes’ debut record is Brittany Howard’s ascendant balladeering, which allows the Alabama Shakes to explore a sound made famous by the twin giants of Motown and Muscle Shoals. Her voice races from falsetto to growl to wail so quickly that she often changes direction mid-word, and that dynamism gives even the Shakes’ slowest songs a restless, animal energy that is impossible to ignore. Howard’s sound contains distinctive elements of Janis Joplin’s flint and spontaneity, Aretha Franklin’s depth and power and at times even the sweetness of Diana Ross. Despite the tendency of listeners to lump the band into the category of soul revivalists, Boys & Girls was best enjoyed not as an anachronism but as a fresh take on sounds from a bygone era. The Shakes looked to punk and hard rock as much as anything, and the melding of those influences with their rootsy, passionate appeal resulted in a style all their own, free of cynicism and brimming with vitality. —Eli Bernstein

summertimeohyeah.jpg 47. Vince Staples: Summertime ‘06 (2015)
Though Vince Staples’ proof was already in Stolen Youth, the 2013 mixtape he spit out with Mac Miller (Larry Fisherman), his major label debut—and first official full length—Summertime ’06 acts as an all-consuming testament to a talent far beyond its years. Not to sell Youth short, but Miller’s loosely saccharine production fit a Staples who’s cooled quite a bit since then. On Summertime, the rapper is all ice-cold edge, inside and out: refined, honed, sharp enough to cut subcutaneously. And so, on Summertime ’06, an older, wiser Staples digs in with Clams Casino, No I.D. and DJ Dahi, producers who represent the best of most generations of hip-hop, to help him carve out a sonic space better fit for his aging worldview. In turn, the album is more than an ambitious kind of coming-of-age chronicle—it’s a blithely sad thing, one in which institutional racism (“Lift Me Up”), addiction (“Jump Off the Roof”), and even loneliness (“Summertime”) feel impossible to overcome. Staples hasn’t gotten harder, just smarter—and his producers, balancing industrial clank with cloudy dope-scapes, have allowed him a sturdy vulnerability off which he can bounce his feelings. Though Staples hails from Long Beach—and shared a year of assured hip-hop releases with Boogie, another brilliant rapper from the area who’s finally getting his due—his tracks rarely feel exclusive. Here, he was ready to mine deeper bedrock. And rarely has the sound of an artist scraping bottom been this assured. —Dom Sinacola

46. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (2016)
Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape and his second project distributed via Apple, is deafeningly religious, brimming with testimonies, exaltations and blessings that are loud enough to rock a megachurch and its town-sized parking lot. Purged of the drug-addled skepticism of Acid Rap and pulsing with the free-wheeling spirit and zeal that bolstered Surf, Coloring Book is a breezy listen: direct and purposeful. Forgoing a narrative of redemption, repentance or struggle, Chance spends the bulk of the album insisting that he’s already found salvation. But while the volume of Chance’s piety may feel like evangelism, Coloring Book is far from gospel rap. Chance The Rapper feels that he has been blessed with family, friends, talent and opportunity, and few things give him more joy than extolling those blessings. This isn’t the music of someone who’s been born again. It’s the music of someone who is constantly thrilled to still be living. —Stephen F. Kearse

snail-mail-lush.jpg 45. Snail Mail: Lush (2018)
Lindsey Jordan’s first EP as Snail Mail in 2016 won over critics and fans with its subdued power and studied melancholy, revealing a songwriter well beyond her 16 years. Since then, she’s graduated high school, toured with the likes of Waxahatchee and Girlpool, and was featured in a roundtable of female rock musicians for the New York Times. Her debut LP, Lush, is a collection of 10 lucid guitar-pop songs that show off her her classically trained guitar skills, structural know-how and an ability to express the inquisitiveness and confident insecurity of youth with a surprising sophistication. “They don’t love you, do they?” she asks during the magic-hour-esque “Intro,” her clear and comfortingly relatable voice singing the first of many questions she poses throughout the album. Her music is laid-back, gently hooky, and complements the poetic vagueness of her lyrics. There isn’t enough detail for you to know exactly what she’s talking about, but you understand the mood. Though the highs and lows of the album are subtle, Lush confirms what the Habit EP first introduced. Jordan is a definite talent. The songs illustrate a wise-beyond-years songwriting style, with none of the self-importance and indulgence that can come with more experience. Nothing feels trite or contrived. She’s a natural, with an impressive sense of restraint, placing points of tension and release right where they need to be. —Madison Desler

44. Tame Impala: Lonerism (2012)
Midway through “Nothing That Has Happened So Far,” a bulldozer of sublime psychedelia on Tame Impala’s sophomore LP, a mysterious voice emerges from the swirl: “You’re thinking about everything, aren’t you?” it asks, bathed in fuzz, as drums tumble wildly and electric guitars shiver with flange. “I know it’s crazy—just don’t think of it like that / Nothing has to mean anything.” Lonerism expertly balances heady textures with effortless melodicism. “Apocalypse Dreams” is a capital-E Epic, a modern psychedelic odyssey that grows catchier and stranger the longer it plays; “Be Above It” builds from a chanted vocal loop and primal drum pulse into a carnival of giddy hooks and flange. The show-stopping “Music to Walk Home By” sounds like The Flaming Lips re-scoring Magical Mystery Tour, stoned out of their gourds. Saying nothing rarely sounds this profound. —Ryan Reed

43. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (2019)
Natalie Mering’s work under the name Weyes Blood feels less like a catalog of music and more like a journey. And each time she releases a full-length album, her destination comes a little more into focus. That’s especially true on her new record Titanic Rising, which finds Mering edging her peculiar psych-folk closer than ever to the sound of traditional pop music. For someone with a documented predilection for idiosyncrasy and experimentation, she sounds completely at ease in these new songs, and ready for bigger things ahead. Folks who know her debut, 2011’s The Outside Room, might be surprised to hear Weyes Blood in 2019, but they shouldn’t be shocked. Even on that lo-fi bundle of echo and noise, you could hear Mering’s gift for haunting melody and the folk form hovering slightly below the surface. Titanic Rising doesn’t feel blissfully adrift. Instead, it feels like Mering knows exactly where she’s going. You can hear it in the robust string sections of album opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and the sturdy backbone-beat of “Andromeda” and the sentiments of “Wild Time,” a patient ambler with a ‘70s soft-rock vibe (including a hint of “Landslide”) and a plainspoken bridge: “Everyone’s broken now,” Mering sings, “And no one knows just how we could have all gotten so far from truth.” —Ben Salmon

janelle-monae-dirty.jpg 42. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (2018)
After years spent building a successful acting career, Janelle Monáe released her third studio album, Dirty Computer, in 2018 via Atlantic Records. The first single, “Make Me Feel,” showcases Monáe’s greatest strengths: It’s a funky, soulful, slightly left-field pop song that would fit right in on the INXS back catalogue. Led by Monáe’s luscious, strong lead vocals, the song is sprinkled with glittery synth riffs and a wide range of sound effects like finger snaps and tongue clucks. “Django Jane” is a sex-fueled empowerment anthem. “And we gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot / or we gon’ have to put ’em on a pussy diet,” she spits. Monáe refers to her latest album as an “emotion picture” releasing it along with a 48-minute, futuristic narrative film. —Lizzie Manno and Loren DiBlasi

celebrategoodtimesyo.jpeg 41. Japandroids: Celebration Rock (2012)
Japandroids’ eight-track, zero-percent-fat Celebration Rock is bookended by the triumphant sounds of fireworks, but the real explosions lie in the chemistry of duo Brian King and David Prowse, filling out the record with just guitar, drums and vocals. Celebration Rock exists as a testament that chant-along, simple rock songs still have a place in the greater discussion of music, and you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise after hearing “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “The House that Heaven Built.” Like on their debut Post-Nothing, Japandroids remain relentless from the get-go, infusing their pulsating anthems with epic sing-alongs as they shout out choruses that “yell like hell to the heavens.” —Tyler Kane

bey_2019.jpg 40. Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013)
Regardless of what the music sounds like on Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth LP, the album’s intended significance is hard to overestimate. Considering the unorthodox release, which included music videos for every song and lack of a standard pre-release marketing push, the album was historic, especially considering that, at least initially, it worked, and the sales boomed as they had never boomed previously. Of course, her previous months of touring the world were good marketing; they were just marketing the entity Beyoncé and helped create an atmosphere that was hungry for an album. Then there are the feminist themes, a crucial co-headliner to the Beyoncé talking points. After all, what is the point of making a big splash if you don’t intend to swim? The attention that Beyoncé’s release earned her—and let’s not pretend every Beyoncé release doesn’t get attention, but this turned heads that typically wouldn’t turn—is for good reasons, to perpetuate the pushing of women’s equality into every conversation and the need for reexamination of societal expectations and attitudes toward women, not limited to sexuality, motherhood, the workplace and appearance. And this closing portion of Beyoncé is probably the best of her career, with first single “XO,” previously teased romp “Flawless,” the unabashed, uncompromising tribute “Heaven,” and “Blue,” which concludes the album with a striking similarity to how Arcade Fire’s Reflektor ends, mainly in the atmosphere of the song, though having her daughter guest as a ghostly voice at the album’s finish is slightly unsettling. The appearance of her child seems mostly put there for herself, which is all well and good. It is her album—and her choice. But, just as there’s a fine line between self-love and self-obsession, art often runs the risk of crossing over from personal to self-absorbed. The lack of universality to much of it keeps it from being the great album it wants to be, and some of the fascination seems to stem from 2013 celebrity culture obsession and speaks to the need to disappear from our own lives and become so wrapped up in the world of the rich and famous. Beyoncé does her part to make her world worthwhile, but it is our job to try and do the same. In the end, the success of the album can be measured by whether things actually change, because a million copies sold should be a million changed attitudes, and that would be something pretty special. —Philip Cosores

helplessness-blues.jpg 39. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (2011)
After their eponymous debut album earned a well-deserved standing ovation from critics, Fleet Foxes set the bar high for their sophomore album. Helplessness Blues is sweet and comforting at its worst and inspiring at its best. The foundations of many tracks are similar—the band frequently returns to the strumming, “ohhs” and “ahhs” that define opener “Montezuma”—but Fleet Foxes know how to layer sounds to add depth and make each song distinctive. The album is often about love — and the emptiness that can accompany its euphoria. —Ani Vrabel

38. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (2014)
Though most of Are We There steers through the tumult of a relationship that has since ended (the song titles tell the story: “Your Love Is Killing Me,” “I Love You But I’m Lost,” “Nothing Will Change,” “Break Me”), Van Etten never wallows, nor turns vengeful or bitter. Rather, these songs are her attempt to make sense of it all, and she sifts through the promise, the heartache and the loneliness with dignity, even elegance. That’s not to suggest she hides her anguish. Van Etten lets loose on “Your Love Is Killing Me,” her voice throbbing as she fights, essentially, for the space to catch her breath. She is sorrowful over eddies of guitar and thundercloud drums on “You Know Me Well,” while a sympathetic horn vamp acts as a keel to keep “Tarifa” right-side up against Van Etten’s forceful swings between wild hope and despair. —Eric R. Danton

37. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (2016)
Will Toledo is the creative force behind this Bandcamp success story. This album arrived after his Matador debut, Teens of Style, which culled from his self-released records for songs he wanted to give a more official treatment too. Here, he’s coming through clearer than ever. His voice isn’t shrouded by reverb and distortion, and his songwriting is crisp as can be. This style of indie rock can benefit from the lo-fi treatment, and it did for most of his career, but the clarity here puts on display that his talent really carries through as well if not better with a cleaner production style. With Teens of Denial, Toledo has practically guaranteed himself a viable career for years to come. The fact he did it while still in his early 20s after laying a foundation of solid self-released records proves even further that his most creative days are probably still ahead of him. This is an album that makes you really fucking glad to be alive. For that matter, the very fact albums like this are coming out is enough reason alone to hope you get to stick around on this planet for a long, long time. —Mack Hayden

jaysomeverybodyworks.jpg 36. Jay Som: Everybody Works (2017)
Melina Duterte begins her sophomore album with a hushed, distorted couplet: “I like the way your lipstick stains / the corner of my smile.” It’s memorable, sweet and original bedroom pop, intimate but carefully orchestrated. The guitar tones play with pitch even more than current lo-fi kings Mac DeMarco or Kurt Vile, or much like Duterte’s first instrument, the trumpet, whose imprecise notes can make a piece of music feel more human in our digital world. The vocals are buried and dreamy, surrounded at times by discordant guitars, especially on songs like “1 Billion Dogs.” Moments of crunchy noise-rock make the clean pop hooks of songs like “One More Time, Please” stand out even more. Duterte plays all the instruments on Everybody Works, including some of the coolest psychedelic guitar solos recorded this decade, sometimes hidden within layers of jazzy, fuzzy counter-melody. It’s both informal and intricate, carefully constructed then filtered through crappy speakers, like listening to Sun Kil Moon or Sufjan Stevens through a cell phone with someone you love on the other end. The result feels personal and vulnerable and, above all, beautiful. And it’s one of our favorite albums of 2017. —Josh Jackson

rihannahheygurl.png 35. Rihanna: ANTI (2016)
It’s more than fitting that the cover photo of 2016’s ANTI features Rihanna as a child with a crown slipping down over her eyes—the album is a celebration of the confidence that allows her to make the lyrics “Sex with me so amazing / With her it’ll be alright” a chorus without a goddamn trace of irony. Almost more impressive than the album’s record eight No. 1 singles on the Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart is the vulnerability she infuses alongside the raunch, grit and bravado that define hits like “Needed Me.” On “Higher” Rihanna’s vocals strain and fray at the edge of her range as she pours her heart (and presumably some of that whiskey) out for the way things were. With ANTI, Rihanna empowers herself, regardless of how you feel about it. All hail. —Katie Cameron

stranger_main.jpg 34. Phoebe Bridgers: Stranger in the Alps (2017)
“Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time,” Phoebe Bridgers sings in “Funeral,” one of the best songs on her incredible debut album, Stranger in the Alps. “And that’s just how I feel. Always have, and I always will.” No doubt about it: Alps is, at its core, a collection of sad folk songs, presented with nifty sonic accoutrements (mournful fiddle here, electro-noise there) and clever references (David Bowie, Jeffrey Dahmer) that give them added dimension. But it’s Bridgers’s plainspoken lyrics and airy, inescapable melodies that make Alps not just one of 2017’s best debuts, but also one of that year’s (and this decade’s) best albums by anyone at any stage of their career. At 23-years-old, she already has a masterpiece under her belt. —Ben Salmon

33. The National: Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
Trouble Will Find Me may be The National’s funniest album to date. Not that it has a whole lot of competition. The bookish Brooklynites don’t typically drop punchlines, although Matt Berninger has snuck a few sharp absurdities into his lyrics. On the band’s sixth album, however, he actually foregrounds the humor, which was a welcome change for the band so deep into its career. Berninger’s self-deprecating humor nicely complements the album’s pealed-back sound. If High Violet was an ambitious statement album that propelled the band to new heights of mid-life/middle-class existentialism, Trouble Will Find Me is looser, easier and rawer—as laidback as The National ever get. Dense with allusion and mythology, Trouble portrays The National as a band that has soaked up so many influences that they’re bleeding out into the words. And yet, you don’t need to know who sang “Blue Velvet” or get the Elliott Smith reference on “Fireproof” to appreciate the band’s stripped-down sonic assault or sympathize with the confused protagonists wandering through these songs. —Stephen M. Deusner

32. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (2013)
Robin Thicke’s mega-hit might have out-partied “Get Lucky” in sheer saturation, but there’s no denying that Pharrell’s appearance with the chrome-domes is, without a doubt, the summer jam that reigns supreme in quality. Daft Punk and Pharrell’s not-so-subtle mission statement is slicked over by Nile Rodgers‘ virtuosic take on glossy rhythm guitars, forming an alliance we’d never imagine—but we’re perfectly happy listening to the outcome. The album may be wildly eclectic—even inconsistent—but the highs, like “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Doin’ it Right,” make the album one of the decade’s essential listenings. —Tyler Kane

jasonisbellsoutheastern_hello.jpg 31. Jason Isbell: Southeastern (2013)
The first few years of Jason Isbell’s solo career were beset with personal problems, including a well-publicized struggle with alcohol abuse, and his first three solo outings often played like too much of the same thing. But with Southeastern, Isbell has broken this hard luck streak, crafting an album worthy of his considerable talents. Each of the songs is a stunner. “Cover Me Up” is on the one hand a gentle, insistent love song, and on the other a moving testament to personal redemption that never once turns a blind eye to past indiscretions. It sets the tone for the remainder of the album, which is given equally to the promise of romance and the ever-looming possibility of suffering, both self-induced and arbitrary. As good as the songs are, Isbell’s singing may be even better. It’s certainly some of the best vocal work he’s yet committed to tape. His baritone, always rich, is deepened here by a grittiness that lends Southeastern a real soulful quality. By any reasonable aesthetic criteria, Southeastern is a triumph. It’s the most potent expression to date of Isbell’s talent (including his Drive-By Truckers output) and, ultimately, was a harbinger of great things to come. —Jerrick Adams

vincentTTTTttt.jpg 30. St. Vincent: St. Vincent (2014)
That Annie Clark’s album as St. Vincent is self-titled is no aberration, no cop-out in the face of vacant inspiration. Just look at the eponymous collection’s Willo Perron-designed, Memphis Movement-inspired cover. Clark, perched high atop her modernist throne, exudes the sort of confidence and wit reserved only for those who’ve mastered a craft. Otherwise she’d just look ridiculous, tossing off another rococo selfie like so many of the characters Clark brings to life on the album. No, though St. Vincent is the adventurous songwriter’s fourth album, posterity and its fickle memory may find a way to boil it down to Clark’s true ascension point. Because this was the first time we saw and heard her so completely fearless, so completely tapped into her potential and so completely set apart from her peers. And she knows that as well as us. Ask yourself: Is it purely coincidental that Perron played a significant role in the creative direction for Drake and Kanye West? Given his talent, the designer would be in-demand regardless of those affiliations, but I can’t help but find at least a modicum of overlap between hip hop’s reigning elite and indie rock’s most inventive futurist. In press materials for St. Vincent, Clark stated that she wanted the “groove to be paramount,” and she hit her mark. The opener “Rattlesnake,” lifts off with a lone jittery synth, which gives way to a flange-drenched rhythmic stomp and the warble of fleeting auxiliary noise, ending in a blistering cascade of multi-tracked shredding courtesy of Clark, a self-professed “pedal nerd.” The effect, as with most of the album, is somehow both steely and emotionally rich. Throughout St. Vincent, Clark juggles the two approaches masterfully, teasing the brain with virtuoso acrobatics while glaring straight at the heart with the overall power of the thing. I love that there are two ways of listening to St. Vincent: We can compartmentalize, standing in awe of the production and sheer skill on display, studying each flicker and nuance. Or we can sit back and let it work us over as the cohesive and pummeling statement that it is. —Ryan Burleson

currents_waves_ripples.jpg 29. Tame Impala: Currents (2015)
Tame Impala isn’t exactly an underdog band: Kevin Parker has enjoyed the steadily increasing accolades of the music press, “Elephant” was a huge single, they’re a big-font festival band, and their name is almost certainly known to anyone who has bought any overpriced flannel from Urban Outfitters. But Currents is where the internal debate about Tame Impala’s hyped-up legitimacy ended. This is a near-perfect album. It’s a superb progression from their last efforts, a study in internal consistency and just chock full with nearly an hour of great songs. From opener “Let It Happen” to closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Parker manages to never shy away from the spotlight while somehow making you view him as a mere messenger given this incredible album by the muses. There’s a lushness to every instrumental and vocal decision here of a tone smacking of eternality. It’s psychedelic music less as a genre distinction and more as a legitimate description for how much your mind seems to expand when you listen to it. There are rewards aplenty to anyone who’ll give this record many listens, but they’re the kind which will shirk away if they’re sought out. Instead, you’ve just gotta sit back and let them come. —Mack Hayden

28. Bon Iver: Bon Iver (2011)
  Bon Iver starts off quietly with a lovely little guitar riff on “Perth,” but a keyboard wash and military drums kick in before we hear Justin Vernon’s falsetto. Three-quarters of the way through, the song has swelled to its peak, something he and his bandmates Michael Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan became masters of while touring behind the Bon Iver debut. By track two, the band is highlighting Colin Stetson’s guest saxophone (magnificent later on “Michicant”) and Greg Leisz’ pedal steel, along with Vernon’s vocal range—he begins with a deep baritone before breaking into falsetto and then using his high natural register. And that’s what makes Bon Iver one of the most satisfying responses to a hyped debut. It retains the beautiful melancholy of For Emma, Forever Ago, but in nearly every way, it’s just more. More layered, more diverse, more interesting. He brings in collaborators to do what they do best, but never at the expense of his sound and vision. It treads into new sonic directions without getting lost. For Emma could be oblique at times, but the lyrics on Bon Iver often border on non-sensical: “Ramble in the roots, had the marvel, moved the proof be kneeled fine’s glowing / storing up the clues, it had its sullen blue bruised through by showing.” A majority of song titles reference places, but most meaning for the listener will come through the cathartic choruses: “Still alive who love you.” “Never gonna break.” “I could see for miles, miles, miles.” And this one from “Calgary”: “So it?s storming on the lake, little waves our bodies break / There’s a fire going out, but there’s really nothing to the south / Swollen orange and light let through, your one piece swimmer stuck to you.” These all come as the music builds and emotions rise, and they’re the moments on the album which linger throughout the day. —Josh Jackson

alexanderhamilton.jpg 27. Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording (2015)
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? The answer unfolds over 142 minutes on the cast recording of the decade’s best musical. While a ticket to the Broadway production was out of reach for many, the soundtrack contained nearly every word uttered on stage and packed the same emotional punch. Co-produced by Questlove and Black Thought from The Roots, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography was dense with story—from his arrival in New York to his unlikely rise in American politics to his scandalous fall. But it wouldn’t have obsessed legions of fans without the brilliant hip-hop inspired music, performed by a superb cast including Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Philipa Soo, Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff. For months, I woke up with a different track in my head until a snippet of conversation would trigger another. With so much to say about race, class, immigration and the American dream, it’s a brilliant, epic story in 46 tracks. —Josh Jackson

carriesufjan.jpg 26. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Carrie & Lowell was in no way what I wanted or expected from the next Sufjan Stevens album. I wanted something daring and sweeping—a musical progression from Age of Adz in some way. Instead, what we got was a quiet, moody set of songs not unlike something you’d find on a Sufjan Stevens album from the early 2000s at first blush. But there is also something fundamentally different about this album. It’s urgent and spontaneous—the kinds of songs that are written in a rush of cathartic emotion on whatever instrument happened to be laying around. No three-minute orchestral intros to be written or historical facts to be researched. It’s more Elliott Smith’s XO than Illinois—and like XO, it has its eyes focused squarely on death. It stares straight into the hospital rooms, regrets, cloudy memories, and empty bedrooms—and dares to sing a quiet song about it all. Perhaps that ended up being more ambitious than another “State Project” album could have ever been. —Luke Larsen

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