The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

The music that defined the past decade

Music Lists Best Albums
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kanye-west-yeezus-sq_2019.jpg 25. Kanye West: Yeezus (2013)
That Kanye’s anointed himself as Jesus’ BFF isn’t surprising: After years of hip-hop domination and high-profile media spectacles, the dude’s made plenty of enemies—Jesus may be the final person he hasn’t totally pissed off. Luckily, Kanye’s still more man than God. Yeezus’ second half is weirder, darker, more introspective—all the qualities that define his best work. The first revelation is “New Slaves,” a racially charged gospel set to a gothic, electro-choral swirl. The first verse alone is masterful—as focused and emotionally affecting as anything he’s ever written (“You see it’s broke nigga racism that’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’ / And this rich nigga racism that’s that ‘Come in, please buy more’”), delivered with a razor-sharp cadence, with an eerie sonic framework that adds urgency to the message. Basically, it’s the anti-”God.” The album closes with “Bound 2,” an old-school College Dropout throwback—built on a warped soul sample, crammed full of classic Kanye observations. It’s a beautiful blast of humanity on an album—a perplexing, fascinating, absorbing album—that often feels outside normal human grasp. —Ryan Reed

litd_wod_albums.jpg 24. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (2014)
I wasn’t sure I needed an album like Lost in the Dream until I heard it. Even then, it took a few listens before I could articulate why it scans the way it does: Wistful but not resigned, invigorated but not wide-awake. As its title suggests, Lost in the Dream often trades in gaseous, impressionistic hues, and a cavalry of affected guitar, synth, lap steel, sax, harmonica and piano tracks gel into luminescent aural sunsets at several points throughout the album. These ambient drifts bookend Adam Granduciel’s tender songs, the lyrics of which also tend to reveal themselves in refracted ways. Indeed, it can be difficult to discern more than a handful of lines in succession—Granduciel’s feathery, mostly reserved delivery sees to this, as well as the tonnage of reverb baked into the mix—but listeners can’t miss the sense of melancholy and anxiety woven into nearly every second of Lost’s hour-plus run-time. “Am I alone here, living in darkness?” he asks on “Eyes to the Wind,” his questioning telling all in a handful of words. Many times Granduciel is more spirited on Lost, but the M.O. of “Suffering” seems, to me at least, to speak volumes about the powerful undercurrent running throughout the collection. He’s known pain in his time, but losing hope doesn’t appear to be an option. He’s “just a burning man, tryin’ to keep the ship from turning over, again.” —Ryan Burleson

mitski_puberty2_cover.jpg 23. Mitski: Puberty 2 (2016)
Mitksi is a bonafide rock star, as proven on her 2016 standout album, Puberty 2. Her fourth studio album is an exceptional exploration of universal truths for a certain sect—unrequited love, financial instability and hungry ambition. Despite these coming of age tales, Puberty 2 is anything but ordinary. Mitski’s telling offers a refreshing and emotionally raw account of life in a way that avoids being precious. Each track offers a unique approach in terms of sound but is woven together and amplified through brilliant songwriting. With “Happy,” the album opens combining pulsing drumbeats and horns, gradually progressing to the distorted, power-chord driven rock anthem, “Your Best American Girl.” In “A Burning Hill,” the album’s final track, Puberty 2 comes full circle. The less-than-two-minute closer completes the grieving process, which Mitski embraces by singing, “I’ll go to work and I’ll go to sleep / and I’ll love the littler things.” The lyrics may be simple but they highlight the wisdom possessed by the 26-year-old, making this one of the decade’s best albums. —Jaimie Cranford

22. Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear (2015)
Tillman’s creative persona feels like a natural extension of his sprawling and strange backstory: He’s part cultural provocateur, part hippie-rock satirist, part soulful balladeer. What’s most surprising about I Love You, Honeybear is how it balances that cartoonish character with the real-life Tillman—who married his then-wife, Emma, in 2013. Honeybear thrives on the knife’s edge of that enigmatic split personality, as he attempts to reconcile the love-swept optimist with the world-weary wise-ass. Fittingly, the LP’s most striking moments meditate on the sublime and deeply complicated art of sharing life with a single partner. The title track is an apocalyptic love song submerged in waltzing, Spector-styled orchestrations—with Tillman embracing his wife, at peace as they drown. Sonically, Honeybear finds Tillman in a ruminative mood, favoring lavish strings, sweeping layers of voices and acoustic guitars. But he still has a knack for unexpected flourishes, like the psychedelic guitar solo on “Strange Encounter.” With I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman wrestles with a lot of heady subject matter: modern narcissism (“Bored in the USA”), his own tendency to doom personal relationships (“The Ideal Husband”), the general downfall of mankind (“Holy Shit”). But the less he strains, the more his songs resonate. On threadbare closer “I Went to the Store One Day,” his voice skirts into falsetto over hushed fingerpicking and strings, as he croons about buying a plantation with his wife and letting the yard grow wild—and how that dream originated from a chance parking lot hello. Tillman will probably always write with a wink—but he’s learning to infuse that approach with genuine heart.—Ryan Reed

af_suburbs_new.jpg 21. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (2010)
At first listen, The Suburbs didn’t seem likely to bear the same iconographic heft as its predecessors. But swelling at 16 songs and an hour-plus runtime, it’s Arcade Fire’s most ambitious and concept-driven effort to date. Vast stretches feel tamped down, as if the album is sonically emulating its subject. Where past Arcade Fire songs built upwards, these unfurl flat and wide; the euphoric spikes that served as Funeral and Neon Bible’s beloved rallying points are strangely absent here, spaced farther and farther apart. Arcade Fire seems to be testing us, luring us down into the lowlands. A vein of emptiness and Beckett-esque waiting courses throughout; as so often in real life, these suburbs are a kind of purgatory with no exit in sight. But Chassagne’s vocal turn on “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” redeems. A disco backbeat and massive keyboard bassline blast skyward, achieving the sort of anthemic release Arcade Fire has perfected, a moment of catharsis that’s been brewing for nearly the entire album. As any kid bored to death in such cul de sacs knows, the only cure from the suburbs can be found in “shopping malls [that] rise like mountains beyond mountains,” and three minutes in, the song finds its own escape, attaining a euphoric release. She’s found hope in the darkness, even if it’s just neon and dim street lights beckoning with their irresistable clarion call: “Come and find your kind.” —Andy Beta

lucy-dacus-historian.jpg 20. Lucy Dacus: Historian (2018)
Historian is at once tightly focused and musically expansive, 10 songs that sidestep any notion of a sophomore slump. While her 2016 debut, No Burden, had its tentative moments, Dacus displays remarkable poise here. She never sounds less than supremely confident on lyrics that make the personal political, and vice versa, accompanied by musical arrangements that are sometimes downright majestic. It wasn’t a secret that Dacus is a strong lyricist, but she’s become subtler, too, with turns of phrase that gleam, and sometimes devastate: “I’m just calling ’cause I’m used to it / And you’ll pick up ’cause you’re not a quitter,” she sings on “Addictions.” She’s just as skilled at describing a scene as delivering one-liners: Dacus wrote “Yours and Mine” after participating in the 2017 Women’s March, and she evokes the feeling of camaraderie and, simultaneously, the excitement and trepidation of standing on a precipice: “For those of you who told me I should stay indoors / Take care of you and yours,” she warns over a big, thumping beat and jangling guitar. “But me and mine…we’ve got a long way to go until we get home.” It’s a rare artist who has a voice so compelling, and rarer still are the ones who learn so early on how to use it. At 23, Dacus has already made a career album with Historian, and she’s really only just getting started. —Eric R. Danton

19. Alvvays: Antisocialites (2017)
On Antisocialites, Alvvays haven’t lost their knack for writing concise indie pop songs that rival the best of Camera Obscura or Belle & Sebastian. By adding a warm synth sheen for their sophomore release, the Toronto-based quintet managed to make their jangly guitars seem even lusher. They’ve achieved what every band strives for on a sophomore album but most fail to do—namely, strike the middle ground between making the same record twice, and wanting to evolve and change their sound. By tweaking their songwriting ever so slightly, Alvvays one-up their 2014 breakthrough record. “Plimsoll Punks” plays like a fuller, more tightly wound “Next of Kin;” “Dreams Tonite” is a supercharged, groovier take on “Ones Who Love You.” Molly Rankin & co. have dissected every minute detail from their debut and figured out how to truly improve upon each part, one by one. Those small flourishes—a more pronounced synth line here, an unexpected key change there—don’t distract from what makes Alvvays great; they’ve only made the overall sound better. —Steven Edelstone

Body_Talk_by_Robyn.png 18. Robyn: Body Talk (2010)
We can’t talk about heartbreak in music without mentioning Robyn. Whether you need to sob into your pillow or sweat yourself into oblivion at the club, the Swedish pop diva is always there with the right remedy for your pain. Her latest album, Honey, is a stunning dancefloor masterpiece with a few heartbreak tunes mixed in with the electro bliss, but 2010’s Body Talk is home to arguably one of the greatest breakup songs of all time, “Dancing On My Own.” After an expertly placed appearance in a scene from the third episode of GIRLS, even more people recognized “Dancing On My Own” for what it really is: a juicy, devastating wave of catharsis. And upsetting as it is, Robyn’s recount of watching her ex-lover run away with someone else isn’t exclusive to the broken-hearted among us. Like Lena Dunham’s Hannah, sometimes you just need it as a boost, to remind yourself that you’re okay—maybe even better—on your own. —Ellen Johnson

17. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Radiohead  has seemingly run out of reinventions, but that could be for the best. A Moon Shaped Pool, the quintet’s ninth LP, was more summary than new chapter. Thom Yorke’s oceanic piano loops, half-mumbled falsettos and reversed vocal wails recall the insular Kid A-Amnesiac era, while Greenwood’s dense string orchestrations echo the warmest stretches of The King of Limbs and its more organic predecessor, In Rainbows. Slow-burn synth-rock epic “Identikit” climaxes with their wildest guitar solo—arguably their only real guitar solo—since OK Computer. Collectively, A Moon Shaped Pool proves that Radiohead has resumed its greatest winning streak in modern popular music. Not by flaunting any new tricks—just by delivering their normal quota of catharsis.—Ryan Reed

16. Beach House: Teen Dream (2010)
Teen Dream sounds just like Beach House and not at all like Beach House. On their first two albums, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally created warm, lo-fi pop songs that favored subdued ambience over pronounced hooks, as if each song was designed to dissipate in the air between the speakers and your ears. By contrast, the duo’s Teen Dream songs are less hazy and more forceful—they actually project. Singing in a bold style that suggests a huskier-voiced Kate Bush, Legrand sounds androgynous on “Walk in the Park” and breathy on “Norway.” Scally, meanwhile, creates prickly arrangements full of narcotic guitars, reverbed piano and woozy synths that shimmer over spare, steady percussion. Dream is a go-for-broke collection that not only creates and sustains a hi-fi drowse-pop drama throughout its 10 beguiling songs, but comes across like a logical and gorgeous extension of all the band’s previous dreams. —Stephen M. Deusner

15. Angel Olsen: My Woman (2016)
After 2014’s stunning Burn Your Fire for No Witness dramatically raised her profile, Olsen perhaps felt pressure to make a big statement the next time out. My Woman finds her up to the challenge, maintaining a harrowing intensity in full-band rockers and solitary confessionals. Olsen is a brilliant songwriter and an even better vocalist, who can go from stern to tender to deranged, and back again, in a single verse. In the beginning of My Woman, Olsen mostly pursues love with wild-eyed fervor, whereas the closing songs disconsolately consider its ruins. Yet, the relentless heat of My Woman can be exhausting over the course of 10 searing tracks—the addition of a throwaway would give a weary listener time to regroup. But Angel Olsen’s fearless and eloquent embrace of raw emotions in all their messy splendor ultimately feels oddly uplifting, the way it always does when you witness a gifted artist at her best. —Jon Young

davidbowieblackstar_new.jpg 14. David Bowie: Blackstar (2016)
The death of David Bowie in early 2016 somehow seemed to set the tone of the rest of the year. His many fans and supporters thrilled at the release of his latest album Blackstar, a masterpiece that found him threading modern jazz into his already multi-colored tapestry of sound, and talked excitedly about what looked like the start of a bold new chapter in his storied career. Two days later, all that hope and promise was yanked away when the news came of Bowie’s death due to liver cancer. Quickly, the discussion about Blackstar turned from celebratory to eulogistic as many of us pored over the lyrics and the two videos he made for the album for clues and signposts. Bowie did not disappoint on that front, as the LP is suffused with references to the inevitable and to looking back at his own legacy as one of 20th century’s most innovative pop stars. With his clear-eyed view of his divine status, Blackstar becomes, then, a worship album about Bowie. His chosen cadre of musicians certainly treat it as such. Though the hard grooves that the members of Donny McCaslin’s quartet aren’t too far afield from what they presented on their 2015 album Fast Future, it’s still obvious that they’re pulling their punches a bit, all the better to let their new bandleader run as wild as he pleases. Bowie’s biggest reveal comes at the end of Blackstar, pulling back the curtain long enough to let us know that for as much of himself as he has offered up to the music lovers of the world, as the title goes, he can’t give everything away. He had to hold something back, be it his soul or his body or his always nimble mind, to be able to weather his final moments on this planet. But what Bowie did gladly and willingly offer up is a grand closing statement that will, like every other bit of art he created during his life, resound through the ages and shine glimmers of hope and humanity upon generations of boogie-ing children.—Robert Ham

solange_asatt.jpg 13. Solange: A Seat At The Table (2016)
2016 was one of the most incredible years for music not only this decade, but also this century as a whole. The year was defined by both unabashed, even unreasonable, hope and a deep sense of forthcoming peril. That makes for a hell-of-a landscape for artists to try and interpret, and the ones who did it best found ways to seize the moment in all its chaos while simultaneously telling their own stories. Solange, the younger Knowles sister, nailed that task better than just about anyone. As the end of Obama’s presidential tenure loomed, artists—particularly black artists—had to reckon with the false hope of the previous eight years. Solange both captured the disrest and took ownership of it, particularly the experience of black women. It’s impossible to misread her: “All my n****s in the whole wide world, made this song to make it all y’all’s turn, for us, this shit is for us,” she sings on “F.U.B.U.” Elsewhere, she tests the limits of R&B with a fellow innovator, Sampha (“Don’t Touch My Hair”), contemplates displacement through neo-soul (“Where Do We Go”), harnesses her anger with Lil Wayne (“Mad”) and comes to terms with herself on the majestic “Cranes in the Sky,” the album’s true triumph and one of this decade’s best songs. Like Frank Ocean’s Blonde, A Seat at the Table is 2010s canon. —Ellen Johnson

kendrick_main.jpg 12. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. (2017)
DAMN. isn’t the personal journey that 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was, and it doesn’t try to be. DAMN. is Kendrick Lamar dead and Kendrick Lamar alive. It is Kendrick Lamar condemned and Kendrick Lamar redeemed. It is a meditation—or rather, a series of meditations—of his technical and emotional capabilities. Those meditations, on subjects explicitly named in songs like “PRIDE.” “LUST.” and “FEAR.” are bound together as an examination of his own existence: his past, his present, his future, his disciples, his worshippers, his enemies and his worldview. When Butterfly came out, Lamar was coronated hip-hop’s king and savior. Here he embraces the image, turning himself into messiah and martyr. He finds himself crucified on the very first track—his desire to do good, his outstretched hand to the blind of the world, turned upon him and used to undo him. On “DNA.,” he’s “Yeshua’s new weapon,” born of Immaculate Conception and eager to lead his people. But Kendrick Lamar is not Jesus. He can’t help being human, and like the best among us, he is capable of, and often beholden to, a dark part of the mind. In highlighting the struggles inherent in his morality, he forces his listeners to consider their own. —Carter Shelter

11. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
  Vampire Weekend was a pretty damn good album, and the band’s understanding of American pop melodies and world music rhythms tethered them to the real world—or at least a world beyond Manhattan—and somehow humanized them. This wasn’t the gauche aspirational/rationalizing of reality TV housewives or Jersey Shore meatheads. Bucking several generations’ worth of received indie-rock wisdom, frontman Ezra Koenig had the temerity to borrow from Paul Simon circa Graceland instead of David Byrne circa Fear of Music, and the band soundtracked his songs with arrangements that were simultaneously inventive and fussy. Instead of grit, Vampire Weekend emphasized opulence, which turned out to be subversive: In a musical realm that equated authenticity with slumming, this quartet stood in direct opposition to all those skuzzy Outer Boroughs acts still nursing the sting of injustice that they would puke in CBGBs’ bathroom. So Vampire Weekend were crucified. And by crucified, I mean they sold a shit-ton of albums. Their sophomore long player, Contra, debuted at No. 1, and it’s likely their follow-up, Modern Vampires of the City, vaulted them even deeper into the mainstream. As well it should have: It may not meet the high standards of Contra, but these new songs came pretty close, which is no small feat. And they may even convert a few non-believers along the way. Given lyrics like “You’ve got the luck of a Kennedy,” they probably won’t. And that’s OK. Vampire Weekend work best when they’re not quite acceptable, when they still retain a trace of subversion, which uproots their music from the rock-historical continuum. Let me put it another way: That harpsichord on “Step” doesn’t signify psych-rock or chamber pop. It signifies harpsichord. That weird orchestral aside on “Hudson” isn’t a nod to Beck’s use of “Unfinished Symphony” on Odelay or any kind of prog inclination from the band. Instead, it signifies an orchestra. Or, at most, a half-remembered night at Lincoln Center. Rather than excavate old rock history, Vampire Weekend find ways to make these instruments sound new, which gives the music a lightness—as though unburdened by the music of the past and the expectations of the present. —Stephen M. Deusner

10. SZA: Ctrl (2017)
The first lady of Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA acquired a cult following with her 2014 mixtape Z, a downtempo project rife with ambient beats and understated vocals—a pleasing combination for fans of artists like XXYYXX and Sky Ferreira. On her debut LP, SZA trades Z’s whispery vocals for a robust timbre steeped in jazz and soul, evoking Amy Winehouse and earlier predecessors like Billie Holiday. In keeping with jazz tradition, there’s an improvisatory quality to the way she sings throughout the album, unraveling structured pop hooks with stream-of-consciousness riffs and scat-like repetition. But in contrast to the self-seriousness that often comes with impressive vocal chops, Ctrl is comically blunt: “Highkey, your dick is weak, buddy / It’s only replaced by a rubber substitute,” she croons on “Doves in the Wind.” It’s lines like these that make Ctrl feel as intimate and fun as a slumber party with your best girlfriends. —Nastia Voynovskaya

kacey-golden.jpg 9. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (2018)
Golden Hour is named, in part, for Kacey Musgraves’ teeny tiny hometown of Golden, Texas; population: about 200. But the title of the singer/songwriter’s triumphant third LP is also an ode to the brief period of daytime occurring right after sunrise or just before sunset, a fleeting 30 minutes during which everything is made more beautiful by a dusky, yellow glow. Perhaps darkness is just ahead, but a for little while, there’s nothing but light for miles and miles. Musgraves is all-too familiar with life’s ups and downs, lights and darks, and how they often co-exist. “Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?,” she sings on “Happy & Sad.” “Happy and sad at the same time / You got me smiling with tears in my eyes.” That track is a lesson in feeling comfortable with dark emotions, but Musgraves spends the bulk of Golden Hour basking in the light, giddy with new love (in her case, with husband Ruston Kelly) and in awe at the world around her. There’s an ease to the record, which is interesting considering it spends so much time investing in the often complicated work of genre-busting. While there’s more than enough twang and small-town heartache on Golden Hour to constitute a country record, there’s a delightfully surprising melange of sounds—spaced-out AutoTune on the psychedelic “Oh, What A World,” doo-wop keys on the starry-eyed “Butterflies” and, most magnificently, the sweaty disco beats on what should have been a pop radio hit in 2018, “High Horse.” For all its genre-defying powers, Golden Hour is also home to pure, stop-in-your-tracks songwriting. Musgraves has a knack for coy wordplay on “Space Cowboy” and “Slow Burn,” and if “Mother” doesn’t inspire you to call up your mom right this minute, you need to listen again. While life is full of lights and darks, Golden Hour is more concerned with the glow, and it is Musgraves’ sun-soaked masterpiece. —Ellen Johnson

hooraycarlyrae.jpg 8. Carly Rae Jepsen: Emotion (2015)
At first glance, a record with songs like “I Really Like You” and “Run Away With Me” may not seem like obvious choice for a stellar breakup album. To that, we say, you clearly haven’t cried while listening to E•MO•TION by Carly Rae Jepsen. Post-breakup, you don’t just wallow in sadness or stew in bitter anger. You mourn what might-have-been and even dream about your ex running through the proverbial airport to tell you they made a huge mistake. Everything about E•MO•TION, including its fantastical retro-inspired pop sound, screams rose-colored glasses. Besides obvious breakup songs like “Emotion” and “Your Type,” the album is filled with tracks that, if anything, feel like desperate, unattainable fairytales. And let’s not forget the album’s most underrated song, “Boy Problems,” which feels like a glittery chorus of every pal ever who’s reminded you that friendship comes before an obnoxious S.O. If a Disney princess made a record after being dumped, this masterpiece would be it. —Clare Martin

7. Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016)
Frank Ocean  mostly existed in suspended animation in the interim between channel ORANGE and Blonde, leaving his fortress of solitude for the occasional feature or broadcasting his thoughts from within its dungeons via oblique tumblr dispatches. His absence from public life was so absolute that it spawned memes, conspiracy theories and fan fiction about him being seen IRL. Blonde is just as evasive—Ocean obscures his face on the album cover—but it’s his most resonant work yet, constantly pushing past profound alienation to connect, however fleetingly, to something, someone. Throughout the album, Ocean flits in and out of memories and relationships, replacing the set pieces of channel ORANGE with slipstream vignettes. Genre is also a blur. channel ORANGE may have been eclectic, but it was clearly an R&B record. Blonde is thoroughly radioactive, always unstable. Surf rock transforms into new wave that morphs into electrosoul that evaporates into vaporwave. The only thing stabilizing this chaos is a folk sensibility: a persistent emphasis on the power of the voice. —Stephen F. Kearse

courtney_cover.jpg 6. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
Following up the double EP that garnered her acclaim far beyond her Australian home, Courtney Barnett recorded 11 tracks matching her ear for melody to an eye for detail. She’s a coffeehouse storyteller with an impish streak of dark wit fronting an honest-to-God rock ‘n’ roll band, begging you to both dig into her lyrics and get up and dance. And the range here is impressive, from the meditative “Depreston” about house-hunting to the thrashing kiss-off “Pedestrian at Best.” It’s filled with singles if there was still a radio station who played music like this. —Josh Jackson

5. Frank Ocean: channel Orange (2012)
channel Orange is a very beautiful album about not-so-beautiful people. Prostitutes and pimps, drug mules and drug lords, rich kids with too much money to be happy, and at moments, the narrator himself—these are the cast of alienated, paralyzed SoCal misfits swirling around in Frank Ocean’s moral imagination. Yet, restraint is key to the execution of channel Orange, a neo-R&B album that, for all its layered beauty, never overwhelms. Ocean’s not one to shout his words, so his well-wrought stories reveal themselves as organic, integrated parts of the mix. From “Start” to “End,” channel Orange is a narrative album meant to be heard in the traditional manner. It sounds best when taken in that way. —Lane Billings

kanye-beautifuldark250_new.jpg 4. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Kanye West has always been on the tip of pop culture’s tongue and this is his most well-rounded endeavor. This is where he first plucked a quaint indie rock vocalist in Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, weaved him masterfully into his own hip-hop fabric and vaulted the mixture of the two. The whole album is wrought with expansive productions from the sparkle of “All of The Lights” featuring Rihanna, to the beautiful balladry of “Blame Game” featuring John Legend. Kanye West’s persona elicits strong reactions, but MBDTF flashes the musical genius of pop culture’s most polarizing figure. —Adrian Spinelli

lcd_tih_new2019.jpg 3. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (2010)
Over the course of four proper full-length albums and a smattering of singles and compilations, LCD Soundsystem—the oft-one-man-show of New York DJ, producer and DFA Records co-honcho James Murphy—has become an increasingly sure bet. After 2002’s “Losing My Edge,” an eight-minute takedown of rock ‘n’ roll posturing, the band avoided novelty-act territory with a helping of self-skewering; Murphy dressed himself down almost more than anyone else, stripping away all traces of preening entitlement and pretense, readying himself for a three-album run that would build on—not trade on—his cutting wit. The records have a wry take on certain social graces, toying with the kids packing underground bars and the same kind of house parties that probably wound up blasting the songs. This Is Happening is, in all respects, LCD’s best album. There’s a remarkable sustained energy to this collection; its electronic textures thrum and shimmy, and wall after sonic wall is built up and torn down with impeccable precision. But there’s an odd tension throughout; Murphy sounds both all-in and like he’s keeping one eye on the exit—in no small part, surely, because he intended this album to be LCD Soundsystem’s last. It’s not a swan-song, exactly—that would require some degree of sentimentality and forced closure that seems wholly absent from Murphy’s world, plus it preceded the band’s rebirth in 2017—but it’s deliberate and no-nonsense; he doesn’t want to waste his time, or yours, or anyone’s. Instead, we get a handful of parting gifts: The insistently lovelorn “I Can Change,” featuring Murphy’s most oddly sophisticated vocal delivery to date; the percolating piss and vinegar of “Hit” and its record industry shrug-off; the skittering, spoken-word discourse, snide asides and comic-book chorus of “Pow Pow.” It would still be a shame to see LCD Soundsystem go—but you know, the coolest kids always ditch the party early. —Rachael Maddux

beyonce-lemonade.jpg 2. Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016)
The album Lemonade tells the story of a woman experiencing the high highs and low lows that come from loving, from believing, from existing. She’s confident (“6 Inch”), she’s scorned (“Hold Up”), and she’s vengeful (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”). She’s painfully aware (“Pray You Catch Me”), blinded, then restored by love and lies. She’s open, she’s hopeful (“Sandcastles”), and she’s incomprehensibly fierce (“Sorry”). She is everywoman—in love and in pain (“All Night”), defined as much by her romantic life as she is by her parents (“Daddy Lessons”), and the cultures and worlds that birthed her (“Formation”). But the film Lemonade tells a story that takes all of this and socializes and politicizes it—as it should be. Songs about heartbreak no longer merely signify love lost, but must be understood alongside certain losses unique to women in the black community. Anthems about reclamation of power in the aftermath of an unfaithful lover take new meaning, when you see images of black women gathered. I stress the word because of all the different ways Lemonade the album and Lemonade the film embrace the notion of black women gathering. Useless lovers who have failed to appreciate a certain magic in their midst must be gathered—as in almost violently collected, if only to be torn apart; a community of women bound together by a history that stretches from the continent of Africa, to the Caribbean Islands, to the French Quarters must gather to share collective tales and to pull on each other’s individual talents for strength. And of course, the reaction to Lemonade reflects such gathering. Since the album was released, black women have been gathering to speak, write and reflect on the impact of the album, to share syllabi—required reading to understand the layers Beyoncé veils and unveils—and to simply exist in a certain glory that we only feel in the presence of those who know us well—Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Julie Dash, Kara Walker, Mara Brock Akil—those women whose work we have been gathering around for years. Now of course, Lemonade is to be enjoyed by every gender and every race the world over. And it has been. But if anyone feels the need to ask why Lemonade exists, and how Lemonade came to be and what it means that the album arrived at that particular moment in American history, well, I believe Bey made herself quite clear. Everyone else (the others) gets to look on and listen in, as she sings her own interpretation of a deceptively simple hymn that’s been passed down through generations of black women, to the black women of this moment: Gather, heal, slay, repeat. —Shannon Houston

pimpthatbutterfly.jpeg 1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
This is what thoughtful hip hop is supposed to sound like. This is the product of a rapper who quickly rose to the upper echelon of hip hop and took a long hard look at the scope of the scene and more importantly, himself, before letting out a visceral, imaginative and musically ambitious production that demands your attention. TPAB further develops jazz fusion in hip hop with seasoned collaborators in Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Robert Glasper, et al., producing a live sound that’s compositionally rich, instrumentally complex and flat-out interesting. Yet, the sceptre for all of TPAB’s energy is Lamar, who brings himself to his knees on deeply reflective jams like “King Kunta” and “How Much A Dollar Cost.” TPAB is a call-out of the hip-hop establishment, by perhaps its most self-aware figure, who has no trouble exploring his own vulnerability in order to paint an accurate picture of the harsh, dynamic and inspiring times we’re still living in today. —Adrian Spinelli

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