My 50 Favourite Albums of the 2010s
This was a blog post I meant to make during the Year of Everything, but I never really felt like I had the time to sit down and consider this seriously. If there’s one thing I currently have in abundance, it’s time, so this is certainly better late than never. As per usual with my list-type posts, this is almost entirely unranked, but I’ve tried at the very least to rank a little bit. Essentially, everything up to top 10 is unordered, but top 10 is ranked. There's a TL;DR list at the bottom of this post for those who don't want to trawl, but otherwise I've tried my hardest to keep all my thoughts as succinct as they can be. I’m not gonna write a whole heap about each album on this list, so a little bit about my main criteria. The four main things are:
1. How much I enjoyed it initially
2. How much I still enjoy it
3. How much influence it had on me as a musician
4. A big factor of what made top 10 was whether the album has compelled me to do something physically.
As a bonus rule, I’ve kept it as one album for every artist.
That being said, let’s get into it.
50. Blake Mills - Heigh Ho (2014)
Favourite songs – If I’m Unworthy, Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me
What makes Blake’s music great is that it’s the perfect meeting point of his songwriting ability and his idiosyncrasies as a producer. It’s soulful, it’s Earthy, it’s natural sounding, and it just sounds honest. Having a signature production style is something I heavily aspire to, and it’s what I tell myself I’m doing when I drench every mix in Valhalla reverb.
49. Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were (2014)
Favourite songs – Small Things, End Of The Affair
This album, for me, was the apex of Ben’s creativity. He was branching out from his roots as a folksy singer-songwriter, but he was still secure in his roots as a writer with that aesthetic. The result is a moodier, more atmospheric expansion on the foundations he’d laid out in his debut album.
48. The Halton Quartet - Based on True Events (2012)
Favourite songs – Triger Pt.1, The Violin Maker
Allow me to indulge in a little bit of music theory. In Triger Pt. 1, the guitarist plays this chord progression three times: D, G, A Bm. At this point, I was listening pretty attentively, and the 4th time, he played: D, G, A, Cmajor add9. That last chord was a total lightning bolt moment being 17 and starting to understand chord theory. I was listening out for the B minor because they had laid out that expectation, and part of the reward of being a music listener is being able to correctly predict what’s approaching. What happened, though, was that they were able not only to subvert my expectations, but did in a way that was more satisfying than had they played a B minor again. The reason this worked is because of the voice-leading of those chords. The top note of each chord was F#, B, C#, D. Those were applicable for both progressions. Your ear has something to anchor itself to while the backdrop gets changed. It’s subtle, but it’s moments like this that make listening to music incredibly rewarding. But that’s hardly the point of this, it’s way more about music that sounds bright, fun, and engaging. The whole album is great though, if you’re into instrumental folk, this is the one.
47. Rae Morris – Unguarded (2015)
Favourite songs – Don’t Go, This Time
This is great pop music. There’s songwriting chops, there’s great production, there’s even Pino Palladino on a heap of the tracks. I saw Rae Morris live when she was just a young songwriter coming out of Blackpool. She played solo to a packed out Alexandra Palace, and she just held the room. The songs were great just on their own, and this album brings out the best in all of them with great arrangements that don’t overshadow the raw skill Rae has as a soloist.
46. Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal (2012)
Favourite Songs – Slow and Steady, Six Weeks
This is such a polished debut it’s wild. They came out of the gate with such a statement it’s wild. It’s easy on the ear but packs a punch simultaneously. This was also my commuting album for a lot of college, and it’s wild, listening back to it now, how vividly I can remember the endless hours spent on southern rail back and forward across London. It’s a journeying album, and maybe it’s the perfect thing to listen to while we’re all in lockdown so we can all feel like we’re on a bit of an adventure.
45. Haken – Affinity (2016)
Favourite songs – Lapse, 1985
It’s thicc as a bricc, but also kinda slicc. This is just a really fun album. It’s a great balance of serious musicianship but also a little bit of tongue-in-cheek pastiching of eras gone by. The result is a charming set of tunes that also use this kind of kitsch 80s aesthetic to mess around with timbres that are less common in metal currently. 1985 is a great example of their ability to splice genres to great effect. It’s got all the great technical musicianship of any flagship metal album, but it’s served with a side of whimsy that makes it a really fun and rewarding experience for the listener.
44. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell (2015)
Favourite Songs – Death with Dignity, Blue Bucket of Gold
This album has been praised to the heavens by people who are practically scholars on Sufjan’s material, so there is nothing I can add that hasn’t been documented except anecdotal experience with the album. Death with Dignity has been an important song since I found it. It’s been the song that accompanies any kind of mourning process I may need to go through. This album is so brutally beautiful and different parts of it hit differently depending on who and when listens to it, so I really strongly suggest just jumping into it.
43. Bill Laurance – Swift (2015)
Favourite songs – Prologue: Fjords, The Isles
This album literally had me at the first chord. The string sound Bill has on this album is something I one day hope to replicate. The fullness of it, the harmonic foundation for the tune, it’s amazing. This whole album is full of fun, interesting instrumental music that keeps you engaged and exploring constantly. Bill is also a highly idiosyncratic pianist, and this is the album where his signature writing style is accented by the production the most successfully in my opinion. The whole album is bright sounding, inventive, forward-thinking, and just really catchy, which is wonderful for an instrumental fusion album to do successfully. Also I’m just a huge fan of vocoders, so it earns a spot just for that.
42. Brock Scott - Richardson Creek (2017)
Favourite songs – Excited When It Rains, Trade Winds
This EP by Atlanta photographer, carpenter and songwriter Brock Scott (famously the lead vocalist of Little Tybee) is really just great. The fact that it’s only 5 tracks is mildly disappointing given the sheer quality, but it also makes it a digestible project with super high replay value that doesn't overstay its welcome. This whole thing sounds summery, whimsical, and almost a bit nautical? Either way, we desperately need a follow-up to this.
41. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Favourite songs – Daydreaming, True Love Waits
This is such a complete, succinct experience. I spent the summer this was released wandering round London in a daze, listening to this album on repeat. It’s harrowing, it’s daunting, it’s unnerving, but it’s intriguing more than anything else. True Love Waits may be one of the saddest songs I’ve heard in my entire life and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s one of those albums that’s it’s own dark cloud and silver lining simultaneously. Go and listen, but be ready for it.
40. Becca Stevens – Regina (2017)
Favourite songs – The Muse, Venus
One thing that I love about this album is that the collaborations on this album are a product of Family Dinner, a musical tradition held by Snarky Puppy that has had two iterations as albums now. But that’s only really bonus points, because the songs on this thing are wonderful. Not only that, but it’s a concept album in an abstract sense, every song being about queens in one way or another. The composition is great, the features absolutely shine and it’s aged fantastically.
39. The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018)
Favourite songs – Love It If We Made It, Surrounded by Heads and Bodies
I had ignored this band for the longest time, but it was one drive through some random part of England at 1am that made me finally decide to give this album a go, and it was an absolute moment. This album is such a journey, it weaves this abstract album that allows you to put yourself right in the centre of it. This album has a lot to say, and does a wonderful job of holding your attention over a wide array of themes and musical styles. It cycles through the whole spectrum of emotion but in a way that’s coherent and narratively structured. It very quickly became the album I go to when I want to think about stuff. It’s great, go and listen to it.
38. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones (2011)
Favourite songs – Redemption, I Am Disappeared
Frank is one of those artists I discovered during the heyday of iTunes having a free single every week. Very young me downloaded “Reasons Not To Be an Idiot”, and before I knew it I’d seen him live a couple of times and listened to most of his back catalogue. For me, much like many of the albums on here, this is a sweet spot in his discography where a lot of his prior work has paid off. These songs are sophisticated but in a very down-to-Earth kind of style, and it’s his bluntness and his up-front-ness about subject matters that really helps a lot of this material hit home. There are tender, introspective moments like Redemption and Nights Become Days, and there are moments of loud catharsis like I Am Disappeared and the very tongue-in-cheek Glory Hallelujah. Frank does a great job of getting a lot out of his stylistic parameters, showing us a huge variety as a songwriter. It’s fun, it’s sad, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
37. Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (2015)
Favourite songs – Borderline With My Atoms, Molasses
This album is just unreal amounts of fun. You can hear it in every single track just how much fun everyone who was involved in this album had. It’s that feeling of just sheer enjoyment of the act of making music that makes it so much fun to constantly revisit. It’s music that sounds like a bunch of real people made it. And that isn’t to disparage more synthetic sounding music, there’s a whole bunch of that on this list, but there’s something about hearing a bunch of friends in the studio making something special. You can speak volumes about the structural and theoretical complexity of the music itself but that’s almost not the point. While there is tons of technical brilliance on display throughout the album, that’s never what you come away from the album appreciating. The point is that this is an album that’s so deeply woven in with the identities of the people who made it, and that’s a special thing.
36. Beyonce – Lemonade (2016)
Favourite songs – Pray You Catch Me, Freedom
This was an album not just full of bangers, but statements. Staying very true to the album name, this was all about making the best of a bad situation. And not just a single bad situation either, it can be considered as addressing a lot. Obviously there’s the central theme of her marriage facing difficulty, but it doesn’t stop there. There’s a huge undertow of discussion about police brutality and racism, there’s a deep feminist message running throughout, and it does this without ever feeling like any of these subjects are being shoe-horned in or the point is being laboured. It’s even leaning into the new format of the music industry, which is a bold move given the discussion around streaming that was happening in 2016. With her self-titled album, Beyonce was one of the first artists to take the digital landscape of music distribution and use it to her advantage, taking control of the entire conversation literally overnight. So for Lemonade to double down on that as a surprise release, alongside a movie and be a flagship for Tidal, it was a savvy business move as well as everything else. And it’s worth stressing that none of this would have been effective had the album not been world class, but it is absolutely world class.
This is one of those albums where there’s very little I can contribute to the discussion surrounding it. It’s more than likely that you’ve heard the album and don’t need a lecture on the themes, or the music, or anything like that. The only thing I can really add is my subjective experience with this album, which is that this opened me up to Beyonce’s music in a way that I had never really been able to before. This is due to lack of exposure (as silly as that sounds) more than any active effort not to engage with her work but for some reason I never went out of my way to listen to her, and that changed overnight.
35. Biffy Clyro – Opposites (2013)
Favourite Songs – Spanish Radio, Different People
It’s absurd how over 20 tracks and over an hour of audio, this album just flies by. It’s full of originality and inventiveness, and really feels like the whole band making a concerted effort to push their ideas and their sound forward. I’m a big fan of behind-the-scenes documentaries for albums, and the Opposites movie is great fun to watch. Their chemistry as people as well as musicians is unbelievable, and the amount of passion that went into this album is wild. There were over 100 songs written for them, a handful of which have been released on a B-sides album, but the 20 that show up on the main album are fantastic. It’s energetic, it’s emotional, and it’s aged incredibly well.
34. The Japanese House - Good at Falling (2019)
Favourite songs – Lilo, Maybe You’re the Reason
This is basically an album I discovered twice. The first was when Lilo randomly appeared on Spotify courtesy of the scarily good album radio algorithm. I listened to it, enjoyed it, and that was that, I thought nothing more of it. But for whatever reason, I had a very latent reaction to that song, and 6 months later it was the only song I was capable of listening to. There was one night last year when I had Lilo on repeat and I was curious to see if she was playing nearby anytime soon. It turned out she was playing a venue on my road that very moment, and I ran out the house.
That isn’t to say that this album is here only because of Lilo, but that song was certainly the gateway drug. Since then, this has been an album with life-ruining amounts of good quality music. The songwriting combined with the quirky, forward-thinking production makes this an unbelievably engrossing experience. It’s Amber’s honesty when it comes to personal experiences (even the moniker The Japanese house has an amusing anecdote behind it) and her ability to tell her story in a way that doesn’t come across as overly self-indulgent is what makes this engrossing. She invites you in instead of just telling you about it.
33. Punch Brothers - The Phosphorescent Blues (2015)
Favourite Songs – Familiarity, Julep
In a lot of the albums I’ve listed, there’s a small common thread. The vast majority of my favourite songs on these albums are the first, and this is no exception. In fact, it’s probably a masterclass in how to start an album. Familiarity is the perfect tone-setter. It showcases the wild amount of synergy between the band members, the technical skill they have as instrumentalists, and ultimately, the way they put this to use writing great music. And it doesn’t stop there either, this track is ten minutes long. There aren’t many albums that can make an opening statement like that and retain listenership, but it just piles on the great music the further you go. From bluegrass Debussy arrangements to heartfelt folk moments, this album has it all. And it’s fun! Give it a listen, then go onto all the respective members’ solo material, and eventually end up a deeply entrenched fanboy like myself.
32. John Mayer - Born and Raised (2012)
Favourite songs – Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967, A Face To Call Home
I feel like being mellow is a good look for John Mayer. I’m not saying that his early, jazzy, quite intense early records weren’t good, they definitely were. But there’s something about the maturity that’s the by-product of all the earlier records that feels kind of rewarding here. There’s also a serious dose of whimsy in his music. Anyone who can write a song about a man traveling to Japan in his homemade submarine has my profound respect. In general, there’s an air of reflection and introspection on this record that makes the writing on this album an interesting examination on the head-strong, ego-driven Mayer of previous albums.
31. Lianne La Havas – Blood (2015)
Favourite songs – Midnight, Tokyo
This album is slick, sophisticated, and it’s criminal that we haven’t had a follow-up album yet. Lianne’s music is filled with stunning vocal performances, instrumental arrangements, and timeless songwriting. It picks up exactly where her debut left off, and just develops on her strengths. It’s consistent, it flows, it explores new sonic territory but stays true to what Lianne’s core skills are. It’s just thoroughly enjoyable.
30. SZA – Ctrl (2017)
Favourite songs – Garden (Say It Like Dat), Drew Barrymore
I slept on this album for the greatest length of time and it’s embarrassing. I was aware of it for a while, but what changed was attending a Sofar sounds concert at a house in London. A girl got up and performed a poem inspired by this album and I knew I had to give it a listen. I don’t remember her name but if I had any way of thanking her for putting me onto this, I absolutely would. This is a great piece of work. This is such a deeply personal experience, from the lyricism to the production of the album. I remember reading that she took such a long time to finish the album that Top Dawg had to resort to confiscating her hard drive. Ctrl is a labor of love from beginning to end, and it provides a refreshing and interesting perspective. Being the only female artist on TDE is telling, and certainly symbolic of her ability to deliver the often-erased female perspective on plenty of issues.
29. Plini – Sunhead (2018)
Favourite songs – Flâneur, Salt + Charcoal
The reason this is Plini’s best work in my opinion is because of the streamlining of it. With only 4 tunes, it forced him to condense all his ideas into his best, and it really shows. Every track is a new iteration of his inventive composition style, fused with a new style or different collaborators that bring out the best of eachother. A full album of music of this quality is an exciting prospect, and it looks to be a reality in the near future.
28. Jabuk Zytecki - Feather Bed (2017)
Favourite songs – Letters, The Drum
Given the bromance of the previous artist and him, it only seemed appropriate to put them next to eachother. I also like this EP more than his other work for the same reason as Plini. This is a streamlined, fat-trimmed version of what Jakub does, and every track absolutely shines. He has a signature playing style, accented by wonderful and original production. It’s full of summery vibes, interesting songwriting and it’s surprisingly digestible and accessible for a prog record.
27. Denzel Curry - TA1300 (2018)
Favourite songs – SUMO, CLOUT COBAIN
This album is equally polished as it is abrasive, and it’s awesome. Denzel is a great lyricist and performer, and this album brings out of all of his best features as an artist. In the grand tradition of good hip hop, this whole album is album is bragadocious and fun, but has a modern twist and a forward-thinking feel running through it. Whether you want to get caught up in the high quality production or the sheer raw penmanship on display, it has multiple levels of appeal and I strongly suggest you give it a listen, rap fan or not.
26. MUNA – Saves the World (2019)
Favourite songs – Stayaway, Pink Light
Another case of Spotify Album Radio knowing exactly what I want, when I want it, this album came into my life at the perfect time, and immediately ruined it. For the entire of December of last year, this is all I was capable of listening to. MUNA deliver catchy pop banger after catchy pop banger. There’s amazing songwriting, there’s world class instrumental arrangements and there’s even subtle narrative development over the album. Later on in the tracklist, there’s a short song called Memento. It details our protagonist driving away from a house and getting stung by a bee. The important part of this is driving away from a house. I have reason to believe this is the same house she drove up to in the second verse of Stayaway. It’s so thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, I really can’t recommend it enough.
25. Caroline Polachek – Pang (2019)
Favourite songs - Pang, So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings
This is actually a late submission, given I found out about it in mid-April of 2020. But it’s that good, I feel like it deserves acknowledgement. Pang as a pop album has so many intriguing properties. It has its’ own sound, plays by it’s own rules, and is top of its’ own game. Caroline’s songwriting is full of fun melodies, using the break in her voice as a satisfying performance device, much like something you’d expect on an Imogen Heap record. The instrumentation is also engaging and well arranged. Despite being an album that is heavily synth based a lot of the time (something that is certainly one of the core strengths), there’s a lot of breathiness and earthiness coming from how these intruments are processed, leaving you with this really lovely blend of sounds. Go as a Dream is the perfect example of where Caroline strikes this balance perfectly. This album almost feels like a fanfiction of itself where the narrative is concerned, and I love it for that. It’s full of fantasy, hyperbole, and fun imagery, matched and backed by production that immerses you in the world of the album.
24. Little Simz - Grey Area (2019)
Favourite songs – Pressure, Flowers
I was about to say this is one of the most refreshing rap albums for a while, but actually it’s just one of the most refreshing albums in general. It’s nostalgic, it’s forward-thinking, it’s inventive, it’s aware of its’ roots, and it’s clever without sacrificing any of the fun or wit or cutting edge wrting. I wrote a longer, more glowing review of it in my yearly roundup blog post, and you can go into the details of why I think this is excellent there, but for now, please just go and listen to it.
23. James Blake - The Colour In Anything (2016)
Favourite songs – I Need A Forest Fire, Love Me In Whatever Way
The reason I think this is James Blake’s best album is very hard to describe. For me, it just sound a bit brighter than all the others, and that gives it this airy quality that brings me back to it. The vocal performances and songwriting are the most visceral and raw they’ve been, and the production is, well, James Blake level good. I’m also, as previously mentioned, a total sucker for vocoders, and Meet You in The Maze was the song that made me buy a vocoder pedal. This isn’t miles ahead of any of his other work in terms of quality, and certainly not in terms of overall influence he had on the music scene, but I think there’s a side to him that we get on this album that we don’t get in a lot of other places, and it’s special for that reason.
22. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (2010)
Favourite songs – The Suburbs, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
This was actually the first Arcade Fire album I heard, and I’m really glad this was my introduction to them. The album documents the Butler brothers coming to terms with cognitive dissonance of growing up with privilege, and what happens when you start to interact with the wilder world. For me, it’s also the album that really does justice to the size of the band the best. The songs sound big in ways that they haven’t always before this, and it pushes the scope of the songs’ messages that bit further. For a large group like this, there’s so much chemistry, and everyone gets their moment to contribute to the music in a genuinely meaningful way. This whole album is a real masterclass in how to make a record like this really sound communal, and it starts by having that as the motive behind the music in the first place.
21. Will Varley - As the Crow Flies (2013)
Favourite songs – Favourite songs – As the Crow Flies, Soldiers on the Wall
This album is absolutely evergreen. I randomly stumbled across an early demo of Weddings and Wars, and it was immediately obvious that this whole album was going to be wonderful. Sure enough, it absolutely was. There’s not a single track on here that feels out of place, or unintentional in the slightest. Will has a lot to say, and sometimes he has to wear different hats to get his point across, and that’s where the comedy of this album comes in. It’s not often that you break two heart-wrenching folk ballads with a song about impregnating a woman in a supermarket, but somehow he manages to pull it off, and the tone, despite being the polar opposite of the songs before and after it, remains remarkably consistent and on-brand. The other thing Will can do better than anyone is end an album. He knows how to make end-of-album tracks really sound like the curtains are coming down on a project, and Soldiers on the Wall is a great example. It’s solemn, it’s moody, it’s edgy, and it delivers it’s message directly to you as the listener. Will’s inability to mince words means that he has your attention immediately, and you have no choice but to hear his story. Sometimes that story isn’t easy to hear, but it’s always worth hearing.
20. Polyphia – New Levels New Devils (2018)
Favourite songs – Drown, G.O.A.T
Polyphia hit such a nerve with this album, and I have absolutely no idea how they managed it. They had nerds like me transcribing their parts, and they had hypebeasts with crossbody bags invading their stages at shows. It’s wonderful to hear a fringe album like this with huge widespread appeal, and I think a lot of this is to do with the band’s aesthetic choices in every sense of the world. The “parental guidance” sticker on an instrumental album is almost the perfect tone-setter for the kind of attitude this record is gonna take. The trap hats backing up the thick metal grooves add a nice crossover with hop-hop, giving prog music a modern facelift that we didn’t know it needed. Aside from the hihat grooves, another thing this album appropriates from hip-hop perfectly is the culture of having featured artists. Different guitarists coming in and adding their signature styles add tons of flavour and variety, and really make this feel like a team effort, and a cultural centrepiece for the modern instrumental scene.
19. Mark Knopfler – Privateering (2012)
Favourite songs – Haul Awau, Go Love
In my second year, I gave a powerpoint presentation, a lot of which was focused on how Mark Knopfler bends notes on guitar. This album has so much amazing songwriting, atmosphere, and performances by everyone involved. Mark has the ability to move into whatever genre he feels like and get the most out of it. Whether it’s a laid back blues detailing a local bar, or a heartbreaking ballad about a loved one drowning, it’s the commitment to serving the songs that make this album consistently great and enjoyable. Mark’s ability to be equally vocal with his instrument as well as his voice add that extra layer of narrative depth, saying what he’s unable to say with words with his lead playing. This is truly indicative of his development as an artist ever since he started focusing on solo efforts, and it’s exciting to consider that someone like him as even more development in him yet.
18. Periphery – Periphery III – Select Difficulty (2016)
Favourite songs – The Way The News Goes, Absolomb
This is Periphery striking the best balance they ever have. Just enough meme humour, just enough pop songwriting, and just enough disgusting breakdowns to make a rewarding, catchy and ultimately fun experience. The production is clean, punchy and sparkling. The songwriting is a concentration of their style, showcasing every member’s strengths, and it ultimately ends up being more than the sum of its’ parts. As previously mentioned, I’m a huge fan of behind-the-scenes documentaries, and Remain Indoors is a fun film showcasing the camaraderie and synchronicity of the band.
17. Stornoway - Tales from Terra Firma (2013)
Favourite songs – (A Belated) Invite To Eternity, The Ones We Hurt the Most
This entire album is one band deciding to write their entire own rules and be the best at their own game, and it’s immediately apparent whent the second song opens with percussion made by a bunch of crisp packets being ripped up in a church. This is an album that could only have been made by this exact group of people and it shines because of that. (A Belated) Invite To Eternity is one of my favourite songs of this entire decade, and certainly one of the most formative for me to have found when I did. The use of foley work, excellent lyricism and instrumental arrangements make this a rich, dense album full of world class storytelling packaged up in accessible, enjoyable music. It’s genre-defiant, it’s exciting, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
16. Chris Thile - Thanks for Listening (2017)
Favourite songs – Douglas Fir, Thanks for Listening
This album is almost a manifesto for everything Chris Thile as a musician stands for. There’s amazing instrumental performances all over it, there’s class songwriting, there’s collaborations with other artists, and the project itself originated from his weekly songwriting segment of his radio show Live From Here. The way Chris handles politics as a subject of his music has heavily informed my approach to politics in general. The underlying message of empathy winning out over conflict is so so important, and that message is hit home on tracks like I Made This For You and Thanks for Listening. There are also amusing moments where our political differences as people are turned almost into comedy just to showcase how absurd they really are. Tunes like Falsetto and Elephant in the Room perform the same function as the more serious songs but in such an inverse way, making conflict seem silly and trivial, like it’s not worth our time. Like a lot of the music Chris is involved in, it’s not just the fact that he’s literally the best in the world at what he does. It’s the fact that he’s using his skills and passions to make art that’s enjoyable and meaningful. Given that Live From Here is still happening one can hope to get a follow-up to this album sooner rather than later, but let’s see what happens.
15. TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light (2011)
Favourite songs – Second Song, Repitition
I’m not a huge fan of music videos, visual accompaniments to music very rarely enrich my experience. So when I say I’ve watched the movie for Nine Types of Light multiple times, I hope that’s at least some metric of how good it is.
TV On The Radio were another band I discovered during the times of free singles on iTunes. Very young me downloaded Halfway Home, and then had a spiritual experience listening to Dear Science for the first time. One of the reasons I think TVOTR stuck with me at that point was because they were one of the first groups I went and found on my own. That certainly played a role in what music I enjoyed in general, I was always a fan of discovery. They felt like my band, and when this album came out, it felt like mine as well. There’s so much going in this album, from the bold and fun production that picks up exactly where Dear Science left off, to the narratives the songs make up that are highlighted by the film. Another thing that cements the importance of this album to me was the passing of the band’s bass player Gerard Smith, mere months before its’ release. It felt like such a heavy and impactful tribute to someone who was so important to the members of the band and fans all over. This album is full of interesting songwriting that isn’t afraid to tackle a lot of issues, and is done so in a bold, fun, and invigorating way.
14. Tyler, The Creator – IGOR (2019)
Favourite songs – EARFQUAKE, A BOY IS A GUN*
I sang this album’s praises in my yearly roundup, but it’s really stuck around for me. Tyler’s interview with Rick Rubin gave a great insight into Tyler’s creative decisions, and the overall structure and significance of the tracklisting. One thing I’ve come to appreciate more and more as time has gone on is the brief but highly effective inclusion of Jerrod Carmichael. This and the aforementioned Ctrl are the perfect examples of how to add depth and detail with the inclusion of interview excerpts. It’s also this that really highlights how much attention to detail went into this album. Listening to the Rubin interview, Tyler takes such pride in his sparse use of chordal and vocal harmony, really making sure that individual moments on the album shine without feeling overused or repetitive. It’s all these elements mixed together that give IGOR such a strong sense of structure and completion when you listen through it all at once. You can tell that Tyler is making the exact kind of music he wants to be making on this record, and you absolutely love to see it.
13. Mree - The Middle (2019)
Favourite songs – In The Kitchen, Kiki’s Song
This was my album of the year for 2019. You know you have an album of the year when you start comparing the quality of everything else against that one album. The Middle is a shining example of what’s capable as a solo producer when you know your own sound and have mastered making it. Much like Tyler, Mree knows how to sprinkle an arrangement with lush vocal harmonies just at the right time, embellishing and accenting moments in her music to maximum effect. The songwriting and production together create entire layers of atmosphere, guiding you through them with calming and soothing vocal melodies. This EP really shines when instrumentation builds up into huge emphatic crescendos, especially on In The Kitchen, which slowly builds over the entire track and ends in a huge rewarding energy. While the runtime isn’t the longest, it certainly does what it needs to do and doesn’t overstay its’ welcome. I’d love an album-length project that sounds exactly like this, and I can’t wait to see how Mree is able to develop her sound and style in the future.
12. SABA – Care For Me
Favourite Songs – BUSY/SIRENS, PROM/KING
This was my album of the year for 2018, and it’s just fantastic. Everything on this album just sounds fresh and polished and vibrant. Saba’s lyrics, his flow and his delivery never miss a beat. The way the whole album establishes a narrative and a message, while also maintaining the ability to enjoy any song in isolation, is really impressive. The centerpiece of the album, PROM/KING is really a moment that isn’t even worth writing about, you should just hear it. No song feels like it overstays its’ welcome, which is surprising given the aforementioned tune is over 7 minutes long. It’s engrossing, it’s personal, and it’s exciting. It’s Saba’s artistic fingerprint, and that’s a wonderful thing. He even has his own father doing backing vocals for him live, you can really tell that he’s throwing every ounce of his being at this album. With just three features on this album, Saba really gives himself the space he needs to say what he has to.
11. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Favourite songs – 29 #Strafford APTS, 715 - CRSSKS
If 10 was a bigger number, this would absolutely be in the top ten without question, but it is what it is. This album feels like it’s taken everything the band has achieved over their previous album, and found the way forward with it. This album has so much material that sounds simultaneously cutting edge and totally familiar. It’s the kind of album where you can see their development as artists over time, even if the palette they’ve used to create it is drastically different then their previous efforts. The production leaves enough space for you to place yourself in this constantly unravelling and developing story. It’s a similar thing with the lyrics of the album too. While is everything clearly deeply meaningful and intentional, it’s presented in a way where everyone can hear themselves reflected back in it, and it’s amazing when that’s executed properly. I think this album is totally amazing from start to finish, and a totally uninterrupted listen to it is something I’d strongly recommend everyone do.
10. Little Tybee – Little Tybee
Favourite songs – Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Empire State
I owe this album a great deal, because it was the reason I finally went out and got an 8 string guitar, which has probably been the most significant purchase I made of this decade. The reason it was this album and not any other great album with the instrument on was just because of the context it was in. It was the first time I was hearing the 8 string used to its best capacity in the kind of music I saw myself making. But outside of that, it’s just generally great songwriting. Little Tybee’s music just sounds so full of life, and full of motion. It combines perfectly with their expertly directed visuals to create this feeling of adventure and curiosity that is just wonderful. Every band member has their place in the arrangement, and is able to say their piece and really contribute. Everyone in the band has such a unique voice on their instrument, but nobody steps on anyone else’s toes, and it’s just the perfect example of synergy like that. I think there’s a really wholesome and positive ethos behind Little Tybee’s creations that keeps me coming back and, ultimately, moving forward.
9. Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long See You Tomorrow (2014)
Favourite songs – Overdone, Luna
If there was one word to describe this album, it would be lush. It was the amalgamation of 4 albums’ worth of songwriting and experimenting and it’s basically flawless. The production hasn’t aged a day, the songs have infinite replay value, and nothing on here overstays it’s welcome. It flows perfectly as a whole experience, and it holds up as if it was released yesterday. The performances are the best they’ve been, and the addition of Rae Morris for backing vocals for this album add so much colour and dynamics, especially on tracks like Luna. So much so, that the Luna vocals are sampled heavily on the preceding track, Whenever, Wherever. This album was released a year or so prior to their hiatus, and at that point it really felt like the victory lap before they disbanded and went to pursue other things. It’s this epic final statement the band made to see out their youth and usher in a new period of adulthood, and it’s done in a way that feels triumphant instead of mournful in any way. It’s fun, and it’s bold, and it’s probably the best album a band in this genre is capable of producing. In terms of what it’s compelled me to do, I’ve seen them a minimum of ten times by now, and I’m glad they’re back on the road so I can hopefully push it past twenty at some point. Seeing them at the final show to ever be held at Earls Court in London was a huge moment, both for myself and the shifting cultural landscape at the time. Listen to it!
8. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Favourite songs – Empire Ants, On Melancholy Hill
This album is one of the milestones I measure my development as an artist against. Discovering this album in 2010 was hugely significant. To see a mainstream band taking the kind of risks and embracing the ideas that they did on this album was wildly encouraging. It spurred me to think about the potential music had to establish what was, in this case, a canon universe in itself. It’s a real shame that the Gorillaz Cinematic Universe sort of took a back seat after this album, because this was the strongest representation it ever had. What was even more interesting was that they allowed an entire ensemble cast of feature artists in without breaking that immersion in any way. Everyone feels like they’ve come onto this island for a bit, and have left changed in one way or another. From Lou Reed to Kano, nobody feels out of place. It’s telling of the flexibility of Gorillaz as a project, everyone can contribute and everyone is welcome. The work that Jamie Hewlett does to bring the songs to life in these vivid, colourful visuals are just the icing on the cake. Even the storyboard video for Rhinestone Eyes speaks volumes for what they were trying to tell the listeners. This whole album acts as a fable for humankind’s carelessness, and it’s utterly worrying to see that a decade later, this still stands a warning.
7. Wingin’ It - For The Many
Favourite Songs – State of Mind, Glen Avon
Looking back over the tracklist for this album, I couldn’t tell you what a single one of these songs sounds like. But that’s because the track names themselves are only really there for show. This album is made to be listened to front to back, and it absolutely sparkles when you consume it like that. This album is the reason I own a trumpet and a mandolin. The playing, the composition, and the intentions behind every little choice made on this album make it one of the most “vocal” instrumental albums I’ve ever heard. The production specifically is what is totally refreshing about a lot of this. Sudden bursts of reverb and the occasional vocal overdub give accents and embellishments to really pivotal moments of this album. The restraint shown across the album make the use of drums on the final track that much more cathartic and meaningful. I’m heartbroken that they’ve not released anything since, given I really think that they could be one of the best instrumental composers given the right exposure. Wingin’ It are a band with a colossal amount of creativity and scope, and even if they don’t release anything else, they’ve left us with a near-perfect statement of what they are about.
6. Animals As Leaders - The Joy Of Motion
Favourite songs – Another Year, Physical Education
It’s funny that this album ended up here, given how long it took me to actually get into it. Having heard no technical/heavy music going into this, I distinctly remember there being a kind of mental barrier to entry to this album that I could only break through with repetition and curiosity. Thankfully, I was able to get a handle on it, and this is probably one of the most influential albums I’ve listened to in the last decade. This album is full of compositional and technical mastery, and was my gateway into the heavier side of music in general. The band has an innate ability to blend highly complex metal with a plethora of genres, and it keeps it fresh and exciting throughout the listen. There’s flamenco, there’s jazz, and there’s electronic elements blended in. This is all spearheaded by a really “vocal” approach to instrumental composition. This is especially brought into view with Matt Garstka’s playing in my opinion. His rhythmic vocabulary and ability to lock in with the other two make him such a diverse backbone of the group. There’s an unbelievable amount of synergy and diversity on display despite this only being two guitarists and a drummer.
This album is innovative, it’s forward-thinking, and it’s simultaneously genre-defying and genre-defining.
5. Volcano Choir – Repave
Favourite songs – Tiderays, Almanac
You know that bit in the Simpsons where Mr Bergstrom is leaving town, and before doing so hands Lisa a note? As his train pulls away he says that everything will be fine as long as she reads the note. The note simply says “You are Lisa Simpson”. This album really feels like my “You Are Lisa Simpson” note, and that feels daft to write out but this feels like, to paraphrase Kevin Parker, a “burst of identity”. The comment I made about Vernon’s purposeful vaguery on 22, A Million is even more applicable in this case I’d argue. This album is the perfect accompaniment for whatever journey you might be on yourself. The songwriting, production, and even the 39-minute runtime of it just feel cozy. During my second year of uni, this album felt like some kind of North star to follow when I wasn’t sure what I was doing or where I was going. I can’t give specifics about what in the album is so indicative of this feeling, but that’s one of the great things about music. It’s one of the most powerful art forms that we have and it isn’t even visible. This is the kind of songwriting that encourages you when you need it, comforts you when you’re sad, and vindicates the difficult choices you’re making in your life. Give it a listen, I implore you.
4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Favourite songs – How Much A Dollar Cost, Mortal Man
A common phrase that’s been appearing on Twitter is “cultural reset”. According to Urban Dictionary, a cultural reset is “when something big in well-known pop culture changes or is added causing people to change the way they look at things or to have a lot of people hop on the trend”
There’s only one album that can be called a cultural reset and it is this. I don’t need to justify liking this album, you’ve probably heard it, and you probably already know it’s virtually perfect. It dominated the conversation, and set the bar for everything that was released in it’s wake. For years it felt like the measure of quality for music was how it compared to this album, as if this was the objective barometer for what great music is. And I’m not disagreeing, I think this album is brilliant obviously. On a personal level it did exactly what The Joy of Motion did, in that it opened up access to a style of music I’d never really engaged with. This was the first rap album I’d really intensely enjoyed, not to mention the first concept album I’d really enjoyed and laid a decent foundation for me to use it as a starting point for getting into rap music more seriously. I think one of the reasons it’s so vastly successful at doing what it sets out to do is that it establishes a real sense of empathy.
I really don’t want to be another person rolling out the “this album helped me gain perspective because I’m white and vastly disconnected from Kendrick” argument, but actually I think there’s some truth in it. I’m very far detached from this way of life, and don’t for a second think I’m more entitled to any of it just because I’ve listened to this album over 250 times. But for someone to come along and not only break down the difficulties of growing up in Compton CA, and then the problems that come with being a world-wide celebrity, and make all of that accessible to a demographic that’s experienced neither, is a huge achievement. Trying to angle for sympathy as a celebrity is a difficult thing to do in any case, but to do so to a level of almost unanimous critical acclaim really solidifies the quality in Kendrick’s ability to establish a relationship with the listener over the course of the album. He takes you with him on his journey and isn’t afraid of sharing details of it that are, frankly, heartbreaking. This isn’t even scratching the surface on the musical construction of the record, which is immaculate and complex and engaging from start to finish.
But again, you don’t need telling any of this, it’s already been said more articulately and more passionately than people like me, but yeah this album is amazing. It feels silly placing this album anywhere other than number 1 but that’s just how sentimental value works and that is what it is.
3. Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here
Favourite songs – Shofukan, Lingus
This was such a defining moment for Snarky Puppy. The last couple of albums had been huge strides towards eventual mainstream recognition, but they hadn’t quite made it all the way there. This album really felt like them putting their foot down and making a statement which would be received far outside their regular listener-base. This album is full of enthusiasm and excitement from beginning to end. You can feel the energy in the room during the recordings, and for me this was their best use of having a live audience in the studio. Everything on this album feels bright, vibrant, alive. It’s really the benchmark for creating something with other people, especially with such a large group of people. Everyone gets their moment to contribute and to really leave their mark on the album. And for me, that’s what makes this album, and by extension the band, important. It’s not about any particular individual, this is about human collaboration and what can be achieved with it. And this doesn’t even limit to the people in the group, this album can also be considered a thank you letter to everyone that’s gotten them to this point. From the people who came to the gigs to the people who let them sleep on their floors after the gigs. This album very much belongs to the people who love music being made be people who love making music, and that is super cool. Snarky Puppy, in my mind, has always been the music industry’s version of the Muppets. You have a bright and colourful cast of contributors, all revolving around that one guy who has to keep his cool and try and present them in a consistent fashion, and I love them all the more for that. This is a centrepiece in their discography and one of the defining moments of their trajectory as a band.
2. Jon Gomm - Secrets Nobody Keeps
Favourite songs – Telepathy, Passionflower
Many thousands of words ago, I mentioned that one of the defining factors for albums in the top 10 were whether they compelled me to physically do something. Among many things this album has made me to, it’s made me do two all-nighters in Gatwick airport in order to hitch a ride from Vienna to a ski lodge in the middle of the Austrian mountains to learn guitar. Not to mention the many gigs of his I’ve been to at this point.
I’ve always held onto my definition of genius as someone who can take the same set of tools everyone has and does something different than everyone else. For me, that’s what makes Jon a genius with the guitar. His approach and style are so deeply unique and idiosyncratic that he’s one of the defining players of the instrument. And it’s all well and good saying that, but that isn’t why this album is my second most influential of the decade, it’s so much more to do with what he does with those skills. This album is full of engaging, innovative, and striking songwriting. The level of detail and honesty Jon is willing to go into, even on instrumental tracks, create levels of atmosphere and narrative that are totally unique to his style of performance. Everything in the arrangement of this album feels intentional, like world-building. The lyrics, the manipulation of the guitar to sound like as many or as few instruments as it needs to, and the occasional powerful contributions from his wife, all contribute to painting a picture of Jon and broadcasting his artistic message.
For an artist who’s spent a decent amount of time in-between releases, this is normally the moment where I’d say how badly I want something new from them, but I’m not going to do that here. Not only because this album so perfectly encompasses his artistic intentions at this point, but also because you can tell he’ll release something when he’s ready to, and that’s absolutely fine because it will be great when it’s out.
1. BROCKHAMPTON - Saturation
Favourite songs – TEAM, GUMMY
I don’t really know where to start with this. If you’d told the me from 2015 that he’d be stuck in his house because of a global pandemic, talking about how much he loves a Texan boyband, he’d probably not believe any of that but that is precisely where we are. This isn’t strictly speaking a single album, and more of a condensed trilogy that was made and released over 6 months. But as a period of time, the summer of 2017 was probably the most important for me as a creator of music literally because of SATURATION. On the meta level, it was amazing seeing people simply writing their own rules and playing by them, but it was more than that. It’s one thing to have the discipline and dedication to do what they managed to do in such a short period of time just from a creative standpoint, but to go all the way and become virtually a household name in that time is practically unheard of given they did it all on their own. Obviously it’s not that simple, and they’ve been making art ever since they were called Alivesinceforever, but it was such a spectacular moment to see the stars aligning for this group, and to be in the know about it. This felt like my thing that nobody else knew about, and that escalated to seeing them pack shows out all over the world. In the words of stan Twitter, you love to see it.
And that’s the thing, I’m not only a fan of the music, I’m a fan of them. The level of investment I have in them as a group of artists rarely happens anymore. I hear stuff I like from artists and I keep track of where they go, but this is the first time I’ve really taken an active interest in them as people and individuals. I’ve watched all the behind the scenes photos, I’ve waited in line for hours to get a good spot at their shows, I’ve been on their subreddit so much I may as well make it my homepage. And there’s a myriad of reasons for this.
Firstly, obviously, the music is great. It’s exciting, it’s new, it’s constantly evolving and you’re barely able to predict it. The amount of sheer skill on display from every member is amazing, everyone adding their own flavour and voice to the music, visual design and even the branding and marketing. The fact that every facet of the operation is treated as an art form, and even the manager is considered a band member, is telling of their community-centric ethos.
And this leads me onto my second point, which is just my general enthusiasm for groups with heaps of members. A whole bunch of them have featured on this list, and seeing huge group operations work like that is just something I find really enjoyable, especially when the actual act of making the music is democratised and decentralised in some way. With Brockhampton, this feels like taking that formula and taking it to its logical conclusion. Even though there’s clearly a head representative of the group in Kevin, it never feels like the other members are drowned out or less important. Everyone has their shining moment, and everyone takes that chance and executes it flawlessly.
Lastly, it’s worth making that same point about what this trilogy made me phsyically do, and I think it really laid out the blueprint for what I wanted to achieve as an artist. To release 3 albums in 6 months is extremely risky, but to see it happen and to see the success mounting with each great release was a huge deal for me. I want to make and release music on my own accord and not asking anyone’s permission for it, and they are the shining example of this, especially given the way they’ve been able to take a piece of media and really make it snowball into an entire media brand. They’re all just as driven and hungry and curious now as they were 5 years ago, and that’s something special to see as someone who wants to make music.
So yeah, this was my top 50 albums of the 2010s. Music is awesome.
50. Blake Mills – Heigh Ho
49. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
48. The Halton Quartet – Based On True Events
47. Rae Morris – Unguarded
46. Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal
45. Haken – Affinity
44. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie And Lowell
43. Bill Laurance – Swift
42. Brock Scott – Richardson Creek
41. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
40. Becca Stevens – Regina
39. The 1975 – A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships
38. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
37. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
36. Beyonce - Lemonade
35. Biffy Clyro – Opposites
34. The Japanese House – Good At Falling
33. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues
32. John Mayer – Born And Raised
31. Lianne La Havas – Blood
30. SZA – Ctrl
29. Plini - Sunhead
28. Jabuk Zytecki – Feather Bed
27. Denzel Curry – TA1300
26. MUNA – Saves The World
25. Caroline Polachek – Pang
24. Little Simz – Grey Area
23. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
22. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
21. Will Varley – As The Crow Flies
20. Polyphia – New Levels, New Devils
19. Mark Knopfler - Privateering
18. Periphery – Periphery III – Select Difficulty
17. Stornoway – Tales From Terra Firma
16. Chris Thile – Thanks For Listening
15. TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light
14. Tyler, The Creator - IGOR
13. Mree - The Middle
12. SABA - Care For Me
11. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
10 – 1 (Ranked)
10. Little Tybee – Little Tybee
9. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
8. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
7. Wingin’ It – For the Many
6. Animals As Leaders – The Joy of Motion
5. Volcano Choir – Repave
4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
3. Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here
2. Jon Gomm – Secrets Nobody Keeps
1. BROCKHAMPTON - Saturation