Loading…

“Dolby’s Top 100 Albums of the 2010’s”

100 Morrissey – Low in High School

Of course my age-old bit is constantly inquiring “What makes Morrissey good?”, to which you might answer that he always makes an impression with his supreme honesty, he makes these overarching, absurdly bold statements like “Irish blood English heart I am made of / There is no one on earth I’m afraid of”, he comes from a band in The Smiths of elite indie rock cred. But you know what? God da**, the guy’s just got a great voice. Maybe that’s an underrated aspect of him — I mean in indie rock in general you’re supposed to get by on genuineness and creativity over sheer talent. But Low in High School literally STARTS low, with the singer draping this vocal baritone over “My Love, I’d Do Anything For You,” to then ascend to this kind of shy-boy but still crystal-clear alto for “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s up on the Stage,” a song poking fun at a satirized performer who scares off all the spectators. Low in High School is a systematic spoke in the Morrissey wheel in this way, in its own way offering an undeniable variety and freshness.

..

99 Grimes – Halfaxa

While today having sidled up to median experimental diva pop with increased stature, Halfaxa when it came out in 2010 was nothing short of a revelation in the twisted sonic textures and journeys that woman with a microphone and a computer could rhythmically commission. Grimes’ solo album is far, far less approachable than the consummate remainder of her work and for this reason I like it, particularly “Weregild,” which sounds like the cinematic soundtrack to an acid rain shower.

..

98 Mount Eerie – Ocean Roar

There doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to Phil Elverum’s dichotomous exploits of The Microphones and Mount Eerie (as far as I know he doesn’t have any “solo” stuff out but both these bands are pretty close to being that) — the styles on these projects can run the gamut from moribund singer/songwriter fare to peals of noise rock and back. Ocean Roar is entrenched firmly close to the latter and for that reason is a gratifying payoff, with 10-minute opener “Pale Lights” stretching out as some opaque sonic venturing to forget yourself in every time.

..

97 The National – High Violet

This is probably my favorite The National album because it’s the most concise — right away on “Terrible Love,” you’ve got the garishly close juxtaposition of two seemingly opposite entities, which I think is also the basis of rock and roll in general, that is, framing things in a really immediate way so they’re easy to digest and they pay a sort of artistic dividend. Still, rock and roll has always had a sense of tragedy about it, too, which is obviously in full force here, alleviated though in beautiful form on the grand, operatic closeur “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” an imagistic masterpiece for shaking your head and laughing at the absurdly evil.

..

96 John Talabot – fIN

According to Wikipedia, John Talabot’s birth name is Oriol Riverola, making it kind of tragic that he changed it at all since this gorgeous and digestible IDM record is light and free like a bird and flows like a river. Songs like “Destiny” and “Journeys” have this hypnotic way of drawing you in and getting your head bobbing but getting you feeling the music with your whole body too and with tentacles you maybe didn’t even know you had.

..

95 Blackalicious – Imani Vol. 1

There’s a deep element of mourning on Blackalicious’ 2015 output Imani Vol. 1, as if bemoaning the sorry state that hip-hop was in within the peak popularity of coon shows like “trap” and the sheer distance, both temporal and artistic, that the whole thing had fallen from its original genre roots. The intro gets things going with some good traditional blues and whispering Hammond organ and then the production from Chief Xcel is pure savagery, with a bizarre and primal sampled vocal on the chorus of “Blacka” that’s completely unlike anything else we’ve ever heard in rap.

..

94 The Hives – Lex Hives

I don’t know what it was but something just told me this new Hives CD I saw sitting on our library shelves would be really vital, after what I thought was a grossly overrated The Black and White Album and then a six year gap between new records. More than anything I think on Lex Hives the group stopped overthinking the whole operation and got back to just having FUN, which as we know typically and ideally takes the form of vocalist Pelle Almqvist just making fun of everything in his path: “Roam the streets in a uniform / Find a bull and grab the horns / Scream your head off ’bout the day you was born / Go right ahead”.

..

93 Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going on

Sort of like their 2007 LP I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your A**, There’s a Riot Going on is sort of a misleading album title bequeathing indie pop that tiptoes along at gentle volumes, in this case with even more nuanced sonic textures and moods than we’ve ever heard the band unleash before. My personal favorite might be “Ashes,” with this impossibly earthy and grainy synth that’s almost like so mellow that it has an attitude, and a snare sound so minimalistic and crisp that it couldn’t but be the work of masterful production by the band.

..

92 Low Leaf – Baker’s Dozen: Low Leaf

The more I listen to this album the more I realize how perfect this person’s name for her musical self is — it’s stoned electronic music hence galvanizing the “leaf” sector of the proceedings but it really is so low too, as in chill, the entire thing riding along more like a mellow skateboard ride down Santa Monica than an intense wave out on the surf. It will be interesting to see where this girl’s professional career takes her — So Cal is pretty competitive with the DJ sets between notable acts like Nobody, Grimes, Julia Holter, Glasser and more. But whatever pecuniary or other impetus that prompted this Cali girl to put this LP together, it will forever be a staple of my listening palette.

..

91 Ikonika – Contact, Love, Want, Have

One thing astonishing about the effusive, exhaustive debut LP from Saudi Arabia’s Sara Abdel-Hamid, a.k.a. Ikonika, is the incredible variety and complete spectral kind of statements available on it. Like right now, it’s 25 degrees out and I’m trying to wake up in the morning with my coffee (it’s 11:58, to be exact), so I turned it right to the middle of the album and “They Are All Losing the War,” which is sort of like an electronic answer to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” with its frenetic pace and implicitly confrontational disposition. Then you can chill out with “Sahara Michael” with the best of ’em and ask haunting existential questions with “Continue?,” too, if you happen to be in the mood.

..

90 The Jim Jones Revue – Burning Your House down

To be honest it’s arbitrary that I picked Burning Your House down to showcase by this now defunct, once-ferocious English blues-rock band: it’s actually the only LP of theirs I’ve heard, as I must cop, but the whole thing is bent on furious energy and sadistic fury, coming to a head on the unforgettable title track centerpiece. A band this nude and rude couldn’t help but break up, you’d figure, at some point — they were like a burning asteroid plummeting into earth’s atmosphere, so at odds with their surroundings that it was fun to behold.

..

89 Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

As far as I can conjecture, the knock on this album might have been that it was “bland” — well, here’s the thing. It’s got Frank Ocean, Migos (before they were famous, mind you), Young Thug, Pharrell, Khalid, Future, Travis Scott, Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Nicki Minaj (not condoning her music just saying for sake of star power), Katy Perry (ditto) and Lil Yachty. I mean that’s the best guest list I’ve ever seen. It’s better than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. They were probably saying that IN CONSIDERATION OF THAT it’s relatively vanilla… well what project could please all those ravenous industry mouths and NOT be vanilla? For my money this is natural American urban music and in a sense indispensible for the sake of its roster alone, at the work of this Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, no less.

..

88 Ka – Night’s Gambit

Right around when things were dividing out into the unlistenable “trap” material, Nicki Minaj’s almost comedic awfulness and the puerile, gamey Rat King, Ka was lurking in the underbrush as the REAL Brooklyn hip-hop — moribund, scar-faced, disillusioned, barely audible and real, asking only that “Please God / God look away” as he faced another day in this “night” of the heart in rap’s birthplace.

..

87 Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here?

“Ambient” this decade I think became like a thing for me more so than it had ever, with me getting older (I’m planning on getting younger in the ’20s, for the record) — that sort of soothing, textural listen of gentle synths and vague melodies where the primary achievement is breadth, the amount of time which passes during an ideally small swatch of musical statements. Cleveland’s Emeralds do it about better than anyone, perhaps aided by that city’s purportedly awful winters which probably mimic those of my own hometown South Bend, Indiana, where you do indeed sometimes want to shut off and not “be here” sometimes.

..

86 Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

So yeah, Jay-Z and Kanye made an album together this decade, as you might remember. And yeah, I think I’ve taken a week trying to think of what the he** to write about it and I’m sort of done even trying: it’s like at some point they’re just Jay-Z and Kanye and you’re you. I mean I could use all these trite words like “sprawling,” “relentless” and “megalomaniacal,” which I’m sure we all need about as much as bone spurs, but there’s not that much notable about the album other than it’s very grounded in the genre and of course “Made in America,” which borrows a chord progression in fact from Lenny Kravitz’ “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” and still manages to be like the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard. And it seems imminent that we get another collabo between these two but the fact that this is their only one should speak to Watch the Throne’s vitality and ability to continually speak to urban America, singlehandedly.

..

85 Black Milk – No Poison, No Paradise

2013 was certainly around the pinnacle of Black Milk’s firepower and for some reason, although I’d always end up in time in thorough debt to them, I’d never like the albums (Album of the Year, No Poison, No Paradise, If There’s a He** Below) right away — they’d take like two to six months to grow on me. I think the case is that Milk is just so focused on what he’s doing, so without the impetus to be anything other than his true self, that at first it can come off vanilla, but over time the classic first two tracks on this LP really pounded through, even representing some of his most personal, intimate work. Given that he’s a street-tough Detroit emcee who grew up the hard way, too, this certainly always makes for some exciting material.

..

84 Blu & Damu the Fudgemunk – Ground & Water

On Ground & Water, LA rapper Blu and DC producer Damu the Fudgemunk get down to some of the most organic boom-bap we’ve heard since Cypress Hill, another So Cal mainstay, and weave out a consistent LP of reliable rhythms and deep street diction. The standout is probably “Beast Mode,” which features the most guest raps and this beat that while grounded and earthy is still futuristic in its elements of feeling and originality.

..

83 Liars – Sisterworld

Sisterworld dropped out of the sky on us in 2010, following the similarly straight-ahead, hard-rocking self-titled album from a couple years earlier, but taking things to more multi-layered, twisted realms, like the tempo-changing “Scissor” to lead things off and the two beautiful art-rock concept pieces “Goodnight Everything” and “Too Much, Too Much.” In the middle, of course, Angus Andrew and company would throw in spasmodic episodes like “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant,” to pretty much alleviate any fears on your part that they were going pop, I’d say.

..

82 Aloha – Home Acres

Home Acres also spawns from what seems to have been a dark, enchanting year in indie rock in 2010 (and also arguably “the year rock died,” to an extent), following in this case the rough playbook of textural, catchy and infectious pop established on Here Comes Everyone and Some Echoes and then the embryonic but still blissful Light Works EP, to take things though to psychedelic ends on gems like “Cold Storage” and the showstopping “Waterwheel.” This is a winter album if there ever was one.

..

81 Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises

This is one of those artists that I generally vouch for across his catalogue but still offers this one shining LP as his magnum opus (I promise this list isn’t all 2010 from here on out, but right now it is). It’s the impeccable way his vocals work in tandem with the voluminous, melodically sound acoustic guitar runs on numbers like “Half Moon Bay” and “Third and Seneca” that really make this album a classic, and another fine winter record, as it were. ..

80 Mope Grooves – Desire

Portland’s Move Grooves have been making albums since 2016 and seem to have this preternatural restless energy about them that spurs them into belting out original indie rock in the era of Trump. They avoid the traps typically symptomatic of Northwest creativity of the excessively political, instead hewing these sophisticated and refreshingly jazzy little romps like “Turn to Glass” and “Swimmer,” the latter of which takes the baton from High Places in the realm of celestially percussive lo-fi.

..

79 Saba Alizadeh – Scattered Memories

Iranian composer chimes in with his first full LP here with Scattered Memories, which appropriately enough does have a sort of stitched-together and half-formed, ethereal quality about its ambient classical to befit the title. The title track offers an interesting payoff in the form of a gentle but resonant acoustic guitar that enters, somehow stays relatively arrhythmic, and operates before sporadic synth drones which are the harking back to the dark artistic world from which the artist has just emerged.

..

78 Pom Poko – Birthday

Birthday opens overly conceptual, the way you’d perhaps expect a frenetic European answer to Deerhoof to, with a ham-handed application of artistic semantics in the repetition of the words “Sublime / Sufficient”, before exploding into this psychotic groove that more than makes up for it with a set of screeching guitar riffs to voluminous to even parse and booming drums that mimic the abrasive Marnie Stern work in their evasion of formula. Centerpiece “My Blood” comes together into this anthemic statement but still remains unpredictable, fresh and challenging, all the way, which we should hope a scrappy young punk band should.

..

77 Caribou – Our Love

It’s funny how an IDM album from as recently as five years ago can sound dated and simplistic — at the time of its release I considered Our Love the absolute cutting edge in trippy pop songs set to electro beats. What still sews it together, anyway, along with the creative use of sampling, is “Silver,” a stand-alone classic track wedged in house in dubstep but with every bit the heart and velocity of canonical rock and roll.

..

76 Kalbata feat. Tigris – Vanrock

It seems like the “world music” craze has fizzled out a little bit on the latter part of this decade, or at least the phase of CALLING it that, which is ironic given all the richly eclectic and rhythmic international projects to which we’ve been privy, in particular in the year 2019. Kalbata/Tigris duo qualifies, I think, by being the brainchild of the president of an Israeli record label but according to Bandcamp comprising “a mesmerizing percussion-led album inspired by African and Caribbean traditions.” These tunes all throughout remain jaunty, melodic and rewarding, indeed, and manage to have an attitude in themselves at the same time for their sonic flair and plurality of soundly employed noises.

..

75 The Divine Comedy – Office Politics

As I state in my best albums of 2019 poll, Northern Ireland’s The Divine Comedy was formed in 1989, giving it an astonishing longevity for its relatively little fame (the cult following is actually pretty respectable at 59,000 Facebook followers). It seems to be all but solely the work of Neil Hannon, who produced Office Politics and apparently writes the songs and sings them. Still, when you hear how undeveloped and primitive his early work was, and how well this album scored on Metacritic, it almost seems like the last 30 years for him musically have been leading up to this strange and sprawling statement of comedy-rock, which is certainly a refreshing bath in light of all these pop loverboys and lovergirls of this decade who take their “love” a little bit too seriously for it to even be believable in the first place.

..

74 Versus – Ex Voto

Just randomly this next album happens to be of another band that’s been together forever but has somehow avoided fame like a tar tsunami — and the work ethic and seasoned sense of production shine through on these lo-fi songs which refreshingly shirk ’00s indie cutesiness for a spirited sort of ’90s alt-rock feel, like the band formed of kids down the block which still, all these years, has nothing to lose. Fellow East Coast rockers The Lemonheads come to mind as a rough stylistic and semantic parallel.

..

73 Califone – Stitches

Of course, the bitter aspect of this album for anybody who’s loved this band for a decade and change and has been following them since their genesis would be that this LP marks the departure of founding percussionist Ben Massarella, who for years helped propel this music into celestial realms with his distinctive rhythmic mania. Stitches is anything but undeveloped, though, with undeniably rich songwriting over bare, singer/songwriter instrumentation on “Movie Music Kills a Kiss,” “Stitches” and “Magdalene,” then to send things soaring into textural transcendence on what track grew on me more than any, “A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust.”

..

72 Women – Public Strain

Just the second of two albums from Calgary’s noise-rock leaning Women before the untimely death of guitarist Christopher Reimer at age 26, Public Strain is undeniably their shining moment, way more focused and developed than the albeit promising self-titled debut, as well as varied, with pop gem “Narrow with the Hall” bulwarking side a to give way to noise juggernauts “Drag open” and “Locust Valley,” one of the most original indie rock songs ever laid to wax.

..

71 Flying Lotus – Flamagra

Flamagra is Flying Lotus’ sprawling wildebeest of an album from this year, at 27 songs, featuring collaborations with Anderson .Paak, Thundercat, Toro y Moi, Shabazz Palaces and just about every rhythmic LA musician possible, it seems. But its real achievement is that even in light of how it’s so hype-worthy, in this regard, it also passes as arguably his most distinct album of his career, with stylistic anomalies like “Takashi” and conceptual statements like “Debbie is Depressed” putting his personal mark on things, where other artists might have fallen to miscellany through personnel volume.

..

70 Glasser – Ring

Glasser, a female DJ/singer out of LA, just sort of bombed on to my life out of nowhere in 2010 when I found the Ring CD at the local library — I was hooked for a year and change on the infectious pop songs, the layered textures she’d produce and her philosophical lyrics like “Ain’t it odd how we mimic nature indoors / When nature is far more vivid to endure” *1+. Literally the spatial centerpiece, and probably my favorite track, “T,” is features this incessant, ebbing and flowing synth riff and is one of the most hypnotic songs of the decade, lulling you into her erotic world with grainy splendor.

..

69 Rome Streetz – Noise Kandy 3: The Overdose

I just can’t get enough of this gritty boom-bap from LA that’s barked out very much in the spirit of the ’90s, shirking the mainstream with lines like “While you ni**az strugglin’ to make a stack / Tryin’ to imitate the latest major act”. He’s able to rhyme these words together that don’t REALLY rhyme, which great emcees have always been able to do of course, but the most amazing thing to me is that it’s universally appealing but at the same time he actually doesn’t seem like trap or a Drake ripoff. To be honest, I can’t think of a single other rap from this decade about which I can say that.

..

68 Grizzly Bear – Shields

2009’s Veckatimest seemed like sort of the dark, orchestral epic that would be entirely possible to follow up, but Grizzly Bear didn’t listen and, poker faced and smoldering in the studio, delivered us a polymorphous beast of inimitable art rock (“Sleeping Ute”; “Sun in Your Eyes”) and classic, playable radio pop (“Yet Again”; “gun-shy”) that would make this album, even if not quite on the vanguard, ice-cutting level of Veckatimest, at least impossible for the detractors to categorize, either.

..

67 Princess Nokia – 1992 Deluxe

It seems like this has been the decade, with Canada’s Drake, the white but black-sounding Ya$e and the Puerto Rican born but Big Apple raised (and also black-sounding) Princess Nokia, of those in an underdog disposition for rapping taking to the art of hip-hop with evermore zeal, on those very grounds. These songs on Nokia’s sophomore album 1992 Deluxe explode out of the speakers with ferocious flow and disarming honesty, tales of high school awkwardness and her focused dedication to her craft, which is, in part, lambasting your morale as a listener.

..

66 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

This is my PERSONAL favorite St. Vincent album — you don’t have to agree with me but you do have to listen to it, per annoying bloggers orders, on grounds of the metal-pop boy wonder “Cheerleader” (which carries a scintillating alternative version on her iTunes performance, available on YouTube and highly recommended), wondrous centerpiece “Surgeon” and title track, which brings to light a police brutality incident on someone she loves, which tUnE-yArDs also does on a song. The rhythm and the sound just seem to be the thickest on Strange Mercy and the songwriting statements the most purposeful and quintessentially New York.

..

65 Eat Fire Spring – Eat Fire Spring

Like The Divine Comedy, Eat Fire Spring in the first quarter of this century are “reviving rock and roll,” and all that cheesy stuff that everyone seems to abhor so much. Eh, they probably like it in like, Norway, or something. And Jake Wardell sounds born to croon out this reflective emo over Lemonheads-harkening twee pop (E.F.S. also hails from East Coast, Mass.), again my only complaint being that songs like this could be longer, with epic guitar solos akin to Steve Gunn, or WITH Steve Gunn, better yet.

..

64 In Limbo – Biohazard

It’s funny to find that this band is from Columbus, Indiana, a mere hour drive east of me, and has only 194 likes on Facebook — it’s honestly a really fully developed LP full of polymorphous sound and kinetic songs that come to intriguing heads. It doesn’t look like they’re on Bandcamp and even their Facebook is very bare, not listing influences or too much of a mission statement of any kind. What’s astonishing about this album in particular is how every single song seems to utilized some sort of unprecedented sound or texture, like the electro-tribal drums that kick off “Radioactivity” and the sinister, muffled vocals skating you through “Remember.”

..

63 Four Tet – There is Love in You

For anyone into IDM, Britain’s Kieran Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet should be a household name now I would think — he’s got several classic albums within the style along 2003’s Rounds, 2010’s There is Love in You and of course his opportunity to join the dj-kicks series of remixing choice electro selections, which is sort of like being inducted into the nerd hall of fame. Standouts on TILIY include “Love Cry”; “Circling”; “Reversing” and “This Unfolds”; but it’s definitely playable seamlessly too.

..

62 Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour

The name of the studio where this #2 album by B.O.S. was recorded is Rockfield and this is definitely appropriate since, even retaining producer Ian Davenport from critically acclaimed debut Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, the SOUND just seems to be so jacked up on this LP, with songs like the title track intro, “Bruises” and “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” not lagging behind either. The band would take an interesting stylistic left turn too on “You’re Not Pretty But You Got it Goin’ on,” a frenetic orgy of drums and riffs that would rather do anything than settle down.

..

61 The Black Keys – El Camino

What strikes me about this 2011 release is that right before this, The Black Keys had been what I thought was stupefyingly prolific just a short time after their breakthrough effort Rubber Factory. I just wasn’t sick of Rubber Factory yet so to be honest didn’t even listen to Brothers or this one — well it was unavoidable ’cause I started hearing these songs in bars almost right away. The Keys put out this year in “Let’s Rock” (sic) what I thought was a pretty decent offering, under what seems to be some strange sort of cultural impediment of being an American rock band and contemporary with English classics like Band of Skulls’ Love is All You Love and The Vaccines’ Combat Sports, so I’m glad they got their blows in with this one while they could, sounding damaged but somehow victorious as well, as is certainly their due.

..

60 The Black Angels – Death Song

I was a little late in discovering this fine Austin band — picked up on ’em in a bar one time in Caroline a la 2006’s Passover and boy can they rock steady, sounding oddly enough a little like another band with the world black in it, referring to a certain motorcycle club. Death Song is arguably their finest effort with riffs that seem fuller and louder and that same methodical, addictive drone of singer Alex Maas and Modest Mouse/Mudhoney producer Phil Ek.

..

59 Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

This is my quintessential Flying Lotus album strongly on account of “Computer Face // Pure Being,” which explodes into this entrancing collision of rhythm and melody like arguably no other music has ever done, and “Arkestry,” which is just this uncanny sort of ominous, blue note mourning to the heavens that carries meaning without even needing any words to do so. And boy is that refreshing, particularly in a sense of music’s ability to be “criticized,” in this decade, what with so much simplistic examination of lyrics as a purported centrality.

..

58 Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

Killer Mike’s last album before joining Run the Jewels with El-P, R.A.P. Music found the emcee sounding hungry, jacked up and ornery, a thematic broadening from some of his former work with Outkast about sex-capades gone wrong to real life thuggery and street soul searching in his hometown of Atlanta. Several of the songs gather around memorable, powerful hooks like “Big Beast” and “Anywhere But Here” but the main draw of this record will always be Mike’s silver-toothed flow, all delivered in perfect ghetto drawl and harking back to a basic time in the art form in a gritty way, as the album title would suggest.

..

57 Cydonia Collective – Stories without Words

Now through their sixth full LP, England’s Cydonia Collective make mellow electro music with an organic, New Age type of mission statement, letting purposeful but gentle piano runs ornament opener “Seahorses” and a gorgeous guitar/organ pairing ride over ambient, spliced drums on “Arcadia.” The beauty of this album is the way the take sound and reduce it down to something that seems softer than the actual phenomenon, like might happen in a dream.

..

56 Jlin – Black Origami

The Gary, Indiana DJ was back in 2017 with a new record of busy jungle fever that took on a similar blueprint to its lauded forerunner Dark Energy, but somehow more rhythmic and energetic, in my opinion. I think NPR said it best when they said “Jlin’s genius is the embrace of a borderless-ness that, just like one piece of paper, can turn into a universe.”

..

55 Iceage – You’re Nothing

Copenhagen, Denmark’s Iceage has certainly had a pretty productive decade, even achieving a small level of radio notoriety (really!) with “The day the music dies” off of 2018’s Beyondless, partially deserved at that. They started in 2011 with New Brigade but 2013’s hardcore-leaning You’re Nothing I think is their true heed to call, a frenetic, maniacal rock album whose primary ingredient, short of genre, seems to be just pure violent energy, to mock and lambast any antecedent in its way, in timely fashion.

..

54 Evidence – Cats & Dogs

Cats & Dogs is the second solo offering from Dilated Peoples henchman Evidence and certainly doesn’t disappoint, a mouth-watering seven-course meal of old school boom bap you can consistently play straight through and sink into the hypnotic flow and beats. Highlights include “I Don’t Need Love” and especially “Late for the Sky,” a sort of pseudo-Jackson Browne cover complete with Aesop Rock, Slug and this hilarious spoken-word intro with a black duded pleading to a cabbie during Browne himself singing on the radio: “Turn this up right here… it’s dope”.

..

53 Ya$e – Black Sheep

Dolby Disaster’s current “Best New Rapper” is Ya$e right now — this is just an infectious LP I can put on anytime and pretty much everyone in the room will enjoy it, and understand it, because for all this guy’s bombast and cockiness, which as we know are basically rapping prerequisites, this music still seems influenced by absolutely everything that came before it, from Drake’s honest, good ol’ boy lyrical template to futuristic, trap-sounding beats. But don’t confuse this guy with some mainstream loverboy — he’ll rip a hole through you with his diction AND delivery.

..

52 Dexter Story – Bahir

It’s ironic because I really don’t watch movies ever anymore, at least not mainstream American ones, but I seem to have stepped into a veritable monsoon of vital music coming out of LA, from hip-hop, to dubstep electronica, to well Dexter Story, an LA jazz boy who according to Bandcamp was “inspired by the music and cultures pervasive throughout the Horn of Africa” and dabbles in a dizzying array of worldwide musical mechanisms like “North Sudanese shaygiya.” Yeah I’m kind of just amazed by Bandcamp right now. But this is a great album. You should check it out. My favorite song is “Bila.”

..

51 Jute Gyte – Birefringence

At 15 minutes and 52 seconds, “Dissected Grace,” the second song from Jute Gyte’s formidable metal marauder Birefringence, is certainly an extravagant step forward for the style. It begins slow and reflective, with crystal-clear, feedback-free guitar riffs played on what sounds like a hollow body with beautiful, flourishing string bends, following death-metal romp “Angelus Novus” which kicks things off and all the while giving way to Adam Kalmbach’s maniacal screams, almost as if to spew bile on this reflective part of life as well, in frightening necessity. To get your mouth around this beast of an album, let alone analyzing it, is a feat in itself, but is sure is fun trying.

..

50 IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance

Joe Talbot’s snarling voice just nestles within the mix like a slivering snake on opener “Colossus,” all laconic and foreshadowing the plaguing mania to come, the instruments themselves tense and cheekily, misleadingly calm. In its bulk, Joy as an Act of Resistance is glove-tight hardcore punk with the vocals of pub rock, the songs telling stories of alienation and vengeance all over a copious mix that showcases each member’s chops and sense of rhythm, while still sounding ugly enough to sell the message.

..

49 Thom Yorke – ANIMA

It always amazes me to listen again to projects like this and gather my thoughts, put up my guard and ask, now, What kind of album IS this, only to get about 45 seconds in and find the undeniable galvanizing factor in the project just Yorke’s REALNESS — his ability to sound like a fragile little boy on the microphone pleading his case to the heavens over these primitive dubstep tunes. It seems like an answer to Amnesiac, more or less, a Radiohead album I find immensely overrated, and that’s one reason I like it, but I think also the solo platform has afforded the singer a more immediate, focused method for approaching these songs, evidenced by how light and fluid these numbers tend to be.

..

48 Steve Gunn – The Unseen in Between

The death of a close loved one is a powerful, tumultuous thing, especially when it’s one’s own father who’s past. The Unseen in Between is sort of like Steve Gunn’s magnum opus in response to this very event which happened in late 2016, and so we get a brooding, aching and maniacally beautiful LP of roaring, emphatic folk rock of copious guitar techniques, song structures and lyrical worlds. I thoroughly recommend the whole album but the centerpiece has got to be “New Familiar,” which explodes into an orgiastic, feedback-laden guitar solo midway through but retains the same hypnotic riff the entire way, like an inspirational blueprint of maintaining your disposition through everything.

..

47 The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley

It seems this album was just born under a bad sign — all the “critics” expected it to be more “mature” (since when is rock and roll supposed to be like a corporate fiscal board meeting, for Christ’s sake), or maybe they wanted something ferociously cathartic like “Girl O’ Clock” or “I Love a Magician” from Emergency & I. Well Christ, the guys are growing up but they’re still having fun making music, that much can’t be denied, and they should be extolled just for that, to say nothing of “Invisible” and “White Collar White Trash,” two torrentially great rock and roll songs.

..

46 Julia Holter – Aviary

Marrying the busy, expressionistic mania of Loud City Song (2013) and the bare pop expedition of Ekstasis (2012), Aviary plays as Holter’s most ambitious project to date but one which still finds her maddeningly esoteric and opaque. The main featured track would probably be “I Shall Love 2,” which sort of reminds me of the real strong work on Ekstasis like “Fur Felix” and the “Goddess Eyes” suite, somehow even more playful than that former work, as if she’s shed her prior demons and become more fully herself.

..

45 The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

I must admit that sometimes I have dreams that tell me to get into certain albums or listen to certain artists and such is the case with this particular LP from 2010, the band’s third overall of five, and which I at first found just a tad bit bland and regular, like a pop-punk update on the Gin Blossoms or something around there. Closer, more purposeful listens revealed some real exciting rock and roll, but what’s more, some undeniably gritty tough love on aging: “But you’re never gonna find it / When your knees got so weak / But it’s right here where you need it / Like when you were young / And everybody used to call you lucky”; “So don’t sing me the songs about the good times / Those days are gone and you should just let ’em go / And God help the man who says ‘If you’d have known me when’ / Old haunts and old forgotten ghosts”.

..

44 Sampha – Process

Process is the gorgeous debut electro-pop LP by South London’s Sampha, a talented, melodically minded songwriting with a voice like a little boy, or a Don Juan who’s just had his title stripped. It features, along with the singer himself, one Rodaidh McDonald on production, as well as some dude named Kanye West as the primary songwriter on “Timmy’s Prayer.” But what really tackles me about this project are the adventurousness and the musical punctiliousness, the complete refusal to ever do the same thing twice or do anything anyone else has ever done before, for that matter.

..

43 Ras Kass – Intellectual Property – S012

To be honest I have a pretty limited perspective on Ras Kass (originally from Carson, CA) right now because when he was big back in the ’90s he was a little too underground for my taste, or for my research scope, as it were. Well, his rejected album from ’01 Van Gogh just got released in ’18 and this da** near unstoppable mixtape here has RZA, KRS-One and Bun B on it, so street cred is not something this guy is currently lacking, not that he perhaps ever has. And insofar as it’s harder to make money on rap today than it was when, as he himself says on “And Then… ,” “Nowadays only garbage rappers get paid”, at least the shoulders he’s rubbing with should cement him as a veritable emcee, which his relentless storytelling energy and silver-tongued flow should, too.

..

42 Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Deerhunter circa 2010 was one of those bands that was rattling off great albums at a speed too fast to even believe. For me, when it came time to listen to Halcyon Digest, it was like I was still stuffed off of the seven-course meals that had been Cryptograms and Microcastle and the latter’s auxiliary outtakes disc Weird Era Cont. By sheer stroke of luck I rambled way to the middle of the album and landed straight on “Helicopter,” which is a ballad of the level of deliberate mourning you rarely see anywhere else. Elsewhere, the LP is peppered with the band’s signature indie pop, one more highlight being “Fountain Stairs” and its infectious chorus: “When I look around / I see feel it spinning / Feet on the ground / Head on the ceiling”.

..

41 Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal

Now, just to issue a full disclaimer right away here, this album structurally is at very least a heavy BORROW from John Wiese & Yellow Swans’ Portable Dunes of just one year earlier (2009), which also found the noise crafters issuing a caterwauling peal of uncompromising, ear-piercing noise to encompass track one, only to drift down into an ambient level of drone more like the heart monitor of a patient who’s sleeping or dead, for the remainder of the LP. Whereas, actually, BOTH of these instances of the phenomenon are ridiculous, the boorish contrast in volume within one work, much less than the manifestation of TWO such strange beasts in IDM in a one-year span. Returnal though does branch out as a little more functionally multifarious than Portable Dunes and, ironically, used to make for superior beach music for me, largely on the strength of the title track, the only tune on the LP to feature sampled vocals.

..

40 Wilco – Ode to Joy

In a way, Ode to Joy seems like the album Wilco has been working on making their whole career and I think I touched on this in my “DD Review” — the album encompasses such a disarming lack of “joy” that it really is like an entity that only thoroughly knows its subject as from complete dissociation there from. Standouts obviously include “Citizens” and “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” but played straight through this album stands as a sonic exploration and this cannot be overstated on this robust, voluminous LP which was recorded in the band’s own studio and released on its own label.

..

39 The Dandy Warhols – Distortland

Somewhere out there, right now, The Dandy Warhols are out there, like, being better than me, and stuff. And maybe that’s ok. Let’s see they have their own massive, house-sized studio called the “Odditorium,” they’ve put out any number of woeful albums like Welcome to the Monkey House and Odditorium or Warlords of Mars and for some reason are still allowed to talk, the first two songs on This Machine are great and then this album is a revelatory masterpiece in pop rock, with Monkees pop (“Search Party”; “Catcher in the Rye”), industrial (“Semper Fidelis”); Talking Heads-metal (“Pope Reverend Jim”) only to languish back into its laconic, ’90s alt-rock groove on “Styggo” like rediscovering their own m.o. they knew on Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and The Dandy Warhols Come down. It’s amazing how many bands and artists out there find being themselves like the hardest thing.

..

38 R.E.M. – Collapse into Now

R.E.M. had no business being this purposeful and genuine on the followup to their comeback album Accelerate but that they were on gems like “Uberlin” and “Every Day is Yours to Win,” with the first two songs being emphatic and distinct and in general no bad tracks gracing this LP at large. Final track “Blue” makes for an interesting case study in its own right with this bulbous spoken-word, Narcissistic beat poetry part on the part of Michael Stipe, the whole of which seems like a logical band swan song, and what’s more, a worthy one, which is stupefying to say the least.

..

37 Beirut – The Rip Tide

I have no idea how they did it but somehow on 2011’s The Rip Tide Beirut married the affective richness rampant in predecessor album The Flying Club Cup with this newfound, immaculate sense of pop songwriting, for undeniable gems like “A Candle’s Fire” and “Santa Fe.” The more I listen to it, things come to a gratifying head around the sixth track title track, which is steeped in these slow, careful and artsy drums to unfurl a gorgeous chorus full of longing and melodic sovereignty.

..

36 Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Shabazz Palaces is the sort of curiously rendered duo of Ishmael Butler, who’d composed part of influential ’90s hip-hop group Digable Planets, and one Tendai “Baba” Maraire, who’s credited as a “multi-instrumentalist” on Wikipedia. A dude rapping and a dude playing instruments? That’s so primitive! But you’d never know it from the crispness, speed, precision and extreme originality of this music, which plays as street-tough but artful hip-hop with a hypnotic quality that lures you into a world all its own.

..

35 Grimes – Art Angels

What can’t be said enough is certainly just how poppy this record is compared to Grimes’ former work — this is a twisted electro diva who on her debut album Halfaxa carved out a niche in the spookiest, most ominous corners of the songwriting universe, only to slowly and gradually whittle her progeny down to digestible pop hooks and amorous choruses. It’s still pleasingly full of visceral journeys like “SCREAM” and “Kill V. Maim,” but maybe as is her just desserts, some significant radio success with the catchy and breezy “Flesh without Blood,” a bouncing and brilliant pop song with a chirpy bite

..

34 Morrissey – California Son

Oh, who could understand Morrissey and why do we even try — this project from 2019 is as stupefying as any because it’s classified as a “covers” album but nobody’s heard of any of these friggin’ songs, not to mention that they all not only sound inspired enough to be originals but also carry that signature Morrissey subtlety as if he’s indulging in his own awkwardness toward a sublime listening experience. “Morning Starship” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game” are deliberate, stately masterpieces of pop brilliance, telling vivid stories of real-life relationships, heartache and struggle, all with a musical verve that though calm is also fiercely alive.

..

33 Eminem – Kamikaze

Kamikaze from 2018 finds Eminem delivering some of the fastest rhyming of his career to date on “The Ringer” and elsewhere, some clutch collabos from Royce da 5’ 9’’, Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and others, but more than anything I think levels off this strange decade that’s found Eminem in the middle of an identity crisis, being mad with nothing to be mad about, and finally just settled back in on being the baddest and cursing everyone for not believing him. He certainly sounds all that and more here. Also even the primitive album cover depicting a cartoon plane that seems like a nod to the Beastie Boys’ License to Ill seems like an endorsement of getting back to the basics and resting on your original tricks, or at least coming back upon that original mind set you had when everybody thought you were nothing.

..

32 Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine

Members of Bon Iver and The National teamed up to make a record in 2018 and yet you can hear a pin drop above all the media clatter it made. This is stupefying and perplexing to me to say the least, particular for how original this music is, and how resonant and distinct its little worlds of sound. Only adding to the mystical, almost mythical element surrounding this project is that it’s almost impossible to round up information on who does what on it — I mean I think that’s Vernon on vocals but he sounds like a man reborn, and Aaron Dessner of The National is constantly just referred to as “songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer,” so he could be doing any number of things here. One thing he’s not doing is creating in unneeded or distracting songs, with this music’s simplicity having a magnetic, allegorical feel of nothing being wasted.

..

31 Lower Dens – Twin-Hand Movement

Twin-Hand Movement is the organic, textural and gorgeous vehicle of song geneses that comprises this band’s 2010 debut album, a project that formed out rich-throated touring solo artist Jana Hunter moving from his native Texas up to Baltimore to form the band. It’s disarming in its simplicity and directness, significantly stripped down from the Brian Eno-harking electro modules of their epic Nootropics, but the songwriting purpose is undeniably there on this debut, the impetus the patiently hew inviting masterpieces that suggest these songs were beating down the door in the artist’s mind to come into existence.

..

30 Beck – Hyperspace

In keeping with the tradition of every Beck album being really different from the last ones, Hyperspace in all its tranquility and sublime ease plays almost less like an electro Sea Change than an ethereal update on Mutation with the artist’s boyish sense of adventure and connecting deeply with the world of melody on full display. “Stratosphere” is a favorite as well as the following “Dark Places,” in all its minimalistic glory of Fruity Loops beats and beautiful, streamlined pop crispness.

..

29 Black Milk – DiVE

Black Milk’s ninth album opens with a singing monologue handling things like fame and loss of the soul, positioning the “self” that has to be saved as a spiritual and not a physical one. To be honest, it’s the cheap, Hallmark “wisdom” that you’d expect from a washup whose best years are eons behind him, until his flow comes in on this album so hungry, barking: “Like it’s your last breath / This life is filled with land mines / Could be your last steps”. It sounds like the work of somebody who’s worried, married for the life to that street existence that drove him to take shelter under weed, beats and rhymes. Musically, though, it’s Milk’s most laid back album to date, making for an exciting contrast and a seamless, hypnotic listen all the way through, which is certainly hot hard to believe given the mind at hand.

..

28 Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo

I think the first time I heard this album was after work one time in summer 2018 — I sat down and listened to it all the way through, completely enthralled. But what’s funny are the different things you notice under different circumstances. Like going back over it today, I find it impossible not to notice the POP of that snare drum and how liquid-y and resonant the guitar is, like an even more tripped-out version of Dick Dale. This Houston instrumental trio has made quite a boom on the festival circuit the last couple years with their hazy brand of alt-salsa-jazz and it’s surely deserved. ..

27 Warpaint – The Fool

Whoo, and you thought Mazzy Star was melancholy — this is classic, ominous indie rock from LA, and one of those LA band that stupefies me by being so decidedly and expressly gloomy despite the supposed fun-in-the-sun disposition of their city (and it’s also not like they’re really CONFRONTANTIONAL, like N.W.A. of HEALTH, or something along those lines). The organic structure of the guitar tends to make a perfect mix companion along the vocals the whole way but my favorite is probably “Composure,” this multi-segment ode to the question “Why can’t I keep my composure?” with what sounds a group of little girls chanting that exact thing during the intro.

..

26 Kanye West – Yeezus

You could certainly argue that this was around the start of Kanye being vilified as egotistical and arrogant, with songs like “I Am a God” gracing this brief, speed dash of an LP. And further, there’s really nothing INOFFENSIVE on this entire thing — the first song is about getting a bj in a club, “Black Skinhead” is a little more down to earth but still really cocky, a six-eight track meet with the line “Y’all ni**az ain’t breathin’ / You gaspin’” and the awkward, sprawling “New Slaves” that sounds like the sum total of half of the black anger in America spewed onto one track. Really the only pleasant, harmonious moment comes on closeur “Bound 2,” which makes great use of an old soul sample. In general it seemed to fit in with the times and I remember “Black Skinhead” gracing an Apple commercial, which was certainly to the commercial’s credit.

..

25 PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

“Return to form” isn’t a term applicable to PJ Harvey since she’s been pi**ing off, astounding and generally causing trouser-wetting in critics and fans since she burst onto the scene in ’92 with Dry and its ahead-of-the-curve guitar techniques. Certainly though she leaves very little to complain about with the politically minded Let England Shake, a more energetic and fully developed LP than White Chalk which was done mostly on piano and vocals. Highlights include “Hanging in the Wire”; “Written on the Forehead” and “The Colour of the Earth” but my favorite might be “On Battleship Hill” and its simple mantra: “Cruel nature is what I get”.

..

24 Julia Holter – Ekstasis

Ekstasis marks an interesting phenomenon where I was still getting lots of my music recommendations on Pitchfork (not too sure about the Spin the Bottle session into which its devolved since getting bought by Conde Nast) and so I was used to things totally unexpected just sort of falling out of the sky on to my lap. And indeed I had hardly expected an indie pop diva with this much crispness, Annie Lennox influence and sense of album concept (the “Goddess Eyes” suite, which even mimics album centerpiece “Fur Felix” slightly in m.o.). This is the rare indie album that’s more experimental than it is radio minded but still bears some of the catchiest tunes of the decade.

..

23 Nubya Garcia – When We Are

English saxophonist Nubya Garcia is a proud catalyst in this decade’s jazz resurgence, which overall to me features a permutation of the music that’s faster, busier and more exciting, or commenting on our current times aptly, in other words. When We Are spans just four tracks but gets a meticulous musical point across, in part with brilliant drumming from Femi Koleoso and Garcia’s own infinite lungs on the sax, which direct the music with purpose and moxie.

..

22 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

I have it admit, it’s kind of mean but the first time I heard “One Polaroid a Day” I was in a record store, hadn’t even known a Ted Leo album were in the works let alone already out and I thought, “Why doesn’t this Dandy Warhols song suck?” (this was on the heels of Welcome to the Monkey House and Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, remember). It was funky and Leo’s voiced seemed cloaked in that drug-soaked cool, so it was a significant left turn and achievement in innovation for the band. It’s nice, too, though, to hear them settling on what they know best, which is awesome power pop in the vein of “Even Heroes Have to Die,” the undeniable centerpiece that doesn’t shy away from mortality or melody.

..

21 The Entrance Band – Face the Sun

I got word of this album about a year after its release I think from this band playing a show that was being reviewed by some online journal called The LA Record and fell in love with its epic structure and trippy psych-rock right away. This band can really stretch a song out and get a groove going, as opener “Fine Flow” will show, or weave out a memorable lyrical tapestry as on “Medicine,” but to me the keeper in “Spider,” which incorporates an amusing metaphor for romance from the animal kingdom, singer Guy Blakeslee sounding somehow seductive and desperate at the same time.

..

20 Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen

Kadhja Bonet’s second album Childqueen has no business being as “cool” as it is. On the first song, for instance, she repeats the phrase “Oh / Every morning brings a chance to renew / Chance to renew” what seems like ad absurdum, somehow managing to always stop right before you’re ready to slap her in the face. In general, it’s big, bombastic, overblown art rock full of strings and guitar and gentle drums to carry her celestial vocals, saved by these stupefying little musical wrinkles like a cerebral guitar riff that might call to mind Frank Zappa or a little foray of a song into a jazzy feel that seems to so defiantly shirk melody. Don’t let the victorious, optimistic veneer fool you: Childqueen is mad ad itself and does battle with itself from within, in a very enticing way.

..

19 Cosmo Vitelli – Holiday in Panikstrasse, Part 1

For being the electro work of all one person, Holiday in Panikstrasse, Part 1 by the German Cosmo Vitelli has what you might pinpoint as the “cosmic” trait of layered, hypnotic plurality, as if constantly curtailing itself and going in different musical directions and moods to keep things fresh. “A Brand New City” is tense and ambient with an incessant drapery of bells and cowbell over spooky, sporadic background vocal, before “Groupe Surdose” and the rest of the album as a whole explode into something rhythmic and infectious approximating Four Tet. What’s more is this guy seems to be really prolific, which should make for an exciting thing to watch for down the line.

..

18 Real Estate – Atlas

New Jersey’s Real Estate have a funny way of just kind of blending into the scene. It could be partly due to their band name’s similarity to ’90s emo-rock mainstays Sunny Day Real Estate. And I mean what is Real Estate, anyway? It’s something blank, undeveloped, a precursor to life more so than a manifestation of anything about life’s actuality. And strangely that is sort of like what this music conceptually represents — it just does so with such an undeniable love for twee pop and beautiful sounding guitars that it makes for an addictive listen, this album’s whole side a filled with mesmerizing chord changes and pop turns. I was really hooked in though when I saw their performance of “The Bend” on a KEXP in-studio session.

..

17 The Vaccines – Combat Sports

This is sort of my red-headed step child choice for best album of 2018: I’ve definitely never like heard anybody talking about this band or listening to them in my life, let alone heard it regarded with this much magnitude as I did last year. Well the production is an absolute marvel: listen closely to opener “Put it on a T-Shirt” and you notice that that’s actually an organ, rather than a rhythm guitar, plotting down the chord progression (I was wondering how the he** the sound was fading so fast) and the whole thing is just so conceptual and deliberate, with those gratingly metallic cymbal runs giving way to an actual groove that’s an actual part of a mix, and not an uncooperative percussion hyena digging its teeth into the music’s flesh. This album carries the old rock and roll spirit and spontaneity of The Strokes, which I grew up with, one reason I like it so much.

..

16 Menomena – Mines

Like I say before for some reason I just didn’t connect with this band’s prior album Friend and Foe, which had received a lot of critical acclaim — for Mines right away on the opener the pace is slowed down and the landscape barer, making for a more dramatic indie pop spectacle. On this song, then, and all over this album, they get into any number of entertaining relationship calamities which range from funny like “Queen Black Acid” to heartbreaking as on “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy”: “All your love is not enough / To fill my half-empty cup”. The show-stealer might be “Five Little Rooms” though, easily the weirdest song of all time about being a guy and having five husbands, each of which lives with a prostitute and separate children in a room within a church.

..

15 Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)

Pharoahe Monch’s followup to the classic Desire didn’t seem to make much noise in the hipster sectors but its reviews were generally good, including a 92/100 from Okayplayer, the website started by Questlove of The Roots. Monch is a born emcee — he doesn’t produce on these cuts preferring instead a dizzying array of sound men to be enlisted, but it’s a FULL sounding album and what’s more organic hip-hop, as if allowing Monch to relax and really settle in to his political subject matter, instead of always trying to be funny, a trap into which Desire has the tendency to fall sometimes.

..

14 Slaylor Moon – Zone of Pure Resistance

It’s funny how you can seem to form a discourse about some of these albums and come up with what appear to be some articulate things to say and then next time you listen to it and it just like weirds you out into next Tuesday. Zone of Pure Resistance from France’s Slaylor Moon is like a maladaptive slug that crawls amusingly from start to finish, reliant on very little other than concept itself within these ambient songs, all of the songs feeding each other and meaningless without their counterparts in all their implied rhythmic interplay.

..

13 Black Milk – Album of the Year

Like all Black Milk albums, Album of the Year was a grower for me, certainly not helped by that somewhat confident album title (in the opening track he refers to it encompassing all his life events from 2009, the year preceding its release, hence “album of the year”). But it is full of many magnanimous hip-hop creations like “Welcome (Gotta Go)” and “Round of Applause” and always that rubber-mouthed flow that spits diction relentlessly at you straight from the streets of Detroit. “Closed Chapter” then is an interesting permutation which features a guitar riff sounding a little like The Wall-era Pink Floyd throughout the entire thing and comes with the curious quip of “Fu** being a rap star / I’m trying to be a rock god”. So between flirting with egomania and straight-up exhibiting it in a very creative way, this music comes across as original and definitively American which it obviously should.

..

12 Lower Dens – Nootropics

What struck me first about this album and band, which I discovered on the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival flier, was the unique approach to production that seemed to rest on programmed drums and ambient tones at the same time. It actually reminded me of Brian Eno. Further listens though uncover some pithy pop songwriting and an infectious, addictive landscape of emotional ominousness and musical depth, the best song probably being “Lion in Winter, Pt. 2” but standing as a straight-through LP for contemplative Autumn nights, as well.

..

11 Drake – Thank Me Later

Now by ranking Drake #11 of the decade here, as you might assume, I’m going partly on IMPACT he had on the game and when this album dropped there wasn’t a single rap fan out there who didn’t take notice, and absorb his diction and what he had to say on this sucker. And as everybody knows, having “haters” in rap is a feather in your cap, a sign of your credibility, so Drake’s surely got that area covered. But don’t underestimate the honesty and endearing sensitivity, even, on “Over”: “I see way too many people here right now / That I didn’t know last year / Who the fu** are y’all?” With a curiously small percentage of bullshi**ing, Drake won his way into our hearts, even if he has maybe overstayed his welcome.

..

10 Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

To be honest this one was a little bit slow to grow on me too, partly because that chorus to “Daddy Fat Sax” is lifted straight from B-Real’s verse in the Outkast song “Xplosions,” which seemed like sort of a strange move if not necessarily an all-out shabby one. There’s also his one-track-mindedness: it’s rare to hear one of these songs straight through and not mention “skeeting.” Stiil, you know the flow and personality are going to be undeniable with this dude and this album is just so FULL with 17 cuts packed with rapid-fire rapping both funny and serious, and sometimes a classic, jittery chorus like “Shutterbugg” which gives you something catchy to nod your head along with for years and year.

..

9 tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

W H O K I L L opens with this hilarious sound bite of this woman announcing that “Merrill will be performing at” with this richly derogatory tone, as if discussing the matter of prison clothing size of The Unabomber, or something along those lines. And indeed, if W H O K I L L is a concept album, it’s one about being an underdog, about facing impossible odds and “life’s humiliations,” et. al. weaving a police brutality tragedy and directing one of the most important tunes to her infant child, all the while, all over ferocious and rhythmic classic rock.

..

8 Paula Temple – Edge of Everything

Edge of Everything is techno music that’s big and illustrious but can get by at times on an astonishing lack of distinguishable percussion, as on these little spliced-hat squirts on “Joshua and Goliath – Slow Version” that mimic a bus’ disc brakes, or some other urban found sound you might expect a Berlin artist to employ on her album. Other times the music is exciting, foreboding or downright frightening, with the track “Berlin” to her hometown taking the form of an ambient apocalypse, an overwhelming sense of mourning encompassing the widespread nothingness of the surroundings.

..

7 Kamasi Washington – The Epic

And now for the man who spearheaded this whole jazz revival of this decade, the venerable LA saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his sprawling debut album The Epic which is just that and seems more voluminous and meaningful than almost anything else that’s ever come before it in jazz. “Change of the Guard” carries some of the light, foolish knack for shirking melody you find in the work of his fellow West Coast denizen Anderson .Paak, but makes this album exciting is how it fills up with furious, virtuosic musicianship, as jazz should be, the hubristic elements of this taking on the form of great ambition and drive, rather than selfishness. “Cherokee” is the irreplaceable track for me, a great testament to the old American that mourns but is still light and infinitely listenable.

..

6 Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“Can we get much higher?” asks Kanye at the start of this album… “So high”, of course belying the fact that that’s nowhere near the best song on this record and a lot of it is not narcissistic at all but ghetto-gritty (“All of the Lights”) and everyday, blue-collar (“Gorgeous”), before obviously settling down into a certain megalomania we’d come to expect on “Power” and “Monster,” which serves only to bolster the variety and not beat any dead horse. Two members of Wu-Tang, Raekwon and RZA, as well as Jay-Z, grace this album, and this all helps to reinforce its credibility as oddly, Kanye sort of just sounds like a regular guy on it, complaining about his girlfriend and about fame and insisting that “I just needed time alone with my own thoughts / Got presents in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault”.

..

5 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Undeniably dark, spooky, listenable and quintessentially Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool is composed mostly of outtakes from other albums (“True Love Waits” actually appeared on the band’s 2002 live LP I Might Be Wrong) but seems like an unimpeachable Radiohead release nonetheless, with eerie cognitive dissonance on “Daydreaming” (“We’re happy just to serve you”) and maybe most interestingly this stupefying gentleness on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” of which only Radiohead seems capable, like exact music to mimic sleep. “Decks Dark” is another standout with a gorgeous melody and beautiful knack for altering the phrasings in the verses.

..

4 Beach House – Teen Dream

Teen Dream sidles in within roughly the same songwriting blueprint as 2008’s Devotion, which is still my favorite Beach House record to date, but the production is updated and given a glossy sheen, perhaps doing justice to the high-stakes, dramatic love songs at work here like “Silver Soul” and “Real Love.” What really makes this album a classic though I think is the immense amount of sympathy and pure humanity rendered by singer Victoria Legrand in this gentle, mournful indie pop, on songs like “Walk in the Park” and “Better Times,” the true standouts.

..

3 Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Something clicked in me when I heard “King Kunta” for the first time and I just knew instinctively that I was witnessing the most vital hip-hop music and emcee of this decade, a dude who could recite the whole phone book without breathing, probably, and who tosses off this name “King Kunta” as if we’re supposed to know who the he** it is and if we don’t we’re lame-a**es, a swagger he pulls off by seamlessly working in references to his own life. “Momma” is the shocker to me, with the verse about knowing everything and listing all the things he knows everything about, only to unleash the qualifier of “Until I realize I don’t know sh** / The day I came home”. Elsewhere, in Obama’s favorite song on the album, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” the emcee outlines a frustrating altercation with a homeless dude to whom he was only trying to be nice, hence I think spawning a sort of existential crisis that got rolled into a great song.

..

2 Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

I was sort of waiting like Sponge Bob Square Pants for a long time for the New York indie diva Sharon Van Etten to drop an album like this because I really was in love with the Epic EP from 2010, finding it to have the dark but fertile pop qualities of say R.E.M.’s album Up, or some real purposeful type of underdog record like that. As it stands now, this is the bench mark in lo-fi pop, broadening out the sound to an industrial makeup for the astonishing “No One’s Easy to Love,” giving way to endless different textures of synth and treated whammy bar guitar, all of which are subservient to Van Etten’s perfect, rich and crooning voice.

..

1 White Rabbits – Milk Famous

So, Milk Famous. Yeah. I don’t even like their album before this and this is the last album they ever made, 2012, out of Brooklyn. Their last album was called It’s Frightening, making it of course an exact phonetic evolution from the band Frightened Rabbit, I guess. Eh, maybe I’m digressing. But I’m so sick of lauding this album, its busy, jazzy and abrasive tracks like “Temporary,” or the Velvet Underground influence at work on “Danny Come inside”; “Everyone Can’t Be Confused” or “I Had it Coming”; or the My Morning Jacket-siphoning glory of “Hold it to the Fire”; and not having anybody notice, and I’m sick of indie rock being maligned as an art, and I’m sick of these hugely vital New York bands like Oxford Collapse breaking up because they can’t support themselves, or get enough support from the outside world. I mean, it doesn’t spell a good sign for music itself if this band and album go this badly overlooked. Well, maybe my best days are behind me anyway, like having “Hold it to the Fire” pop into my head around these beautiful Chicago girls I was working with or sitting looking out my window and realizing the final, ultimate beauty of album closeur “I Had it Coming,” which manages to be even more Velvet Underground than The Strokes ever were, for that matter. I first found this album on CD at our library in ’12 and I guess I’ll always associate it with that antiquated sort of medium, which speaks back to a day in which people like Rob Sheffield wrote entire books about the mix tapes they made, and music had that exciting, innocent and almost juvenile quality that made bands want to spend weeks and weeks straight in the studio, and what’s more, delete out any parts of songs that didn’t feed the larger wholes or weren’t straight from the heart.

..

[1] This transcription of the lyrics comes handy dandy from UK Festival Guides and runs counter to the reports on Genius and SongLyrics.com.

Leave a Reply