Join us as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. Today, we kick off the celebration with the 100 Best Albums of the 2010s.
A decade passes in an instant.
That’s something the last 10 years have taught me. Days come and go quickly, and rarely do you remember the moments you think you will. It’s like finding an old newspaper clipping or pebble in a drawer but not knowing why you saved it in the first place. Surely, at one point, it must have meant something, right?
That’s what poring over so many of these artists, albums, and songs has felt like over the last several weeks. In some cases, these lists capture the albums we’ve kept in our back pockets across the last decade. We’ve kept them close to us and know that the day we stop turning to them will be the same day we cease to be. However, in more cases, we turn up albums that we all but forgot about … records so vitally connected to a year or a summer or a relationship or a life-changing 10 seconds of the last decade that we can’t understand how we ever let them sit in that drawer next to the newspaper clippings and pebbles collecting dust.
Sounds and trends come and go, as well. The names of the artists change. I imagine Billie Eilish has about as much in common with Arcade Fire as that band did with their contemporaries when they first emerged on a scene still obsessed with nu metal. All that to say that as different as 2019 feels from 2009 in so many ways, I won’t even wager a guess as to what sounds and personas we’ll be championing in 2029. I’m eager to find out, though.
A decade passes in an instant, but life can change so much in an instant. All I can tell you is here are 100 records that matter or meant something to us across the last 10 years of our lives. Some take me back, some mean something else entirely now, and some make me scratch my head at a version of myself that has long since grown out of his piercings, hoodies, and soul patch. These albums make me remember, they make me cry, and, maybe as important as anything, they make me sing along or nod my head as I figure out what comes next. I love them all, and I hope you find a few here to love or love all over again.
See you in 10 years.
100. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011)
Polly Jean Harvey’s work in the ‘10s, particularly on the masterful Let England Shake, played out like a photo negative of the marvelous run of albums that The Kinks were on in the late ‘60s. The concerns about a dying empire and how it had often failed its citizens were shared by both Harvey and Ray Davies, but where the latter couched it in jaunty, flint-edged pop, the former tore open the festering wounds via darkly rendered music informed by centuries’ old folk, seething post-punk, and lyrics that focused on the exposed roots and cracked pavement surrounding the village green. –Robert Ham
99. Savages – Silence Yourself (2013)
In 2011, the music of London’s Savages felt a little out of place, which is something I’m sure the four-piece would take as a compliment. Silence Yourself is a ferociously self-possessed rock record. The quartet’s debut is filled with the most tantalizing aspects of post-punk, and though they missed the revival by a whole decade, the record’s sonic reference point made it so that didn’t matter. It’s filled with a kinship between post-punk’s thematic darkness, contrasting political views and inherent human anxiety, and weaves all of it together with tumbling percussion, singer Jehnny Beth’s Siouxsie-inspired coos, and an emphasis on Ayse Hassan’s dripping bass lines. –Samantha Lopez
98. Destroyer – Kaputt (2011)
This decade, especially the early part, was filled with nostalgia for sounds from the ‘70s and ‘80s that may have been called cheesy — chillwave, Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica, years of Ariel Pink headlines, remember Lewis — but perhaps no one captured schmaltz as purely and brilliantly as Dan Bejar on 2011’s Kaputt. Songs like the title track and “Song for America” took all the elements of yacht rock, ‘70s AM radio, and lounge music and made them both contemporary and timeless, with Bejar as the guiding sage. Kaputt didn’t sound like anything this decade, but Bejar’s masterpiece cast a long shadow over the state of indie rock across the next nine years. –David Sackllah
97. Ariana Grande – thank you, next (2019)
The ramp-up to Ariana Grande’s album, thank u, next, was overshadowed by a deadly attack on her Manchester show, a public break up with Mac Miller, and an even more public engagement (and breakup) to Pete Davidson. Branding her album with an expression of gratitude might seem off-kilter at first glance, but the resolve and reconciliation she somehow found within herself can be felt throughout each track. Bolstered by Grande’s behemoth of a voice, songs like “thank u, next”, “7 Rings”, and “Needy” sat at the center of millennial conversations on radical self-care and what it means to actually put yourself first. So, you didn’t just hear lyrics like, “You can go ahead and call me selfish/ But after all this damage, I can’t help it”, you felt them. –Erica Campbell
96. Bon Iver – 22, A Million (2016)
Though Justin Vernon has consistently evolved Bon Iver between albums, the particular growth from Bon Iver, Bon Iver to 22, A Million was shocking at first. What was initially perceived as a radical abandonment of lush folk was actually a heightening of the technical explorations beneath those softer moments. Vernon here demonstrated a mastery of tension (“666 ʇ”), delicacy (“8 (circle)”), and even Auto-Tune (“715 – CRΣΣKS”), often on the same track (“29 #Strafford APTS”). Its packaging may have made it seem like a dense exercise of insular art, but the unapologetic audacity of it all forced listeners to pull down any walls their expectations had built. –Ben Kaye
95. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (2012)
Daniel Lopatin’s fifth album as Oneohtrix Point Never took on the qualities of the torture device in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”. Certain songs scratched themselves into the skin with glitchy, agitated, bite-sized samples from TV commercials, but those wounds were quickly soothed with the cool water of the album’s synth waves and glistening drones. Pain and pleasure. Irritant and salve. Replica, like much of Lopatin’s best work over this past decade, dared to serve both masters. –Robert Ham
94. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (2011)
Tom Waits, our favorite inebriated lounge act turned beatboxing junkman, rarely surfaced over the past decade. Save for a few oddball screen roles, a sea shanty alongside longtime friend Keith Richards, and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, Waits largely opted to lay low. All the more impressive then was when the singer brushed (or applied?) the sawdust from his dilapidated vocal chords and boxed a baker’s dozen of new songs on Bad as Me, an album down on its luck and feeling its mortality while simultaneously full of hope and adamant about having the last laugh before time runs out. If Bad as Me is indeed Waits’ final record, it’s one badass way to blow this shack. –Matt Melis
93. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence (2018)
Following the removal of member Ameer Vann, the “best boyband since One Direction” found themselves at a standstill. Subsequently scrapping the heavily anticipated Puppy and canceling a string of tour dates, the 14-person-plus rap collective went under the radar to, well, regroup. Thus, Iridescence brought a new era ironically titled “The Best Days of Our Lives”. Now reckoning with fame and introducing a greater range of melancholy than ever before, Iridescence features the various pitched-adjusted vocals, disparate tempos, and general raging energy that make BROCKHAMPTON truly BROCKHAMPTON, reassuring fans that the boyband is most certainly here to stay. –Samantha Small
92. Caribou – Our Love (2014)
After spending a decade exploring the same humid, psychedelic weirdness that animated bands from Animal Collective to the Olivia Tremor Control, Dan Snaith finally went pop. A reinvention that began on 2010’s revelatory Swim came into full blossom four years later with the release of Our Love. Anchored by the openhearted longing of opener “Can’t Do Without You”, Snaith delivers a collection of bittersweet love songs that fully integrate the moody house and spare R&B influences waiting at his work’s periphery. The result is a richer kind of kaleidoscope, one that focuses the woozy disorientation of his older work on the urges of human connection instead of the untranslatable fractals of interior life. –Tyler Clark
91. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
There was a time when Aussie Courtney Barnett might have been in danger of being labeled the artist who writes those songs. It’s a label that almost tries to make a gimmick of Barnett’s penchant and talent for stream-of-consciousness musings and stuffing more syllables in a line than thought humanly possible over loud, distorted guitars. Now, thanks to albums like Sometimes I Sit and Think…, we just think of those as Courtney Barnett songs. And when Barnett rips into the roaring “Pedestrian at Best” or quietly contemplates the passage of time on the melancholy “Depreston”, we understand she’s so much more than a gimmick. She’s one of the young voices who will give names to the things we see, the places we visit, and the emotions we feel in the years to come. And that’s hardly pedestrian. –Matt Melis
90. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION (2015)
There is no bad song on E•MO•TION. There is not even an “only pretty okay” song. It’s the pinnacle of pop, and yet somehow it pushed Jepsen out of the mainstream and into a niche of die-hard weirdos with big feelings and impeccable taste. It’s good, though, because we love her here and she loves us, and we all love synths and sax and neon backlighting and boys. Just when it seemed like the ’80s had been mined to death for inspiration, Jepsen (along with collaborators including Dev Hynes, Sia, and Rostam Batmanglij) pulled the best, funnest, and most melodramatic parts and remixed them into track after track of explosive contemporary hooks. –Kayleigh Hughes
89. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)
After Outkast went out with a whimper in the wake of 2006’s Idlewild, Big Boi went right back to work. Released in 2010 after label disputes almost deep-sized the whole project, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty puts a bass-thumping capstone on Southern hip-hop’s breakout decade. Amidst all those funky 808s, Big Boi delivers a masterclass, dropping veteran flexes that show up the new kids (see: “Daddy Fat Sax”) while simultaneously handing them a blueprint for how to write a party record without sacrificing social commentary or lyrical heft. Nearly 10 years later, that formula still sounds fresh; if tracks like “Shutterbugg” and “Shine Blockas” aren’t on your playlist right now, fix that fast. –Tyler Clark
88. Lady Lamb – After (2015)
Never rush Maine native Aly Spaltro, better known as singer-songwriter Lady Lamb. After her studio debut, Ripley Pine, confirmed that the young phenom rumored to be writing songs in a video rental store and delivering home recordings to a local record shop was as talented as promised, After captures Spaltro transform from bedroom pop artist to a brilliant craftswoman. Here she turns songs both old and new on their heads, trying, as our own Nina Corcoran put it, to “untangle and organize the heart’s mess … and preserve the raw intimacies of the heart.” It’s an experiment, at times, but so rewarding to witness one of our great, young songwriters just scratching the surface of her potential. One where “Billions of Eyes” should be watching. –Matt Melis
87. Christine and the Queens – Chris (2018)
Chris is a pop musical exercise in exploring and transcending the boundaries of gender and sexuality in favor of fluid, evolving identities. The French artist behind the project, Hélöise Letissier, re-evaluates her own womanhood and the identity of her first performance persona, Christine, with another version of that persona, Chris. Chris is neither masculine nor feminine, nor can she simply be labeled as androgynous. She defies expectations of gender through her attitude, her voice, her forward lyrics, and her dress, all to redefine her relationship with gender within her performance and within pop music as we know it. –Natalia Barr
86. Spoon – Hot Thoughts (2017)
After rebounding from a major-label stall-out in the ’90s to ride the big indie-rock bubble in the ’00s, Spoon could’ve been forgiven for riding that goodwill all the way to the nostalgia circuit in the ’10s. Instead, on their ninth record, Hot Thoughts, the band reunite with producer Dave Fridmann for a nocturnal prowl that finds them adding tactical doses of cold-wave synths to their signature combo of strutting art-rock guitars and Jim Eno’s precision drumming. This new sound never dips into sabotaging self-seriousness; whether it’s Britt Daniel’s veteran frontman confidence on “Do I Have to Talk You into It” or the impressionistic sax of “Us”, the band find playfulness at the heart of the night, rising along with it like the steam coming off of a neon sign. –Tyler Clark
85. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (2018)
Kacey Musgraves has a gift for majestic miniatures, for capturing the tiny moments that carry life’s biggest emotions. Whether it’s a kiss with someone you love (“Butterflies”), the sudden sadness of missing a parent (“Mother”), or the slowly unfolding grandeur of an LSD trip (“Slow Burn”) Musgraves’ songs are about more than the things they are about. She has an ear for catchy melodies with bite, eschewing the oily slickness that mars so much mainstream country music. With warmth, wit, and sharp observations, Golden Hour more than delivers on the promise of its title. –Wren Graves
84. Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011)
After contributions to Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part One and Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, bassist and singer Thundercat illuminated on his 2011 debut. Anchored by “For Love (I Come Your Friend)” by George Duke, The Golden Age of Apocalypse is nostalgia-ridden with an opening sample from the 1980’s ThunderCats series, jazz intricacies, and nods to ’70s soul. When Thundercat isn’t showing off his intergalactic chords, his mellow retellings of love glide effortlessly. A master multi-instrumentalist with falsetto aptitude, Thundercat has the ability to not only reinvent soul, but launch it into futurism, transforming the “golden age” into an era of his own. –Jaelani Turner-Williams
83. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (2018)
Even with trailblazers like Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, hip-hop has only given aspiring women a tiny sliver of space. Case in point, when Cardi B made a splash in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow”, some speculated on the future state of Nicki Minaj’s career. Whatever luster such people find in Cardi’s womanhood pales in comparison to the other qualities showcased on her debut album, IInvasion of Privacy. This full-length teeters between moods that are inspirational, braggadocious, sexual, and vulnerable, but her authenticity and charisma are constants that reinforce her standing as one of the most formidable hip-hop artists of the decade. –Garrett Gravley
82. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (2012)
Celebration Rock is a body record, ecstatic punk rock that jolts you wholly out of your skin, and when you reorient, you realize you’re howling at the top of your lungs and your limbs are thrashing, and you’re either with a companion or wishing you were. Loyalty and camaraderie can take many forms, and Celebration Rock suits them all. Japandroids’ best album puts music to the feeling of piercing, all-consuming nostalgia for the moment you’re in. It’s the roaring in your ears as you realize: this matters, this is everything, this will be lore in our own small powerful histories, and somehow it already feels like a memory. –Kayleigh Hughes
81. Rihanna – Anti (2016)
Although she’s remained away from the stage for what seems like the better part of this decade, Rihanna’s presence has nonetheless been very much felt — and that’s all thanks to what she isn’t doing. She launched makeup and lingerie lines that purposely don’t cater to the privileged and mainstream masses like every other Victoria Secret or lipstick company. And rather than follow up 2012’s Unapologetic with polished pop-R&B gems like everyone expected, she threw out an absolute curveball with Anti. The larger-than-life persona was stripped down to a singular voice, but one so powerful it could fill arenas 10 times over. The power was in the vocal range and delivery (“Higher”) and also in the courage it took to record a monster doo-wop ballad (“Love on the Brain”) and, hell, even a Tame Impala cover. With just one album, Rihanna shifted the conversations around her, as well as those about pop music superstars in general. –Lake Schatz