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Top 75 Albums of the Last 15 Years

These are the albums that we haven't stopped spinning over the past 15 years

best albums last 15 years
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    It’s Consequence’s 15th anniversary, and all September long we’ll be publishing a series of retrospective pieces encompassing our publication’s own history — and the entertainment landscape in general. Today, we’re ranking our 75 favorite albums of the last 15 years.


    A first listen to a new album can have the bubbly energy of a first date. But that feeling might fizzle as you try to maintain a relationship. Our early impressions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are more likely to change. That’s one reason our list of the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time is slightly tilted towards older classics; time offers certainty.

    But tomorrow’s older classics are already part of today’s conversation. In fact, we found consensus to name 11 albums from the last 15 years as some of the 100 Greatest of All Time. (For the sake of continuity and not repeating ourselves, once you scroll to Album No. 11 on this list, you’ll see a quick preview of each album’s writeup from the GOATs ranking.)

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    As for the rest of these records, they were all released into a shifting music landscape, because the business has been in constant flux since Napster shattered the old paradigm in 1999. From lawsuits to Limewire, Spotify to TikTok, the relentless pace of technology has forced artists to become so much more than just songwriters and producers. Brian Wilson didn’t have to worry about Instagram, and Kurt Cobain (thankfully?) never had Twitter. This generation has contended with more obstacles — and more stressors — than ever before.

    The shattering of the old monoculture bodes poorly for today’s artists hoping to become the next big thing. Our media is so fractured that basic facts have come into doubt, and good luck getting everyone to agree on music. There will never again come a time when a band can be as universally well known as The Beatles. Even as acts like BTS outstrip some of the Fab Four’s sales records, it’s possible they won’t become household names in the same way McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr did.

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    Still, rising living standards and falling costs of studio equipment have lowered the barrier to entry. There’s never been an easier time to get into music, and here the fans are the clear winners. This is a golden age of music. There’s more of it, of a higher quality, than at any time in history.

    So as you peruse these albums from the last 15 years, consider their list placement temporary. More people will discover them, new fans will weigh in, and while some records may drop out of these discussions forever, others will become immortal.

    Wren Graves
    News Editor

    Like this list? Check out our ranking of the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time, and then snag some of our “Legends” merch (posters, T-shirts, and tote bags) at the Consequence Shop.


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    75. Lorde – Melodrama (2017)

    Lorde Melodrama

    It would have been easy for Lorde to fall into the sophomore slump after the overwhelming success of her 2013 debut, Pure Heroine. But against all odds, she returned in 2017 with Melodrama, a deeply personal portrait of early adulthood and her best album to date.

    Melodrama’s wisdom comes in its imperfections, in Lorde’s carefully-constructed phrases, and in the way she seems to vomit out nuanced reflections on her own regrets. The pain and insecurity warped into a ballad like “Liability” — where Lorde solemnly claims she’s “a toy that people enjoy/ ‘Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore/ And then they are bored of me” — is so palpable that we, too, can see ourselves in her image; the liberation in “Green Light” so ecstatic that it leaps out of the speakers; the primal fear of “Sober” so jolting that we preemptively feel her splitting, regretful hangover.

    Alongside producer Jack Antonoff, Lorde was insistent on expanding her pop identity on Melodrama, and the resulting collection of songs are successfully designed for catharsis. — Paolo Ragusa

    74. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009)

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    Animal Collective Marriweather Post Pavilion

    Named after the concert venue where Avey Tare and Geologist would frequent growing up, Merriweather Post Pavilion is Animal Collective at their most fully-realized. While it’s arguably their most “pop” — a.k.a. accessible — record to date, it never loses sight of the eccentricities that set Animal Collective apart from their peers. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a woozy, romantic trip that feels like getting lost somewhere entirely unfamiliar, and yet, you feel no urge to return. — Abby Jones

    73. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (2011)

    Oneohtrix Point Never Replica

    Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica has an effect akin to a sensory deprivation tank. Its particularly mournful, contemplative take on plunderphonics invites you into an artificial world of its own design — a world constructed by your subconscious memories of silent emotional breakdowns and vintage adverts.

    Tracks like “Sleep Dealer” or “Nausea” tap into such a state through their off-kilter repetition, whereas “Power of Persuasion” and the title track beautifully intertwine acoustic samples with all-encompassing synths that sound like they were ripped straight out of the Blade Runner universe. Like the mirror on its cover art, the songs reflect a surreal honesty, fostering a cinematic feel for which no rendered image would suffice. — Jonah Krueger

    72. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die (2012)

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    Lana Del Rey Born To Die

    Love it or hate it, Born to Die is a cultural milestone, and it successfully set the stage for so many of the gloomy pop singers that have graced our ears since. The mainstream didn’t know what to do with Born to Die upon its release — strings, theatricality, and lyrics and themes firmly planted in an entirely different time weren’t exactly what radio was looking for. With a bit of hindsight and a healthy amount of time since the release, though, Born to Die has aged gorgeously, standing now as a critical album in the alternative sad-pop canon. — Mary Siroky

    71. Rihanna – ANTI (2016)

    Rihanna ANTI

    With ANTI, Rihanna broke the mold from pop star to pop iconoclast. Rich, moody, and unabashedly sexy, her eighth album explores the good, bad, and ugly sides of love in an array of colors, from the dancehall shimmy of “Work” to the doo-wop sweep of “Love on the Brain.” But ANTI’s most powerful moments come when Rihanna is most angry: “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?” she jeers nonchalantly in “Needed Me.” By the time the pounding bass comes in the chorus, you can almost picture Rihanna setting fire to the homes of anyone who’s wronged her. — A.J.

    70. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee

    Japanese Breakfast Jubilee

    It’s all in the title. Jubilee, the third record from Japanese Breakfast (the recording project of Michelle Zauner), feels like the culmination of a trilogy. As the name entails, this is a record about unbridled joy and sun-soaked happiness. Zauner’s first two albums were heavily focused on the grief felt by Zauner in the aftermath of her mother’s death, but Jubilee is about the healing to be found in life and living.

    Each Japanese Breakfast record is better than the last, with Zauner’s songwriting growing to be more vivid and intricate, the bass-heavy, twinkling soundscapes more daring. Album highlights “Be Sweet,” “Savage Good Boy,” and “Paprika” sound like rays of sunshine in audio form — just gems from a record where you can feel Zauner’s outpouring of joy as catharsis. — Cady Siregar

    69. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (2018)

    Cardi B Privacy

    Few artists have gone into their debut album on as much of a hot streak as Cardi B did, whose swaggering charisma propelled “Bodak Yellow” to No. 1 and lent a major boost to Top 10 hits from G-Eazy (“No Limit”) and Migos (“MotorSport”). However, the Bronx rapper didn’t buckle under the pressure while making Invasion of Privacy. In addition to tapping future superstars Bad Bunny and J Balvin for the chart-topping Latin trap smash “I Like It,” Cardi got vulnerable on “Be Careful,” and lived her “Best Life” with Chance the Rapper, demonstrating a willingness to not play it safe while remaining authentic to her unique personality. — E.F.

    68. Big Thief – Capacity (2017)

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    Big Thief Capacity

    If there were such a thing as an indie music stock market (and thank god there isn’t), Big Thief would have been an amazing buy in 2017. The signs of a legendary indie act were already written on the wall thanks to the strength of their debut, with songs like “Paul” showcasing Adrianne Lenker’s otherworldly songwriting capabilities. But even those who expected big things from the folksy four-piece had to be surprised by the consistency and near perfection of their subsequent output, all of which started with the band’s sophomore effort: Capacity.

    On Capacity, Big Thief fine-tuned everything they introduced on their debut. Adrianne’s stories of love, loss, black diamond eyes, and car accidents hit true transcendence as the band perfectly accompanies her. Take “Shark Smile,” a flawless piece of syrupy, emotional indie rock that delivers some of Buck Meek’s most iconic guitar work, or “Mythological Beauty,” a dreamy folk rock tune that hints towards stylings the band would explore on their next release.

    Every Big Thief fan is sure to have a different favorite, be it the more direct Masterpiece, the hazy U.F.O.F, the angular Two Hands, or their recent opus Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, but Capacity holds a special place in Big Thief’s catalog, and an earned one in the pantheon of indie. — J.K.

    67. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION (2015)

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    Carly Rae Jepsen EMOTION album

    Carly Rae Jepsen makes unapologetic, heart-on-sleeve pop music for feeling sad, happy, and both, telling us that it’s okay to feel. E•MO•TION is both the perfect balm for nursing a broken heart (“Boy Problems”) and the ideal drug to plunge you deeper into the terrifying, thrilling feeling of maybe falling in love (“I Really Like You”). She really does explore the full spectrum with this record, all set to euphoric ’80s-inspired pop and soaring, sugary melodies.

    Jepsen writes music for sensitive people who feel way too much all the time, all with a dose of eternal self-awareness (“Gimme Love”) and being cautious about being too vulnerable — but then taking the plunge anyway (“Making the Most of the Night”). And Jepsen gets lonely too, sometimes — it just makes the highs and lows of falling in love and feeling all the things infinitely more fun. Even her breakup anthems are empowering! Plus, opening an album with that saxophone solo? Carly supremacy, always. — C.S.

    66. Angel Haze – Reservation (2012)

    Angel Haze Reservation

    When Reservation dropped in 2012, critics, fans, and onlookers immediately compared Angel Haze to Nicki Minaj, because at the time, it was still cool to pit two rappers in a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-style battle where only one survives. But Angel’s music is so beyond that discussion and worthy of merit on its own. Reservation finds balance in its personal honesty and chest-beating. And even those moments where Angel bears their soul, like “This Is Me,” is filled with lyrical dexterity and nimbleness most rappers can’t fathom on their best days.

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    No matter the song or subject matter, Angel keeps their skills on the highest level possible rather than dumbing down for the target audience. Every song is a lyrical exercise. Pick one: “New York,” “Supreme,” “Werkin Girls,” the list is endless. To do all of that and adapt to any beat and any hip-hop sub-genre with as much ease as Angel does is scary for someone who was that early in their career.

    Reservation is a masterpiece because it came to us fully-formed. Angel understood who they were as a person, which translated to the music and the project overall. Not just rappers, but musicians all over the world should take notes. — Marcus Shorter

    65. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud (2020)

    Waxahatchee Saint Cloud

    By the time Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud was set to arrive, Katie Crutchfield had already more than proven herself as a strong songwriter. With four respected, well-received indie rock albums already under her belt, Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee project seemed quite secure in the world of music blogs and indie-heads.

    Then came Saint Cloud, a record that far surpassed Waxahatchee’s already high bar by leaning into Crutchfield’s country influences. Each track on the album so beautifully inhabits its country-indie blend that Crutchfield sounds like she sold half her soul to Robert Pollard and the other half to Lucinda Williams. With its laid-back tone and lovely orchestration, Saint Cloud features 11 of the best songs in Waxahatchee’s catalog and, miraculously, seems to get better with each passing year. — J.K.

    64. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014)

    Run The Jewels 2

    Run the Jewels 2 reinvented Killer Mike and introduced him to a brand new audience. No, Mike didn’t soften his stances on anything, nor did he change his topics. But there was something about hearing him over El-P’s beats — and side by side with the rapper/producer — that made them both permanent pop culture fixtures.

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    RTJ 2 is a sequel that expands on its predecessor with a simple ingredient: more confidence. The beats are rawer, with a lot more bass and a lot less rhythm. The rhymes are rawer, with El-P basking in hedonism while Mike slightly elevates it with his militant consciousness. This is a more aggressive album with angry synthesizers all over its 39-minute runtime.

    And there was room for it. RTJ 2 was a direct front to hip-hop that had gotten a bit more commercial and accessible. Mike and El-P saw the direction everyone else took and made an unconventional album that stayed true to their roots as individuals and as a group. Hip-hop experimented with a lot of sounds and an influx of new rappers in 2014; Killer Mike and El-P, two guys from an entirely different era, showed a lane for their brand of rap music still existed. More importantly, they showed it can thrive under the right circumstances. — M. Shorter

    63. HAIM – Days Are Gone (2013)

    Hail Days Are Gone

    It’s wild to consider that Days Are Gone a fun, interesting, and self-assured record — was HAIM’s debut album. While they have explored plenty of interesting themes and sounds in the work that has followed since, their very first album is the one that put them on the map — and for good reason. The HAIM sisters are rock stars, and playing music seems to come as easy to them as breathing. You see them perform together and there’s something that pushes them beyond the realm of a well-rehearsed band — the sister bond is one that can’t be replicated. With Days Are Gone, HAIM announced themselves to the world. — M. Siroky

    62. Tyler, the Creator – Igor (2019)

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    Tyler, the Creator Igor

    Tyler, the Creator has always been… out there. From the early, raucous days of Odd Future to the grimy, edge-lord feel of albums like Goblin or Wolf to the dreamy, sporadic Cherry Bomb, Tyler dominated headlines with his banging beats and provocative lyrics. Then came Flower Boy, a breakthrough for Tyler in which he embraced his softer, more contemplative side, as well as the underlying sense of melody that had been brewing underneath the surface of his previous releases. Tyler had successfully moved from cult teen sensation to hip-hop front-runner, what could possibly come next?

    The answer was IGOR: a drastic shift towards high-concept that managed to marry the low-fi grime of his early work with the more emotionally intelligent writing of Flower Boy. From the first sawtooth synths on “IGOR’S THEME,” the new tone is set. Unbridled love, rage, jealousy, and remorse pervade the subsequent tracks. It’s some of Tyler’s best work, be it the poppy, love-sick “EARFQUAKE,” the out-for-blood “NEW MAGIC WAND,” or the contemplative, poignant “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.” Tyler has since hung up his IGOR suit, but the music world is still feeling the effects of IGOR’s earfquake. — J.K.

    61. Harry Styles – Fine Line (2019)

    Harry Styles Fine Line

    Following the success of his self-titled debut, the pressure was on for Mr. Styles. With his sophomore album, though, he more than rose to the challenge — Fine Line is hit after hit, Harry sharing stories of love, heartbreak, and memory. Not only is it a lyrically nostalgic work, the record also sees Styles digging into sounds and aesthetics from the 1970s, a place he has continued to thrive. In retrospect, this LP was the work that successfully silenced the detractors, and those who didn’t think Styles could make the leap from One Direction star to true rockstar. It’s crystal clear now who was right about that jump. — M. Siroky

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    60. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011)

    Foo Fighters Wasting Light

    Foo Fighters have long touted themselves as a no-frills, capital-R Rock band, but in the years since Wasting Light, gimmick after gimmick (Sonic Highways, anyone?) have made the band look… pretty frilly. Their 2011 garage record, then, stands as their finest moment of the 21st century, a good old fashioned rock album where the songs stand for themselves. Thrasher “White Limo” showcases the best of Dave Grohl’s famous roar, while “Arlandria” and “A Matter of Time” swing in the other direction with some of the artist’s sweetest melodies. We’d never want the Foos to go away, but if Wasting Light did offer Grohl’s “famous last words,” it’d be a mighty note to go out on. — Carys Anderson

    59. The xx – xx (2009)

    The XX XX

    On their self-titled debut, the xx found a way to imbue a great deal of emotion into the most minimal setting possible. These songs are built from simplicity, with no refrain uttered hastily and no solitary guitar line too busy. In retrospect, the album is highly influential to the now ever-present genre of bedroom pop; though these songs were crafted in their label XL’s in-house London studio, there’s a personal touch to the album’s moody, stylized sound that thousands of musicians have attempted to achieve from their bedrooms since.

    They proved that you don’t need much at all to create emotionally powerful, irresistible music — you don’t need the slick production tricks, a live drummer, a powerhouse vocalist, or a radio-friendly vibe. Instead, the xx offered a complete and consistent vision, a small and understated collection of music that was perfectly antithetical to pop’s bombastic, late 2000s maximalism. — P.R.

    58. M.I.A. – Kala (2007)

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    MIA KALA

    Everyone and their mother knows “Paper Planes,” a behemoth of a pop song that features both an iconic sample from The Clash and the best hook ever put to tape — or, I guess, the best hook ever put to Logic. Yet, as anyone who has ever remotely looked into M.I.A knows, Kala is much more than an album with an uber-famous penultimate track. With its international influences and political themes, the record inhabits a wholly unique sonic palette.

    Even beyond the subtext of the lyrics or its immense influence on the sound of pop to come, every song on the record just slaps. It’s one of those rare records stuffy music writers who make Top 75 Albums lists and people on molly at the club can agree on, and, frankly, that’s a beautiful thing. — J.K.

    57. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014)

    The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream

    It’s only fitting that a band with such a clear affinity for Bruce Springsteen would see things take off in such a major way with album number three. On Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel fused the Boss’ heartland anthems with melancholy psychedelic passages to outstanding effect. Standouts like “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean in Between the Waves” ride the perfect balance between exhilarated and terrified at the possibilities lying before you. But the songs are best appreciated as part of a greater whole: an hour-long odyssey from anxiety to acceptance that only feels wiser with time. — Mimi Kenny

    56. Thundercat – Drunk (2017)

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    Thundercat Drunk

    Drunk is of a different era; one look at the album cover tells you that. The font and the look evoke the 1970s, which communicates exactly what the album sounds like — to say nothing of the fact Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, and the Isley Brothers all feature on the album.

    Drunk is experimental yet traditional. Thundercat is a bass guitarist, so he never strays too far from expectations, but this album goes against the grain in that it has more in common with the Motown era than any of its contemporaries. Even when rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa stop by, they adapt to the motif rather than bending it to their will. That’s not just a testament to the respect they have for Thundercat, but to the quality of the music.

    Under the light grooves is the dark specter of alcoholism. It is in the title, after all. Thundercat — a name derived from the ‘80s cartoon — details his bouts with addiction and his dependency. The title track and “DUI” are deeply personal and probably scared those close to Thundercat. But that’s the catch-22 of the album, and all artists in general: Sometimes the best material comes from personal heartache or torture. In fact, some artists believe there is no artistry without pain. That notion is even more deadly when it sounds like Drunk, a Trojan horse of an album masking a glorious cry for help perfect for any function or any mood. — M. Shorter

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    55. Kanye West – Yeezus (2013)

    Kanye West Yeezus

    A recent, hilarious tweet perhaps sums up Kanye West’s Yeezus best: “man this album has some of the worst lines in history on it. 10/10” goes the tweet. While not entirely true — Ye actually has some powerful bars about the prison industrial complex on “New Slaves” — there are some moments on Yeezus that are straight up foolish. Humor has always been tied to Kanye’s output, but no album is as successful in highlighting his brash, clown-esque persona than Yeezus.

    Much of this is due to the album’s industrial, wildly creative and borderline inaccessible production, handled by Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, Arca, Gesaffelstein, and Travis Scott, among several others. The beats on this album are harsh, gargantuan, unforgiving — making it all the more intriguing when West mutters lines like “I am a God/ Hurry up with my damn massage/ In a French restaurant/ Hurry up with my damn croissants” and, “She say, ‘Can I get my friends in the club?’/ And I say ‘Can you get my Benz in the club?’/ If not, treat your friends like my Benz/ And park they ass outside ’til the evening end.” When you take it all in at once, it doesn’t seem like a real Kanye West album — that is, until his ridiculous brilliance pulls you in further and further. — P.R.

    54. Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013)

    Deafheaven Sunbather

    Deafheaven’s 2013 album, Sunbather, was a turning point in the history of black metal, whether the gatekeepers of the genre like it or not. The band crafted something new, melding the harsh wintery soundscapes and howling screams inherent to the genre with lush aesthetics more in line with shoegaze and dream pop. It was black metal played out of love and passion rather than hatred or misanthropy. Deafheaven caught their fair share of shit from elitists, but they also introduced black metal to an entirely new realm of listeners and expanded a genre that still continues to grow and morph in exciting and unexpected ways. — Jon Hadusek

    53. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019)

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    Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go

    Billie Eilish was firmly established as a wunderkind when she dropped a little track called “Ocean Eyes” at the age of fourteen. But it was the release of her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, in 2019 that truly catapulted the then-teenaged singer into the upper echelon of pop stardom thanks to hits like “bad guy,” “when the party’s over,” “you should see me in a crown” and “xanny.”

    While the heights to which Eilish can reach are still to be discovered, the album’s palette of dark, dreamy pop, incisive songwriting and clever production by FINNEAS announced Eilish’s arrival as both the voice of Gen Z and a fully formed force of nature. — Glenn Rowley

    52. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (2007)

    MGMT Oracular Spectacular

    Has there ever been a time when MGMT’s 2007 debut Oracular Spectacular hasn’t been in a constant swing between ironically cool and actually cool? Perhaps that’s the price you pay when your intentionally edgy and short-sighted college musings become some of the catchiest songs ever crafted (just ask The Who’s Roger Daltrey, who wailed, “I hope I die before I get old” for 50 years straight).

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    It’s hard to overstate the back-to-back-to-back ubiquity of “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids” at the time, but the album has aged incredibly well thanks to the duo’s underlying avant-garde energy that pushed the burgeoning indie movement into full mainstream maturity. — Bryan Kress

    51. BTS – Map of the Soul: 7 (2020)

    BTS Map of the Soul 7

    Carl Jung’s philosophy of the collective unconscious, detailing how all beings are connected, doesn’t exactly sound like the jumping-off point for a K-pop album. BTS have never been known to play by the rules, though. For their seventh album in the seventh year of their career, BTS truly outdid themselves. The pop opus explores the themes of the persona, the shadow, and the ego, and the result was the septet’s most personal work to date.

    Map of the Soul: 7 poised the act for an accompanying world tour, featuring bombastic tracks like “ON” and more tender B-sides like “Friends,” along with extremely personal solo offerings from each member. Spring 2020, of course, prevented said tour from ever happening, but the album will always go down as one of the best releases from the group. — M. Siroky

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    50. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)

    Sharon Van Etten Remind Me Tomorrow

    In 2009, Sharon Van Etten debuted with the lo-fi Because I Was In Love, a record that seemed to mark the arrival of indie’s next great songwriter. Ten years and three albums later, Van Etten had by all accounts made good on her potential. She had cleaned up her sound, refined her writing, and dropped now-canonized indie anthems (see “Every Time Sun Comes Up”). Van Etten had rightfully earned her spot as a critical darling.

    Then came Remind Me Tomorrow, her most boisterous, glorious, and (ironically) epic release yet. Enhancing her cathartic songs with a new range of synthetic timbres, Remind Me Tomorrow introduced an experienced Sharon Van Etten. Songs like “No One’s Easy to Love” and “Comeback Kid” exhibited the songwriter’s newfound sonic interests, while the legendary “Seventeen,” perhaps her best song, showcased that Van Etten had found new utility in getting loud. Van Etten had already established herself as a musical powerhouse, but with Remind Me Tomorrow, that fact was now carved into stone. — J.K.

    49. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

    Spoon Ga Ga Ga

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistently excellent indie rock outfit over the last decade and a half than Spoon. And that’s saying something considering they dropped arguably their best collection, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the same year Consequence was founded. Songs like “The Underdog,” “Black Like Me,” and “Don’t You Evah” simultaneously distilled all the best of what the genre had been while setting new standards of creativity for what came next – from anyone. I recently had a TSA agent ask me “what the deal [was]” with my Spoon shirt during a security check; I told him they were the greatest indie rock band around. This is the album that solidified that status. — Ben Kaye

    48. Saba – CARE FOR ME (2018)

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    Saba Care For Me

    From his own admission, Chicago rapper-producer Saba was unaware during the development of his ruminative sophomore album, 2018’s CARE FOR ME, that he was actively processing the residual grief of his late cousin and Pivot Gang co-founder John Walt’s murder. Despite the unmistakable void felt in each fleeting memory he shares, Saba cautions the audience not to fall too deep into the details; on “CALLIGRAPHY,” he opens with, “I don’t tell the truth so y’all will feel sorry for me… Wrote the amount of raps just on a mission to find something.” It’s that persistent, self-reflective journey to overcome the lingering effects of his trauma that cements the project’s admirable and enduring legacy. — B. Kress

    47. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (2018)

    Mitsky Be The Cowboy

    There are upwards of 20 references to kissing on Mitski’s excellent fifth album, Be the Cowboy. “Somebody kiss me, I’m going crazy,” Mitski utters in “Blue Light”; she continues on “Nobody,” “And I know no one will save me/ I just need someone to kiss/ Give me one good honest kiss/ And I’ll be alright.”

    Across Be the Cowboy, Mitski delves deep into her introspectiveness; she meditates on severe loneliness, the extreme intensity and addictiveness of infatuation, and the alienation that comes with being heralded as an indie rock “savior” and reclaiming the genre from white male musicians – hence the “cowboy” in the album title.

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    Mitski is unabashedly open about her longing for intimacy, the desire to be wanted, and to be kissed – while acknowledging that kissing, and the love that can come with it, can also be dangerous. As we all know, a good kiss, a good “movie” kiss, has the power to break curses, bring people back from the dead, and maybe even save someone. — C.S.

    46. Kaytranada – 99% (2016)

    Kaytranada 99.9%

    There are technically 15 tracks on KAYTRANADA’s landmark debut album, 99.9%, but it’s more accurate to describe the 2016 release as one continuous, hour-long party. Although there’s a murderers’ row of special guests (Anderson .Paak, Craig David, and Little Dragon are standouts), the project’s central creative force never recedes to the background.

    Translation: It’s all bangers all the time, and it’s all unmistakably the handiwork of Louis Kevin Celestin, a.k.a KAYTRANADA. Woozy, bendy beats percolate alongside bass and effects-laden vocals, swirling together funk, deep house, hip-hop, and disco to craft a paradigm-shifting sound that’ll have you bobbing your head (or losing yourself to dance) as soon as you press play. — Spencer Dukoff

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    45. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (2010)

    Gorillaz Plastic Beach

    By definition, Damon Albarn’s animated cavalcade Gorillaz has always had one foot in reality and the other in some type of twisted fantasy world, but even as he ships his fictitious foursome to the dystopian Plastic Beach, the outfit has never sounded more grounded. Aside from the rap collaborations akin to their most definitive singles (this time with Mos Def and Snoop Dogg), the project features an astounding group of guests that explore the depths of classic rock and soul via Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, and The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. However, the band truly pushes into new territory with the unshakeable gloom-pop of “On Melancholy Hill,” the birds-eye beauty of “Empire Ants,” and the understated tragedy of “To Binge.” — B. Kress

    44. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz! (2009)

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz

    By the time It’s Blitz! came along, Yeah Yeah Yeahs had already spent the better part of a decade as one the most hyped acts in the underground. Thanks to Karen O’s electrifying performances and, of course, the success of Fever to Tell and “Maps,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs had effectively conquered both the music blogosphere and the booming New York indie scene. What else was there to do?

    Well, how about embracing disco for a groove-punk, synth-y third LP that would house the trio’s biggest hit yet? It’s Blitz! took the high-velocity indie punk of the band’s most celebrated material and dove further into the rabbit hole of avant-pop, genre-bending weirdness — and, we should add, knocked it out of the park. Beyond the chart-topping “Heads Will Roll,” the album established a new blueprint for bands who have seemingly already hit their peak: get weird, do something new, and write some damn good songs while you’re at it. — J.K.

    43. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (2017)

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    Vince Staples Big Fish Theory

    Big Fish Theory, the 2017 sophomore effort from Vince Staples, finds the Long Beach rapper in a much larger pond of his own design. By creating space for electronic producers like SOPHIE and Flume; esoteric indie icons like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon; and an all-out elite rap roster including Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and Juicy J, Staples expands his abilities and reveals his impeccable, eclectic taste.

    Staples doesn’t cede the spotlight to the production, though, and instead adapts his acidic monotone to follow whichever direction this cataclysmic set takes him. While his later albums saw Staples crest even higher in the hip-hop world, Big Fish Theory serves as the ripple that started a wave. — B. Kress

    42. Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (2010)

    Katy Perry Teenage Dream

    When Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream was released back in 2010, most people would not have placed their bets on it appearing on a list like this one. And yet, to this day, very few pop albums have captured the rush on which Teenage Dream so eagerly capitalized. This was the age of megapop that had to be brash and fearless, and Perry’s colorful vision somehow became both a precursor and definitive end to what a maximalist pop album could be.

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    Of course, sex is a massive part of Teenage Dream — it’s tied wholly to Perry’s bombastic aesthetic, it’s in the longing of its undeniable title track, it’s the center piece of multiple songs (see: “Peacock” and “E.T.”). But even deeper on Teenage Dream is a kind of excessive, almost goofy attitude; a playful sincerity that begs the question, “Did she really just say that?” Katy Perry may have scored a record-tying five number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with Teenage Dream, but even more significant than its commercial success is the way she captured the Obama-era’s euphoric, party-til-the-world-ends energy, making it a definitive pop record of its age. — P.R.

    41. Behemoth – The Satanist (2014)

    Behemoth The Satanist

    The Satanist was the culmination of over two decades of artistic perseverance from Polish black metal luminaries Behemoth. The songwriting and arrangements are immaculate, sometimes twisting and turning with prog-like precision, other times holding fast to repetition riffing a la vintage black metal. Whatever the song demanded, Behemoth trusted their musical skills and impulses without delving into overwrought tropes.

    Considering Nergal and company have flaunted their passion for Satanism many times over the years, it’s no surprise that their 2014 effort has an almost religious fervor — a blasphemous offering to the beast below. It remains the band’s magnum opus and one of the strongest extreme metal releases of the past decade. — J.H.

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    40. JAY-Z – 4:44 (2017)

    Jay-Z 4:44

    Some of the biggest knocks on JAY-Z as an artist were the lack of depth in his lyrics and an unwillingness to express vulnerability. After his infidelities were exposed to the world and then chronicled by his wife Beyoncé in her masterpiece Lemonade, the Brooklyn rapper finally pulled back the curtain on Shawn Carter with 4:44.

    While confronting his innermost failings as a son, husband, and father over tailor-made production from No I.D., JAY-Z also surveyed his legacy as a leader in the Black community. Given more time, it might actually end up being considered his finest work — check back with us in another 15 years. — E.F.

    39. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (2020)

    Phoebe Bridgers Punisher

    Sometimes it feels good to feel bad. On her 2020 album, Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers leans into this notion with no reservations, weaving together despair and joy and making Sad Music that’s really funny (or Funny Music that’s really sad). As a lyricist, Bridgers writes lines that lodge their way in your subconscious because of their directness (“I hate your mom, I hate it when she opens her mouth”), their sentimentality (“And if I could give you the moon/ I would give you the moon”), and their dark sense of humor (“We hate ‘Tears in Heaven’ but it’s sad that his baby died”).

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    But Punisher is so much more than a “singer-songwriter” record, thanks to gorgeous production work from Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska, as well as contributions from Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Conor Oberst, Blake Mills, Christian Lee Hutson, and more. In both its ambition and its execution, Punisher is more universe than record, a collection of songs that overwhelm and envelop you with every repeat listen. — S.D.

    38. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007)

    LCD Sound of Silver

    In 2007, LCD Soundsystem came through with what is the opposite of a sophomore slump. Their self-titled debut was a strong introduction — who could deny “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”? — but Sound of Silver was an entirely different beast. The album strengthened everything that made LCD Soundsystem so notable, even introducing new aspects to their already eclectic sound.

    Sure, there are irreverent, witty dance songs, like “Time to Get Away” or “Watch the Tapes,” but other songs feature newfound emotional depth. “Someone Great” sees James Murphy turning his dance sensibilities inward; “All My Friends” is a perfect piece of upbeat, reflective pop; and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” brings the album to a contemplative, explosive ending. Two albums in and LCD Soundsystem had only sharpened their edge. — J.K.

    37. Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013)

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    Beyonce Beyonce

    It was the surprise release to end all other surprise releases. Beyoncé’s self-titled LP, her fifth studio album, is a dark, artful visual album that felt like the superstar at her most creatively free. Beyoncé features an experimental Queen Bey, using traditional R&B sounds as a launching pad for something bigger and more exciting.

    Consider some of the most well-loved tracks from the album as a starting point: Beyoncé features “Drunk in Love,” “Pretty Hurts,” and “Partition.” When each track is paired with its visual accompaniment, though, is when the album really becomes a work of art that set the stage for the Beyoncé we have been lucky enough to experience since. — M. Siroky

    36. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (2010)

    Titus Andronicus The Monitor

    A few things to keep in mind as you listen to Titus Andronicus’s triumphant sophomore album: The enemy is everywhere, you will always be a loser, and tramps like us, baby we were born to DIE. On paper, The Monitor simply should not work. A swaggering, beer-stained collection of barroom punk rock anthems that just so happens to double as a concept album about the American Civil War and features spoken-word interludes of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis speeches?

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    But frontman Patrick Stickles’ sheer commitment to rocking the fuck out, accentuated by his trademark growl and the Garden State-sized chip on his shoulder, turns The Monitor into something truly revelatory. It’s one of the greatest cultural exports from that densely populated wonderland known as New Jersey, and that’s really saying something. — S.D.

    35. Florence + the Machine – Lungs (2009)

    Florence and the Machine Lungs

    There’s still something so novel about the usage of the harp in Florence + the Machine’s debut album. On the one hand, it evokes a classical aura, like something out of Victorian England. On the other, it frequently contrasts with the primal nature of Florence Welch’s urgent songwriting and her inimitable, deeply powerful voice.

    When Welch sings of a consuming fear and animal sacrifice in “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” it’s the harp that guides her roaring melodies, not the guitar or piano. When she begins “Dog Days Are Over” by singing, “Happiness hit her/ Like a train on a track,” she’s accompanied yet again by the lush strings of a harp, before the momentum kicks in and thrusts her full speed ahead towards a cathartic chorus.

    Not only is Lungs a sonically fascinating record, it’s a perfect introduction to Florence Welch’s star power. From the blooming brilliance of “I’m Not Calling You a Liar,” to the sheer abandon in “Hurricane Drunk,” to the punk energy of “Kiss with a Fist,” Lungs is a classic album that truly sounds like no other. — P.R.

    34. Noname – Room 25 (2018)

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    Noname Room 25

    “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?” Noname asks — rhetorically, of course — in the first verse of her 2018 debut album, Room 25. Spoken like someone not only confident in her abilities but completely capable of dismantling contemporary hip-hop to fit her image, the Chicago rapper makes up for her relatively sparse output with a dense and deeply insightful set that continues to go unrivaled (well, unless you count that one spat with J. Cole).

    While most rappers struggle to even address a woman properly, much less articulate a meaningful thought toward their experience, Noname rhymes circles around them, boasting, “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/ My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” If there’s one lesson to learn, it’s that every other rapper needs to enroll in the Noname Book Club immediately. — B. Kress

    33. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)

    Against Me Transgender Dysphoria Blues

    At the end of White Crosses, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace proclaims, “What God doesn’t give to you, you’ve got to go and get for yourself.” By the making-of the band’s next album, Grace had heeded her own advice. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a punk statement as riveting as it is important, with Grace sorting through the complexities and anxieties of her new reality with total candor. While, chronologically, Transgender Dysphoria Bues is the sixth Against Me! album, it feels like a different kind of debut, one not about proving one’s potential as an artist, but about asserting one’s right to exist as they’re meant to. — M.K.

    32. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

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    Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

    Phoenix set the bar for their own selves very high when they named their fourth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in a not-so-subtle nod to the esteemed classical composer. Thankfully, they earned the right to borrow his namesake because the record is excellent — an infectious 36-minute album full of perfect synth-pop earworms.

    It wasn’t until this album that the French indie-pop four-piece really broke into the global stratosphere, and it isn’t hard to see why. “Girlfriend” and “Lisztomania” are euphoric, new wave-inspired numbers; “Lasso” is addictive as ever; and the synth-heavy “1901” is still considered to be one of the signature anthems of the turn of the decade. It’s all breathless pop joy. — C.S.

    31. Jamie xx – In Colour (2015)

    Jamie XX In Colour

    Most people probably weren’t sure what to expect of a solo album by the producer of the perennially quiet, stoned-sounding trio the xx, but it certainly wasn’t In Colour. Just as vibrant as its name implies, Jamie xx’s debut album is an utterly electrifying dose of electronica that’s paced like the party of the century, from the rattling, single-note bass of opener “Gosh” to the unfettered glee of the album’s crown jewel “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times).” — A.J.

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    30. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (2014)

    Freddie Gibbs Madlib Piñata

    Freddie Gibbs might be the best rapper alive, and Piñata is the album that permanently put him in that discussion. Gibbs and Madlib let their powers combine for an album of unadulterated rawness — and that’s not just because the album title and most of the subject matter references cocaine.

    Through the bluster and superman talk, Gibbs provides a lot of introspection on this 2014 opus. Gibbs details his paranoia on “Bomb,” bears his hurt emotions on “Deeper,” and asks for forgiveness on “Broken.” Gibbs is more than his image, and Madlib’s beats brought that humanity out of the Gary, Indiana rapper. Madlib dug in the crates for beats that sound straight out of the 1970s, which is perfect for something Gibbs described as a Blaxploitation movie on wax.

    There were odd couples in hip-hop before these two hooked up, but none made better music together than Madlib and Gibbs. Those beats, plus a rapper coming into his own, and a bevy of guest stars who do not disappoint, make Piñata worthy of this list and any other best of list in spitting distance. Gibbs was in rap purgatory for a long time; Piñata gave him the career he has now and is the reason we’ll always anticipate whatever he does next. — M. Shorter

    29. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION (2017)

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    St Vincent Masseduction

    Annie Clark was already highly regarded for her artistry by the time she delivered MASSEDUCTION, but this is the record that saw her genius explode into a pop art magnum opus. It arrived as the kind of album that shook you off your feet, forcing you to realign your understanding of both the creator responsible for it and the medium in which they were working.

    From track to track, it challenges you to expect anything, yet remains wholly cohesive as it transitions from bombastic hits like “Los Ageless” into deeply personal odes like “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” Call it electropop, call it art rock, call it indie, call it glam — it is all those things and in sum just one thing: perfection.— B. Kaye

    28. Bad Bunny – X 100PRE (2018)

    Bad Bunny x100pre

    Bad Bunny stole Santa’s thunder on Christmas Eve of 2018 when he dropped X 100PRE down the chimney. Even before the surprise release of his debut album, the former grocery bagger and Soundcloud rapper had matured into a major star, with his Cardi B collab “I Like It” vaulting to the No. 1 spot in the US. But with X 100PRE — a stylized take on “por siempre,” or “forever” — Bad Bunny exceeded all expectations.

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    Bad Bunny has a globe-hopping ear and impeccable taste in beats, vacationing in sounds including trap (“200 Mph”), dembow (“La Romana”), R&B (“Como Antes”), and of course, the toe-tapping synthesis of old-school reggaeton and fresh Latin trap that’s become practically synonymous with his name. The album ends with “MIA,” with Drake singing the hook in Spanish. It proved to be an apt metaphor for Bad Bunny’s career; instead of compromising to meet the rest of the pop world, he brought pop to him. — W.G.

    27. The National – High Violet (2010)

    The National High Violet

    Where its predecessor, Boxer, often felt more concerned with individual relationships, High Violet is The National’s meditation on society as a whole. “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe,” frontman Matt Berninger sings on the thrilling “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” a universal anthem for anyone who’s left their hometown and never looked back. The National may sound like the spokespeople for melodramatic, college-educated millennial men who’d talk your ear off about Charles Dickens at a house party, but the band also smartly bridge the gap into something less pretentious and more empathetic. — A.J.

    26. Pusha T – Daytona (2018)

    Pusha T Daytona

    Thanks to the vicious closing track, “Infrared,” Daytona will forever be remembered for kicking off a contentious feud with Drake that pulled Kanye West into the mix, but it’s a great album in its own right. West’s strict seven-track edict for his Wyoming Sessions ensured that there couldn’t be any filler, forcing Pusha T to fully embrace his skills as a coke rap specialist. Tackling Kanye’s ambitious production with aplomb, Push elevated his game and concocted his most potent solo work to date on standout tracks like the self-congratulatory “If You Know You Know” and the chilling “Santeria.” — E.F.

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    25. Turnstile – GLOW ON (2021)

    Turnstile Glow On

    By the 2020s, Turnstile were already a much-loved band within the hardcore scene, but even the group’s most faithful believers must have been surprised by the meteoric rise of these scrappy underwater bois. By injecting dreamy textures and sticky melodies into the band’s blood-pumping ragers, GLOW ON rightfully catapulted Turnstile into the stratosphere (we even crowned them our Heavy Band of the Year in 2021).

    The songs are simply undeniable. From the energetic, inviting opening of “MYSTERY” to the percussive anger of “BLACKOUT,” the violent riff of “HOLIDAY” to the beautiful cool-down of “ALIEN LOVE CALL,” GLOW ON’s blows are swift and powerful. Listeners be warned: This album may very well compel you to break something, only to have you sitting on the edge of your bed, contemplating it all. — J.K.

    24. Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016)

    Solange A Seat At The Table

    By the mid-2010s, Solange had toyed with paint-by-numbers R&B and the throwback sounds of 60s-era Motown during her recording career, and was mostly still known as Beyoncé’s kid sister. But with 2016’s A Seat at the Table, the younger member of the Knowles dynasty established her own sound and stepped out of Queen Bey’s shadow once and for all. Across 21 tracks rooted in neo-soul, funk and experimental R&B, Solange carved out her own seat at the proverbial table, all while exploring themes of Black rage, disenfranchisement, perseverance and, ultimately, greatness. — G.R.

    23. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)

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    bon iver bon iver best albums of the last 15 yearsBon Iver opens with the sound of a bell buoy gently clanging over ocean waves and ends with a slowly decaying synth. That sonic shift well describes Bon Iver’s entrance into the “indie folk” mainstream with their 2011 self-titled LP. The genre was swiftly losing favor with critics, thanks in large part to the explosion of clap-stomp clichés and the belabored concept of the isolated cabin record (something Bon Iver had already perfect back on 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago). Justin Vernon came through with a sound that took the genre in more artistically pleasing and wondrous directions, creating intimate yet bold compositions.

    The album employs bowed instruments as compliments to more experimental synths and the generosity of Colin Stetson’s bass sax, creating something that is simultaneously ethereal and hard-hitting. Bon Iver built a sonic world in which, regardless of how well you understood those multi-tracked harmonies, you were moved. Nothing in the genre at the time felt so wholly singular, and little has since. — B. Kaye

    22. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (2018)

    Kacey Musgraves Golden hour

    On her first two records, Kacey Musgraves presented herself as a witty country music outsider who wanted no part of Nashville’s Good Ol’ Boys Club, displaying a prowess for penning relatable, you-do-you songs like “Follow Your Arrow” and “Biscuits.” But for all the respective merits of Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material (plus 2016’s A Very Kacey Christmas), Musgraves’ masterpiece came in 2018 with Golden Hour.

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    Featuring lush co-production from Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, Musgraves pulls from different eras — the dance floor disco of “High Horse,” the acid country of “Slow Burn” — and manages to craft an album that feels both contemporary and timeless. — S.D.

    21. SZA – Ctrl (2017)

    SZA CTRL

    In between writing songs for Rihanna and Beyoncé, Solana Rowe spent nearly four years crafting her debut album as SZA. When Ctrl was finally released in mid-2017 after significant delays from her label — something she’s still battling today — it was easy to see that all the time she spent was paying off. Ctrl’s stream-of-conscious, free-form energy demonstrated SZA as a truly creative and inventive artist, all tied together in a cohesive collage of introspective R&B.

    SZA claims she free-styled a majority of the lyrics on Ctrl, which is easy to believe, given the way she loads instrumental phrases with anxious musings; but it’s all the more surprising on a song like “Garden (Say It Like Dat),” where she lays out all her insecurities with such detail and vulnerability that it feels lifted from a diary. Five years later, Ctrl is still a massive statement piece from a truly gifted vocalist and songwriter, and her personal exploration of feeling a lack of control in her life is something we can all relate to. — P.R.

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    20. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)

    Arcade Fire The Suburbs

    We wrote a whole essay about how hard it is to separate art from artist, so although this is being written while we’re still wrestling with the allegations levied against Win Butler, we have to be honest about our assessment of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in the context of the last 15 years.

    Immediately upon its arrival, it established itself as a high-water mark in indie, daring bands of the next decade to produce a more accomplished record. Unfolding like an apocalyptic adventure through dystopian suburban living, the tracklist is filled with songs that use nostalgic feelings (“City with No Children,” “Ready to Start”) to make grand, resonating statements about the present (“Sprawl II [Mountains Beyond Mountains],” “We Used to Wait”), all with a dark sense of hope.

    As a result, the record sublimated into “universal acclaim” in a way few others have: Not only did The Suburbs top as many critics’ year-end lists as fans’, but it won Album of the Year at the 2011 Juno Awards, the Grammys, and (in the International category) the BRIT Awards, and took home the Polaris Music Prize. Even in retrospect, it’s hard to argue with all that praise. — B. Kaye

    19. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)

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    Daft Punk Random Access Memories

    Revisiting Random Access Memories makes the reminder of Daft Punk’s dissolution feel all the more raw and painful, as what may end up being the band’s final studio collaboration remains dazzling. The Grammy-winning album is laced with disco influences, especially the legacy of Giorgio Moroder (whose life story is featured in the spoken word track “Giorgio by Moroder”), and was immediately electric thanks to breakout single “Get Lucky,” featuring the chill yet soulful vocals of Pharrell Williams.

    But beyond “Get Lucky,” Random Access Memories is a whole epic listening experience, one where the group’s love for their craft really shines. Also, if we didn’t have this album, we wouldn’t have this incredible Mad Men mash-up, and that would be a tragedy for the ages. — Liz Shannon Miller

    18. Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)

    Frank Ocean Blond

    Blonde came when we needed it the most — at the end of 2016, two months before a historic election, in a moment where Frank Ocean’s unique wisdom couldn’t have been more in demand. But Blonde didn’t serve the purpose that many expected it would. Instead, Blonde brought the intense perfectionism of Ocean’s previous effort, Channel Orange, and added a quiet kind of doubt to it all.

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    Little details and bold, sweeping choices characterize the best of Blonde: The ending of “Ivy” trailing off into an awkward climax, the lopsided switch in “Nights,” the sloppy choir of harmonies that offset the gentle melodies in “White Ferrari”, the frequent absence of percussion and drums, suspending the momentum of these tracks into a more open-ended crawl, and the ways in which he manipulates his own vocals, creating distance between the listener’s idea of Frank Ocean and the way he sees himself.

    In the context of men in pop music being “vulnerable, but aloof” — a common theme that is still very popular today — Blonde is a definitive exploration of masculinity and the fear and regret that Ocean couldn’t sever himself from. — P.R.

    17. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound (2017)

    Jason Isbell The Nashville sound

    That title, The Nashville Sound, is a bitter joke taken from the barnstorming “White Man’s World”: “Mama wants to change that Nashville sound,” Jason Isbell sings to his daughter about his wife, the songwriter Amanda Shires, “but they’re never gonna let her.”

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    The Nashville Sound is full of characters in various stages of acceptance over the things they cannot change. “Last of My Kind” finds a country boy falling into a citywide abyss; a hopeless protagonist imagines a better life on “Tupelo;” while in “Cumberland Gap,” the main character would rather disappear, singing, “Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole.”

    But Isbell can also be thankful for unanswered prayers, most especially on “If We Were Vampires,” which thumbs its nose at immortality. “It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever/ Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone,” he muses. “Maybe time running out is a gift/ I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift/ And give you every second I can find/ And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind.” There, too, he may not get his wish, but as The Nashville Sound so movingly demonstrates, we can find beauty in the world in spite of almost anything. — W.G.

    16. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020)

    Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters

    How many of us named Fetch the Bolt Cutters our pandemic album? Fiona Apple’s fifth full-length arrived just over a month after COVID-19 was first detected in the US; recorded mostly at her home in Venice Beach over a span of five years, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is an appropriate soundtrack for isolation, feeling at once both intimate and boundless, both high-stakes and comforting.

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    But most importantly, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is perhaps Apple at her most empowered: “Fetch the bolt cutters/ I’ve been in here too long,” she sings on the album’s title track, a bittersweet acknowledgement of turning a new leaf. — A.J.

    15. David Bowie – ★ (2016)

    David Bowie Blackstar

    Death is a topic often addressed by songwriters. From Appalachian murder ballads to albums inspired by true personal tragedy (A Crow Looked at Me, Stage Four, Skeleton Tree), death’s mystery and inevitability has inspired some of the most emotionally harrowing music out there. But there’s something particularly affecting about an artist addressing his own imminent death, then passing a mere two days after the album’s release.

    (pronounced Blackstar) is David Bowie’s expertly-crafted swan song. Even without the added weight of its context, ’s songs are experimental, genre-fusing, and intensely gratifying — they just also happen to capture the spirit of death like few works of art have before. Leave it to Bowie to depart from this plane with one final masterpiece; to not get dragged into oblivion kicking and screaming, but to go out on his own, fittingly artful terms. — J.K.

    14. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

    Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city

    There were Kendrick Lamar projects before his 2012 sophomore album, but this is the one that etched his name in hip-hop history and ushered his ascent into rap royalty. good kid, m.A.A.d city interrogates Compton, the generation raised in the midst of the Crack era, and so called allure of living in a gangster’s paradise. Kendrick’s Aftermath debut is less of an album than it is a dissertation. But Kendrick always found a way to make his musings entertaining.

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    “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is a song about the ills of alcoholism, but made for people to throw their cups in the air. The album is laced with that type of dichotomy, befitting the narrative of a kid doing his best to survive the place he calls home even if he has more in common with its inhabitants than he’s comfortable admitting. Kendrick details loss, love, dreams, hopes, and despair at the fact he may never get out of Compton. And if he does, it’ll be in a pine box because he succumbed to a bullet or or his own demons.

    The best albums go beyond capturing moments in time; they transcend generations. good kid, m.A.A.d city goes beyond the millennials it directly spoke to because even to this day, there’s a young kid losing their mind to “Backseat Freestyle” or “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” — M. Shorter

    13. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

    Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City

    Vampire Weekend are one of those bands that, no matter how they change, they’ll likely always sound like Vampire Weekend. But by leaving behind the modernized Graceland aping they pulled on their first two records, they really found themselves on their third LP, Modern Vampires of the City. Here, they weren’t forcing anything that wasn’t their own creative impulses, and it showed in a more mature, cohesive collection.

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    That doesn’t mean they’re not still borrowing from plenty of other sources (“Step,” “Ya Hey”), but they’re doing it in a way that feels far more imaginative and — in the end — wholly enjoyable. All along, it probes questions of religion (“Unbelievers,” “Worship You”) and transience (“Diane Young,” “Hannah Hunt”) from the vantage point of a Divine wanderers’ New York City. The fanciful use of strings and hyper-literate lyricism is all still there, only couched with an ingenuity that feels both more honest and more widely appealing than anything else Vampire Weekend has done.

    It is far and away Vampire Weekend’s best work to date, and as such one of the defining indie albums of the 21st century. — B. Kaye

    12. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY! (2019)

    Jamila Woods Legacy! Legacy!

    The past is present on LEGACY! LEGACY!, Jamila Woods’s album-length wrestling match with creators of the last century. “These great greats won’t let me lie,” she begins on “BETTY,” which uses funk pioneer Betty Davis to explore what it means to be a radical woman — including the pushback from men. Woods shows the flip side by looking at Davis’ ex-husband on “MILES.” “I don’t take requests,” she has Miles Davis say. “I do/ What I do/ Not for you,” she sings, relishing the life of a man free to ignore expectations.

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    Every track rewards repeat listens. “GIOVANNI,” based on a poem by Nikki Giovanni, finds Woods as a gardener harvesting the hard work of generations of women, while “FRIDA,” after the painter Friday Kahlo, longs for balance between self and spouse, represented by the real bridge that connected the separate homes of Kahlo and Diego Rivera. As the name suggests, LEGACY! LEGACY! is concerned with two separate kinds of legacies: the one passed down through history, and the one Woods is creating herself. — W.G.


    The following 11 albums aren’t just some of the best albums of the last 15 years, they’re some of the greatest ever. Check out our list of the 100 Great Albums of All Time here to read more about each of these records.

    11. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth (2018)

    Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth

    In 2015, saxophonist Kamasi Washington announced his arrival to mainstream audiences on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Only months later, he cemented his place at the front of jazz’s vanguard with his equally expansive major label debut, The Epic, largely developed with his compatriots in Los Angeles’ West Coast Get Down jazz collective. But it was the follow-up, 2018’s Heaven & Earth, that more accurately reflects the heights he can reach from his ascended headspace… read the rest of the Heaven and Earth writeup here.

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    10. Adele – 21 (2011)

    Adele 21

    The term “cultural reset” became overused at a certain point, but if it applies anywhere in this conversation, it’s to Adele’s 21. Despite the singer’s existing achievements prior to the album’s release, the world-dominating success of 21 was something of a surprise; it was as rare then as it would be now for an emotional, sometimes dark, bluesy, melancholy album to not just do well on the charts, but remain the best-selling album for two consecutive years… read the rest of the 21 writeup here.

    09. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer (2018)

    Janelle Monae Dirty Computer

    How can we reasonably say an album that’s only four years old — that didn’t even top our best-of list the year it was released (it ranked at No. 2) — is one of the best ever? Better question: How do you consider an album so rich with pop mastery and so authentic in its identity anything but one of the best ever?… read the rest of the Dirty Computer writeup here.

    08. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)

    Frank Ocean Channel Orange

    Before Channel Orange, Frank Ocean was commonly known as one of Odd Future’s most impressive collaborators; although his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, was a major introduction to his unique songwriting, he hadn’t yet separated himself from the pack. But when Channel Orange came along, it was difficult to see how this man had been identified as anything other than superstarread the rest of the Channel Orange writeup here.

    07. Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)

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    Radiohead In Rainbows

    Ask three different Radiohead fans what their favorite Radiohead album is, and you’ll likely hear three different titles. But one of them will almost certainly be In Rainbows, in part because almost certainly none of them shook the music world quite like that album did… read the rest of the In Rainbows writeup here.

    06. Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster (2009)

    Lady Gaga The Fame Monster

    It’s glamorous, it’s Gothic, it’s the runway, it’s a dance floor — The Fame Monster is everything. Lady Gaga was in her early 20s when she dropped this modern pop masterpiece, a confident album with a clear vision. Gaga knew her destination, and knew exactly how she wanted to get there — and she succeeded… read the rest of the Fame Monster writeup here.

    05. Taylor Swift – 1989 (2014)

    Taylor Swift 1989

    Taylor Swift’s metamorphosis into a full-fledged pop star reached an apex with 1989. In a sense, Swift eased her longtime listeners into it; while her discography to date at that time had pulled plenty of pop touches into her modern country sound, 1989 officially left the cowboy boots behind and began a glittery new adventure… read the rest of the 1989 writeup here.

    04. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)

    Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel

    “I just wanna feel everything,” Fiona Apple coos on “Every Single Night,” the sparkling opener to her fourth studio album, the interminably named (deep breath) The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Across the entirely-acoustic project, Apple does just that… read the rest of the Idler Wheel… writeup here.

    03. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

    Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

    In the 12 years since its release, the discourse surrounding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has almost been as grandiose as the music itself. Writers have searched for the proper adjective to describe the eclectic production, settling on words like ambitious, opulent, groundbreaking, world-beating – all of them fitting… read the rest of the MBDTF writeup here.

    02. Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016)

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    Beyonce Lemonade

    Beyoncé’s 2016 surprise-released visual album is at once deeply personal and sweepingly political. Written in the aftermath of JAY-Z’s infamous infidelity, the artist works through grief and anger (“Pray You Catch Me,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself”) and emerges as the bad bitch she always was (“Sorry”), with a stronger relationship to boot (“All Night”)… read the rest of the Lemonade writeup here.

    01. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

    Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly

    Kendrick Lamar didn’t have to look beyond Compton for his major label debut, good Kid, m.A.A.d city, but traveled all the way to South Africa to find inspiration for his magnum opus, To Pimp a Butterfly. Taking in historic sites like Nelson Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island led him to scrap “two or three albums worth of material” before putting together a collection that went beyond the confines of hip-hop to incorporate jazz, funk, and soul… read the rest of the To Pimp a Butterfly writeup here.

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