top 10 albums of the 2010s
2010: Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Listening to this album in early high school, I imagined that I would one day walk down a collegiate sidewalk listening to “Memory Boy.” Or listen to “Revival” while perusing my wardrobe for low-rise jeans that are two inches (not one) below my belly-button, or while attempting to cook a frittata and achieving more of a confusing stir-fry. Indeed, I do these things now. Deerhunter’s 2010 release is just sonically joyful, and this album makes me want to believe in doing things (or having done things) in an idyllic manner, as “halcyon” suggests.
2011: Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
Vile’s album is almost hyper-normal—the work of a music fan more than a musician, which is why I am drawn to it. A little R.E.M.-y with its depressive pop sensibility on “Jesus Fever,” a little Dylan-y with its Shakespearean vocal twists on “Puppet To The Man,” and all-around tale-teller Lou Reed-y, this album is derivative in the most genuine way. The album’s sincerity in stylistic imitation is endearing. Consider that Vile released it to mark his departure from the (soon-to-be-Grammy-winning) band he played guitar for, The War On Drugs, and we find yet another layer of humility in the work.
HIGHLIGHT: “Jesus Fever”
2012: Jonny Greenwood – The Master
This is the second soundtrack Radiohead bassist Jonny Greenwood composed for director Paul Thomas Anderson—one that is as cinematic as Anderson’s epic film. He captures a sense of pre-war America in sprawling orchestral arrangements, while also portraying the disturbing, post-war atmosphere in sparse tracks like “Able-Bodied Seaman.” One of the reasons why The Master is among my favorite films is that it distorts an Austenian sort of restraint and puts it forward with a haunting, masculine stillness, presenting its narrative as close-to-natural as much as it is unnatural. In my opinion, Greenwood perfectly encapsulates the film’s contradictory analogues of emotional chaos and stillness.
HIGHLIGHT: “Get Thee Behind Me Satan feat. Ella Fitzgerald”
2013: Kanye – Yeezus
Here, we have Kanye West when he began to be very “New Kanye”—Yeezus amalgamates over-the-top ego and character with a jarring shift to electro and noisy pitches. With collaborators like Arca, Hudson Mohawke, and Daft Punk, Kanye departs, warps, drills, and digitizes hip hop in an unprecedented manner for the producer-rapper. The album is messy and minimal; it captures conflict in its egotistical sonic highs and chaotic conceits.
HIGHLIGHT: “I Am a God”
2014: Amen Dunes – Love
Damon McMahon, under project name Amen Dunes, whines a lot on this album, but these whines soar in a Tim Buckleyan manner—folk at its most elemental. The album resembles a collection of childhood tunes in its repetition, but it has an overwhelming sense of expansion and climax with its meditative chord progressions in songs like “White Child” and “Lonely Richard.” Love feels devotional, as the title may suggest. Though McMahon doesn’t make the object of devotion exactly clear, it’s that ambiguous gospel of experience that makes this album stand out.
HIGHLIGHT: “Lonely Richard”
2015: Travis Scott – Rodeo
Rodeo was Travis Scott’s debut studio album—establishing the dark, hedonistic production that Scott is now heralded for. Though he relies on standard hip hop braggadocio and decadent narratives of the Hollywood Hills, on tracks like “90210” and “Nightcrawler,” Scott shows what trap is capable of: an almost tangible, hyper-synthetic architecture of sound. Scott’s curation of over-the-top autotune, bizarre feature selection, and plasticky production formulate the audible translation of his fame and success.
2016: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Yes, 2016 is the year that Beyoncé’s Lemonade was released, and I don’t have an exact explanation as to why I favor Radiohead’s release. But I can guess that Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool remains my favorite because of how divisive the album is. None of the songs on the album are specifically meme-able or tweet-able—they are all too atmospheric and ambient and dodgy in genre. But A Moon Shaped Pool’s amalgamation of genre and shape is what attracts me to it. From the quick prog-ness of “Burn The Witch” to the ambient, spacey “Glass Eyes,” Radiohead brings forth a patient sort of artfulness.
HIGHLIGHT: “True Love Waits”
2017: LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
I have a shirt that proclaims “LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, BACK FROM THE DEAD.” And this sort of mantra is what fascinates me about their comeback fourth studio album. Following 2010’s This is Happening, LCD Soundsystem had announced that they were officially disbanding—complete with the whole farewell tour shebang—only to reunite five years later and release a number-one-charting album. But with American Dream, bandleader James Murphy perfectly captures a musical sort of renaissance, of “coming back from the dead” of nostalgic cult and obsession. Murphy understood the combination of anxiety and cynicism that fans had about the new album, and he managed to combat it. It’s not exactly disingenuous, either—it doesn’t seem like Murphy booby-trapped music geeks and nerds to feed into a cultural trap. Instead, he allows them a glimpse of cultural interiority.
HIGHLIGHT: “American Dream”
2018: Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks
The 14th volume of Bob Dylan’s archival “bootleg” series, More Blood, More Tracks comes in two versions: a one-disc collection with 11 tracks, and a six-disc collection with 87 tracks. This compilation of previously unreleased recordings is from sessions for the original 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. With alternate takes of familiar classics like “Tangled Up in Blue,” Dylan’s new installment in his bootleg series gives me a glimpse into his private life, which isn’t necessarily comprised of private details. More Blood, More Tracks is eye-opening; the album’s obsessive repetitiveness makes Dylan even more visible as a person and less of a perfect mythic figure. I couldn’t imagine Mick Jagger being friends with Dylan until hearing their take of “Meet Me in the Morning” and listening to them argue about who plays slide guitar.
HIGHLIGHT: “Tangled Up in Blue (Take 3, Remake 3)”
2019: Wilco – Ode to Joy
Jeff Tweedy’s 2019 release marks Wilco’s return to whispery, subtle charm. After the lukewarm albums Schmilco and Star Wars, Ode to Joy feels like a revelation—but it doesn’t exactly sound like one. In this album, I feel as though Wilco is doing what Wilco does best, which is crafting a gangly collection of beautiful melodies. Wilco returns to their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot comfort zone of introspective indie rock, but they find a way to keep their sound spiritually rich with loose touches of emotional weight.
HIGHLIGHT: “White Wooden Cross”