Hey so here it is. The final 10 of the decade so far. Spoiler alert: it’s not too surprising. A lot of these albums are adored by tons of people. They’re overall adored albums. There’s maybe like, one to two surprises AKA albums that aren’t normally seen in “Top Indie Babby Releases” lists, but that’s about it. A lot of these descriptions really don’t do the albums justice, unfortunately. A lot of these were written at 3:00am in bursts while others were written. But anyways, it’s a pretty complete list, I’d say. I personally adore all the albums here. They all mean something to me, so that’s why I’m writing about them. So there. Hope you enjoy.
10. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
I have to be honest: aside from “Criminal,” this was my first full Fiona Apple experience. I mean, yeah, this record is incredible and it’s a good first experience, but I didn’t have the years of fantastic pop songwriting and the weight of her hiatus leading up to it. Nevertheless, MAN did this album slay me back in 2012. Apple’s voice is undoubtedly great, but the simplistic, cutting instrumentals on this album is what sold me, I think. Little details like the children laughing and screaming on “Werewolf” and the strange mechanical sounds on “Jonathan.” The theatrics of her voice while singing about all this pain she’s going through is just something special. I definitely don’t do it justice. I won’t be doing any of these albums justice. Just go out and check them all out if you haven’t already.
9. Hop Along – Get Disowned
I was introduced to this album in early 2013 via the Internet and boy howdy has it latched onto my psyche like an extra limb. The stellar, ultra-unique voice of front woman Frances Quinlan originally hooked me in, but then after repeated listens and digestion of the lyrics, plus the excellent variation of rock and folk instrumentation, this album was certified gold status for me. If you haven’t listened to Hop Along, I’ll bet that the exact same thing happens to you. Quinlan’s voice is just so striking and incredible. The rest of the album is just a backdrop, a good backdrop at that, to her stories. And the stories, lemme tell you: these lyrics rip me apart. Although I don’t directly identify with all the tales she’s spinning, I get easily wrapped up in them all. This album is essential.
8. Death Grips – The Money Store
Oh Death Grips, I owe it all to thee. This is definitely the breakout point for me that got me into other more “aggressive” forms of music, for sure. I was aware of Death Grips before The Money Store, but this by far got me into the band, like many other current fans. At the time, there was just nothing else that sounded like it. I mean, even now there’s nothing that I’ve heard that captures that visceral madness that this record still stirs up in me. It came out at the very end of my freshman year of college and I don’t remember showing it to a lot of my friends due to paranoia that they’d destroy me. Anyway, this album is super unique and I love it endlessly.
7. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
I didn’t come into fully adoring this album until mid-2014 when I first started commuting by train to NYC. That time in my life really helped me cement truly favorite albums of mine, since it helped me slow down and not make me listen to a million things at once. But back to this record: it’s incredible! A flawless fusion of funk, jazz, hip-hop and more forms of electronic music than you can count on your fingers. It’s cinematic, the songs flow into one another, and it’s original and thought provoking as well as being groovy as all hell. In my last year of college I wrote almost every paper to this album. It really put me in the zone. Overall, it’s just a really great, psychedelic ride through variable, imaginative soundscapes that influenced a ton of hip hop production in the current state of 2015, as we’ll see on my #2 album of the decade so far.
6. Beach House – Teen Dream
Wow! How important is this album to me? Pretty dang important, I gotta say. I discovered Beach House before this album came out when I saw them open for Grizzly Bear in 2009. I thought they were decent and enjoyed the overall aesthetic of this whole “dream pop” thing. Oh if I had only known that this album would absorb me into its phosphorescent effervescence and establish in me a hopeful lifelong relationship with this thing called “dream pop.” This album gave the dream pop scene gallant wings, helping it break out of the bedrooms it had been trapped in for so long. With wings outstretched, lead singer Victoria Legrand’s gorgeous voice was able to soar over grassy plains and mountaintops and waterfalls and blinking cityscapes and into the hearts of yearning lovers everywhere. But these wings gifted to Beach House could retract as well, allowing them to transform back into their previous bedroom pop incarnation and facilitated accessible, simple songwriting for all to enjoy, not just the lofty romantics. With a bold depth upgrade to their sound, Beach House cemented themselves as pop heroes with Teen Dream as well as inspiring a whole new generation of full-hearted romantics, searching for their love in the sky thanks to their newly-granted wings.
5. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
With an artist like St. Vincent, I’ve found that there’s no clear-cut fan favorite album in her discography. Each person has their own favorite, but the other ones always come close. Mine is obviously Strange Mercy. I also found that people are usually in two St. Vincent fan camps – those who prefer pre-Strange Mercy St. Vincent vs. those who prefer post-Strange Mercy St. Vincent. This record is a clear turning point in Clark’s career, establishing her as an extremely gutsy and amazingly talented musician by branching out to explore how to fit bizarre, alien sounds into porcelain-contained indie rock songs. Her 2014 self-titled record is the marker of how far out she can reach out in terms of experimentation and bold songwriting, but at times feels a little too overblown and stuffed & scattered with ideas. Strange Mercy, however, is in my mind the perfect balance of experimental songwriting while sticking to a single voice to be carried throughout the album. This is not to say that all the songs on the album sound the same. There’s plenty of variation on this record, but it’s just that in this record all the songs exist in the same universe and have their feet planted on the ground, where in St. Vincent Clark is pulling songs from all different planes of existence and sticking them together like an intergalactic all-star team. Strange Mercy also has great pacing, with songs smartly transferring energy from one another starting with throbbing “Chloe In The Afternoon” and ending with triumphant “Year Of The Tiger.” The organic transfer of energy between songs throughout an album is crucial – each song flexes their dynamic and tempo ranges, with one song starting as a slow plod and ending with a wicked, mashed out guitar solo. But going back to pacing, if a song ends low energy, chances are the next song will start with a slow, building energy. The other faction of pre-Strange Mercy fans I’ll explain later, but for now, let’s just bask in the brilliance of this one.
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
This was my favorite album of 2010 back in high school. It’s an album that soundtracked my final years of high school and my final years in my home state of Michigan. It’s an album that I would listen to after hanging out with friends, with this nagging thought in the back of my head that I might never see these people ever again. These are the thoughts that are associated with this record, believe it or not, and I still voluntarily listen to it often. Songs like “Home” and “All I Want” inspires feelings of homesickness within me, but that’s okay. That’s what life is all about. LCD Soundsystem disbanded in late 2010 after this album was released, which is kind of like a group of friends moving away to different colleges and eventually different states to work full time jobs. The death of youth. The awakening of adulthood. The little pleasures derived from ephemera. The little rush of seeing a notification on Facebook. Letting loose on the weekend and on weeknights. Becoming a better person, maybe if only in baby steps. That’s what I think this record is all about. That’s what it means to me, besides being a fantastic electronica record. But the fact that it still inspires the same, ardent message within me every time means there’s something going right in the woodwork there.
3. Arca – &&&&&
As we venture near the end of the Top 10, I feel like the less I have to explain why these albums deserve to be in their respective spots. In the case of most of these records, thousands if not millions of fans adore them. With &&&&&, I feel like I still have some ‘splaining to do. This was my first taste of Arca’s demented, futuristic breed of electronic music and it effortlessly hooked me in upon first listen. It functions more as a mix rather than an album, since it was originally posted on Soundcloud as a continuous ~25-minute mix that was eventually broken into individual tracks by fervent fans. This means that tracks transition and flow into one another, making the listening experience easy, despite the sometimes abrasive and alien sounds flying at you at a breakneck pace. Speaking on the sounds of this project – they’re just all over the place. There are warped pianos, samples of Dan Bejar, digitally stretched babble, highly synthesized choirs, pained calls from beyond, delicate plinking synths and oh so much bass. The bass! There’s nothing else like this I can think of, except for isolated moments on Kanye West’s Yeezus, which Arca had a hand in producing, so there we go. It’s murky, it’s alien, it’s incredible, and it’s likely unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, so you should start listening right now.
2. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
I feel like it makes sense for there to be so much hip hop and electronic music in my top 10, since they’re some of the newest and quickly evolving forms of music right now. One vital aspect of hip-hop, especially in this time period, is that it seems like the most conducive art form for social commentary. Social commentary in mainstream rock n’ roll seems pretty played out and indulgent at this point, but with hip-hop, there’s space for social issues to be brought up and addressed by the community that listens to said hip-hop songs. In the case of Kendrick Lamar, I’d say he’s been using this platform to the best of his ability with two already classic-status albums, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City & his latest, To Pimp A Butterfly. The topics range from gang violence & politics, alcoholism & drug abuse, success & fame, hip-hop politics, love, to life in poverty, all with incredibly dreamy and impressive instrumentals definitely taking inspiration from jazzy electronic hotspots Flying Lotus, along with other accessible trends in hip hop today. So accessible that it can be acceptable in parties as well as chilled out, introspective moments. It even has a Beach House sample. How incredible is that?
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Do I really need to say anything about this one? Sometimes when I listen to this from the start, I think back to high school to when I first listened to this record and was completely blown away. In fact, this album actually still vividly reminds me of winter 2010-2011, since I had this CD in my car for about three months straight. Just really great memories synced with this album. But as an album, or maybe even a moment in history, this is such a significantly important moment for hip-hop and music in general: Elton John? Chris Rock? King Crimson? Gil-Scott Heron? A fishy Aphex Twin lift? A plethora of other relevant pop and rap stars? All united under one massive stadium roof? In some universes, especially one set in 2015, that formula spells disaster with visions of memes, ad campaigns, PR fiascos, etc. But under the jurisdiction of Mr. Kanye West in the year 2010, it could have only meant a wild success. Sure, there are some weaker songs on here and especially some weak features, but the fact that these features are even there is impressive. It’s a giant palace of an album. An estate, if you will, with each artist residing in gold-plated rooms with red carpets, with West acting as the type of Great Gatsby that actually gets what he wants in the end. Nothing at the time sounded like this and still nothing quite does. Truly a landmark moment for this century for sure.