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Emerald Recommends: Best Albums of the Decade (So Far)



In the last six years, we’ve seen some titanic, industry-rattling musical releases come to the forefront, like Beyoncé‘s self-titled from 2013 or Taylor Swift’s 1989 in 2014. We’ve witnessed new acts come out with profoundly beautiful debuts (Sylvan Esso‘s self-titled from 2014) and even celebrities getting super self-indulgent (Kanye’s sprawling 2010 record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy).

With the end of 2015 a-comin’, the Emerald gives a nod to some of the finest releases of the decade, so far.

Here’s our Spotify playlist of the best of 2010-2015:

Have One On Me – Joanna Newsom (Released: Feb. 23, 2010)

 

A 124-minute decoupage of epic aspirations, held together with a precise degree of detail and deliberation. Its coquettish, baroque-pop influences beckon comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush, but Newsom is certainly in a league of her own. The album features a number of immaculate tracks, most notably “Soft As Chalk,” “Easy” and “Good Intentions Paving Company.” In 2015, Newsom released her follow-up Divers and called Spotify “the banana of the music industry.” — Emerson Malone

The Monitor – Titus Andronicus (Released: March 9, 2010)

 

An ambitious concept album that laments the bummer of living in New Jersey through an extended, kind-of-a-stretch, metaphor of the violence and bloodshed of The Civil War. If your coffee rations go thin in the morning, simply put on “A More Perfect Union” to get equally fired up. In 2015, Titus put out another conceptual epic, A Most Lamentable Tragedy. — Emerson Malone

New Amerykah Pt. II: Return Of The Ankh – Erykah Badu (Released: March 30, 2010)

It’s rare for an artist to make their masterpiece this late in their career, let alone one that makes you feel like you’re listening to them again for the first time. New Amerykah Pt. II accomplishes both of these feats, in spite of being both a low-stakes release (the sequel to the more experimental but ultimately less engaging Pt. I from 2008) and sounding like nothing else she’s done before. Her early work was informed by contemporary R&B and hip hop. But after a nod to her earlier sound on the desolate “Window Seat,” she embraces warm, analog funk, switching to a sparser and more industrial sound on the second half for numbers like “Love” and “Fall In Love (Your Funeral).” (In case you were wondering, love is the primarily theme here.) Badu comes across as a towering monolith; wise, warm, often darkly funny and in complete control at all times. — Daniel Bromfield

EARL – Earl Sweatshirt (Released: March 31, 2010)

 

Earl recorded the lyrics to his debut mixtape at ages 15 and 16. Soon thereafter, he was sent to a boarding school in Samoa for several years, adding to his enigmatic mythos. Earl spits ultraviolent thoughts with ultravulgar lines over minimal beats and saw-toothed synths, all to full effect. He opens the self-titled track with an introduction as “a hot and bothered astronaut / crashing while jacking off to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating apple sauce.” In “epaR” he flirts with older girls, runs a red light and then recounts the best I’m-getting-pulled-over story on this side of “99 Problems.” Only this time, he has bodies in the trunk. File under “horrorcore.” In 2015, Earl released I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. — Emerson Malone

Queen of Denmark – John Grant (Released: April 19, 2010)

 

A brilliant debut album from Grant, the former lead singer of The Czars. Grant writes songs as though he’s storing his thoughts in a diary, and then steps on stage to tell everyone exactly how he feels about them. This album manifests his mischievous rage (on the title track, he quietly fumes, “You tell me that my life is based upon a lie / I casually mention that I pissed in your coffee”) and his more sentimental musings for his paramours, like on “Outer Space,” when he likens a love interest to an alien creature. In 2015, Grant released his third album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. — Emerson Malone

This is Happening – LCD Soundsystem (Released: May 17, 2010)

 

This was the swan song for LCD Soundsystem, an ensemble known producing some of the most texturally compelling dance tracks ever. Just listen to the bricklayer structure of “Dance Yourself Clean,” which muffles and shuffles along and doesn’t ease up until more than three minutes in. In “Drunk Girls,” James Murphy splices in tautological lines “We walk like pedestrians!” and non-sequiturs like “Drunk girls like to file complaints!” In 2015, Consequence of Sound and Billboard reported about a rumored reunion to take place next year, while Murphy wants to make music from the sounds of an NYC Subway. — Emerson Malone

Cerulean – Baths (Released: June 22, 2010)

 

21-year-old L.A. producer Will Wiesenfeld’s subtly devastating debut is an album about love and how nothing can or should stop it, expressed through artfully inarticulate language that captures both love’s ecstasy and inherent sensuality. Wiesenfeld loves profanity, but it’s the easiest way for a young man to convey the extreme fits of emotion that are at the core of what makes Cerulean beautiful. Much of the record is instrumental, but even these tracks use emotive melodies and samples pertaining to matters of the heart to convey the same amorous rapture as his pop songs. Wiesenfeld is gay, and many of his lyrics deal with being “still not valid,” appropriate given that it was released amid the furor around California’s Prop. 8. But Cerulean is no less powerful in America’s post-gay marriage era, in which violence against queer people still occurs with alarming regularity. — Daniel Bromfield

epic – Sharon Van Etten (Released: Sept. 21, 2010)

 

In Van Etten’s 32-minute wistful masterpiece, relying mostly on her guitar and elegant voice, she includes phenomenal tracks, like the emotive “Peace Sign” and the gorgeous “One Day.” Any listener who can get through this album – let alone “Save Yourself” – with a dry eye needs to seek immediate assistance; you may have lost your soul. In 2015, Van Etten released the EP I Don’t Want to Let You Down and had a song in a “Corona” commercial. – Emerson Malone

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West (Released: Nov. 22, 2010)

 

With this album, Kanye expanded the boundaries of the hip-hop genre. He paired profanities with symphonies and created a style that was the first of its kind. This revolutionary album didn’t sound like anything else, which was Kanye’s intention. He featured and jump-started the careers of multiple popular artists, including Nicki Minaj. West is definitive of the decade thus far in his creativity and his cockiness. But here he set a new standard and brought a new element of artistry to rap music. – Taylor Dalton

Kaputt – Destroyer (Released: Jan. 25, 2011)

 

The most gorgeous indie-rock record of the decade, Kaputt indulges in the ’80s worship so popular five years ago but steers clear of irony, its jazz-rock horns creating a fog for singer Dan Bejar to drift through. Bejar’s lyrics are often rambling and indulgent, but this record isn’t about his ego. Rather, the true star is arranger Ted Bois, who fills every inch of the record with undulating synths and those irrepressible horns. It’s worth getting Kaputt on vinyl just for Bois’ ambient piece “The Laziest River,” but the regular version is still plenty satisfying – and, given the presence of 11-minute coda “Bay Of Pigs,” maybe a bit excessive itself. – Daniel Bromfield

Yuck – Yuck (Released: Feb. 15, 2011)

 

On first listen Yuck might just seem like another ‘90s-influenced indie-rock band, but it is so much more than that. Though the use of extremely fuzzy guitar, slightly distorted clipping vocals and bittersweet melodies is akin to multiple 90s artists, Yuck’s 2011 self-titled debut isn’t a rip off. Yuck elevated everything fans of ‘90s rock, indie and noise are familiar with to the new heights of the present day. The release is a perfectly mixed masterpiece filled with raucous bangers like album opener “Get Away” and emotionally evocative ballads like “Shook Down,” in which lead singer Daniel Blumberg’s crooning of “You could be my destiny / You could mean that much to me” will get you every time. Don’t be surprised if the tracks on this release get stuck in your head til the rest of the decade and beyond. – Meerah Powell

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes (Released: May 3, 2011)

 

Helplessness Blues feels more like a prairie-home record than anything from Bon Iver (or, much less, even Fleet Foxes’ drummer Josh Tillman, now better known as Father John Misty). And FF didn’t even have to record it in a cabin in the woods to tap into that aesthetic. When we last heard from frontman Robin Pecknold, he was a student majoring in English at Columbia, and the last glimmer of hope for a third Fleet Foxes album was quickly extinguished. – Emerson Malone

The Whole Love – Wilco (Released: Sept. 27, 2011)

 

Wilco’s adventurous, diverse ninth album meanders between Jeff Tweedy’s whimsical whistling in “Dawned on Me” to Nels Cline’s flailing guitar in “Art of Almost.” It benefits from its multiple personality disorder: on “Born Alone,” Tweedy notes, “Sadness is my luxury” to “I Might” when Tweedy offers some generic condolences: “Get well soon, everybody!” It’s an essential Wilco album – openly comfortable in its somberness. In 2015, Wilco abruptly put out a surprise album called Star Wars to jump on the thunder of A Force Awakens. – Emerson Malone

Channel Orange – Frank Ocean (Released: July 10, 2012)

 

Frank Ocean transcends the containment of a single genre. His debut (and only) album pleases lovers of every genre. Ocean reclaimed the R&B sound and seamlessly became a monumental artist of the early 2010s. With three singles and a debut album, he made a name for himself in 2012 that stood the test of time. Three years later, no one has forgotten about Channel Orange or how great it is. In the height of its popularity, “Thinkin Bout You” played on the top 40 radio stations and Frank Ocean performed at the MTV VMA. Since then, his fans have survived with just nineteen songs and a few features. – Taylor Dalton

Trick – Alex G (Released: Nov. 2012)

 

Philadelphia artist Alex G is interesting to say the very least. Alex G, who began playing music when he was 13, gained a strong fan following through DIY releases on his bandcamp including 2012 release Trick. Though simple indie songs in nature for the most part with lofi, self-recorded sound quality and straightforward chord structures, Trick paints surreal pictures of deep, emotional relationships: family members, lovers, pets, you name it. Led mostly by Alex G’s chuggy guitar, which is usually tuned down to at least a drop D, the release also includes interludes of saxophone, synth and piano for a surprisingly funk-influenced addition to some tracks. The simplicity of Trick is part of what makes it so appealing. Most tracks on the LP follow basic verse-chorus-rarely bridge format, but still retain a hypnotizing, atmospheric quality. Every miniscule detail makes a ripple in this ocean of a release and it’s clear that Alex G has strategically layered and mixed every sound exactly where it should be. – Meerah Powell

MBV – My Bloody Valentine (Released: Feb. 2, 2013)

 

Jokingly compared to the sound of a whirring vacuum cleaner frequently, My Bloody Valentine is very seriously, without a doubt the epitome of the shoegaze genre as a whole. Delivering multiple noisy, atmospheric and unrelentingly beautiful releases throughout the 80s and 90s, most notably Loveless (1991), the band ceased playing in 1997. After an immense 22 year gap between albums, My Bloody Valentine released MBV in 2013. Part of the album was written before the band’s ‘97 breakup, and MBV retains all of My Bloody Valentine’s nostalgic charm fully without simply copying older material. Though many other shoegaze releases have dropped in past years MBV came through as something only the genre’s masters themselves could create. Led by reverb ridden, whammy bar riding guitars and soaring, slightly inaudible vocals from Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, MBV revealed that no amount of time could deafen My Bloody Valentine’s ear for perfection. – Meerah Powell

Amygdala – DJ Koze (Released: March 22, 2013)

 

Combining the sample-happy warmth of hip hop with the relentless drive of house, German producer DJ Koze’s self-proclaimed “Sgt. Pepper” Amygdala is a testament to the emotional power of dance music. Koze is a wizard with vocal samples, cutting up bits of old R&B and soul into abstract but achingly beautiful bursts of sound. But the most soulful presence here is the most unexpected. The pervasive 4/4 kick drum moves boldly through whatever Koze throws at it; it’s an inspirational entreaty to move through whatever bullshit life deals you. Why can’t we all be a little more like the kick? – Daniel Bromfield

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend (Released: May 14, 2013)

 
If Vampire Weekend has a magnum opus, this would be it. A great example of millennial-era songwriting, the album is full of songs about the anxiety of moving into adulthood. It’s about finding love, and losing it. It’s about searching for faith, and failing to do so. It’s all of these things and more. Each song on the album serves a purpose and no piece of vocals, drums, guitar, or any other instrumentation feels out of place. It might be a big departure from the band’s previous albums but it shows how Vampire Weekend has matured their songwriting and musical ability. While the album does have its catchy, radio-ready singles, they don’t really feel like singles when listening to the full album. Vampire Weekend manages to weave every song into a greater narrative about the disillusionment that comes with adulthood with beautiful instrumentation. Every piece of work created by the band’s members will be compared to this album, and there’s really no problem with that. – Alex Ruby

…Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age (Released: June 3, 2013)

 

The guest list on Clockwork is like a guest list for a fantasy dinner party; invitees include Elton John, Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails), Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys), Dave Grohl (of just about everything). Clockwork’s star power and Josh Homme’s hand at the wheel make for ten glorious tracks of heavy, medium-rare cuts of rock-n-roll and an inexhaustible record. Homme finds a nice niche betwixt the terror of his desert rock tunes and slides in some deliberately grammatically false lyrics, like on “Smooth Sailing” – “I got bruises and hickies, stitches and scars / I got my own theme music plays wherever I are” – or a declarative mission statement: “I blow my load over the status quo.” In 2015, Homme and his side-project band with Jesse Hughes – Eagles of Death Metal – put out Zipper Down. – Emerson Malone

AM – Arctic Monkeys (Released: Sept. 9, 2013)

 

They say rock n’ roll is dead, but the Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 studio album AM proves otherwise. Dark, gritty, poetic and brooding, AM is by far one of the best albums of the 2010s. Frontman Alex Turner’s deep, moody vocals emphasize the drama and sense of love and loss in the hookup culture of the 2010s. And despite its modern tone, it’s a true rock n’ roll album, epitomized by sex, drugs, desire, and long nights soaked in hard alcohol. With lyrics like “R U mine tomorrow, or just mine tonight?” Turner can sum up even the most complicated aspects of relationships. In the same vein, the lyrics “Do I wanna know / If this feeling flows both ways?” beautifully detail the crippling confusion of relationship status. There’s a confidence in the delivery of every line and every chord that makes AM unbelievably compelling and unique. AM is so perfect because it’s poetry, no matter how brutal the subject. Who says rock n’ roll is dead? – Shelby Chapman

Because The Internet – Childish Gambino (Released: Dec. 6, 2013)

Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) has come a long and winding way since his debut Camp. What started as an angry rapper spitting pop culture references into rhymes has turned into a moody lyricist with a critical look at our Internet-based society. Because The Internet is Gambino’s take on our modern world, with all its vices, oddities and situations we throw ourselves into. It’s not just an album, it’s an entire musical project. At the time of its release, Gambino also put out a 72-page screenplay and a short film entitled “Clapping For The Wrong Reasons.” All of this came together to create a narrative based around “The Boy,” a character of his whose story began in Camp. What makes this album so great is the sheer ambition of it all. Sure, Gambino’s lyricism and production are at his best here, but what makes it special is piecing together the story of The Boy. Watching the short film, reading the screenplay along with the album, and finding hidden tracks all created an immersive experience that is unlike anything that’s been done before in hip-hop culture. It’s even difficult to place Because The Internet in the realm of hip-hop because it’s so purposeful and immersive. It won’t just go down as a musical classic, but a piece of history we can reflect on. – Alex Ruby

Beyoncé – Beyoncé (Released: Dec. 13, 2013)

Sensual, experimental, fun and willing to treat contemporary pop trends as pastiche, Bey’s self-titled is one of the most artful pop albums ever made. It’s also one of the most complex. Each song here explores a different facet of its creator’s personality – sexuality, married bliss, grief, motherhood, self-image – in such depth that every individual track feels like it could be its own album. But they’re all here in a package that yields endless possibilities for exploration. Despite running a generous 66 minutes, it packs every second of its runtime with such an abundance of content that it leaves the listener wondering what they just experienced. – Daniel Bromfield

Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso (Released: May 12, 2014)

Two folk artists coming together to create an electro-pop album shouldn’t work, but it does and it works amazingly well. In 2013, singer/songwriter Amelia Meath and producer Neil Sanborn came out with Sylvan Esso, a full-length album packed with punchy beats and blissful vocals. While there isn’t really a complete idea behind the album, each song is great in its own right. Each one will make you want to move your feet and sing along thanks to Sanborn’s production and Meath’s songwriting and singing. At their heart, the songs are reminiscent of folk melodies but with bright (and sometimes dark) synths to back them up. The music they may together is atmospheric but infectious with Meath’s vocals sliding up and down with the beats as they move into your head and stay there for weeks on end. – Alex Ruby

1989 – Taylor Swift (Released: Oct. 27, 2014)


No album this decade has transfixed the world’s attention like 1989. Taylor Swift has set sales record after record in an age when albums don’t sell. Worldwide sales are estimated at 8.6 million, “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” both have surpassed a billion views on YouTube and her world tour continues to sellout the largest stadiums in the world. The transition from country to pop wasn’t as revolutionary as many imagined it would be, but Swift continued creating radio friendly hits that were as appealing to tween girls as they are to middle aged men (See also: Ryan Adams). – Craig Wright

Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens (Released: March 31, 2015)

Arguably the most emotional album of the decade, Sufjan Stevens’ latest album centers around his love for his mother and his childhood in some town called Eugene, Oregon. It’s sad, yes, but it pulls at your heartstrings in a good way, in a way that makes you pay attention for the duration of the album. Sufjan’s sweet voice and calming instrumentation pulls you in closer to make you feel like you’re sitting right next to him as he tells his story. Sufjan’s mother’s death is the focus of the album and her presence (or lack thereof) is felt through its entirety but it doesn’t detract from the pure quality of each song. You can’t just listen to the songs, you have to feel them, let them engulf you until they’re a part of you. Sufjan’s tone almost never changes throughout, creating a comfortable feeling of nostalgia and love. And the instrumentation remains simple and focused, not letting you get distracted from Sufjan’s impeccable storytelling. He makes everything so real and so genuine, there’s nothing quite like it. –Alex Ruby

Not listed: Innerspeaker, Lonerism – Tame Impala (2010, 2012); The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett (2013, 2015); Watch the Throne – Jay-Z and Kanye West (2011); High Violet, Trouble Will Find Me – The National (2010, 2013); They Want My Soul – Spoon (2014); Sunbathing Animal – Parquet Courts (2014); Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son – Damien Jurado (2014); Odd Blood – Yeasayer (2010); Teen Dream, Depression Cherry – Beach House (2010, 2015); Contra – Vampire Weekend (2010); The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens (2010); Brothers – The Black Keys (2010); There Is Love In You – Four Tet (2010); Floating Coffin – Thee Oh Sees (2013); St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014); Clear Moon – Mount Eerie (2013); An Awesome Wave – Alt-J (2012); James Blake – James Blake (2011); Syro – Aphex Twin (2014); Fetty Wap – Fetty Wap (2015); N-Plants – Biosphere (2011), Through The Green –Tiger & Woods (2011); Pilot Talk – Curren$y (2010); Legacy – RP Boo (2013); Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites – Skrillex (2010); Take Care, Nothing Was The Same – Drake (2011, 2013); Returnal, Replica – Oneohtrix Point Never (2010, 2011); Eccojams Vol. 1 – Chuck Person (2010); Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake (2012); The Pinkprint – Nicki Minaj (2014)

Follow Shelby Chapman on Twitter @ShelbyEm15

Follow Alex Ruby on Twitter @arubyrubrub

Follow Emerson Malone on Twitter @balldroid69

Follow Daniel Bromfield on Twitter @bromf3

Follow Meerah Powell on Twitter @meerahpowell

Follow Craig Wright on Twitter @wgwcraig

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Daniel Bromfield

Daniel Bromfield