Hey, we made it! It’s part ten of our ten-part review of the critic’s choices for the 52 best albums of 2010-2019! (One for each week of the year! But that’s not how I came up with the number. See below.)
If you missed parts one through nine, you can find them here:
This is one of three musical blog series I’m doing this year. You should also check out the final edition of my overview of the critic’s choices for the 20 best albums of 2020, and my latest monthly review of 2021’s new releases as I search for the 21 best albums of 2021.
Come on, didn’t I pick 52 because it matched the number of weeks in the year? No, really, no! What happened was, I took “best of decade” lists from the AV Club, Billboard, Jim DeRogatis, Greg Kot, the New Yorker, New Music Express, Paste, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Vice. For any album that appeared at least once in these lists, I tallied up votes between them. As it turned out, there were 52 albums getting 4 votes and up. This was close enough to a top 50 that I decided to go with that as a cutoff rather than forcing two of them to fight to the death.
With that, on to Part 10 of 10!
The Suburbs (Arcade Fire, 2010, 6 votes)– The Arcade Fire is a good fire. Their album Funeral from 2004 was one of the best of that decade, and this has many of the same features that made that album so memorable- yearning vocals, damn smart lyrics that feel laden with meaning, music that knows enough about rock to keep powerfully moving forward, but enough about indie experimentation to have depths that surprise, and some structure that ties the whole thing together, but isn’t heavy enough to distract or feel gimmicky. This is really kind of the gold standard for what indie rock can do- be both smart and sophisticated and a fun listen. Also maybe a testament to how easy it is to fall off that balance beam, which makes it that much more impressive when someone doesn’t.
This Is Happening (LCD Soundsystem, 2010, 6 votes)– Their 2005 self-titled album was one of my favorites of the 00s, so I was looking forward to checking this out. It doesn’t disappoint! Electronic dance music can be a hard sell for me, but I love their brand of it. I think the thing that makes it work is the propulsive drive, call backs to new wave, and attention to song structure, all of which make it function almost like rock. It’s also full of wit lyrically and musically, and the songs tell a story, or at least convey a strong feeling. All of this together makes it more robust than electronic music often feels. LCD can bring their Soundsystem over my way anytime!
To Pimp A Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar, 2015, 10 votes)– This is his third album on this list, and it’s also the one with the most votes. Given how good DAMN and good kidd, m.A.D.d. City are, that’s really saying something. And you know what? It lives up to it! It’s musically virtuositic, densely sampled, full of dynamic flow, and lyrically dizzying as it wrestles with social and personal issues along the way. The middle dives deep into the later, and builds some interesting repeating motifs around it. All of this makes it sound powerful and serious, which it is, but doesn’t get across quite how fun it is to listen to. I’m right with the critics on this!
Visions (Grimes, 2012, 5 votes)– Spare beats, light synth effects, ethereal vocals that are disorienting in their relation to the bite behind what she’s singing. While there are flashes of brilliance all over, I will say that as a whole it’s not quite as together, engaging, or substantive as later Grimes. This, of course, is partially my problem for having that as a reference point. It certainly must have been a breath of fresh air at the time. So, I don’t know about best of the decade, but one of the most interesting and promising debuts of the decade? Probably yes!
Whack World (Tierra Whack, 2018, 4 votes)– I like the spare, almost synth accompaniment of this hip-hop, the straightforward rhymes and whimsy, and the quality of her voice. The series of 1 minute tracks is also really refreshing in a genre that sometimes can get a little…long… on an individual song level. The heavily autotuned nature of a lot of it? Not so much. I can see that there are definitely some great singles here, and a talent worth keeping an eye on. But best of decade album? I just don’t see it.
Yeezus (Kanye West, 2013, 5 votes)– Ibid. everything I said a few posts ago while introing my review of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In terms of the specifics of Yeezus, it kicks off with a really interesting electronica-flavored start. Then Kanye wades in with his patented swagger, lyrical density, and strong production assault. This album in general has a very heavy, even menacing sound, which is well done and lends urgency to the already lyrically/vocally fraught tracks. The misogyny is thick sometimes, but is presented as part of wrestling with demons. And the ego everywhere is bursting through, but often with a looming sense of dread. Looking at it, with knowledge of his later issues, it does have the feeling of the soundtrack of a manic break in progress, but a damn well-produced one.
And with that, we have done it! Or, have we? We have blazed our way through the individual reviews over the last ten posts, that is true. But there’s one more post coming, with the grand wrap-up. Stay tuned!