Monthly Archives: December 2021

In Search of the 21 Best Albums of 2021: December

It’s our final monthly review! Almost a year ago, as part of an effort to catch up on newer music, I set out to find the 21 best albums of the year by listening to new releases each month, and sorting them into yes/maybe/no. And here we are, the last month, after which I’ll do a final shakedown to get the 21 best albums of 2021.

If you missed the earlier installments, you can find them here:

( January February March April May June July August September October November )

This is one of three music-related blog series I did this past year. The final installment of my review of critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s is here, and the wrap-up of my review of the critic’s consensus on the 20 best albums of 2020 is here.

Before we wrap up December, a quick note about the three categories:

Yes– These are the albums that, based on my initial listen, are in definite contention to be considered for the 21 best albums of the year. There are now 244 albums on the list, so every final victor will have dispatched a host of foes.

Maybe– These are albums that had definite strengths, but about which I have some reservation. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes “maybes” linger, so I’m giving them a category just in case.

No– These albums are not in contention. Some of them deserve discussion, though, which I note.

Now, on with the review of 55 December new releases!

Common, A Beautiful Revolution, Pt. 2– Part 2 to this hip-hop stalwart’s 2020 Part 1. On the musical side it’s dynamic and jazzy, the flow is muscular, it’s brimming over with positive message, and the whole has a sense of unity. Because of the comparison effect it’s not easy to clear the bar at this point in the year, but this absolutely does it!

Curren$y, Pilot Talk 4– Strong clear beats backing a jazzy swirl with some pleasing flow. The street talk isn’t always the freshest ever, but the deeper meditations on the downsides of street life, and the so well done musical and vocal backing elevate it. This New Orleans rapper has apparently been prolific as hell this year, and this shows it has been to good effect.

Don Trip, Pray God’s Not Watching– In a way, this album dives deep into hip-hop album theme cliches. But this pioneer of the Memphis scene brings a smooth spare mix, wit, and presence All that, and the strong storytelling of the vocals and lyrics really carries it through. And the ending is an unvarnished heart-tugger.

Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales– This is not a December release, but both NPR and Pitchfork had it at the top of their pre year-end Top 50 lists. Not sure how it slipped through my net earlier, but I figured I should give it a listen! I’m glad I did, it’s a musical tour de force with the mix of R&B and hip-hop stylings, vocally dynamic, and, beneath a shiny pop veneer, a nuanced and at times quite personal exploration of female empowerment and both resistance to and complicity with hip hop culture’s misogyny.

Krolok, Funeral Winds & Crimson Sky– If you tell me you’re a Slovakian black metal band, I’m always going to want to hear what you have to say next. As it turns out, I did. This sounds, and I mean this in the very best way possible, like a metal band did a Halloween album for a vampire theme park. Musically, they pulled off something that I find bands like this often have a hard time with, bridging the looming atmospheric parts with the more straightforward metal parts. Lyrically, I barely caught a word, but I feel like every word penetrated my soul. Easily one of my favorite metal albums of the year.

Mach-Hommy, Balens Cho– This album is much like his Prayer for Haiti earlier this year. But whereas the sprawl of that got away from me, this was much more focused, and musically rich, lyrically challenging, and well structured. That’s how you album!

Michael Hurley, The Time of the Foxgloves– Hurley has been playing folk music since the Greenwich Village scene in the 60s. Every note of this sounds with the beautifully burned-out music veteran power you would expect from that.

Nicole Atkins, Memphis Ice– North Carolina-based self-professed purveyor of “pop noir” Nicole Atkins recorded this album in Memphis, and it feels like an excellent merger of her lush pop vocal style and the 60s soul Memphis sound.

Ryan Sambol, Gestalt– There’s a gruffness in the vocals, a weariness in the lyrics, and a spirit of variety in the music that I find very appealing. Acoustic, blues, country and lo-fi indie all get mixed up in this album from a Texas-raised singer-songwriter and poet. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of underrated albums of 2021. No stone left unturned!)

Speedy Ortiz, The Death of Speedy Ortiz & Cop Kicker…Forever– Does a remix of two old albums from 2011 plus eight new songs=something new? I hope so, because the guitar crunch and fuzz, layers of sound, and thick vocals and sharp lyrics of this Massachusetts band led by Sadie Dupuis have utterly charmed me.


  • Bat Fangs, Queen of My World– Do you know how much I appreciate jumping in at full rock from the first note? I appreciate it a lot! This whole thing is steeped in the brighter side of 80s hard rock and hair metal, but with two female principles. This works well, they deliver flawless cock rock but without the downsides of cock attitude. The only reason it didn’t hit “yes” is that the vocals were a little flat, production-wise. It would have been nice to hear them cut loose a little more!

  • Biffy Clyro, The Myth of the Happily Ever After– “Scottish band” just inherently makes me happy, and “Scottish band formed in the 90s” is a further booster from there. There’s no denying that this is high energy, and has a considerable spark of something musically and lyrically. It’s a little prefab sounding, but it’s a good fab.
  • Bitchin Bajas, Switched On Ra– “Psych rockers cover cosmic jazz legend Sun Ra with vintage 70s synthesizers” is actually a pretty decent way to get my attention as far as album concepts go. There are multiple things here that aren’t usually my bag, and there’s one vocal guest track that feels totally out of tone with the rest, but darned if it doesn’t create some really fun and interesting soundscapes.

  • Charlotte Greve, Sediments We Move– Sometimes surging with power and feeling, but sometimes more on the ethereal side of classical/jazz/experimental mixes. There are definitely some interesting approaches here, but perhaps a little uneven in terms of energy/engagement to completely work as an album. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Jeff Tweedy, Live is the King– Live versions of his 2020 release Love is the King. That album was thoroughly on the country side of Tweedy’s work, and these live versions are too. I’m in kind of a conundrum with this- the material is great, and the versions are very good. But it’s not very “live”- it was recorded live in studio, so there’s no audience feedback, no interactions between musicians on the stage, etc. So what (besides a nice Neil young cover) does this really do to go beyond the original album?

  • JJJJJerome Ellis, The Clearing– This album is the philosophical flow of an ongoing thesis about Blackness in America ranging from history and literature to modern pop culture and everything in-between. That general focus is anchored by his specific meditations on music, and his own personal experience with his lifelong stutter (which he works in to the lyrics and music in various ways). All this is accompanied by clear beats and the light touch of smartly deployed electronic keyboard surges. It’s really pretty amazing, about my only reservation is a long low-music lull in the middle.

  • Mo Troper, Dilettante– This starts off as rock with the appropriate amount of feedback and chaos, and then keeps going. It could get bogged down, but the fact that there are 28 songs in 49 minutes keeps it moving along. The variety of modes does as well- it explores multiple varities of 80s alt and 90s indie. Some songs are noise pop, some more traditionally melodic, some thoroughly tongue in cheek if not slightly snotty. The pacing occasionally gets a little uneven, and the songs also sometimes sound very young. Put that’s where the zeal and the noise come from too! A worthy outing from this Portland band. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Neil Young & Crazyhorse, Barn – All right, let’s start with the necessary disclaimer- Neil Young is on my all-time musical top five list. I’m never going to not react well to his work. I also like the extra musical oomph Crazy Horse gives him. In fact, this album has all the Neil Youngs- slow balladeer, saw-toothed feedback-laden guitar rocker, stirring anthemist, sometimes overly on-the-nose lyricist. It doesn’t feel like it quite comes together with a strong theme musically or lyrically though, which is what separates it from “great” versus merely “good”.

  • Pearly Gate Music, Mainly Gestalt Pornography– Pearly Gate Music is the brainchild of Pacific Northwest singer/songwriter Zach Tillman, the brother of Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty). Solid guitar rock on the acoustic side, with bright chords and arch lyrics. This feels like something I could have run into in the 80s on a college radio station. I’m not convinced it adds up to something strong/different enough to get to “yes”, but it does what it does very well.

  • Tasha, Tell Me What You Miss the Most– Chicago singer-songwriter Tasha has delivered a set of torchy emotional songs with an acoustic vibe, and her voice is strong and clear. The material in a way is simple and often low-key, but the feeling is so genuine, the content gets the emotions of romance right, and the presentation is very appealing. We could all do worse!

  • Volbeat, Servant of the Mind– “Scandinavian rock band is one of my happy places, so hearing they were Danes favorably pre-disposed me. Seeing them described as playing a fusion of rock, metal, and rockabilly further piqued my interest. In practice they’re also pretty darn fun. Is it a little formulaic? Yes. Is the more than hour run length a concern for me? Also yes. But it is so gleefully and sincerely delivered- a rocking good time that isn’t trying to do anything much more than that.


  • Aeon Station, Observatory– It’s a fine moody synthy indie rock outing. I have probably heard a few dozen this year that were no better or no worse than this.

  • Alicia Keys, Keys– This double album is beautiful like Alicia Keys so often is. The first side is, as she describes it, her “classic” sound, the second is “Unlocked”, doing the same songs but expressing herself in new/different ways.I was definitely more grabbed by that second half. Because of the sprawl and lack of focus I don’t think it works as an album, but that’s not to say there isn’t a ton of great material in it.

  • Arca, Kick iiii– Arca is a Venezuelan musician, singer, composer, record producer, and DJ, based in Barcelona who has released four, count them, four, albums in December! If you like your electronic music danceable, weird, with an edge of discord and dread, this might be for you. I do like those things, though ultimately there wasn’t enough consistent substance musically or lyrically for me to really sink my teeth into.

  • Arca, Kick ii– If you listen to Kick iiii first, you may, as I did, wonder how much different Kick ii will be. As it turns out, it was quite a bit different! I don’t know if it was the Latin influence, the comparatively smoother mix, or the greater sonic unity it had, but I liked it quite a bit better. It was well on its way to maybe until an extended dissonant weird-out in the middle.

  • Arca, Kick iii– Okay, not so much on iiii, ii fared much better, how will iii do? Turns out, it’s kind of a bridge between the weird and discordant iiii and the Latin-themes and club smoothness of ii. I don’t feel like it totally comes together, but I have been having a kick with all the Kicks. So to speak.

  • Arca, Kick iiiii– If you listen to ii, iii, and iiii, how are you not going to listen to iiiiI? (For those wondering, Kick i came out last year, which is why we’re not listening to it as part of this batch.) This is easily the most ambient trending of the four. I have trouble latching on to ambient.

  • BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jules Buckley/Paul Weller, An Orchestrated Songbook– This is Weller doing versions of his song backed by BBC Symphony. It’s an interesting form of career retrospective, and some of the covers are quite amazing and really showcase a mature power that matches what’s always been the high ambition of his work. It of course doesn’t sound bad, it’s the BBC Symphony Orchestra for pity’s sake! And I certainly would recommend it for Weller fans, but I’m not sure it makes the leap from there to overall “year’s best”.

  • Benjamin Lazar Davis, Benjamin Lazar Davis– This is certainly high quality, and has a lyrical edge, but it’s a little too smoothly laden with all the 2000s production tricks to make enough emotional connection.

  • Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Keyboard Fantasies Reimagined– A rework of a classic 1986 instrumental keyboard album by contemporary artists. It’s a nice concept, and leads to some interesting results, but a little too abstract, and not coherent enough, to make a proper album.

  • Brian Wilson, At My Piano– Here Wilson is playing instrumental piano versions of his songs. It’s good, but a little, well, instrumental piano. Very much all in one vein, which is hard to make a full-length album work with. A Wilson and/or Beach Boys fan might well want to have this in their collection, though.

  • Chief Keef, 4Nem– It’s got some power and dynamism, but is it among the best albums I’ve heard this year? Is it even in the top ten hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year? 11 days left…

  • Craig Taborn, Shadow Plays– From a 2020 live European performance. This trended toward a muted, almost ambient end of jazz. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Darius Jones, Raw Demon Alchemy (A Lone Operation)– It starts with a horn like an enervated traffic jam. It upset my cat. The bunnies were not fans either.
  • Gas, Der Lange Marsch– Ambient to the point of being somnolent. Nyet.

  • Geese, Projector– I really like waterfowl. I also like the kind of young male rock that this New York band is doing, but it began to wear a little thin before the end. They went straight from high school to studio album, though, so definitely keep an eye on them and what they might grow into.

  • Jeff Parker, Forfolks– Some very nice jazz-influenced guitar, but as a pretty-mellow all instrumental, it never really cohered as an album for me.

  • Jeniveve, Division– It’s some good R&B/dance music, I can see what they mean by “underrated”. But year’s best? Competition is tough in these final days! (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of underrated albums of 2021. No stone left unturned!)

  • Juçara Marçal, Delta Estácio Blues– All Music Guide will tell you that, “Juçara Marçal is a Brazilian singer, songwriter, and educator whose music bridges traditional Afro-Brazilian folk sounds, electronic music, rock, and hip-hop.” I will tell you that, despite the complete language gap, the joyous kaleidoscope of styles and complexity of rhythms had this well on its way to being at least a strong maybe until a terribly autotuned track turned up toward the end. That may seem like a rough reason to bounce something, but we’re in December now- it’s wheat from chaff time!

  • Kenny G, New Standards– I didn’t really think I was going to go for this- as a kid of the alt 80s, if there is an anathema par excellence to my people, it’s Kenny G. I was intrigued by the concept though- it’s his attempt to record new songs as if they were old standards. Unfortunately, it sounds like Kenny G.

  • King Krule, You Heat Me Up You Cool Me Down– This album from a UK singer/songwriter, sometimes rapper, is from live shows just before the tour had to be cancelled because of COVID. I wasn’t familiar with him going in, but the music is a muscular mix of jangly rock, jazz, and surprising sound effects, and the vocals are raw and bruising, which I appreciate. It gets to be a little the same after a while, and the almost hour and twenty run time is a tough thing to sustain, but it does make me curious to hear more of his stuff.

  • Lotic, Water– This was very interesting as dance-oriented music goes, in a heavily experimental vein. Not consistently listenable enough to make “year’s best”, but certainly not unworthy.

  • Myriam Gendron, Ma délireSongs of love, lost & found– Moody, French, quiet with dark jagged edges, but the language barrier is ultimately too much for me to “get” the album. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of underrated albums of 2021. No stone left unturned!)

  • New Found Glory, December’s Here– Christmas-themed albums are an inevitability this time of year. They can work, but they can also make my skin crawl. A pop-punk album with an emo bent is an inevitability in life. It can work, or it can make my skin crawl. Multiply one by the other, and your odds of success considerably decrease.

  • Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, La Panthère des Neiges (Original Soundtrack)– This is my favorite Nick Cave soundtrack for a documentary about a snow leopard. No really, this is the soundtrack to Marie Amguet and Vincent Munier’s wildlife documentary La Panthére des Neiges, in which Munier (a photographer) and writer Sylvain Tesson pursue a rare sighting of a snow leopard in Tibet. It’s a little muted musically, and not general audience enough to work as an album of the year, but yay leopards!

  • Quadry, They Think We Ghetto– Definitely fresher than many another hip-hop album out this year, but we’re late in the year now, so it takes a lot to rise above. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of underrated albums of 2021. No stone left unturned!)

  • Rival Consoles, Overflow– Electronic and experimental- some of these tracks have a sense of looming dread, which I always appreciate, and some have interesting thought-provoking verbal and sound juxtapositions. But it feels more like an art project, and less like something one would repeatedly listen to.

  • Robert Sotelo, Celebrant– It’s a little post-punk sounding, a little herky-jerky side of new wave, it’s more than nice enough, but it’s not enough to blow the rest of the year out of the water.

  • Roddy Richh, Live Life Fast– I was on the edge for a while. There is a good deal of higher aspiration in this album from Compton-based hip hop artist Richh, clever wordplay, and interesting music mixes. Eventually the misogyny and autotune got the better of me, but it stayed in contention for quite a while.

  • Rx Nephew, Transporter 4– Pitchfork recommended this album from an extremely prolific hip-hop artist to me. It’s powerful and driving, but I think it ultimately goes under with the weight of “street” clichés. He is from my wife’s mythical homeland of Rochester, NY, though, so there’s that.

  • SeeYouSpaceCowboy, The Romance of Affliction– Brutal hardcore/metal assault, which I appreciate. Dip into swelling symphonic melodies, which I tolerate. Screamed vocals, which I do not groove with.

  • Teen Daze, Interior– It’s electronic. It’s dancey. It’s nice enough. It’s late in the year.

  • Tony Shhnow, Authentic Goods– I can see what they mean in terms of it being underappreciated, but this is way late in the year. It takes not just good, but extraordinary to break into the list at this point. (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of underrated albums of 2021. No stone left unturned!)

  • Wild Up, Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Feminine– California collective recording arrangements of songs from a Jazz great who died largely unsung (and too young) in the 90s. It was an interesting enough premise to get me listening, and there is something arresting about it, but given the instrumental and abstract nature, I’m not sure it’s accessible enough to rise to top spot of the year.

  • yes/and, yes/and– Some of these are ambient, some of these are more instrumental, all of them are a bunch of nice sounds that don’t add up to an album (Full disclosure: This is not really a December release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of underrated albums of 2021. No stone left unturned!)

And so, it is finished. Or not quite! As soon as I can manage it, I’m going to complete my relistens of the “Yes” (and selected “Maybe”) albums from the year and bring you the final list of THE 21 BEST ALBUMS OF 2021 Stay tuned!

In Search of the 21 Best Albums of 2021: November

Almost there! We’re now at 11 of 12 of our month-by-month survey of 2021, en route to our ultimate goal. Speaking of which, if you’re just joining for the first time, I’m listening to new releases each month, sorting them into yes/maybe/no, and then doing a final shakedown to get the 21 best albums of the year.

You can find the earlier installments here:

( January February March April May June July August September October )

This is one of three music-related blog series I’m doing this year. The final installment of my review of critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s is here, and the wrap-up of my review of the critic’s consensus on the 20 best albums of 2020 is here.

Before we proceed with November, a quick note about the three categories:

Yes– These are the albums that, based on my initial listen, are in definite contention to be considered for the 21 best albums of the year. There are now 234 albums on the list, so every survivor will be standing on the mounded corpses of at least nine dead albums. The horror!

Maybe– These are albums that had definite strengths, but about which I have some reservation. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes “maybes” linger, so I’m giving them a category just in case.

No– These albums are not in contention. Some of them deserve discussion, though, which I note.

Now, on with the review of 110 November new releases!

Adele, 30– It starts off with “I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart” which lets you know what kind of material this post-divorce album is grappling with. Musically, though, it’s much lusher and often more up-tempo than that might make you think. If it’s more subtle and nuanced than some of her earlier work, it’s also more varied in modes, and moods. Some things stun with the vulnerability of the personal window she opens up here. Others find her alternately furious with her partner, angry with herself, eager for something new, and weary and wise. With this much power at 30, it makes one wonder what lies ahead.


Aesop Rock/Blockhead, Garbology– I’ve listened to many great hip-hop albums this year. And a whole lot of bad ones. So the bar is pretty high now, but this collaboration of Portland-based underground hip-hop impresario Matthias Bavitz, aka Aesop Rock, and Manhattan record producer and DJ Tony Simon, aka Blockhead, delivers. The vocals are pleasingly goony and un-smooth, the musical mix is wildly varied and muscular, and the lyrics are smart and off-kilter.

BackRoad Gee, Reporting Live (From the Back of the Roads)– This British-Congolese artist brings together African pop, hip-hop, UK dub, and a delightfully skillful wielding of varied sound effects and musical backgrounds. All this would work well just on the sonic side, but on top of that, lyrically it grapples honestly and intelligently with details of hard life in Africa and the UK.

Curtis Harding, If Words Were Flowers– Sometimes jazzy, sometimes funky, very informed by 70s soul and AM radio, but with more than a hint of hip-hop diction. Reading up on him afterward, this amalgam is his signature style, which he calls “slop ‘n’ soul”. It makes me feel lost in time, and it’s an exquisite trip.

David Christian & Pinecone Orchestra, For Those We Met on the Way– 30-year UK music veteran David Christian has come out with a fine album with traces of the more introspective singer-songwriter side of UK 80s alt (think Lloyd Cole, for example), 60s-influenced acoustic, and country. The whole thing has a tone of looking back on life and taking stock, with intelligent and emotionally complex lyrics.

Deap Vally, Marriage– Now that is a crunching guitar and feedback start! A female rock duo from Los Angeles, sounding exactly like a female rock duo from Los Angeles should sound. They do fast, they do slow, they do mid-tempo, and they’re gloriously menacingly rocking the whole time.

Defcee & Messiah Musik, Trapdoor– This Chicago hip-hop artist brings super-smart and conscious lyrics, muscular vocal delivery, and a spare approach to beats and mix. This reminds me of a certain stream of 90s hip-hop that I’ve missed.

Foxx Bodies, Vixen– Oh, help me. It’s that band! Punky. Poppy. Heavy crunching guitars, but with melody. Female lead with a strong presence. They’re from Los Angeles in this case, seem to have been kicking around since 2016, and do a very high level of engaging gender politics and identity issues in their music. Huzzah! 

Lukah, Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror– At first this seems to be a very solid, driving and muscular hip-hop album, with a strong personality, but one that’s kind of typically hitting the street bluster clichés. Along the way, though, it ends up going through an arc where there’s a bottoming out, and a spiritual rebirth. Really interesting and well done!

Margo Cilker, Pohorylle– Oregon-based Margo Cilker cut her teeth playing covers of Creedence, Dylan, and Neil Young before touring extensively on her own material. She clearly learned the craft, with dense story songs, a voice that never sounds false, and a sure feel for country-tinged Americana. There’s also some excellent use of the word “fuck”, and even when a song gets a little polemical it never sounds less than achingly sincere.

Marta Del Grandi, Until We Fossilize– This Italian-born artist weaves a spell with her voice and delicate instrumentation that reflects both electronic and jazz influences. It won me over despite being in a low-key vein. The depths it pulls one into are rich and worthwhile.

Model Home, Both Feet en th Infinite– This was very interesting! They’re described as an “experimental hip-hop duo from Washington, D.C.”, and indeed, it’s kind of electronic, kind of jazz-influenced, very strong hip-hop influence. The audio collage keeps one going, and the repeated choruses and stomping beat create a kind of spell.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, The Future– On the first track this Denver-based singer-songwriter seemed to be channeling late 60s/ early to mid 70s Bob Dylan, which is a great way to get my attention. Subsequently, though, he proves to be doing a romp all through the Americana and R&B of that era. And he does it very well! Does it feel a little like a museum piece? Yes. But a flawless and sincere one!

Naytronix, Other Possibilities– The first track is like space jazz playing with a radio tuning dial, the second has what sounds like an electric xylophone intro, the next is like AM radio gold being played on an 80s synth keyboard, and so on. That’s the musical side, the lyrical side is full of longing, and the vocal side is heavy on melody with an occasional side trip into gonzo distortion. Naytronix is the solo musical project of Nate Brenner, who is also a member of the band tune-yards whose album Sketchy. I was very favorably impressed with earlier this year. As for this album, I think it literally delivers on the promise of its title, introducing an array of sonic possibilities.

Pip Blom, Welcome Break– This Dutch band knows how to do a poppy, high-energy rock song, and I like the earnest straightforwardness of leader Pip Blom’s vocals. Is it super-profound? Probably not. But it is a super-fun, flawlessly executed example of what it is. Okay, yes, I’m a sucker for a guitar-crunching, female-led band. So sue me!

R.A.P. Ferreira, The Light-Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures– Rory Allen Philip Ferreira is an American rapper and producer from Kenosha, Wisconsin. On this album he brings vivid, poetic, spiritually-infused vocal flow with relaxed beats and some spare jazz-inflected background. It might be hard to keep this going for an hour, but at a half-hour run time, it never flags for a moment.

Silk Sonic, An Evening With Silk Sonic– Silk Sonic being a collaboration of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, you might be expecting some kind of invocation of 70s soul and funk. Hearing Bootsy Collins is involved with the album, you might expect that even more so. You would be exactly right, and it’s like glorious slowly-pouring sonic gold.


The Darkness, Motorheart– Hard rock and metal, in a gloriously trashy 80s vein. Some throwaway Star Trek references. Guitars, guitars, guitars! It’s kind of like this UK band received the instruction “make an over-the-top parody of this kind of music, except do it totally sincerely” and then brilliantly executed on that mission.


  • Aimee Mann, Queens of the Summer Hotel– Mann developed these songs for a stage version of “Girl, Interrupted” that ended up itself being interrupted by COVID, after which she decided to release them herself. She is as good as she ever is, but it’s somehow not consistently up to her best (admittedly a high bar).

  • Chime School, Chime School– Based on the band name, you might expect something like the Byrds, or maybe the paisley underground channeling the Byrds. And you would be getting exactly that from this San Francisco band! In many ways it’s a museum piece, which is making me question “yes”, but it’s a flawlessly executed one.

  • Circle/Richard Dawson, Henki– Dawson is an English neo-folk musician, and Circle is a Finnish experimental rock band. They describe this album as “flora-themed hypno-folk-metal”. That’s actually a pretty fair description of the mind-bending sound here. A little like prog rock, a little like Bowie and Ferry at their most theatrical, a little pinch of Bauhaus, a little off-kilter musically, vocally and lyrically, but always interesting and feeling looming with import. It’s not like everything else. Which after 938 albums so far this year I put quite a premium on! My only reservation is a section in the middle that bogs down a little.

  • Courtney Barnett, Things Take Time, Take Time– Her sometimes I sit and think was one of the critics’ picks for the 2010s that I agreed with. Like that album, this has unique vocals, a sure feel for melody and rock chords, and smart and sometimes knife twist lyrics. It mostly keeps a little too all to one vein musically and emotionally, which is my main reservation.

  • Dave Gahan & The Soulsavers, Imposter– I don’t know what I was expecting from a Depeche Mode member’s side projects, but I guess something generally Depeche Modey? To be sure, this is darkly textured and full of mood, but is a series of widely ranging covers that are musically treated as an invocation of old fashioned R&B, 60s soul, and the darker minor chords side of 60s rock. Among others, he covers Neil Young and Dylan cover, which is a good way to win me over. There’s always been an undercurrent of homage to soul and R&B in synth pop, and I can see the dotted lines between Depeche ModI and what he’s doing here musically, but it’s still an interesting and welcome surprise!

  • IFE, 0000 + 0000– per YouTube Music’s summary: “The electronic music moniker of New Orleans based producer and percussionist Otura Mun, ÌFÉ blends elements of Afro-Cuban folklore and Yoruban religious music with the bass driven sounds of modern day Jamaican Dancehall, Trap and Afro-Beat.” That maybe gives you the proper flavor, and while I wasn’t quite sold on it having enough coherence, structure or sheer oomph to be a year’s best album, it was a consistently interesting (and fun!) listen that I never felt tempted to turn off.

  • Julie Doiron, I Thought of You– Doiron is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has been a fixture of the Canadian indie scene since the 90s. And with guitar rock that rings like bells, sometimes haunting and sometimes plaintive vocals, and incisive emotionally complex lyrics, there is a lot here to like. My only reservation is the pacing of the material, I’m not sure the shifts from faster/slower are spaced out for best album flow.

  • NRBQ, Dragnet– I feel kind of bad not having heard of them before, since they’ve been around since 1965. Always something new to learn! Technically, only one original member is left, backed here by a band that he’s had together for a decade now. But what really catches me about it is the spontaneity, variety, and sincerity of the music. It’s kind of like it samples various styles from the last half-century, and then plays every single one of them as if 100% in that era. What it lacks for in overall coherence is mostly offset by the impressive inventiveness and skill.

  • Rod Stewart, The Tears of Hercules– His 32nd studio album! One the one hand, does it match his best work, and will it be an album people are still talking about two years from now? It doesn’t seem likely to me. On the other, it’s livelier than the average outing his contemporaries produce these days, and completely naively joyously committed to its pseudo-classic, pseudo-disco, pseudo-sleazy ethos. I gotta say maybe!

  • Sherelle, Fabric Presents Sherelle– AllMusic tells me, “London-born DJ, label founder, and producer Sherelle has earned widespread praise for her high-octane sets”. And that definitely keys in on what I love about this- its over the top manic energy level. This would be a great set to spend the night at the club dancing too, but as an hour and a half album, I’m not sure it works. On the other hand, I did thoroughly enjoy it. So maybe?

  • The Flaming Lips/Nell Smith, Where the Viaduct Looms– If you’re the Flaming Lips, you know what you do for your next album? You do an album of Nick Cave covers with a 14 year old Canadian singer-songwriter on lead vocals. Do you know why? Because you’re the Flaming Lips, you can do any damn thing you want, and the weirder the better! Between the off-kilter musical approach typical of the Flaming Lips, the strong source material, and the contemporary pop vibe of the vocalist, it’s a weirdly successful and compelling mix. It doesn’t *totally* feel like it all fits together, but isn’t that kind of the point?

  • TisaKorean, mr.siLLyfLow– The fresh sound directions from this this Houston rapper, producer, and dancer include soundtracks and cartoons sampling, gonzo vocal flow, and hilarious lyrics. Also, the sound effects made my dog fitfully bark. It doesn’t always feel like it fully fits together, but it’s all great. Dog and man recommend! (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Tony Allen/Joan as Police Woman/Dave Okumu, The Solution is Restless– This collaboration between indie pop powerhouse Joan Wasser, Afro-beat veteran Tony Allen (this was his last record before his recent death), and producer Dave Okumu is very interesting. It emerged out of what was essentially an extended studio jam session, the results of which they later refined. I was constantly on the edge of thinking it sounding unfocused, but then being utterly charmed by the spontaneous energy and the intriguing mix of jazz, beats, and sophisticated pop that they were weaving together. A strong maybe!

  • Walk The Moon, Heights– I was continually tipping back and forth between “this is the epitome of post-2000 pop/rock, and not in a good way” and “I really like their energy, and this is pretty darn catchy”. So I think, by definition, we have ended up at “Maybe”. So all right, Cincinnati-based band founded in 2006. Maybe!

  • Willie Nelson, The Willie Nelson Family-This is exactly what you might think based on the name- Willie Nelson, musically and sometimes vocally accompanied by his two sons, two daughters, and sister. His backing band has been called The Family since the 70s, so really it’s a double serving of family. Perhaps fittingly for that, this selection of covers of country gospel songs is very relaxed-feeling. Is it stupendous? No. Did I wish it would just keep going, and would I listen to it again? Yes. We could do a lot worse! 


  • ABBA, Voyage– “First new ABBA album in 40 years” is, if nothing else, notable. It’s actually pretty well done, but in a slow and syrupy dripping with nostalgia way. It doesn’t start to hit the kind of high energy Abba territory one might be expecting until a third of the way in. It’s not bad, but not their best, or the best of the year.

  • Alex Malheiros, Tempos Futuros– Leading Brazilian Jazz bassist since the 70s. It is very pleasant and richly textured, but it just doesn’t click in for me. I try jazz, I really do!

  • Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Raise the Roof– It’s as solid as you would expect, but for the most part it doesn’t differentiate or distinguish itself enough, especially given their earlier collaboration. This is the trap of being compared against your own best!

  • anaiis, this is no longer a dream– Definitely some worthy material here, musically lush and vocally powerful. Ultimately it doesn’t get beyond a certain energy sameness to me. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Ashley Shadow, Only the End– Jangly reverb-heavy guitar chords are a good way to get my attention. This was doing well for the first few tracks, but then bogged down in the middle with too many slower low-energy tracks in a row. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • aya , im hole– Part feedback, part performance art, part experimental synth jazz club beats. This outing from UK club DJ aya is not without merit, considerable merit, but a little too abstract/experimental to be an album for the year/ages.

  • Beach Fossils, The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads– These are piano ballads. They’re fine. They have a song named “Sleep Apnea”. It’s appropriate.

  • Ben LaMar Gay, Open Arms to Open Us– Now this is interesting! A little jazz, a little experimental, a little electronic, and all thoroughly vocally and musically offbeat and quirky. It wears a little thin after about a quarter of the way through, but I did appreciate how different it sounded.

  • Body/Head/Aaron Dilloway, Body/Dilloway/Head– I want to like this, I really do. The inclusion of Sonic youth’s Kim Gordon pre-disposes me kindly. Unfortunately, it’s very much on the “atonal noise experiment” side of her (and her collaborators) output. Alas!

  • Casper Skulls, Knows No Kindness– The vocals are shimmery, the music is billowing, it’s all well-rendered and establishes a mood, but it doesn’t particularly stick while listening, or afterward.

  • Chris Liebing, Another Day– This reminded me of that kind of late 80s techno/industrial that one found in, well, the late 80s. Pretty good as far as it goes! But it started to wear thin partway through.

  • Christian McBride, Live at the Village Vanguard [2021]– American jazz bassist, composer and arranger, with over 300 side-man recordings. So, he’s probably very good. It doesn’t sound bad, I just generally can’t jazz. I keep trying!

  • Cleo Soul, Mother– This is a very intelligent, emotionally and lyrically profound album on motherhood. It’s all so much musically in one low-key track to track vein that it just doesn’t sustain.

  • Constant Smiles, Paragons– This reminds me of some kind of bulge bracket encompassing 80s alternative and 80s AOR. So I guess I’m saying guitars and mood like the Church, but with a hint of Moody Blues prog to it? It was working for me for quite a while, but then eventually collapsed into fuzzy sameness.

  • Converge/Chelsea Wolfe, Bloodmoon: 1– I guess if I were a depressed teenager I might like this? I did definitely like the depressed teenager music of my era when I was a depressed teenager. It’s all a little paint by numbers meeting between goth indie rocker and prog metal, though.

  • DAF/Robert Gorl, Nur Noch Einer– This feels like a trip down the early version of electronic music’s memory lane. And that’s exactly what it is- DAF were pioneers of electronic music in Germany in the late 70s, and this album is based on unreleased material they’d written in the 80s, re-worked by the surviving original band member after one of the other founder’s untimely passing. It’s a fun enough listen, and might certainly appeal to aficionados, but I’m not sure it’s hitting “best of year” territory.

  • Damon Albarn, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows– Sometimes synthy and moody in that brooding English kind of way, sometimes more electronic and experimental. It actually might have sold me with more of those really gonzo moments. Maybe. It was really pretty pleasant, it just wasn’t usually more than that.

  • Diana Ross, Thank You– It’s decent, if somewhat low energy. But not up to her finest work (admittedly, an absurd bar to top) or among the year’s best for R&B.

  • Dijon, Absolutely– There are moments where it gets to an abstract, almost chaotic mix with rising and falling rhythms. Those are interesting times. It doesn’t get there consistently enough, though.

  • Dltzk, Frailty– It was starting off as a nice low-fi approach, albeit in a kind of emo/indie vein, but then just started becoming too autotuned.

  • Doran, Doran– My sources inform me this is a four-person freak folk collective. They do lovely harmonies, but it’s all kind of stuck in one tone/low-energy groove.

  • Dream Unending, Tide Turns Eternal– Ah, instrumental orchestral metal with the unintelligible guttural monster voice. Next!

  • Eastern Margins, Redline Legends– I was really hoping for something interesting in this collection of East Asian club music. There are some off the hook high-energy tracks here that I appreciate, but also way, way, wayyyyy too much autotune. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Elbow, Flying Dream 1– It reminds me in a way of  the slower side of Peter Gabriel. It all ends up being a little too sonorous for extended listening, though.

  • Fine Place, This New Heaven– This is a little on the chilly side of synth/electronic, which I actually appreciate about it. Though it reminded me of my moody teen music home in a way, I didn’t think it added up as an album.

  • Foxes, Friends in the Corner– Kind of the British version of a Taylor Swiftian teen album. Not badly done, by any means, but not really rising above either.

  • Goldenboy Countup, Chicken Man 2– This is a solid hip-hop album, and makes some fun and interesting mix/sample choices, but it doesn’t really rise up to the level of best hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year. End of year is a tough time to measure up! (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Gov’t Mule, Heavy Load Blues– Hey, Gov’t Mule is good mule! And they come to the blues-based sound very honestly. But it too often feels a bit “playing genre by rote” here for me, and especially with a run time of well over an hour, it needs to be consistently very sharp in order to work.

  • hackedepicciotto, The Silver Threshold– Kind of new age, kind of orchestra, kind of abstract electronic. Kind of no.

  • Hana Vu, Public Storage– This LA singer-songwriter has produced music that is spare, smart, and full of a surging, looming feeling. It’s very well done, but ultimately it’s too in one tone musically and vocally to really stand out and work at full album length.

  • HARD FEELINGS, HARD FEELINGS– This is some very fine club dance music, but is it the finest club dance music we’ve heard this year? Or better/as good as the best of what we’ve heard in other genres? This is the peril everything I’m listening to in November/December has to face!

  • Haviah Mighty, Stock Exchange– There are definitely some good things about this rapper from Toronto, Ontario. She’s got something to say, and keeps hi-energy tracks moving. Unfortunately, it’s also autotuned all to hell.

  • Hawthonn, Earth Mirror– A very background, almost somnolent sound. It fits deep slow earth magic, but maybe doesn’t so well fit listening and remembering.

  • Hayden Pedigo, Letting Go– Apparently, Hayden Pedigo is an American avant-garde musician, politician, performance artist, and model. This is a lovely acoustic set. Doesn’t really zing into “best of year” status. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • HTRK, Rhinestones– Richly textured vocally and musically, strong on a dreamy acoustic mood. It never really gets outside of that same track-to-track vein though. But I do want to give this Australian band props for having been originally named “Hate Rock Trio” and for having rallied back after the suicide of one of their founders.

  • Ichiko Aoba, Windswept Adan– The soundtrack to a movie that exists only in this Japanese musician’s mind. I love the concept, and the execution is pretty, but is a little too in an ethereal neo-classical, largely instrumental vein to hold my attention.

  • Idles, Crawler– I like this so much better than Ultra Mono, the Idles album I listened to for the 2020 list. As good musically and lyrically (sometimes very punky, sometimes bruising hardcore, sometimes brooding atmospheric songs) as that earlier labum, and it’s gotten itself much more out of the shouted vocals business. Ultimately, I think it ended up too uneven in its musical approach given the length- some sequencing and structure would have really benefited it as an album. There’s a lot of good material in there, though!

  • Irreversible Entanglements, Open The Gates– Some hip-hop/spoken word-infused jazz, interesting but eventually gets bogged down in lengthy mostly instrumental tracks.

  • Jason Aldean, Macon– Do you like your formulaic lyrics and topics pop-country with a rock edge? If so, God bless, and this is for you.

  • Jessy Lanza, DJ-Kicks– Jessy Lanza is a leader of the hyperdub movement, and a talented DJ and multinstrumentalist. She’s collected this album of mixes, and there’s no denying there’s some great dance music here, but there’s not enough holding it together for the nearly hour and a half run length to get it to “great album” status.

  • Jon Hopkins, Music for Psychedelic Therapy– Well, the title just about perfectly tells you what to expect. And I think it would honestly be pretty good for the suggested purpose, just maybe not as good for repeated listening under any other circumstance.

  • Key Glock, Yellow Tape 2– The flow is solid, and I like the driving spareness of the production. This album by a Memphis-based hip-hop artist doesn’t get enough beyond cliché and sameness track to track to really stand out, though.

  • Kip C, meraki– Some low-key hip-hop flow and a jazz background. It’s pleasant enough, but never really grabbed me. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • KrispyLife Kidd, The Art of Spice Talk– It’s a good hip-hop album. We’ve only got room for extraordinary at this point. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Ladyhawke, Time Flies– This is a kind of pastiche of disco and 80s pop and 90s dance music. It’s all well enough done, but, well, it’s getting to be late in the year, and the bar for getting my attention at this point is pretty high…

  • Leif, 9 Airs– There was some nice swirling instrumental work, some keyboard sound effects, something that sounded like a plastic container rolling down a hallway. Eh.

  • Lord Jah-Monte Ogbone, Beautifully Black– It’s a pretty darn good hip-hop album, with some clever and interesting material, but the bar, well, she is very high at this point in the year.

  • Makaya McCraven, Deciphering the Message– Through the years, venerable jazz label Blue Note has made it’s archive available to hip-hop artists, often to great effect. This bleeding edge drummer, producer, and self described “beat scientist” has produced something sonically pleasing, but not as dynamic and engaging as when Us3 did something similar, for example.

  • Makthaverskan, For Allting– The totally ambient intro pretty much lost me, but the second track from this Swedish band started to win me back with its lively surging rock and yearning vocals. The tracks do have a tendency to kind of fuzz together in an undifferentiated way, but when they’re on, they’re great- brimming over with a spontaneous 80s alt kind of feeling. In the end it was a little too uneven to really gel together as an album, but it was a close call.

  • Mira Calix, absent origin– It opens with de-synchronized beats and what sounds like a repeated fart or deflating balloon. It does get considerably better and more interesting than that, but is too discordant and experimental to make a sustainable “best of year” album.

  • Modeselektor, EXTLP– German electronic music duo. When it gets in to dub, and the more vocal tracks, it definitely comes alive. Otherwise it gets a little abstract for me.

  • Mortiferum, Preserved in Torment– I mean, you see the band name, you see the album name, you know what you’re in for. At that point, it’s actually a bigger problem for a band if they you don’t deliver it than if they do. Musically, it’s doing an excellent job of alternating between shambling sludgy doom and blistering guitar metal. The lyrics and vocals, unfortunately, are utterly lost behind an incomprehensible monster mumble voice.

  • New Age Doom/Lee “Scratch” Perry, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe– One of the final outings from the acclaimed Jamaican producer, teaming up with proggy metal band New Age Doom. It’s interesting, trippy, and I wouldn’t say it doesn’t work. It certainly is the kind of experiment that should be celebrated. But I’m not sure it makes an album that one would repeatedly listen to.

  • Ovlov, Buds– This is some really good indie-guitar rock, but it all kind of fuzzes together after several tracks.

  • Parris, Soaked in Indigo Moonlight– There are some good dance singles here, but I’m not hearing anything that adds up to a complete album.

  • Pelt, Reticence/Resistance– Pitchfork tells me “over the past 30 years, Pelt has become known for their distinct blend of Americana, drone, improvisation, and psychedelic rock”. It is impressive that these are live recordings, but the album’s two 20+ minute tracks are on the drone side of psychedelia. That’s a lot of minutes of that sound.

  • Penelope Isles, Which Way to Happy– They’ve got beats, and dreamy shimmery music, and swirly vocals. It’s all very nice, but I’m not sure I picture it being remebered much after the year is over.

  • Portrayal of Guilt, Christfucker- If you know it’s a metal band, and you see the album title, you know what you’re getting in for. Musically it’s pretty good, though there’s an occasional almost electronica touch that strikes me as odd. The vocals are all in that hoarse exaggerated monster scream voice that keeps you from getting anything out of the lyrics, though.

  • QRTR, infina ad nausea– A little electronic sometimes tending toward ambient, a little autotune, a little nah. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Rosie Lowe/Duval Timothy, Son – This collaboration between UK and South African artists is sonically interesting, but maybe a tad abstract and experimental to be coherent and bear repeated listening.

  • Scott Hirsch, Windless Day– There are moments where this mix of heartland rock and 70s production effects really felt like it was working for me. Then there were others when it felt a little flat and overproduced. Too many more of the later. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Sean Khan, Supreme Love: A Journey Through Coltrane– Some great jazz musicians paying tribute to a jazz great. I’m sure it’s great. Although I do wonder- I one of the things about the original is how groundbreaking it was. I’m not sure the responses measure up to that. Ever the trap when covering/responding to a great!

  • Shubh Saran, Inglish– It’s a thoughtful, if all-instrumental, meditation on identity. Done in an electronic-informed jazz vein. (Or a jazz-informed electronic vein?) Certainly not unworthy, but ultimately not enough to hang coherent, repeatable album status on.

  • Sloppy Jane, Madison– I do like the spell of her voice, and the emotional depth of the lyrics, and I really admire the musical gonzo spirit of recording the whole thing in a deep underground cave. It’s all of one slow tone, though, that doesn’t make for a sustainable, interesting album.

  • Snail Mail, Valentine– Skilled young indie rocker, but this is a little too much in a same low tempo track-tot-track vocal and musical vein.

  • Spirit Was, Heaven’s Just a Cloud– Although I wasn’t sure about the opening track, it did have a way with melody, and moody guitar layers that I appreciated. There was also some interesting experimentation along the way. I think it stayed all too much in one fuzzy, woozy vein (although a nice one) to work as an album, but I would keep an eye on this New York City band.  (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Sting, The Bridge– I think the last time I listened to a new Sting album was probably some time in the 90s. And don’t get me wrong, I know it’s hip to dislike him, but as an alt 80s kid I was a big fan of the Police and Sting’s earlier solo albums. So, I’m not inherently hostile, and this is not bad, in parts it’s even soaring musical storytelling. But it’s not consistently at that level, and not up to his best.
  • Summer Walker, Still Over It– The sentiments expressed here are worthy, but otherwise it’s musically unremarkable 2000s soul/R&B, down-tempo, with a lot of autotune.

  • Swallow the Sun, Moonflowers– “Finnish doom band” does leave me favorably disposed in general. And, to be sure, they do their orchestral, occasionally thrashy, thick with dread emotional vocals thing well. Maybe not well enough to sound particularly more or different from other things like this, though?

  • Taylor Swift, Red [Taylor’s Version]– We’ve talked earlier in the year about the admirable audacity of Taylor Swift’s project of re-recording earlier albums to re-gain control of her catalogue. And, not wanting fans to feel tricked or cheated, she’s loaded the releases with additional material. That’s praiseworthy! But, a two and a half hour run-time is…a bit much. Not to say there isn’t a lot of great material here, but it’s extreme overflow for an album.

  • Terrace Martin, Drones– There were moments when this was doing a jazz-inflected channeling of 70s/early 80s soul that I quite liked. There were others when it was doing something more like autotuned hip-hop that I didn’t. On balance, it didn’t quite come together.

  • The Dodos, Grizzly Peak– The descriptor “San Francisco indie rock duo” makes me want to like them, but it was a little on the bleary, unfocused side of indie for me.

  • The KVB, Unity– This British duo has produced a nice, moody, shimmery shoe-gazey outing here. To be sure, it’s pretty good. But is it especially more good than other similar things? Will people still be listening to it and talking about it five years from now? A year from now even?

  • They Might Be Giants, Book– Earlier this year I reviewed a Barenaked Ladies album, and I remember thinking they sounded as good as they always do, and the songs were all fun and well done, but I was curiously unsure it added up to a proper album. I have that same feeling here.

  • Tristan Arp, Sculpturegardening– It is like sonic sculptures, and it’s very well done, but it’s also very abstract. Not bad, just not in the general area of what I’m looking for. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Uffe, Words and Endings– Experimental electronic, some dub influence, which I like. Doesn’t stand out.
  • Various Artists, Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal– Casal was a country-rock songwriter who released fourteen albums himself, and played on hundreds of songs for other artists before becoming a member of Ryan Adams band. You can see how widely respected he was by the breadth and depth of artists who contributed covers of his songs to this tribute. It really is great material and well covered, but, at more than three hours, too unwieldy to function as an album for the general listener. But still well worth exploring!  

And now, on to December! Can I make it before the year ends?

What Were the Best Albums of the Twenty-Teens? (The Wrap-up!)

Well, my friends, here we are! I started out this year determined to catch up on newer music after a very busy and distracting stretch of years. I was very well versed in the music of the 50s-90s, and had a decent handle on the 00s, but for 2010 forward I was largely flying blind.

So I started three musical blog series. You can 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. And then there’s this series, where I set out to find the best albums of the 2010s.

To that end, 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, and split the reviews into ten parts, which you can find here:

( Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 )

Having now completely reviewed the critic’s choices, what conclusions have I come to?

Inevitably, there were some (8 out of 52, in fact) albums where I just couldn’t agree with the critics:

  • A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohead, 2016)– I don’t particularly care for Radiohead. I’m aware that this puts me at odds with every music critic ever, as well as many actual humans I know. They’re not, by any means, bad. I like moody atmospheric music. Sometimes. I like elliptical lyrics. Sometimes. I like lackadaisical low-key anguished vocals. Sometimes. But 50 minutes solid of that is just not a mood I’m often in, and I was not in that mood listening to this album.
  • Body Talk (Robyn, 2010)– This is dance music that would have sounded pretty at home somewhere in the borderline between the 80s and the early 90s. It’s well performed and well produced, and there are some songs here that are clever, unusual, and fun, which I certainly would want in my collection as singles. But overall I have trouble feeling like it adds up to a “Best of the Decade” album.
  • Bon Iver (Bon Iver, 2011, 5 votes)– The great danger of indie folk is that it has a tendency to sound the same from track to track. Which is not to say it, by any means, sounds bad. But a solid album’s worth of no changes in musical or vocal tone, well, that doesn’t always make for a great listen. This album is fine, just not a kind of fine I particularly groove on, and it never feels like it gets to great.
  • Currents (Tame Impala, 2015, 4 votes)– This is a little trippy, which is their jam. More on the dance/electronic side of trippy, with some new wave influence. It reminds me, perhaps, of something the Flaming Lips might put out, except from them I’d expect even more weirdness, and also more overarching album structure. The tracks here tend a lot toward sameness. Not bad, but not, and this is the point of a “decade’s best” list, great.
  • DS2 (Future, 2015, 4 votes)– Early on I thought this was a little more on the autotuned side of hip-hop than I like, but the lyrical content was interesting, and there’s a pleasing air of menace in the music. However, there ended up being a lot more “bitch” and “pussy” here than I like.
  • Lost In The Dream (The War on Drugs, 2014, 4 votes)– Vocally and musically billowy and  golden, but with maybe too smooth a production. It reminded” me of the 80s, and not in a good way, but in a “victory of airtight musical package over authenticity/vitality” kind of way. It’s technically very good, there were some flourishes I enjoyed, but I didn’t really feel anything the whole way through.
  • Sunbather (Deafhaven, 2013, 4 votes)– I mean, the first track is a pretty weird combo- the unintelligible screamo school of metal vocals, and a kind of orchestral swell of indie rock sound which is really rather pleasant. I think I would rather have the reverse. Then there’s a mellow instrumental. Then back to the scream orchestra. Then a “Revolution #9”-style abstract wank-off. And so forth. I really don’t get where the critics were coming from on this at all.
  • 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 refreshing in a genre where songs can sometimes can get a little…long. The heavily autotuned nature of a lot of it? Not so much. Definitely some great singles here, and a talent worth keeping an eye on.

There was another block of albums (10 of 52) where I could certainly hear what caught the critics ear, but which I didn’t feel totally added up:

  • Anti (Rihanna, 2016)– There’s musical and lyrical sophistication here, and songs that are sometimes quite personal and confessional. It’s very well produced, and it is, par excellence, what a big chunk of the decade sounded like. But I’m not sure it holds up to the best of other soul/R&B/dance albums from the same time period.
  • Black Messiah (D’Angelo & the Vanguard, 2014)– In a previous iteration of this kind of exercise a few years back, I had been confidently informed by critics that D’Angelo’s album Voodoo was one of the best albums of the 00s. It was good stuff, but I couldn’t see what I was getting from it that I wouldn’t, for example, get from Prince (who it felt heavily derivative of). I’m having exactly the same reaction here. To be fair, though, I suppose this could be considered praising by faint damnation, since that’s a pretty darn elevated reference point.
  • Days Are Gone (Haim, 2013)– For my 2020 list I’d listened to their album Women in Music, and quite liked it. This album feels like it leans in an even more poppy direction, but retains what I really liked about that album- a nearly perfect pop sensibility with some power and substance behind it. This does register as lighter than their later album, though. Is this Days Are Gone‘s fault? No, and yet it must reverse-chronologically suffer for my knowledge!
  • Emotion (Carly Rae Jepsen, 2015)– The whole thing is very poppy and fun. It reminds me of Taylor Swift, though perhaps a little slicker and less substantive than her work from a comparable time. Really pretty good as dance-oriented pop music goes, and it does sound emblematic of the decade. So in that sense, maybe a signal album, but I’m not quite sure about “best”.
  • Golden Hour (Kacey Musgraves, 2018)– A textured country album, often leaning on the obvious/pop side lyrically, but the vocals are earnest enough to sell it. Musically, it’s lush, grounded in pop country, but drawing on dance music, electronic, and indie rock. It’s all very good, and the best moments are great, but I don’t know about it adding up to a “decade’s best”- the best country albums are better than this as a whole, and the best pop albums are too. What she’s done in bringing together both sides of that equation is still worthy of notice though!
  • Have One On Me (Joanna Newsom)– The instrumentation and production is so clever, bringing in layers that remind one of the late Beatles. Her voice weaves in and out, soars and dips, sometimes sing-song, sometimes wispy, sometimes powerful. Between all these factors, there’s enough variability in a single song to be almost exhausting. And lyrically it creates a surreal idiosyncratic world of its own in the manner, say, of Kate Bush or Tori Amos. That’s the upside, and it’s significant. On the downside, it’s hard to keep up over the length of a triple album (runtime comes in at about two hours), and it gets more conventional, and often lower energy, as it goes on. It’s hard to ignore the merits, but I’m not sure it totally succeeds as an album.
  • Night Time, My Time (Sky Ferreira, 2013)– The debut album from one of the original MySpace musical sensations. It’s a solid pop album, with a darker rock edge to its vocal and musical texture. And darn catchy too! The whole thing is a little inconsistent, but the inconsistency is between merely solidly good and freaking great. All in all, an excellent reminder that pop may not always be profound, but it doesn’t have to be dreck.
  • Random Access Memories (Daft Punk, 2013)– Daft Punk is my favorite French electronic music duo. Okay, no, but really, I’m sure there is more than one. And their 2001 album Discovery really was one of the best of that decade. They are as good as always here, and their mining herein of 70s and 80s dance music really suits their strengths. But I don’t know if the album as a whole is as good as their best. The pacing often felt weird to me- fast and slow lurches and mood shifts that didn’t seem to build on each other in any apparent way.
  • Teen Dream (Beach House, 2010)– This album has the shimmery, golden, sunburn hot turning to goosebump cool feeling of the end of a late summer day at the beach. There are hints of synth, psychedelia, even some honest to goodness surf music. It unfortunately seems to have a weird problem with volume randomly shooting up and down between tracks. Other than that, the dream pop here is in very good shape, but I’m not sure it’s in “decade’s best” territory.
  • Visions (Grimes, 2012)– 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!

Which leaves 34 of 52 albums that the critics and I agree are among the best of the decade:

1989 (Taylor Swift, 2014)– It is obviously disingenuous in some wise to say I missed this, because it’s Taylor Swift, and if you didn’t hear “Shake It Off” and some of the other singles from this album in the last decade, you probably weren’t in the last decade. Importantly for an album, the non-hit singles here are as compelling and well-done as the hits. Look, I’m a rock guy, I’m a genre classics and alternative guy, I’m a history/deep cuts guy. But there’s nothing wrong with good pop music, and this is pop music at its finest. 

A Seat at the Table (Solange, 2016)– Solange, reportedly, is not fond of being compared to older sister Beyonce. If you’ve found yourself on either side of that sibling comparison game, this is probably understandable to you. As it happens, she’s earned independent review, because, at least based on what I hear here, she’s a force in her own right. This album is soulful, weary, and wise from the first note. It mixes the personal and the social, and there’s genuine vulnerability throughout. And, while keeping a general smooth low-tempo R&B vibe, it takes musical and vocal chances that are lovely. If you want to play a comparison game, this honestly reminds me of Prince in its complexity and quality.

Acid Rap (Chance the Rapper, 2013)– Rich, fun, and dynamic from the get-go with “Good Ass Intro” (which is), and it doesn’t let up from there. Musically, it makes excellent use of an amalgam of Soul, Funk, R&B, and Jazz backgrounds. The lyrics are also so well done, simultaneously clever, informed by pop culture references, and meaningful. The vocals meanwhile cycle through multiple modes- staccato rapid flow, straight-up singing, spoken word. Altogether, it’s a kaleidoscope of moods and modes that sounds like its title. It’s easy to see why this ended up on so many lists!

AM (Arctic Monkeys, 2013)– This starts off with a solid beat and vaguely sinister guitar, which is a good way to get me on board. Then come the vocals and lyrics, which also have a dark and slightly sleazy feeling. The songs display an excellent feel for the interplay between music and vocals, how each should move around the other for maximum impact. Even in the second half, when it sometimes slips into softer croonier and more “high concept” tracks, every song fires on all cylinders. This is sophisticated dirty rock the way sophisticated dirty rock is supposed to be done!   

Art Angels (Grimes, 2015)– The ethereal disembodied first track almost sent me away, but then the variability and verve of the subsequent efforts brought me back. Quirky music, quirky vocals, very upbeat. She knows pop music, and then keeps ‘effin with it with dissonant choices. If this was the average level pop music was landing at, it would be a grand thing!

Beyonce (Beyonce, 2013)– From the first track, which wrestles with body image and social pressure, this is a pop album in service of a higher purpose. Whether tackling social issues, personal biography, or emotional confession, track after track aims for import. In lesser hands, this could be an unwieldy exercise. But given skill and vision, it can be pulled off, and is amazing when it works (cf. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation). Beyonce’s hands are not lesser- between mastery of the musical idioms of soul and R&B, by turns soaring and subtle vocals, rich production, and incisive lyrics, she delivers.

Blackstar (David Bowie, 2016)– As a David Bowie fan, I had been curious about his final album. The opening/title song is mesmerizing and self-valedictory, in the course of 10 minutes, it tries out styles from throughout his long career. Subsequent tracks stick more to a unified musical theme, with healthy portions of dissonant art rock and electronic beats. Vocally and musically the tracks are unsettling in the way many a Bowie song can be unsettling, and then on top of that there is an obvious concern with history, legacy, and mortality throughout. It’s a powerful thing to do with a record and makes for a fitting swan song.

Blonde (Frank Ocean, 2016)– The first track sound like an autotuned chipmunk ,but real vocals kicked in midway. With that, and the many unusual and interesting choices it makes for R&B, it grew on me. The arrangement and production was really, really good. Except for the occasional dip back into autotuned chipmunk. But this is a fun and unusual sounding album. I can see why it ended up on so many lists!

Brothers (The Black Keys, 2010)– Remember Rock? Remember when you first heard it? Really heard it? The further one gets into this century, the harder it is to remember what that felt like. The Black Keys, like the White Stripes (lots of bad blood there, don’t tell them I compared them), remember. This album, like their music in general, taps into that threshold where blues crosses over and becomes rock. And in the process takes me back to why I loved rock in the first place.

Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Angel Olsen, 2014)– I liked the intro with its richly textured acoustic guitar, and her beautifully dolorous voice. Then the second track kicked into a 90s rocker girl mode, and uh, I was done for. Her vocals are very interesting, with smart and nervy lyrics, and the music knows its way around rock history. It keeps changing musical modes, but is tied together by her undeniable presence. By track three I was officially ensorcelled, and remained so until the end.

Carrie & Lowell (Sufjan Stevens, 2015)– To say this isn’t quite the tour de force that his album Illinoise was, well, that’s like saying “not quite Brothers Karamazov, but still good Dostoyevsky”. The emotional and musical texturing of the songs is rich, and the lyrics, as always, searingly earnest and personal. If there’s anything more I might ask for, it’s more moments, vocally and musically, that break out of the relatively narrow emotional palette of the album. Then again, it’s an album about sorting out the emotional aftermath of his mother’s death, so you can’t exactly fault it for that.

Celebration Rock (Japandroids, 2012)– Hey, that’s some good rock! It’s got the guitar. It’s got the backbeat. It’s got surging passionate vocals. It’s got the feedback fade after. They totally know how rock song structure works as well, and there are affecting lyrics. Without sounding absolutely the same track after track, there isn’t a track that stops rocking. God bless Canadians, I sometimes think they’re the only ones who still get it.

Channel ORANGE (Frank Ocean, 2012)– This is the second of two albums of his that made the list, and the chronologically earlier of the two (the other one being Blonde from 2016). Well done Frank! Like that album, the autotuned nature of some of the vocals here gives me pause. Also, like that album, the lyrical wit, interesting sampling and production, and varied musical approaches utterly overcomes those reservations. I can see how this got listed, especially since it came out first!

Control (SZA, 2017)– Musically sophisticated, emotionally honest, and lyrically complex R&B. Some tracks are harrowing, some sweetly vulnerable, some sarcastic, and some downright hilarious, like “Doves in The Wind” in which she (SZA is the stage name of Solána Imani Rowe) uses samples from Westerns and Kung-fu movies and a guest appearance by Kendrick Lamar to explore the obsession with pussy. On the downside, it’s got more than a bit of the “autotuned” sound that’s the bane of the decade and maybe falls a little short in overall coherence. Part of the issue may be that, as the 19th album from the list I listened to, I was by then comparing it to the very best-structured albums from the list. That’s pretty minor sour grapes considering how high quality this is, and how powerful she is.

DAMN. (Kendrick Lamar, 2017)– From the first, this made musical and lyrical choices that show something special is going on here. The dense weaving of storytelling, the unusual vocal mixing choices, the strategic deployment of music samples to set a mood, it all works. His 2012 album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was a heck of a thing to have to live up to. Darned if this doesn’t do it!

Daytona (Pusha T, 2018)– It’s got energy and swagger, all right, and the wordplay is top notch. The music mix and sampling is crisp and sharp. The lyrics have some weight and meaning too. A little derivative (you’ll hear lots of influence of Jay-Z and Kanye West- who produced it- here) but all in all, this is a very worthy effort.

Dirty Computer (Janelle Monae, 2018)– If you make a sexy, smooth R&B/dance album, I’m on your side. If you make an album with political/social import that doesn’t get polemical, I’m on your side. If you make an album full of smart, unusual lyrical, vocal, and musical choices, I’m on your side. If you make an album with sci-fi/tech themes, I’m on your side. If you do all of these together, you are Janelle Monae, and I’m over the moon.

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (Kendrick Lamar, 2012)– This is the album that put Kendrick Lamar on the critical map, and deservedly so. Musically and vocally, it’s full of choices that put it above the crowd of hip-hop albums. If it stopped there, that would be notable enough, but on top of it there’s actually a structured storyline running throughout, and lyrics that feel searingly honest. It’s an album that observes the toughness of what he grew up in, and shines with a desire to rise above it even as it describes the fear of it dragging him back down.

In Colour (Jamie xx, 2015)– British Dj Jamie xx delivers the kind of electronic dance music album that was maybe more common in the 90s and early 00s- strong beats, cleverly deployed samples, vocal snippets, but somehow structured in a way that makes it still work as a song along somewhat recognizable pop/rock lines. As you know if you’ve been following my three series this year, electronica is not generally my bag, but this variety of it, and how skillfully it’s done, absolutely is!

Invasion of Privacy (Cardi B, 2018)– Strong bold vocal flow? Check. Self-empowered swagger? Check. Spare, clean, sampling and production full of interesting choices? Check. Tracks that get your head bobbing, and strike a variety of moods? Check. Songs that are about something and show moments of reflection and vulnerability among the swagger? Check. Sometimes the guest stars get a little distracting, but otherwise this is pure gold.

Lemonade (Beyonce, 2016)– Her voice, of course, is never less than amazing. But that’s almost the least of the things going on here. Multilayered production, clever and varied musical choices, deeply personal lyrics that tackle the political and the private (sometimes the very private matter of marital infidelity), with equal parts biting humor, anger, and raw vulnerability. It kind of puts every other pop record of the decade on notice for their lack of ambition.

Lonerism (Tame Impala, 2012)– Some years ago, I was driving through the wilds of western New York with my wife when we heard something on the radio so weird and wonderful that we immediately had to know what it was. It turned out to be Tame Impala’s song “Elephant” from this album. I’ve listed to two later Tame Impala albums in this blog series and my 2020 review, and expected them to be amazing based on that song, but was decidedly underwhelmed. It turns out this is the album I was looking for the whole time after all. It’s a (distorted) pitch-perfect neo-psychedelic masterpiece from start to finish.

LP1 (FKA Twigs, 2014)– I must confess, I’d heard the name, but I had no idea what kind of twig an FKA twig was. So this was all pleasant surprise- the theatrical vocals, air of vulnerability, music based in dance/pop but full of experimental edge and offbeat surprises. Tahliah Debrett Barnett (FKA Twigs is her musical stage name) is an English singer-songwriter, record producer, dancer, and actress, aka she’s overflowing with talent, and all of it is on display here. It never let go of my attention the whole way through.

Melodrama (Lorde, 2017)– Lorde’s second album starts with an emotional punch and dynamic multi-layered music, generous servings of her lyrical intelligence, and strong and honest vocal presence. And it doesn’t let up from there. Her combination of power, seriousness, and ability to produce something both interesting and pleasing to listen to is truly impressive.

Modern Vampires of the City (Vampire Weekend, 2013)– Long have I heard of this Weekend of Vampires, but little did I know of what they actually sounded like. Lots of people I know have recommended this album to me, and 7 out of 10 critic’s top of the decade lists seem to agree. It gets off to a Beatlesque and unusual start, which is a nice way to catch one’s attention. From there it’s high energy, catchy, and if a little formulaic, a good execution of a great formula- hooky indie rock, 60s pop, sweetly smooth vocals, lyrical cleverness, just enough noise to make one pay attention without stopping the pop. If not quite a transcendent album for the ages (like, I’m not sure what it’s doing in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of…ever…, for example), I can at least see why so many folks liked it.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye West, 2010)– Kanye West’s debut album was one of my favorites of the 00s (if not the whole damn century so far), and his next two albums also acquitted themselves admirably. Beyond that, I hadn’t really kept up with his further musical output, beyond knowing it was somewhat more uneven, so I’ve been looking forward to checking this out. It is well worth the checking out! His vocal flow, lyrical prowess, sampling intelligence, and production skill are all in top form here. And it is, as the name would imply, a darkly textured take on himself, his ego, and the fallout of fame. Along the way it goes through so many moods and musical modes, but retains the subject focus, tying the whole thing together. All in all, a powerful album!

Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Lana Del Ray, 2019)Godamn, man child/ You fucked me so good that I almost said, “I love you” is quite a lyrical start! And so sweetly vocally and musically delivered. And that really, it seems to me, is the secret of what she does here. Smoky sultry music, rich warm vocals. She could be delivering the sweetest most torchy album ever. And she is, but with lyrics that dazzle with their intelligence and emotional complexity and bite with their edge. It’s a potent combination, and I am totally signed off on this being one of the best things that came out last decade.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett, 2015)– Oh my gosh, such solid rock, chord changes, intelligent lyrics that work with the music. This reminds me of the early 80s era of smart, wordy folks who knew how to work a rock song- Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock, etc. But with contemporary subject matter. Not a single song fails the whole way through. And extra points for her Australian accent shinning through!

Take Care (Drake, 2011)– I was skeptical going in of the run-length, but the first track did start off very well- rich music sampling, clear vocal delivery, wit and impact, with some honest wrestling with self and success thrown in. It gets a little auto-tuned in parts, but still catchy and substantive, with more than an occasional lyrical and musically surprise that bring one above and beyond what is otherwise a smooth pop ride. I wouldn’t say it’s up there with the best from Kanye or Jay-Z, but I can get behind the critical take on this album.

The Idler Wheel (Fiona Apple, 2012)Let’s be precise, the full title is The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. That name alone is a tour de force, and so, here, is Fiona Apple. The soars and dips of her voice, the spare but driving nature of the music, the virtuosity in the phrasing of the vocals, the intelligent bare honesty of the lyrics, all conspire to produce a powerful live-wire of an album.

The Suburbs (Arcade Fire, 2010)– 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 powerfully move forward, but enough about indie experimentation to have depths that surprise. There’s even some structure that ties the whole thing together, but isn’t heavy enough to distract or feel gimmicky. This is 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)– 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 deep and robust than electronic music often feels. LCD can bring their Soundsystem over my way anytime!

To Pimp A Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar, 2015)– This is his third album on this list, and it’s also the one with the most critic’s 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 what I’m describing 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!

Yeezus (Kanye West, 2013)– Ibid. everything I said a few posts ago while introing 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 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.

If you’d prefer a names-only list version for easier reference (hey, I can appreciate that) here you go:

  1. 1989 (Taylor Swift, 2014)
  2. A Seat at the Table (Solange, 2016)
  3. Acid Rap (Chance the Rapper, 2013)
  4. AM (Arctic Monkeys, 2013)
  5. Art Angels (Grimes, 2015)
  6. Beyonce (Beyonce, 2013)
  7. Blackstar (David Bowie, 2016)
  8. Blonde (Frank Ocean, 2016)
  9. Brothers (The Black Keys, 2010)
  10. Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Angel Olsen, 2014)
  11. Carrie & Lowell (Sufjan Stevens, 2015)
  12. Celebration Rock (Japandroids, 2012)
  13. Channel ORANGE (Frank Ocean, 2012)
  14. Control (SZA, 2017)
  15. DAMN. (Kendrick Lamar, 2017)
  16. Daytona (Pusha T, 2018)
  17. Dirty Computer (Janelle Monae, 2018)
  18. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (Kendrick Lamar, 2012)
  19. In Colour (Jamie xx, 2015)
  20. Invasion of Privacy (Cardi B, 2018)
  21. Lemonade (Beyonce, 2016)
  22. Lonerism (Tame Impala, 2012)
  23. LP1 (FKA Twigs, 2014)
  24. Melodrama (Lorde, 2017)
  25. Modern Vampires of the City (Vampire Weekend, 2013)
  26. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye West, 2010)
  27. Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Lana Del Ray, 2019)
  28. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett, 2015)
  29. Take Care (Drake, 2011)
  30. The Idler Wheel (Fiona Apple, 2012)
  31. The Suburbs (Arcade Fire, 2010)
  32. This Is Happening (LCD Soundsystem, 2010)
  33. To Pimp A Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar, 2015)
  34. Yeezus (Kanye West, 2013)

And that, my friends, is our wrap-up on this search for the best albums of the 2010s.

I know from my 2021 project that my particular tastes are rather idiosyncratic, so some of what I might like best probably isn’t even on the consensus critical list. But 34 albums that make it out of a decade really having something going on is a good place to start! I’d love to hear if you have some favorites that didn’t make the list. And, now that we’ve wrapped up the series on the 2010s and 2020, please join me for the final installments of our 2021 review!