Tag Archives: best albums of the 2010s

What Were the Best Albums of the Twenty-Teens? (Part 4 of 10)

Commencing part four of my ten-part review of critic’s choices for the 52 best albums of 2010-2019! (Wait! What? 52? There is a reason, see below…) If you missed the earlier editions, you can find them here:

(Part 1 Part 2 Part 3)

This is one of three musical blog series I’m doing this year. So go check out the latest installments of my overview of the critical consensus on the 20 best albums of 2020, and my monthly review of new releases en route to finding the best 21 albums of 2021.

So, wait, did I say 52? This is what happened: 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. Albums getting 4 votes and up totaled 52, which was close enough to a top 50 that I decided to go with that as a cutoff.

I’m doing 10 total posts of 5 each (or 6 each on the last two) and then a final wrap-up. With that explained, let’s get on with Part 4!

Celebration Rock (Japandroids, 2012, 5 votes)– Hey, that’s some good rock! At least on the opening track. 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.

    

Black Messiah (D’Angelo & the Vanguard, 2014, 5 votes)– 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. I had trouble getting there. 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 a similar reaction to this. To be fair, though, I suppose this could be considered praising by faint damnation, since that’s a pretty darn elevated reference point.

Channel ORANGE (Frank Ocean, 2012, 7 votes)– 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, 7 votes)– 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’ve listened to, I’m now 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.

Currents (Tame Impala, 2015, 4 votes)– This is a little trippy, which I hear is their jam. But, 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 are also tending a lot toward sameness. Not bad, by any means, but I’m not convinced this adds up to a “decade best” album.

And that’s it for this installment! 20 down, 32 to go…

What Were the Best Albums of the Twenty-Teens? (Part 3 of 10)

Welcome to part three of my ten-part review of critic’s choices for the 52 best albums of 2010-2019! (52 is weird, right? We ended up with that number for technical reasons explained below.) If you missed the earlier editions, you can find them here:

(Part 1 Part 2)

This is one of three musical blog series I’m doing this year. You may also want to check out the latest installments of my overview of the critical consensus on the 20 best albums of 2020, and my monthly review of new releases en route to finding the best 21 albums of 2021.

So, 52? It’s like this: 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. Albums getting 4 votes and up totaled 52, which was close enough to a top 50 that I decided to go with that as a cutoff.

I’m doing 10 total posts of 5 each (or actually 6 each on the last two) and then a final wrap-up. Got it? Then let’s do Part 3!

Body Talk (Robyn, 2010, 7 votes)– I think this is Swedish 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 consistent album, never mind “Best of the Decade” territory.

     

Bon Iver (Bon Iver, 2011, 5 votes)– The great danger of indie folk is that it has a tendency to sound the same- both internally from track to track in an album, and between albums. Which is not to say it is, by any means, bad. But a solid album’s worth of no changes in musical or vocal tone, well, that doesn’t always make for a great album. This album is fine, as far as I can tell. Just not a kind of fine I particularly groove on. And, fine or not, it never feels like it gets to great.

 

Brothers (The Black Keys, 2010, 4 votes)– 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, 5 votes)– 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, 5 votes)– 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.

All right, there we are! Fifteen down, which means 37 to go. Who knows what wonders we still have to discover?  

What Were the Best Albums of the Twenty-Teens? (Part 2 of 10)

Welcome to the second installment of my review of the best albums (according to critical consensus) of the 2010s. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. This is one of three musically-themed blog series I’m doing this year. You may also be interested in my review of the reputed 20 best albums of 2020 (latest edition here), and my search for the 21 best albums of 2021 (January edition here).

To quickly review methodology, 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. Albums getting 4 votes and up totaled 52, which was close enough to a top 50 that I decided to go with that as a cutoff.

I’m doing 10 total posts of 5 each (or actually 6 on the last two) and then a final wrap-up. And now, without further ado, here’s Part II!

Anti (Rihanna, 2016, 7 votes)– There’s musical and lyrical sophistication here, and songs that are sometimes more conventional, sometimes more personal and confessional. It’s very well produced, but I don’t know that it makes the level of a “best album” of the decade. 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.

Art Angels (Grimes, 2015, 4 votes)– 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, which I appreciate. If this was the average level pop music was landing at, it would be a grand thing!

Beyonce (Beyonce, 2013, 6 votes)– From the first track, which tackles 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, 6 votes)– 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, 8 votes)– Is it just me, or does the first track sound like an autotuned chipmunk? Real vocals kicked in midway, but the sound was still very autotuned. Which is a shame, because musically it’s making many unusual and interesting choices for R&B. Dammit, it’s growing on me. The arrangement and production is actually 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!

And that’s it for Part II. Ten down, 42 to go! Which means we may learn the secret to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

What Were the Best Albums of the Twenty-Teens? (Part 1 of 10)

And here we are, the third of three musical blog series I’ll be doing this year. In my first foray, I set out to listen to new releases every month in search of the 21 best albums of 2021. My second series tackles a review of critic’s choices for the 20 best albums of 2020. These are both part of a New Year’s intention of getting caught up with current music, after years spent filling out previous decades and also distracted by cross-country moves, family issues, fighting creeping fascism, etc.

Because of all of the above, my relative outage on newer music extended through most of the past decade. So this third series will be working its way through the critical consensus on the best albums of 2010-2019, and seeing what is what. (Some years back I did something similar for the 2000s, you can find my wrap-up of that series here.)

A quick note on methodology, which was fairly simple. 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. It wasn’t clear to me going in just what my cut-off would be in terms of number of albums, but as it happened, albums getting 4 votes and up totaled 52, which was close enough to 50 to serve as a good round-up.

And now I’m working my way through listening to them, and writing reviews as I go. I’ll do 10 total posts of 5 each (and 6 on the last two) and then a final wrap-up. With that explained, let’s get going with Part I!

1989 (Taylor Swift, 2014, 5 votes)– It is obviously disingenuous in some wise to say I missed this album, 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 comparably 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, 8 votes)– 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.

A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohead, 2016, 4 votes)– As has been documented elsewhere in my music writing, 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. Now, don’t get me wrong. They’re not, by any means, bad. It’s just, 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 and only that? It’s just not a mood I’m often in. Despite some fine moments and individual songs that worked for me, I was not in that mood listening to this album as a whole. It might be someone else’s cup of tea, though!

Acid Rap (Chance the Rapper, 2013, 7 votes)– 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, both clever, informed by pop culture references, and meaningful. And the vocals 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, 4 votes)– This starts off with 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 also 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!   

All right, that’s five down, 47 to go. Saints preserve us, and see you next time for another five!