In a decade that saw the rise of streaming, the album came out of the 2010s alive and well. The LP rose again, dwarfing the dying compact disc by the end of the decade, and some of the biggest artists of the era issued defining album statements that demanded to be played all the way through.
In determining our Top 50 favorite albums of the 2010s, The Young Folks’ music editor Ryan Gibbs asked the members of the music section to compile lists of their personal favorite albums of the decade. These lists were then tallied up (in a Google Docs spreadsheet), with the #1 album earning 50 points, and so on through the #50 album receiving 1 point. We will post our individual writers lists later this week.
50. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
While Chvrches have managed to release some undeniable hits throughout the years following their initial debut, there’s still no touching the cohesive master work of their first, “The Bones of What You Believe.” Lauren Mayberry cuts straight through us, especially in songs such as “The Mother We Share” (as great an album opener as any), “We Sink” and “Recover.” Before the genre was oversaturated with bands that leaned heavily into the female lead synth-pop groups, “The Bones of What You Believe” was an exemplary product of indie pop, the sound full, cohesive and brimming with energy as the songs burst forth. – Allyson Johnson
49. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
“How does it feel to be right?” That’s what Stephen Colbert asked Thom Yorke recently after correctly pointing out how he and Radiohead have spent over two decades writing songs about the dangers of technology, government and society. You won’t hear Yorke’s thoughts on those subjects throughout his British collective’s sparse and hauntingly-beautiful ninth album. Aside from a creeping album opener that compares public revelations of crime to the ceremonies of Salem (“Burn the Witch”), A Moon Shaped Pool is more akin to a breakup album. With Yorke reeling from his split with then-girlfriend Rachel Owen, he and the band delivered stripped-down confessionals about what pours out of a heart when it’s broken and the desperation one takes to keep that warm feeling alive. From the spooky jazz of “Identikit” to the towering piano keys of “Daydreaming,” Radiohead managed to bring their cinematic grandiosity down to their most personal lyrics to date. – Jon Winkler
48. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Celebration Rock almost never happened. The Vancouver duo Japandroids planned to disband in 2009 after issuing their debut album Post-Nothing due to their perceived lack of success. Instead, the album blew up, turning them into one of the biggest indie success stories of that year. How do you follow up a surprise success like that? With Celebration Rock, Japandroids decided to make an album similar to their first, but with a more pronounced classic rock influence. This is a punk record where you can hear the band smiling as they sing their anthemic lyrics. It’s punk rock to be blasted in the parking lots of hockey arenas as if it were Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. There’s only eight tracks over the course of 35 minutes here, and Japandroids don’t waste a note. The album is full of hooks, catchy choruses and excellent, stripped-down displays of musicianship, especially on its best songs like “Fire’s Highway” and “Younger Us”. The band set out to capture the energy of their live show on Celebration Rock and succeeded, resulting in one of the most exuberant alt-rock records of the decade. – Ryan Gibbs
47. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Based on the way they’ve been covered, you’d think this NYC four-piece were one-trick ponies who peaked early, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They’ve only gotten better, culminating in their three best records: 2014’s Sunbathing Animal, 2016’s Human Performance, and especially 2018’s Wide Awake! Though never seeming ashamed of the Pavement comparisons, Wide Awake! proves that Parquet Courts are not mere copies, adding more garage rock elements and lyrical density that earned them comparisons to The Velvet Underground. Hopefully after a few more albums, people will just let them be Parquet Courts. – Melody Rice
46. Grouper – Ruins
Liz Harris’ work under Grouper has always been abstract with many unsettling layers beneath the music itself. Ruins is an album full of ghostly ambiance and extremely vulnerable piano passages. Harris’ hushed vocal delivery is hauntingly ethereal as it floats through the quiet moments. The combination of these elements creates a calm whirlwind of peace and clarity. It’s unplugged and raw in a darkly cleansing way, especially during the 10-minute conclusion, “Made of Air.” It evokes imagery of lost coasts and old, derelict architecture. In the album’s best moments, it speaks to the beauty and simultaneous desolation of solitude. – Mark Wesley
45. SZA – CTRL
SZA’s pain on CTRL is beyond a simple breakup or a terrible high experience. Her desire to fit in as an African American woman in her 20-somethings feels genuine and cathartic throughout. With help from her mom (who pops up every once in a while on the album), SZA attempts to navigate an increasingly judgmental internet era.
She’s approaches life’s misfortunes with anecdotal reflections about the horrors of working at a strip club (“Broken Clocks”) and constant insecurities and expectations as a woman in the music industry (“Supermodel”). In between all of that, SZA doesn’t shy away from exposing her savage side (“Doves in the Wind”), as well as her tenderness and longing (“Love Galore”). CTRL is a masterful contemporary R&B album perfect for our millennial generation. – Ryan Feyre
44. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
In her career spanning over twenty years, Fiona Apple has only released four albums, which makes every release a full course meal we have to sit down and savor before we eat it up too fast. Her 2012 release, (big breath) The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do was her first since 2005. Following hiccups and discord with the release of her previous album, Apple decided to record this album in secret and the freedom that came with that elusive privacy comes through in the album. Apple rambles through her various influences and skills, incorporating whimsical jazz elements and humorous asides while deftly spinning intricate, yet catchy yarns about various interpersonal tensions. The album bounces around your mind, with many a standout track. The pragmatically romantic “Anything We Want,” the self-examination of “Every Single Night,” the bittersweet reckoning of “Werewolf” and the near a capella experiment of “Hot Knife.” In a mere ten tracks, Apple swooped in to remind us of all she can do, when she feels like it. – Beth Winchester
43. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
If there’s one thing this country superstar ain’t, it’s dumb. And yet there are so many jokes about dumb blondes that the title track here can be heard as an obstinate message of personal pride. When I first heard her sing “Somethin’ bout platinum/Looks as good on records/As it does on me”, I wanted to punch the air and give her a standing ovation at the same time. Platinum provides many moments like that. But it also provides plenty of ruminative moments that offset the jokiness and give the album as a whole an emotional richness. Just check out the complex insecurities of “Bathroom Sink” and the concern about underage pregnancies on “Babies Makin’ Babies”. Yet the real miracle is that these more serious moments never get bogged down in the treacly ballad syndrome of too many country albums. Like everything on Platinum, they’re tastefully done, toeing the line between mainstream country and pop music with a finesse that Lambert’s mastered so well it sounds like she’s dancing across the line. – Oliver Hollander
42. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Don’t let the title fool you: Thebe Kgositsele’s fourth full-length practically occupies its own genre. Created following a period of isolation in the wake of predecessor I Don’t Like Shit…, Some Rap Songs is a jazzy, unfiltered trip through the busy mind of the erstwhile Odd Future star. It’s arguably his most personal record yet, stuffed to the gills with ramshackle beats and soul samples (largely curated by Earl himself) and more devastating glimpses into his troubled psyche than ever before. In his unmistakable loop-de-looping monotone flow, he pays tribute to his late father (“Playing Possum”) and frankly details his history of depression and suicidal thoughts (“Shattered Dreams,” “Eclipse”). There’s simply no one before or since who sounds quite like Earl, and watching him carve out his niche in rap over the last decade has been truly exhilarating. – Michael Heimbaugh
41. Beyoncé – 4
Love does truly wonderful things to Beyonce. It makes her find belief in its power through any and all situations, it gives her titanic strength to fight any battle she sees fit to tackle (even if its against what she thought was love) and most importantly, it got her to do that wild vocal run at the beginning of “Countdown.” Queen B took a lot of musical risks in the 2010s and 4 was the first time she truly spread her wings on a record. Not only does she have range in the sense of modern pop, but here is where she proved to have range in every sense of pop music. She could honor the heroes of Motown’s warmest singles (“Love On Top”) and the hottest ballads of the 80s (“1+1”), but also test the futuristic rigidness of alt-R&B (“I Care”) while still hosting a good ol’ time (“Party”). As odd as it was to end such a warm and adventurous album on the militant “Run the World (Girls),” it makes sense in hindsight given Beyonce’s ascension to legendary status this decade. – Jon Winkler
40. Chromatics – Kill for Love
“Borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s” was a throwaway line in LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge”, but Chromatics have turned that into their mission statement. With Kill for Love, Johnny Jewel, Ruth Radelet and their associates created the ultimate forgotten 1980s pop record. The album is awash in vintage synthesizers, Italo disco influences and hazy vocals. Many songs build propulsion through simple lyrics and increasing waves of synthesizers, such as on “Back from the Grave”, while tracks like “Lady” are full-on darkwave disco from the start. Kill for Love appeared right around the same time the vaporwave genre started taking off, proving that there was a large market for forgotten, degraded remnants of 1980s popular culture. But where an album like Floral Shoppe built off pre-existing scraps, Kill for Love created its homages from scratch, resulting in an album that feels both contemporary and lost in time entirely. – Ryan Gibbs
39. Jamie XX – In Colour
The debut album from xx producer Jamie xx is a one-way trip into the world of the UK’s extensive rave scene. It is a dense, ravishing dance record that performs a balancing act between gorgeous club mixes and lowkey rave bangers. From the onset, In Colour delivers one continuous mood after another that immerses the listener into a sense of pure ecstasy. Some tracks are large and anthemic like “Loud Places” or the indelible Young Thug and Popcaan collaboration “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”, while others, “Stranger in a Room” and “Girl” in particular, are more understated. The dancefloor has never felt so all-encompassing. – Mark Wesley
38. Beach House – Teen Dream
With the release of Teen Dream in 2010, Beach House, at last, broke through to the band listeners always sensed they were meant to be. With an obvious investment in production, this third album took the dreamy sensibilities already apparent in their previous work and gave it a polish that let the impressive skills of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand stand apparent. The album is the best example of the early 2010s dream-pop trend because every song drifts over and into you like softly shifting sands. The album starts top-heavy, with “Zebra, “Silver Soul” and “Norway” being some of the best Beach House songs at that point. The rest of the album offers efficient, yet sprawling dream-pop soundscapes all tied together with one of Beach House’s best songs, “Take Care.” It’s a strong enough testament to Teen Dream’s excellence that we have placed an album released in the first month of this decade on this list. – Beth Winchester
37. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Will Toledo, singer/songwriter extraordinaire of Car Seat Headrest, speaks directly to teens in the great rock tradition, but his alter-ego is a world away from the cocksure guitar hero of Chuck’s Johnny B. On Teens of Denial, it instead takes the form of a schmuck named Joe, a youngster struggling with depression brought about by the fear of entering the adult world. “How was I supposed to know how to make dinner for myself?” is just one of the funnier complaints this classic teen issues. Joe can feel his life careening out of control, much like drunk drivers, the subjects of one song, or the captain of the Costa Concordia, the subject of another. And that turbulence is reflected in the music. Toledo’s musical touchstones are clearly the noise-rock bands of the late 80s/early 90s (Pixies, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Guided by Voices etc.), deploying generous feedback, squeals and squalls on his guitar to capture the chaotic energy of youth, and using dynamic soft-loud contrasts to punch home the turbulent messages in some of the more disturbing episodes (particularly “Cosmic Hero”). It is, in all, a powerful, thrilling spectacle, with unexpectedly charming moments in the form of catchy sing-along choruses, even if Toledo can’t resist cynically matching them to lines such as “I give up” or the eternal “Drugs are better/Drugs are better with/Friends are better/Friends are better with/Drugs…” – Oliver Hollander
36. The National – High Violet
The National takes their time with their songs. They utilize a slow burn that grips their listeners’ attention as they add layer after layer of instrumentals onto deep and weathered vocals rich with a depth like whisky rolling across cold stones. Their previous album, Boxer, brought them respect and notoriety. While High Violet was not as highly praised as its predecessor, it was a tall torch to compete against and High Violet is still one of the best albums of the decade. It is smooth, poignant, and moves people. They are not quite a rock band and out of convenience they get shuffled into the indie genre, because The National are in a field of their own. – Max Russell
35. Jay-Z – 4:44
Jay-Z’s 4:44 is the exact opposite of Magna Carta’s glamorously overblown sonic palette. His attempt to modernize his music fell flat, as did his marriage. The legendary rapper turned these bleak happenings into triumph on his beautifully soulful 13th album. No ID’s rustic sampling provides a gorgeous platform for Jay to speak his knowledge about black excellence (“Legacy”), the importance of family and fatherhood (“Family Feud”), and cultural reconciliations (“The Story of OJ”). For a guy who’s basked in the glory of his billionaire lifestyle, 4:44 surprisingly presents a great deal of intimacy. It shows an artist who’s finally found true happiness. – Ryan Feyre
34. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah
After the death of Michael Brown, D’Angelo could stay silent no longer. America’s poet laureate of baby-making music emerged from a 14-year absence with a vengeance, ready to tackle both his own struggles and those of a nation in turmoil. Recorded with a spectacular array of performers at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, Black Messiah is less a quiet storm than a raging hurricane—a bubbling, swirling cauldron of steamy soul-funk. Throughout, D’Angelo proves he hasn’t lost his touch. He’s as tender (“Really Love”) as he is lascivious (“Sugah Daddy”), as outlandish (“Ain’t That Easy”) as he is thoughtful (“Til It’s Done”). The record remains one of music’s finest comeback stories—a reckoning with a dark past and a grim present, yet possessed of an undying hope for a brighter tomorrow. – Michael Heimbaugh
33. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
Dev Hynes, the Big Brain behind Blood Orange, has talked about his synesthesia and how it crosses the signals between sounds and colors. I personally don’t have synesthesia but if someone were to ask me what the sounds of pink and orange were, I would say Cupid Deluxe. The album’s artwork and color palette somehow evoke perfectly the hazy, often femme romantic and melancholic introspection that is laced throughout Cupid Deluxe. Hynes frequently employs outside voices on his albums, and he does so here frequently, using most significantly Caroline Polachek, Samantha Urbani, Dave Longstreth, and Skepta. The filter of Hynes’ words through these disparate voices contributes to a musical tapestry filled out with evocative saxophone riffs, spoken word narratives, and repeated musical motifs and lyrics. Cupid Deluxe exists somewhere in the clouds and in your heart at the same time. – Beth Winchester
32. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, ULTRA
With 2016’s Blonde topping Pitchfork’s decade list and 2012’s Channel Orange topping a bunch of others, it seems that Frank Ocean owns the ‘Teens, but this 2011 mixtape has never gotten the love it deserves. Inventive and emotionally potent, Nostalgia, ULTRA’s biggest tool is Ocean’s imaginative use of sampling, which earned him the scorn of Don Henley (who was mad that Ocean improved his song) and turned Ocean off of sampling in his follow-ups. Other excellent tracks sample Coldplay and MGMT, also improving on the originals, but even the tracks without samples (like “Songs for Women,” “We All Try,” and especially “Novacane”) are masterful, adding up to an album that’s addicting and, um, nostalgic. – Melody Rice
31. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels
This is one album from a country “supergroup” that doesn’t come across as self-indulgent. Rather than bloating outwards, the combined talents of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley knuckle down to streamline their craft down into a lean, mean 30 minutes. So every second counts and not a moment is wasted: “Hell on Heels” comes straight off the bat with their menacing group manifesto (“baby I’m comin’ for you”), and it’s followed by 9 watertight songs that get serious as often as they crack wise. There’s plenty of jokes about no-good men and how to deal with them. But a joke can turn deadly serious in a flash, as on “Housewife’s Prayer”, where a woman starts thinking about setting her house on fire. Proof of further troubles in the American South come with references across the album to drug abuse, alcoholism, bills stacking up, and a “Family Feud” that comes right at the end of the album as if threatening to put a stop to all of their lives. You bet that all of these songs are catchy, the singing is wonderful, and the harmonies are divine. But there’s a sting lurking behind the pretty surface. – Oliver Hollander
30. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
His follow-up to his successful To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar continues to prove why he is one of the greatest artists of his generation. DAMN is emotionally resonating and expands upon the themes in his previous albums. The tension is weighty with his ideas and storytelling that is as provocative as ever, showcasing his expert abilities as a lyricist and rapper. “DNA” is a stellar of Lamar’s powerful lyrics exploring identity with a punchy sound and unmatched flow. Cementing its place even further into history, DAMN won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2018, becoming the first non-jazz or classic album to receive the honor. – Gabrielle Bondi
29. Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy
For the longest time it was hard to make out just what Tyler the Creator was about, musically, personally, what have you. Then came 2017’s “Flower Boy” and everything regarding his persona clicked as he found his voice and delivered his best work to date. The honesty and vulnerability adds to the tremendous sound, an artist in bloom who is shedding his old shock value shtick. The pop element remains but still he builds off his past work somehow. The production and full instrumentation is incredible and marks of true creative and artistic spirit that goes above and beyond just being a musician. – Allyson Johnson
28. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Pure Heroine is to music what The Outsiders is to literature. Written by Lorde when she was a teenager, it presents a vision of adolescence that’s beautiful, but also decidedly unglamorous. In popular single “Royals,” Lorde claims that her newfound fame can’t take the chaos out of growing up, and the other tracks serve as a testament to that. “Glory and Gore” tells of broken glasses and fistfights, “Buzzcut Season” discusses the horrors of watching one’s friends go to war, and “A World Alone” covers just about every existential fear that might haunt a young rebel. Without a doubt, this is one of the most honest albums to reach the mainstream this decade. – Brittany Menjivar
27. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
One of the most beautiful things about Carrie & Lowell is its heartbreaking sincerity. Whether it’s his short-lived 50 states project or just songs about Christmas, Sufjan Stevens has always been a songwriter that has been able to create concise and riveting narratives. The beauty in Carrie & Lowell exists within its autobiographical nature as Sufjan ruminates about the tragedy involving parents and the cascading loneliness that accompanies it. The stripped-back folk passages give way to exquisitely written anecdotes that reveal a great deal about himself. Vulnerability flows through the songwriting and the result is one of the best contemporary folk albums of the 2010s – Mark Wesley
26. David Bowie – Blackstar
“Look up here, I’m in heaven…” It’s impossible to hear the first line of “Lazarus,” Blackstar’s stunning single, without feeling chills. This album was David Bowie’s last gift to the world, and his ghost haunts every track—but it would be a fine work of art in a vacuum, as well. The nine-minute title track is a surreal orchestral journey to the “villa of Ormen.” “Dollar Days” turns into fear poetry with the help of saxophones and soft strings. “Girl Loves Me” sounds like it was imported from the future due to its use of slang from A Clockwork Orange. Each lyric rips you to shreds with the utmost grace and subtlety. – Brittany Menjivar
25. Haim – Days are Gone
For a debut album, HAIM’s Days Are Gone comes together with a strong and distinctive sound as if they’ve always been around. The three performers are all sisters, so they have had a lifetime to get to know each other and what kind of grooves they are looking to build. The album is easy-going with no dull moments throughout. In a breezy style, the Haim sisters combine their respective acoustic instruments with a seamless, three-part vocal harmony. Days Are Gone fits perfectly for chilling on a summer day or getting through a breakup, and announced to the world that HAIM is going to be a landmark for singer-songwriting bands. – Max Russell
24. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
“Yeezy taught me.” That refrain from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy could just as easily have been spoken by its most unexpected architect. Justin Vernon applied what he learned from working on Kanye West’s magnum opus—as well as his experimentations with side projects like Gayngs and Volcano Choir—to his own minimalist indie-folk sound. The result: his most gorgeous, introspective work to date, a shimmering song cycle that remains intimate no matter how expansive it becomes. Bon Iver’s cryptic lyrics and adventurous sonic palette—silky guitars, twinkling horns, wintry piano, 80s soft rock backdrops (!)—bring forth a profound meditation on the intertwining of time, life, death, and memory, all anchored by Vernon’s impassioned falsetto. Yes, Yeezy taught him well—but much of the know-how was already there. – Michael Heimbaugh
23. Tune-Yards – whokill
Merrill Garbus is a DIY pop mastermind graced with a feverish imagination and an unbelievable multi-octave voice that can shift on a dime from sugary croon to earth-shaking wail. With her disorienting, deliriously catchy sophomore effort, she crafts a Phil Spector-like wall of sound using a wicked mixture of jittery African polyrhythms, girl-group harmonies, and snotty punk energy. Hooting saxes, wobbly basslines, and cacophonous drum loops dance and crash around her as her darkly comic lyrics shed a harsh but much-needed light on the uglier facets of American life, from racial violence (“Bizness,” “Doorstep”) to general bigotry and sexism (the scorching anti-anthem “My Country”). Whokill is a landmark piece of work—a quirky, fiery, jubilant celebration of both world music and cultural diversity. – Michael Heimbaugh
22. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
The greatest and most bittersweet comeback in music this decade started with one night on a talk show and ended with the death of a friend, a career-best album and STILL no Grammys. Regardless of the Recording Academy’s feelings (or Q-Tip’s), We Got It from Here is a miracle for not only reuniting one of rap’s greatest groups but also turning them into the folk heroes America needed. Anyone listening to “The Space Program,” “We The People…” and “Conrad Tokyo” can visualize the black fist thrust in the air against mistreatment and racism, whether it be in the streets of Queens or living in the White House. Though the late great Phife Dawg didn’t live to see his reconnection with Tribe serve its better purpose, just hearing him and Tip go back-and-forth on the mic like old times was a much-needed bright spot in the coming stretch of darkness. – Jon Winkler
21. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Norman Fucking Rockwell is as much of a political statement as it is a personal one for Lana Del Rey. In her most beautifully crafted record to date, the baroque pop legend balances social activism (“The greatest”) with the lasting effects of alcoholism and hard drug use (“Fuck it, I Love You” and “Cinnamon Girl”). In the midst of this chaos, Lana still flaunts an innate ability to curate a heartfelt ballad on “love song.” Heck, she’s even a lot more self-conscious on songs like “The Next Best American Record” and “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have, but I have it;” though the latter carries sinister undertones.
This constant fluctuation of tone presents Lana at her most versatile. Even with her apocalyptic realizations on songs like “The greatest,” you can’t help but feel a sense of ephemeral beauty when listening to Jack Antonoff’s nostalgic horn renditions and psychedelic guitar warps. It’s two pop icons at their apex. – Ryan Feyre
20. Robyn – Body Talk
Maybe the first great musical gimmick in this decade full of them was Robyn releasing three incredible EPs and then smashing them together into an incredible full-length album. Of course, some mistakes were made, such as the absence of “Cry When You Get Older” and “Criminal Intent” from the full-length album, the Body Talk Pt. 3 tracks paling in comparison (other than the stunning “Call Your Girlfriend”), and the fact that the acoustic “Hang with Me” is simply the better version of that song. But Body Talk is still the first pop masterpiece of the 2010s, and perhaps the best of them. – Melody Rice
19. Rihanna – Anti
Rihanna’s 2016 album, ANTI, seemed to draw a line in the sand between the beach-party-bop Rihanna we were introduced to in 2005 and the pop-single superstar of her subsequent albums. ANTI, like its name suggests, was a bit anti-everything Rihanna had previously been known as. Seeming to anticipate any disappointed reactions to this evolution, ANTI’s opening track “Consideration” lays it out: “I got to do things my own way darling / You should just let me, why you will never let me grow?” Rihanna then goes on to do whatever she wants on ANTI, trafficking in the Wild West badness of “Desperado,” the command of “Kiss It Better,” the psych-rock influence of her Tame Impala cover, and a dash of soul with “Love on the Brain.” For good measure, there’s “Work,” which now feels like a throwback collaboration with Drake, almost like a shout out to those early days. Since this last album, Rihanna has become a certified beauty and fashion icon-magnate, all the while teasing an eventual album. But if we didn’t get another Rihanna album for a few years, that might be okay. ANTI alone can serve as a magnetic, commanding, experimental and slightly enigmatic capstone to an already spectacular music career. – Beth Winchester
18. Lorde – Melodrama
There was always the sense that Lorde was waiting to explode. Her gothic attire, minimalist beats and lyrics of snide teenage rebellion had to be hiding something more deep inside, waiting to breakout. With her world manifesto laid out on her debut Pure Heroine, Lorde’s sophomore album digs into her soul and uses it as a rocket into the stratosphere. Bigger, harder and more personal than most teenagers would likely let on, Melodrama is the sound of a woman shaking off her inhibitions and throwing caution to the wind. She’s a fearless bachelorette that’ll throw a grenade into her ex’s life just for fun (“Green Light”) and crash any party with anyone willing to enter her tornado of emotions (“Homemade Dynamite”). She’s also a self-destructive wreck (“Hard Feelings/Loveless”) that probably shouldn’t be around anyone in any state (“Liability”). In an era when pop stars are constantly accused of faking how deep and common they are, Lorde is the one who takes her flaws and insecurities and morphs them into cries of freedom and redemption. Not bad for a pop record. – Jon Winkler
17. Kanye West – Yeezus
A trait that Kanye has had from the genesis of his career was the tendency to buck the trend and forge his own paths. It’s what made albums like Graduation and College Dropout such legendary albums. Yet, there’s no better example of this trait than Kanye’s 2010 releases. Yeezus stands out as being Kanye’s most brazenly outlandish release. This album took the maximalist elements from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and heightened the experience ten-fold.
It was at this point that Kanye had become a villain of the sort. He was not afraid of his influence and fully embraced his own caricature. Still, this project still delivers some of the best Kanye West songs to date. “Blood on the Leaves” is a production marvel that pulses with intense drums and electronic sequences, while “New Slaves” openly talks about the idea of corporations owning the black identity through jewelry and fashion. Polarizing for some, but it’s honestly difficult to imagine what Kanye’s discography would look like without Yeezus. – Mark Wesley
16. Grimes – Art Angels
Grimes’ 2012 album Visions was sublime in patches but its dark, depressive interiority provided no clue of what was to follow just 3 years later. Art Angels came along like a Technicolor explosion, a double rainbow of exceedingly generous pop hooks and dazzling rhythmic undertows. Claire Boucher produced and engineered all of the tracks alone on GarageBand, yet she creates remarkable depths and layers to her productions, so that her one-woman performance comes across almost as impressive as Stevie Wonder’s one-man Songs in the Key of Life. It was one of the great pop thrills of the decade to hear this shy hipster burst out of her self-imposed cocoon, emerging as a self-confident avant-pop star, so that you could totally understand why she’d call a track “Butterfly”. The bright tunes, synths, and ideas keep flowing from beginning to end, with devious moments like the Taiwanese rapping and screaming on “Scream”, the gender fuckery of “Kill V. Maim”, and the blissful union with Janelle Monáe on “Venus Fly”. – Oliver Hollander
15. Frank Ocean – Blonde
While “Channel Orange” introduced us to the soothing soul of Frank Ocean’s voice, “Blonde” took that voice and magnified it. Structurally experimental, haunting in one song, sweetly romantic in another, “Blonde” offers plenty of variety in terms of mood and intention while keeping the entire sound singular and uniform, meaning that to listen to one song is to listen to the album in full, the way it was intended to be experienced. Songs such as “White Ferrari,” “Nikes,” “Pink + White” and “Solo” are instant classics, the bar in which his contemporaries should strive to grasp at. Fearless while playing with convention, “Blonde” offers up sounds straight from the mid-90’s hip-hop catalog, spoken word interludes, and low-fi beats. It’s pure artistry, blood, sweat and tears laid bare for all to hear, an idiosyncratic turn for one of today’s greatest living musicians. – Allyson Johnson
14. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
Ever since that fateful December day when Beyoncé surprised the world by dropping her self-titled album, she forever changed how major artists promote their music and impacted how artists supplement their album by including a stunning visual accompaniment. In general, it is hard to discuss Beyoncé without considering her cultural impact, which is so wide-ranging and influential that it has made her into a legend. What makes her self-titled album so great is that it breaks free from convention, both technically and metaphorically. It gives us Beyoncé the artist, someone with something to say, promoting self-love, feminism, and embracement of sexuality. From the moody sounds of “Haunted” and “Partition” to arguably the anthem of the decade, “***Flawless,” Beyoncé ushered in a movement of pop-music that transcends boundaries with her stellar self-titled album. – Gabrielle Bondi
13. Lin-Manuel Miranda and the original Broadway cast – Hamilton
Neoliberalism’s finest moment. A loaded, exciting, genre-bending, dense two-and-a-half hours, Hamilton may not fully replicate the experience of seeing the show, but it comes pretty damn close. With production from Questlove and Black Thought, every song but one is featured, and since the story is entirely told through song, the album almost functions as an audiobook but with more rap battles. Though the Trump era has made some of the political material age poorly, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commentary on themes like legacy, storytelling, and reappropriation still holds up, and devastating songs like “Satisfied,” “Hurricane,” and “It’s Quiet Uptown” cover grief exceptionally well. – Melody Rice
12. Arctic Monkeys – AM
The Arctic Monkeys were already alt rock nobility when AM came out in 2013. The album’s success turned them into kings. Every track could be a single; every riff instantly conjures up a smoky world of “blackout blinds,” “cheetah print coats,” and “drunken monologues.” Alex Turner has never sounded more self-assured singing about hazy nights on the town, wild nights in, and everything in between. Throughout the album, he invites some fascinating guests to his parties: namely, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (who features on “Knee Socks”) and John Cooper Clarke (whose poem “I Wanna Be Yours” provides most of the lyrics for the track of the same name). – Brittany Menjivar
11. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Combining jazz and electronica along with the vibes of a nostalgic eighties and a cyberpunk future, Daft Punk shows the sentimental side of being an electro-rock robotic duo. It appealed to an older generation trying to make sense of what their kids are listening to while opening the minds of the dopamine-addicted youth to a tender side of DJing. From the absolutely smooth sound of “Instant Crush” to the groovy “Lose Yourself to Dance” as well as the chart-topper “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk shows they are technical-profound musicians who made the waves in electronic music that today’s DJ’s are still surfing. – Max Russell
10. Vampire Weekend – Contra
Vampire Weekend shouldn’t be compared to Paul Simon as often as they are. Really, a more accurate comparison is Talking Heads, another group with sporadic world influences and hook-writing chops that made them outliers in both the pop and outsider musical worlds. And like Talking Heads, Ezra Koenig and Co. followed up their sunshiney debut with a sophomore effort that was simultaneously more tuneful and darker. Contra is a leap forward so unassuming that you might not notice just how far it pushes the band. The worldbeat elements are subtler when they’re not completely absent, and the songs are more varied in tone and tempo, ranging from the upbeat jam “Holiday” to the contemplative and subdued final two tracks (“Diplomat’s Son” and “I Think Ur a Contra”). The tone is set early when Koenig sings on opening track “Horchata,” “Winter’s cold is too much to handle.” That might as well be their mantra. This decade has shown Koenig facing that cold and trying to make sense of it. But on Contra tracks like “White Sky” and “Cousins,” the band still finds a bit of warmth and light in this increasingly dark world of ours. – Melody Rice
9. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book redefined the music business’s boundaries-blurring the lines between a mix-tape and an album. It was a breakthrough moment for a guy who did everything on his own. He even pokes fun at his independent endeavors on “Mixtape,” an ode to what made him famous in the first place.
His transition from Soundcloud savant to Grammy-winning rap superstar took place in 2016 with his effervescent third project. Rather than use his Christian faith as a channel for material propaganda (sorry Kanye), Chance instead employs the religion for spiritual guidance. You can feel him breaking free from his prior pain on songs like “Finish Line/Drown.” The extravagant horn section and victorious hook from T-Pain can bring the good out of anyone.
There’s a lot of fun to be had on here as well, as this may be Chance’s most house-inspired album to date. “All We Got” is a clap-along anthem for the streets of Chicago; “All Night” is the equivalent to a drunk sugar rush; “Juke Jam” is atmospheric R&B fit for a couples slow dance, and “No Problem” is the luxurious middle finger towards a money-hungry industry.
In a year where rap entered an evolution period, Coloring Book stuck out like a sore thumb. Chance’s moral revelations elevated the production, the features and most importantly, himself. Even rap’s greatest cynics will be dancing for years. – Ryan Feyre
8. Carly Rae Jepsen – E·MO·TION
With E·MO·TION, Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen had to escape from the shadow of “Call Me Maybe”, the monster hit that got her tagged as a one-hit wonder the moment she couldn’t follow it up immediately (Owl City duet aside). And she succeeded; Not on the pop charts – E·MO·TION didn’t spin off any major hits – but through the quality of the record itself. The many of the songs carry romantic or post-romantic themes, from the exuberance (“Run Away with Me”), to the kiss-off (“Boy Problems”), the sad goodbye (“Your Type”) and the wistful remembrance (“When I Needed You”). There’s also a song that includes the line “Buzzfeed buzzards and TMZ crows” and somehow makes it work. There’s a bonus track that sounds like the best song Cut Copy never made. Every song on E·MO·TION, even those bonus tracks, sounded like instant pop classics. In fact, “Run Away with Me” might be the best pop music ever got in the entire decade. This was an album that turned Jepsen from a potential flash in the pan to a cult icon that can get a whole Pitchfork music festival singing one of her album tracks. E·MO·TION may have underperformed on the charts, but that ultimately didn’t matter. It made Carly Rae Jepsen a bigger part of popular culture than “Call Me Maybe” ever did. – Ryan Gibbs
7. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
It seems weird to afford so much mystique and hype around every action to a guy with only two albums and a mixtape to his name, but Frank Ocean earned that distinction. After his debut mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA offered sketches of his vision that blended smooth, spacey R&B with somber stories of lost youth and love, people wanted more on a larger scale. Ocean made his A24 indie darling, then came the Universal summer blockbuster.While he didn’t come up with something as bombastic as Jurassic World, his major-label debut had the budget and star-power of a Hollywood epic. The warm light jazz of “Sweet Life” comes courtesy of Pharrell Williams, John Mayer stops by to noodle around with his Stratocaster on the interlude “White,” the Funkadelic slow-burn of “Pink Matter” managed to summon Andre 3000 from his self-imposed exile, and “Super Rich Kids” offered a breakthrough performance from Earl Sweatshirt. But like all Hollywood blockbusters, there is one true star that envelops every moment and that’s Ocean. Somehow turning his private pains and sexual frustration into soaring epics like “Thinkin Bout You,” “Pyramids” and “Forrest Gump,” Ocean rewrote how a modern mainstream musician can present him or herself. Seeing the stream of young pop stars who turned feeling sad into chart-topping hits proves that Ocean is the most influential singer of the decade. – Jon Winkler
6. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend’s third album, released in 2013, definitively proved that the band was more than the mildly kitschy Benetton-pop they had been labeled as from their precocious debut. Modern Vampires’ debut singles, “Step” and “Diane Young” shook up fans and haters’ expectations alike with a strong, unusual dose of hip-hop and rock that the band hadn’t put on display before. The album itself delivered on those expectations of surprise, with gorgeous large-scale songs (“Ya Hey” and “Obvious Bicycle”) that communicated a deep generational melancholy with a dash of helpless romanticism. Meanwhile, the “quirky” and intellectual touches of Ezra Koenig’s performance also grew deeper, with offhand references to Rolling Stones B-sides and “a laminated poster of the Dome of the Rock” that only Vampire Weekend can get away with without sounding precious. For the first time, Vampire Weekend’s bookish and un-self-serious lyrics seemed to communicate more than a pop hook or preppy surrealism. Rather, the college boys had grown up and were too weary to pretend otherwise. Modern Vampires is a remarkable step forward in the band’s artistry and the end of their first era. It’s a record that put its foot down and determined for us that this band was bigger and better than we had assumed before. – Beth Winchester
5. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
The Last Temptation of Kendrick: K-Dot’s star-making third album may well be the greatest piece of storytelling in music history. Over the course of 63 intoxicating minutes, Lamar weaves a thrilling, cinematic narrative of his youth on the vicious streets of Compton. His phenomenal rhymes, delivered with a maestro’s assurance, bring his saga bursting to life over funky, ethereal beats seemingly broadcast from another dimension. We witness a boy forced into manhood too soon—pressured into a life of crime by his buddies, succumbing to lust and drug abuse, witnessing violent deaths firsthand, and ultimately finding redemption in the Lord. The skits act as connecting sinew rather than interludes, lending the project an extra verité. From motormouth ego trip “Backseat Freestyle” to the woozy trap bacchanal of “Swimming Pools (Drank),” from the nightmarish insanity of the dual title tracks to the haunting 12-minute epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”—there’s not a moment here that isn’t hip-hop masterclass material. GKMC is a furiously realized masterwork that established a new gold standard for rap in a still-young decade. The mantra of “I can feel the changes” feels truer now than ever at the end of a decade ruled by the game-changing King Kenny. – Michael Heimbaugh
4. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monáe’s celebration of womanhood, in particular black and queer womanhood, is one of the most standout album experiences of the decade. Dirty Computer departs from Monáe’s Metropolis narrative that her previous albums, The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady, were a part of, shedding her Cindi Mayweather alter-ego. By doing so, Monáe takes her biggest risk yet by showing her true self, road-mapping her journey through realization, recognition, and acceptance through the 14 tracks that make up Dirty Computer.
An infusion of pop, R&B, hip-hop, and funk, Monáe’s layered sound is fresh and contemporary, while also pulling from her musical inspirations. “Make Me Feel” is bouncy and fun, but also shares similarities to the works of Prince. In fact, much of the album feels inspired by the sounds of Prince and other 80’s music icons, including Sheila E. “Django Jane” showcases Monáe’s hip-hop side, with a heavy-hitting rap song that bridges the tracks “Screwed” and “Pynk” so perfectly that everyone should aim to accomplish something that good in their lives.
Released alongside a short film, Dirty Computer doesn’t completely ditch narrative. The short film weaves the album through a singular narrative spine. This time the story of Janelle Monáe is no longer tightly wrapped in metaphors but laid out for the world to clearly see, understand and embrace. – Gabrielle Bondi
3. Beyoncé – Lemonade
I hope that listeners have learned to listen past the tabloid sensationalism surrounding Lemonade. Who cares how much of the cheated-on victimhood is real? It doesn’t matter a jot, to anyone outside of their family, if Jay-Z really cheated on Beyoncé; what matters is that this album is a masterpiece. The ease with which it transitions from the personal to the political, and from the wintry spiritual of the first cut to the heated funk of the last, is simply breathtaking. Lemonade hangs together conceptually, sure, much better than Tommy or The Wall or American Idiot, which is impressive enough. But like any great album it’s the music that keeps you coming back. Fresh and innovative, roving across American genres from country to hip-hop, sonically zipping from the sting of Jack White’s guitar crunch to the bullet spray of Kendrick Lamar’s rapping, it’s all glued together and prevented from becoming a mess by Beyoncé’s vocal nuance and authority. Her roar against misogyny on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” makes you want to punch someone in the head; her soft coos on “Sandcastles” make you want to hug that same person close to your chest. Her dumbstruck whispers on “Pray You Catch Me” will break your heart; her rhythmic snarls on “Formation” will enliven your spirit. In other words, Bey delivers a tour-de-force pop vocal performance, one of compelling mastery and control. – Oliver Hollander
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
To this day, hits from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy still pump up a stadium by blasting “All Of the Lights” and inspire awe in a rising number of Hollywood and premium channel shows when highlighting the piano solo in “Runaway.” The album seamlessly interweaves an orchestra of instrumental with some of the most powerful singers and rappers in the industry including Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Pusha T, and Kid Cudi to name a few. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy incorporates blunt, often-sexual lyrics, with a bold honesty that shows Kanye West is not trying to hide any aspect of himself. His authenticity locks the public onto his every album release and public statement. Love him or hate him, fans and haters keep talking about him.
Usually music with an epic backdrop focuses less on the lyrics and more on the beats. Kanye bucks the trend and packs a ton of lyrics that flow seamlessly through each verse and hook. The epic beat in, “Power” could have stood on its own or relied on a repetitive chorus, but the song is absolutely packed with line after line of power-packing statements. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is at the top of the decade’s albums because of how strong each facet of the album enhances the already strong individual layers. – Max Russell
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
When Kendrick Lamar released the jazz and soul-inspired “i” in 2014, the hip-hop community was heavily divided on the direction that he was supposedly going down. The track was unashamedly more focused on black self-love and trying to ignore the negative energy that emanates from certain individuals. It was a powerful message, but at the time, it just caused confusion as to what Kendrick’s next project was going to sound like. More importantly, it discussed a topic that the world is dire need of right now, hope.
When March 15 came around, the world finally experienced Kendrick’s vision in all of its splendor and passion. To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick Lamar’s grandest statement to date and it’s not surprising that no artist, rap or otherwise, has been able to come remotely close to topping it. The album is gargantuan, both thematically and in the breadth of its collaborations; Thundercat, Snoop Dogg, Flying Lotus, George Clinton and more all contribute to making this auditory experience as dense as possible.
To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick’s love-letter to the Black community. This album conceptually explores themes of self-love and hate, fame, depression, violence and inter-city politics with a spoken-word passage that Kendrick interweaves between songs.
Through these topics, Kendrick delivers an auditory odyssey about living in America as someone who, seemingly, has made it. Kendrick draws on years of influences from prolific black musicians to create the most authentic experience as possible.
Amidst all of the political turmoil that the 2016 election thrust America into, To Pimp a Butterfly is a testament to the resilience of the Black experience. Kendrick asks questions about the role of celebrities and the supposed hypocrisy that accompanies wanting peace from violence while deliberating over his own past with gang affiliations. Yet, he never loses sight of the hope that is seemingly shrouded behind the malaise. That hope is what ultimately pushes the album’s primary message forward. – Mark Wesley
Check back on the Young Folks later this week for our individual writers’ lists.