The 20 Best Albums of the Decade 6 months ago

The 20 Best Albums of the Decade

2010 - 2019 in music, ranked for your pleasure.

Lists. All the rage these days.

Not least when we're coming to the end of days.

And by end of days, I mean the end of the decade.

We may well be coming to the end of days itself but let's keep it positive for now, yes?

As the headline suggests, this is where we run down the best albums of the decade (2010 - 2019) from #20 to #1.

So let's get to it...

#20. Los Campesinos! | No Blues (2013)

Cardiff indie sensations Los Campesinos! have been a recommended going concern since 2006 but they struck pure gold on fifth album No Blues.

Fast-paced tales of love and loss are peppered by vocalist Gareth David's penchant for 10-dollar sentences, best summed up by perhaps the line of the decade:

"People laugh, they'll call it folly / But we connected like a Yeboah volley."

Standout Track: 'Glue Me'

#19. Beyoncé | Lemonade (2016)

A legitimate cultural moment in which Beyoncé, already seen as a deity by many, scaled new heights with Lemonade.

From the jaw-dropping Super Bowl performance of 'Formation' to the album's accompanying cinematic address of empowerment, this was ownership on a new, world-dominating level.

Standout Track: 'Freedom'

#18. David Bowie | Blackstar (2016)

Blackstar

A gift.

David Bowie has been called a genius so many times and in so many different ways that to attempt another quick-capsule eulogy feels churlish here, but in Blackstar, he exited on his own terms, retaining mystery and dignity while bidding farewell.

Standout Track: 'Lazarus'

#17. Kelela | Take Me Apart (2017)

An astonishing debut that deftly mixes electronica with R'n'B - with both throwback and futuristic-sounding flourishes - while capturing a physically tangible sense of place like few other records of its kind.

Front and centre, Kelela Mizanekristos announces herself as a legitimate star.

Standout Track: 'Blue Light'

#16. Run The Jewels | Run The Jewels 2 (2014)

In which Killer Mike and El-P reach the apex of their creative relationship.

From start to finish, RTJ2 feels alive and dangerous as both men play perfectly off the other, navigating an increasingly murky landscape that is nonetheless impossible to tear yourself away from.

Bonus points for resurrecting Zack De La Rocha's ferocious fire.

Standout Track: 'Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)'

#15. Robyn | Body Talk (2010)

Queen of glacial heartbreak Robyn kicked off the 2010s with what remains the finest collection of her work to date.

Body Talk is blessed with sad-bangers but it's 'Dancing On My Own' that continues to shine beneath a shattered disco ball nine years on; not just an anthem for a decade, but a generation.

Standout Track: 'Dancing On My Own'

#14. Mitski | Be the Cowboy (2018)

Also an expert in constructing songs that speak to the most electric and devastating aspects of the human condition, Mitski Miyawaki released no less than five albums this decade.

In truth, you could flip a coin between Puberty 2 and Be the Cowboy in terms of 'best', but we're going for the latter because, like most Mitski songs, the heart told us to.

Standout Track: 'Two Slow Dancers'

#13. Jon Hopkins | Singularity (2018)

A masterwork of creation, production and realisation of techno-in-technicolour as the great Jon Hopkins builds worlds from the ground up while ensuring that the stars shimmer throughout.

Singularity is also a tremendous example of why we still need records that advocate a narrative. This is a story in which the beginning, middle and end work as standalone highlights but come to mean everything when met as one overarching design.

Standout Track: 'Emerald Rush'

#12. Young Fathers | Cocoa Sugar (2018)

Not a bad old year, 2018.

Young Fathers have felt like an important act since they first happened along towards the end of the 2000s. 'Vital' is a word that gets thrown around a bunch when it comes to high falutin' write-ups such as this one, but it really applies.

Attaching a genre to Young Fathers feels wrong. The music - always incendiary, forever affecting - speaks for itself.

Standout Track: 'Toy'

#11. The Weeknd | House of Balloons (2011)

Before he deliberately - and arguably cynically - pivoted to trying to become the biggest pop star on the planet, Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, presided over a unique gloomy empire.

House of Balloons, later packaged inside 2012's Trilogy, now stands as a reminder of how searing, scathing and stunning The Weeknd can be when he's not pissing about doing an endless Michael Jackson impression.

Standout Track: 'Wicked Games'

#10. Kendrick Lamar | To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

The artwork alone, showcasing the celebratory aftermath of black revolution on the grounds of the White House, is provocative and timely enough.

And then you get to the music; a sprawling (yet contained), combative (yet sensitive) and truly defiant fusion of hip hop, jazz and spoken word genius that could only have come from the mind, body and soul of Kendrick Lamar, crowned king here.

Standout Track: 'Alright'

#9. Deafheaven | Sunbather (2013)

Oh, such joyous noise.

Very much the hipster's choice when it comes to post-metal (it's a thing, don't @ me), San Francisco quintet Deafheaven really do make aggression sound soothing.

No easy feat and very much a 'not for everyone' entry here, but goddamn.

Standout Track: 'The Pecan Tree'

#8. WU LYF | Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (2011)

A contender for the greatest one-and-done album of all time.

There was a good deal of hype about WU LYF back in the day, with the Manchester band built up by home and international press as The Next Big Thing and the saviours of "guitar music", yada yada.

Steeped in pretentious intrigue, the four-piece would go one step further by splitting up in 2012. A shame, considering they left behind Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, a rare diamond powered by Ellery James Roberts' love-it-or-hate-it gravel-toned pitch and searching arrangements that evoke the power of a thousand sunrises and sunsets.

Standout Track: 'Heavy Pop'

#7. Kanye West | My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

For many, not just the best Kanye West album of the decade, not just the best Kanye West album full stop, but the best album of the decade from anyone.

For this writer, not so much. It's tremendous. It's daring. It's unforgettable. It's also a bit bloated, lags in the back end and boasts the single worst verse of JAY-Z's career.

Nonetheless, MBDTF is a modern classic from an artist that, highly divisive personality aside, ought to be regarded as one of the greatest to ever do it.

Standout Track: 'Runaway'

#6. Kendrick Lamar | DAMN. (2017)

That man Kendrick Lamar Duckworth once again, this time with a leaner workout.

You may argue that DAMN. is less socially conscious and emphatic than To Pimp a Butterfly and while it's a fair enough take, it does the follow-up a disservice.

For one, DAMN. has plenty to say about the decaying nature of the world while also serving as a potent state of the union address for Lamar himself, who, rather than sounding like a man understandably approaching burnout, breathes new life.

Standout Track: 'DNA'

#5. Vince Staples | Summertime ’06 (2015)

Double albums are risky undertakings, especially when they mark your debut long-player proper.

Vince Staples, just 21 at the time that Summertime '06 landed, doesn't care about convention, though. Much has been made of Staples' past running in gangs and his frank admission that he got involved in such a life because he wanted to take lives.

In tandem, some express shock that the California rapper grew up to be an articulate, sharp and often hilarious human being, as if two paths couldn't possibly naturally converge. Staples is a prolific artist, one adept at perfecting and reinventing the form. Simply put, we need the guy.

Standout Track: 'Summertime'

#4. Frank Ocean | Channel ORANGE (2012)

Few figures in music stand as much of an enigma as Frank Ocean.

For whatever reason, the former Odd Future man courts a cult following not dissimilar to a Bowie or a Prince or a Nick Cave or a Leonard Cohen; the idea of a singular entity capable of unleashing magic as and when they see fit.

There are frustrations with Frank, sure - no shortage of cancelled gigs, promising music only to go off the radar for years and so on - but the craft yields true excellence. And this isn't even his best album.

Standout Track: 'Thinkin Bout You'

#3. Kanye West | Yeezus (2013)

Oh, for Kanye West to care this much again.

A super-charged assault on the senses from the opening sonic blasts that feel like they could have come from an early Nine Inch Nails record, the gospel according to Yeezus is undeniable even when it veers into immature and questionable territory.

Few people could kick off an album with a fistful of vicious character assassinations only to conclude with the most darkly charming white-picket-fence love song you've ever heard. But that's Kanye for you.

Standout Track: 'New Slaves'

#2. Vampire Weekend | Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

Vampire Weekend were fun from day one, bopping about in opulent attire and engaging in buoyant songs that blurred the line between paying homage to world music and flat-out cultural appropriation.

Charming lads making charming music, with Ezra Koenig flashing a 100-watt knowing grin at every turn. Was there more to them, though? Oh yes.

Modern Vampires of the City brought forward a masterpiece of rich songwriting, bursting with ideas, dexterity and a not-so-secret weapon in the form of multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij, whose eventual departure would seriously hamper the group. Still, we'll always have that hazy summer in 2013.

Standout Track: 'Hannah Hunt'

#1. Frank Ocean | Blonde (2016)

Just listen to it.

Standout Track: 'Nikes'

In Summary/Honorable Mention Corner

KIDS SEE GHOSTS | KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Lists are weird. They are fun to create and compile and stress out over, whether that last bit applies to your own list or those assembled by others.

Ultimately, they should be regarded as a bit of fun and a chance to recommended art to people. In truth, they can cause headaches. For instance, one album not in the above 20 is one that means a great deal to me - KIDS SEE GHOSTS' self-titled record.

The reunion of Kanye West and Kid Cudi is only seven tracks and just under 24 minutes long, yet it provokes a huge emotional response in me every time I hear it.

That said, it became apparent that personal feelings were speaking more than critical analysis and so I chose to leave it aside. See how silly this list thing can get?

Anyway, it felt weird to not at least mention the album, for it really does mean a lot, you see.