It’s the dawning of a new decade, and as such we have a chance to look back not just on the past year of music, but the past ten years! Compiling the 50 most defining, moving, engaging, singular, exhilarating, influential and inspirational albums of the 2010s has been Belwood’s most challenging endeavour ever, not least because we limited it to one album per act. At long last however, we have our list:
50. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (2010)
An album of contradictions that wears its heart on its sleeve. Combining the zeal of punk with its unrelenting energy, the spirit of heartland rock in how it unites people, and the scope of prog with its sprawling songs and unifying concept. The Monitor is as earnest as it is ambitious.
49. Lianna La Havas – Blood (2015)
An oft overlooked gem that felt way ahead of the curve. With infectious grooves, many layered electronic flourishes, superb soulful vocals, its immaculate production and the way the record flows smooth as silk from start to finish, Blood is a masterclass in modern R&B. Many have followed the same formula, but none have perfected it as well as this.
48. The Contortionist – Clairvoyant (2017)
Moving away from their metal roots and veering into post rock and indie territory, The Contortionist tapped into something special with Clairvoyant. It maintains a heaviness and complexity while also crafting an entrancing and bittersweet atmosphere. Feeling like one cohesive work of art, to listen to this album is to embark on a spiritual journey.
47. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
The “Eureka!” moment that made just another indie band in an overcrowded scene ascend to a whole other level and become one of the biggest bands around. Modern Vampires was such an incredible leap forward. Mature, refined, elegant, confident and sophisticated, while at the same time loads of fun and just a little bonkers. Like a man in a tailored suit covered in glitter strutting down the street.
46. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (2016)
It was a bold move for an actor best known for comedy to forge a new career as a rapper. It was bolder still to tear up the rule book once again and release a psychedelic funk album inspired by George Clinton and Prince. The ambition alone is almost enough to earn a place on this list; I doubt we’ll see an artistic reinvention on this level again for a good long while. The fact that Donald Glover completely nails it in every way just seals the deal.
45. Grimes – Art Angels (2015)
It has to be said that Grimes is as mad as a box of frogs. So much so that even her most accessible and hook driven release sounds confusing and alien at times. Art Angels sounds like pop music from a not-so-distant cyberpunk future that has been sent back to us. I think we’ve yet to scratch the surface of the wide-ranging influence that I’m sure this record will have through the years. To paraphrase Marty McFly: “you’re not ready for it, but your kids are gonna love it”.
44. Alter Bridge – AB III (2010)
To my mind the last great Alter Bridge record, and their most consistent work to date, one that finds the best balance between ferocity and finesse. Not only is their sound at its most diverse and inventive, but it is also their most emotionally impactful effort in terms of lyricism. Dealing with themes of self-doubt and emptiness, it knows the storms that rage within and knows the right words to say to help you stand firm.
43. Holy Holy – When The Storms Would Come (2015)
Expansive and uplifting, the debut album from this Australian indie outfit came as such a breath of fresh air. It is full to the brim of bright and breezy melodies, the guitar work is exemplary throughout, and the vocals are the perfect match for the arrangements that spiral ever skyward. Though I wish they had built upon it more for future releases, it still stands tall on its own as a record to be proud of.
42. Hozier – Hozier (2014)
He may be a household name now, but when Hozier’s debut album slowly built up the buzz it so richly deserved, it was nothing short of intoxicating. A collection of brilliant tracks both gothic and groovy, dark and mystical but in some way warm and familiar, an album as infectious as it is intelligent. Like nothing most mainstream audiences had heard before.
41. The Black Keys – El Camino (2011)
One of those records that slips your mind, but when you do find yourself coming back to it you remember just how great it is. El Camino was everywhere back in the day, and it’s not hard to see why. Full of hook driven blues rock bangers, this record is damn near irresistible. A fine balance of grit and glitter, it’s like an entire indie disco wrapped up in a neat little package.
40. Lanterns on the Lake – Beings (2015)
The atmosphere of this record is just something else entirely. Uneasy yet enticing, the kind that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Beings offers the kind of comfort that introspective souls long for, the kind found in the sound of the rain against your window or the auburn glow of autumn. It exerts a pull on you, like shimmering starlight that you can’t take your eyes away from.
39. Eaves – What Green Feels Like (2015)
This is the one, my white whale. When this stunning album came out I was so taken by it, and so enamoured with the thought of where it would lead. The melancholic blend of folk with hints of grunge and prog is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, but with its own unique spin on the sound. For whatever reason however, Eaves seems to have vanished off the face of the Earth following the release of his debut, leaving just one fantastic album and the thought of what could have been.
38. Skysketch – Fox Wedding (2018)
This was an album that opened my eyes to new possibilities. In an industry dominated by releases from the USA and the UK, the sprawling cinematic masterclass from this Turkish band struck me like a bolt from the blue. The expansive soundscapes and the journey they take you on make this not just a great album, but a great work of art. One that makes you wonder what other great works may be found in other forgotten corners of the globe.
37. Black Foxxes – I’m Not Well (2016)
Albums as raw and real as I’m Not Well are a rare breed. It channels that feeling of when you can barely contain the emotions bubbling away beneath the surface. The times when you’re so angry, hurt or lost that you can’t think of anything beyond the sensation of the blood rushing through your veins. The moments when you want to cry out and beat your fists against the wall. It’s one of the most potent records for catharsis that I’ve ever come across.
36. The Amazing – Picture You (2015)
I find myself retreating into the music of The Amazing perhaps more than any other band I’ve discovered since starting Belwood. Their unique dreamy soundscapes provide the perfect sanctuary when I need to escape my thoughts, or when I find myself longing for a moment of quiet in this hectic world. Though they expanded and perfected their sound with future releases, Picture You was when they first hit their stride and as such is the record that set it all in motion.
35. MONEY – Suicide Songs (2016)
Truth be told I might not be here were it not for this record. It arrived in my life at just the right time to hold me together when everything felt like it was falling apart. It offers solace in sadness; a sense of comfort and understanding lies within its bittersweet beauty. It is a record that finds the joy in places where you thought there was only darkness, and invites you to revel in it and be healed by its embrace.
34. Snail Mail – Lush (2018)
This wonderfully promising debut certainly lives up to its name. The arrangements are so rich, expressive and seemingly effortless, so perfectly matched to Lindsey’s vocals, and the lyrics so intimate and heartfelt. It manages to articulate all the angst and insecurity of youth with surprising adeptness and maturity. A poignant and well polished first release from an incredibly talented new artist.
33. Gold Complex – New Soul (2019)
Another stunning and self-assured debut. A recent but no less deserving addition to the list. With its slick musicianship, infectious grooves, and some simply astounding vocals, this Canadian soul ensemble were firing on all cylinders for their first release. New Soul is the kind of record that warms your heart, gets you up and moving, and injects a whole heap of joy into your day.
32. Amber Run – For A Moment, I Was Lost (2017)
Easily the most underrated indie band in Britain today. Amber Run set the bar high with their debut album 5AM and then managed to build and improve upon it with their sophomore effort. Channeling their darker and more aggressive side, while still managing to maintain the same soaring vocals and bright melodies, For A Moment is the sound of a band coming out swinging and giving it their all.
31. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) (2013)
While many prog fans would point to 2015’s Hand Cannot Erase as Steven Wilson’s most noteworthy solo work, there’s no doubt in my mind that the title belongs to the bleak and beautiful Raven. This collection of gothic ghost stories feels like his most distinct and purposeful solo outing. The melancholic atmosphere hangs over you like a dense fog that obscures the outside world, and draws you in deeper with each passing moment.
30. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate (2016)
For a record that deals so much with self-identity and searching for a sense of belonging within its lyricism, musically Love & Hate feels so grand and triumphant. It draws upon the grandeur of great soul records of years gone by, but puts a contemporary spin on them. The scope and scale of this record, along with how it builds using the empty space as much as the music itself, make it a singular soul album, a true modern classic.
29. Bent Knee – Say So (2016)
Bent Knee are a force of nature, a law unto themselves. They have a sound all their own, one that defies all reason and convention, but if I had to describe it to fellow mortals I’d break it down to three key elements. The sheer intensity of their riffs and Courtney Swain’s powerhouse vocals, their incredibly fun and infectious hooks, and the unparalleled levels of absurdity and eclecticism. While other records explored each of these elements to greater degrees, this was the album that found the perfect balance between them.
28. Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony (2014)
There are two schools of thought when it comes to indie rock; the artful and the everyman. There are many examples of the former on this list, those with lofty themes and expansive arrangements. But what of the latter, the albums that focus on big festival ready choruses that make you want to sing out at the top of your lungs? There were few finer examples this decade than Catfish’s debut. It was pure lightning in a bottle, hit after hit.
27. Algiers – Algiers (2015)
This electrifying debut is one of only a handful of albums on this list that can truly be called unique. What sets this apart however is that it genuinely feels like a catalyst for something new and exciting. Blending everything from punk, post punk and electronica, to soul, gospel and indie rock into a distinctive style that treads new ground, as well as capturing the zeitgeist of the age with its fervent political messages, it’s a sign of the times pointing to where music is headed in the years to come.
26. The Last Dinosaur – The Nothing (2017)
Though it was born of tragedy, The Nothing is arguably the most beautiful album you will find on this list. Rather than dwell on the loss and heartbreak of death, this record is a celebration of life, brimming with hope for brighter days to come. It’s the kind of record that makes you want to sit out on the grass, feel the breeze upon your skin, listen to the birds chirping in the trees, and feel connected to the world around you. Once you listen to this album it will leave its mark upon you, and you will carry it in your heart for the rest of your days.
Ready for part two? Check it out here!