Best Albums of the 2010s (#25-1)

albums2As we move into the second half of our deep dive into the finest records of the past ten years, things certainly haven’t gotten any easier. At many times this list became a real battle between head and heart; between the records with a profound personal connection and those that hold great influence and importance in the wider scheme of things. After much soul searching we’ve struck upon the right balance between the two for our final look at the best albums of the decade. (If you missed part one, you can check it out here)

bon-iver25. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)
Each of Bon Iver’s first three albums has earned a place in music history. Each offering up something very different, yet still being hugely influential for vast swathes of artists from all sorts of styles and backgrounds. While the self titled album lost a lot of the heart of the debut, it gained mesmerising musical grandeur in its stead. The leap from austere folk to airy and opulent baroque pop is simply astounding. Listening to this album is like stepping into a painting and experiencing life in a more beautiful world.

caligulas horse24. Caligula’s Horse – In Contact (2017)
In Contact is an album that sees an already great band take just about every aspect of what made their music engaging and dial it up a few notches. Their riffs are at their heaviest on ‘Will’s Song’, the melodies at their sweetest on ‘Capulet’, the vocals at their most impressive on ‘Songs For No One’, the lyrics their most hard-hitting on ‘Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall’, the band at their most progressive and inventive on ‘Graves’. It was a real high water mark for metal in the 2010s.

wolf-alice-my-love-is-cool23. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (2015) 
An incredibly strong debut, offering up hazy dream pop, gutsy alt rock, bright indie melodies and even a few fun grooves along the way. More than that however, it was a spark that really invigorated indie music in the UK. It brought a lot more mainstream attention to the scene as a whole, and with the spotlight on frontwoman Ellie Rowsell it also broke down a few barriers surrounding women in bands (long way still to go yet mind). It’s the record that set them down the path to being one of the biggest bands in the country in just a few short years.

skeleton-tree22. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (2016)
One of the most visceral outpourings of emotion ever put to music, and the album that secured Nick Cave’s place as one of the greatest lyricists of all time. Capturing all the pain, anger and emptiness of loss with such frankness and intimacy that at times you almost feel like an intruder to his innermost thoughts. It shows mourning as it really feels, as a spectre that hangs over you for the rest of your days, rearing its ugly head and twisting the knife just when you think you’ve escaped. Skeleton Tree is a difficult listen, but still an utterly essential one.

rush21. Rush – Clockwork Angels (2012)
Many great bands have their peak and then fade away, releasing records that try to recapture the glory days before calling it a day. Not Rush. They left on a high, leaving one of their greatest works as a parting gift. As their first full concept album it is their most purposeful work since Moving Pictures and their most progressive since Hemispheres. The music is at its heaviest, the lyrics are at their most poignant; it’s a true epic in every sense. For a band to be so driven and ambitious at this stage, to push themselves to the limit after nearly 40 years, is something we’ve rarely seen before and is a moment to be cherished.

lonerism20. Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012)
I remember the child-like wonder that came with listening to Lonerism for the first time. It was like being stood on the shore on a grey dreary day and then diving beneath the surface to find a vibrant coral reef bursting with life. The stunning psychedelic arrangements are so lush and colourful, the hooks so light and summery. It treads the line between experimental and accessible in a way that shouldn’t work on paper, but is an absolute marvel in practice. The fact that this kaleidoscopic creation is mostly the work of just one man makes it all the more impressive.

anathema-weather-systems-cover19. Anathema – Weather Systems (2012)
You’d need to have a cold empty void where your heart should be to not be moved by this record. Whether through the melancholy piano, the life-affirming orchestral swells, or the lyrics so striking you almost hold your breath as you hang on their every word. One of the most arresting musical journeys of recent years, it can bring you close to tears or offer something majestic and triumphant. Just when you think it’s thrown every emotive curve it can at you, you find yourself faced with another monumental crescendo tugging at your heartstrings.

OW18. Oh Wonder – Oh Wonder (2015)
A very unconventional album in that it’s a collection of singles; each one written, recorded and released once a month for just over a year. It says a lot about this duo’s ability as songwriters that each one is immaculately crafted despite the odd release schedule. Given how this album came to be it’s understandable that each song stands tall as a hit in its own right, what’s more impressive is how all these separate distinct pieces come together to make something cohesive. The end result of this curious experiment is one of the finest pop records of the decade.

temperance17. The Temperance Movement – The Temperance Movement (2013)
This debut doesn’t offer up something new, unique or ambitious like many other releases on this list. In fact on paper it probably seems very ordinary, just an old school blues rock record. In practice however that is a key part of its charm. The band don’t set out to reinvent the wheel, they set out to make a great blues rock record, and they absolutely nailed it. There’s not a single gram of filler here, every single song earns its place and is an equally important part of the whole. That kind of consistency is even rarer than finding something unique.

i love you honeybear16. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (2015)
Now here is a record that is fit to burst with character. The arrangements are so warm and welcoming, and provide the perfect backdrop for this album’s greatest asset and achievement: its lyrics. From the dry wit and scathing sarcasm to its genuinely heartfelt and pensive moments, Josh Tillman really set himself apart on this record as a singular songwriter. It’s as funny as it is thought-provoking, and you will find yourself revealing deeper meanings and other layers of droll humour in his words many listens down the line.

thank you scientist15. Thank You Scientist – Terraformer (2019)
Both the most recent addition to our list and the only double album. When Thank You Scientist hit their stride with 2016’s Stranger Heads Prevail it was such an explosive moment. Their intricate blend of progressive rock and jazz fusion, one that held a focus on fun and infectious hooks with a wide-reaching appeal, was unlike anything else on the scene and instantly made them the most exciting band in prog. Last year’s Terraformer built upon those foundations, making something both more complex and more fun; fine tuning their sound and setting their ambitions even higher.

wasting light14. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011)
For the most part I would say that the Foos aren’t an album band, their real strength lies in anthemic singles and their electrifying live performances. Wasting Light was the big exception however. Taking a simple approach to the album by going old-school and recording the whole thing analog meant that they had to distil their sound into something more simple and potent. As such it follows a winning formula of no-nonsense, in-your-face rock bangers, becoming almost as much of a “greatest hits” record as a studio album.

21-by-Adele13. Adele – 21 (2011)
It’s hardly surprising that 21 has become one of the best selling albums of all time. It represents everything that a great pop album should aspire to be, and resists all the pitfalls that infect modern pop. It’s a record that appeals to everyone; in the strength of its songwriting, the gimmick free arrangements, the fact that it comes straight from the heart, and of course down to Adele’s incredible vocals. This isn’t some style over substance nonsense born in a boardroom, it’s a labour of love from an artist pouring their heart out, with a message that resonated with millions. It’s the album that reminded the world how good pop could be.

arctic monkeys am12. Arctic Monkeys – AM (2013)
There are few certainties in life. Death and taxes are the most cited ones, closely followed by the fact that everyone loves David Attenborough, and that AM is undeniably, irresistibly cool. No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you’re into – when you hear those badass riffs, those suave snaking grooves, or Alex Turner’s supremely seductive and offbeat lyricism, it just makes you feel unstoppable. It’s the kind of record that would give you a sideways glance at a crowded bar and you find you just can’t help but swoon a little. It catapulted Britain’s biggest band into becoming a global phenomenon.

A Moon Shaped Pool11. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Never a band to rest on their laurels, Radiohead found yet more new musical territory to explore with their most recent release. The landscape found within A Moon Shaped Pool is a barren yet beautiful one, like a vast empty desert made of shimmering crystal. Rooted in ambient electronica and melancholy piano, with an arresting emphasis on orchestral swells and choral arrangements, it is a place of quiet uncertainty. There are moments of blissful tranquility, poignant moments of loss and emptiness, and the eerie hum of existential dread all rolled into one as you drift by peacefully in the dreamy doldrums.

David-Bowie-Blackstar-640x64010. David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
Even for an artist like David Bowie, well known for musical growth and evolution, the dark and exploratory Blackstar felt like something special upon its first release. Naturally it took on a whole new meaning however when the legend passed just a few days later. His words now feel like those of a man staring death in the face and speaking in riddles for us to unravel when the time is right, and when we’re deemed worthy. In the years that have followed this album has begun to feel like a defining cultural moment. A milestone not just for music but for humanity, and all the days to come will exist (for better or worse) in a post-Blackstar world.

act 49. The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise (2015)
One of the biggest battles between head and heart was the choice between Acts 4 & 5. Written and recorded at much the same time, they have a lot in common. Both are parts of an ambitious narrative spanning several albums, both contain unprecedented attention to detail with their recurring themes and leitmotifs, and both have immaculate production with a focus on orchestral arrangements compared to earlier, grittier entries in the saga. Act 5 may be the big climax of the story, but Act 4 was the album that got me hooked on this wild ride and is the perfect entry point into the work of this magnificent band.

joy of nothing8. Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing (2013)
It feels odd that my favourite album didn’t even make the top five, yet here we are. I vividly remember discovering this album for the first time; hearing the opening track ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’ performed live on the radio in the car and being instantly enamoured. I had to know more, I had to hear more; rushing home, ignoring all else, to listen to the record in its entirety. I’ve never fallen so hard and fast for an album before or since, and it’s been a constant companion in the years that followed. It isn’t perfect, but it will forever hold a place in my heart and be a major part of the soundtrack of my life.

under northern skies7. The Glass Child – Under Northern Skies (2016)
I wasn’t expecting this album to be so high ranking when I first started this list, but the more I think about it the more it feels right. To all intents and purposes this album is faultless. Even many of the greatest albums ever made, your Rumours, Sgt. Peppers etc, can still be improved upon and have elements that could be changed for the better if you really stop and think about it. Under Northern Skies doesn’t set out to be the best, it doesn’t try anything ambitious or revolutionary. Instead it sets out to be an album of understated beauty and grace, and to that end I wouldn’t change a single thing about it as it does so exquisitely.

wodlp3.11298covertext6. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014)
While not quite making them a household name, this was the album that launched The War On Drugs from relative obscurity to being one of the most influential bands of the last few years. The sound perfected on Lost in the Dream has been often imitated since its release, but never matched. The lush reverie of dream pop, the familiar warmth of Americana, a soft futuristic sheen of electronica and some simply spellbinding guitar work. It’s an album equally suited to soundtrack cruising along the highway with the wind in your hair on a golden summer’s day, as well as staring up at the stars in the still of the night pondering on your place in the world.

Print5. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
We enter our top five with another fierce battle between head and heart. While 2017’s Sleep Well Beast is probably a hair’s breadth better, Trouble Will Find Me is the one that I keep coming back to, and is the album that first drew me in. It takes all the band’s hallmarks; the bittersweet arrangements, Matt Berninger’s deep soothing vocals, the tattoo worthy one liners; and condenses them down into their purest form. The band remained as artful, sombre and intelligent as ever, but this record also saw them at their most bright, breezy and accessible.

keaton4. Keaton Henson – Birthdays (2013)
There are a lot of albums here praised for their confidence, expressing an artist’s innermost thoughts and feelings boldly and proudly. Birthdays is the complete antithesis of that; it is striking precisely because it feels so fragile. The first half of the record, scarcely more than finger-picked guitar and whispered vocals, has the kind of anxious and self-conscious energy that comes with confessing your love for the first time. Despite the insecurity, his words are as assuredly put as though by some great romantic poet. Halfway through ‘Don’t Swim’ however the album takes an astonishing turn, exploding into heavy rocker territory. On the fierce alt rock of ‘Kronos’ Keaton channels all the pain and anger of heartbreak, his voice quivering as if he’s barely holding it together. Both sides of the coin, the love and the loss, feel so raw and real on this record.

handwritten3. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten (2012)
There are few records these days that wear their heart on their sleeve the way that the “punk-Springsteen” of Handwritten does. Frontman Brian Fallon writes with both the candour and sincerity of a blue-collar everyman, and the considered eloquence of a truly great wordsmith. Reflecting on the restorative power of music, a struggle to open up to those we care about, and nostalgic tales of young love, its familiar themes really hit home. Fallon’s lyrics, and his gritty and earnest delivery of them, is the real beating heart of this album. That said, the rest of the band certainly don’t slouch. The energetic arrangements and pristine production help create an album full of anthemic tracks to make your spirit soar. Big riffs, big hooks, and one great big smile on my face every time I listen to it.

typhoon2. Typhoon – Offerings (2018)
At the time of writing this, Offerings is the highest rated album that has ever been reviewed on the site. While I would dearly like to be proven wrong, I don’t believe it will get knocked off its pedestal any time soon. This is hands down the best record that has ever entered my inbox. This stunning cinematic concept album, dealing with themes surrounding the loss of memories and self-identity, is one that I wish I could somehow get the whole world to hear. Its words are as affecting and heart-rending as reading Flowers for Algernon (after which a song is named), while its mature and nuanced orchestration and infectious indie moments ensure it always has you firmly in its grasp. Intelligent, introspective and thoroughly enthralling, its an album that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

the-suburbs1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
It’s an album that speaks to those nostalgic moments from your childhood that you cling on to and view through rose tinted glasses. It speaks to the frustration and restlessness that comes with being stuck in a nowhere town. It speaks to the exhilarating release of breaking free, striking out on your own at last or even just finding fleeting moments of escape. It speaks to the sensation of returning to your hometown and being as disheartened by how things have changed as you are by all the ways that they’ve stayed the same. And ultimately it speaks to how home is whatever and wherever you make it. All that is found in the jaunty piano of the title track, the squalling guitar of ‘Empty Room’, the angsty punk of ‘Month of May’, and the shimmering disco stomp of ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. It lives and breathes in every word, every beat, every riff, every rise and fall of the synths. I don’t throw the word “masterpiece” around very often, but this is an album deserving of the title.

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  1. Pingback: Best Albums of the 2010s (#50-26) | Belwood Music

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