Hey all! With the new decade beginning, it can be important to look back on the years that have been and see how our personal interests have evolved, in order to better understand ourselves and to continue to grow as human beings in the decade to come. It also happens to be very fun to pick one's favorite albums of the past decade and write about them in order to create content for your massive online following.
In any case, I had some free time over the break, so I decided to put together a list of my favorite 25 albums of the past decade, because music is dope and I enjoy talking about bands that I really like. Read on if you're interested in checking out some albums that you might not have heard before, or if you want validations for your opinions on certain albums.
Disclaimer: this list just reflects my opinions, and in no way is trying to objectively state the best albums of the decade. There were many albums that I had listened to passively and somewhat enjoyed, albums that I mostly liked but were dragged down by a song or two, and albums that I've never heard of that I'd probably love were I aware of them. So take this ranking with many grains of salt.
Honorable mentions go to Snarky Puppy's We Like it Here, Florence + The Machine's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, High Waters' Goodnight Mara, Frank Ocean's Blonde, Black Mountain's IV, Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell Live, and Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
25. Bent Knee - You Know What They Mean (2019)
I hadn't heard of this group until popular music education Youtuber Adam Neely did a video on musical composition games to help inspire songwriting (a great channel by the way, for those interested in some of the finer details of music theory and the life of a working musician). Intrigued, I listened to the first two tracks off their 2014 release Shiny Eyed Babies and was instantly floored with the intricacy, creativity and passion the band put into every song, I spent the next several months listening to absolutely every piece of content they had ever produced, so by the time the singles were dropping for their 2019 release You Know What They Mean, I was more than a little excited. Let's just say that the album delivers on every facet that I wanted, and more. If you're looking for an incredibly unique art rock experience, give this one a try.
Standout Tracks: Bone Rage, Catch Light, Golden Hour
24. Karnivool - Asymmetry
Those who know me have probably heard me ramble on about this band on more than one occasion, and that's for a good reason. The Australian prog-metal group's sophomore effort Sound Awake in 2009 is probably one of the best albums in the genre, period. Few bands craft such intricately composed songs with such a high emphasis on emotion as this group, and though their 2013 follow up Asymmetry wasn't quite the high that Sound Awake delivered, the album still has more than enough jaw-dropping moments of compositional virtuosity to earn it a place on this list. It also helps that Steve Judd happens to be one of my favorite drummers of all time, ever.
Standout Tracks: We Are, Aeons, Alpha
23. Young the Giant - Young the Giant (2010)
So admittedly, around 2010 music was a pretty secondary thing for me, focusing mainly on hockey at the time. Needless to say, I missed the heyday of this album by about 8 years as a result. However, it's better to have listened to this one later than never, because this album is an absolute masterclass in crafting perfectly concise, hooky pop-rock tunes with emotional weight. Filler is non-existent - if this album was a bodybuilder, it'd be winning Mr. Olympia in its sleep. While I may not be a huge fan of the band's more recent works, it's hard not to appreciate the excellence of their first effort, and looking at the influence it's had over the years, I'd say it's more than worthy of a spot on this list.
Standout Tracks: Apartment, Cough Syrup, Garands
22. Mutemath - Odd Soul (2011)
If you had to put together a list of bands that have been criminally underrated in the past 10-15 years, I'd be willing to bet these guys would be pretty close to the top. In their prime, Mutemath was a tour de force of energy, with Paul Meany's vocals soaring over a bed of 2000's era alternative rock instrumentation provided by Darren King and Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, and Odd Soul is an excellent example of how dynamic the group could be. The dark horse of this album is 100% the bass lines - Mitchell-Cardenas is an absolute magician on some of these tracks (see "Cavalries" or "One More"). At any rate, if you're looking for some creative, exciting alternative rock that will occasionally hit you in the feels (I see you, "In No Time"), look no further.
Standout Tracks: Cavalries, Quarantine, In No Time
21. Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile To The Surface (2017)
While this group had been going for well over a decade prior to this album, it was A Black Mile To The Surface that provided my introduction to the group. And a pretty good introduction, it was - this is one hell of an album, solid from front to back. Anyone who's listened to any RMR material knows that we're kinda suckers for the super passionate vocals and lyricism, and this album has it in spades, be it more heartwarming like on "The Sunshine", or incredibly dark like on the preceding track "The Alien". If you're curious what Mumford and Sons would sound like if they wrote more than one or two good songs, check this one out.
Standout Tracks: The Gold, The Grocery, The Silence
20. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising (2019)
This is an album that I came to literally in the past month (thanks, Spotify recommendations!). Despite the smaller amount of time that I've had to digest this album, it easily makes this list - Natalie Mering puts together a beautiful collection of songs that would be perfectly at home on George Harrison's All Things Will Pass, yet undoubtedly have a modern twist to them that keeps the tracks refreshing. That's not even mentioning Mering's beautifully poignant lyricism on tracks like "Movies" and "Picture Me Better." Chamber pop fans absolutely have to check this one out.
Standout Tracks: Andromeda, Movies, Wild Time
19. Lorde - Melodrama (2017)
So, surprise surprise, I'm not usually into albums with a more Billboard Top 40 production style. However, I must admit that Lorde and Jack Antonoff have put together a seamless pop album that has the one thing that I've always felt that Top 40 pop songs lack - passion. You can feel that Lorde means what she's singing, and isn't just running through the motions to get the next big hit - the result is a surprisingly heavy set of tracks that tackle themes of heartbreak, break-ups and solitude against the backdrop of party culture. Randy Marsh, you slick fellow, you've put together one heck of an album.
Standout Tracks: Green Light, Hard Feelings/Loveless, Writer In the Dark
18. FKA Twigs - MAGDALENE (2019)
Have you ever been writing a song and thought, "Sure this song is great and all, but the complete experience isn't possible without learning how to pole dance." ? Cause that's what Tahliah Barnett, known by her stage name FKA Twigs decided to do. The result is "Cellophane" one of many gorgeous tracks off her 2019 release MAGDALENE. Simply put, this album is stunning, inventive, and would be way higher on the list if she'd decided to do "Holy Terrain" without Future. Ehh, what can you do, the album's still incredible. Check out live performances of "Cellophane" or "Mary Magdalene" on Fallon/Jools Holland to get the full experience of these tracks.
Standout Tracks: Sad Day, Fallen Alien, Cellophane
17. Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (2018)
Will Toledo has come quite a ways in the past several years - listening to his first bandcamp releases, it is clear that he's had a knack for quirky, oftentimes tongue-in-cheek lyricism and unconventional songwriting. However, the first take of Twin Fantasy, the bandcamp album released in 2014 that would see the songwriter blow up in notoriety, was always a little too rough around the edges for me. I understand that the lofi aesthetic is part of Toledo and company's bread and butter, but suffice it to say that I like the slightly polished version more. Everything that makes Car Seat Headrest unique is still here - brutally honest and witty lyricism, unique song structures, and the deadpan vocal delivery, yet this time around everything is delivered with just the right amount of fidelity to let the tracks shine through like I imagine Toledo intended them to back in 2014. And shine, they do.
Standout Tracks: Beach Life-in-Death, Bodys, Famous Prophets (Stars)
16. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011)
While For Emma, Forever Ago may have been a landmark album in the indie folk scene, it was Justin Vernon's follow up effort under the Bon Iver moniker, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, that turned him into the indie juggernaut of today. And honestly, that reputation is deserved off this album alone; on this LP, Vernon perfectly balances the folk tendencies of his first famed effort with many of the electronic elements he had been toying with on his Blood Bank EP, creating a wonderous, airy and breathtaking album that (sorry, 22 A Million) he has yet to surpass. Although to be fair, few albums can boast an opening track as excellent as "Perth", so there's that.
Standout Tracks: Perth, Hinnom TX, Beth/Rest
15. Family of Things - Oscilloscope (2019)
Hamilton represent! Without mincing words, I think this is a perfect indie-pop album. The whole album perfectly balances more complex arrangements, harmony and rhythm with excellent hooks, sharp production and concise songwriting. These boys are here to dazzle you with pop perfection, and they're wasting no time. I can only hope that they keep progressing in their career, cause hot damn do they deserve it if they keep putting out quality tunes like these.
Standout Tracks: Basement, On and On, Everything Is Good
14. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (2015)
Let's be honest, a best-of-decade list wouldn't be complete without a little bit of Farmer Dog Swifty. Since leaving Fleet Foxes in early 2012, Josh Tillman has put together an admirable catalogue of indie-folk and chamber pop albums under the Father John Misty moniker, using his newfound alias to combine lavish instrumentals with a sarcastic, occasionally bitter dry wit. On no album is this pairing best realized then on Tillman's sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear, described by Tillman himself as "a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman who spends quite a bit of time banging his head against walls, cultivating weak ties with strangers and generally avoiding intimacy at all costs. This all serves to fuel a version of himself that his self-loathing narcissism can deal with. We see him engaging in all manner of regrettable behavior." The album perfectly balances sarcastic narcissism with genuine passion, and the result is a gorgeous, oft hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking yet heartwarming set of tunes.
Standout Tracks: Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins), When You're Smiling and Astride Me, I Went to the Store One Day
13. Plini - Handmade Cities
Jumping onto the prog-rock scene back in 2011, this Aussie guitarist had it all from the get-go. Producing all his music himself, Plini released a few excellent EPs that showed off his intricate yet incredibly melodic style of guitar playing, along with some excellent production to boot. By the time his debut album, Electric Sunrise came along in 2016, he was a well-established figure in the burgeoning prog-rock community through his Youtube platform. True to his do-it-yourself nature, the album was produced by Plini and collaborators Troy Wright and Simon Grove, and is without a doubt the most majestic metal/hard rock album you will hear from this past decade. Hands down. It can be enjoyed on a more basic level, reveling in Plini's expressive guitar melodies, or on a more technical level, for fans of intricate rhythms and harmonies. When Steve Vai calls your album "one of the finest, forward-thinking, melodic, rhythmically and harmonically deep instrumental guitar records" he's ever heard, you're probably a little worthy of praise.
Standout Tracks: Electric Sunrise, Pastures, Cascade
12. Vulfpeck - The Beautiful Game (2016)
There was no way I wasn't going to include an album by these guys. The 2010s saw a bit of a funk/R&B revival, with artists like Vulfpeck, Snarky Puppy, Thundercat, and even Bruno Mars bringing back some of the classic 70s sounds with a slight jazz twist. To be fair, its not hard to see why Vulfpeck became such a force over this past decade - I daresay there might not be a better modern marketing guru than bandleader Jack Stratton. But genius branding and marketing mean nothing if the product is worthless, and boy, can the group deliver. The Beautiful Game is the arguably the group's most complete album, showcasing their quirky, funky and wholly endearing sound on 10 different tracks that all mesh perfectly to create, in my humble opinion, the funnest 35 minutes of this past decade (to be honest, "Conscious Club" alone would cement this album on this list for me).
Standout Tracks: Animal Spirits, Dean Town, Conscious Club
11. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)
2019 was a great year for music, and there wasn't a better album in my opinion than Sharon van Etten's Remind Me Tomorrow. Fun story, I saw her perform in Toronto in the beginning of the year with Nilufer Yanya opening at The Danforth Music Hall. Only I wasn't there for van Etten - I had been somewhat aware of her work but nothing had ever really stuck with me to that point. Rather, I was there for Nilufer Yanya's set, having seen her open for Fleet Foxes and having been very impressed with her music. While I enjoyed her performance greatly (and her album too, though not enough to get past the decade shortlist), it was Sharon van Etten's set that stole the show for me, despite only having listened to one or two tracks off the album once or twice. Needless to say, I got pretty obsessed with the album afterwards, and it was my runaway best of 2019 for the entire year. It took van Etten's folky leanings and penchant for writing devastatingly beautiful melodies and gave it a full alternative rock facelift. While it might not be as consistent as some of the albums on this list, the highs are so staggeringly high that it would be a crime for it to be above 15 on this list. Writing the best song of the decade (Seventeen) will do that.
Standout Tracks: No One's Easy To Love, Jupiter 4, Seventeen
10. TesseracT - Altered State (2013)
I'll completely understand that prog-metal/djent isn't everyone's cup of tea. It's angular, harsh, and sometimes a little tough to follow rhythmically. And perhaps I'm biased as someone who is super fascinated by odd rhythms (Tigran Hamasyan's Mockroot made my shortlist, after all), but I'll be damned if this isn't one of the most gorgeous, hard-hitting, and human albums released this past decade, despite the angular riffs and heavy ambiance throughout the tracklist. Too often, djent can feel like weird rhythms for the sake of weird rhythms, and while I'm sometimes on board with that, TesseracT never feels like they force things on this album; the instrumentals are in service of the song, not in service of flash. Just listen to the first three tracks of this album and tell me that doesn't hit you right in the feels. Thought so. I will leave this album with one final remark - saxophone solo over djent instrumentals. That is all.
Standout Tracks: Of Matter - Proxy, Of Mind - Nocturne, Of Reality - Calabi-Yau
9. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Crazy revelation - I don't listen to a great deal of rap. Gasp! It's not anything against the genre, it's just never really connected to me in the same way as most of the other genres I enjoy. That said, when Kendrick Lamar put out this album back in 2015, I loved it immediately; the technical proficiency, jazzy beats and unconventional structure lent itself perfectly to a music snob like myself. Several years later, and I'd say outside of a few lines (yeah, the Michael Jackson one), this album has aged like a fine wine. Still relevant, still ahead of its time, this album is an absolute treasure trove of poetry with some of the most interesting musical accompaniment that I've heard on any rap album, ever. The amount of metaphorical layers this album exists on is just wicked - years in and there's still details that jump out at me and leave me once again awed. Such an ambitious project can easily become a bloated mess, but in Kendrick's hands, this project turned into what I imagine will go down in history as a landmark in music.
Standout Tracks: Alright, How Much a Dollar Cost, The Blacker the Berry
8. The National - High Violet (2010)
Everyone's favorite hipster dads were fairly active this past decade, releasing four different albums (of which three were pretty damn good), but they struck gold on their first go around. Now, full disclosure, The National were a band that really took a while to endear themselves to me - initially I was a little off put by some of the group's more low-energy tracks, as singer Matt Berninger's signature baritone doesn't particularly burst with passion at most points. However, the heartbreaking lyrics, combined with the gorgeous arrangements that the rest of the band brings do create some truly special moments, and their 2010 effort High Violet is the most complete example of what makes the band truly special. Sometimes the subtle approach is best, and sometimes you just want to scream a simple refrain while a massive crescendo of sound builds around you. This album has both extremes, and everything in between, and that's why it's at number 8.
Standout Tracks: Little Faith, Bloodbuzz Ohio, England
7. Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life (2017)
This album is probably one of the most varied projects on this list, ranging from dream pop to shoegaze to straight-up hard rock. Yet, whatever the group goes for on this album, they absolutely knock out of the park. This album has an energy, a spirit that harkens back to the days of grunge, particularly with songs like "Yuk Foo" and "Formidable Cool". Each track welcomes a new surprise, making for a twisting, turning, and incredibly entertaining 47 minutes. Want to bash down some mailboxes, and then immediately turn around and fall in love like in the movies? Say no more.
Standout Tracks: Yuk Foo, Don't Delete The Kisses, Visions of a Life
6. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Nonagon Infinity (2016)
Before you immediately move to the next entry on account of the name, let me... ahh, rats. Well, for the one or two of you who didn't move away, you're in for a treat. Picture some classic 60's psych rock by say, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Now, hop that up on three bottles of mountain dew, pepper in some Black Sabbath, add a lot of odd time signatures and sprinkle in one jazz interlude, and you've got the Aussie psych rock outfit's 2016 album Nonagon Infinity. If that description alone doesn't make you intrigued, here's a little more on the album - the song consists of 9 tracks that blend seamlessly into each other, and then loop back around to the beginning, creating a literal Nonagon Infinity. Many of the tracks have sections where they tease the main riff from the upcoming track. Oh, and it's probably the wildest and most energetic thing I've heard in a long time, yet never fails to change it up just enough from track to track. I make it no secret that I love this band (having seen them two straight years in a row, going on three now that I've bought my ticket for their upcoming show in April), and for me, despite their excellent catalogue of a zillion albums, this is still the best complete experience. All hail the Gizz!
Standout Tracks: Gamma Knife, Invisible Face, Road Train
5. Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (2015)
Way back in 2014, while at a house party in my first year of university, I recall talking with a couple of people about a song a friend of mine had recently turned me on to (that song, for those interested, was "1612" by a lil group called Vulfpeck). A person who's name I don't remember mentioned that I ABSOLUTELY had to check out a group called Hiatus Kaiyote, and they were very insistent. So insistent, that I was unable to leave the conversation until I took down the band name on my phone. Suffice it to say, I didn't check them out like my drunk self promised to for several years. Coming to the group in 2018, I have just one thing to say - anonymous intoxicated individual, you have my deepest apologies for doubting you. This band is bonkers, and I'm absolutely in love with their sound. I'll use their description, as it's way better than anything I could come up with: "Multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit". Yeah, you should be interested.
Standout Tracks: Breathing Underwater, Swamp Thing, Jekyll
4. Hey Rosetta! - Seeds (2011)
There's not necessarily a great deal of elements in Hey Rosetta!'s 2011 release Seeds that are expressly unique. Arcade Fire had been doing the artsy, giant cathartic anthem approach successfully for several years prior to this album, The folk revival was in full swing by this point, and bands like Young the Giant (and I'm sure the millions of bands before them that I missed on account of trying to be a hockey player at the time) were already doing the indie rock thing. However, just because something isn't game-changing, does not mean that it isn't excellent. Literally every song in this album is flawlessly written, passionately performed, and sure to tug on your heart strings. The album's theme of connection through song is endearing, and incredibly accurate because that's exactly what this album did for me. I had the pleasure of watching one of their final shows at the Phoenix in Toronto back in 2017, and it is to this day one of my favorite concert experiences of all time - I'm not ashamed to admit that "Welcome" live got to me a little bit.
Standout Tracks: Yer Spring, Welcome, Yer Fall
3. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork (2013)
So as I mentioned before, music wasn't necessarily my top priority back in high school. Maybe third, behind hockey and running show in Black Ops II (legit tho, ya boi was pretty sick at it). But there were two albums in particular that have stuck with me from this area - the first, you'll see farther down the list. The second was one from one of my favorite bands of the time (and to be honest, still in that conversation), and arguably one of the biggest names in alternative rock over the past 2-3 decades - Queens of the Stone Age's ...Like Clockwork. In my opinion, this album is only a very close second to the group's legendary 2002 release Songs For the Deaf. Going for more of a subdued, subtle approach on most tracks on this release, Homme and company put together one of the most coherent full alt-rock albums of the 2000's; according to Homme, this approach was in part inspired by Homme's coma and resultant several bedridden months following a botched knee operation, during which he fell into a deep depression. It's not hard to hear the despair in some of these tracks, however the group never fails to surround the gloom with interesting, dark, and even sometimes beautiful instrumentation. Prior to the release of this album, the group dropped a 10+ minute animated video with excerpts of several songs set to some super rad animation from Liverpool artist Boneface, and it probably sums the entire album better than I ever could. Check it out below!
Standout Tracks: My God Is the Sun, I Appear Missing, ...Like Clockwork
2. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (2010)
More stories! So, I went to Wayhome 2016 (my god, that lineup though) back in the day, for which one of the main headliners was none other than Canadian indie icons Arcade Fire. At the time, I had listened to very little of their work, remembering pretty much only their "Rebellion (Lies)" music video from MuchMusic way back in the day. So when they put on an absolutely magical show and played nearly every fan favorite song, brought out fireworks at the end of "Wake Up" and played "Here Comes the Night Time" alongside their giant bobbleheads (see the "Reflektor" music video if you're really confused), it was fun to watch, but it wasn't necessarily a life-changing experience. A year or two later, I was more than a little disappointed in myself, because this band quickly became one of my absolute favorites, and if I saw that show now I'd probably faint the moment they played their first note. While they've had a weaker 2010s than the 2000s (we'll pretend "Everything Now" didn't happen), they certainly started the decade with a bang. That bang was the magnificent, sprawling (pun intended) and gorgeous concept album The Suburbs. Painting a less-than-stellar portrait of the kind of neighbourhoods that band members Win and Will Butler grew up in Texas, the album fuses folk styling from 70s bands like Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young with electronic elements and the group's signature revolutionary energy to create an album that manages to stay fresh and exciting over its 64 minute run time. Simply put, this album is incredible.
Standout Tracks: Ready to Start, Half Light I, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
1. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (2011)
However, The Suburbs isn't quite as incredible as this one. The first of the two albums I mentioned in the write up for ...Like Clockwork, Fleet Foxes' sophomore effort in 2011 took everything that made their first album great (wistful, metaphorical lyricism, crazy baroque pop instrumentation, and DEM HARMONIES) and took it to 11. The songs are much more ambitious and bold than on their first record, and the instrumentation is far more varied as well, bringing in things like Tibetan singing bowls, hammered dulcimer and timpani, amongst others. Songs are more harmonically adventurous, while still retaining that beautiful simplicity that made songs like "White Winter Hymnal" such a hit back in their earlier days. Listening through this album is an experience, with each song contributing to the whole of the album and creating something greater than the sum of its parts. I'll close by saying that I loved this album when I first heard it back in 2011, and I love it even more now; in my opinion there is no better full album of the 2010s than this folk-rock masterpiece.
Standout Tracks: Sim Sala Bim, Helplessness Blues, The Shrine/An Argument