Without further ado or the ambling opening paragraph, let’s do this.
25. Earth – Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I
My personal favourite of Earth’s tremendous ‘second phase’ which started with 2005’s Hex: or Printing In The Infernal Method. There’s a dusty slowness to AOD, DOL I. Great. So what, right? That’s what Earth do. The key is that they do it brilliantly and, with this record, there’s an added sense of sadness, of lowness, of grand mythic entropy. And a romanticism. Said romanticism isn’t latent; it’s there in every yearning track.
Personal Highlight: Old Black
24. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Ocean’s admission of bisexuality stole the headlines surrounding channel ORANGE and it is directly addressed on record in the brittle “Bad Religion”, but for me this record is more evocative of a place and mood. We’ve all seen from American TV and movies those opulent white houses of LA’s rich hills. Ocean’s album exists in the space of empty afternoons and affable malaise. Being rich and lonely never sounded so glamorous yet profoundly sad.
Personal Highlight: Super Rich Kids
23. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Take the unfiltered sexuality and candelabra melodrama of Antony And The Johnsons, take it to a disco and then outlaw dancing. That’s a very bad way of getting halfway to the sound of Perfume Genius on Too Bright, a disarmingly open-hearted record of both pain and celebration. And that voice. It’s like being invited to a party for ghosts.
Personal Highlight: Queen
22. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
You know it’s only as I write this that I notice that the cover of Ravedeath. 1972 depicts a group of people throwing a piano off the roof of a building. And that’s not because it isn’t a great album cover. It’s great. But this album has always been about the music for me. Ambient-tinged electronic music can be a tough thing to quantify but, like the best of the genre, the musician’s personality shapes it completely.
Personal Highlight: The Piano Drop
21. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
The first of a few appearances for Beach House in the upper-end of this arbitrary countdown, Thank Your Lucky Stars is perhaps the least celebrated of the band’s albums this decade, released as it was a few short weeks after Depression Cherry. It is not, however, merely a second-thought collection of cast-offs. Assessed on its own multitudinous merits, this record stands with the best of them. Haunting, eerie, as consistently dreamy as anything they’ve put their name to.
Personal Highlight: Elegy To The Void
20. Taylor Swift – 1989
As irksomely hipster as some of the previous choices on this list may have seemed to be, I’m not above declaring my love for a shimmering pop album when one is presented to me. Swift’s move from the country scene to mass market electro-pop super-stardom seemed effortless, but the truth is she was always writing music with an ear for universal appeal. Fully embracing this turn, she managed to create a dazzling collection of anthems. Addictive as hell.
Personal Highlight: Out Of The Woods
19. No Age – Everything In Between
I love No Age’s brash, enthusiastic Californian racket. Their 2008 debut proper Nouns is one of the former decade’s most thrilling albums. This follow-up, released in 2010, is pretty much it’s equal, butting the band’s trademark fuzzy punk up against even more stretches of sun-bleached woozy tranquility. Their work on the subsequent Collage Culture project points towards a diversity and ambition which could see them inherit Sonic Youth’s mantle as America’s foremost pioneers of edgy, intelligent art-rock.
Personal Highlight: Valley Hump Crash
18. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
How do you follow an album of such gorgeous scope as 2006’s Ys? With nearly three times the material, that’s how. Newsom’s third put the long in long-player; a triple album that became an instant classic, evidencing her master of not only the harp and piano, but her deepening proficiency as both a vocalist and a lyricist. Pouring through the gargantuan book of songs that make up this collection is a joy in itself. The rich nature of the music is really something else.
Personal Highlight: Go Long
17. Holly Herndon – Platform
Herndon’s music has a complexity and physicality on Platform – it’s no accident that there’s a late interlude that sounds like eavesdropping on a massage parlor. Often boundary-pushing electronic music can feel cold, but the textural layers of vocals and Herndon’s delivery of her often abstract lyrics make this a defiantly personal work and an immensely enjoyable one at that.
Personal Highlight: Chorus
16. HEALTH – DISCO2
Remix albums, even those with the best of intentions, often end up sounding like awkward after thoughts, or even worse, cash-ins. HEALTH’s DISCO 2 is an exception to this rule, and arguably the best release in their catalogue. This may be because the band treat their remix albums as serious releases, stepping-stones that inform the next evolution in their sound. The remixes here – all of tracks from GET COLOR aside from the wondrous “USA BOYS” – are a diverse array of reconfigurations, yet they sound as though they belong together, like someone tessellating fragments of a broken mirror.
Personal Highlight: USA BOYS
15. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
I’d written off a genuine return from GY!BE. Standing in the audience at one of their reunion gigs back in 2010, it still seemed surreal. Hopelessly unlikely. Even that concert was otherworldly. A fevered dream. Then this record dropped, made up largely of music that had been previously toured before their long hiatus. It’s their most muscular set, angry as ever. A triumphant roar that made it finally feel as though they’d never been away.
Personal Highlight: Mladic
14. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon project had been ambling along with a steady level of attention (fairly minimal) until Benji came out. The former Red House Painters man intensified the journal-like lyrical style of his work, writing an album of painfully heartfelt songs about death and loss. That might not sound like a fun listening experience, but Benji is strangely uplifting in it’s frankness about the fragility of the human condition. It feels like a bear hug from the heart. Even if Kozelek’s behaviour since has caused plenty of ire, putting this album on reminds me why he found the spotlight in the first place.
Personal Highlight: Carissa
13. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
God damn, Kanye West is a total douchebag. From the tiresome tweaks to his latest record The Life Of Pablo (admittedly it sounds sketchy and incomplete), his eye-rolling commitment to Tidal (does anyone care?) and of course the rolling tirade of crap that is his public persona and Twitter feed, the man is a thorough asshat. But he occasionally makes a fundamentally great record. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one such album. A sprawling collection that takes the template of the prog-rock album and feeds it through the West Coast hip-hop meat grinder. A plagiarist? Maybe. But a master.
Personal Highlight: Runaway
12. Beach House – Bloom
The glorious sheen of Bloom takes the elements that already worked so well on 2010’s Teen Dream and amps everything up a notch. As such it doesn’t so much sound like a development of their sound as much as a total refinement. This is their most shimmering creation. “Wishes” in particular has a special place in my heart. Check out the link below for its video which features Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame.
Personal Highlight: Wishes
11. Kanye West – Yeezus
Again? Seriously? Yes. Yeezus is an anti-record. All sorts of anti. Anti-hip-hop. Anti-music. Anti-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And it’s brilliant for it. I svelte 40 minute attack of West’s inimitable ego that sounds totally unique even three years on. Nothing sounds like this album. As a result it feels like some kind of improbable art object. It’s closest comparable release for me? Radiohead’s Kid A. It’s that kind of alien statement.
Personal Highlight: Black Skinhead
10. Arca – Xen
Arca, aka Alejandro Ghersi is the maverick producer behind much of FKA twigs’ work to date, now working with Bjork on her next record. His solo work is a fascinating cascade of ideas, journeying through electronic music’s myriad sub-genres. But above all that it’s simply a great listen. Complete ear food. His follow-up Mutant is worth your time too.
Personal Highlight: Xen
9. Grimes – Visions
Following two small-scale albums of pixieish experiments and vocal flourishes, Claire Elise Boucher aka Grimes exploded with the release of Visions, an album which fully embraced the pop sensibilities of some of her great forbearers (from Madonna to Mariah Carey) but filtered through the ear of a master audiophile. The resulting album contorts pop to its own will. Unmistakably the sound of an auteur making her mark.
Personal Highlight: Genesis
8. Matana Robers – Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres
The first in Matana Roberts’ formidable journey through her own family history and the wider history of the slave trade in America, Coin Coin Chapter One features eight exhilarating contortions of modern jazz. This wasn’t her first record, but it felt like her first important one. She shows no sign of easing up. If you’re curious and fancy checking out the link below, be warned, the opening few minutes may be indicative of the album’s harsher sensibilities, but the payoff is, as ever, superb.
Personal Highlight: I Am
7. Laurel Halo – Quarantine
Berlin based Laurel Halo’s Quarantine split her audience a little on first approach. Halomade her name as an electronic artist and frequent DJ. Like most in the field she had a level of anonymity. Quarantine put a wrecking ball through that as she added her own intensely personal vocals to her tracks. The results were often incredible. The album dances, swirls and swims; it feels filled with constant movement. It’s as colourful and confrontational as its bracing cover art.
Personal Highlight: Thaw
6. FKA twigs – LP1
In 2014 I became obsessed with FKA twigs. I had the fortune of seeing her perform most of this record live and it will go down as one of the most memorable gigs I’ve attended. Her early EPs and videos drew comparisons to Bjork, but LP1 revealed to a wider audience a more compelling truth. Her music folds in aspects of pop, R’n’B and electronic music. It’s sensual and openly sexual. This former backing dancer became, in an instant, one of the UK’s finest exports.
Personal Highlight: Hours
5. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Who is this? You really ought to know. Janelle Monáe ought to be one of the biggest artists on the planet. Perhaps it’s the eccentricity of her persona – her major releases to date have all been parts of a larger series as her sci-fi cyborg alter-ego Cindi Mayweather fights social injustice, dancing through a dizzying future – but that shouldn’t hamper her abundant talents from courting the audience it deserves. Inventive, assertive, powerful, sexy, wonderful; The ArchAndroid is her boldest statement so far, from its medley opening to its epic centre and close.
Personal Highlight: Faster
4. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Several albums into their career, and following the lauded Black Up, experimental hip-hop outfit Shabazz Palaces released Lese Majesty and I fell in love with it. Downbeat and dreamy, separating out the tracks on this LP misses the point; this is a set that works best when you let it’s fluidity take over. Hence the two-part highlight picked out below. The opening two tracks set the tone for what follows. They inform one another. They sound better together. The album as a whole is rarely away from my record player.
3. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Housed in a plush velvety sleeve, Beach House’s Depression Cherry came on the coat-tails of the slightly misleading single “Sparks”. That song featured a crush of distortion largely missing from the rest of this immaculate album. It’s perfectly sequenced and just the right length. Every track is memorable once it has wormed its way irrevocably into your soul. They’ve appeared in this top 25 three times now for a reason. One of the best outfits working today.
Personal Highlight: Wildflower
2. The Flaming Lips – The Terror
I feel like I have to argue this one, because this album kind of sank. It was preceded by the kinda-woeful “Sun Blows Up Today”; an irritating and bouncy slice of indie jolliness that a) isn’t on the record and b) gives a vastly inappropriate sense of where the band are on The Terror. At their most successful The Flaming Lips collided bleak lyrics with soaring, uplifting melodies. Here, that sense of triumph is squashed by the tick of cold Krautrock. It’s an intense, frosty, often chilling album. It hums and whirs. It sounds anxious. It’s like Yoshimi battled the pink robots… and lost. But it’s also phenomenally beautiful. Being broken has never sounded so appealing. This 9 song set defiantly harks back to 70’s prog-rock, but get used to it and it may never let you go.
Personal Highlight: Be Free, A Way
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Kendrick Lamar is the artist of the decade so far, defining his generation. His breakthrough good kid, m.A.A.d. city never sounded like this was an intentional outcome. It’s not a shrewd record. But it is an honest one, and that resonates with audiences worldwide. These tales of Compton aren’t exploitative; they’re as real as they can be. Lamar documents the life that brought him to this album. There is a narrative here, but the moments themselves standout; cruising the streets on “The Art Of Peer Pressure”, honestly evoking a culture of boredom and alcoholism on “Swimming Pools (Drank)”… it’s an album that never lets up the quality. Like a great film, the more you get to know it, the more it reveals. Until there aren’t highlights. Until it’s all highlights. To Pimp A Butterfly may have accrued even higher praise, but this is my personal preference.
Personal Highlight: The Art Of Peer Pressure