100 Best Albums of the 2010s, Ranked by Rolling Stone - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

The 100 Best Albums of the 2010s

Pop felt more ambitious than ever, voices from the margins broke through in every genre and great records kept coming at us from every direction.

In the 2010s, the biggest artists were also some of the biggest innovators — from Kanye West creating his monumental over-the-top opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Beyoncé connecting her life story to a history of African American expression on Lemonade to Chance the Rapper blowing up with a free mixtape that was full of psychedelic realism to Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves and Frank Ocean pushing the limits of the conservative genres they eventually broke out of entirely.

Country had its most adventurous decade ever, whether that spirit came through in the fire-spitting lyrical honesty of the Pistol Annies, the hardbitten literariness of Jason Isbell or an almost unclassifiable work like Sturgill Simpson’s soul-tinged song-cycle A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. After being left for dead in a chillwave puddle 10 years ago, indie-rock got back to its gloriously messy guitar roots, with bands like Parquet Courts, Japandroids and Car Seat Headrest making fantastic albums. If indie-rock looped back to the Nineties, hip-hop did the opposite, evolving faster than any other style of music as it got more emo (thanks, Drake) and more political and more sonically deep-space out-there all the same time. Meanwhile, icons like Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and John Prine kept up with the youngsters by making some of their best music in years, 

What was so fun about the 2010s was the way so many artists from across genres seemed to draw from the same well of wide-open possibility, of discovery happening in real time; this is reflected in the albums that made our best-of list. For instance, David Bowie had been making music for nearly 50 years when Kendrick Lamar released his sprawling, self-interrogating hip-hop masterwork To Pimp a Butterfly, but Bowie, eternally living in the moment, still took major influence from Kendrick in crafting his incredible farewell album Blackstar; and it’s thanks to mutable pop visionaries like Bowie that the world can even imagine a pop context for something as challenging and multi-faceted as To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s a shame those two won’t be hooking up to make music together in the decade to come.   



war on drugs

The War on Drugs, ‘A Deeper Understanding’

With a diverse set of influences that included Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave, and, most surprising, Talk Talk, the War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel created an album in A Deeper Understanding that sounded inimitably like the War on Drugs. There’s an urgency in “Holding On,” as it drifts from sounding hopeful to wistful as Granduciel sings, “When we talk about the past … did I let go too fast?” that suggests he’s still figuring things out himself, and the gentle “Pain” poignantly captures the singer’s frustration about time he lost with a lover, set to a steady pulse and textures of slowly descending chords. It’s like you could feel his face drop with sadness. It’s a feeling that’s otherwise hard to capture, but the group found the perfect recipe for it. —K.G.

ultra violence

Lana Del Rey, ‘Ultraviolence’

When Lana Del Rey introduced herself to the world with 2012’s Born to Die, critics dismissed hits like “Summertime Sadness” as mopey pop for millennials. Two years later, she rebranded herself as a dream-pop heroine, and proved she was a force of nature with Ultraviolence. She told bourbon-fueled stories of recklessness like a character out of a novel by Charles Bukowski or Raymond Chandler (“He used to call me ‘DN,’ that stood for deadly nightshade,” she croons on the title track), but she did it with rare swagger and beauty (check that soprano on “Shades of Cool.”) This time, she was born to live on. —K.G.  

john prine

John Prine, ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

Somehow, in his early seventies, John Prine made one of the best albums of his legendary career. Part of the record’s charm comes from producer Dave Cobb’s anything-goes style: It sounds like an actual party is being held in the studio, with harmonies from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, and kazoo solos from Brandi Carlile. But no matter how loose Prine and company come across, his songwriting keeps the affair grounded in gravitas and tied firmly to the notion of growing old. “I always had an affinity for older people,” Prine told Rolling Stone. In “No Ordinary Blue,” he contemplates a final goodbye with a lover, while the devastating “Summer’s End” mourns the end of carefree days. He’s determined to revive those good times, however: In the rollicking “When I Get to Heaven,” Prine looks forward to drinkin’ and smokin’ in the pearly gates. —J.H.

rich gang

Rich Gang, ‘Tha Tour Part 1’

The title of Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1 promised a lot. The group — comprising Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan (and Birdman, if you want to get technical) — never went on tour and didn’t release a part two, but the promise Rich Gang did keep when Quan claimed that the project was “the best collab since OutKast” proved vital. The wild, unfettered lyrics and melodies of “Givenchy,” “Flava,” and “Imma Ride” rewrote rap in Thug and Quan’s image. For an hour-plus, the two Atlanta pillars made a path for the city’s (Lil Baby, Gunna) and hip-hop’s (Juice WRLD, Roddy Ricch) future. Thug and Quan went on to have bigger songs and moments, but Tha Tour Part 1 was the perfection of an alchemic duo that Atlanta hasn’t and probably never will see again. —C. Holmes

call me silvia

Low Cut Connie, ‘Call Me Sylvia’

The “rock is dead” clichés circulating this decade were laughable, but it is true that rock & roll of the Jerry Lee Lewis/New York Dolls/Replacements “take six Harvey Wallbangers, light your piano on fire, and call me in the morning” variety was pretty much on life support. So thank God for these uproarious rock & roll true believers, who mashed up Fifties boogie, Philly soul, campy Seventies lounge shtick, and pimply Sixties garage-slop on songs like the exuberantly Yuengling’d South Philly tribute “Boozophilia” and the macho man-Randy Newman Tiki bar ad-lib “(No More) Wet T-Shirt Contests,” in which Adam Weiner dreams of moving to Florida, playing piano in a hair salon, and an impending Christian phase we hope he never sees. —J.D.

future monster

Future, ‘Monster’

On Monster, Future became more — more ruthless, more depraved, more destructive, more toxic. In retrospect, the project was the first salvo that’d launch one of the most successful mixtape runs in music history, but when it arrived in 2014, it felt like a curiosity. Future had burned much of his goodwill after the release of his second studio album, Honest, which saw him simultaneously pivot to often edgeless, streamlined pop and loving odes dedicated to his then-fiancée, Ciara. Fans revolted, critics scoffed, the engagement disintegrated, and Future was left for dead. Then Monster introduced a grand, dramatic, and tragic arc. Future fashioned himself as a misogynistic philanderer who couldn’t shake his dependency on codeine and, more deeply, the love of his life. On the two-part “Throw Away,” he’d compare a woman to a discarded pistol and then cry about the thought of her moving on. During “Codeine Crazy,” Future’s hoarse voice tracks every granular and painful aspect of addiction. Monster launched a narcotized sonic revolution that influenced an entire generation of rappers and proved that one man’s heartbreak is that same man’s resurrection. —C. Holmes

sheer mag

Sheer Mag, ‘Need to Feel Your Love’

In the world of 2010s music, Sheer Mag were a unicorn: a rock band that actually mattered. The Philly outfit first attracted buzz with a trio of four-song singles that spliced the flash and swagger of Seventies and Eighties hard rock with garage-punk grit and scrappy left-wing politics. On Need to Feel Your Love, their debut full-length, they broadened their scope without diluting the message. Urgent uptempo tracks like “Just Can’t Get Enough” echoed the early EPs, showing off the potency of guitarist Kyle Seely’s chiseled riffs and the gritty yearning in singer Tina Halladay’s voice. But the band sounded just as convincing on funky, disco-inspired songs such as the title track and the sultry “Pure Desire.” And “Expect the Bayonet” — which calls out “a fragile state of blood and whim/Made for rich men in their white skin” — showed that their stance was as fierce as ever. Fittingly, Bernie Sanders played the tune at a 2019 rally. —H.S. 


U2, ‘Songs of Innocence’

U2’s first album of the decade was among their most troubled: The band worked on it for several years with producers like Danger Mouse and pop craftsman Ryan Tedder, and many iTunes users were less than thrilled when the album showed up (for free) on their phones without their permission. That hubbub often eclipsed music that tugged the band in bolder rhythmic and textural directions, like the pitch-dark throb underscoring “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” an implied attack on the Catholic church’s sex scandals. With its songs about Bono’s childhood, mother, and marriage, Songs of Innocence was also one of their most unguarded records, and Bono was typically unapologetic: “To sing about your mother — come on, shut up!” he said. “What is the point in being in U2 if you can’t go to those other places?” —D.B. 

vampire weekend

Vampire Weekend, ‘Father of the Bride’

“I know a lot of people in bands who have this fatalistic vibe, like, ‘Oh, no, rock’s dead, nobody cares,’” Ezra Koenig told Rolling Stone regarding Father of the Bride. “So what are you going to do about it? Either quit, or figure out a way to be excited about it.” So, in the wake of losing band co-founder Rostam Batmangjli, he did that, making 2019’s best “rock” album in the process, with help from hip-hop/pop sculptors BloodPop and DJ Dahi, additional singers (Danielle Haim, Steve Lacy), and jam-band-style guitar firepower (Dave Longstreth, Greg Leisz, producer Ariel Rechtshaid). And Koenig’s lyrics have never been sharper: See “Unbearably White” and “This Life,” a cheerfully dark co-write with iLoveMakonnen about cheating and the human condition. Like the whole set, it’ll make you feel seen. —W.H. 

whack world

Tierra Whack, ‘Whack World’

Tierra Whack is acutely aware of an environment in which attention spans are shrinking and new music never stops coming out: “I’ll listen to a new song and I only want to hear 30 seconds of it before I tell you, ‘Nope — trash,'” she explained. Perhaps that’s why she was able to craft one of the most audacious debuts in modern memory: Whack World, which strung together 15 one-minute songs, a gleefully fast blur of accents, genres, and outfits. Musically assured and laugh-out-loud funny (“I eat all my vegetables/Lower my cholesterol…/I ate all my vegetables/I just had to let you know”), Whack World earned fans ranging from Solange to David Byrne. “I was on the road all last year, and when Whack World came out, it was playing all over the tour bus,” Byrne told Rolling Stone. “It’s turning the industry upside down: the whole concept, the minute-long songs, the way they’re strung together, and how they went one into the next. You listen and go, ‘Oh, OK. Here’s the future.'” —E.L. 

neil crazy psychadelic pill

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Psychedelic Pill’

Young’s first new music with the Horse since 2003’s Greendale kicks off with “Driftin’ Back,” a 30-minute scorcher that touches on everything from Picasso to “hip-hop haircuts.” The nearly-17 minute “Ramada Inn” is a devastating reflection on his disintegrating marriage with his wife Pegi, and the epic “Walk Like a Giant” is an acknowledgement of the boomer rocker’s fading relevance. It’s his greatest album since the Nineties, and his final record with guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro. —A.M. 


Joanna Newsom, ‘Have One on Me’

Singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom went mind-bogglingly big for her third album, Have One on Me, in 2013. A triple LP that located a middle ground between the fairy-dusted oddball folk of Newsom’s debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, and her more orchestral, impressionistic second album, Ys, the project was simultaneously her most ambitious and most accessible. Newsom’s intricate poetry and polyrhythmic harp playing remained a central feature of many songs (“Baby Birch,” “’81”), but her sound expanded this time to include engaging full-band arrangements (“Good Intentions Paving Company”) along with elements of blues and country (“Does Not Suffice”) that called to mind the California sounds of Joni Mitchell. Sometimes Newsom’s songs took surprising melodic turns or used unconventional, winding structures, but there was a warm atmosphere of love and family throughout Have One on Me that kept it firmly tethered to the Earth. —J.F. 


Arctic Monkeys, ‘AM’

In interviews, Alex Turner described the Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 LP in terms of Dr. Dre and Aaliyah, the Spiders From Mars, and Ike Turner — and indeed, its crowning sonic achievement is the way it burrows deep into the pocket of a G-Funk bump while sounding like Elton John (“No. 1 Party Anthem”), Lou Reed (“Mad Sounds”), and Black Sabbath (“Arabella”). Together, this creates the perfect way-after-dark palette for Turner’s musings on being brokenhearted and horny in a digital age of missed connections, one-night stands, ill-advised drunk dials, and “u up?” text messages. There’s tragedy on the song’s final track, “I Wanna Be Yours,” an interpretation of John Cooper Clarke’s poem of the same name, in which consumerism is the love language of modern romance. But on “Do I Wanna Know?,” love, or at least desire, resides somewhere familiar: “A tune I found/That makes me think of you somehow/And I play it on repeat/Until I fall asleep/Spilling drinks on my settee.” —J. Blistein

nick cave

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘Ghosteen’

For decades Nick Cave has made a cottage industry of eloquent, humorous, moving stories of love, murder, and mourning that lived up to the kinds of stories he read in literature. Then tragedy struck in 2015 when his teenaged son, Arthur, fell from a cliff and died, spinning Cave’s world into chaos. But he pushed forward, first with the delicate Skeleton Tree, a morose meditation on loss, and then with Ghosteen, which he split into two parts: one for children who have died and another for their parents. It’s a gauzy, ethereal mood piece, but there are rays of hope throughout it, as Cave sings, “It’s a long way to find peace of mind.” It’s a triumph of spirit, because you can hear just how hard it was for him to make, and it is beautiful. —K.G. 

angel olsen

Angel Olsen, ‘My Woman’

After the stripped-down intimacy of her breakout Burn Your Fire for No Witness, this electrified set of loud, high-drama indie rock was a revelation. The entry point is the indelibly hooky Elvis Presley-via-Patti Smith “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” But the emotional peak is “Sister,” a gutting seven-plus-minute epic that conjures Patsy Cline-scale hurt and crests into Crazy Horse-style guitar bliss. Olsen wrote it while on tour in Australia, feeling hungover and like “a shell of a person.” “A lot of songs I write, I don’t know where they come from,” she said. “It just happens, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck was that?’ That’s what happened with ‘Sister.’ ” —W.H.


Metallica, ‘Hardwired … to Self-Destruct’

After nearly imploding at the start of the previous decade, Metallica poked fun at their own fragility with Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, a double album of confident, cocksure metal ragers that prove they’ve never been more stable. They bookended it with two of their best songs in 25 years, the punky, three-minute invective “Hardwired” and the grinding techno-horror thrasher “Spit Out the Bone,” and they filled the rest of it with punishing riffs, pummeling drums and pessimistic lyrics — in other words, it’s a perfect Metallica record. Plus, no ballads. —K.G. 

jamie xx

Jamie XX, ‘In Color’

By the time he got around to releasing his solo debut, In Colour, in 2015, London-born Jamie Smith (a.k.a. Jamie xx) had already racked up production credits with his band the xx and Gil Scott-Heron, and on the Drake-Rihanna collaboration “Take Care.” For In Colour, Smith built on those disparate sources to assemble a joyful, endlessly listenable collection of tracks that conjured up classic rave sounds (“Hold Tight,” “See Saw”), UK garage (“Sleep Sound),” and sun-soaked Caribbean pop (“I Know There’s Gonna Be [Good Times],” featuring the hyperactive rhymes of Young Thug and dancehall artist Popcaan). But the album’s stunning centerpiece was “Loud Places,” bolstered by the vocals of his xx bandmate Romy and built around a sample of Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” that felt like the ecstasy and loneliness of club life rolled into one. —J.F. 

eric church

Eric Church, ‘Chief’

With its “bahm bahm bahm” scat vocal and explosive drumbeat, the opening track “Creepin'” made clear that 2011’s Chief wasn’t going to be like other Nashville country albums. “The mistake a lot of people make is the more success they have, the safer they play it,” Church once told Rolling Stone. “That’s wrong: I think the more success you have, the more dangerous you should play it.” Church’s third and biggest-selling LP, Chief seamlessly stitched together country music and hard rock in a way that didn’t pander to either’s audience. It also cemented Church’s outsize onstage persona: You have to exceed your human limitations to believably sing the swaggering “Drink in My Hand,” the brawling “Keep On,” or the messianic “Country Music Jesus.” But Church brought things back to earth too, suffering through dejection on “Hungover & Hard Up” and celebrating everyday musical memories on the superb “Springsteen.” —J.H.


Kamasi Washington, ‘The Epic’

Did Kamasi Washington change jazz with his near-three-hour 2015 triple album? Not exactly. It’s more that he changed the genre’s profile. The L.A. saxophonist-composer captivated listeners outside the jazz niche. And while his appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and the backing of Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder no doubt helped to stir up buzz, it actually does The Epic a disservice to view it as a jazz album steeped in contemporary hip-hop or electronica. Washington’s opus wasn’t state of the art, and — unlike the work of true 2010s vanguardists like Vijay Iyer or Mary Halvorson — it wasn’t trying to be. These three discs play more like a gently surreal Seventies time capsule: a sometimes soothing, sometimes incendiary soundspace where the hippie-Coltrane stylings of Pharoah Sanders and shimmery funk of Earth, Wind and Fire mingle with gospel-choir uplift and soundtrack-ready strings. It’s a defiantly escapist sprawl that’s well worth getting lost in. —H.S. 

brandi carlile

Brandi Carlile, ‘By The Way, I Forgive You’

“I’d been around for a long time,” Brandi Carlile told Rolling Stone in 2018, “but nobody really knew me.” That forever changed on Carlile’s 2017 LP, a collection of jarringly vulnerable ruminations on marital strife (“Party of One”), queer motherhood (“Evangeline”), and existential rejection (“The Joke”) that transformed Carlile from cult road warrior into a bona fide singer-songwriter superstar. “Everything that’s happened over the past 10 years: People killing themselves, issues with our families, the twin’s divorces, all these things caught up to us,” Carlile told this magazine in 2017. “You can do any number of things with that, but what we chose to do is talk about finding a way to fundamentally forgive and accept life for being fucking hard.” —J.Bernstein


Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, ‘Mirror Traffic’

As scads of young bands showed up to rip off the golden-age indie rock of his old band Pavement, the ever-reliable Malkmus kept cranking out excellent solo albums throughout the decade. Mirror Traffic was his finest, full of casually elegant songs and offhanded guitar majesty. “Senator” kept irony alive in a self-serious age with a hilarious political-rock spoof (“I know what the senator wants/What the senator wants is a blow job,” he sang, and joked to Rolling Stone that the song was going to “change the world”); he tastefully evoked midlife emotional fuzziness over a Burt Jansch-esque folk figure on “No One Is (As I Are Be)”; and he layered a career’s worth of jaggedly pretty guitar hooks all over “Stick Figures in Love.” Most sweetly, the guy who once defined slackerdom for lazy culture scribes, sounded happy and at home singing “40 with a kid, living on the grid” on the plaintive “Share the Red.”  —J.D.   


Kesha, ‘Rainbow’

One of the decade’s most heartening comebacks. Bogged down in a grueling legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke, the singer recorded her best LP, full of zero-fucks-given courage and resilience. Kesha teamed up with Eagles of Death Metal for the glam-punk rager, offering a zesty “suck my dick” to all the losers who might wish to steal her magic, did a feminist anthem with the help of the Dap-Kings on the classic-soul shouter “Woman,” and addressed her tormentor eye-to-eye with imperious grace on the cathartic solo piano ballad “Praying.” Magic: affirmed. —J.D. 

soccer mommy clean

Soccer Mommy, ‘Clean’

Sophie Allison had been writing pristine bedroom-pop heartbreakers for a while by the time her studio debut arrived in 2018. “It just seemed like if something crazy happened and I got a career started, that’d be cool, but I didn’t even know how that would happen,” said the singer-songwriter, who was studying the music business at New York University in the meantime. She left that program just before making Clean, a self-assured level-up whose tighter hooks, sharper lyrics, and bold attitude made her an alt-rock standard-bearer overnight. The salty kiss-off of “Your Dog,” the dreamy sigh of “Last Girl,” and the candy-floss angst of “Cool” would have been all over the radio and MTV in 1996; this decade, we had to settle for playing them on repeat in our heads. The ballads (“Flaw,” “Blossom (Wasting All My Time),” “Scorpio Rising”) were even better, shining with the confidence of a songwriter who’d stand out in any generation. —S.V.L. 


The Highwomen, ‘The Highwomen’

With songs like “Redesigning Women,” “My Name Can’t Be Mama,” and the ballsy title track, the Highwomen’s self-titled album appeared to court a certain audience. But this was a record for everyone, with a message of solidarity that transcended age, race, and, yes, gender. Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris sing about topics affecting us all, from the grand (the persecution of the historical characters in “Highwomen”) to the minute (the glorious kiss-off “Don’t Call Me”). And the tracks that do zero in with a fine point — like the Carlile-sung “If She Ever Leaves Me,” the group’s bid as a gay country song — are still wildly relatable. There’s nothing foreign about getting dumped. “I love that we have songs on this album about [everything from] shattering female stereotypes to a gay country love song and songs about losing loved ones,” Morris told Rolling Stone. “It’s all real and it’s all country.” —J.H.

frank ocean

Frank Ocean, ‘Nostalgia Ultra’

The world would recognize him soon enough as a brilliant outsider-pop auteur, but back in 2011 Frank Ocean was still the fourth or fifth most famous member of L.A.’s Odd Future camp. That changed with this self-released mixtape, recorded a few years after he left home in post-Katrina New Orleans and started working as a hired-hand songwriter for the likes of Justin Bieber. Singing bittersweet melodies over unlicensed samples of the Eagles (“American Wedding”), Coldplay (“Strawberry Swing”), and more, Ocean made it clear he had no interest in playing by anyone else’s rules. “These days if you’re a purist to a certain genre, I dunno, it feels a little dated to me,” he said. “It’s played out, it’s over, it’s done. Stop.” —S.V.L. 


Father John Misty, ‘I Love You, Honeybear’

For his second album, Josh Tillman, who performs under the moniker Father John Misty, combined sardonic wit and bursting passion to make one of the most strangely romantic records of the decade. A concept album about meeting, falling in love with, and marrying his muse in an era overrun with technology and economic strife, I Love You, Honeybear contains sharp songwriting and Neil Young On the Beach-era balladry, complete with a mocking laugh track (“Bored in the USA”) and syrupy mariachi horns (“Chateau Lobby #4 [in C for Two Virgins”]). “There’s a lot of meta in my songs,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015. “When I’m writing, I can’t avoid the fact that I’m writing.” Amen to that. —A.M. 

pusha t

Pusha T, ‘Daytona’

The first (and best) of G.O.O.D. Music’s rollout of five seven-song projects in the spring of 2018, Daytona was luxurious and precise, much like the Rolex timepiece that Pusha T named it after. Carefully calibrating the balance between his sneering delivery and intricate lyrical style, Push assembled an album that pared away any extraneous motions and left only the cold-hearted menace and ruthless efficiency of an assassin. The final song, “Infrared,” turned out to be a savvy chess move that provoked a diss track from Drake so that Pusha had justifiable cause to air out an incredible revelation: that Drake had fathered a child in secret. Come at the king, you best not miss. —D.S. 

jenny lewis

Jenny Lewis, ‘On the Line’

Jenny Lewis’ “L.A. album” is the sound of an artist both coming home and hitting her 21st-century singer/songwriter peak. Cut at Capitol Records Studio B (Frank Sinatra’s sitting room, basically) and played partly on the piano that wove Carole King’s Tapestry, even the hardware exudes golden-era history. The players too, Ringo Starr among them. (“He was cool,” Lewis recalled. “He just showed up one day with a smoothie.”) The music nods to vintage Laurel Canyon soul but shows Lewis’ own roots, name-checking Elliott Smith, Candy Crush Saga, and Paxil, rhyming “Beaujolais” with “chemtrail haze,” and performing surgery on her own open heart, all wry sincerity and stoner punchlines. We hear her new weed brand is excellent, too. —W.H. 

jack white

Jack White, ‘Blunderbuss’

The day after playing his first show as a solo artist, Jack White admitted to Rolling Stone, “I thought [going solo] was just an easy-way-out, showbiz, boring choice to make.… Like, you’re in a famous band, and then you have your solo career for the rest of your life and then you die.” White didn’t just have one famous band, he had three — the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather — and on Blunderbuss, he pulled musical threads from each and spun them alongside fresh ventures into country, blues, rock, and R&B. On tracks like “Sixteen Saltines,” “Freedom at 21” and his cover of Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin,’” White wields his guitar with an ear-splitting, percussive skronk, and “Trash Tongue Talker” is a blustering barroom head-roller. But songs like “Love Interruption” and “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” also unfurl vulnerability in compelling ways. —J. Blistein


Grimes, ‘Art Angels’

“Everything I love becomes everything I knew,” Claire Boucher sang on her second LP. That omnivorous spirit guides Art Angels, a sleeker, sharper follow-up to the moody electro-R&B of her breakout debut, Visions. On “Venus Fly,” she gets together with Janelle Monáe for a global feminist floor-shaker that sounds like Gwen Stefani on an M.I.A. bender, while “Flesh Without Blood” is a thrilling liberation anthem that channels her atmospheric vocal filigree through something akin to Max Martin-style dance pop. “I could live in the world like a stranger,” she sings on the somber “Life in the Vivid Dream.” It’s the radical hallmark of an artist who loves upending convention, pulling from any style that suits her and making all these surprising gestures seem natural. —J.D. 


Drake, ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’

Owning a decade is a hard thing to do. At the outset of the 2010s, Drake had the pop sensibility that suggested he would become a star. And while 2011’s Take Care would firmly establish him as A-list talent, it was his chameleonic adaptability that would keep him there over the ensuing years. While that was, in part, due to his omnivorous approach to sounds, it was also the result of a malleable public persona; following the occasionally maudlin oversharing that defined his early celebrity, no one saw the heel turn coming. IYRTITL is a brutal album. It’s sparse and icy, casual and cruel. Every line is sharp, designed as a kiss-off to the ex you thought you would marry, conveyed via Instagram captions. Drake’s never sounded cooler. —B.K. 



Lizzo, ‘Cuz I Love You’

“Bad bitch in the mirror like, ‘Yeah, I’m in love,” Melissa Jefferson exclaims on her long-awaited debut LP. Cuz I Love You is pure self-loving euphoria, empowerment soul with a pop-rap polish, and packed full of one-liners good enough to put on a protest poster: “If you feel like a girl, then you real like a girl,” “Only exes that I care about are in my fucking chromosomes,” etc., etc. Cuz I Love You was worth waiting for, shifting from the old-school ex-exorcizing soul shouter “Jerome” to the Prince-ly pop-funk escapade “Tempo,” with Missy Elliott, to the gospel-tinged “Heaven Help Me,” held together by an artist who lets out a holler of joy every time she runs across herself in the bathroom mirror, and makes her Lizzo-love feel universal and inspiring. —J.D. 


Florence + the Machine, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’

Welch upped her ambitions and added soul texture to her tribal-goth sound on this career-highpoint. How Big, How Blue is a sexy record that sticks to some familiar themes: a woman wrestling with her lovers and emotions, often with biblical allusions; liquid-courage assists; and a near-violent intensity. But the scale has ballooned. Welch sings about crossing canyons, kissing skylines, pulling the Earth around her. On “Ship to Wreck,” a chiming hit of Eighties guitar pop, she’s in bed with a killer whale who “has me by its teeth.” On “Delilah,” she time-travels to party hard with the Old Testament femme fatale over a Northern soul groove. “Long and Lost” — maybe her most Charlotte Brontë-via-Kate Bush moment ever — is a magnificent bit of British brooding, backed by ghostly choral vocals. —W H.

bad bunny

Bad Bunny, ‘X 100Pre’

After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, morale was below sea level. An estimated 3,000 people had died, disaster relief had been stalled, and 24-year-old Latin trap star Bad Bunny began grappling with celebrity outside the decimated island he called home. During his U.S. television debut, on The Tonight Show, he pulled an impressive stunt by opening his gospel-trap single, “Estamos Bien,” with a sobering plea for help on behalf of Puerto Rico. It was a stunning introduction, which foreshadowed the gravity and range of his 2018 masterwork, X 100pre. Volleying between shamelessly crude and totally vulnerable, Bad Bunny and his slow-burning baritone opened the floor for Latin pop that’s not afraid to get uncomfortable. X 100pre is a portrait of Puerto Rico in its renaissance — a critical footnote in the history of the Latin-with-an-X zeitgeist that’s been sweeping the globe. —S.E. 

good kid maad city

Kendrick Lamar, ‘Good Kid…m.A.A.d City’

On good kid, m.A.A.d. city, a teenage Kendrick Lamar explores the city of Compton, armed with little more than a driver’s license, his mom’s van, like-minded friends, and an appetite for Black and Mild cigars and mischief. Lamar is moored to his parents only by the voicemails they leave on his phone. What’s amazing about the album is how his rich, specific inner life speaks to universal truths about growing up in Compton. By framing the first 10 tracks of good kid as a document, a literal cassette tape that ends precisely where it begins and loops for an eternity, Lamar speaks for other kids who have come before and after him. —D.S. 

st vincent

St. Vincent, ‘St. Vincent’

Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, opens her self-titled album with a story about encountering a rattlesnake while walking through the desert in the nude, and it only gets more gloriously strange from there. Clark had begun her career as an indie-rock singer-songwriter, and in just seven years developed a unique style of art-rock that fused new-wave, synth-pop, dance, and guitar-hero six-string pyrotechnics. It attracted David Byrne, who collaborated with her on Love This Giant, and it congealed into a smart, sexy sound that’s all her own on St. Vincent, an album worthy of being self-titled since it perfectly captures the essence she’d explore later in the decade on Masseduction. —K.G. 

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten, ‘Are We There’

Sharon Van Etten slowly sculpted her piercing storytelling over the course of four superb singer-songwriter statements. “I hit ‘record’ whenever I’m going through a really hard time,” as she put it in 2014. But it was her fourth record, Are We There?, that showcases the singer’s stunning musical range. Van Etten assumes a kaleidoscopic approach to her turbulence, portraying a strained relationship through the  stark drumbeat minimalism of “Our Love,” the torch song centerpiece “I Love You But I’m Lost,” and the concluding bleary-eyed singalong, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.”  “I washed your dishes,” she sings, “but I shit in your bathroom.” J.Bernstein



Janelle Monáe, ‘Dirty Computer’

Janelle Monáe’s first two albums marry a retro-collage of musical genres with science-fiction-inspired ideas about otherness. With her third, Dirty Computer, she conjures a fizzy brew of funk, R&B, and pop, and zeroes in on her queer sexual identity. While the album’s accompanying “Emotion Picture” carries explicit political meaning, the music itself derives its subversive quality from the feeling of effervescence and weightlessness that it evokes. Amid the unassuming bubblegum synths of “Pynk,” the laid-back, low-lit groove of “Don’t Judge Me,” and the strong Prince vibes of “Make Me Feel,” Monáe seems to glide. —D.S. 



Paul McCartney, ‘Egypt Station’

Although Paul McCartney’s 2013 album was called New, Egypt Station lives up to that title far better: It sounds fresh, inventive and unencumbered. Here, Macca’s history as a man who has loved and lost shines through. Co-produced by Greg Kurstin, the album boasts some gorgeous tunes, from “I Don’t Know” — which grapples with uncertainty and disillusionment with humanity — to the classic, mature romantic ballad “Hand in Hand.” “Music is like a psychiatrist,” McCartney told Rolling Stone back in 2016. “You can tell your guitar things that you can’t tell people. And it will answer you with things people can’t tell you.” As such, Egypt Station is an effective therapy session. B.E. 


Waxahatchee, ‘Cerulean Salt’

Katie Crutchfield said she wrote her first full-band Waxahatchee album from the perspective of “realizing that your childhood is over. . . . it’s raw, and sad.” Released just a year after American Weekend, her debut bedroom-folk masterpiece, Cerulean Salt is a crisp blend of potent power pop, folk punk, and Nineties grunge, a lasting document of the type of subdued Philly indie rock that emerged at the genre’s center this decade. The record also established Crutchfield as one of her generation’s foremost chroniclers of interior turmoil. “We will find a way to be lonely any chance we get,” she sings on the album’s centerpiece, “Swan Dive.” “And I’ll keep having dreams about loveless marriage and regret.” —J.Bernstein


Nicki Minaj, ‘The Pinkprint’

While The Pinkprint didn’t feature any ubiquitous radio smashes on the order of “Super Bass” or “Starships,” it embedded Minaj’s sharp pop instincts in emotional, post-breakup deep dives and songs that sought to re-establish her cred as a world-beating, shit-talking technician. A portrait of Minaj’s myriad creative ambitions, Pinkprint still revolves around its club tracks, like the raunchy “Baby Got Back” inversion “Anaconda,” the towering power ballad “The Night Is Still Young,” and the album’s quintessential anthem, “Trini Dem Girls,” which pivots hard between glimmering EDM overtures and thunderous ass-dropping exhortations. —D.S.

harry styles

Harry Styles, ‘Harry Styles’

Though few rock fans had paid attention, Harry Styles had a party to some excellent pop-rock fusions on One Direction hits like “Best Song Ever” and the top-shelf Fleetwood Mac-tion of “Fireproof.” So his transition to actual solo rock stardom made sense. Still, the scope and grandeur of his debut is remarkable. “Sign of the Times” is a massive moment of Bowie-esque balladry, delivering weirdly deep glam-apocalypse jive like “You can’t bribe the door on your way to the sky.” Elsewhere, his soft-rock confessionals (“Two Ghosts”), California confections (“Carolina”), and Kiss-tinged metal stomp (“Kiwi”) seemed not just well-schooled but natural and, in Styles’ more vulnerable moments, deeply felt. He got period details down — for instance, he totally mastered that Seventies way guys in their twenties knew how to sound like heavy-bearded nomads of love in their forties — and made them feel very much his own. —J.D. 

miranda lambert

Miranda Lambert, ‘The Weight of These Wings’

Leave it Lambert to make the decade’s most ambitious country album, a sprawling double LP in which she worked through her separation from Blake Shelton while celebrating the freedom she’d more than earned as an artist. The Weight of These Wings is a breakup album with the reach of a classic-rock masterwork, 24 songs that touch on honky-tonk heartache, swaggering barroom stomp, and sexy, string-laden balladry. Song for song, it’s not as sharp as Platinum, but gut-punch gems abound as does wisdom on love and loss, and the big-chorused “Keeper of the Flame” places her as next in line of songwriting idols while doubling as a statement of perseverance: “Somebody blazed this trail I’m treadin’ on/I’m bent, but I’m not broken.” —C.H.

alabama shakes

Alabama Shakes, ‘Boys & Girls’

This garage-R&B fusion has served as a retro-chic benchmark for so long that it’s easy to forget just how strangely riotous the Alabama Shakes’ debut offering sounded when it came out in 2012. The Athens, Alabama, quartet packed a half-century of esoteric Sixties influences into these 11 playful raves: See the Solomon Burke seduction in “You Ain’t Alone,” or Brittany Howard’s meditative low-fi whispering on “Goin’ to the Party.” “I guess they assumed it was someone else’s song, so they were acting like they knew the words,” Howard once said of the first time the band ever performed their signature “Hold On” live. “That’s how we knew it was good.” —J. Bernstein. 

sky f

Sky Ferreira, ‘Night Time, My Time’

Sky Ferreira is a perfectionist studio hound — so much so that it took her five years to release her 2013 debut, Night Time, My Time. But its Lynchian mix of pop and pain was worth it. The record followed a self-described identity crisis during which industry honchos steered her toward one popular sound after another — but she found little in common with Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. In the end, she settled on a sound that’s one part twisted nostalgic (“Boys”), a dose of pop-rock angst (“Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)”), and a liberal helping of nouveau noir (“Night Time, My Time”). “A lot of what I like isn’t new,” Ferreira told Rolling Stone in 2013. “But I didn’t want to make something retro, either. So it was like, ‘How do I bring all of these elements together and make it new, and still make it pop music at the same time?’” Mission accomplished. —B.E. 

daft punk

Daft Punk, ‘Random Access Memories’

With an over-the-top, all-star concept LP of prog-rocking dance music orbiting between Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon and Earth, Wind and Fire‘s That’s the Way of the World, Daft Punk made the decade’s best EDM record by trying not to make an EDM record, enlisting Pharrell, Julian Casablancas, Panda Bear, Euro-disco godfather Giorgio Moroder, pop-schmaltz guru Paul Williams and, most importantly, Chic’s Nile Rodgers, whose funky signature rhythm guitar gives the robots a human heart. See “Get Lucky,” one of the decade’s defining and most uplifting singles. As the duo’s Thomas Bangalter said in 2013, it’s a “very optimistic” album, “coming at a point, in a world that is not so optimistic and which is somehow maybe more cynical and slightly pessimistic.” If he’d only known what lay ahead. —W.H. 


Japandroids, ‘Celebration Rock’

Two dudes, one guitar, one drum kit, eight songs, but just one attitude: loud-ass rock as pure celebration. The Vancouver duo of Brian King and David Prowse fill their second album with life-affirming guitar anthems like “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” asking, “Don’t we have anything to live for? Well, of course we do!” In the great tradition of Canadian bands, they have a terrible name and zero fashion sense. But when they rip into the giant-hearted finale “Continuous Thunder,” nothing else matters. It’s the kind of album where every “oh yeah” comes with a side order of “all right!” —R.S. 

fiona apple

Fiona Apple, ‘The Idler Wheel…’

Fiona Apple told a friend that completing Idler Wheel… made her “really, really happy” and that she “felt like I can die now, I’ve done what I want, this is me.” Perhaps no other album this past decade was so obviously that: an unfettered plunge into one artist’s idiosyncratic and relentlessly honest perspective. The songs, crafted with drummer/co-producer Charley Drayton, surprise and charm like outsider-art show tunes. Apple’s spiky, beautiful, and witty lyrics (“I’m amorous but out of reach/A still life drawing of a peach”) sprout from a petri-dish culture of love and heartbreak, and she delivers them with a seasoned vulnerability. In a feverish coda to album-closer “Hot Knife,” she harmonizes one great line — “If I’m butter, he’s a hot knife” — with her sister, making a song ostensibly about a man very much about the bonds hidden in blood. —N.C.


Khalid, ‘American Teen’

Like Lorde, Khalid was a voice from the teen hinterland who blew up huge thanks to the pure uniqueness of his vision, relatable personality, and genre-less sense of musical style. Mixing spare synths and laid-back R&B grooves, singing about living at home, and turning “Young, Dumb & Broke” into a drowsy anthem, he sounded at once fresh faced and world weary. “Location” was an image of romance in a phone-mediated era. On the summery Eighties-disco tune “8Teen,” he worried about getting caught because he’d left his mom’s car smelling like weed, and on the dolefully morose “Cold Blooded,” he came off like a Weeknd who was young enough to actually savor the weekend because on Monday he’d be back sitting in class. True to its name, American Teen rendered hyper-modern concerns with a soulfulness that felt as archetypal as a Sam Cooke ballad. —J.D. 


Arcade Fire, ‘The Suburbs’

Nearly a decade has passed since Arcade Fire’s longshot victory at the Grammys, and it still feels astonishingly surreal — not least because enough people cared to make  “Who Is Arcade Fire” a trending hashtag. The whole ordeal was reflective of a more innocent time, before streaming abolished what was left of music monoculture, so it’s only appropriate that an album that pays homage to innocence and nostalgia as much as The Suburbs does was the center of it all. This is as unabashedly rock as Arcade Fire has ever been (“Ready to Start,” “Month of May”) shoved up against what are arguably their finest dance tracks (“Sprawl II” edges out “Reflektor,” in this writer’s opinion), with some uncategorizable art-pop pieces (“Rococo,” “Deep Blue”) thrown in the mix. The Suburbs saw a band aiming to capture freewheeling youth at the pinnacle of their career, and remarkably, they succeeded. —C.S. 

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.