100 Best Albums of the 2010s, Ranked by Rolling Stone - Rolling Stone
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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.   

RELATED: ROLLING STONE’S BEST SONGS OF THE DECADE LIST

 

florence
68

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
67

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
66

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
65

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
64

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
63

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. 

 

mccartney
62

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
61

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

pinkprint
60

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
59

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
58

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
57

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
56

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
55

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
54

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
53

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
52

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. 

suburbs
51

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. 

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