Today we edge ever nearer to unveiling our top album of the decade. Before we get there, though, it’s time to share with you the fourth part of our countdown: the albums which hold positions 40 through 21.
40 Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
What do you get when you mix four quirky New Yorkers with superstar producer Danger Mouse? That’s right, a career-defining classic. Parquet Courts‘ Wide Awake! is that classic, and it’s not hard to hear why. By working with Danger Mouse, Parquet Courts have knocked down an internal fourth wall and explored the outermost depths of their creativity, resulting in 38 minutes of pure enigmatic bliss. Opener Total Football sets the bar high as A Savage and co. flitter between their sarcasm-rooted garage rock and hints of both reggae and funk, hitting the sweet spot in every regard. Lead single Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience sounds like two sides of the same coin, with title track switching currencies on what is by far Parquet Courts’ most diverse records to date. Danger Mouse has brought out the best in Parquet Courts, and now it’s time for these four zany New Yorkers to bring out the best in you as they inevitably succeed in grabbing your attention and not letting go until album finale Tenderness fades into a premature silence.
39 St Vincent – St Vincent
St Vincent is one of those artists who can quite simply do no wrong. Whether it be create a futuristic world on 2017’s MASSEDUCTION or join forces with cult hero David Byrne, you’ll be hard pushed to find anything Annie Clark’s done which is lacklustre. 2014’s self-titled record is by far her masterpiece, with standout track Digital Witness up there alongside some of the decade’s best indie rock songs. It’s a fun and quirky album, but at the same time it’s also an exercise in how to craft the dream indie rock album through a pure pop funnel.
38 Tame Impala – Currents
With Currents, Kevin Parker found himself sitting on a masterpiece. From the iconic opening synths on Let it Happen to the subtle fade out on New Person, Same Old Mistakes, Currents is as faultless as Parker can possibly get in this day and age (bar Lonerism, of course). The significant lack of guitars may have already been a given (Parker worked with producer Mark Ronson on his own Uptown Special album, a foreshadowing of sorts), but that the six-string was largely set aside for a while doesn’t mean that the tracks are any less good. Don’t be surprised if you see Currents appearing in plenty of decade-end lists, because that’s exactly where it deserves to be.
37 Alvvays – Alvvays
Alvvays’ self-titled debut leant heavily towards the slower, more ballad-esque side of indie pop, but that by no means meant that it was an indicator of dullness. On the contrary, Alvvays’ debut served as an extremely important moment from (then) somewhat stagnant world of indie. Standout track Archie, Marry Me will forever go down as one of the best songs of the decade, its belter of a chorus completely ready to take on the world. With two albums to their date this decade, who’s to say where Alvvays could go next.
36 Shame – Songs of Praise
When Shame exploded onto the scene in the second half of 2016, few people anticipated the absolute whirlwind of a ride people would take them on by the time debut album Songs of Praise popped up eighteen months later. It’s a ramshackle collection of intense garage punk, spearheaded by maniac frontman Charlie Sheen, and it’s nothing short of brilliant. The brilliant thing about Songs of Praise is that each song possesses a certain lyrical quality which doesn’t leave the confines of your skull for days on end. We could sit here and rattle off all of Steen’s noteworthy lyrics one by one, but there’s no use: we’d be here for a long time. And it’s not like we even need to explain why Steen is a fantastic lyricist; all you need to do is give Songs of Praise a spin and hear so for yourself. Songs of Praise’s title may be lifted from an iconic BBC One show about finding faith through, but there is absolutely nothing holy about Songs of Praise.
35 D’Angelo – Black Messiah
It takes all of eighteen seconds for D’Angelo’s Black Messiah to demonstrate exactly why it’s so worthy of a high spot in this list. That’s because opening track Ain’t That Easy is a sublime slice of soulful funk rock, lead by a fuzzed out guitar line and kept under control by D’Angelo’s forever recognisable husky voice. Black Messiah came on the back a radio silence which lasted more than a decade, marking the start of a new chapter for a man who spend the best part of the noughties embroiled in arrests and abuse. If the album taught us anything, then it’s that fourteen years was far too long for an artist of D’Angelo’s stature to become caught up in trouble and strife. He hasn’t released anything since, and he may never again, but if your final record is as strong as Black Messiah then there isn’t much use trying to surpass it.
34 Pusha T – DAYTONA
The album artwork for Pusha T’s punchy DAYTONA album depicts Whitney Houston’s drug paraphernalia-infested bathroom at the peak of her addiction in 2006. Not the prettiest picture, of course, but perhaps the only one which could sufficiently complement the vibe Pusha T went for across DAYTONA’s brief twenty minutes. The Kanye West-produced record (conceived in Wyoming during West’s Wyoming Sessions) is a whirlwind journey through Pusha T’s mind, from If You Know You Know’s defiant opening through to the Western-tinged The Games We Play and Drake-dissing finale Infrared. The highlight though? Undoubtedly Hard Piano, a collaboration with Rick Ross. It may be a short affair, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in strength.
33 Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson Paak is the kind of guy who probably wakes up and goes to sleep with a smile on his face. He’s the kind of guy who you’d want want to take home and meet your family. And he’s also the only guy on the planet who can put an album as electrifying as Malibu. Paak’s sophomore album now dates back to 2016, and it serves as the result of intense studio sessions with an abundance of collaborators, among them executive producers Adrian Miller, Ketrina Askew and Kevin Morrow. The final product? A mixture of sixteen silky smooth slow jams and upbeat rap cuts, among them the swaggering Come Down and groove-laden Am I Wrong (featuring none other than Schoolboy Q). It’s not the best rap album of the decade, but then again it’s not trying to be that either. Sit back, relax and get down with Paak as he takes you on a chilled out ride through his mind.
32 Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
On Turn Out the Lights (All Things Loud’s 2017 Album of the Year), Memphis multi-instrumentalist Julien Baker pours her heart and soul into each and every single second in a way only she knows how. Centring solely on her voice, and backed with minimal instrumental accompaniment, it’s a record which well and truly showcases her as nothing more than an artist who will go down as one of today’s best. Over the course of eleven tracks, Baker tugs at the most intricate of your heartstrings as her sickly sweet voice lodges itself firmly within the confines of your mind for days on end. Appointments instantly sets the tone for what’s to come on an emotional level, picking up where album opener Over left off. It’s merely the start of a hyper-personalized journey which Baker takes the listener on, openly highlighting the very facets of her personal life which make Turn Out the Lights so stunning. She leaves no stone unturned, and doesn’t shy away from unleashing her feelings to such an extent where you can almost visualize yourself being a witness to every single moment. Despite its significantly minimalistic instrumental backing (which adds to the intimacy), Baker more often than not allows her voice to soar high above the clouds on the likes of Turn Out the Lights, Shadowboxing and the absolutely phenomenal curtain call Claws in Your Back. With such an immense collection of music on her hands, there couldn’t have been any other spot on this list which Turn Out the Lights was worthy of. Baker has, without a shadow of a doubt, produced the best record she possibly could, subsequently making for an absolutely spectacular album.
31 Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
If you looked up the word ‘slacker’ in the Oxford Dictionary, chances are that you’d find a picture of Mac DeMarco. Although his slacker days are pretty much behind him anno 2019, it’s safe to say that Salad Days will always go down as his strongest (and most acclaimed) record. It thus shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was the record which put the Canadian cult hero on the map. The record’s title track sparked a whole new generation of indie boys with guitars who aspired to be exactly like Mac, leaving a trail of copycats in his wake, some good and some atrocious (we’re not naming names). When you put out an album which has that much of an impact on a younger generation, it’s safe to say that you’ve done something right. And all together now, “La la la la la”…
30 Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
If there’s anything the 2010s was good for musically, then it was giving a well-deserved platform to a whole host of incredibly strong and talented women. One of these is Janelle Monae, the undoubted heir to the RnB throne. Back in 2013 she made a first stake to this claim on the bombastic and unashamedly fun The Electric Lady, a nineteen song collection of twinkling future funk, soul and groove. The likes of Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange and Miguel all feature throughout, not so much serving as collaborators but more as enablers for Monae to take the throne. We all know that Kanye West and Jay Z called their album Watch the Throne just so that we could witness Monae take a seat in it, and long shall she reign. Right?
29 IDLES – Brutalism
1. 1. cruelty and savageness.”exchanging one kind of social and economic brutalism for another is not what they had in mind”
Above is the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word Brutalism, the title IDLES handed their abrasive debut album. The Bristol punks are one of the decade’s most unsuspecting success stories, taking their empowering messages around the world and sending each and every fan home with a sense of utter fulfilment. Before the IDLES train started hitting full speed, though, it was Brutalism’s job to inform the world of the sonic onslaught Joe Talbot and co. were set to unleash. Over the course of thirteen songs and 42 minutes, the quintet tackle topics which have slowly but surely become common discussion points in modern society, among them toxic masculinity and male mental health. It’s not just the subject matter which strikes a nerve, however, as the music alone is enough of a sonic battering ram to leave you tense for days on end. Once you start picking apart the pieces, you’ll find that Brutalism is not just a critical reflection on the world we live in, but also a call to arms for mankind to come together and improve. As debut albums go, Brutalism is right up there with some of the best.
28 Bring Me the Horizon – Sempiternal
As Bring Me the Horizon geared up to work on the ultimately career-defining Sempiternal, Oli Sykes and co. found themselves at a crossroads. They were on the cusp of becoming one of Britain’s most successful modern metal bands, but they had to decide if they wanted to move forward or stick to what got them there in the first place. Luckily, they decided to progress, and from that moment onwards Sempiternal was born. It’s without a shadow of a doubt the best British metal album of the century so far, something largely down to the immensely captivating blend of heavier guitars, pulsating rhythms and electronic outbursts. A combination which had slowly creeped its way into the band’s music over the years (and would continue to do so in years to come), but which was still at enough of a distance to shift the focus mainly onto Oli Sykes’ skull rattling screams. It’s the kind of album where everything just comes together, from The House of Wolves and Antivist’s unapologetic chaos to Sleepwalking’s harsh emotion and the gargantuan Shadow Moses. Sempiternal became a cornerstone of modern British metal, opening the door for many bands to follow in its destructive wake like a battering ram of wannabes and copycats. Imagine a world in which Sempiternal didn’t exist, and then ask yourself what British metal would look and sound like. Pretty disappointing, no?
27 Beyoncé – Beyoncé
It was always going to be inevitable that there’d be at least one Beyoncé album in this list. And that album is her 2013 self-titled visual release, a fourteen song collection which was accompanied by eighteen individual music videos and short films. It was a grand undertaking at the time for Beyoncé and her crew, dropping the album out of nowhere and with zero media backing, allowing for the songs and their accompanying visuals to do all of the talking. And oh boy did they talk.
26 Death Grips – The Money Store
Where the fuck do you start when it comes to dissecting a Death Grips album? Do you pick apart MC Ride’s nonsensical lyrics? Or do you go straight for the harsh sonic layers? Neither, you just talk about how Death Grips’ ongoing unpredictability and madness has made them one of the decade’s most intriguing musical projects. Sure, The Money Store is solid from start to finish (with a peak on the brilliant I’ve Seen Footage), but why talk about the music when you could instead sit back, read up on Death Grips’ crazy history and go, “what the fuck?” Because that’s probably what they’d want you to do.
25 Alt J – An Awesome Wave
What do you get when you combine an unhealthy shape obsession with four nerdy uni students? That’s right, you get Alt-J, every indie critic’s wet dream circa 2013. Finally, an indie band who didn’t get their kicks by waxing lyrical about booze, sex or drugs (at least in an explicit manner). Alt-J felt like a breath of fresh air when they burst onto the scene all those years ago, eventually putting out a debut record which still goes unrivalled to this day. From a capella interludes and songs about triangles to Indian rhythms and nautical themed synth anthems, An Awesome Wave had everything you could possibly want – and much more. Although Breezeblocks is the undoubted commercial success story of the record, there’s a lot to be said about its final two tracks: the haunting Bloodflood and glorious Taro. Those two songs are up there with some of the decade’s best indie music, and so it should come as no surprise that Joe Newman and co. are yet to live up to its glory. They came very close on sophomore album This Is All Yours, but An Awesome Wave will always be that very special debut.
24 Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Where were you the first time you heard Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk? Was it at an indie disco with your mates, guzzling away on a sugary drink, or was it in a crowd in front of one of the hundreds of festival stages Ezra Koenig and co. graced during the noughties? Regardless of where you were, it was probably a special moment. And it was likely just as special of a moment as the first time you heard 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City. It was a first step away from jangly guitar pop for the New Yorkers, who had quite clearly found a pop in their step and grown up a hell of a lot. That’s not to say that the album was void of any classic Vampire Weekend moments, just look at the insanely cheerful Unbelievers or punchy Diane Young (a clever play on, you guessed it, dying young). Both a world away from the likes of A-Punk or Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, but both prime examples of why Modern Vampires of the City is one for the books.
23 Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
When it comes to the work of Damon Albarn, you never quite know what to expect. For Gorillaz’s third album Plastic Beach, Albarn and dozens of collaborators really pushed out the boat to present a concept album like no other surrounding the cartoon band. Switching to three dimensional graphics for the first time, Plastic Beach took on a largely environmental theme centred on an island built up of plastic waste in the middle of the ocean. It featured collaborations from the likes of Snoop Dogg (on Welcome to Plastic Beach), De La Soul (on the jolly Superfast Jellyfish), Lou Reed (on Some Kind of Nature) and the late Bobby Womack (on Stylo and the pensive Cloud of Unknowing), all of whom – among others – banded together with Albarn to create an album which had a very clear message: plastic is polluting the ocean, and we need to do something about it. It was thus no surprise that most of the imagery surrounding the record emphasised this need for environmental action, unsurprisingly paired with Gorillaz’s classic tongue in cheek story building and high concept music videos. Plastic Beach is one of the best collections of music to come from Damon Albarn and his ragtag team of collaborators, and that is a statement we will back up until plastic kills us all.
22 Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
It’s been six whole years since Sky Ferreira released her debut studio album Night Time, My Time. In the time that’s passed, we hardly heard from the songstress until she re-emerged this year with new music and promise of a new album (Masochism). If we’re going by the first singles she’s released for Masochism, then it’s going to take a hell of a lot for the rest of the record to live up her 2013 debut. Night Time, My Time is a fascinating slice of neon-coloured indie rock. The record is laced with pop sensibilities despite being littered with hints of distortion on nearly every track, a testament to some of Ferreira’s biggest punk and grunge influences. This blend of styles made Sky Ferreira such a sought after star at the time, and it’ll undoubtedly be an important grade of measurement when Masochism inevitably drops in 2020.
21 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead have always been the kind of band who take pride in being one or two steps ahead of the curve. On 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, though, Thom Yorke and co. stuck to their guns and put out a record where simplicity and intimacy were key. Although some tracks certainly do outshine others on it, A Moon Shaped Pool represents a band who have made the kind of album which needs listening to without interruption. It’s not a concept album per se, however each track does feel like an individual piece of a puzzle which has yet to be completed. Radiohead needn’t worry about remaining relevant, because for as long as they reinvent the wheel, the world will still be listening and piecing together an intricate musical puzzle.
Come back tomorrow for the final part of our countdown: the top 20.