Top 100 Albums of the Decade So Far (2010-2014)

top 100 albums of the decade so far

swing lo magellan90. Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan
(2012; Domino)

In a catalog filled with obsessive arrangements and meticulous attention to detail, there’s something refreshingly straightforward about Swing Lo Magellan. It’s not as though the details don’t matter—the grove and power of the bass and drums on “Gun Has No Trigger” coupled with those striking background vocals are flawless—it’s just that the ones included really matter.  Songs like “Impregnable Question” and “Just From Chevron” may be pared down in comparison to their earlier work, but the instrumentation and vocal interplay will still leave your jaw on the floor. The band may be working with far fewer ingredients but few bands this decade have been able to make them count like they do here. – CK

David Bowie - The Next Day89. David BowieThe Next Day
(2013; ISO)

In reviving a recording career many assumed was just over by default, David Bowie delivered the greatest sexagenarian rock album ever made, which might have been enough. As happened, though, The Next Day ranked with Bowie’s cornerstone works of the ‘70s by being a great songwriting achievement. While making sly references to the sounds he made famous Bowie delivered meditations on memory, time and loss, whether too late or too early. But first-person dirges not being his usual option he pursued the topics with great motion, color and enthusiasm: The stark words are haunting but never depressing. And when Bowie does – apparently – deliver something that might be vaguely confessional in “Heat,” he admits he doesn’t know who he is, except that he’s “a seer and a liar.” Whatever works, man. – PP

top 100 albums of the decade so far tramp88. Sharon Van EttenTramp
(2012; Jagjaguwar)

Sharon Van Etten explored the topics of emotional and physical abuse in relationships without balking on her first two albums, but it was with Tramp that she reached a peak. From this point, she was able to look back on her path, more healed and whole than ever before. It may have helped to be positioned on the brink of something great and with more artistic support than ever before (a list too long for our space here). With the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, Tramp gleams darkly, at times reminiscent of rockers like Patti Smith or PJ Harvey, but fighting those labels as fiercely as any others. What’s more evident here than previous records is the richness of Van Etten’s startling, powerful voice. With a better, often full songscape running just below it, like on the gently building “I’m Wrong” and the churning “Ask,” it shines like never before, a bird with new wings, or a superhero just realizing she’s got kick-ass powers. But Van Etten’s third full-length shines everywhere. Her ode to Leonard Cohen, “Leonard,” bristles and crunches much like a track done by its namesake. And on “We Are Fine” Van Etten’s full-bodied voice fills the space exhumed around drums and plinky guitars, musing about managing anxiety. – NG

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest87. Boards of CanadaTomorrow’s Harvest
(2013; Warp)

This album might have been defaulted to No. 100 on this list solely on the strength of BoC’s reputation and the anticipation built up from an eight-year recording absence. But then Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin had to go and make a new version of their retro ambient beats that embraced and found the beauty in apocalypse. Tomorrow’s Harvest doubles down on the kind of creepy first heard on their Geogaddi album, with soundtracks that suggest fallout as snow, global warming as endless summer, Chernobyl as vacation spot, and security systems left behind to protect and serve. – AB

Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana86. Speedy OrtizMajor Arcana
(2013; Carpark)

When I interviewed Speedy Ortiz in 2013, a common refrain that kept coming up was, “This isn’t helping the ’90s thing.” The ’90s thing in question is the band’s tendency to draw parallels to ’90s era indie rock like Helium, Unwound, Shudder to Think or The Breeders — none of which is a bad thing, of course. But what the Massachusetts-based group does more than simply take influence from ’90s indie rock on Major Arcana is tie together disparate elements of various classic indie aesthetics in unique ways. Ever imagine the frankness of Liz Phair backed by a burly post-hardcore stomp? That’d be “Plough.” Wonder what it might sound like if Rodan ever wrote a hit song? Try “Pioneer Spine.” Taken as a whole, however, Major Arcana transcends such trivial indie rock fantasy camp ideals and becomes a sometimes harried, sometimes sweet, frequently cathartic document of mid-twenties weirdness. I’m loath to call it “angst,” because, you know, doesn’t help with the ’90s thing. But it’s the  rare band who can make a line like “I’ve limped before, I can limp again” sound simultaneously inspirational and incredibly defeating. – JT

top 100 albums of the decade so far tomboy85. Panda BearTomboy
(2011; Paw Tracks)

Animal Collective needed Noah Lennox more than Lennox needed Animal Collective. Lennox’s Panda Bear project holds up to anything Animal Collective ever did and I don’t think his innovation as a solo artist has gotten enough credit. Tomboy is slow psychedelic pop made by a slow-moving person for slow-moving people. And it is such a relief to sit down and soak in all of its lucidity. Tomboy has a way of sounding like it was recorded under water, especially “Last Night At The Jetty,” which isn’t much of a stretch considering Lennox lives right next to the Atlantic Ocean in Lisbon, Portugal. There is a focus on guitar and rhythm throughout the album and the signature ring of the guitar makes me think of Panda Bear strumming away while submerged in liquid. Lennox’s vocals are mostly inaudible (say what!) but his voice makes for an added milky instrument. Tomboy is a lesson in relaxation, and its waves of happiness ripple everywhere. – JJM

top 100 albums of the decade so far bat for lashes84. Bat For LashesThe Haunted Man
(2012; Parlophone)

After releasing and touring behind 2009’s Two Suns, Natasha Khan with a nasty case of writer’s block. It’s kind of hard to square this information with The Haunted Man, the album she ended up releasing after finding the necessary remedies — which included taking art classes, making dance films and reading a lot. The Haunted Man is less overshadowed by darkness than its predecessor is, finding the British singer/songwriter in a position to let her songs breathe a bit more, while still acknowledging the sadness that led her to create the album. It’s at once her prettiest and most elaborate work, even though it contains such bare-bones highlights like the heartbreaking ballad “Laura” (and bare-bones artwork, at that). More than any other Bat For Lashes album, The Haunted Man feels like an expression of liberation; when Khan cries “Thank God I’m alive!” on opening track “Lillies,” it’s not from exasperation or desperation — it’s out of the sheer joy of knowing that better things lie ahead. – JT

Bill Callahan - Dream River83. Bill CallahanDream River
(2013; Drag City)

Bill Callahan is indie rock’s cool uncle — we sometimes go a long time without hearing from him, but every time he’s back in town, he’s got some great stories to tell. He’ll spin a story about learning how to pilot a plane into a profound metaphor, or he’ll captivate with a yarn about the summer he spent painting boats, and somehow ended up taking the blame for a hurricane that came blowing through. And before that, the only words he said today were “beer” and “thank you.” But what makes his storytelling greater than the sum of its plotline is his deep baritone voice — the kind of rich and masculine tone that’s hard not to trust. He’s progressed considerably since his days as a sad sack twenty-something, growing into the kind of songwriter that feels both ageless and timeless, and can load up an album with flutes without second guessing any of his decisions. It could be a few years before Callahan lands his small plane again and pays us a visit, but for what it’s worth: Bill — thank you. – JT

top 100 albums of the decade so far cloud nothings82. Cloud NothingsAttack on Memory
(2012; Carpark)

In the last five years, Dylan Baldi and Cloud Nothings put out two extraordinary records of visceral indie rock, and they are different enough that it would be difficult to designate one as ‘better’ than the other. After all, we’re comparing apples to apples and talking about a pair of juicy, ripe Honeycrisps here. Still, I’m partial to Attack on Memory for how viscerally it surprised me. An act that once specialized in one man, lo-fi pop rock exploded forth as a true four-piece, combining angst-ridden (but thoughtful) anthems with a post-hardcore charge. And from the dirge-like opening of “No Future/No Past” to the post-punk wrap up of “Cut You,” the record itself was full of surprises as well. Baldi’s penmanship would reach new levels of maturity on Here and Nowhere Else, but this is where the band learned who they were. And you can feel that excitement of discovery on every second of this LP. – ATB

KEN Mode - Entrench81. KEN ModeEntrench
(2013; Season of Mist)

More often than not, noise rock aficionados KEN Mode play their metal-leaning hardcore just a little too slow or a smidge too fast. Their music is disorienting-yet-familiar, like a heartbeat slightly out of sync. On Entrench, they make cathartic use of the space between terror and bliss, unleashing the most devastating 47 minutes of artistic rock that you’re bound to hear in a while. And if all that sounds a bit one-note to you, think again. This three-piece squeezes out a diverse spread of sounds from the heavy music canon and never fails to keep you, the listener, on your toes. – ATB

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View Comments (3)
  • Such bias in this list. Indie and alternative music is all right to listen to but this list is severely lacking in the genre of metal. For example listen to Mastodon’s The Hunter. True art work. Wake up because there is more out there than your hipster junk.

    • We included Baroness, Pallbearer, Converge, KEN Mode and Deafheaven. Keep in mind that we’re not exclusively a metal site, and that some of our writers are more steeped in hip-hop, electronic or what have you.

      The Hunter is a good album, though, certainly.

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