Best 50 Albums Of The Decade So Far (#50 – #41)
Back in March, we presented our 50 favorite songs released between 2010 and 2014. After the fun of putting together such an all encompassing list, how could we not follow it up with one for our favorite albums of the past few years?
Just as with our songs list, we’ll be presenting it in increments of ten albums, starting with #50-41 today. Some of what’s here may be surprising and certainly there will be something new for even the most dedicated of indie music followers. We wouldn’t want anyone out of the loop. Consider this a social service and be sure to check out our daily Spotify playlists to go along with our countdown.
Best 50 Albums Of The Decade So Far (#50-#41)
Makthaverskan – II
If Makthaverskan are known for anything at this point, it’s for the phrase, “Fuck you!” This may seem like a pretty ordinary phrase at first—what melodramatic TV character hasn’t shouted this and then later apologized for it?—but when a Gothic shoegaze/punk band from Sweden meaningfully applies it in a language that’s not their native tongue, they demand attention. On II, Maja Milner and friends turn this commonplace swear into a lacerating knife, as they do with many English phrases, on “Antabus” and “No Mercy.” In general, they make better use of English than many native speakers, which is ironic given the simplicity of their words. “It’s not me you’re dreaming of!,” “Take off this shirt and we’ll make love,” and “I don’t know where you are tonight, but if you want, I’ll take you back,” rank among the most effective phrases here, yet they’re far from poetic. Instead, Milner’s piercing voice and her band’s gorgeous, yet wintry and confrontational, instrumentation turns her words into weapons. “You outshine them all!” she wails on “Outshine,” and this phrase, although much happier than a “Fuck you!” describes the entirety of II, a diamond in a minefield. [Max]
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Cerulean Salt begins with a track whose title echoes its creation. “Hollow Bedroom” may describe the location of this album’s genesis, and this inherent intimacy endows Waxahatchee’s sophomore album with a charming haunt. Singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield recalls past events with a specificity that rivals some of the greatest storytellers; for example, “Brother Bryan” details silver hair, taxi rides, and her sister’s tears impressively vividly, and “Misery Over Dispute” remembers the most difficult moments of a past relationship. Elsewhere, Crutchfield applies her words to explore more generally relatable emotions, ones that tend to be quite devastating: “Blue Pt. II” explores the anxiety of unrequited love, and career highlight “Swan Dive” finds its author in an even more desperate state of need. And if her meticulous lyricism isn’t quite enough to compel listeners, the barren, restricted instrumentation underlying her thoughts is just as affecting. [Max]
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Todd Terje as swagged-out jazz pianist on It’s Album Time’s artwork confirms the humor of its title, but its name also fits this LP purely on a sonic level. While some albums are simply collections of songs organized a certain way, Terje’s full-length debut (after seven years of wildly acclaimed singles and compilations) takes full advantage of the album structure, resulting in an adventure rather than a set list. The twelve songs present often segue seamlessly into one another, sounding like the soundtrack to a film about album character Preben rather than a mixtape of unrelated Terje songs. When Preben goes to Acapulco, the joy of a tropical escape dominates the soundscape; when he hits the club, both parts of “Swing Star” document his night on the town. Indeed, It’s Album Time is incredibly club-ready; “Strandbar,” “Oh Joy,” and especially “Delorean Dynamite” and the now omnipresent “Inspector Norse” feel like rescues from an abandoned Saturday Night Live prequel. On the flip side is “Johnny and Mary,” a Robert Palmer cover featuring Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry on—gasp!—vocals. A starry-eyed comedown amidst this high-energy, multicolored expedition, it’s the album’s most explicitly gorgeous moment. The contrast of its presence illuminates the album’s high-fructose charm, one that’s appealing both as a novelty listen and as a deeply moving composition. [Max]
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
When the album stream for Channel Orange was posted online, the internet stopped. Everyone seemed to hit play at the exact same time and, about an hour later, Frank Ocean was untouchable. Ocean’s past is a star-studded muck of premature announcements, tension from record labels, and the overwhelming response from his infamous letter, which mentioned a relationship he had with another man when he was younger.
Channel Orange came exactly when Frank Ocean needed an R&B gem that doubled as a personal statement to his newfound fans and haters. The praise that Ocean earns from this record does not stem from details of his personal life but for the universality of his lyrics. He writes about women and men, about happiness and loss, but ultimately his lyrics are concerned with the long-term effects of short, highly influential moments. It’s in Ocean’s nature to be as vibrant as the color orange, to sing about the complexities of love without always involving booty or drunkenness, simply torturing himself by reliving old memories only to repeatedly feel heartbreak or nostalgic happiness. [Susan]
TV on the Radio – Seeds
Legions of indie rock fans have glommed onto TV On the Radio since they hit the scene back in 2002, the Brooklyn-based band’s thrilling, energetic style digging out a niche for them in the industry almost immediately. Their 2014 LP, Seeds, is probably the band’s most subdued album in their discography. “Happy Idiot,” for example, is a light dance track you might hear at a teenage ‘80s night club. While some fans miss the band’s more grandiose and abrasive style of songwriting that fueled their earlier releases, it’s sort of nice to see them give us something new and a little less amplified for a change. They can still rock, though, as is evidenced in the albums later cuts “Lazzeray” and “Winter.” TV On the Radio can always blow back your hair at live shows with their early stuff, but lately they’ve been exploring new colors of their identity as a band, and that’s exciting in its own way. [Bernard]
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Following up Bitte Orca’s behemoth of odd time signatures, impossibly technical guitar work, and Afro-Carribean influence was probably a daunting task for Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longstreth. After releasing one of the century’s best albums to universal acclaim and a rapidly expanding fan base, what might be the next step? 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan presents the answer as a laser-precise offering of twelve songs bearing more familiar time signatures and less enviably flashy riffage. Although vestiges of Longstreth’s sidelined genius remain—see the offbeat percussive shuffle of “About to Die,” “See What She Seeing,” and “The Socialites,” as well as the oddly timed arpeggios of “Just From Chevron” for evidence—this is Longstreth’s simplest presentation yet. “Impregnable Question” is Bitte Orca hymn “Two Doves” on a healthy amount of tranquilizers, “Offspring Are Blank” appropriates Longstreth’s shouting tendencies into a punk-like chorus, and album highlight “Dance for You” sees its writer using his vast talents to create straightforward yearning rather than complex heartache. Swing Lo Magellan is essentially Dirty Projectors’ White Album: following an intricate, genre-defying album, it fashions its creator’s brilliance into accessibility while maintaining his trademarks and talents. [Max]
Tame Impala – Lonerism
The general consensus is that Sgt. Pepper’s is the greatest psychedelic album of all time, if not the greatest album ever recorded across all genres. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker likely took many of his cues from this and other Beatles albums, and it’s not unreasonable to say that his sophomore album, 2012’s Lonerism, holds a candle to what preceded it 45 years ago. With a voice that recalls John Lennon more precisely than anyone since, Parker crafts psychedelic bliss with an experimental touch. Six-minute voyage “Apocalypse Dreams” halves its time between surreal pop piano bounce and glowing abstract passages; “Mind Mischief” is the sexiest slab of experimental psychedelic music this side of Deee-Lite; “Keep on Lying” hops along on a warbly synthetic squelch mixed in with fragmented field recordings. Parker achieves an impeccable balance of melody and experimentation throughout Lonerism, essentially filtering pop through an investigative lens. Whether the rushing swirl of “Music to Walk Home By” or the anthemic gush of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” the album walks the tightrope between accessibility and innovation without ever falling off, placing it among the greatest psychedelic albums of all time, if not the greatest albums ever recorded across all genres. [Max]
Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End
I lost faith in Weezer a long time ago. They had a string of about four or five passable-to-mediocre albums over the past decade or so, and my once-favorite band became a shell of their former selves. 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, however, unexpectedly rekindled my love for them and once again all’s well in Weezer-ville. It’s a self-referential album mostly about the band’s fraught relationship with its fans, with songs like “Back to the Shack,” “I’ve Had it Up to Here,” and “Eulogy For a Rock Band” speaking to them (me) directly. “Da Vinci” and “Cleopatra” cover familiar lyrical ground for frontman Rivers Cuomo, talking about girls he thinks are lovely as per usual, but they’re special tracks because they’re the catchiest things he’s written since “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills.” Reinvigorated and ready to rock, Weezer has finally won back our hearts. [Bernard]
Wild Nothing – Nocturne
In a decade when the descriptor “dream pop” has been so overused that it’s become as meaningless as “indie rock,” it’s rare to find an act that fully occupies the term. Enter Wild Nothing, pet project of Jack Tatum, to claim this genre as his craft. Ethereal, lackluster vocals, swirling synthetic soundscapes, and glossy, delay-heavy guitars abound on sophomore effort Nocturne; these traits not only define dream pop to a tee, but in Tatum’s case, endow this commonly misplaced term with new life. Songs like “Paradise” and “Only Heather” not only feel truly as pillowy and comforting as their style’s name might suggest, but additionally boast earworm melodies that bear constant repeating. The sonics on Nocturne are entirely gorgeous and memorable; try escaping the opening guitar line of “The Blue Dress” or the shoegaze sweep of “Midnight Song.” Hell, the album is even named after the night; what better time for dreams to sound so sweet? [Max]
Chairlift – Something
Brooklyn-based synth-pop outfit Chairlift gained popularity when one of their songs, “Bruises,” was featured on an iPod commercial. The band cemented their status as a legitimate act, however, with Something, their 2012 sophomore LP which is full of art pop tunes and some sweet, new wave-inspired electronic arrangements. Frontwoman Caroline Polacheck’s vocals (and occasional spoken word narration) are really cosmic and breezy and silky smooth, and the incredibly quirky music backing her up is just a lot of fun. Tracks like “Frigid Spring” and “Amanaemonesia” have a ton of character and sound like radio hits from mars. Hooky, bright, and delightfully inventive, Something is the perfect album to share with your kid brother or sister who loves shitty pop music; it’ll snap them out of their top-40 daze and usher them into a new world where catchiness and artfulness coexist and make sweet, sweet intergalactic love. [Bernard]
See the rest of our Best Albums Of The Decade lists!
View Other Lists of this Feature:
Best 50 Albums of the Decade So Far (#40 – #31)
Best 50 Albums of the Decade So Far (#30 – #21)
Best 50 Albums of the Decade So Far (#20 – #11)
Best 50 Albums of the Decade So Far (#10 – #1)