As the decade comes to a close, Halftime is celebrating by taking a look back at the best that the 2010s had to offer. Below you’ll find some of our favorite albums from the past ten years. Be sure to also check out Halftime’s Best Films and Best TV of the Decade.
Anna’s Top Four:
1. The Suburbs (2010), Arcade Fire
Favorite Tracks: “Half Light I,” “Suburban War,” “Wasted Hours”
In my opinion, the best album of the decade isn’t just the album with the most critical acclaim—it should also be a decade-defining statement, encapsulating what it was like to live during that time. For me, that definitive statement of what it was like to grow up in the 2010s will always be The Suburbs. I have been in love with this album since my early teens; although I’ve been through many (often cringey) phases, I’ve always found that The Suburbs stays relevant to my experiences. The album captures the anxiety that so many young people feel: its themes of leaving home, financial insecurity, and feelings of purposelessness are universal for so many 20-somethings.
2. IGOR (2019), Tyler, the Creator
Favorite Tracks: “Are We Still Friends?,” “A Boy Is a Gun*,” “I Think,” “New Magic Wand”
IGOR truly is an album like no other. Even within Tyler’s discography, the album stands out as a bizarre, experimental entry. The instrumentals are layered and interesting. His use of samples from 70’s soul music, pitched vocals, and lo-fi production are unorthodox. I admit that I didn’t like the album much upon first listen. I found it confusing and overwhelming. But IGOR has immense growing power. Relistens are always rewarded; every time I return to the album, I notice something I hadn’t heard previously. Some of the most beautiful moments in the album are buried in the mix: take for example, the piano riff at the beginning of “Earfquake,” or the glitchy effects midway through “Are We Still Friends?”. The narrative of the album is not told explicitly—on most of the tracks, the writing is simplistic, usually consisting of just a few repeated lines. When I began to listen to IGOR more, I noticed how the songs fit together in ways I hadn’t thought of before, telling the story of Tyler ultimately getting over an unfaithful boyfriend.
3. Melodrama (2017), Lorde
Favorite Tracks: “Hard Feelings/LOVELESS,” “Perfect Places,” “Supercut”
I’m honestly not sure if choosing Melodrama over Pure Heroine is a controversial choice or not, but it needs to be said. There is not one aspect of this album that I don’t love; the production, courtesy of super-producer Jack Antonoff, is flawless, the storyline is heartbreaking, and the writing is solid throughout. Melodrama was written as a loose concept album, using a house party as a metaphor for Lorde’s first heartbreak. With everything from uncomfortably personal ballads like “Liability,” to sing-along bangers like “Perfect Places”, Melodrama is incredibly expansive. Even though, I could go on and on about how beautiful the instrumentals are, or how Lorde’s gravelly vocals are uniquely emotive, undoubtedly Melodrama’s most admirable quality is its honesty. When Lorde writes about her adolescence, she does not simplify it, but shows how contradictory and confusing growing up truly is.
4. Carrie and Lowell (2015), Sufjan Stevens
Favorite Tracks: “Fourth of July, “John My Beloved,” “The Only Thing”
With his 2015 concept album, Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan Stevens delivered his most consistently fantastic album yet. Themes of religion, loss, and youth have always been present throughout his discography, but here, in the context of his estranged mother’s death, these elements become even more poignant. The instrumentals on Carrie and Lowell are sparse and subdued, contributing to the somber tone of the album. Carrie and Lowell has likely hurt me more than anything else ever will, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to forgive Sufjan for that.
John’s Top Four:
1. Glory Sound Prep (2018), Jon Bellion
Favorite Tracks: “Blu,” “Adult Swim,” “JT,” “Mah’s Joint”
Is this objectively the best album of the decade? Let’s be honest, probably not. Is it my favorite album of the decade? Hard to say, but it very well could be. Jon Bellion is a personal favorite of mine, and when I first listened to this album last November, its top tracks shot up to become the most played songs in my library. “Blu,” has over 140 plays as of the time I am writing this. That’s SEVEN HOURS of accumulated time listening to ONE SONG. It came out in November. I might have a problem. Even past that track, this album is a standout because of its consistency. Each record is high quality, incredibly produced, beautifully arranged—and unbelievably catchy. It is ten tracks, 44 minutes long, and there’s not a dud on there. I recommend you give it a listen.
2. Hozier (2014), Hozier
Favorite Tracks: “Cherry Wine,” “From Eden,” “Sedated”
If you think back to the radio hits of 2014, you might remember a song called “Take Me To Church.” It was that booming, angst-filled ballad that combined blues rock with a heavy dose of Christian iconography. That song was pretty good, but here’s the thing—it came from an album that, in my opinion, had so much more to offer. Hozier’s breakthrough release is absolutely filled with interesting ideas, fantastic drum lines, and a wonderful range of energy. Tracks range from blaring rock anthems to live recorded solo folk tunes, yet each one feels distinct and within the tone of the project. It’s also a crime that I’ve written for this long without mentioning Hozier’s vocals; the man can belt like few others I know, and the way he strings along a really complex melody so naturally is undeniably impressive.
3. E•MO•TION (2015), Carly Rae Jepsen
Favorite Tracks: “Favourite Color,” “Making the Most of the Night,” “Run Away with Me”
Carly. Rae. Jepsen. If you’re gonna talk about pop music in this decade, it’d be a crime NOT to include her somewhere on this list. Pop culture may remember her as the singer of “Call Me Maybe,” but this album, following that breakout success a few years later, is really close to the peak of what bubblegum dance-pop can be. The production on it is fantastic; every track is very bouncy and follows through on that rhythm with really interesting synth work. On top of that, the hooks themselves are upbeat, entrancing, and easy to listen to. Tracks like “Making the Most of the Night” and “Boy Problems” really get your heart pumping, while others like “Run Away with Me,” make use of some interesting, unique instrumentation. I’d especially like to highlight the bonus tracks (“Favourite Color” in particular), which I think are some of the best on the album.
4. Prologue (2011), The Milk Carton Kids
Favorite Tracks: “No Hammer to Hold,” “Undress the World,” “Michigan”
Jumping back to the start of the decade, The Milk Carton Kids’ debut studio album is a folk collection to be reckoned with. I’ve sung the praises of this acoustic duo in articles past, but it must be reiterated here—Prologue is fantastic. Rarely have I ever found a group who can carry so much of my interest using so little; Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan use nothing but their voices and two guitars to bring me along a tranquil, melancholic journey of nostalgia and heartbreak. For me, there’s nothing like walking around in the snow with brisk air in my lungs and “No Hammer to Hold” playing through my old headphones. “Undress the World” reaches its peak with a belting harmony, and it makes me want to sing along every time. “Michigan” has this same effect, and will always stick out in my mind as the way I was first introduced to this pair. I could go on listing my personal highlights (“New York,” “Milk Carton Kid,” “I Still Want A Little More,” etc.), but I might as well just ask you to go listen to it for yourself. When folk music is good, it is really, really good.
Maya’s Top Four:
1. Modern Vampires of the City (2013), Vampire Weekend
Favorite Tracks: “Hannah Hunt,” “Obvious Bicycle,” “Step”
I’ve been a big fan of Vampire Weekend ever since my dad played “Mansard Roof” on the way to summer camp in 2008. From their self-titled first album, Vampire Weekend has only disappointed. And at first, I didn’t really enjoy this album all that much either, if we’re being honest. But by listening to the album over and over again, I came to appreciate the independence of each song. I never get bored listening to Modern Vampires of the City. That’s pretty incredible. There’s always one or two songs that I wish didn’t make it on the album, but every song on this album feels earned. It may be somewhat controversial to put this as my number one. But I’ve listened to this album at least once every couple months since it came out, and I’ve truly loved it every time. Modern Vampires of the City aged with me, and I’m still finding new things about each song as I listen, seven years later. Maybe it isn’t the flashiest album, but it is the most reliably beautiful, and that’s why I love it.
2. After Laughter (2017), Paramore
Favorite Tracks: “26,” “Idle Worship,” “Pool”
Prior to After Laughter, Paramore was very much an angsty-teen band of my childhood. Realistically, there’s probably more culturally or musically significant albums of the decade. But Paramore did something incredible with After Laughter: they evolved. Their music truly grew up, and, even more importantly, it grew up with its audience. After Laughter has not only banger after banger, bop after bop, but it’s also a maturation of Paramore’s music itself. Hayley Williams is an icon, and her voice is the closest thing to angelic that I will ever hear. In her past albums, she contained a lot of rage that I, at the tender age of ten, was ready to harness as well. But After Laughter, isn’t rage-filled. It’s despondent. “26” has the same sad boi vibe of Paramore’s past albums but transformed into ambivalence towards deteriorating mental health amongst the reality of growing up. “Idle Worship” slaps in every way possible. If “26” is a sad boi bop, “Idle Worship” is an anthem to the disillusionment of idealizing people. Throughout this entire album, Paramore’s candor and realism is what stands out, and their ability to remain relevant and grow into their music is not recognized enough.
3. Room 25 (2018), Noname
Favorite Tracks: “no name,” “Blaxploitation,” “Ace”
This album is weird. But in a funky way. Room 25 sums up the experimental progression of the R&B genre over this decade. Noname’s debut album is expansive, both emotionally and instrumentally. Beginning with “Blaxploitation,” funk is brought into the twenty-first century with samples from Dolemite. This is an album that really does benefit from a nice set of headphones. Oftentimes when a multitude of instruments are in a song, they blur together into a mushy texture. Noname maintains the crispness and individuality of each instrument and each note, despite the complexity of the songs. But more than the musicianship, Room 25 outlines the struggle of being black in America in the 21st century. Yes, the best albums of the decade should be musical pinpoints, but they should also encompass the sentiments of the 2010’s. Noname’s music is fresh and offers nuance and depth to how we may perceive the world in addition to some funky musical experimentation.
4. Same Trailer Different Park (2013), Kacey Musgraves
Favorite Tracks: “Back On The Map,” “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Silver Lining”
Kacey Musgraves has stumbled her way into the mainstream music scene with her newest album, Golden Hour. Yet, in the midst of this newfound fame, many have missed the absolute beauty that is Same Trailer Different Park. I’m a sucker for any music about maturation and hardships, and Same Trailer Different Park truly encompasses the bitter-sweet moments of life. Beginning with “Silver Lining,” Musgraves sings of the good amidst all the bad, and the need for changing worldviews. The rhythm guitar the most noticeable instrument; the chucking and strumming create depth in an already lyrically charged song, which makes it the perfect introduction to this album. In the vein of lyricism, “Merry Go ‘Round” offers a glimpse into the small town mindset of settling for the norms. “And just like dust we settle in this town,” perfectly sums up the acceptance of lost individuality. The detached “Back On The Map” captures the fear of trusting someone after heartbreak. Without the cliche energy so many other country albums of the decade contained, Same Trailer Different Park is the most authentic country album of the decade.
Just because we chose our top picks doesn’t mean that’s all this decade had to offer! We implore you to check out some of the honorable mentions below, every single one of these albums really deserves a listen:
The ArchAndroid (2010), Janelle Monae
Boxer (2010), The National
My Head Is An Animal (2011), Of Monsters & Men
Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014), Mitski
To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), Kendrick Lamar
Wilder Mind (2015), Mumford & Sons
Hamilton (2015), Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton
Lemonade (2016), Beyoncé
ANTI (2016), Rihanna
A Seat at the Table (2016), Solange
Blonde (2016), Frank Ocean
Divide (2017), Ed Sheeran
Clean (2018), Soccer Mommy
Lush (2018), Snail Mail
Skylight (2018), Pinegrove
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Image Credits: John Woolley