We’re midway through the 2010’s and our ears have been graced with beautiful lyrics, impressive beats, funky guitar riffs, and impeccable rhyming ála some hip-hop greats. From groundbreaking releases, to under the radar hits, these 35 significant albums are some of the best to come out in the past five years and it would be deplorable to ignore their momentous importance and future influence. The albums on this list are vital releases that will shape the artists of tomorrow; these are the blueprints for the eventual work they will make.
35. The Idler Wheel… (2012) – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple’s triumphant return to music was just that, triumphant. With the release of her 2012 masterpiece, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do, or known simply as The Idler Wheel, Apple changed her sound with avant-garde quick wit and an experimental sound. Her lyrics cut deep and music cuts deeper, all culminating in Apple’s best work to date.
34. Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014) – Against Me!
When Laura Jane Grace (formally Tom Gabel) came out as a transgender woman, she shocked the music world and became an important voice for the trans and queer community. Grace’s coming out and transitioning helped to form the band’s sixth album. The album gave new meaning to the word ‘queercore’ as the lyrics tell the story of gender dysphoria and being trapped in the wrong body. Gripping and taut with a newly invigorated sense of kinetic energy, Against Me! create a critical and essential album not only for future queer artists, but artists of all backgrounds, genders, and sexualities.
33. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) – Courtney Barnett
Barnett’s 2015 epic changed the perceived sound of indie rock. As Sheryl Crow as it is Ramones, Barnett’s gritty sing-talk voice meshed with her sunny and crunchy guitar sound lead to an invigorating listen. Barnett’s lyrics are storybook like and feature biting lyrical work from the young singer. What’s most important about the release is the hope that many young girls follow suit and pick up a guitar and begin their musical careers.
32. LP1 (2014) – FKA Twigs
FKA Twigs has been called the closest thing we have to late R&B princess Aaliyah and the comparisons are rightfully true. Twigs experimental approach to everything in her music elevates her to a level not found by many other musicians. Her lyrics are heavy and sexually frustrating, while her light and airy voice carry the listener through an otherworldly experience. She’s punk, she’s pop, she’s R&B, she’s music.
31. El Camino (2011) – The Black Keys
With 2011’s El Camino, The Black Key’s created their best and most captivating work to date. It’s goofy, nostalgic, and gritty as all hell. The duo mold seventies glam rock into fuzzy garage band sound with bitting and gripping pop hooks. As sing-along as it is head-banging, El Camino is one of the best straightforward rock albums to come out this decade and will probably remain one of the best by the time 2020 rolls around — that is unless, the duo release another album to rival El Camino’s greatness.
30. Body Talk (2010) – Robyn
The queen of Swedish pop music went from radio friendly teen pop to masterful synth ladened genre smashing music with the release of Body Talk. Hailed as the first straightforward blueprint of what pop music would be for the 2010’s, Robyn’s album set the stage for what modern pop could and should be: pop music could be radio friendly all while being deep and listenable. Pop music should be taken seriously; Robyn helps us see what pop really is and all it could eventually become.
29. Teen Dream (2010) – Beach House
The American-French duo Beach House come into their own on their third studio album Teen Dream. The band added new meaning to the term ‘dream pop’ by combining early 90’s shoe gaze with a Phil Spector ‘wall of sound’ twang. The end result is a dreamy and hypnotic album that pulls at the senses and requires a close ear for listening. Listen hard and deeply not to miss any of the inflections in singer Victoria Legrand’s soft and warm voice. Beach House is a band that must be taken seriously as their impact on the indie scene is an important one.
28. Ultraviolence (2014) – Lana Del Rey
Del Rey’s 2014 rock opera explores the in’s and out’s of making it big and leaving behind all the boys who did you wrong. Even if it hurts exponentially. The listener explores the inner workings of Del Rey’s sadomasochism as she samples 60’s girl groups, sings about how hatred feels like love, and sounds almost Manson family-like as she traipses through songs about her broken heart. The music is mostly helmed by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and he adds a dusty 70’s desert sound that compliments Del Rey’s husky voice and introspective lyrics. No one else does torch-punk like her.
27. St. Vincent (2014) – St. Vincent
St. Vincent, the pseudonym of musician Annie Clark, finds her magnum opus in her 2014 self titled. The art-rock epic is a short and sweet 11 tracks that all work in such a succinct and tight packed order. The crunchy punk sound mashed up with Clark’s beautiful voice and wry lyrics lead to an important genre piece. Next to her game changing music videos released from the album, Clark set a precedent for the modern woman in music. Similar to Barnett’s release, Clark’s should inspire many women out there to pick up a guitar and create art.
26. AM (2013) – Arctic Monkeys
The band’s fifth album is also their most successful; success is terms of sales, acclaim, and the tour that followed. Their darkest release yet, the band swims through Zeppelin-like hard rock, and Beatles psychedelia. The lyrics are introspective and like the music, heavy. Turner’s lyrics have reach an apex of confusion, lust, hate, and love.
25. Paramore (2013) – Paramore
Four years after the release of their album Brand New Eyes, the last album to feature the band’s full and longtime lineup, Paramore released their version of the long famed breakup album. It seems they found their stride as a trio as their self titled is also their best album to date. The album is 17 long tracks, but the success is in the fact that the album never feels overlong or drawn out. Even after the hour long listen, you’re left wanting more. Working with Justin Medal-Johnson, the band combines hard rock with their typical punk sound and add pop to the mix. Also featured is post rock, shoegaze, acoustic rock, indie pop, new jack swing. The mash up of genre never feels wrong and no one sound is misplaced on the record.
24. Sound & Color (2015) – Alabama Shakes
One of the most bluesy albums to come out in the new decade, Alabama Shakes created a sound set to last a lifetime on Sound & Color. Lead singer Brittany Howard screams her way through the album cementing her place as one of the best vocalists in modern music. Her voice is James Brown meets Sister Rosetta Tharpe meets Kathleen Hanna. Her backing music is soulful, rootsy, and emotional. The funky record is a must listen as it’s new psychedelia sound transcends the idea of what modern alternative rock should be.
23. Born This Way (2011) – Lady Gaga
The epicenter of queer music, Lady Gaga’s masterful second album finds the singer adding a more eclectic sound to her brand of pop music. Her debut dabbled in late 70’s disco while Born This Way finds it’s influence in hair metal, 80’s stadium rock, and jazz. The album is Springsteen meets Whitney all while containing the important message of acceptance and self love. Gaga set the stage for the ‘it get’s better’ anthems that would follow, but her’s was the best and she remains an important voice for and of the people.
22. Teenage Dream (2010) – Katy Perry
Arguably the most important and successful pop album of not only the 2010’s, but of all time, Perry’s Teenage Dream set a new precedent for pop music. Bright, introspective, and sometimes dark, Dream is Perry’s most realized work to date. The album featured seven number singles, and a new sound for Perry; gone is the electronic guitar work of her debut. Working with more producers, Perry finds herself in the music. Her album features some of the finest music to come out as of late; the title track is one of the best songs to come out in our modern era. With Teenage Dream, Perry reminded us what it meant to have a truly successful album.
21. Trilogy (2012) – The Weeknd
A compilation album covering three of The Weeknd’s extended plays, the PBR&B singer-songwriter takes us through his sexual escapades and heartbreaks over the course of three discs and thirty songs. Sometimes brutally honest and other times brutally sad, The Weeknd successfully combined sex driven R&B with commercially friendly pop, equaling something similar to that of Prince and Michael Jackson.
20. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011) – M83
French electronic band M83’s sixth studio album found them exploring the realm of what electronic music could really be. Taking their ‘indie’ cred to the next level, M83 included acoustic guitars and saxophones amongst other instruments not previously included in their work. In turn, the listening experience transcends electronic music and we’re given a full bodied musical event.
19. No Cities to Love (2014) – Sleater-Kinney
Called the best rock band of the past two decades, Sleater-Kinney’s triumphant return to music after a ten year hiatus is a must listen. Successfully combining post-punk with a proto-punk Patti Smith-esque sound, No Cities to Love is one of the most rewarding albums of the past decade. It’s heavy and features important themes surrounding empowerment and features an anthemic sound, thus is a welcoming return for the well-beloved band.
18. Art Angels (2015) – Grimes
On Claire Boucher’s fourth album she explores complex themes all backed by an experimental art-pop sound. While it is more accessible than her previous release, Visions, Boucher does not sacrifice anything that makes her, her. She creates her own brand of pop music and it’s weirder, softer, heavier and more complex than anything else out there right now.
17. The ArchAndroid (2010) – Janelle Monae
An experimental musical journey that travels from Bowie to Outkast, Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid was a stepping stone in the new alternative styling of hip-hop. A concept album of sorts, Janelle tells the story of an android falling in love with a human and throughout the story there are themes of love, hate, and self-actualization. Through her amazing voice and intense rap skills, Monae proves she is not one to mess with.
16. Days Are Gone (2013) – Haim
Sisters are doing it for themselves — that’s the overarching theme of the 2013 Days Are Gone. A trio of sister musicians, consisting of Este (on Bass), Danielle (on guitar), and Alana (on drums) combine their witty personalities, extreme musical talent, and high-brow songwriting skill. The album is sunny and is a new take on rock music. It’s an interesting take on what would happen if TLC and Fleetwood Mac formed a supergroup; and the result is an impeccable one.
15. In Colour (2015) – Jamie xx
Jamie Smith of the British indie pop band The xx releases his first solo album as a solo artist and producer. Preforming under the moniker Jamie xx, as to show semblance for his band, Jamie executes one of the most successful electronic albums of all time. Seamlessly combining electronic beats with hip-hop swagger, the album comes off as a huge success. The surprise collaboration between Jamie, Young Thug, and Popcaan is the highlight and it smashes the senses like no other.
14. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011) – Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s approach to baroque pop is where their successes lie. Lead singer, and musician Justin Vernon expands the band’s palette on their second go around; drums are abound, horns and brass are all over the place, and Vernon raises the volume by four notches — nothing more, nothing less. The beautiful use of autotune is still there and it goes to show that if someone like Kanye West finds influence in the band, they’re highly worth noticing.
13. Run The Jewels 2 (2014) – Run The Jewels
The rap duo consisting of Killer Mike and EL-P released their second full length album in 2014 and it features a darker and heavier tone compared to their debut LP. The production is heavily layered and complex, the duo have a brand of chemistry unmatched by others and the album is a full success on every level.
12. Currents (2015) – Tame Impala
Not only is Tame Impala one of the best rock bands currently around, they’re one of the best musical acts overall. Transcending genre, changing their sound ever so slightly to show growth, Currents features a sound unparalleled. The great part about Tame Impala is the idea that their body of work is so strong that any of their albums released this decade could have been featured on this list. Currents is included because of the change they went through, lead singer Kevin Parker’s attention to detail to the music and lyrics, and their living breathing influence already taking place.
11. Modern Vampires of the City (2013) – Vampire Weekend
Ezra Koenig and the boys of Vampire Weekend have finally graduated college. The obvious maturity and growth is omnipresent on the band’s third studio album. It’s more grandiose than any of their previous releases and can be considered their own Sgt. Pepper’s. It’s much deeper and darker than anything they’ve ever done and the band’s lyrics hit deep. Band member and main producer Rostam Batmanglij handles the production and the result is rather unconventional but ultimately satisfying. God save the vampires.
10. Same Trailer, Different Park (2013) – Kacey Musgraves
The country star with a heart of gold. Kacey Musgraves masterful debut is quiet, all while being exponentially loud in theme and lyrical detail. One of — if not the first — country singer to sing about equal rights for all, Kacey is the one modern country act who is moving forward with the times. With Taylor Swift now playing for team pop, it seems country has to rely on Kacey to be their savior. And if her debut is any sign of what’s to come, the genre is in good hands.
9. Wrecking Ball (2012) – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is one of the most influential and important musical acts of all time. From rock staples Born to Run, The River, and Born in the USA, a new staple, and modern classic for him comes in the form of folk and heartland rock. 2012’s epic Wrecking Ball is poetry in motion. Bruce has always been the everyman and has championed the underdog his entire career; it’s on Wrecking Ball where he returns to the home that built him. The lyrics are a brutal take on American culture and the music is similar to that of Springsteen’s Nebraska. Sparse, folky, and emotional, it might be one of Bruce’s best albums to date.
8. Random Access Memories (2013) – Daft Punk
After a nearly ten year hiatus from music, Daft Punk returned in 2013 with their best album yet. RAM is their take on Giorgio Moroder inspired disco. Along with features from Nile Rodgers, Pharrell and Julian Casablancas, the electronic duo take the listener on a journey through 70’s funk and early 80’s dance.
7. The Suburbs (2010) – Arcade Fire
The Canadian band’s ode to the suburbs is part rock opera, part concept album, and full masterpiece. Not only did the album truly shine a light on the importance of the band, but it proved that modern independently labeled bands could also be a success. The band mixes hefty alternative rock with a post punk sound, and in turn create a spiritual listen. It’s contemplative, deep, and fully realized.
6. Channel Orange (2012) – Frank Ocean
A redefining genre piece. Frank Ocean’s debut studio album changed the face of R&B, Hip-Hop, and the music industry. After Ocean revealed his love songs were about a man, he became the face of queer culture and helped to usher in the idea that homosexuality could be successful in a genre that was lacking in it. It’s dynamic, manic, and introspective.
5. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Kanye West
West’s ‘comeback’ album of sorts after many a public meltdown, MBDTF features a broken down and submissive West. It’s marxist, cubist, didactic, and dadaistic. It’s art created in the form of music. West is the the anti-hero none of us want to root for, but want to see succeed so badly. It flows cohesively and West’s vision is fully realized, maybe for the first time.
4. 21 (2011) – Adele
One of the most commercially successful albums of all time is also one of the most acclaimed and important releases of the decade. Adele’s 21 sold 30 million albums in the blink of an eye and resulted in multiple number one smash hits. A new wave Amy Winehouse — sans controversy, Adele mastered the art of soulful songwriting and breakup song cohesion. The result is a perfect soul album that explores all the corners of the heart.
3. Beyoncé (2013) – Beyoncé
An album so important it resulted in becoming a verb: Beyonced.The album that was randomly released, but was so seemingly and masterfully planned out, it helps to add an element of magic back to music. Beyonce is one of the few artists that do feminism right and proud, and her self titled is a blueprint of what feminism is. Empowering, emotional, and experimental, Bey steps out of the ‘pop-star’ image and into the legends category. While her newest release Lemonade may go down as the more acclaimed release, it’s the urgency and power that Beyoncé created that makes it so special and important.
2. Speak Now (2010) – Taylor Swift
In 2010, the — at the time — country singer-songwriter, Taylor Swift released, what was assumed to be, her magnum opus: Speak Now. The album was the last to feature Taylor as the country singer, and her swan song is a spectacular one. What makes Speak Now so special and important is the maturity that is ladened in it’s creation. Swift’s songwriting is nuanced and intricate; she weaves spider webs of statements throughout hooks and bridges, encapsulating what it means to be heartbroken. Next to her attention to lyrical detail is the album’s production. Swift worked on Speak Now’s music and lyrics all on her own. The album was in production while Swift was 19 and it’s hard to believe a 19 year old created something so magical. While her 2012 epic Red features some of her most ambitious work, and her 2014 game changer 1989 may go down as Swift’s biggest album yet, it’s Speak Now that remains the beginning of Swift’s magic; her first fully realized album is as Joni as it is Stevie, and it was crazy think that it was just the beginning.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Kendrick Lamar
Not only was TPAB the best release of 2015, it’s the best album to come out in the current decade; it might also be the best album of the new century — and we’re barely sixteen years into it. Lamar’s album could not have been released at a more tumultuous time. The album touches upon mental illness, racism, parenthood, and love. Kendrick blends avant-garde jazz with hip-hop, and punk. He attacks himself as much as he attacks the critics and it’s his self aware nature that helps the album succeed. It’s dense and hard to listen to – but sometimes, albums this important and groundbreaking shouldn’t come easy; TPAB needs to be slowly digested and listened to over a long period of time as to take in every important detail of it. Lamar has created a masterpiece, and he has cemented his place as a legend.