Joey’s Top Ten Albums of 2021

Here it is, the main event.

The thing I was most struck by in 2021 was the lack of consensus on an album of the year. In a rare occurrence, Pitchfork (Jazmine Sullivan), Rolling Stone (Olivia Rodrigo), the (now Uproxx) critics’ poll (Japanese Breakfast), and the Metacritic meta-list (Little Simz) all had differing takes on the album of the year, and it still doesn’t feel like those contenders are significantly ahead of the rest of the field. Perhaps consequently, my list looks less like a consensus list than it basically ever has. Which is just peachy with me!

I did a great job of finding and listening to new music that I enjoy this year, so much so that this feature contains one hundred albums released in 2021. Earlier this week I expected to have about 70, so I was pretty surprised to add everything up. Which just makes me all the more excited to share the product of my hard work with you.

As a final note about my list, it’s pretty cool to see all of my top three albums by artists who owe a lot to Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is one of the biggest recording artists of the last twenty years, but I’ve always felt like not a ton of artists were very obviously influenced by her. That’s changing! And I’m clearly a big fan of that development.

I’m doing this a bit differently (and more thoroughly!) than in recent years, so here’s a rundown of the order of things. First, I’ll be going over some fantastic albums that I won’t include as 2021 albums for whatever reason. Then I’ll dive into the top ten of 2021. After that, I’ll show the remaining ranked top 25, the remaining unranked top 50, and then a lot of honorable mentions.

I’ve also given one song recommendation for each album, each of which is among the album’s best but is not one of the 40 songs included in yesterday’s best songs of 2021 feature.

Here we go! I’ll see you next week for the best TV episodes and TV shows of 2021.

Ineligible But Worthy

Low Cut Connie: Tough Cookies: The Best of the Quarantine Broadcasts

Excluded because it’s kind of a live album (the rare sort of those recorded in 2020), Tough Cookies is an essential document of the 2020 Instagram Live quarantine concert era. Everyone who’s heard it rightly praises “Little Red Corvette,” but I think the cover of Cardi B’s “Be Careful” is really nasty, too.

Listen: “Little Red Corvette”

Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor’s Version) & Red (Taylor’s Version)

It would feel weird to compare remastered/expanded editions to actually 2021 music, but it’s not like there was nothing new (or new-to-us, anyhow) on these versions Taylor, and while for the most part it’s understandable why these are the vault tracks and not the album tracks, they still represent output from the periods surrounding her two finest albums.

Listen: “Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”
Listen: “Message In A Bottle (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”

Baby Queen: Medicine

Discovered less than a month too late for my last list, Medicine became by far my most listened to release of this year. Songs about technology are hard to write, but “Pretty Girl Lie” and “Internet Religion” work because yeah, her psyche has been wildly impacted by screens and algorithms. Heck, she writes this awesome thankful-but-glib song about SSRIs and it’s somehow the fifth best of six songs here.

Listen: “Pretty Girl Lie”

Top Ten

10. illuminati hotties: Let Me Do One More

The one we’ve been waiting for. After spurts of pop brilliance on last year’s mixtape, Sarah Tudzin does anything she wants here. An anticapitalist ballad? Check. Surf rock with a country twang? Absolutely. Straight up Bikini Kill shit? She’s here with it. And because one of her best skills is putting on so many faces, it’s that much more meaningful when she finishes with easily her most sincere and vulnerable song.

Listen: “Pool Hopping”

9. Lori McKenna: Christmas Is Right Here

I finally hear it! I finally hear the beautiful song hidden within Paul McCartney’s horrible house of mirrors known as “Wonderful Christmastime.” Then right after McKenna conquers that song and makes it hers, she wallops us with two tearjerkers about how Christmas illuminates the sad little ways that life changes.

Listen: “Christmas Without Crying”

8. McKinley Dixon: For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her

Despite all of the obvious comparisons (which all speak very well of this album), McKinley Dixon insists he wasn’t influenced by To Pimp A Butterfly so much as he was influenced by everyone who happened to make that album. In interviews, he’ll light up about Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin. And indeed, the most important comparison point between the two works is the use of live music, brought to life here by Dixon’s perennial producer Onirologia. All this supports Dixon emerging as one of the finest emcees right now. Every single thing about this album works so well that it’s a little alarming that it’s a debut.

Listen: “make a poet Black”

7. We Are The Union: Ordinary Life

In announcing Ordinary Life, We Are The Union lead vocalist came out as a trans woman, and the album is one big coming out party in the way only a ska album really can be. Some songs are loudly about that theme, “Boys Will Be Girls” is a lovely fuck-you to anti-trans motherfuckers everywhere, but there’s also a lot of giddy stuff about the weird ways that brains occasionally are, like on earworm “Short Circuit” or on what should be the new ADHD wave’s anthem, “Broken Brain.”

Listen: “Morbid Obsessions”

6. Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever

Billie’s left behind the bells and whistles from her debut, but in turn her writing has gotten a fair bit deeper. Her story of growing up with superstardom is well-trodden ground, but her approach and meditation on the subject are not only good for her but genuinely captivating.

Listen: “Getting Older”

5. Carly Pearce: 29: Written In Stone

Though some of it is also about the recent death of Pearce’s longtime producer busbee, 29: Written In Stone is largely about her divorce from fellow country singer Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage (so, “the year that I got married and divorced”). Pearce seemingly can’t help herself from writing classic country divorce songs, warning the next girl to mess around with this guy, dreading the many painful milestones of losing someone, recounting what he, uh, didn’t do. She even dares to call out to the god of the genre herself. With 29: Unwritten In Stone, Pearce has done Loretta more than proud and released one of the best country albums of the last ten years.

Listen: “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” (ft. Ashley McBryde)

4. No-No Boy: 1975

Occasionally I think that some albums should come with lengthy footnotes, but Julian Saporiti’s 1975 is actually part of his PhD dissertation in American Studies. He tells many stories of Asian American history throughout 1975 (and one about crossing the US-Mexico border), and the most impactful are those that trace history and trauma directly through family lines, as he does through his mother and his mother’s mother on “Tell Hanoi I Love Her” and “St. Denis or Bangkok” and through one of his Cambodian American Students on “Khmerica” (“be my eyes, father”). 1975 is wondrous because Saporiti sings with a tenderness that doesn’t let these songs be merely sorrowful while still giving room to their emotional weight.

Listen: “Tell Hanoi I Love Her”

3. Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR

SOUR is wonderful because Rodrigo relays her breakup like a car crash where every microsecond is remembered. Take one of the lesser singles, “traitor,” and look at how the drama of the chorus just spills out. She captures these things so well so consistently likely thanks to a central anxiety that emerges throughout the album: that she might not be exciting, interesting or smart. And that relatable element helps her almost too-detailed teardown of some “not the compliment type” asshole really stick.

Listen: “drivers license”

2. Kalie Shorr: I Got Here By Accident

Straight up, Kalie Shorr is the most sure-thing songwriter right now. You could set your watch to her next song being a great one. I barely missed Open Book in 2019 and now reckon it’s probably just the best album of that year, so it’s no surprise that she hits five for five here, snarling through “Amy” and making us sob to “Love Child.” And even when she’s feeling some contentedness, she either hates the way it feels or expresses her friendship through murder. Her writing is so consistently sharp and her new turn towards guitar rock works perfectly.

Listen: “I Heard You Got A Girl”

1. Baby Queen: The Yearbook

Sure, it’s pretty brief, and sure, it’s not a perfect album (in fact, Bella herself calls this a mixtape so we can properly anticipate her true debut album this year). Still! Still. No 2021 release gave me even close to as much listening pleasure as The Yearbook.

Bella Latham is a pop savant. “American Dream” is like the median-quality song here and it’s basically perfect. She understands the importance of a well-placed bridge, the “damned if I do and bored if I don’t” bit on “These Drugs” killing me every time. She expands on her the-internet-broke-me themes of Medicine by turning back her anger on the generations who created the internet’s algorithm factory yet bemoan gen Z’s vanity.

And she ends it with a song that goes, “I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m ashamed.” It’s quite a way to go out. I hope Bella has a better 2022. I hope we all do.

Thank you for reading.

Listen: “American Dream” (ft. MAY-A)

The Next 15

11. The Buoys: Unsolicited Advice For Your DIY Disaster (Listen: “Lie To Me Again”)
12. The Weather Station: Ignorance (Listen: “Atlantic”)
13. Tinashe: 333 (Listen: “I Can See The Future”)
14. Kiwi Jr.: Cooler Returns (Listen: “Waiting In Line”)
15. Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales (Listen: “Put It Down”)
16. Lil Nas X: MONTERO (Listen: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”)
17. James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (Listen: “Operation Never Mind”)
18. Lucy Dacus: Home Video (Listen: “VBS”)
19. Carsie Blanton: Love & Rage (Listen: “Down In The Streets”)
20. Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (Listen: “Chaeri”)
21. Japanese Breakfast: Jubilee (Listen: “Savage Good Boy”)
22. Turnstile: Glow On (Listen: “Blackout”)
23. Mach-Hommy: Pray For Haiti (Listen: “Kriminel”)
24. girl in red: if i could make it go quiet (Listen: “Serotonin”)
25. Gully Boys: Favorite Son (Listen: “The Way”)

Further Top 50

Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange (Listen: “Black Myself”)
Arlo Parks: Collapsed In Sunbeams (Listen: “Black Dog”)
Ashnikko: Demidevil (Listen: “Deal With It” ft. Kelis)
Beach Bunny: Blame Game (Listen: “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)”)
Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (Listen: “Scratchcard Lanyard”)
Genesis Owusu: Smiling With No Teeth (Listen: “The Other Black Dog”)
Home Is Where: i became birds (Listen: “long distance conjoined twins”)
Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take (Listen: “Kill Me”)
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert & Jon Randall: The Marfa Tapes (Listen: “Waxahachie”)
Jlin: Embryo (Listen: “Embyro”)
Lande Hekt: Going To Hell (Listen: “80 Days Of Rain”)
Lily Konigsberg: Lily We Need To Talk Now (Listen: “That’s The Way I Like It”)
Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Listen: “Introvert”)
Mannequin Pussy: Perfect (Listen: “To Lose You”)
Mike: Disco! (Listen: “Crystal Ball”)
Nervous Dater: Call In The Mess (Listen: “Red String Map”)
Parquet Courts: Sympathy For Life (Listen: “Walking At A Downtown Pace”)
PinkPantheress: to hell with it (Listen: “Pain”)
Pinkshift: Saccharine (Listen: “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you”)
Remember Sports: Like A Stone (Listen: “Pinky Ring”)
Self Esteem: Prioritise Pleasure (Listen: “Fucking Wizardry”)
Sir Babygirl: Golden Bday: The Mixtape (Listen: “Bed”)
tUnE-yArDs: sketchy. (Listen: “hypnotized”)
Tyler, The Creator: CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST (Listen: “LUMBERJACK”)
WILLOW: lately i feel EVERYTHING (Listen: “Gaslight” ft. Travis Barker)

Honorable Mentions

Adele: 30 (Listen: “Oh My God”)
Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (Listen: “Emergency Telephone”)
Black Country, New Road: For the first time (Listen: “Track X”)
Bo Burnham: Inside (The Songs) (Listen: “That Funny Feeling”)
Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview On Phenomenal Nature (Listen: “Hailey”)
Colleen Green: Cool (Listen: “I Wanna Be A Dog”)
Dijon: Absolutely (Listen: “Many Times”)
dltzk: Frailty (Listen: “your clothes”)
Doja Cat: Planet Her (Listen: “Need To Know”)
Doss: 4 New Hit Songs (Listen: “Puppy”)
Erika de Casier: Sensational (Listen: “Busy”)
Origami Angel: GAMI GANG (Listen: “Self-Destruct”)
Injury Reserve: By The Time I Get To Phoenix (Listen: “Knees”)
Isaiah Rashad: The House Is Burning (Listen: “Headshots (4r Da Locals)”)
Ka: A Martyr’s Reward (Listen: “I Notice”)
Kacey Musgraves: star-crossed (Listen: “breadwinner”)
Kiss The Tiger: Vicious Kid (Listen: “Motel Room”)
Lainey Wilson: Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ (Listen: “Things A Man Oughta Know”)
Liz Phair: Soberish (Listen: “Soberish”)
Lorraine James: Reflection (Listen: “Running Like That” ft. Eden Samara)
Mach-Hommy: Balens Cho (Hot Candles) (Listen: “TRADITIONAL”)
Madlib: Sound Ancestors (Listen: “Road Of The Lonely Ones”)
Maisie Peters: You Signed Up For This (Listen: “Brooklyn”)
MAY-A: Don’t Kiss Ur Friends (Listen: “Swing Of Things”)
Meet Me @ The Altar: Model Citizen (Listen: “Feel A Thing”)
Miguel: Art Dealer Chic 4 (Listen: “So I Lie”)
Octo Octa: She’s Calling (Listen: “Goddess Calling”)
Palberta: Palberta5000 (Listen: “Big Bad Want”)
Pale Waves: Who Am I? (Listen: “Tomorrow”)
파란노을 (Parannoul): To See The Next Part Of The Dream (Listen: “아름다운 세상 (Beautiful World)”)
Pardoner: Came Down Different (Listen: “Donna Said”)
POLO G: Hall Of Fame (Listen: “RAPSTAR”)
Pom Pom Squad: Death Of A Cheerleader (Listen: “Red With Love”)
PONY: TV BABY (Listen: “Swore”)
Remi Wolf: Juno (Listen: “Sexy Villain”)
RP Boo: Established! (Listen: “All My Life”)
Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby (Listen: “Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby”)
Silk Sonic: An Evening With Silk Sonic (Listen: “Skate”)
Sleater-Kinney: Path Of Wellness (Listen: “Shadow Town”)
Sleigh Bells: Texis (Listen: “Locust Laced”)
Snail Mail: Valentine (Listen: “Headlock”)
Sofia Kourtesis: Fresia Magdalena (Listen: “La Perla”)
Squid: Bright Green Field (Listen: “Pamphlets”)
The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy (Listen: “Family Farm”)
Toby Fox: DELTARUNE Chapter 2 OST (Listen: “A CYBER’S WORLD?”)
VIAL: LOUDMOUTH (Listen: “Something More”)
Vince Staples: Vince Staples (Listen: “ARE YOU WITH THAT?”)
Wednesday: Twin Plagues (Listen: “Handsome Man”)
Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend (Listen: “No Hard Feelings”)

The first playlist below features the suggested songs from every album (except Sir Babygirl’s, which is not on Spotify) in this feature. The second is just the top ten albums of 2021 in their entirety.

Joey’s Top Ten Songs of 2021

Folks, this is a good one.

To me, the last truly great year for music was 2016. 2017 and on have been solid, but more and more my decision to focus on the top ten for this annual feature instead of a top 25 like I used to seemed like the wiser and wiser choice.

Then, this year! After a wild decrease in music releases in 2020, 2021 is solidly the best year for music over the last five.

Here, we go over the best songs of the year. We begin with two songs that weren’t eligible for this year’s list but I missed last year for whatever reason (late 2020 release, pre-album single), and then dive into the top ten. In addition, I’ve ranked the entire top 25 below that and also list fifteen honorable mentions.

Tomorrow, I’ll be releasing my best albums of 2021 list (featuring well over 50 albums), and in the next couple of weeks I’ll be going over the ten best TV episodes and TV shows of 2021, something I’ve never done before.

PS, if you want more song recommendations, I give you a lot more tomorrow.

Here we go.

Ineligible But Worthy

Carly Pearce: “Next Girl”

On Valentine’s Day of 2020, Carly Pearce released her second album, partly inspired by her new marriage. Just half a year but many world events later, Pearce dropped this absolute scorcher warning anyone who finds themselves involved with Michael Ray. Co-written with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne of “Merry Go Round” fame, to wildly understate their prolificness, it’s no real surprise that “Next Girl” is the best country song of the past few years, and an easy top five song of 2020.

Baby Queen: “Want Me”

I’m just not aware of many songs as infectious as this, a shameless embrace of unhealthy obsession (that’s actually about Jodie Comer). Its finale is unrivaled. Everyone should pay attention to the movements of producer King Ed, clearly a genius who’s just getting started. More on Bella herself later. Song of 2020.

Top Ten

10. Maisie Peters: “Psycho”

Yeah, it’s a lot. “Psycho” is aggressive as hell in its catchiness, Steve Mac’s production bringing out the manic glee on the other side of getting two-timed. Easily the best thing with Ed Sheeran’s name attached.

9. Kalie Shorr: “Amy”

Wronging Kalie Shorr seems like a preposterously poor idea. My goodness, this is the most thorough musical evisceration put to tape since “The Story of Adidon.”

8. WILLOW (ft. Travis Barker): “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”

Travis Barker continues his silent mission to bring back pop punk by lending his bonafides to preexisting superstars trying their hand at the genre, and while “running like the Flash” shows us the limitation of the lyric sheet, pop punk vocals fit Willow Smith like a glove. Kickass song, no two ways about it.

7. illuminati hotties: “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA”

I’ve always found Sarah Tudzin slightly terrifying, here more so than ever. Listening to her effortlessly leap between her dozens of voices is like standing on shifting sands. Guessing which layer of irony she’s on always feels so uncertain. Do you reckon “the DNC is playing dirty” is an odd or even-numbered layer?

6. MUNA (ft. Phoebe Bridgers): “Silk Chiffon”

Naomi McPherson (guitarist, MUNA): “We should define queer music as music of longing.”
Josette Maskin (other guitarist, MUNA): “That’s literally the gayest thing ever.”

5. Billie Eilish: “Happier Than Ever”

I love Happier Than Ever but I sympathize with those that find it kinda sleepy. So when she sneaks up on you at the two minute mark with the most fun thing she’s ever done (saying something), you get that much more into it. Maybe she’s not talking shit about this guy on the internet, so here she is on record.

4. Olivia Rodrigo: “good 4 u”

SOUR made its bones on Olivia Rodrigo’s hyperspecific details, so it’s funny that its finest song is its broadest. She keeps things as simple as possible here, methodically outlining that her ex’s happiness is not only at her expense but in fact because of her in the first place, Rodrigo finding no consolation that her efforts to find him a therapist will make things smoother for the next girl. Rodrigo’s sour grapes kick tons of ass, her hair-raising backing vocals and “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH!!!” should put the fear of God in this guy, however happy he was before this sucker dropped.

3. Baby Queen: “Raw Thoughts”

Not her best lyric sheet, but that’s because she’s so dedicated to the rawness of these thoughts, best expressed in the double somersault, “They’ll never get it unless they sat under my skin/And saw what I did/Actually fuck that god forbid/They see what I did.” But this is here for that big, big, big hook, an absolute monster of a refrain that makes you wonder why no pop song has punctuated “I got fucked up” quite like this. But what makes “Raw Thoughts” is that it really, really sounds like Bella had a truly awful night.

2. Indigo De Souza: “Hold U”

At no point this year did my ears perk up the way they did when I heard “Hold U” bloom. A celebration of romance and camaraderie and everything in between, De Souza’s band locks the fuck in for this one, thrilling with every dramatic strum of the guitar.

1. No-No Boy: “The Best God Damn Band In Wyoming”

Graduate student Julian Saporiti was making his way through a Wyoming museum when he came upon a picture of a band at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp. He was so blown away to find such a thing existed that he tracked down singer Joy Teraoka, struck up a friendship, and wrote this song to help the history endure.

Saporiti’s songwriting and performing approaches are pretty simple, but he gets a lift from the tenderness with which he approaches his topics. Here, he gets into this one like it was the song he was put on this earth to sing. Indeed, the topic is particularly close to him, and set him on the path of writing these songs for his dissertation in American Studies.

And though this is a tale of finding joy in tragedy, it still can’t escape the dark conclusion underneath. The story ends with Yone going to fight for the country that just imprisoned him. Still, the epilogue finishes with the only line that could have ended this song: “Locked up in prison camps for no fucking reason, but they still found a reason to sing.”

At a time when hate towards Asian Americans and use of prison camps are again spiking in this country, “The Best God Damn Band In Wyoming” is at once essential history and eerily prescient.

The Next 15

11. Baby Queen: “Dover Beach”
12. McKinley Dixon (ft. Micah James, Gold Midas): “Never Will Know”
13. Kalie Shorr: “Love Child”
14. Dawn Richard: “Bussifame”
15. The Buoys: “Carpark”
16. Jazmine Sullivan: “Pick Up Your Feelings”
17. Lil Nas X: “THATS WHAT I WANT”
18. Tinashe: “Bouncin”
19. TORRES: “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes In My Head”
20. Japanese Breakfast: “Be Sweet”
21. Doss: “Strawberry”
22. Wet Leg: “Chaise Longue”
23. Olivia Rodrigo: “deja vu”
24. PinkPantheress: “Just for me”
25. Remi Wolf: “Liquor Store”

Honorable Mentions

Adele: “Easy On Me”
Caroline Polachek: “Bunny Is A Rider”
Cassandra Jenkins: “Hard Drive”
Doja Cat (ft. SZA): “Kiss Me More”
Kacey Musgraves: “justified”
Low: “Days Like These”
Maisie Peters: “John Hughes Movie”
Mannequin Pussy: “Control”
MAY-A: “Time I Love To Waste”
Megan Thee Stallion: “Thot Shit”
Noname: “Rainforest”
Olivia Rodrigo: “brutal”
Snail Mail: “Valentine”
tUnE-yArDs: “hold yourself.”
Wet Leg: “Wet Dream”

First, here’s a playlist of all the songs in this article. Then, one of just the top ten.

Joey’s Top Ten Albums of 2020

Let’s get right to it, yeah?

Cursed By Calendar
Kiwi jr: Football Money

Big fan of Pavement and The Velvet Underground but tired of waiting for a new Parquet Courts? Well, do I have good news for you. Kiwi jr rereleased their debut this year and it’s just the thing to scratch the itch.

Even better, their second album comes out this month.

Listen: “Wicked Witches”

Cursed By Calendar
Kalie Shorr: Open Book

It was only a matter of time before an artist emerged who so obviously wore Taylor Swift’s influence, but Kalie Shorr’s debut (released late 2019 but given a great deluxe edition update last month) is also as fiery as early Miranda Lambert. Get in on the ground floor. Now.

Listen: “F U Forever”

10. Taylor Swift: evermore

It has a slightly lower batting average than folklore, but I still can’t enough of this side of her: doing what so many of us did this year, hitting pause, and staring unceasingly inward and looking back. Sometimes years. Sometimes generations.

Listen: “Gold Rush”

9. Beach Bunny: Honeymoon

Their debut sounds so effortless, but what takes it to the next level is just how much Lili Trifilio lets herself feel her songs, the ache in her voice as she sighs, “everything’s better in California.” And it gets in and out in just about one Wild Honey, brevity that’s all too rare these days.

Listen: “Ms. California”

8. Run the Jewels: RTJ4

Though their novelty has worn off, here they show us they can really keep this up forever, that they can keep making music that guides us to think deep and then properly channel our rage.

Listen: “JU$T”

7. HAIM: Women in Music Pt. III

After struggling to replicate the dynamite of the first half of Days Are Gone, Danielle Haim’s songwriting has taken a major leap forward, not only turning up the details in her trains of thought but also broadening stylistically. Women In Music Pt. III sounds like the Haim sisters going exploring. Look what they brought back.

Listen: “The Steps”

6. Lori McKenna: The Balladeer

No flash, all substance. Just storytelling chops for days. Even the sappiest track, “When You’re My Age,” might just end up getting you a little emotional when she dips the narrative another generation deeper.

Listen: “Marie”

5. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath

It’s a little shocking that Elizabeth Cook lacks notoriety to the point where people aren’t giving Wikipedia pages to her new albums, because to my ears she keeps getting more intense, her lyrics both sharper and more beguiling. Stream Aftermath!

Listen: “Perfect Girls of Pop”

4. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud

If her love songs sound a little sedate, it’s because Katie Crutchfield has been doing the hard work of kicking the substance abuse that she’s been singing about for the last decade. Of course she sounds exhausted, she’s climbed the mountain. It makes the twinges of joy she expresses as she looks out at the horizon just that much more meaningful.

Listen: “Fire”

3. Taylor Swift: folklore

Not quite the return to pop country I was hoping for, but I’m all for this detour, and even if there’s sometimes a little less bounce than I like from Taylor, her lyric sheets keep getting more and more incredible. Just look at the key change on “betty” or the prestige on “the last great american dynasty” (“and then it was bought by me”) and marvel at how effortlessly she keeps pulling out new tricks over three albums in just over a year. folklore is a strong case for Taylor Swift as the greatest American songwriter.

Listen: “Mirrorball”

2. Rina Sawayama: SAWAYAMA

Borrowing from Grimes and Gaga and putting out a better album than they ever have, Rina will often take a simple phrase (“shut the fuck up,” “who’s gonna save you now,” “I’m so confident,” “fuck this world, I’m leaving you”) and then building around that. But fuck a blueprint! Though she clearly has an ear for song structure, Rina isn’t exactly coloring inside the lines. Each track is entirely its own, and the chaos creates magnificent earned moments of sincerity in “Bad Friend” and the beautifully sappy “Chosen Family.”

Listen: “Paradisin'”

1. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

That’s four straight top of the line albums in four separate decades now. Here, Fiona expands on the ideas of “Hot Knife” and the children’s screams of “Werewolf,” giving us an album rooted not in melody but in percussion. There’s an almost improvised feel to a lot of this music, best exemplified by the tUnE-yArDs-esque outro to “Relay.” She’s coincidentally given us a homemade album that sure sounds like it during a time where that was the only place to be.

Her lyrics are deep and even inscrutably personal at times (“Hurricane Gloria in excelsis Deo” is literally her bird in her tree), but there’s a strong thread of thankfulness for women and rage on their behalf, from incalculable kindness of “Shameika” to the defiance of “Under the Table” onto the complicated emotions of shared secrets on “Newspaper” and finally the painful, horrifying climax of “For Her.”

There’s something about this music. Fiona Apple sounds so unrestrained and so comfortable, so confident that the world wants to hear her fucking scream “START IT OFF, START IT OFF, BABY, START IT OFF, START IT OFF, START IT OFF NOW!!!”

Pull up any one of her fantastic interviews from this album cycle. Read it. Turn this on. Enjoy her freedom.

Listen: “I Want You to Love Me”

Honorable Mentions, First Class:
Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia
Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure?
Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates
Flo Milli: Ho, Why Is You Here?
Dogleg: Melee
Lianne La Havas: Lianne La Havas
Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher
Chubby and the Gang: Speed Kills
Soccer Mommy: color theory
Juice WRLD: Legends Never Die
Bree Runway: 2000AND4EVA
Jeff Rosenstock: N O D R E A M

Honorable Mentions, Second Class:
Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B
Grimes: Miss Anthropocene
Diet Cig: Do You Wonder About Me?
Hayley Williams: Petals for Armor
Miley Cyrus: Plastic Heart
Charli XCX: how i’m feeling now
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist: Alfredo
Drakeo the Ruler & JoogSZN: Thank You For Using GTL
City Girls: City On Lock
illuminati hotties: Free I.H.: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For
Open Mike Eagle: Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Touché Amoré: Lament
Adrianne Lenker: songs
Phoebe Bridgers: If We Make It Through December
The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form
Hinds: The Prettiest Curse
The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers
Dramarama: Color TV
The Mountain Goats: Songs for Pierre Chuvin
Emperor X: United Earth League of Quarantine Aerobics
KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl
Lil Uzi Vert: Eternal Atake
Porridge Radio: Every Bad
Jay Electronica: A Written Testimony
Princess Nokia: Everything Is Beautiful
Bartees Strange: Live Forever
beabadoobee: Fake It Flowers
Ariana Grande: Positions
SAULT: Untitled (Black Is)
SAULT: Untitled (Rise)
Megan Thee Stallion: Bad News
Backxwash: God Has Nothing To Do With This And Leave Him Out Of It

Joey’s Top Ten Songs of 2020

Fuck 2020. Let’s get right to it. Songs are only eligible if they were first released in 2020.

Cursed By Calendar
Dua Lipa: “Don’t Star Now”

Though “Don’t Start Now” was released in late 2019, its quality became more evident than ever alongside the rest of the still-otherwise-excellent Future Nostalgia. “Don’t Start Now” is pop perfection, with producer Ian Kirkpatrick getting every moment just right.

10. Taylor Swift: “marjorie”

It’s certainly no surprise that Taylor Swift can make a tearjerker about one of the women in her family, but “The Best Day” was so heartrending because it was small and fragile and made you appreciate that the relationship was still in motion. But “marjorie” is no small, fragile song, it’s her biggest epic since “All Too Well,” at first a glorious tribute to her grandmother until the bridge takes it deeper: “I should have asked you questions/I should have asked you how to be.” The perfect song for a year when all our grandparents became more vulnerable than ever. Not everyone made it.

9. Jessie Ware: “Save A Kiss”

Jessie Ware’s best ever song takes a mundane moment in her domestic arrangement and turns it into everything.

8. Megan Thee Stallion (ft. Beyoncé): “Savage Remix”

It’s wild to think that Megan Thee Stallion is already threatening to conquer the world, finding herself in this year’s two bonafide event songs, and though “WAP” is wonderful, “Savage Remix” is the greater statement of that new power, complete with Queen Bey showing up to flex the rapping she developed on EVERYTHING IS LOVE.

7. Phoebe Bridgers: “Kyoto”

The Phoebe Bridgers song that’s least like the rest, “Kyoto” is a hazy romp through Phoebe’s insecurities about her own success and her rage towards her father. Yeah, that Copycat Killer version is pretty awesome, but I prefer the way the original is presented triumphantly, better encapsulating the contradicting feelings of the content.

6. The Chicks: “Gaslighter”

Not as important as “Goodbye Earl” or “Not Ready To Make Nice,” sure, but “Gaslighter” is the reborn Chicks’ tightest pop construction, and even at 50% the rage of “Goodbye Earl,” Natalie Maines’ ire is still inspirational.

5. The 1975: “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”

Despite Matt always overindulging his stranger ideas on the verses and threatening his songs’ universality, The 1975 can do the hell out of a chorus, and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is their greatest ever, the horns elevating the naughtiness to capture things far less specific than Facetiming.

4. Fiona Apple: “Shameika”

Yes, the key point is the power in small moments of solidarity among young women, but what sends “Shameika” over and above is that Fiona is wrong: she did see her again, “Shameika” unleashing an observer effect upon itself. The evolving story of “Shameika” resonates in a year where so many people focused inwards and took the time to look backwards

3. Will Butler: “Not Gonna Die”

The greatest Arcade Fire song in a decade is a little ill-timed. Outraged at the furor drummed up after the 2015 Paris Attacks, “Not Gonna Die” radically rejects any suspicion that your neighbor is going to kill you. Of course, the year is 2021, and for entirely different reasons your neighbor just might.

2. Emperor X: “The Ballad of HPAE Local 5058”

After a Super Tuesday that felt like the Red Wedding, this song about a New Jersey chapter of Health Professionals & Allied Employees was just about the only convincingly hopeful thing I heard all spring, the sort of hyperspecific song about political perseverance we honestly hear too few of.

1. Bree Runway (ft. Yung Baby Tate): “DAMN DANIEL”

The best song of 2020 ends up having little to do with this fucked to death year. For its first two minutes and fourteen seconds, it might actually sound more at home in the early 2000s (an album track or one of the lesser singles from some Missy Elliott album). Characters Keisha and Felicia each get their kicks with Danny before their worst suspicions about their lack of presence on his Instagram materialize.

Then 2:14 hits. Missy couldn’t do this.

They find power in their shared knowledge and spread the word to their community: If you fuck with him, he’ll fuck all your friends. Don’t trust the man!

They’re not sad for getting played. They’re finding enough joy in what revenge can be had.

Just a note on the Spotify playlist, my #2 song is not on the service, so make sure you listen to that separately.

One Week One Band: Alex Lahey

Back when Tumblr still mattered, One Week One Band was a fairly large deal. But it took me so many years later to finally realize I’d found an act that I both sufficiently loved and felt like, well, mine (who really needs to read more writing about The Clash?). So I spent a week in early August 2020 writing about Alex Lahey’s music. Links collected here for easy access.

1. “Awkward Exchange”
2. AL Loose Ends (part 1): “Air Mail”
3. B-Grade University
4. “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me”
5. AL Loose Ends (part 2): Between The Kitchen And The Living Room
6. “Let’s Go Out”
7. AL Loose Ends (part 3): “Sucker For Punishment”
8. “Lotto In Reverse”
9. “I Don’t Get Invited To Parties Anymore”
10. The Best Of Luck Club
11. AL Loose Ends (part 4): “Welcome To The Black Parade”
12. “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself”
13. The Top 20 Alex Lahey Songs

Joey’s Top 25 Taylor Swift Songs

Frankly, I expected to publish my top 100 albums of the 2010s feature on this website and then mostly leave it alone for a while. But boredom during this pandemic has given way to a few additional features. There’s my top 50 albums of the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s, but mostly it’s been a love for Twitter polls giving way to an urge to inject my own opinion. My top 25 Kanye West songs, my top 25 Beatles songs, yadda yadda. It’s not the most thrilling content, but whatever gets me writing.

Taylor Swift’s bracket came third, and wouldn’t you know it, “Blank Space” torched through all competition, and now it’s time for me to make my own list. Moreso than with Kanye West and The Beatles, 25 proved to be an uncomfortable cutoff, not necessarily because she has more great songs than The Beatles, but because the quality of so many of them bunches up around number twenty-five. So with specific apologies to “Clean” and “Getaway Car,” these were the 25 that I felt married to, and I wouldn’t want to leave a single one off a playlist of Taylor Swift essentials.

I got on the train later than I’d like, but since falling in love with Red, I’ve grown to regard Taylor Swift as one of the very most important recording artists of the past fifteen years. In that short time, she’s built an incredibly formidable library that can rival that of nearly anyone. Here’s the cream of the crop.

25. “Paper Rings”

Taylor has several indulgently “fun” songs, but “Paper Rings” is by far the most successful.

Shout outs to the guy absolutely losing himself in the “ONE, TWO, ONE TWO THREE FOU–“

24. “Fifteen”

This isn’t exactly my wheelhouse, but no song is as emblematic of why Taylor Swift caught fire, which is that her music was absolutely indispensable to young girls. “Fifteen” is an unflinching look into young womanhood, the forces that wish to do it harm, and – “we both cried!” – the importance of camaraderie therein.

23. “Love Story”

But she was just as important to five-year-olds as she was to fifteen-year-olds. This song might not be on this list if it wasn’t for its key change selling its narrative’s dramatic finish.

22. “Fearless”

Her breakthrough album’s most expert production serves one of its most expert uses of dramatic imagery.

21. “The Story Of Us”

“The Story Of Us” is rather minor writing-wise, but the frantic drums, the urgent guitars, and the tumbling piano result in one of the finest productions of her career.

20. “All You Had To Do Was Stay”

The way that repeated, falsetto “stay” beams through and through is just gorgeous.

19. “State Of Grace”

It was unreal to hear a Taylor Swift album open with those booming drums. She was no stranger to grandeur by this time, but still, “State Of Grace” gestured toward something more eternal.

18. “I Wish You Would”

1989 had a flawless blueprint for pop most notable for its layered use of Taylor’s voice, never more apparent than in the distant, booming “I WISH YOU WOULD!” or the little, “I, I, I, I, I, I wish I wish I.”

17. “I Knew You Were Trouble”

Yes, the drop. By this point, Taylor’s pop turn felt inevitable, and on paper this sounds like it’s forcing things. But despite 2012’s attitudes towards dubstep, this is one of her most flawlessly executed refrains. Now freed of its baggage, it sounds natural.

16. “Picture To Burn”

No Taylor song feels as kinetic and chaotic as “Picture To Burn.” It’s haunted by an uncertainty about where exactly her rage will be directed.

15. “Red”

The way “Red” echoes and the voice – “reh-eh-eh-ed” – reverberates is stunning, and she gives this song one of her best vocal performances.

14. “Begin Again”

Taylor Swift’s most narratively satisfying moment puts a bow on the pre-pop portion of her career. And then we watched it begin again.

13. “Hey Stephen”

Every single time I listen to this, I’m in awe of how meticulously handled the rhythm of each syllable is.

12. “Forever & Always”

Her most underheralded song? “Forever & Always” is not Taylor Swift’s best breakup song, but it’s her most forceful and focused. She’s released many songs with the intent of humiliating its subject, but here she’s so surgical, so methodical. Target destroyed.

11. “Cruel Summer”

Produced and co-written by Annie Clark, “Cruel Summer” is a peculiar entry in the Swift canon, but it’s perfect pop, especially the bridge. I would very much have liked Lover‘s rollout to start with this.

10. “Enchanted”

Had “All Too Well” not happened, it’s very possible that “Enchanted” would be discussed as the sorta-secret masterpiece in Taylor Swift’s discography, the apotheosis of the fairy tale themes from her earlier work that would mostly vanish hereafter.

Man, when she gets to “please don’t be in love with someone else.”

9. “Delicate”

Not many songs on this list could be called understated, but despite coming from her brashest album, here’s “Delicate,” the moment where Taylor Swift best meshed with Reputation‘s aggressive embrace of 2017’s popular music. On it, she hesitates, anxious and worried: “Is it too soon to do this yet?/Cuz I know that it’s delicate.” Then: metronomic isn’t its.

8. “Holy Ground”

It chugs along as her most efficient composition and builds to something wonderful, but what really sells it are the narrative turns. That was the first day? It fell apart in the usual way, you guess?

7. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

The moment she turned from household name to planet eater.

6. “Style”

Around 2014, the final stragglers were rounded up to accept Taylor Swift’s canonization, and songs as cool as “Style” – its badass riff accompanying the verse – went a long way in finally closing the book on that case.

5. “The Best Day”

Absolute tear-jerker. Please go read Keith Harris’ article about how Taylor Swift and Kanye West wrote the 21st century’s two greatest songs about mothers.

4. “Sparks Fly”

Speak Now‘s infatuation with electric guitar comes out best in this immortal guitar riff. Musically, her career’s strongest moment.

3. “Blank Space”

The success of this treatise on her public image felt so good that she felt emboldened to make the “Bad Blood” music video.

2. “All Too Well”

Her epic. “All Too Well” never lets up, suffocating you with a sense of true romantic loss, through tee ball teams, refrigerator light, and, yes, Chekhov’s scarf.

1. “You Belong With Me”

Her breakthrough. Musically so light on its feet, spiritually closer to Simple Plan than the nearest country artist. Not a song valorizing unrequited love so much as a tragedy about the folly of believing that anybody “belongs” with anyone.

Top 50 Decade Lists: A Metalist

Over the past year, I’ve made three lists sorting my top albums of various decades. Here, I collect them. I already have a few regrets. Allo Darlin’ should be on the 2010s list. It feels cold and wrong that The Libertines’ Up The Bracket, Bob Dylan’s Love & Theft, and Green Day’s Warning: aren’t on the ’00s list. And a special mention to PJ Harvey’s Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, which should 100% be on there. But here they are as they’re originally published, hopefully the start of a canon of sorts. I’ll edit this post as I add the ’80s and so on.

The 1990s

Published July 2020

50. The Coup: Steal This Album
49. Green Day: Insomniac
48. Pixies: Bossanova
47. Beck: Odelay
46. Missy Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly
45. Tricky: Maxinquaye
44. LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out
43. Silver Jews: American Water
42. The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin
41. Moby: Play
40. The Notorious B.I.G.: Ready To Die
39. Jay-Z: Vol. 3… Life And Times Of S. Carter
38. Fountains Of Wayne: Utopia Parkway
37. Old 97’s: Fight Songs
36. Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
35. Elastica: Elastica
34. Weezer: Pinkerton
33. Radiohead: The Bends
32. PJ Harvey: Rid Of Me
31. Radiohead: OK Computer
30. PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love
29. R.E.M.: Automatic For The People
28. Nas: Illmatic
27. A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory
26. Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92
25. Pavement: Wowee Zowee
24. A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders
23. Hole: Live Through This
22. OutKast: ATLiens
21. Neutral Milk Hotel: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
20. Fiona Apple: When The Pawn…
19. Nirvana: In Utero
18. Belle & Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister
17. Green Day: Dookie
16. Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
15. Le Tigre: Le Tigre
14. Public Enemy: Fear Of A Black Planet
13. Old 97’s: Too Far To Care
12. Sleater-Kinney: Call The Doctor
11. Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted
10. DJ Shadow: Endtroducing…..
9. Nirvana: Nevermind
8. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless
7. The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs
6. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
5. OutKast: Aquemini
4. Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
3. Sleater-Kinney: Dig Me Out
2. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
1. Liz Phair: Exile In Guyville

The 2000s

Published October 2019

50. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It’s Blitz!
49. Mekons: OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads)
48. Taylor Swift: Fearless
47. Madvillain: Madvillainy
46. Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury
45. The National: Alligator
44. Tegan & Sara: The Con
43. The Long Blondes: Someone To Drive You Home
42. The Coup: Party Music
41. Rilo Kiley: The Execution Of All Things
40. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
39. D’Angelo: Voodoo
38. Slear-Kinney: The Woods
37. The Mountain Goats: We Shall All Be Healed
36. The Knife: Silent Shout
35. Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica
34. Burial: Untrue.
33. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
32. Radiohead: Kid A
31. TV On The Radio: Return To Cookie Mountain
30. Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It In People
29. LCD Soundsystem: Sound Of Silver
28. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine
27. My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade
26. M.I.A.: Arular
25. Fountains Of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
24. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
23. Spoon: Kill The Moonlight
22. The Wrens: The Meadowlands
21. The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee
20. Ghostface Killah: Supreme Clientele
19. Jay-Z: The Black Album
18. The Avalanches: Since I Left You
17. Old 97’s: Satellite Rides
16. Wussy: Funeral Dress
15. The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday
14. OutKast: Stankonia
13. Miranda Lambert: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
12. The xx: xx
11. Robyn: Robyn
10. M.I.A.: Kala
9. Against Me!: New Wave
8. Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day
7. Sleater-Kinney: One Beat
6. Kanye West: The College Dropout
5. Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous
4. The Hold Steady: Boys And Girls In America
3. TV On The Radio: Dear Science
2. Kanye West: Late Registration
1. Arcade Fire: Funeral

The 2010s

Published January 2020

50. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
49. Mitski: Be The Cowboy
48. Rihanna: ANTI
47. Vampire Weekend: Contra
46. Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park
45. Carly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION
44. Taylor Swift: Speak Now
43. Taylor Swift: Red
42. billy woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places
41. Lorde: Melodrama
39. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time
38. Jamila Woods: HEAVN
37. Miranda Lambert: Platinum
36. Jamila Woods: LEGACY! LEGACY!
35. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Suites IV And V)
34. Maren Morris: Hero
33. The National: High Violet
32. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream
31. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
30. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2
29. Wussy: Strawberry
28. Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid (Suites II And III)
27. Vince Staples: Summertime ‘06
26. Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book
25. Grimes: Art Angels
24. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
23. Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
22. Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap
21. Pistol Annies: Hell on Heels
20. Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake!
19. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
18. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste
17. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
16. Tegan & Sara: Heartthrob
15. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell!
14. Beyoncé: BEYONCÉ
13. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
12. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
11. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City
10. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer
9. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel…
8. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
7. Beyoncé: Lemonade
6. Robyn: Body Talk
5. Alex Lahey: I Love You Like A Brother
4. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city
3. tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l
2. Frank Ocean: nostalgia,ULTRA.
1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly


Artists With Multiple Entries

Kendrick Lamar: #1, #4
Kanye West: #2, #6, #8
Sleater-Kinney: #3, #7, #12, #38
Pavement: #4, #11, #25
Robyn: #6, #11
OutKast: #5, #14
Beyoncé: #7, #14
The Hold Steady: #4, #15
Old 97’s: #13, #17, #37
Against Me!: #9, #17
Nirvana: #9, #19
Fiona Apple: #9, #20, #28
Frank Ocean: #2, #23
A Tribe Called Quest: #12, #24, #27
Arcade Fire: #1, #24
M.I.A.: #10, #26
Chance The Rapper: #22, #26
Janelle Monáe: #10, #28, #35
Wussy: #16, #29
TV On The Radio: #3, #31
Jay-Z: #19, #33, #39
Radiohead: #31, #32, #33
PJ Harvey: #30, #32
Miranda Lambert: #13, #37
The Mountain Goats: #21, #37
Fountains Of Wayne: #25, #38
Jamila Woods: #36, #38
Rilo Kiley: #5, #41
Taylor Swift: #43, #44, #48
Tegan & Sara: #16, #44
The National: #33, #45
Vampire Weekend: #11, #47
Green Day: #17, #49
The Coup: #42, #50
Kacey Musgraves: #46, #50

Joey’s Top 25 Kanye West Songs

To follow up my Beatles project, I held a little Kanye West tournament on my Twitter. And just like I did with The Beatles, I’m going to round up my top 25 Kanye West songs. Watch as I get a little bit “I miss the old Kanye.”

Just a few notes on notable absences: 1. “New Slaves,” which would be #26 easily; 2. “Through The Wire,” an incredible song that I never flipped for; 3. anything from Graduation, a very solid album with low peaks.

25. “Touch The Sky”
(ft. Lupe Fiasco)

Gleefully retooling Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” Casually launching Lupe Fiasco’s career. It all just seemed so easy for Kanye West in 2005. So much so that we’d have misplaced illusions of his infallibility for too many years to come. Listen to Lupe’s giddiness at this opportunity in his effortless verse and Kanye’s beaming gratitude at rocketing to superstardom. It was a better time.

(This was the success story of my (relatively upset-free) aforementioned tournament, heretically taking down “Jesus Walks” and “All Falls Down” on its way to a final four finish. I think “Touch The Sky” is an absolute vibe, but c’mon now.)

24. “Spaceship”
(ft. GLC & Consequence)

Kanye’s class consciousness would conveniently erode as he got richer and richer, but it started from a startlingly high point.

23. “Heard ‘Em Say”
(ft. Adam Levine)

Feels quaint to think that Adam Levine’s most recent work was still Songs About Jane, that this was still a time when fans of either artist could hear this and plausibly not know who the other was. The song intentionally induces such nostalgia.

Diagram that sentence: “Nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today.”

22. “Slow Jamz”
by Twista, ft. Kanye West & Jamie Foxx

Twista carries a song by completely trampling on its initial conceit.

21. “Heartless”

Though 808’s & Heartbreak is an underrated, forward-looking album defined by its devastation and vulnerability, its two greatest moments are ugly poses looking outward. In a career defined by excess, “Heartless” is among his simplest compositions and 808’s’ proof-of-concept song, but it’s among his knottiest narratives, which is saying something.

20. “Lost In The World”
(ft. Bon Iver)

This finale was the real moment you knew that Kanye’s 2010 opus had stuck its landing, an explosive sprint through Bon Iver’s “Woods,” snapping the tape with Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1.”

19. “Paranoid”
(ft. Mr Hudson)

The greatest song from 808’s & Heartbreak is manipulative and gaslighting. But its red flags are drenched in flashing lights, which can discombobulate.

18. “Family Business”

Bolstered by many of these stories not actually being his own, “Family Business” is a tender (verging on precious!) moment from Kanye before his personality outgrew his music.

17. “Otis”
by Jay-Z & Kanye West, ft. Otis Redding

It’s rare to find either of these men so focused line after line during the 2010s, and unfortunately just as rare to find them being friendly with each other. But “Otis”! Not a bum line in sight. Just two people living in the moment!

16. “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)” (ft. Jay-Z) /
“Diamonds From Sierra Leone”

“Over here, it’s a drug trade, we die from drugs/Over there they die from what we buy from drugs,” but then “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!!!” Jay-Z interrupts deft social commentary with one of his very best verses of braggadocio. The end product isn’t quite as harmonious as a you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter situation, but each part is so considerable on its own.

The original is very worthy but nonetheless plainly inferior to both halves of the remix.

15. “Monster”
(ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver)

Honestly? This song is a bit of a slog. It wouldn’t be here if Nicki didn’t absolutely slaughter everything in sight (which, in case you weren’t keeping track, includes Sasquash, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness, goblin, ghoul, and a zombie with no conscience).

14. “Never Let Me Down”
(ft. Jay-Z & J. Ivy)

Jay-Z does his thing here and he does it quite well, but as with other early Kanye tracks he misses that other, greater things are at hand. J. Ivy’s spoken word poetry is utilized just incredibly, a trick I wish Kanye tried more than once. And Kanye’s verse that covers his family’s history of antiracism before turning an eye to his near death experience is his best. Ever.

13. “We Don’t Care”

That chorus! Can’t resist it.

12. “Gold Digger”
(ft. Jamie Foxx)

The song that turned a star into a superstar sometimes gets remembered as a novelty fueled by a national obsession with Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles impression, which, sorta. But it’s an expert piece of storytelling centered around West’s best-ever rhyme: “Now I ain’t saying she a gold digger/But she ain’t messing with no broke [broke, broke].” It’s another reminder that West was terrifying with a sample in hand back in 2005, this time weaponizing Foxx to make us mishear Charles for the whole rest of the song.

11. “POWER” /
“POWER (Remix)” (ft. Jay-Z & Swizz Beats)

Kanye’s most forceful piece of production, perhaps his best, but he doesn’t exactly leave SNL feeling embarrassed here, does he?

The remix features cheesier production but also features a far more on-point West.

10. “Jesus Walks”

In a career full of self-mythologizing, Kanye chooses to make his first attempt at it alongside Jesus Christ. The clever devil.

9. “Crack Music”
(ft. The Game)

“We invested in that, it’s like we got Merrill Lynched/And we been hangin’ from the same tree ever since.” “Who gave Saddam anthrax?/George Bush got the answers.” These lines alongside “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” reveal that Kanye was the greatest critic of American empire among 2005 somebodies.

Gosh, the way the “It’s Your Thing” drum sample violently gallops across this whole thing.

8. “N—-s In Paris”
by Jay-Z & Kanye West

Even Kanye’s “married at the maaaaaaaaaall” bit can’t ruin the greatest fun he’s ever recorded, one where fish filets go supernova, the event horizon thereof these gentlemen’s zone.

7. “Runaway”
(ft. Pusha T)

As a piece of humanizing art, ehhhhhh. This doesn’t do much better than 808’s & Heartbreak there. But “Runaway” really works as a piece of self-mythologizing, proof of a man accomplishing the impossible task of climbing out of his Taylor Swift controversy, instilling fearful doubt (however sometimes faint) in anyone who dared tease his “voice of a generation” proclamations.

And yes, this is a Big Dumb Song. Your mileage will vary. Especially when he doubles its length by feeling himself admittedly far too much.

6. “American Boy”
by Estelle, ft. Kanye West

I think something like this will probably never happen again. Kanye West is so generous here, putting his absolute A-game into Estelle’s greatest moment this side of Steven Universe.

5. “Black Skinhead”

Somehow produced by Daft Punk the same year they made their frictionless comeback album, “Black Skinhead” is what people think of when they overrate Yeezus. The Death Grips level aggression. The obsession with tragic figures (King Kong, Batman, Jesus Christ, Lebron James (who was also crucified then reborn)). The oafish-or-is-that-the-point 300 Romans missed reference.

His SNL premier of it is stupefying. Watch that, too.

4. “All Falls Down”
(ft. Syleena Johnson)

With note-perfect production, this is Kanye’s cleanest landing. But it doesn’t stop there. He begins with an empathetic, relatable scenario before scaling up to hip hop stars in discussing who consumerism really benefits.

The song of his with the most impeccable craft, only toppable at his most ambitious.

3. “Hey Mama”

Even before the song was changed forever, “Hey Mama” was Kanye’s purest-ever vehicle for his affections, a genuinely touching statement that she’s the woman he wants to give the world and an especially captivating wrinkle in the story of the planet’s most notorious College Dropout. People who say they don’t listen to Kanye for lyrics don’t remember the majesty of “My mama told me go to school, get your doctorate/Something to fall back on, you could profit with/But still supported me when I did the opposite.”

Two years after “Hey Mama”‘s release, Donda West passed away. Months later he performed a stirring rendition at the 2008 Grammys.

2. “Gone”
(ft. Consequence & Cam’ron)

Wielding Otis Redding’s voice and Jon Brion’s string arrangement, Kanye West set out to make his production masterpiece. Kanye himself, Cam’ron, and a best-in-show Consequence all flex before Kanye sprints up the gates. Things would never be entirely the same, and from then on friends trading verses over a Kanye-curated Otis sample would only ever be a blockbuster event.

1. “Ultralight Beam”

When I named “She Loves You” the greatest Beatles song, I warned of conflating greatest and grandest. But here I’ve given Kanye’s Biggest Dumbest Song top honors. Because it is the Big Dumb Song to end all Big Dumb Songs.

How do I even write this?

“Ultralight Beam” came to us mortals not long after my father had passed. It’s not really a song that makes me think of him, but it found me at a time when I was especially vulnerable to the awesomeness of life. Steph Curry would plant an ultralight beam of his own in Oklahoma City and I’d walk my dog at like 1:30 am just listening to this song over and over, paralyzed in awe.

It’s so empty. It breathes. Then it’s empty again. No Kanye West song has ever sounded so physically empty, but actually, few Kanye songs have ever been so stuffed with people. Kanye, The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, Chance The Rapper, and the choir.

This all makes these awesome lines so easy to cling to. “This is my part, nobody else speak.” “I’m trying to keep my faith, but I’m looking for more.” “This is a God dream. This is everything.”

God dream.


And of course there’s Chance’s verse. Right on time, when the world was so ready to embrace him.



Chance is a showstopper for sure, but he can’t steal it. His appearance works so well because he doesn’t try to, he knows he’s part of something larger, even though it wouldn’t last much longer.

Later that year, Kanye West prematurely ended several shows on his tour and eventually withdrew from public life after praising fascistic Presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

“Ultralight Beam” makes you feel appropriately small, at peace with a certain amount of powerlessness and grateful for the fleeting pleasures we find amidst the horror of everyday life.

Nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today.

Joey’s Top 25 Kanye West Songs on Spotify

Joey’s Top 25 Beatles Songs

The Beatles are one of my four favorite bands, but I hadn’t kept tabs on my favorites of theirs in a while. Albums, well, that’s easy. Right now, it’s Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, With The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album), Beatles For Sale, Please Please Me, then finally Let It Be.

But songs! Gosh. The fact that there were so many great ones inspired my recent substitute to March Madness, The Beatles’ (When I’m) 64 contest, with song selections and seedings sourced from Acclaimed Music, a bracket hosted on Challonge, and polls hosted daily on my Twitter. It was great fun (please click on the bracket above if you weren’t part of this, I’m sure many results will have you feeling some type of way), but it also got me to re-ponder what exactly my allegiances are.

To be clear about those allegiances: John is (musically) my favorite Beatle, to the extent that I even prefer the sound of his voice to Paul’s. You might see that reflected in my picks.

For your convenience, I’ve linked a Spotify playlist of these 25 songs at the very bottom of this post. Hope you have fun.

Most notable absence to me: “Revolution,” an incredible recording with John showing off some clever rhymes, but too politically headass for me to include at the expense of my #25. I also never feel comfortable either cutting up the Abbey Road medley or including the whole damn thing.

25. “A Hard Day’s Night”

What can I really say? Deceptively complicated, so simple yet so musically deep that the world’s finest Beatles academics couldn’t figure out how to even play its first moment until recently.

24. “All My Loving”

I confess, I was swayed a bit by the outcome of my own tournament. “All My Loving” was the tournament’s 62nd seed out of 64, a true underdog, yet it dispatched of juggernaut “Hey Jude” and far-better-known “Can’t Buy Me Love” to make the Sweet Sixteen. “All My Loving” finds the perfect balance of sweetness that so frequently eluded the band on Please Please Me.

23. “Paperback Writer”

Yeah, it’s just a bit of a joke, a lesser known counterpart to “Day Tripper,” but gosh, the ferocity of that guitar. No one and I mean no one else rocked that hard in 1966, and “Paperback Writer” is one of the band’s best displays that their talents for recording and arrangement could lift a relatively ordinary song entirely skyward.

22. “It Won’t Be Long”

Is it even better than “All My Loving”? YEAH! (YEAH!) YEAH! (YEAH!) YEAH! (YEAH!!!)

21. “I’m Looking Through You”

It remains so stunning how the straightforward songs of Rubber Soul are served up with entirely perfect presentation, but it’s never exemplified better than that little breakdown after each verse in “I’m Looking Through You” right after Paul gets into a lovely shout.

20. “Yesterday”

Yes, this might be where The Beatles started becoming a little too aware that they were the greatest band in the world, which started to have effects both positive and negative on what exactly they imagined such a band should sound like. “We should make slow, mournful ballads” is one of the worse answers they ever came up with, but “Yesterday” is still completely immortal.

19. “Let It Be”

“Hey Jude” is absent from this list. So often in need of an editor, Paul gets a little carried away, though the song gets great once everyone gets carried away with him. Here, though, it’s a paint-by-numbers sequence, grounding Paul’s grand display for his long-dead mother (we’ll get to John’s such display later). It can often seem as if Paul is constantly trying to will big, important songs into existence, but here the obviousness of the work he’s put in shines through the record. Listen to that guitar solo. Man.

18. “Can’t Buy Me Love”

Rather ordinary, but that’s the virtue. Next to other top-of-the-class 1964 Beatles entries like, say, “You Can’t Do That,” it has fewer peculiarities, just a ruthlessly efficient display of the ebullience the band was capable of at Beatlemania’s height.

17. “Got To Get You Into My Life”

The horns are unbelievable. And this is a good demonstration that Paul should have shouted far more often.

16. “Getting Better”

Let’s get it out of the way: John’s bit in the bridge about “[his] woman” is startling, and even more startling is that the song isn’t about a character, it’s confessional. It’s distracting and alarming every single playthrough. I considered leaving “Getting Better” off this list for that reason. But, no, it’s too great, the brightly chirping guitar in the intro standing tall as one of the band’s all-time most wowing moments. If it had less baggage, it’d likely be top ten.

15. “Don’t Let Me Down”

John screaming. Yes, good.

14. “Help!”

“I need you” is and was a well-trodden sentiment in popular music, but The Beatles tearing the romance out of it and outright making a song about depression was, while certainly not a first, adventurous. The dissonance of the fun of so many late-early Beatles songs with the song’s pleading makes it wondrously unique.

13. “I’ve Just Seen A Face”

Pop music is about taking the simplest, most relatable feeling in the world and expanding just a bit. And there’s no better expansion herein than the acoustic guitar, which makes you regret that they hadn’t tried the instrument a bit earlier than 1965.

12. “Eleanor Rigby”

Yes, Paul’s writing here is indulgent, but he doesn’t too brazenly indulge his indulgence, at least not on this song. He gets in, fucks around, and gets out in just over two minutes. He keeps only his most striking images.

11. “A Day In The Life”

Not perfect. Paul’s part is stapled on. I’m never fond of claims that this is the best Beatles song, a conflation of “greatest” with “grandest.” But the melodies (especially John’s wordless bit after Paul goes into a dream) are sublime and carry the enormous weight of the composition. Also: immortal words about roadwork!

10. “Something”

Even as his songwriting released his absolute apex, George would still sometimes have to end his refrains with “you know I believe, and how!” Anyway, listen to that bridge. Are you kidding me? My goodness.

9. “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

A song built around the most innocent of all romantic gestures? By these rascals? Gotta be code for something.

8. “In My Life”

George Martin’s (beautiful!) piano solo always felt a hair out of place to me, but otherwise this is perfection, the best of their slightly-too-sweet songs.

7. “Julia”

Too often The Beatles’ quiet songs (“Yesterday,” “In My Life”) can ring a little hollow because it sounds like they’ve just set out to make something profound. “Julia” is the big exception, a song perfectly comfortable to remain understated and, if need be, forgotten. John only sings it to reach one person, after all.

6. “And Your Bird Can Sing”

Tricky, opaque lyrics. Dual guitars tying themselves in knots. Vocal harmonies. An oddity John himself didn’t much care for, but moreso than most any other Beatles song, its legacy is left up to its (confused) audience. There’s so much to make of this nothing.

5. “No Reply”

A petulant anthem for paranoid boyfriends everywhere, yes, sure, but the force of impact of this delivery! The guitars! John! I SAW THE LIGHT. I NEARLY DIED!!! The band’s most cleanly landed punch.

4. “Ticket To Ride”

Ringo’s greatest moment, “Ticket To Ride”‘s drums frequently bring up mentions of (very very very early) heavy metal. But unlike “Helter Skelter,” there’s more to it than that. “Ticket To Ride” is an empathetic (though frustrated) window into the motives of a young woman, getting across so much in so few words.

3. “Tomorrow Never Knows”

Genuinely bold, inventive, and experimental in the way that many Beatles fans claim to appreciate. But the formlessness of it all is still a bit much even to this day. Lines like “listen to the color of your mind” were lifted from Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience in an earnest attempt to sonically recreate the effects of LSD. Whether or not that particular goal was a success, “Tomorrow Never Knows” has such a genuine sense of wonder, tethered just enough to some semblance of form to guide us as we wander through it again and again.

2. “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Not just any Beatles drug song. The Beatles drug song, a powerful combination of nostalgia for childhood locations with freeform trains of thought, just together enough to feel coherent as the waves pass over you. Living is easy with eyes closed. No one I think is in my tree.

1. “She Loves You”

Some are unwilling to even entertain the idea that this is the greatest Beatles song. One wonders what they make of “Dancing On My Own” on best of the 2010s lists or “I Want You Back” and “Be My Baby” on best of the sixties lists. Nothing in popular music really tops the more simple songs, and “She Loves You” is a quick and dirty display of The Beatles doing the two things they actually did best: writing efficiently and executing immaculately. For the former, for once their narrator isn’t involved in the romance but is on the outside looking in, brilliantly transforming the song into one not just of reassurance but of camaraderie. Meanwhile, there are simply too many musical high points to make time for each. But the way the Beatles of 1963 always put their guitars just a hair too high in the mix, Ringo’s aggression (feeling himself enough for a little intro), and John/Paul/George shouting their throats out, the whole thing builds to a roar at YEAH, YEAH, YEAH. Nothing like it.

If you need a damn “November Rain” to show someone why The Beatles were great, that’s missing the point. It’s rockism for songs that rock less.

Joey’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade: Full List & Breakdowns

INTRODUCTION | 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1 | FULL LIST

I knew there’d be demand, so here’s the full list all in one place. Then after that, I do some navel gazing.

Full List

Honorable Mention. Burial: Tunes 2011-2019
100. SZA: Ctrl
99. Noname: Room 25
98. Snail Mail: Lush
97. Emperor X: Oversleepers International
96. DJ Rashad: Double Cup
95. Frank Ocean: blond
94. Jlin: Black Origami
93. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
92. Jamie xx: In Colour
91. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
90. Control Top: Covert Contracts
89. Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost
88. Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t
87. oso oso: basking in the glow
86. Charly Bliss: Guppy
85. Paramore: Paramore
84. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
83. Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked At Me
82. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake
81. Sky Ferreira: Ghost
80. My Bloody Valentine: m b v
79. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
77. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator
76. Wussy: Attica!
75. Kanye West: Yeezus
74. Drake: Take Care
73. Mitski: Puberty 2
72. Fucked Up: David Comes To Life
71. Old 97’s: Most Messed Up
70. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me
69. Jay-Z: 4:44
68. Heems: Eat, Pray, Thug
67. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest
66. The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
65. The Regrettes: How Do You Love?
64. Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains
63. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
62. Death Grips: The Money Store
61. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
60. Sleigh Bells: Treats
59. The Weeknd: House of Balloons
58. D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah
57. Solange: True
56. No Age: Everything In Between
55. Charly Bliss: Young Enough
54. Lana Del Rey: Born To Die
53. Lorde: Pure Heroine
52. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN.
51. Downtown Boys: Full Communism
50. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
49. Mitski: Be The Cowboy
48. Rihanna: ANTI
47. Vampire Weekend: Contra
46. Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park
45. Carly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION
44. Taylor Swift: Speak Now
43. Taylor Swift: Red
42. billy woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places
41. Lorde: Melodrama
39. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time
38. Jamila Woods: HEAVN
37. Miranda Lambert: Platinum
36. Jamila Woods: LEGACY! LEGACY!
35. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Suites IV And V)
34. Maren Morris: Hero
33. The National: High Violet
32. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream
31. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
30. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2
29. Wussy: Strawberry
28. Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid (Suites II And III)
27. Vince Staples: Summertime ‘06
26. Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book
25. Grimes: Art Angels
24. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
23. Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
22. Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap
21. Pistol Annies: Hell on Heels
20. Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake!
19. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
18. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste
17. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
16. Tegan & Sara: Heartthrob
15. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell!
14. Beyoncé: BEYONCÉ
13. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
12. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
11. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City
10. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer
9. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel…
8. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
7. Beyoncé: Lemonade
6. Robyn: Body Talk
5. Alex Lahey: I Love You Like A Brother
4. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city
3. tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l
2. Frank Ocean: nostalgia,ULTRA.
1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

Top 100 Entries By Release Year

I was actually pretty pleased with this. At least by sheer quantity, I’ve avoided legacy bias pretty well. The first half of the decade has 53 albums to the second half’s 47. That said, the first three years of the decade each have two albums in my top ten. I’d love to run a linear regression plotting placement against release date sometime to see how it looks.

There’s a weird dip in the middle of the decade. Don’t know what to make of it.

2010: 11
2011: 9
2012: 12
2013: 14
2014: 7
2015: 8
2016: 10
2017: 11
2018: 9
2019: 9

Top 100 Entries By Gender

I’d love to do a tally based on other demographics (race, sexuality), but those are a bit harder to pin down than this.

Men: 47
Women: 51
Division: 2

Top 100 Entries By Genre

If I wanted to break this down further, this would have become impossible to sort. There were some tough calls. But this is about what I came away with.

Indie & Rock: 43
Pop & R&B: 27
Hip Hop: 18
Country: 7
Electronic: 5

Artists With Multiple Top 100 Entries

If there’s a big flaw to my list, it’s that repeat artists dominate it. If you include Pistol Annies and Miranda Lambert as repeats, then only 63 albums on this list are by artists with lone entries.

Kendrick Lamar: 3
Frank Ocean: 3
Janelle Monáe: 3
Beyoncé: 2
Kanye West: 2
Lana Del Rey: 2
Miranda Lambert: 2*
Chance The Rapper: 2
Jens Lekman: 2
Wussy: 2
Jamila Woods: 2
Sky Ferreira: 2
Lorde: 2
Taylor Swift: 2
Kacey Musgraves: 2
Mitski: 2
Charly Bliss: 2

INTRODUCTION | 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1 | FULL LIST