INTRODUCTION | 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1 | FULL LIST
I’ve undertaken a few large writing projects before, but this is, by far, the largest.
Next Monday to Friday, I’ll be rolling out my top 100 albums of the 2010s along with writeups for each album. I’ve kept a mental list of the decade’s best music for the entirety of the past ten years, and I’ve been thinking about this list and listening to music with this article in mind basically every day since August 2018. I’ve been writing it over the past half year.
So to begin, here’s an introduction in the form of an FAQ. And I have an honorable mention at the end of this post. Enjoy.
Q: Who are you? Why should I, a hypothetical internet wanderer who does not know you, care about your take on the music of the 2010s?
A: Hi! I’m Joey Daniewicz. I’m a 28-year-old Minnesotan who has been writing about music for just over ten years. I began writing a music column for the University of Minnesota Morris’s student newspaper The University Register in September of 2009. I went on to serve as that newspaper’s Arts & Entertainment Editor and then its Editor-in-Chief. I wrote about music there until November 2012.
I’ve done some writing at The Young Folks and City Pages, and I’ve gotten a few words published at Village Voice, where I voted in their famous Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for nine years (and I’ve now voted in its spiritual successor, the Uproxx Critics Poll, for two years). I was featuring on Robert Christgau’s blog roll for a bit back when he wrote for MSN. That was kinda neat.
I’m not a super decorated or active music writer, but I’ve existed in those circles for a while and have a decent resumé for it.
But that doesn’t really get at the question of why you should care. Well, it’s a hard question!
Not long after I was paying attention to new music and not long after I was writing about new music, the 2010s started. The 2010s have been special to me because it’s the first time I’ve really witnessed a decade of new music.
And while this list won’t be as important as Rolling Stone‘s or Pitchfork‘s lists, I think it’s pretty cool that unlike those, this feature is unified by a single voice and a single perspective. And unlike most lists made by one person, I’ve written about one hundred albums for it. It’s taken a lot of work, but I think this feature is pretty unique, even if, honestly, my selections are mostly pretty typical.
Q: Have you done this sort of thing before?
A: Yeah! Just a few months into my columnist role I wrote about my ten favorite albums of the ’00s. I named The Hold Steady’s Boys And Girls In America the album of the decade. My opinion on the matter has since changed (as you can see in this updated list I drafted a few months ago), although not a lot.
Q: What defined music in the 2010s?
A: There’s a lot to go over, but two things stand out.
The first is the collapse of the indie strangeness that defined 2009. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and Dirty Projectors didn’t make big waves in the 2010s (although you should check out Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors, which almost made this list). Indie in general feels like it matters less than it did in the ’90s and ’00s.
The other trend is the dominance of black solo artists who have inspired auteuristic discussion of their work. They have cultivated media experiences and dominated discourses. Some are Tyler, The Creator, FKA twigs, Jay-Z, Solange, and Janelle Monáe. But four artists stand above all this decade. They are Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé. You will read plenty about those four on my list.
Q: Who is this list for?
A: Firstly, it’s for myself.
After that, I’d love for my friends to read it and maybe use it to discover music. That’d be such an honor.
Finally, the dream is absolutely for someone just getting into popular music to use this as a primer. I tore through these lists eleven or twelve years ago and through them built an understanding of the canon of recorded popular music. Obviously most people will go with an editorial list from a notable publication if they’re looking for that. But I think this does a pretty good job. If you’re reading this and looking for a jumping off point, I believe this list does right by you.
Q: What’s your criteria?
I got this question a few times, and it’s a weird one.
I’m not in love with that question, but I get the demand for it. I think that if you read the list you can figure out what I do and don’t value, but a few things to keep in mind are an album’s consistency, its overall aesthetic, how memorable its songs are, the value of what it sets out to accomplish, and its success at actually accomplishing that.
Q: Is this a list of the best albums, or is this a list of your favorite albums?
A: The distinction has always seemed pretty pedantic to me. The purpose of these lists isn’t to assert some sort of musical infallibility but to contribute to a larger discourse about which music is especially noteworthy. Do I believe that my taste is unimpeachable and that these must be the best 100 albums of the decade? No. Obviously not. But it’s also true that these are more than just my favorites. They’re the albums that I really truly believe to be the best. At this moment in time, anyway. To me, “favorite” and “best” are the same question. And I think that people who treat them as separate questions should believe in their own judgment more.
Q: You left off my favorite album! What gives?
A: 100 albums is not very many albums!
I won’t name the albums that got closest right now, but there were some artists that had marvelous decades that didn’t quite find their way onto this list. Some of the most notable absences are Danny Brown, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Hop Along, Jason Isbell, and St. Vincent.
Q: Lastly, was there anything this decade that’s worthy of the list but doesn’t quite fit in?
A: What a suspiciously specific question. Why, yes there is!
It’s an anthology, so it doesn’t quite fit my rubric (my list only includes albums of new music). But it’s released in the 2010s and made exclusively from music originally released in the 2010s. A few of the releases that make up this anthology just missed my cut, so I was thrilled to see this release and feel compelled to give it special mention.
Honorable Mention. Burial: Tunes 2011-2019 (2019)
Since 2007’s landmark Untrue, Burial hasn’t given us the follow-up we’ve wanted, but his output of singles and EPs has been consistently impressive. But it isn’t until all his solo work for Hyperdub over the past ten years is laid out in this two-and-a-half hour display that one can appreciate the enormity of his decade. A few of these ten-give-or-take-three minute journeys are intense, but many wander, drowning you in ambience. Tunes taken altogether feels like an assertion that he’s still the best electronic artist out there. Maybe we don’t even need another album.
Listen: “Rival Dealer”
Meet me back here on Monday.
INTRODUCTION | 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1 | FULL LIST