Joey’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade: 50-26

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

50. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (2018)

Pageant Material was just a worthy retread, so when Musgraves’ new single came drenched in disco, it was a revelation. She’d finally stepped beyond being the queen of smartass rhymes and lovely melodies. The hoedown of “High Horse” and the echo and boom of “Space Cowboy” are one thing, but the real wonder is the arrangements, her growth in songwriting showing up in force on “Oh, What A World” and “Love Is A Wild Thing.” Her relentless positivity and ear for melody have put Musgraves on track to broaden what country can be and, vitally, who can listen.

Listen: “High Horse”

49. Mitski: Be The Cowboy (2018)

After two fantastic, deeply intimate bedroom guitar albums, it was a bit of a jolt for Mitski to come out with Be The Cowboy, a pop-curious album that’s big and small and big and small again. It sometimes even comes off like a St. Vincent album, but the soul of her music remains the same, with deep-cutting lines like “nobody fucks me like me” coming left and right. Still, this is her most serene body of work, with anxious dance tracks, including best in show “Nobody,” feeling somewhat at peace.

Listen: “Nobody”

48. Rihanna: ANTI (2016)

After putting out a new album every year, Rihanna finally took her first break in 2013, taking a two years before releasing by far her greatest achievement, ANTI. On her first album that isn’t defined by its singles (“Work” wishes), every single track is an absolute vibe, from the whirr and chirp of “Needed Me” to the resounding triumph of “Love On The Brain.” Even the Tame Impala cover, easily the longest song here, is apiece with the album’s relaxed demeanor. With ANTI, Rihanna finally has a document worthy of her superstardom.

Listen: “Needed Me”

47. Vampire Weekend: Contra (2010)

A radical departure from the warm African-inspired guitar of their debut, Contra’s use of electronic music, auto-tune, and even an M.I.A. sample require you to reimagine Vampire Weekend as a project. But once you do, you’ll realize that Contra is a significant level-up in songwriting for the band, with topics ranging from Japanese samurai to a gay romance that might sneakily be about Joe Strummer. Contra was a change-up and is still their odd duck, but it remains Vampire Weekend’s most consistent album. Contra was not the album we wanted, but Vampire Weekend knew what we needed.

Listen: “White Sky”

46. Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (2013)

Almost no one knew Kacey Musgraves when she bowled us over with “Merry Go ‘Round,” a bleak, vivid, and unflattering portrait of small town America. An album of that would have been fantastic, but it never came. From moment one, Same Trailer Different Park is almost comically sunny, sometimes verging on precious. But Musgraves’ ability to turn a phrase is considerable and her ability to evoke a feeling is infectious. These stupid simple songs are each somewhere near perfect, and submitting “Follow Your Arrow” to country radio was a pretty radical act back in 2013. Still would be today.

Listen: “Follow Your Arrow”

45. Carly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION (2015)

To follow up smash hit “Call Me Maybe” and her overlooked Kiss, Carly Rae Jepsen unleashed a humongous love letter to the sensibilities of ‘80s radio hits. E•MO•TION’s warmth and swells and release are overwhelming pop majesty, the album stacked with simple songs about the rush of romance. Every refrain is a home run and even the three ballads are marvelous. The way the saxophone introduces signature song “Run Away With Me” and the way the bass bounces along on “Boy Problem,” E•MO•TION sounds like somebody’s perfected a formula. God help us all.

Listen: “Run Away With Me”

44. Taylor Swift: Speak Now (2010)

More than just a worthy sequel to breakout Fearless, Speak Now finds Taylor Swift building a friendship with the electric guitar. The exceptions, the airtight “Mean” and the lullaby “Never Grow Up,” are stunners in their own rights, but this album is defined by those guitars: the nimble, soaring heights of “Mine,” that confident descent on “Sparks Fly,” the frantic tumble of “The Story of Us.” Speak Now remains Swift’s most consistent collection of music, the ultimate realization of her first iteration as an artist, and by far the best of her infamous barb-throwing.

Listen: “The Story of Us”

43. Taylor Swift: Red (2012)

The easy narrative around Red is that it’s when Taylor Swift dipped her toe into pop aesthetics. While quite a few songs fit that narrative, Red isn’t her best because it hits a sweet spot in the evolution of her sound but because here her songwriting ambitions hit maximum, beginning the album with echoing drums and centering it around a six minute magnum opus. Songs like “All Too Well” and “Holy Ground” are demonstrations of everything Swift does well. Her muscles for imagery and storytelling were never as strong before or since. Even two dud duets can’t weigh Red down.

Listen: “Holy Ground”

42. billy woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places (2019)

Rather than dealing in impressive flow or deft metaphors, billy woods’ rapping is straightforward, delivering each tightly written line with maximum possible impact. On Hiding Places, he uses this talent to stare unflinchingly into the abyss of American poverty, countering Public Enemy to show there are scarier letters you can receive than a draft notice. Kenny Segal’s bleak but fascinating production perfectly backdrops woods’ pictures of lives that can collapse financially at any second. All society offers is an orchestra at Carnegie Hall to woods’ fellow observer Nas and “anthropologists watchin’ negroes sell dope.”

Listen: “Spider Hole”

41. Lorde: Melodrama (2017)

Her career no longer buoyed by the shocking fact of her teenagerdom, Lorde stepped all too comfortably into the lofty expectations for her follow-up. “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar” is a hilarious way to introduce a collection of ultra-intense heartbreak jams. And Lorde shows her strongest form isn’t even classic youth anthems like “Royals” or “Green Light,” but unreal hyperspace trips through lost love: “Supercut” is her best song to date and represents her at her most powerful. Among today’s pop singers, few are as distinct as Lorde. Even fewer are as fearless.

Listen: “Supercut”

40. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019)

Many musical wünderkinds are celebrated for how grown up they come off. Billie Eilish takes that trope and breaks it over her head, immediately reminding you she still wears a retainer before leaping into cutesy, crawly number one jam “bad guy.” That, “you should see me in a crown,” and then one that samples latter day The Office demonstrate why she conquered the moment, but her debut is defined by shockingly accomplished and catching slow songs. Eilish’s music is hyperactive and haunted as fuck, and despite comparisons to Lorde and Lana, there’s no one else even remotely like her.

Listen: “bad guy”

39. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time (2013)

Sky Ferreira performs psychologically fraught yet picture-perfect pop songs, each vaguely clouded in bits of darkness. The manic pop drive of the first four songs is only half of the equation. “Heavy Metal Heart” comes off like those rare sane Sleigh Bells songs, “Love In Stereo” is a lightly digital, drifting tune, and “I Blame Myself” is her most singular moment aside from “Everything Is Embarrassing.” Its origin a throwaway line from Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks film Fire Walk With Me, Night Time, My Time oddly fits the source of its title.

Listen: “I Blame Myself”

38. Jamila Woods: HEAVN (2016)

HEAVN is one of the most understated, underrated achievements of the decade. Her songs play off – and “play” is indeed the appropriate word – Incubus, The Cure, Stereolab, “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind Stayed On Freedom),” the Dawson’s Creek theme, and, on the best song here, famous schoolyard rhyme “Hello Operator.” And the darker, more determined “Blk Girl Soldier” makes the happiness and assuredness elsewhere feel so satisfying. HEAVN is remarkable because it sees Jamila Woods respond to tragedy by finding joy and strength in herself and her blackness and her womanhood. It’s beautiful and powerful as flowing water.

Listen: “VRY BLK” (ft. Noname)

37. Miranda Lambert: Platinum (2014)

Miranda Lambert is the best country artist of the millennium. And while her lightning-in-a-bottle moment Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is her greatest album, Platinum is her fullest showcase, the most comprehensive demonstration of her talent. From wonderful, schlocky lead single “Automatic” to the rip and roar of “Little Red Wagon” all the way to radio-ready new classics “Platinum” and “Priscilla” and onto her greatest epic “Bathroom Sink,” Lambert covers all her creative bases. Completing her transition from an of-the-moment superstar to an ever-dependable veteran, Platinum is Miranda Lambert’s definitive statement of excellence.

Listen: “Bathroom Sink”

36. Jamila Woods: LEGACY! LEGACY! (2019)

Jamila Woods’ sophomore effort is among the most ambitious albums in recent years. Following up a project about the struggle and joy of black womanhood, she dives even further, this time plunging herself into one of her heroes of color every song: Muddy Waters, Eartha Kitt, Sun Ra, and so on. But she doesn’t just idolize them. Woods inhabits and interrogates her subjects, challenging James Baldwin and channeling Nikki Giovanni. LEGACY! LEGACY! is a perfectly imagined showcase of not just her talents but her self. It’s well worth losing yourself in its footnotes.

Listen: “BALDWIN” (ft. Nico Segal)

35. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Suites IV And V) (2013)

On her second album, Janelle Monáe comes out guns blazing. Miguel. Solange. Erykah Badu. PRINCE. She overwhelms the listener with theatrics and starpower, and lead single “Q.U.E.E.N.,” her best song, especially knocks you over with its pulsing energy and its epic rap conclusion. The Electric Lady is unfortunately a bit frontloaded, but it’s still brimming with life throughout, its skits in particular illustrating the fun in Janelle’s vision in a way that The ArchAndroid couldn’t. It’s The Electric Lady’s fun and livelihood that made it clear that stardom was an inevitability for Janelle Monáe.

Listen: “Q.U.E.E.N.” (ft. Erykah Badu)

34. Maren Morris: Hero (2016)

With apologies to Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris put out the breakout country album of the 2010s. Her keen sense for pop results in excellent melodies, and her voice absolutely thrashes its way through her sassy lyrics. Even the slower, sappier songs are expertly executed and don’t wear out their welcome, but her anthems really stand out: The kiss-off song “Rich” and two all-time great car songs, “My Church” and crowning achievement “80s Mercedes.” The way her big voice meets her big choruses (“FEEL LIKE A HARD-TO-GET STARLET WHEN I’M DRIVING/TURNING EVERY HEAD, HELL, I AIN’T EVEN TRYING”) is indelible.

Listen: “80s Mercedes”

33. The National: High Violet (2010)

High Violet is The National’s third and best entry in a trio of classic indie albums. Even the would-be sadsack songs (one’s even called “Sorrow”) near the front are lifted by the Dessners’ arrangements enough so that when you run through them up to the majesty of “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” it feels natural. The production can get in the way (“Terrible Love” is drowning in a warm fuzz), but it does wonders for new parent anthem “Afraid of Everyone” and their most satisfying closer ever, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” High Violet’s triumphs are so hardwon.

Listen: “Bloodbuzz Ohio”

32. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (2012)

Miguel’s silky smooth voice receives its finest demonstration here. He plays the part of a casanova and flips between R&B and rock, his magnetic intensity giving this album a distinct and sexy feel. Most illustrative of his charms is the slightly corny and very cute “Do You…,” in which he makes a “do you like hugs”/”do you like drugs” mixup somehow work. And of course there’s the magnificent “Adorn.” But the greatest expression of his power is “Arch & Point,” a sensual rock song whose sound contrasts the “Adorn”’s soft, trippy approach.

Listen: “Adorn”

31. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)

Barn burning hit single and fan favorite “Pedestrian At Best” is the stunner, yeah, but it’s the odd duck of this album. Courtney Barnett is just so infectiously comfortable elsewhere on Sometimes I Sit And Think, rocking out more convincingly – if not harder – on “Nobody Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party.” Barnett is better when her way in is a little more unconventional and she’s sighing detached, intricate little yarns about truck drivers or elevator operators. “Pedestrian At Best” is her flex of all flexes, but the other ten tracks are her real statement.

Listen: “Dead Fox”

30. Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2 (2014)

A theme of this decade was the destigmatization of righteous, unapologetic rage. When Run The Jewels dropped their second album, it was hard not to think of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Laquan McDonald (killed just a few days earlier). But Killer Mike and El-P kept all that as subtext, instead making an album more broadly targeting American systems of power. Mike’s fantastic emceeing is buoyed by El’s aggressive production. Their craft would improve on their next release, but nothing touches the edge Run The Jewels had on their second album. And the rage felt so important.

Listen: “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” (ft. Zack de la Rocha)

29. Wussy: Strawberry (2011)

Strawberry stands out as Wussy’s most well-imagined album. This was the first time they made their sound bigger, Chuck and Lisa once again trading tales of devastation but this time letting their guitars and voices really soar. Their images are also at their most striking, making the most of a mountain of tires, a grand champion steer, an Indianan pizza chain, and a heart floating in a frozen void. Then the album builds such that the sky breaks in two. Strawberry remains their only album where Wussy doesn’t feel like they’re selling themselves short for even a second.

Listen: “Mountain of Tires”

28. Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid (Suites II And III) (2010)

A 70-minute concept album about a messianic, time-traveling robot sounds more like a groanworthy Rush album than one about black and LGBT liberation, but Janelle Monáe is a confounding sort of artist, so much so that when of Montreal take over for a full song, it only feels natural. Especially for a debut, it’s mesmerizing the way The ArchAndroid’s songs gently tumble into each other as Monáe jukes between styles, and here she still has such an itch for meticulously crafting this world of hers. Though she’s refined her approach in the years since, this stands as her grandest statement.

Listen: “Cold War”

27. Vince Staples: Summertime ‘06 (2015)

The hourlong Summertime ‘06 is such an outlier in Vince Staples’ discography, whichi s mostly full of twentyish-minute releases. Its length, only cumbersome by his own standard, justifies itself, as it really sounds like he’s trying to work through something. Vince’s nihilism is all too apparent here, the bleak backing tracks reflecting his struggle in finding hope between gang violence and police brutality. On some songs he sounds outright desperate to. Since Summertime, Vince sounds more guarded and releases music in shorter spurts. These days, I find myself wishing he was spending more time with us.

Listen: “Norf Norf”

26. Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book (2016)

Chance’s verse on “Ultralight Beam” was the musical moment of 2016 and teed up this: the gospel album (well, mixtape) that we all wished Kanye would make. Walking a razor’s edge between corniness and catharsis (an edge over which he’d later trip), Coloring Book is mostly a collection of gospel rap but also successfully goes so many other places: a ballad, a party anthem, even a straight up Young Thug track. Musically, lyrically, and personally, Coloring Book succeeds so wildly because Chance puts himself out there. In fact, it sounds like he’s been dying to.

Listen: “Angels” (ft. Saba)

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

Published by Joey Daniewicz

Joey Daniewicz is a 30-year-old who graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris with a degree in mathematics. His passions are politics and popular media.

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