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

Metalist

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.

Everything.

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

I LAUGH IN MY HEAD CUZ I BET THAT MY EX LOOKING BACK LIKE A PILLAR OF SALT,

UNHHHHHHHHH!!!!

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
78. SOPHIE: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
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
40. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
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

Joey’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade: 10-1

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

10. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (2018)

Marking the occasion of her third album by finally coming out as pansexual, Janelle Monáe touches on her sexuality more explicitly than ever by…well, by once again dressing everything up in an elaborate analogy involving misbehaving technology. Which is fine! While I’ve always wondered whether Janelle’s music strictly needs these conceits, I’ve come to accept that she’s a total nerd, so it’s all for the better that she leans into it for an album about being unapologetically herself.

Where her previous two albums pushed seventy minutes, Dirty Computer doesn’t even hit fifty, and it’s refreshing to hear her being choosy about what makes the cut. She’s very focused on sex and anatomy: there are the gushing guitars on vagina anthem “Pynk,” the hysterically fun “Screwed,” and the note-perfect Prince tribute “Make Me Feel.” But she also again shows off her underrated rapping in the fearless “Django Jane,” she opens up about her queerness in “I Like That,” and she attempts to reclaim what it means to be American in the name of the country’s dirty computers.

Dirty Computer is Janelle Monáe’s leanest, most confident offering of her young career. It’s the sound of freedom and self-realization, both the payoff of her career up to this point and the beginning of a new chapter for her.

Listen: “Screwed” (ft. Zoë Kravitz)

9. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)

“My ills are reticulate/My woes are granular/The ants weigh more than the elephants.” The Idler Wheel is littered with bizarre spurts of verbosity like this, and Fiona refuses to filter or dumb down the thoughts racing through her head. Sometimes they’re about men, but they’re always about her anxieties. Wrestling with her mind on opener “Every Single Night” (“Every single night’s a fight with my brain”), she settles into and hums, “I just want to feel everything.” Fiona Apple is exceptionally gifted at bringing you into her brainspace.

Released seven years after 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, itself the product of a six year drought between albums, The Idler Wheel also finds Fiona at her most musically imaginative. “Left Alone” is manic, “Jonathan” waddles along, “Periphery” marches, and “Hot Knife” is a sizzling slow-burner of a closer, the most inventive track of her career. She’s also dangerously playful, having searched far and wide for the right soundbite of children screaming to throw on the second verse of standout “Werewolf.” And “Anything We Want” is the most content, assured thing she’s ever written. There’s still nothing quite like Fiona Apple suddenly shouting, “SEEK. ME. OUT. LOOK AT. LOOK AT. LOOK AT. ME. I’m all the fishes in the sea.”

But the gap between The Idler Wheel and now is even greater than the gap between Extraordinary Machine and The Idler Wheel. Luckily, if The Idler Wheel is any indication, Fiona Apple gets better and better, setting a new high mark each time she decides to give us a new collection of music.

Listen: “Left Alone”

8. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

After autotune’s definitive artistic statement, 2008’s 808’s & Heartbreak, was released to mixed reception, Kanye West’s image would undergo further turbulence as he turned into the sort of figure they make South Park episodes about. His interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs remains among the most significant moments in both of their careers, and at the time it seemed like it could end up defining him (although now we know there are more embarrassing things to be defined by). As 2010 went on, it felt like it had been a while since Kanye West had done a rap album.

Honestly, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the beginning of something deeply irritating. Moreso than before, Kanye West releases bred inescapable discourse as if he had harvested the Taylor Swift incident’s firestorm but for his own ends, and people would pay him this sort of attention for the next six years.

But here it’s deserved. “POWER” is the ultimate testament to his cultural force, complete with an embarrassing amount of time spent being angry at Saturday Night Live. “Monster” has a dreadful HOV verse and an all-time great verse from Nicki Minaj. “Runaway” is a nine minute mess of a masterpiece. “Lost In The World” sets Bon Iver’s “Woods” aflame and launches it into Gil Scott-Heron’s awesome “Comment #1.” A million guests all on one song. Chris Rock discussing pussy reupholstering over Aphex Twin. Too. Many. Urkels. My god. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is deliriously ambitious, so much so that it loses sense of itself at least a dozen times.

Listen: “POWER”

7. Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016)

Lemonade’s hype cycle began with her perched on top of a police car submerged by floodwater. Shortly after, her Super Bowl backup dancers’ outfits’ semblance to the Black Panthers sparked a police boycott of her concerts. Beyoncé Knowles wasn’t the first to make music critical of the police, or even the first to do so in this particular era of police killings. She was just the most visible. But though it’s a constant undercurrent and its visual accompaniment brings it up frequently, Lemonade never explicitly confronts police violence. Instead, it tries to find some answers to these problems through a tale of personal strength.

After video emerged in 2014 of Knowles’ sister Solange attacking Jay-Z in an elevator, rumors of his infidelity swirled. Regardless of whether that theory is true, it sets the stage and informed the way we listened to Lemonade. The despair of “Pray You Catch Me” and the fire of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” may have done wonders for the album’s social media presence as we all experienced Lemonade in real time, but they’re also enduring songs about the different stages of feeling betrayed. “Sorry,” the album’s greatest song, is a masterpiece, beginning as a great fuck-off anthem (“boy, bye” just the latest in Beyoncé’s ouvre of enduring catchphrases) and finishing as a gentler but more intense stream of consciousness. And forget Pusha T, “Becky with the good hair” is the best barb of this decade in music.

Lemonade is fierce, occasionally sounding like a rock album. Jack White joins Beyoncé and Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” drum sample for “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” She sings her first country song with “Daddy Lessons,” and we should pray it’s not her last. BEYONCÉ was a more subdued beast. There’s an energy coursing through Lemonade, and its runtime (shorter by twenty whole minutes) keeps her laser-focused.

Its final three songs complete her vision. On penultimate track “All Night,” she finds acceptance and the strength in herself to continue her relationship, “Spottieottiedopaliscious” horns sending that arc out on a high note. On “Freedom” and “Formation,” she gives space to what seems like the real point: making music to empower black women. And these anthems are made more powerful by emerging through the pain of the album’s first act. She was served lemons and, well, you get it.

Listen: “Don’t Hurt Yourself” (ft. Jack White)

6. Robyn: Body Talk (2010)

After drastically stepping it up on her 2005 self-titled album and the singles that followed (“With Every Heartbeat” even going #1 in the UK), Robyn’s 2010 began with two eight song EPs. By November, she completed the Body Talk trilogy by releasing five more tracks but rolled them and choice songs from earlier in the year into a full length product. Body Talk is exactly what you might imagine when you think the words “pop music,” its sound fuller than her previous album (props to Klas Åhlund) and its lyrics with broader aim. “I’m in the corner/Watching you kiss her,” “Just don’t fall recklessly, headlessly in love with me,” “Call your girlfriend/It’s time you had the talk,” Robyn’s biggest songs here have become anthems to loneliness, infatuation, and breaking up.

Every single song is a certified bop, too. Max Martin and Shellback put their shine on “Time Machine,” Diplo puts his unique fingerprints on “Dancing On My Own” flipside “Dancehall Queen,” Röyksopp preside over the album’s most subdued track “None of Dem,” and Snoop Dogg hops on “U Should Know Better” to flex with Robyn “Konichiwa Bitches” style.

But the craziest thing about Body Talk is that Robyn leaves off Body Talk Pt. 1 standout “Cry When You Get Older.” The decade’s best pure pop album could have been even better.

Listen: “Call Your Girlfriend”

5. Alex Lahey: I Love You Like A Brother (2017)

Whoa! This album is awfully high up, isn’t it? But make no mistake, I Love You Like A Brother so deserves to be here. Right from the get-go, the skip and hop of the guitar on “Every Day’s The Weekend” lets you know how fun Alex Lahey’s music is. Then the first “WHOA-OH WHOA-OH WHOA-OHH” lets you know that this is the decade’s most fun music, and its best rock album.

After the Australian’s 2016 EP B-Grade University (which includes three phenomenal songs), Lahey brought the same approach to her 2017 debut album but made everything a little bigger. ILYLAB is nasty with wordless shout-alongs, from the joyous whoa-oh’s of “Every Day’s The Weekend” to the manic doot-da-da’s of “I Haven’t Been Taking Care Of Myself.” This all makes for a shockingly millennial product: a good times album about the sunny side of barely keeping your life together.

Her songs feel so relatable because of the small ways in which she fleshes out her own life: her relationship with her brother enduring her parents’ divorce, her begrudging admiration for Perth, her brief callout of Australia’s lateness to marriage equality, and generally her anxieties spilling out everywhere. I enjoy listening to I Love You Like A Brother more than any other album of the past ten years because of how much space and reverence she gives these anxieties, deploying them with a foolproof formula.

Listen: “Every Day’s The Weekend”

4. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

Section.80 was among 2011’s best rap albums and it established Kendrick Lamar as the rapper to watch, but good kid, m.A.A.d city was so much more than anyone dared to expect from him. Few albums this millennium have so obviously been instant classics.

Kendrick’s narrative of a young man finding himself lost in gang violence and peer pressure, hitting rock bottom, and pulling himself out of it is simple but astonishing, with few concept albums throughout history equaling the sustained quality of its storytelling. “The Art of Peer Pressure” is an early turning point, detailing him and the homies breaking into a house and robbing it. “m.A.A.d city” is a monstrous two-part epic, a rapidfire soliloquy to end the second act. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” is a late album showstopper, meditating on the death of one of his companions with three masterful verses from three different perspectives before accepting the need for salvation. “Am I worth it? Did I put enough work in?” just hangs there, the nagging question at the heart of the album.

Less talked about is good kid’s music, a unique atmosphere in which a haunted Beach House sample fits right in. The voice modulation on “m.A.A.d city” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” help you hear Kendrick’s anguished mind. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” is elevated by its relaxed disposition, raising many Aquemini comparisons.

good kid, m.A.A.d city is a stunning accomplishment, and for nearly any other artist, it would be all downhill from here. But this album was too determined and too well-imagined for Kendrick Lamar to have wound up a flash in the pan.

Listen: “m.A.A.d city” (ft. MC Eiht)

3. tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l (2011)

2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs is a wonderful album, and it was already clear that Merrill Garbus had a knack for songwriting. And while its lo-fi recording (edited using Audacity) isn’t exactly a fault, it’s immediately clear on whokill that she fiended for more from her music. BiRd-BrAiNs was mostly just her soft voice and ukulele, only sometimes getting louder and more complex. whokill immediately thrashes you with a lively drum machine, stacked instrument loops, horns, thick bass guitar, and Garbus just belting. Lead single “Bizness” and album opener “My Country” were each such shocking introductions to this transformation, which sounds so natural while being so dramatic.

But its real triumph is the intimacy of its politics. She frequently focuses not just locally, but in her own neighborhood. Amidst “Gangsta”’s horns bleating like police sirens, she contemplates her role in her neighborhood’s gentrification. She further considers her own privilege on “My Country” and “Killa.” The central line to her national anthem is “we cannot all have it.” Police violence occurs near her home in two songs, once on her very own doorstep. The closest her songs have to an answer is her howling, “THERE IS A FREEDOM IN VIOLENCE THAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND, AND LIKE I’VE NEVER FELT BEFORE.” But most revolutionary still is “Powa,” as in sex (as in the quote misattributed to Wilde), where she stretches her singing to its limits.

whokill’s political lyrics and imagination along with its extremely distinct sonic approach make it the best indie music of the past ten years.

Listen: “Bizness”

2. Frank Ocean: nostalgia,ULTRA. (2011)

This is some visionary shit.

In February 2011, the collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All gained newfound levels of prominence when head honcho Tyler, The Creator released his video for “Yonkers.” Based on “Yonkers” alone, one gained the sense that these kids would somehow take over the world. We were both right and wrong. Syd, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tyler, The Creator did become large figures in popular music. But, of course, one member of Odd Future became far and away more prolific than any of them.

Six days after the “Yonkers” video released, lone Odd Future singer Frank Ocean posted nostalgia,ULTRA. to his Tumblr. Though certainly noticed, nostalgia,ULTRA. was quietly received relative to some Odd Future brethren, and eight years later it’s much less discussed than its successors channel ORANGE and blond.

This is mostly because in the streaming age, nostalgia,ULTRA. might as well not exist. Three of its ten songs and several of its skits rely heavily on uncleared samples, most infamously “American Wedding,” which uses “Hotel California” in full for Frank’s tale of rushed and failed young love. He keeps the entire guitar solo section in, and Don Henley threatened to sue when he performed “American Wedding” live while playing “Hotel California” on Guitar Hero.

Along with besting Eagles on their own song, he does Coldplay one better by taking “Strawberry Swing” and blasting it with a heavy dose of nostalgia before its bridge sucks it into armageddon. He seizes MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and reimagines it as Adam and Eve stumbling upon sex for the first time in the Garden of Eden.

Frank established himself as a storyteller, a lyrical powerhouse. On single “Novacane,” he relays a tale of meeting a college student at a music festival, sharing her ice blue bong before the two disappear into each other. Then we leap out of the chorus: “Sink full of dishes/Pacing in the kitchen/Cocaine for breakfast/…yikes!” Frank’s capacity for imagery is endless, and he has a knack for spitting you out in new and interesting places in a narrative.

“Dust” and “There Will Be Tears” show off his sensitive side while “Swim Good” and “Songs 4 Women” put his charisma and sense of humor on display. But the most astonishing song on nostalgia,ULTRA. is “We All Try,” where Frank contemplates existence and humanity. Marriage equality, abortion, and the moon landing all feature on the journey to this affirming refrain: “I still believe in man/A wise one asked me why/’Cause I just don’t believe we’re wicked/I know that we sin/But I do believe we try.” “We All Try” is the most explicit example, but nostalgia,ULTRA. goes so far in part because Frank Ocean is always trying to grapple with something unimaginably huge.

And while that trend continued well into his career, much of what makes nostalgia,ULTRA. so wonderful has become less and less present. He no longer tells stories and his music has gotten more and more formless, and while publications have championed channel ORANGE and blond on their decade lists, nostalgia,ULTRA. is far and away his best album, this millennium’s benchmark for lyricism.

Listen: “Novacane”

1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

If good kid, m.A.A.d city hadn’t already established Kendrick Lamar as the world’s greatest rapper, his scorching verse on “Control” in 2013 firmly established how far ahead of his peers he was. Still, the idea of following up his masterpiece seemed unthinkable.

Fast forward a year and the police assassinations and subsequent protests in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray (among others) became among the most common topics for rappers, most notably from Run The Jewels and J. Cole. Even D’Angelo sped up his long-delayed Black Messiah in response. But especially after performing an untitled track (“We don’t die/We multiply”) as the final musical act on The Colbert Report, Kendrick’s forthcoming album was slowly taking on insurmountable expectations.

The first voice you hear on To Pimp A Butterfly is Boris Gardener’s on a sample of the 1974 track “Every N—-r Is A Star.” The next is funk titan George Clinton’s. To Pimp A Butterfly is a musical tribute to so many black musicians that came before. Along with reggae and funk, “King Kunta” is an homage to the blaxploitation music of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. Nineties hip hop legends Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur appear. The lead single is built around an Isley Brothers sample. Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, and Terrace Martin make jazz one of the album’s go-to backdrops. To Pimp A Butterfly is an immense step up musically for Lamar.

To Pimp A Butterfly’s throughline is reminiscent of good kid m.A.A.d city’s. Kendrick’s character falls into a deep depression and almost destroys himself, but is saved through the power of self-love and self-respect. And while no song on good kid, m.A.A.d city really floundered, the connective tissue was flimsier and “Real” wasn’t the most convincing resolution. But here, “u” drowns in its sorrows, almost suicidal. “The Blacker The Berry” ruthlessly clarifies Kendrick’s self-hatred. The faster, far livelier version of “i” sounds more convincingly like a revelation, and a celebration of finally turning the corner for the better.

But To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t just about one man saving himself. The album wasn’t wholly a response to the recent string of high profile police assassinations, but it still paints a compelling picture of the way that the United States has screwed over black Americans: “No condom, they fuck with you/Obama say, ‘what it do?’” It was so vital to point out that so much suffering was still taking place under even a relatively progressive administration.

To Pimp A Butterfly is a massive contemplation of these facts and a debate between facing them with hope or hopelessness. “We gon’ be alright” might be getting harder and harder to believe, but he doesn’t open with “Alright.” It’s the album’s centerpiece, a conclusion he arrives at after a good deal of accounting for musical and African-American history.

It is a dizzying achievement. It is the greatest American album of all time.

Listen: “Alright”

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

Joey’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade: 25-11

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

25. Grimes: Art Angels (2015)

You’ll get the most out of Art Angels if you think of it as a rock album. Though Grimes grabbed everyone’s attention in 2012 with her slightly off-kilter art pop, these loud, abrasive dance songs are driven by an undercurrent of guitar. And nothing captures what’s wonderful and horrible and *holds up spork* about Grimes better than a song about Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt II, “except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.” Grimes might just be the most interesting musical figure of the decade. This is where it all came together.

Listen: “Flesh Without Blood”

24. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (2017)

This is simply Jens Lekman’s greatest storytelling by a fair margin. And it’s not just the telling but the stories themselves: the 3D printing of a tumor, trespassing to hotwire a ferris wheel, a conversation with a cold-footed bride, of course the Mormon missionary walking through Vasa Lane, and…the history of the universe? And thanks to Jens’ unique arsenal of sounds this time, each is independently presented so tenderly but cuts deep. If there’s a unifying theme to be found, it’s finding our place for a short life in a vast universe. Profound, hilarious, heartbreaking.

Listen: “Wedding in Finistère”

23. Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE (2012)

Written about the summer when he first fell in love with a man, channel ORANGE brought more ambition to the table and saw him getting rawer than before. Frank Ocean moved away from the tightly-woven episodes of nostalgia,ULTRA. but put his back into more colorful compositions and more memorable performances. “I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions,” Frank wrote on Tumblr. The style in his coming out note was just what he brought to his music: contemplating the biggest questions while fucked up by the bigness of it all.

Listen: “Bad Religion”

22. Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap (2013)

Acid Rap once and for all shattered the stigma of the mixtape being a lesser product. Instantly you heard the glow and gush of the live instrumentation and you knew it’d be a fool’s errand to wait on his “official” debut. Paired with the playfulness of his backing tracks, his youthful exuberance manifests as a spinning Tasmanian Devil of sly references and guttural yelps. His hyperactive train of thought speeds through his and our senses of nostalgia and interrogates it. Acid Rap was his moment, and he knew it. You can still hear how tickled he was.

Listen: “Cocoa Butter Kisses” (ft. Vic Mensa & Twista)

21. Pistol Annies: Hell on Heels (2011)

Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe have both spent the decade making incredible music and Miranda Lambert towers over all other country artists, but none of them have put out anything as wonderful as when they came together in 2011. The jams (“Takin’ Pills,” “Boys from the South”) and ditties (“Lemon Drop,” “The Hunter’s Wife”) are all fantastic, but the music truly shows its power in its quiet, violent, bare bones moments, as on “Housewife’s Prayer” and “Trailer for Rent.” These women broke from making their own grand statements to come together for a simpler, more understated kind of masterpiece.

Listen: “Trailer for Rent”

20. Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake! (2018)

After spending the decade scratching the itches of Pavement and Velvet Underground fans, Parquet Courts’ newest and best approach most closely resembles The Clash. Andrew Savage’s bark really does evoke Joe Strummer, his yowl both world-weary and hopeful. And though the album’s most famous line is “FUCK TOM BRADY,” it’s the dreary “Violence” that lies at its heart. In its “Know Your Rights”-style rant, Savage contextualizes the accusation that riots are violent by listing the small ways in which that escalation has already been made in your daily life.

Completing Parquet Courts’ portrait of 2018 America, Savage also rattles off anthems about collectivism (“Total Football”), climate catastrophe (“When The Water Gets Too High”), and normalization (er, “Normalization”). But complemented by three songs from co-frontman Austin Brown, including the “Range Life”-reminiscent “Mardi Gras Beads” and the mourning children’s choir on “Death Will Bring Change,” Wide Awaaaaake’s great triumph is in its touching resolution “Tenderness,” a hopeful song that wonders if we might come out on the other side of this stronger. Entirely unexpectedly, Parquet Courts has released the best political rock of the Trump era. Right now, they’re the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

Listen: “Total Football”

19. Japandroids: Celebration Rock (2012)

After 2009’s solid but timid Post-Nothing, Celebration Rock is an astonishing upgrade of Japandroids’ heartland rock, showing off their new, humongous sound. Their production makes it sound much more like a live show, the drums booming and the voices scratching. Japandroids shed their inhibitions and sing about adrenaline, sexual red, and hearts from hell colliding. Punctuating the affair at every juncture is an “ALL RIGHT” or “WHOA-OH” or “OH YEAH.” Celebration Rock is the sound of sweat on concrete.

Six of the eight songs here follow a similar blueprint of unrelenting, wild-eyed momentum and bombastic, wide-eyed lyrics, frequently reclaiming former glory or seizing this very moment. The other two songs close out each side: One is a vicious cover of The Gun Club, the other is the relatively quiet finale “Continuous Thunder.” It has a line that goes “and if the cold, pissing rain flooded that fire.” Even dialing it back, Japandroids didn’t have an off switch. It’s such a thrill.

Listen: “The House That Heaven Built”

18. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (2014)

No song this millennium has had the same big bang nothing-into-everything effect of “212,” Azealia Banks’ skillful working of Lazy Jay’s bouncing “Float My Boat” beat. Her employment of a certain c-word lifted it to virality, but the song was nasty with promise alongside its plain old nastiness. Her flow was smooth, her voice was fierce, she could shift gears on a dime, and her singing voice was incredible.

Three years passed, and after great but minor releases (2012 gave us the 1991 EP and Fantasea mixtape), we finally got Broke With Expensive Taste, and it delivers on the promise of “212.” From the opening moments of “Idle Delilah,” it’s apparent that Banks has a unique ear for beats, and her rapping sounds so effortless, her boasts rolling naturally off her tongue, her writing stuffed with assonance. When she sings her own hooks, as she best does on standout “Chasing Time,” her power and versatility as a performer is terrifying. Broke With Expensive Taste is a perfect showcase for the most talented hip hop artist out there. Just pray she bothers to give us another.

Listen: “Chasing Time”

17. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)

“And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman/My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” In 2007, these lines were part of the unreal New Wave finale “The Ocean,” and in May 2012 Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender to Rolling Stone, instantly becoming the most high profile trans figure in music. Grace’s first album as an out trans woman rose to the task and tackled all this head on, and it was…despondent.

With song titles like “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” and “FUCKMYLIFE666” and lyrics as coldly straightforward as “you don’t worry about tomorrow anymore, because you’re dead,” Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an unflinching dive into the existential despair that can come with transition. Near its end, its bleakest song details a trans woman killing herself in a hotel bathtub, capped by the gut-wrenching line “Standing naked in front of that hotel bathroom mirror/In her dysphoria’s reflection, she still saw her mother’s son.” It’s compelling, captivating rock music, but this might be too brutal a listen for many. But for those who stick it through, its honesty is beautiful, devastating, and revelatory.

Listen: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

16. Tegan & Sara: Heartthrob (2013)

The endpoint of Tegan & Sara’s voyage from indie to indie pop to full-on, no asterisks pop, Heartthrob has nine perfect songs of ten. From the second the synths on makeout jam “Closer” start buzzing, they’re fully realized in this mode. It’s sacrilege I’m sure, but they’re even better with synths than they are with guitars, and Greg Kurstin’s tight production helps keep their heavy songs fun.

As always, they specialize in breakup songs that cut to the bone. Sometimes they reminisce (“Drove Me Wild”), sometimes they agonize (“How Come You Don’t Want Me Now”), sometimes they join the two (“Now I’m All Messed Up,” a stadium-ready track up there with their best songs), but the best moment is their upsetting dose of reality: “WHAT. YOU. ARE. IS LONELY.”

Somehow tying it all together is their song about “Tegan & Sara”: “I’m Not Your Hero,” their reckoning with just how many other young lesbians they inspire. It’s perhaps the biggest reminder that even with this radically different approach, Tegan & Sara’s music still has the same heart. And while they never get as intimate as they did on The Con, I think their ears for melody are best here.

Listen: “Now I’m All Messed Up”

15. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)

Is Lana Del Rey authentic? So went the discourse around her 2011 single “Video Games,” and her proper debut Born To Die landed with a thud. It was unfair, sexist bullshit. But right away she let us know what she wanted: “Tell me I’m your national anthem.”

On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey is really going for it, trying her hand at writing the next best American record. She’s always been suited for the role: her knack for plumbing nostalgia and Americana would make for a great chapter in Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train. She brings her style (shameless triplets like “Lying on your chest/In my party dress/Baby I’m a mess”) and gives them her best melodies and lush arrangements. Daring to write a drugged out, ten minute song or a song as triumphant as “The greatest” (her greatest) is the difference this time.

She’s our national anthem.

Listen: “Norman fucking Rockwell”

14. Beyoncé: BEYONCÉ (2013)

It’s a little jarring to remember a time when Beyoncé wasn’t one of the decade’s most auteuristic music makers. Then twin wonders “Countdown” and “Love On Top” ramped up her hype leading up to her Super Bowl XLVII halftime performance, the moment when she became even more than a superstar. The following December, Beyoncé somehow surprise released an album in an era of constant leaks, and it marked the official start of this new era of her career.

Her self-titled album is by far her most cohesive long-release, a dark, electronic sound permeating every song. “***Flawless” is a microcosm, its “bow down, bitches” emphasizing her new place as queen of the world, the passage by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie affirming the central place feminism now had in her career (enough for bell hooks to call her a terrorist), and “I woke up like this” as ready for the meme big time as her videos for every track (!) were for Tumblr gifs. The album is both a victory lap and the start of a new chapter for one of the most massive recording artists of the millennium.

Listen: “XO”

13. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (2010)

On just their second album, Titus Andronicus went all out. The Monitor is an insane, sprawling rock concept album built around Civil War imagery. Its ten tracks more often than not exceed seven minutes, although this is partly because of interludes in which indie figures like Cassie Ramone and Craig Finn recite writings of figures like Jefferson Davis and Walt Whitman.

Somewhere between The Pogues, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, and The Replacements, Titus Andronicus’ music joyously ventures into the saddest, most pathetic feelings you’ll have: “I will not deny my humanity/I will be rolling in it like a pig in feces.” Patrick Stickles’ lyrics are phenomenal, most impressive on 14-minute epic “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” where the lines seem to endlessly flow from him. Titus Andronicus excels at songs to listen to while crying on the bathroom floor and at leaving you smiling by the end. The Monitor is among the finest monuments to human misery ever concocted.

Listen: “A More Perfect Union”

12. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

Two men loom large over A Tribe Called Quest’s first album in 18 years. The first is the late Phife Dawg, who had passed eight months before release but who still has verses on most songs here. The second is Donald Trump. In fact, We Got It From Here dropped just three days after his surprise 2016 election. And while it sounds like Tribe thought we’d have another President Clinton, the fact of President Trump makes the album so prescient and necessary. Hearing “Muslims and gays/Boy, we hate your ways” that November was just gutting.

If the situation weren’t so serious, We Got It From Here would be a bit of a party: guests include Busta Rhymes, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Jack White, and many more. This all gives the album a unique feel that wonderfully fit both the political tracks (“The Space Program” calls out the notion that society’s advance will necessarily bring any equality) and the memorials (“Black Spasmodic” is a deeply touching tribute). It’s so unexpected and beautiful that Tribe can come back after so many years and create a contender for their best work.

Listen: “We The People….”

11. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City (2013)

Moving beyond the electronic sound of Contra and shedding the African influence that brought their music fame, Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s best album, full of their most intricate compositions. Quite a few songs here are explicitly about God and religion, and even when he’s on another topic, Ezra Koenig speaks in huge terms: “There’s no future. There’s no answer,” ”I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.”

The band’s writing is at its peak, most thrillingly in the knotty, reference-loaded “Step.” And while Koenig is still a smartass, it’s a lot cuter when he doesn’t come off as so knowing, helped here by constantly wondering aloud about the meaning of life. “Ya Hey” is likely the best song any of them will ever write, a choir-adorned track that shouts into the void, begging to know God and coming the closest when hearing “you spinning ‘Israelites’ into ‘19th Nervous Breakdown.’” Modern Vampires of the City is the 21st century’s greatest album centered on religion this side of The Hold Steady.

Listen: “Step”

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

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)

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