By Benjamin Baldwin, Opinion Editor (‘20)
The 2010s have been an amazing time for music. The popular emergence of streaming platforms continued to shift how music is made and consumed. There have been countless amazing and innovative artists to have burgeoned during this decade – too many that cannot be accounted by a newspaper critical ‘best of’ list. Thus, I have decided to not ‘rank’ these albums. They aren’t presented in any particular order, although I try to give a description of the qualities each one has that makes it particularly ‘great.’ As always, this is just my opinion. Please enjoy.
Syro – Aphex Twin (2015)
Aphex Twin, one of electronic auteur Richard D. James’ many pseudonymes, started releasing music around 30 years ago and this project is his first official release since James’ 2007’s ‘Rushup Edge’ under The Tuss (he also releases under AFX, Polygon Window, and other names). This record is, simply put, phenomenal. James’ trademark unpredictable rhythms and structures are still present, but with a much more accessible, funky aesthetic. Syro feels as if it is a natural progression on the sound of ‘Rushup Edge’, although the results are warmer, more laid back songs. It is the sound of rushing through Gibson-like cyberspace. It is both retro-sounding and nostalgic for those already familiar with James’ work while also managing to provide something distinctly modern. It is as melodic as it is moving. Syro is definitely one of James’ best albums and, beyond that, is a triumph for electronic music as a whole.
Visions – Grimes (2012)
Grimes (Claire Boucher) could be considered the artist of the 2010s. She is perfectly of her times – a self-taught producer/musician auteur who makes music on her laptop and incorporates the dark undercurrents of our digitally-controlled lives. Visions, Grimes’ third album, was what brought her to attention and is a dark, ethereal, adrenaline rush (and then drain) of an album. The third track ‘Oblivion’ may very well be a classic – combining eery 50s-esque vocals with an irresistibly repetitive synth bassline that recalls one to classic synthpop. The album, self-produced by Boucher in only 3-weeks with minimal sleep, has left a lasting influence on the music of the 2010s.
Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend (2013)
Vampire Weekend’s third album still stands up as their best with lyrical themes touching on the near-constant uncertainty in growing older, existential struggles, and even confronting ‘God’ himself (whatever that may be). Beautiful and profound, Modern Vampires brilliantly combines Rostam Batmanglij’s musicianship with Ezra Koenig’s diverse literary background. Some of the bands best work appears on this album, including “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey,” and “Hannah Hunt” (this last one is a musical rarity and gift – a stunning and majestic masterpiece with one of the most memorable climaxes of the 21st Century).
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West (2010)
Though Kanye West has always been one for controversy and outrage in the public eye, 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye at his most vulnerable. This album is introspective and explores the dark side of all-encompassing fame, exposing the contradictions in Kanye’s own public persona and ego. The album combines rap music with influences from 70s progressive rock, mainstream electropop, and the avant-garde. With soulful production and a stellar cast of features, Kanye managed to transcend the hip-hop genre with a cultural touchstone of an album.
NFR – Lana Del Rey (2019)
Lana Del Rey’s sixth album is certainly her best, positively one of the best of the year, and most definitely one of the best of the decade. It sounds like an ode to classic 70s soft and psychedelic rock. And, indeed, it appropriates from that time-period heavily. However, Lana’s lyrics subvert the typical expectations of such ‘throwback’ stylizations. She sings honestly, emotionally, and sometimes tearfully. It is about coming to terms with the current state of America and the current state of our lives. This album perfectly captures the current moment, the current feeling of living in America. This is a record for the ages.
Vulnicura – Björk (2015)
Organic. Classical. Intense and ultimately cathartic. These words are the bare components of Björk’s eighth album Vulnicura. Chronicling the process of letting go of a long-term relationship, Björk manages to evoke both concrete images and abstract concepts. On many of the tracks her voice completely surrounds the listener in an organic wall of expression while cold, ambient electronics provide a backdrop for classically-influenced layers of strings. This is some of her best work since the 1990s (complete with a VR music video).