Taking our first steps into the new decade that is our ’20s, we can finally concoct a list of albums from the past ten years that quantify the best-of-the-best. These albums have made a resounding impact on music, society as a whole, and (most importantly) our radio station’s airwaves, of course.
The list below consists of these earth-shattering albums, as voted for by our very own staff members and DJ’s.
15. Kamasi Washington — The Epic
It’s called The Epic for a reason. In 2015, Kamasi Washington released a three-hour long jazz album. Not only was this album a proof-of-concept for the success of modern jazz in the 21st century, it was also a radically experimental release that pushed the boundaries of what an album can be. Showing off his versatility on this debut album, Washington immediately cemented his name among the legends that inspired the album like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The scale of this album is immense, not solely in length, but in production as well; Washington took the helm as band leader of over 60 members. With these numbers, it is only fitting that the album swells into some of the most compelling jazz out there today. By all means, it lives up to its name.
Highlight Tracks: Isabelle, Cherokee, Clair De Lune
14. Death Grips — The Money Store
If any band characterizes the newfound ability of the Internet to not only bring obscure artists to the forefront of culture, but abrasive, subversive artists at that, it’s Death Grips. Their unorthodox and consistently groundbreaking blend of industrial, hip-hop, rock, gabber, and countless other micro-genres is mind-boggling, and their often occultic, sometimes disgusting, always noided lyrical content is truly something to behold.
For these reasons, Death Grips might just might be the most important band of the decade, a true synthesis of all the terrors and morbid wonders of this ascendant Internet age. And nothing characterizes all of the aspects that make this band great more than The Money Store. This is pure, concentrated Death Grips mainlined directly into the auditory canal, causing convulsions, fits of paranoia, and meetings with the mysterious, cult-like figure known only as Ride. The Money Store serves as a perfect introduction to the diseased world of Death Grips, serving as both an exceptional high water mark for the music they had made thus far and as an invitation to explore everything to come.
Highlight Tracks: Hacker, I’ve Seen Footage, Get Got
13. King Krule — 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
Only in his teens, Archy Marshall’s debut album as King Krule was a genre-defining staple in early ’10s indie-rock. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is chock-full of hits that remain iconic even seven years later. His deep, growling vocals sharply contrast with his delicate songwriting ability. Marshall’s tender lyrics and tasteful guitar are provide the perfect counterpoint for his guttural yelps to tug on your heartstrings on tracks like “Out Getting Ribs” and “Baby Blue.” Vulnerable by nature but calloused in appearance, the album goes places few teenage songwriters have gone, and he does it gracefully. His distinct Londoner tendencies in his lyricism and accent landed with such an impact that it immediately inspired imitators for years to come. Marshall’s passion is undeniable on 6 Feet Beneath The Moon, making it a clear stand-out in his discography and of the decade.
Highlight Tracks: Easy Easy, Baby Blue, Out Getting Ribs
12. Car Seat Headrest — Teens Of Denial
William Toledo, the brain, pain and beauty behind the moniker Car Seat Headrest had previously recorded ten records solo in bedrooms, cars, or anywhere solitary and self-released onto Bandcamp. Teens of Denial was the first studio-recorded album, after signing with Matador Records the year prior and picking up three more members, Andrew Katz, Seth Dalby and Ethan Ives. It received universal acclaim and solidified Toledo’s deft lyricism and multi-instrumental talent. The album, described as a bildungsroman of sorts, is an honest and humble exploration of growth, nostalgia, romance, depression, euphoria, and self.
Highlight Tracks: Vincent, (Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem), Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales
11. Beach House — Teen Dream
In 2010, Beach House released the album that would define their sound. Their chirping synths, swooning guitar, and ethereal vocals swirl together to form a beam that shines through your ear canals like a blindingly radiant light. While their first two releases compromise nothing in their sound, Teen Dream has an intangible quality that can only be recreated when a band finds their stride. Beach House is known for their ability to consistently blow their audience away with their sheer force in the dream-pop genre.
The highlight tracks off of the album paved the way for their following albums. Teen Dream was the final push that would send Beach House into the ascent of illustrious stardom. This album was the one that placed them at the forefront as yet-to-be icons blazing new trails.
Highlight Tracks: Silver Soul, 10 Mile Stereo, Used To Be
10. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
To say Plastic Beach was highly anticipated is to understate how long the rabid Gorillaz fanbase waited for a follow-up to Demon Days. Needless to say, it was well worth the virtual band’s five-year hiatus. Even still, it was an abrupt and oracular departure from their previous releases — for god’s sake, lead-songwriter Damon Albarn (the voice behind the virtual band member, 2D) didn’t even appear until the fourth track on the album. Instead, Snoop Dogg, who is featured as the first vocal performance, is paired with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (a group consisting of the eight sons of legendary Jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran), welcoming the listener to a beautifully ambitious project on “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach.” The album is interspersed with a loving mix of orchestral arrangements and expertly crafted synthesizers. The album features musicians from across the musical spectrum, from Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, to Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, to Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground, and even the late great R&B singer Bobby Womack. Plastic Beach, in terms of both its multimedia storyline as well as its stylistic goals, stands out as one of the most ambitiously eclectic albums of the decade, and sets a high bar for all future collaborative projects.
Highlight Tracks: Rhinestone Eyes, Empire Ants, On Melancholy Hill
9. David Bowie — Blackstar
There are no words that can meaningfully summarize Blackstar in any way that does the album justice. David Bowie was a prolific and masterful songwriter. Blackstar stands as a testament to that. The album shines not only as one of the greatest albums of the decade, but also one of the greatest albums of all time — and certainly one of the best in Bowie’s catalogue (which is arguably saying more than the prior two accolades). Producer Tony Visconti told Rolling Stone that, while trying to avoid the sound of “rock’n’roll,” he and Bowie were inspired by the diversity of styles and sounds present on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Recording Blackstar while suffering from liver cancer, Bowie is as much preparing the listener as he is himself for his eventual passing. We hear Bowie at his most vulnerable as he reconciles with his fragile transition between life and death. The album was released on January 8th, 2016, Bowie’s 69th birthday. He died two days later. Blackstar speaks Bowie’s final message to humanity and does it with the elegance and beauty that only he could achieve. The world is somehow very different without him.
Highlight Tracks: Blackstar, Lazarus, Dollar Days
8. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie And Lowell
Five years after he ditched the banjo and the campfire altogether, the profound and poetic Sufjan Stevens returns to the strings with a heavenly and intensely personal set of songs. This album is sad. This album is also amazing. Stevens writes about the turmoil surrounding his mother’s death, but uses it as grounds for reflection taken with sincerity and compassion, something that is done with complete ease after his prolific career up to this point. The sound is bare but not frail, as his gentle, falsetto voice flutters in between the main sounds of an acoustic guitar and banjo with such humanity that right away you pulled in. It is filled front to end with such fragmentations of absolute beauty and wonder, a feat that could only be accomplished by stripping away the years worth of characters and stories he took so long to create. This is Sufjan Stevens at his best.
Highlight Tracks: Death With Dignity, Fourth of July, Drawn to the Blood
7. Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
Before he became the voice of a generation, King Kendrick, Kung-Fu Kenny, K-Dot, even, Kendrick Lamar was just a kid — a good kid, but one trapped in a harsh environment seemingly designed to destroy everything good in a person. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City isn’t the first west coast hip hop album to explore life in Compton, but no other album before or since has tackled the scenarios that Kendrick does here with as much depth, complexity, and honesty. This album is filled with snapshots of life as a boy desperately trying to become a man, not by choice but out of necessity. One moment, Kendrick is dicking around with his friends, rattling off boastful backseat freestyles, another moment he’s holding one of those friends in his arms as he bleeds to death. In his later work, Kendrick would go on to tackle big issues, both personal and societal, but there’s something so damn intimate about this portrait of a scared kid just trying to navigate adolescence, death, and violence in an unforgiving, mad city.
Highlight Tracks: Money Trees, Sing About Me, Backseat Freestyle
6. Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
There was a time, not too long ago, when the sounds twirling around Arcade Fire were the same that dominated the indie rock sphere. There was (and still may be) no band that nails the grandeur that comes effortlessly to Arcade Fire. Their penchant for flashy storytelling syncs up perfectly with their ability to distill wistful nostalgia into the closest an album has ever been to an auditory bildungsroman. Just listening to the titular track is enough to make any 20-something wish they were back in the ’00s running carefree through a tract home sprawl, free from the shackles of adult life. The entire album eloquently carries a distain for our inevitable loss for innocence. Though we may be a decade older now, at least we can look back on The Suburbs as a pure time capsule of what once was.
Highlight Tracks: The Suburbs, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Ready To Start
5. LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening
With their self-proclaimed finish line in sight, LCD Soundsystem produced one of the greatest indie rock finales of the ’10s with This is Happening. After weeding out any faint of heart listeners with the infamously long intro to “Dance Yrself Clean,” James Murphy and company proceed to combine new wave, disco, funk, espresso, post-punk, self-deprecation, and New York into a blender set to “high” for an hour. The resulting metaphorical smoothie served as the third and supposedly final time LCD Soundsystem perfected the soundtrack to anybody who’s sad but refuses to leave the dance floor. The cohesive set of songs stretches the length of the David spectrum; beginning with the Bowie “Heroes” inspired “All I Want” to more Byrne influenced, bass-guitar driven tracks like “Home.” Additionally, Murphy continues to drive the dance-punk genre that he helped bring to the public eye through “Drunk Girls,” while remaining true to his first love, synthesizers, on ballads like “I Can Change” or “You Wanted a Hit.” Throughout This is Happening, LCD Soundsystem dances the line between vulnerability and pretentiousness in a way only they can, putting the cherry on top of their electronic empire with the simple stated final line of the album: “and so, goodnight.”
Highlight Tracks: Dance Yrself Clean, I Can Change, Home
4. Frank Ocean — Blonde
Frank Ocean has an ability to emotionally resonate with people like no other artist can. Blonde is Frank Ocean piecing together a collage of sentimental memories that he shares on a backdrop of minimalistic yet intimate instrumentals. It’s the type of album that you listen to when love falls victim to life’s circumstances, or when you miss the youthful innocence that we all inevitably lose. Throughout the album, there are moments when the music taps into a divine power as Frank cries out with his heavenly voice asking questions that have no answers. And, while we may listen to this album through tears, Frank is there to comfort us with lyrics that help us maturely process these raw emotions.
Highlight Tracks: Nikes, Ivy, Nights
3. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar was one of the hottest rappers after the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city, and it would’ve been so easy for him to continue his popular appeal with another album targeted for the mainstream. But, with more eyes on him than ever, he dropped a career-defining album that became a moment in history. The internal conflict between his newfound fame and Compton roots are on full display throughout this album, and Kendrick takes us on a tumultuous journey as he tries to make sense of it all in the context of a society that’s built for him to fail. Kendrick does this all over progressive jazz instrumentals with a G-funk twist, and its mind-blowing to hear a mainstream artist rapping over beats like those on “u” or “For Free?” Kendrick took one of the biggest risks an established artist could take by dropping To Pimp a Butterfly, and the result was one of the greatest albums in history.
Highlight Tracks: King Kunta, Alright, u
2. Tame Impala — Currents
Tame Impala’s Currents is notorious, and for good reason. What are you supposed to do when you make an album so good that you turn yourself into the stereotype for independent music? Well, first, you’re going to have to fend off the countless imitators you’ve just spawned. But there is no band that can come close to the genius of Kevin Parker — and I’m not using that compliment hyperbolically. The fact that this entire album was written, performed, recorded, and produced by himself is a Herculean feat in and of itself. Every track on the album is iconic. Some (including Pitchfork) have even labelled the album as “perfect.” If you have heard any indie song released post-2015, it is almost inevitable that you’ll find traces of Tame Impala’s Currents within it.
That’s right, I’ll say it: there is a compelling case that Currents is the most influential rock album of the decade.
Highlight Tracks: Eventually, Yes I’m Changing, New Person, Same Old Mistakes
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
If the story of Yeezus were to be told in the biblical proportions that Ye himself would probably ascribe to his career, this would be the rebirth. The moment where Mr. West returns from, at that point, his darkest moment and stuns the world with his most eclectic, over-the-top, singularly Kanye album yet. From dizzying highs to shockingly honest lows, Kanye expresses the full range of his psychology. The star-studded cast, the immaculate production, it wouldn’t amount to an album half as astounding if it weren’t wrapped up in the godlike manias and overwhelmingly human confessionals that define this piece of art. So for this album, I’d like to propose a toast.
Highlight Tracks: Runaway, Devil In A New Dress, Lost In The World
This list was compiled by KCPR staff DJs. The illustrations were created by staff member Renee Kao. Descriptions written by contributing staff members of KCPR’s content team.