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Best albums from the last decade, according to critics

  • Best albums from the last decade, according to critics

    Historically, albums represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Throughout the "album era" from the mid-1960s to 2000s, LPs (full-length albums) were the chief means by which artists communicated to their fans. Album art, hidden tracks, and concept albums changed the dynamic of the music industry and encouraged album production that was free of filler tracks and less dependent on hit singles. This seismic industry shift in the '60s was inspired by albums such as The Beatles' "Rubber Soul," which came out in the U.S. in 1965 without any singles being released.

    Albums today offer a fresh way of approaching a changing industry and inspire artists to set musical structures and cohesive messaging that can add to the potency of musical releases. That doesn't mean they haven't struggled, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Sales of physical albums plunged by 6% between March 6 and 12, 2020, followed by an announcement from Amazon March 17 that it would halt incoming shipments of vinyl and CDs from music suppliers in the U.S. in order to prioritize essentials. 

    Streaming platforms such as Spotify and Pandora recalibrated the music industry in recent years to again focus on single tracks and curated playlists rather than entire albums. People spent the last decade predicting the death of the album, but the format continues to be an integral, relevant, and celebrated component of musical creation and artistry. To that end, Stacker took a closer look at the best albums of the last decade by mining data from Metacritic. The resulting gallery was garnered from the top-rated critical reviews of albums from the decade. To be considered, albums had to have been released between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2019, and had to have 15 or more reviews in Metacritic's database. Reissued albums, EPs (extended-play recordings with more tracks than singles but not enough to constitute albums), multi-artist soundracks, compilations, live albums, and holiday albums were not considered. The songs were ranked by Metascore, with only one tie.

    The question of what makes a great album is ultimately subjective, but throughout this gallery critical review centers around certain music themes such as narrative, lyrics, production, and musicality.

    Many of the albums on this list deal with serious topics like race relations, the loss of a loved one, and living as a woman in a patriarchal society. Several deviate from a musician’s previous output, or showcase arrangements, lyricism, and overall songwriting that denote growth, freedom, and sophistication as an artist. In addition to musicianship and storytelling, these albums also reflect an increasingly diverse field of contributors that includes the LGBTQ+ community, women, and people of color.

    Read on to learn why some of the world’s top critics chose these 50 albums as the decade’s finest creations in music.

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  • #50. 'Lonerism' (2012) by Tame Impala

    - Metascore: 88

    “Lonerism” received positive reviews from critics and fans in part due to its reminiscence of '60s and '70s psychedelic rock. The record makes nods to hallucinatory sounds of decades past with the band’s use of synthesizers, amorphous song structure, and overall sound. Others have compared the timbre of guitars and layering of harmony in parts of the album to the Beatles' "Revolver," specifically "Tomorrow Never Knows." “Lonerism” garnered positive feedback from mainstream music outfits such as Rolling Stone, NME, and Spin, and received Album of the Year recognition from Rolling Stone Australia, among others.

  • #49. 'Undun' (2011) by The Roots

    - Metascore: 88

    “Undun,” featuring vocal contributions from Bilal, Dice Raw, and Big K.R.I.T., marks The Roots’ debut concept album. The story follows the quasi-fictional character Redford Stephens (inspired by Sufjan Stevens’ track “Redford”), a young black man who resorts to selling drugs to escape a life of poverty. Stevens also took part in composing and producing the record. The story maintains narrative cohesion even as it unfolds in reverse chronological order. Los Angeles Times music critic Ernest Hardy wrote that the album brings "a psychological depth and complexity rarely afforded black folks in modern pop culture, including (or especially) the borough of contemporary hip-hop.”

  • #48. 'Magdalene' (2019) by FKA twigs

    - Metascore: 88

    FKA twigs' sophomore effort tailed her first release by five years. The British songwriter uses the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene, frequently portrayed as a former prostitute in biblical teachings and pop culture, to zoom in on FKA twigs' sexuality and public perception. While working on the album, the artist's then-relationship with "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson was under heavy public criticism and she was recuperating from the removal of uterine fibroids.

  • #47. 'Designer' (2019) by Aldous Harding

    - Metascore: 88

    "Designer" is Aldous Harding’s folk-infused third record. Multiple music critics commented on the surrealism of the lyrics in the song "The Barrel," including the line, “The wave of love is a transient hut/The water’s the shell and we are the nut.” John Parish, who helmed the production of Harding’s previous record, returned to produce “Designer.” Harding’s trademark quirkiness comes through in the music video for “The Barrel,” in which she stares directly into the camera for much of the time.

  • #46. 'Run the Jewels 3' (2016) by Run the Jewels

    - Metascore: 88

    A follow-up to “Run the Jewels 2,” the third album from duo Killer Mike and El-P includes guest performances from several hip-hop/R&B vets, such as Danny Brown, Joi, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. A critic for the Chicago Tribune described “RTJ3” as "an album about the often underestimated power of the powerless, even as it celebrates the almost telepathic collaboration between two of the era’s most gifted MC’s.” The hands that appear in each album’s cover art represent different things; for “RTJ3,” the duo said that the gold hands, represented without the bandages or chain from other album art, signifies "the idea that there is nothing to take that exists outside yourself. You are the Jewel." The album art for "RTJ3" in January 2018 won for best album artwork in the Best Art Vinyl Awards.

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  • #45. 'Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit' (2014) by Courtney Barnett

    - Metascore: 88

    Barnett’s debut full-length album received serious acclaim from the big-name music magazines, with many calling it very listenable and a great first record. To that end, Everett True of The Guardian said the album gets better with each listen and compared some of its songs to "early 1990s indie-pop," and others to Lou Reed and Nirvana.

  • #44. 'Masseduction' (2017) by St. Vincent

    - Metascore: 88

    The fifth studio album by St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) won multiple Grammy awards, clocked in at 10 on the Billboard 200 chart, and garnered frequent mentions in 2017 best-of lists. Produced by Clark and Jack Antonoff, “Masseduction” features multiple musical guests, such as Doveman on piano, Kamasi Washington on saxophone, and Jenny Lewis on vocals. The songs on the record were created from text messages, voice memos, and bits of melodies that Clark happened upon while traveling.

  • #43. 'A Moon Shaped Pool' (2016) by Radiohead

    - Metascore: 88

    Radiohead’s first studio album since 2011 features strings and choir sections performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Thematically, the record deals with central questions from much of Radiohead’s output, notably how one maintains humanity in an ambivalent, cold world. Some critics believe that the lyrics are tinged by Thome Yorke's separation from his partner of over 20 years, Rachel Owen, while other more apparent themes include climate change and the perils of groupthink. Stylistically, the record boasts several genres, including chamber music, art rock, and folk.

  • #42. 'Bad as Me' (2011) by Tom Waits

    - Metascore: 88

    “Bad as Me” was Waits’ first album since 2004's "Real Gone" to be composed entirely of new songs. A long list of musical stars lent their talents to the album, including Keith Richards, Marc Ribot, Flea, and Les Claypool. Critics greeted the album with open arms. Waits’ wife, Kathleen Brennan, co-produced the record with him.

  • #41. 'Loud City Song' (2013) by Julia Holter

    - Metascore: 88

    Julia Holter's musical works are steeped in symbolism and inspiration, but the subject matter of “Loud City Song” deviates from Holter’s two previous albums. "Tragedy" centered on the play "Hippolytus" by Euripides, and "Ekstasis" was named for the Greek philosophy of being beside oneself. “Loud City Song” draws on inspiration from the musical "Gigi" and takes a hard look at society's obsession with celebrity

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