Top 100 Albums of the 2010s

post written by Sean Downey
in MusicRanking List

As of recent there's been countless "top albums of the decade" lists popping up as the teens start to wrap up. Some are respectable, but just like every ranking list most people just flat out disagree because there seems to be majorly wild inconsistencies as to why albums have their placements. There's no way in hell any list could be void of personal preference, or some sort of bias. I do think every list, however, should have atleast a consistent reason why each album is on that list, and why one is above the other. My say can't possibly count in an objective ruling, as I too am extremely biased by personal preference. But I did want to make a list based on the 100 albums I would want to be remembered and I would show to the next decade(s)–one's I think need to be experienced to help define MY listening experience of this decade.

DISCLAIMER -- this list does not really include Punk/Hardcore/Metal because I don't believe my knowledge of those genres is strong enough, and I wouldn't know how to curate my best albums from them – I rather leave that task to someone who does know and actively listens to them. This list also doesn't really include any Trap, because I actually don't want people remembering any Trap. It's bad. But here's my personal list, 100-1.

The Titling system is: Rank. Artist - Album (Year)

100. Skee Mask - Compro (2018)

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99. Foster the People - Torches (2011)

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98. Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon II (2010)

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97. Neon Indian - VEGA Intl. Night School (2015)

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96. Drake - Take Care (2011)

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95. Yves Tumor - Serpent Music (2016)

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94. (Sandy) Alex G - Rocket (2017)

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93. The Weeknd - House of Balloons (2011)

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92. John Maus - We Must become the Pitiless Censors... (2011)

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91. Angel Olsen - My Woman (2016)

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90. Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)

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89. Washed Out - Within and Without (2011)

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88. (Sandy) Alex G - House of Sugar (2019)

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87. Destroyer - Kaputt (2011)

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86. Dean Blunt - Black Metal (2014)

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85. Grouper - Ruins (2014)

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84. Father John Misty - Fear Fun (2012)

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83. Chairlift - Something (2012)

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82. Sky Ferreira - Ghost (2012)

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81. The 1975 - The 1975 (2013)

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80. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour (2018)

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79. Yuno - Moodie (2018)

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78. Angel Olsen - All Mirrors (2019)

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77. Rhye - Woman (2013)

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76. David Bowie - Blackstar (2016)

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75. Kelela - Take Me Apart (2017)

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74. Sampha - Process (2017)

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73. Solange - A Seat at the Table (2016)

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72. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (2016)

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71. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe (2013)

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70. Fleet Foxes - Crack Up (2017)

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69. Mac Demarco - 2 (2012)

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68. Lorde - Melodrama (2017)

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67. FKA Twigs - LP1 (2014)

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66. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (2016)

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65. Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch (2018)

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64. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra (2011)

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63. Nicolas Jaar - Space is Only Noise (2011)

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62. Robyn - Honey (2018)

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61. Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy (2017)

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60. Beach House - Depression Cherry (2015)

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59. Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down... (2015)

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58. My Bloody Valentine - MBV (2013)

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57. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (2014)

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56. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (2010)

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55. Grimes - Art Angels (2015)

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54. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs (2018)

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53. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (2013)

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52. Miguel - Wildheart (2015)

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51. Thundercat - "Drunk" (2017)

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50. Nick Cave - Skeleton Tree (2016)

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49. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe (2013)

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48. The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (2018)

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47. Twin Shadow - Forget (2010)

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46. Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts (2018)

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45. Haim - Days Are Gone (2013)

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44. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want (2018)

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43. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (2010)

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42. Twin Shadow - Confess (2012)

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41. Snail Mail - Lush (2018)

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40. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream (2012)

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39. Against All Logic - 2012–2017 (2018)

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38. Jamie XX - In Colour (2015)

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37. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib - Pinata (2014)

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36. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

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35. Mac Demarco - Salad Days (2014)

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34. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. (2017)

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33. James Blake - James Blake (2011)

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32. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (2011)

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31. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening (2010)

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30. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... (2012)

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29. Jai Paul - Bait Ones (2013)

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28. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)

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27. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound (2016)

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26. FKA Twigs - Magdalene (2019)

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25. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (2010)

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24. D'Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

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23. Tame Impala - Lonerism (2012)

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22. Sun Kil Moon - Benji (2014)

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21. Death Grips - The Money Store (2012)

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20. Mitski - Puberty 2 (2016)

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After the majestic ballads and clear-eyed heartache of her third album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Mitski returned with a louder and gnarlier indie-rock record rife with distortion and thrashing guitar riffs. Hurt still radiates from its pores, but so does the sound of struggle. Here, Mitski is experiencing a second coming-of-age, a metamorphosis from young woman into adult. She is grappling with how the world sees her and who she wants to be in it. On “Thursday Girl,” she sounds lost in existential angst as she searches for someone to “please tell me no.” And on the album centerpiece “Your Best American Girl,” she struggles with a lingering sense of shame about her upbringing and what it means to feel fully American and fully worthy of love.

19. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (2011)

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The title of M83's sixth studio album summarizes exactly what most of the album is about - the brilliant capabilities of our dreams. While earlier in his career M83 was more of an instrumentalist passive on the singing part, Hurry Up is an opus of the popiest music he's had up to date, but still with grand-gesture as the run time is over 70-minutes. All of M83's albums run like a movie, and Hurry Up is no exception, but what makes it so much more listenable is Anthony Gonzalez's use of his voice, in a MUCH more expressive way than any of his prior albums. Gonzalez tackles everything from his typical synth pop to indie rock, shoegaze, and even epic saxaphone solos, which helped take "Midnight City" to his absolute peak. Also, listening to half this album might make you feel like you're back in a PacSun store in 2011 burning $50 of your mom's money.

18. Disclosure - Settle (2013)

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Settle showcases the good things about Pop - great hooks and irresistible grooves. On paper, the lyricism and structures seem nothing surprising, but Disclosure's supernatural ability to create iconic beats and utilize British-House influence. While Sam Smith, Jessie Ware and countless others were recruited to help pour life into the music Disclosure had assembled, their masterful performances all still feel as just underpieces to Disclosure's vision. While EDM was blowing up predictable, dumb, template music, Disclosure was busy creating a new wave and platform for artists to follow, and also making dance music that mattered.

17. Kanye West - Yeezus (2013)

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Yeezus felt like a plot twist because of its intensity, with anger at its central core. After becoming music's biggest hitmaker, Kanye opens Yeezus with a synthesizer practically vomiting up acid, letting everyone know he wants the album to separate the new from the past. Yeezus is easily Kanye's most divisive album, hanging on majorly provocative words like "God", "Slaves" and "apartheid" while using samples as complete interruptions rather than just woven textural pieces. Yeezus takes several listens to realize its clear consistencies and collective vision, using Dancehall classics, Industrial, Acid-House and the influence of some Death Grips to make an album that's on the fringes of explosion. But through this era of Kanye at his loudest and most boastful was actually him at his most insecure and distrustful, writing about his darkest tales and stories of collapsing around the relationships that were betraying him.

16. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

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After what felt like a sign of Radiohead's mortality with King of Limbs, A Moon Shaped Pool found Radiohead back at their absolute best with a rejuvinated purpose and yet another huge transformation. Yorke's recent divorce most likely destroyed him, but the good news for us was that meant we were getting some very serious, melancholic, masterful doom-saying music just like the old days. A Moon Shaped Pool brought in loads of sharp strings mixed with condemning lyrics like on "Burn the Witch" and notably "Ful Stop", where Thom Yorke croons "You really messed up everything" amidst deep bass and muddy percussion. What Radiohead does best however is pulling together a beautiful melody among the deep sorrow, while maintaining huge complexities in how they arrange their music and the time signatures used. A Moon Shaped Pool helped solidify Radiohead's discography, and if they do choose to make it their finalé they can proudly rest as one of music's all time greatest acts.

15. Beach House - Bloom (2012)

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Bloom takes the spirit of Cocteau Twins and other Dream Pop staples and rejuvinates them with even prettier melodies. While some have argued Bloom doesn't sound much different than other Dream Pop (cough cough Flying Lotus), Bloom takes on the heavy task of describing almost indescribable feelings, all while maintaining skin-tight songwriting. The melodies all seem so familiar, yet so grand because Legrand's voice sits just on top of layers upon layers of deathly spacious guitars and synths that seem insurmountable. But upon a few listens, the melodies become completely ingrained and impossible to forget, especially within the initial straightaway of "Myth", "Wild" and "Lazuli". Within Bloom lies Dream Pop's grandest and possibly greatest collection of songs.

14. Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love (2018)

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Safe in the Hands of Love has to be one of the single most important works of experimental music. Yves Tumor is not making music to be accessible, or to become the face of a genre - so much so that he really never shows his face, is usually found in costume, flows through identities and plays the roles he depicts in his music. Tumor pronounces himself in his music only by how much he desires to be seen. He is an outsider among his listeners, but when he is close he is extremely alarming, showing us the hells and tribulations of what true modern chaos sounds and looks like.

Tumor aims to make music that is deeply disturbing and also rhythmic. Gut-wrenching songs like "Economy of Freedom" are followed up by disco-influenced grooves like "Noid", but underneath the beats lay unsettling statements about mass shootings and how we frame them. The album ends in such an uncanny yet revealing manner, playing Jan Haflin's "Angelfire" just after the swarming drones of "Let the Lioness in You Flow Freely", showing the deep contrasts between the 80s avoidance culture and Tumor's hyperrealism. Read my review of the album here.

13. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (2015)

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"Carbon footprint, incest dreams, Fuck the mother in the green". Every time I introduce Father John Misty to someone, they are utterly confused considering its possible he might be a priest, he sounds like a cross of Elton John and The Band, has song titles like "Holy Shit" and starts singing lyrics like "Mascara, blood, ash and cum" out of absolutely no where. But what I Love You, Honeybear proves is that even the most negative, most cynical, and self-isolating people can experience deep, astounding and never-ending love. Father John is one of the most talented and enigmatic song writers of the decade, writing as a modern version of Billy Joel or Elton John but with a SERIOUS modern twist that embraces the transparency and realism it requires to be a ballad writer in today's climate.

Misty knows that he is experiencing love, but what makes it so much more real and vivid is that he is experiencing it against all odds and doubts, proclaiming "Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity, but What I fail to see is what that's gotta do, With you and me". While pop stars are constantly singing about their oh-so righteous love and being hypocrites about it, Father John Misty writes about love that we can actually believe in.

12. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it from Here... (2016)

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For nearly 18 years, Tribe and Hip-Hop fans alike were waiting for the follow up to 1998's The Love Movement. After that amount of time away from a project, its normal to think either a group wouldn't make anything else, or if they DID, it just simply wouldn't be that good anyway. But We Got it from Here... might be one of the best comebacks in Hip-Hop, because it not only smashed expectations, it can even go toe-to-toe with the top tier of Tribe's albums.

With the unfortunate news of Phife Dawg's death during the album, We Got it from Here... is the perfect finalé to one of Hip-Hop's greatest acts. Q-Tip, Phife, Ali, Jarobi and some Busta Rhymes pour their greatest, most thoughtful verses from top to bottom, acting as Rap's now elders and sages, taking the wisest and most thought-provoking observations and showing the current generation how things are done. What makes We Got it from Here... even more interesting is its inclusion of Rap's lineage, bringing in historical icons such as Andre 3000, Kanye, Kendrick and even Jack White for guitar licks. This wasn't just a message from Tribe, but an entire time capsule from all of Hip-Hop's greatest pieces.

11. Swans - To be Kind (2014)

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To Be Kind sounds like a scrutiny on humanity, opening with "Screen Shot", which describes a utopia (or dys) where no human frailties are holding us back. The music of Swans sounds so different and so much larger than anything else going on in the decade because Michael Gira pulls absolutely no influence from his modern peers. He's stripped the add-ons of rock music and kept only what's necessary to keep songs as visceral as possible. Songs like "Oxygen" and "Bring the Sun" make you feel as if you're slipping into a black hole with its relentless, drilling repetition, but under closer listen there are constantly different nuances to uncover that Gira places in the mix to make you feel as if To Be Kind is an entire world rather than just an album.

10. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, MAAD City (2012)

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If Section .80 was any indication that Kendrick Lamar had serious insight to how systems are run and affect everyone, MAAD City cements that he knows more about the real thing through living experience than most books could ever tell you. MAAD City even parodied how people live in their bubbles, with hits like "Swimming Pools" that mocked party culture, while becoming a party anthem. Example A nobody actually listens.

But MAAD City also cemented Kendrick as one of the most prolific rappers ever, and certainly of our time, while writing about a grand journey of surviving an extraordinary life. While artists like Kanye and MF Doom were taking rap to more abstract places, Kendrick was returning the focus of rap to America's reality, while also taking experimental risks that paid off dividends.

9. Bon Iver - 22, a Million (2016)

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22, a Million is Justin Vernon's Kid A. Vernon takes Bon Iver's sound from acclaimed indie and very accessible to jarring and remarkably strange in the turn of one album. 22, a Million tests the casual listener with dense, distorted instrumentation and Vernon's new barely-human voice, but carefully balances them with stripped down, captivating high points that makes the album one of the most rewarding of the decade. Underneath these changes are some of Vernon's most isolating lyrics, writing deep songs of uncertainty and hard decisions, but 22, a Million wraps up with probably the warmest and most hopeful of Bon Iver endings with "___45___" and "00000 Million".

8. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (2012)

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Channel Orange was probably one of the most hyped up albums that I can remember. Frank Ocean was still considered that mysterious god-gifted singer/rapper from Odd Future that everyone thought they only knew for themselves because of Nostalgia, Ultra. And for a year everyone waited anxiously for what people thought would be one of the best ever.

While hype can usually kill albums, Channel Orange didn't just break the hype, but rather defied it. Of course "Thinkin Bout You" would become Ocean's iconic breakthrough, but Orange contained deep Jazz, Yacht and 8-bit Funk cuts that exemplified Ocean's well-studied tastes, rather than play to what listeners were expecting (which was airy Pop-R&B.) Ocean's songs recited stories of addicts, California class warfare, crippling self-doubt, unrequited love and sexual fluidity. And because Ocean is such a mystery even through he most likely experienced all these stories, he somehow becomes even more relatable to everyone. In his ambiguity, words have never been more malleable to fit our own lives, and taken to such emotional extremes.

7. Grimes - Visions (2012)

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Grimes is the embodiment of a millenial artist -- she uses any creative platform she is capable of to get her vision across, especially if its a combination of every medium. She creates music, visual art, fashion, character portrayal and video to supplement her albums, and does it all in a way so that it doesn't just add to the vast waste pile of objects and art we see in the digital age.

Visions, while not as flamboyant as Art Angels, is Grimes hitting her stride as a musician and contains her most important music, and some of the most important songs electronic music has ever had. "Genesis" opens with bouncing synths and is one of the most recognizable riffs of the decade, with her voice floating over jarring production throughout the entire album. "Oblivion" is her grand statement as a survivor of sexual assault, crooning "someone could break your neck coming up behind you" like an apparition. Its almost hard to believe she's saying that, considering she does it so playfully.

On Visions, Grimes is creating Experimental music that actually puts meaning into the meaningless era of EDM, where for others lyrics were such an after thought to production. Grimes takes the work of her influences such as Burial and Trent Reznor and created probably the best work of Electronic music of the decade while fusing Goth, industrial and other genres. Visions is equal parts accessible and brilliant, and Grimes is the most refreshing star considering she only wants to do everything herself - no help, no guests, no clout. Just her. And it couldn't be better.

6. Frank Ocean - Blonde (2016)

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At this point, to be a Frank Ocean fan is just a pass-over because of how universally accepted his music has become. It hasn't been often that a pop star so enormous and widespread is so secluded and sounds as if he's making music just for you. With the huge critical and audience success Channel Orange achieved, its hard to believe Blonde achieved even more and somehow got closer in relating to people. And that's Ocean's strong point - his ability to relate to almost everyone on such a deep level while still writing in such a poetic and singular form. Blonde contains the definitive sounds of growing up in the 21st century, including cuts, glitching samples, surf guitar, ambience and whimsical rapping from a singer who grew up with rhymers. I don't want to talk about this album too much more though because everyone's already written about it, so that's all I got.

5. Swans - The Seer (2012)

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Michael Gira is the perfect example of "do whatever you want, and don't care what others think." For over 30 years, Gira and Swans were creating brutal, exhausting music that didn't catch too many people's attention, and never really sold out shows in the states. It wasn't until The Seer and its trilogy including To Be Kind and The Glowing Man that Swans finally caught their big break and universal respect. Out of the Trilogy, The Seer is perhaps simultaneously the darkest and the most uplifting, rewarding its listeners with beautiful passages after grueling, relentless chromatic repetitions.

If someone were to say To Be Kind is the best album in Swans' trilogy, I wouldn't argue because it too is equally massive in scale and just as grueling. But what puts The Seer ahead for me is its reward system from top to bottom, the dark themes it establishes, and the beautiful ending to A Piece of the Sky. Gira's writing is so vivid and poetic, sounding like the rebirth of a goth Jim Morrison, but with more purpose and experience, chanting "On the skin of my eye, are you there?". Throughout the album, Gira is searching for something that might show him his existence, and he dives to the darkest depths of living Hell to find it.

4. Bon Iver - Bon Iver (2011)

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Bon Iver is quiet... very quiet. But while For Emma, Forever Ago was stark and isolated, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is uplifted with strings, orchestras, and grandiosity. The places are ambiguous, and lost in time as if only imagined - much is the feeling of ambiguity in alcoholism and complete insignificance. Throughout the album, Justin Vernon grapples with a broken mind and soul from suffering his downfall, to the point he only lived without structure and lost in spacial un-awareness. However, Justin's struggles with these dark times made him realize that you need to identify that you are a blip in time before you have full control of how you utilize your time.

Bon Iver is a dreamscape that requires a patient listen, and holds some of the most iconic songs indie-folk has ever had. Bon Iver is the evolution of one of the century's most unlikely heroes, and has become a hipster-loving generation's staple. Whenever you're sad, Bon Iver is there to be sad with you.

3. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

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I hate making agreements with every other list out there because then you wonder why my list even matters, but I think there's something to be said about albums that are universally accepted as era-defining works. To Pimp a Butterfly is the absolute peak of one of the greatest rappers ever, and I think is a piece that could stand at the top of any decade. Songs like Alright and King Kunta were impossible to pass over while being some of the most conscious songs out, taking the personal journey of one man while expanding upon the greater struggle of the world around him.

2. Kanye West - My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy (2010)

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For all that Kanye does for himself, Kanye also did a lot for both Hip-Hop and Pop music. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the ultimate reinvention of an artist that already predicated the album format on the chance to reinvent himself. Each album saw Kanye in another realm, playing a different character in his own world, channeling the influence of David Bowie and bringing it to Hip-Hop. But what makes MBDTF a step above the rest is its perfection top to bottom, collecting a nation of the world's most popular artists all contributing to Kanye's single vision.

Coming off of a toxic break-up with Amber Rose, a subdued 808s and Heartbreak effort and most of media against him, Kanye answered with the perfect comeback album that celebrated what it means to be an artist and also Mr. West. MBDTF is probably one of the more maximalist albums ever recorded, and showed the world what maximalist Hip-Hop sounds like – Hip-Hop with dark synths mixed with strings and intense percussives, with 8-15 voices layered on top of each other – whilst making it sound GREAT.

Like Grimes, James Blake, Pharrell and others, Kanye is producer gone singer/rapper, so his raps of course never started out quite as tight as naturals like Ghostface or Q-Tip – but since the Dropout days Kanye mastered his verses on MBDTF, all while maintaining Pop-oriented structures and placing emphasis on instrumentation. Kanye is the only artist ever that can take >11 guests on a song like All of the Lights and fuse them seamlessly so that it still all just sounds like Kanye.

1. Tame Impala - Currents (2015)

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Kevin Parker might be one of the most gifted musicians of all time. He does literally everything. The only time he needs a band is when he's touring. But his one-man showmanship is beside the point -- this is Parker's effort to perfect music, and not many have gotten closer. Currents is a heartbreak album, but the kind of heartbreak that can kill you; and just like the severity of its subject matter, the album's technicality, production, riff-writing and grandeur is equally as serious.

Sonically, Currents goes from songs in the largest possible scale and magnitude to bedroom pop, all equally crafted and perfected. So much care and craftsmanship is put into every single instrument and note. Lyrically, Parker is making brutally honest statements about self-deprecation, masculinity and existentialism without hanging on a single cliché. Parker perfectly weaves an experimental approach into pop songs, just enough to simultaneously create experiential, accessible listens while pushing music forward. This is the music both this generation and prior ones can love, but Parker absolutely mocks anything your dad's favorite bands put out.

Currents never really lets up the intensity from top to bottom, with even its softer points feeling perfect and like they matter just as much as the songs with greatest magnitude. Listen closely and you can hear guitars seamlessly become synths, percussions being opened and closed through a phaser at the perfect turn of a certain lyric, all happening while the melodies take the main stage. This duality is what makes Currents so perfect, because it is perfect on all technical, compositional and lyrical fronts. Its an opus written with the most urgency, and for moments while listening, you wonder if music has ever been this good. Of course, for years "The Less I Know the Better" gets thrown on at day-drinks every Saturday across the nation while hundreds of America's brain-dead start screaming "omg I love this song", but at least its something we all love.