10. My Bloody Valentine — mbv
9. Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs
Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs is a record of mending and therapy. At the beginning of the decade, rap fans saw the 16-year-old prodigy create the most technical and distinctive raps unheard of at that time. Yes, a lot of it was jarring and immature, but the potential was there. While debut mixtape EARL was a teaser and an introduction to his greatness, Doris was his reclamation to the rap game after a period of silence in Samoa. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, in turn, spoke for itself. Its morose disposition then made its way onto Some Rap Songs, not quite his masterpiece, but an accomplished period piece nonetheless. As one of the most highly acclaimed rappers in the world today, Earl spills his guts out on this diaristic tape about his relationship with his father and the emotional exhaustion coming from trying to amend it. On “Red Water,” he repeats the same 8 bars on loop as if caught in a recurring dream. “Papa called me chief / gotta keep it brief / locked and loaded I can see you lyin’ through your teeth” he raps in a fugue state as if coming to the realization that his father was only there for those momentary times of convenience. It’s always uneasy to write something that includes family and loved ones. There’s a sense of vulnerability you have to divulge in as well as a catharsis that fulfills one’s desire to let go of one’s agony. The beats on Some Rap Songs run on loose kaleidoscopic loops, with production that Earl has mastered rapping over as his idiosyncrasies in his bars do best complementing them. Thanks to the influence of his buddies Mike and Medhane, he’s learned to channel his eccentric flows onto those beats. “Riot” closes the record with the sentimental instrumental sampling jazz legend, and uncle, Hugh Masekela. It feels like a proper ending to Earl’s chronicle, but the events that have transpired will always be apart of his life. At the end of it all, Some Rap Songs will remain forever a tombstone of his anguish.
8. The Spirit of the Beehive — Hypnic Jerks
There’s no other dream pop record this decade that could top this almost-perfect album. The hushed vocalizations of Zach Schwartz and Rivka Ravede offer a quiet intimacy in the dreamscape that is Hypnic Jerks. The title in itself lends to the idea of being half asleep and half awake — to be in an altered state where the real and surreal are just two sides of the same coin. Tracks like “poly swim” and “it’s gonna find you” entrance you into that state of unconscious, while “can i receive the contact?” and “hypnic jerks” make an effort to wake you up from the sublime. Field recordings filter in and out between songs as if you were hallucinating the whole time. It’s when “nail i couldn’t bite” and “(without you) in my pocket” play out that you realize it doesn’t matter what state you lie in. Their lucid pop constructions reward repeated listens to the point of obsession in a somnambulant state. The record’s lack of acclaim only makes it feel like you’re in on a hidden secret. To this day, I am entirely spellbound to its sorcery and have yet to unlock its mysteries.
7. Iceage — New Brigade
Back in elementary school, I listened to a lot of pop punk, the kind that was rapturously melodic yet cheesily done and overproduced (Think Blink 182 or All Time Low). Until I listened to New Brigade, I realized what true punk music actually sounded like. Iceage was just fucking cool to me. Sure, they had the aesthetic, depicting bloody mosh pits and macabre rune art, but it was truly the music that broke into my spirit, shattering what I thought punk sounded like back in the day. I’d read pieces about their notorious live shows where they would play rapid 15-minute sets in Denmark’s sunless recesses, which only added to the band’s mystique. Upon listening to their debut, I felt musically fulfilled like never before. No more of the whiny, drawn-out vocals from pop punk bands. Frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt had the kind of angsty drawl similar to Nick Cave’s when he played with The Birthday Party, which offered an obscene yet confident instability to his performance. Johan Surrballe Wieth and Jakob Tvilling Pless’s guitars have just the right amount of filth in them — an abrasive attack on your soul, while Dan Kjær Nielsen’s drums are played propulsively in classic hardcore fashion — never meant decelerate. The record didn’t offer the tightest instrumental, but that was the point. Iceage has consistently released tighter and more spectacular punk records over the decade, but their debut broke the ceiling of what to me punk could and should sound like. From the cathartic breakdown of “White Rune” to the triumphant “You’re Blessed,” New Brigade was the record that gave me that spark, the one that carried me to rotting heights.
6. Frank Ocean — Channel Orange
Channel Orange will always be a classic to my generation. From Grammy-nominated “Thinking’ Bout You” to the sweet and charming “Forrest Gump,” we surf through Frank’s psyche in smooth and effortless RnB. Frank Ocean’s vivid universe is one of vibrant summers and distant getaways. Its colorful motifs paint a pretty picture for us — pink skies, monks in moshpits, peaches and mangos, roofs of mansions, palm trees and pools, Majin Buu. Most people I know around my age know the lyrics to most of its tracks. They’re as infectious as any classic from the past decade. I still remember listening to “Sweet Life” by the beach with a friend before attending his first tour. Everything felt right in the world when he sang, “so why see the world when you got the beach” as the waves crashed over the sand, and the summer heat glistened over the ocean. Upon its release, Frank Ocean opened up to the world to reveal his love for another man in an affectionate Tumblr post. It gave us an appreciation of an artist’s vulnerable identity while breaking the door open for other artists to come out in their own way. Frank later released his masterpiece in Blonde/Endless and a plethora of brilliant singles from his radio show, but the stories and music from Channel Orange will remain forever timeless.
5. Solange — A Seat at the Table
“Fall in your ways / So you can crumble / Fall in your ways / So you can wake up and rise” sings Solange, on the introduction to her restorative album A Seat at the Table. They’re words I try to tell myself in times of darkness. Solange just has that ability to let anybody express themselves through her music, to meditate on life’s injustices and pitfalls. It’s okay to be mad; it’s okay to rest and take care of yourself as much as you need to. We just have to rely on each other to get back into the fight. It feels like many of my favorite records from the last decade are imbued with themes of darkness and isolation. Fortunately, I still have Solange to let myself vent out those frustrations. Whether it’s the strings on the beginning of “Cranes in the Sky” that remind me to slow down or the horns projected behind Master P’s stoic orations that fuel my determination to keep afloat, A Seat at the Table plays like an instruction manual for self-care, black empowerment, and righteous activism. It’s consoling to know that I’m not alone in distracting myself from everything that’s wrong with the world today. 2016 was such an appropriate time for this record to be released. Solange gave us hope, grace, stoicism, and the ability to heal and recharge. A Seat at the Table may be a personal record to Solange, but as she sings on “F.U.B.U.,” this shit is for us.
4. Chance the Rapper — Acid Rap
It’s odd to say that my favorite rap record of the decade comes in the form of pop rap album Acid Rap. In making this list, I thought about the obvious greats in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. In the end, Chance’s second mixtape brought me more joy than any of those records did. It gave me the cringiest but most pleasurable musical moments with the homies singing along to tracks like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and “Pusha Man.” Releasing it independently and as a free download, Chance’s spoken-word idiosyncrasies reveal themselves as classic pop rap gems by the end of the decade. Chance’s whole thing was just about pure positivity and having fun. The release of Kanye’s College Dropout and Late Registration was a time when Kanye (sort of) envisioned the anti-stereotype in rappers, countering the machismo and toxic masculinity found in a lot of hip-hop now and back then (RIP old Kanye). I could compare this era of albums to Acid Rap. Chance didn’t care about getting bitches or getting money. He just wanted to do drugs with his friends — to trip out on acid and go on a spiritual journey with the rest of us. Hidden beneath the positivity, Chance still creeps in a dash of realism and humanity on tracks like “Paranoia,” illustrating the life of gang-banging in his hometown of Chicago. It’s the earnestness in his raps that always pulls me back, the flourishes of piano when he raps, “I lean back then spark my shit / I turn up I talk my shit / Hope you love all my shit / I hope you love all my shit / IGH.” It turns out, as he declares on the outro, Everything’s Good.
3. Alex G — DSU
On DSU, time stops. The cult of Alex G is now cemented in indie rock lore at the end of the decade, with eight albums full of hooks, dreams, and shattered spirits. DSU was the first record I listened to by Alex G, and remains my favorite, despite him releasing better conceptual albums in Rocket and House of Sugar. No track can be skipped or listened to passively. With most of them springing under the 2–3-minute mark, ideas flow in and out without direction but coalesce into an impressionistic and breathtaking work of art. Hints of Elliott Smith and Isaac Brock echo in the duality of harsh guitar distortion and melodious pop hooks. Guitar feedback never felt so comforting as it colors the magnificence of Alex G’s composition. There’s a kind of deep melancholy in each track despite the ambiguous surrealism lyrics, a perfect winter record to listen to alone in your room, or walk through the piles of snow in the night. Its murky yet lush production somehow reaches out to you, helps you drown in its depths, and remains there for its 37-minute span. Whether it’s “Skipper” fully attuning you to its hushed presence, or the entrancing opener of “After Ur Gone,” I just feel like I want to close my eyes and immerse myself in there for as long as it allows me to.
2. Frank Ocean — Blonde
Frank Ocean’s Blonde arrived as a gift from the heavens. For five years, my friends and I had joked and memed about when the new Frank was coming out — whether it was ever going to come out. Years after its release, it has evolved into the masterpiece that I’ve always wanted him to create. When Endless came out, I felt somewhat disappointed at the material — although later served as the perfect complement to Blonde — because of its lack of sensual pieces similar to those on Channel Orange’s effortless RnB and the latter record’s penchant for easy sing-alongs. Blonde, in turn, revealed a similar mood: the spacious vapor that fogged up behind Ocean’s intimate croon, the volatility in his voice that permeated your soul — it felt like an emotional load that was difficult to bear, yet something necessary that had to be experienced. I was just getting into my first intimate relationship when Blonde came out, and it’s made me realize how much I wanted to make that person happy, and that I couldn’t take any relationship I had for granted. I felt heavy after listening to this record. The sadboi hours’ memes ring true to its emotional weight. I would flutter to the arpeggios of “Ivy” as Frank sings, “I thought that I was dreamin’ when you said you love me,” bop to the duality of “Nights,” and shed a tear to the wistfulness of “Godspeed.” I wonder how much shit Frank had to go through to even get any of these songs on tape. It’s okay. I like to think that by the end of it all, Blonde was the catharsis he needed to spill his heart out.
- Tame Impala — Lonerism
At the end of the decade, seeing Kevin Parker as one of the most highly-touted producers and songwriters in pop music would be an odd observation if you had asked me a decade ago. The trajectory into that identity seems so far away from Tame Impala on their first record, Innerspeaker — an expansive work of art that recalled 60’s guitar psychedelia. On Lonerism, Parker’s music evolved into something even more seismic and innovative in scope. As the name suggests, Lonerism is a product of disaffection, self-defeat, and isolation. I’d imagine it was as fulfilling to other music fans of a type to detach from the world and just get lost in another’s. There’s a part on “Keep on Lying,” where an endless guitar solo is played in a dinner party being played out. It’s a similar feeling of getting dragged to somewhere by your parents when you were just a kid but just wanted to pop your headphones on and refuse to interact with anybody. According to Parker, he put in the sample to make the listener feel even more alienated. It’s a powerful feeling that lets anyone listening to the record in on that vulnerable sensation. Despite that, tracks like “Apocalypse Dreams” and “Elephant” still give us astonishing psych rock bangers while pop gems “Music to Walk Home By” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” demonstrate Parker’s guitar pedal gymnastics over vibrant hooks. Although Currents has skyrocketed him into the fame and acclaim that he undoubtedly deserves, this record will always be his opus in my heart. I’ve daydreamed enough times to the music where its world has settled into my subconscious. It’s a world that comes from genius, but it’s also a world that invites you to escape from the idea of Lonerism itself, to have something shared with you in solitude.