The end of the year is an exciting time for music journalists, especially when it’s the end of the decade. 2019 is winding down, and every publication’s agenda is dominated by determining which albums will stand among the best of the 10s. SideTracked is doing the same. This list features my favorite album each year from 2010 to 2018. It will be followed by a list of my favorite albums from this year next week.
Now let’s rewind back nine years and hit play:
2010: The Brave Little Abacus – “Just Got Back from the Discomfort – We’re Alright”
Genres: Experimental Rock/Midwest Emo/Post-Hardcore
We’re starting this list off with one of the albums I would most sparingly recommend. “Discomfort” is one of the most personal, cathartic and challenging records I know. Lisped stream-of-consciousness lyrics between ambient interludes and “Malcolm in the Middle” samples might not seem like a winning recipe, but tying these disparate elements together is the most important quality an emo record can have: authenticity. There is not another band that sounds like The Brave Little Abacus because there’s no one else who could sell a record like this so convincingly. “Discomfort” is uncompromisingly weird, but incredibly cohesive. This isn’t for everyone, but fans of bands like Cap’n Jazz or Snowing will find a lot to love here.
Honorable Mentions: Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Sufjan Stevens’s “The Age of Adz,” LCD Soundsystem’s “This Is Happening”
2011: C418 – “Minecraft – Volume Alpha”
Genres: Ambient/Video Game Soundtrack
Even if I could somehow remove my many hours spent playing Minecraft, which undoubtedly influence my love for this record, I would still consider it one of the most diverse and interesting ambient albums ever made. Beyond that, it is a masterclass on what makes a video game soundtrack work. When scoring a film or television show, you expect the audience to hear each piece for a minute or two at a time. In a video game, however, your audience might hear the same cut for hours. No matter how many times you hear “Subwoofer Lullaby” or “Sweden,” I guarantee you’ll be just as moved as the first time you started up Minecraft.
Honorable Mentions: Danny Brown’s “XXX,” Fleet Foxes’s “Helplessness Blues,” Shabazz Palaces’s “Black Up”
2012: Kendrick Lamar – “good kid, m.A.A.d city”
Genres: Conscious Hip-Hop/Pop Hip-Hop
There’s no denying that Kendrick Lamar released two of the best albums of this decade. His 2012 record, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” and 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” are both conceptual and political masterpieces which highlight Lamar’s exceptional lyricism and flow. I’ll concede that “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a bit more cohesive, but I find myself revisiting “m.A.A.d city” significantly more. The image Kendrick paints of growing up in Compton is both riveting and revealing, and I truly believe listening to and understanding this record will make you a better, more open-minded person.
Honorable Mentions: Death Grips’s “The Money Store,” Fiona Apple’s “The Idler Wheel…,” Lil Ugly Mane’s “Mista Thug Isolation”
2013: Deafheaven – “Sunbather”
Genres: Atmospheric Black Metal/Post-Rock/Shoegaze
There’s a very specific feeling that Deafheaven’s music conveys. It’s the feeling you get when your friends go out without you. It’s overhearing your coworkers laughing about something and worrying it might be you. It’s the feeling of knowing no matter how hard you try, you are never quite going to fit in. “Sunbather” is the sound of anguish, and anguish has never sounded quite so good.
Honorable Mentions: Kanye West’s “Yeezus,” Ichiko Aoba’s “0,” The Knife’s “Shaking the Habitual”
2014: D’Angelo & the Vanguard – “Black Messiah”
I vividly remember the first time I heard a D’Angelo song. I was a 17-year-old kid on his morning commute to high school when “Sugah Daddy” started playing on the radio. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. The light pitter-patter of the drums, the uplifting piano refrains, the screaming of the horns that’s only matched by D’Angelo’s delightful vocal performance—it all combined into the sexiest, most soulful thing I’d ever encountered. Five years later, it still is.
Honorable Mentions: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s “Piñata,” Swans’s “To Be Kind,” Sun Kil Moon’s “Benji”
2015: Jamie XX – “In Colour”
Genres: UK Bass/Deep House/Future Garage
“In Colour” is a magical album. For its brief 43-minute duration, all of your earthly problems—your stress, your fear, your insecurity—melt away, and there’s only the groove. Normally, records like this trade substance for that kind of security, but “In Colour” makes no such sacrifice. It’s cerebral and it’s celebratory, like a shot of serotonin directly to your brain stem. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, Jamie XX can assure you that “There’s Gonna Be Good Times.”
Honorable Mentions: Travis Scott’s “Rodeo,” Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Sufjan Stevens’s “Carrie and Lowell”
2016: Frank Ocean – “Blonde”
Genres: Neo-Soul/Alternative R&B
I certainly won’t score any points for originality in saying this, but “Blonde” is my favorite album of all time. In two years of using Last.fm, I’ve logged nearly 2000 song plays from the album, making it far and away the piece of art I’ve engaged with the most. Despite the sheer amount of time I’ve spent with it, I’ve never felt like I’ve fully explored “Blonde.” There will always be another sleepless night, another smoke sesh in the back of Brad’s car, another something that I’ll think of the next time I hit play.
Honorable Mentions: David Bowie’s “Blackstar,” Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition,” Jeff Rosenstock’s “WORRY.”
2017: Shoji Meguro – Persona 5 Original Soundtrack
Genres: Jazz/Lounge/Video Game Soundtrack
Shoji Meguro’s work for the “Persona” series sets a new standard for video game music with every single entry. “Persona 5” is no exception. No piece of video game music has been able to move me the way this game’s final boss theme, “Rivers In the Desert,” can. There’s nearly two and a half hours of material on the soundtrack, but not a single cut feels rushed, insubstantial, or otherwise not crafted with care. There’s nothing I can say about the game its opening theme can’t.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler, the Creator’s “Flower Boy,” Open Mike Eagle’s “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream,” Lorde’s “Melodrama”
2018: Kids See Ghosts – “Kids See Ghosts”
Genres: Experimental Hip-Hop/Neo-Psychedelia
Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s collaborative effort “Kids See Ghosts” was one of my most anticipated projects last year, and it delivered substantially more than I could have expected. Despite the album’s incredibly short runtime, it manages to play with a bevy of different genres, themes, and ideas. In the opening track, “Feel the Love,” Pusha-T delivers a hard-hitting verse, Kid Cudi shouts an unforgettable hook and Kanye scats ballistically over aggressive, pounding drums. Each part of the song vies for your attention in such a unique, compelling way that it quickly became my favorite song of 2018. This is the standard a collaborative hip-hop project should aspire to be. It’s an all-killer, no-filler showcase of each member’s strengths, and it’s the best project in either member’s discographies.
Honorable Mentions: Daughters’ “You Won’t Get What You Want,” Playboi Carti’s “Die Lit,” Earl Sweatshirt’s “Some Rap Songs”