It’s list season and a particularly abundant one as we near the end of a decade. Plenty of great music to fill many scrolls but I’ve handpicked 50 of the records that spoke to me the most over the last 10 years. With the diversity of musical output increasing exponentially with each decade, it’s become impossible to sum up a decade with one overarching statement like we did with the 50s or 60s. This list features band members successfully going solo and unexpected collaborative albums, brilliant hip-hop albums that stood out in an overcrowded field, bizarre genre mashups that forge new ground, a psych and doom scene overflowing with great releases and elder statesmen of rock producing career-topping masterstrokes. The 2010s were rich with killer LP’s. Brilliantly conceived and painstakingly crafted; Long Play records that take you on a journey and make a statement, leaving you thinking about them for years to come.
If Songs For the Deaf summed up the pedal to the floor, testosterone-fuelled energy of your twenties, …Like Clockwork encapsulates your ever-adapting thirties; somewhat wiser, somewhat scorned. Reflective but still trying to dig to the core of what this whole human experience is about.
The album is replete with barroom genius turns of phrase delivered as both revelations and searing indictments. The songs run the gamut from the sludgy gothic (‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’) to top-o’-the-world bangers (‘Smooth Sailing’, ‘My God is the Sun’, ‘If I Had a Tail’) to snappy, poppy love-sick alternative hit (‘I Sat By the Ocean’). Homme also showcased his falsetto more than on any other album with a string of poignant ballads. The culmination of the album’s songwriting prowess is the monumental penultimate track, ‘I Appear Missing’. Like the ninth episode of a Game of Thrones season (***gratuitous 2010’s reference), the track is a full out existential battle that leaves the structure a smouldering pile of rubble. This leaves the tenth instalment, the title track, as an epilogue to quietly and soberly pick up the pieces and try to make sense of it all. We’re left with a final commentary on the breaking of the karmic wheel. Homme closes it out crooning “Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know”, leaving us to ponder the lesson that fair is for fairytales.
By this record, the lineup of melodic musicians had solidified with the rock steady core of Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen, Dean Ferlita and Michael Shuman. Percussive duties were up in the air during the process, which means the record is graced with three of the best drummers in modern rock n roll, Joey Castillo, Dave Grohl and current skin-smacker Jon Theodore. The album also featured some A-list guest spots with Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, NIN’s Trent Reznor, and even the great Elton John joining in to bang out some piano and back up some vocals. Past band members Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri also contributed, making this album feel like it summed up the entirety of the Queens’ reign. In terms of thematics, Homme is both at his most assured and most questioning, proving that those don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. A feel that wraps up the album in a nutshell.
Nothing released under the banner of Animals As Leaders hasn’t been impressive. The self-titled debut released a year before the beginning of this decade showcased in no uncertain terms that guitarist Tosin Abasi is a supreme talent both in his technical abilities and his compositional vision. To say his fretboard work is dizzying is an understatement but where his peers’ work could never be imagined as more than “a guy playing a lot of notes really fast”, Abasi manages to create vivid imagery with his sonic palette. Nowhere is this more fully realized than on ‘Weightless’, an immersive science fiction experience whose track names were derived from the chapter titles of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series.
This dark, dangerous, gruelling journey leads to a series of hard-fought triumphs of towering grandeur. From movement to movement, Abasi does 8-string acrobatics that few on this earth can perform throwing every extreme guitar technique into the mix from wildly inventive two-hand tapping to his own thumping technique that he created as an adaptation of double thumb slapping, previously only used by bassists. However, the strength of this record is in its cohesive melodics. The first AAL release was essentially a solo effort with Abasi programming drums and performing the rest himself. On Weightless, he recruited drummer Navene Koperweis and guitarist Javier Reyes to round out the lineup which gives the record seamless, organic transitions allowing Abasi time to prepare for each mind-blowing set piece.
Abasi was once asked to what he credited his tremendously focussed musical abilities and he said “practice, transcendental meditation, and cross-fit.” It’s no surprise then that this album is great for working out, whether you’re blasting weights in the gym or scaling steep mountains on an arduous hike.
He knew this was his last record. The songs have a definite inherent finality to them. Bowie had always had a fascination with death (…really, don’t we all?). His archive is full of deaths both metaphoric and literal but this record has the feel of a movie where the narrator is dead, recounting his life and the tales of the living from the beyond.
As with his previous release The Next Day, Bowie recorded this album in secret at The Magic Shop in New York. He kept the same level of secrecy about his impending liver cancer. With this record, he left behind his backing band, most of whom had played with him for decades, opting to work with jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his quintet. Bowie did not want to make another rock record and reportedly took influence from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (scored by the incredible Kamasi Washington) and jarring avant-gardists Death Grips. McCaslin’s ethereal playing gave Bowie the perfect backdrop to tell this final chapter; shrouded in a nebulous fog, swaying in the wind.
The tracks all ooze with his iconic personality. ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ and ‘Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)’ have the sheer kinetic energy of his mid-90s output with a real jazz drummer replacing the euro-techno electronics. ‘Lazarus’ uses an after-hours jazz club vibe to somewhat autobiographically recount his arrival in New York and the great effect it had on him. The title track’s stutter-step beat, ghostly hanging strings, and richly evocative sax work score Bowie’s tale of The Heretic or Outsider through the ages. Preserving the tale of the anti-hero in biblical terms, echoing his legacy. Closing out the album, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is a final bedside talk given to his legions of fans. An honest and open statement about not being able to be completely honest and open. A final testimony about the power of mystique and a very poignant way to wrap up his unique career.
After shedding all the sophomoric lunacy on the first two Puscifer releases that he was unable to express on Tool’s increasingly serious and spiritual albums, ‘Conditions of My Parole’ finds Maynard with a new way to express his thoughts on the human race; through the lens of mother nature’s temperament and the value of hard work. Winemaking in the Verde Valley in Arizona gave him a fresh perspective that meaning can be derived in ways other than spiralling out on some transcendental trip through space-time. ‘Conditions…’ is both the most electronic and most acoustic album he had put out to date, merging synths and drum machines with acoustic guitars and banjos. This is his mission statement on the idea of renewable resources and conservation as a spiritual calling.
Mojo is Petty’s late-career masterpiece. 2002’s The Last DJ also places high on that list with its vitriolic indictments of the record industry and tales of past dustups. However, it was on this 2010 record that he once again did what he and the Heartbreakers do best: capturing the heart of the American experience. This time it was through the lens of howlin’, balls-out blues. Every Tom Petty song gets its vibe (or “mojo”) from the guitar they choose to use on the track and this album put Mike Campbell’s newly acquired 1959 Sunburst Gibson Les Paul (the Holy Grail of vintage guitars) front and centre. The jump-and-run of ‘Running Man’s Bible’ and ‘Let Yourself Go’ shows the band’s mastery of the blues shuffle with lyrics that break the archetype. ‘I Should Have Known It’ with its snake-fanged riff is a rebellious rocker up there with the best in their catalog. With ‘First Flash of Freedom’ and ‘The Trip to Pirate’s Cove’ Petty wades through clouds of personal nostalgia, canonizing journeys of the past as if they were holy crusades. You can almost see the dry ice of memory billowing out of the old Cadillac. Then there’s ‘Good Enough’, a rock n roll elegy on par with Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ or The Beatles ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ to give the record a grand finale.
By the start of the decade, Cave and the Seeds had already amassed an impressive archive. The band channelled the punk rock energy from their inception into dark tales of nefarious deeds. They then managed to successfully pivot to love ballads and eventually tempestuous odes to figures both literary and historical. Push The Sky Away is the first in a trilogy that culls all these influences and presents them with an ethereal edge and a new level of lived wisdom. The immensely talented Bad Seeds gave this record an unmistakable identity, expanding on Cave’s primordial ideas with eerie synths, swaying strings and pulsing rhythms all delivered with the utmost in tasteful playing. This gave Cave room to spin yarns as only he can. ‘Jubilee Street’ and ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ are bone fide storytelling hits, ‘Water’s Edge’ is a wonderfully frantic piece enraptured with the underbelly, and ‘Mermaids’ and the title track deliver halcyon moments that are some of the best of his illustrious career.
Underworld have always straddled the line between dark, moody, drug-induced fervour and vibrant, transcendently divine, drug-induced euphoria. On 2010’s Barking, they leaned into the latter gravitating towards steady, confident beats and optimistic major chords. The tracks were written by the core duo of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde before being opened up to collaborative production by famed producers in the worlds of trance, drum and bass and dubstep. Hyde free associates the lyrics from the perspective of a travelling observer, expressing moment by moment the thoughts and images racing through his head as he makes his way around a modern European landscape. The album is about making it through to the other side, a positive record for seasoned cynics. A great record for the gym, particularly cardio.
Mind Control is all about grabbing a riff and riding it down the mountain and through the gates of hell. The Cambridge quartet hit the doom scene like a bomb with their incendiary sound that pulled the unstoppable drive of The Stooges and the powerhouse dirge of Sabbath together in a terrorizing vision of post-Altamont cult worship. The band’s late 60s-early 70s obsession translated to the recording process which was decidedly lo-fi. They cranked the old tube amps, relied heavily on room mics for the drums and recorded it all to tape that was pushed to its breaking point. The result is a record that doesn’t have all the pristine clarity of a modern recording but rather the warm, swampy feel of heavy records from their favourite hallowed era. This gives the album a throbbing pulse and a spooky mystique unlike anything put out these days.
Although it was the captivating story of a James Brown impersonator “discovered” late in life and releasing his debut record at the age of 62 that put Charles Bradley on everyone’s radar, his career would have been a flash in the pan if it wasn’t for his universally loveable personality and the pure unadulterated soul he exuded with every breath. No Time for Dreaming is a gospel that has the ability to touch the staunchest atheist. Kindness to your fellow man, strength through hard times and love are mantras repeated throughout the record. The incredible Menahan Street Band lay down the perfect soul-funk revue for Bradley to belt out that indelible howl that earned him the moniker “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”. Released around the same time were a pair of covers, Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ and Nirvana’s ‘Stay Away’. Both tracks are brilliantly reinvented, giving them a brassy new spin.
Waits’ output this decade has been relatively sparse. He acted in several idiosyncratic movie roles and collaborated on a few singles for other artists. His live performances consisted of a brief stint in the south of France, a farewell tribute to David Letterman on his program and a show-stopping spot at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, California. He only released one album this decade but it was captivating and iconic enough to last us for 10 years. Bad As Me has every element we’ve come to love from the gravel-throated singer delivered with a succinct perfection. There’s a transient nature to the whole album, Waits is still a restless vagabond after all these years. The railroad shuffle rolls heavy on ‘Chicago’ and ‘Get Lost’ with the band imitating the lumbering rumble of the train cars and the rickety clacking of the wheels on the rails while Waits huffs and puffs like the billowing chimney of a steam engine. ‘Raised Right Men’, ‘Bad As Me’, ‘Satisfied’ and ‘Hell Broke Loose’ all use his frantic mad man voice to define a certain kind of man. Living by an old fashioned code of honour but neoteric enough to enjoy the filth of modern pleasures. He also gives ample time to his crooning lounge singer roots and ‘Face to the Highway’, ‘Back in the Crowd’ ‘Pay Me’ and ‘Kiss Me’ are some of the best of his career. ‘Last Leaf’, a languishing vocal duet with friend Keith Richards, has the two looking around to find many of their contemporaries gone. For an artist who has had “Closing Time” as his modus operandi from day one, this album has a particular finality to it. Ultimately, it’s ‘Talking At the Same Time’ that proves to be his crowning achievement. The track, arguably the best of his career, nails the rainy night, back alley vibe with its pumping horn hits, drooping tremolo arm guitars and trickling drain pipe piano plinks. Waits maintains a sardonic falsetto with the sly rasp of a guy dealing “off the back of a truck” merchandise. Full of twisted metaphors and cynical truth bombs, the track delivers everything you want from an offering from the tongue-in-cheek troubadour.
11) TOOL – FEAR INOCULUM (2019)
Albums by their very nature take time to digest. That’s why we love them so much. Tool albums, in particular, take a long time to unravel which, to diehards, makes them so damn satisfying. Fear Inoculum has been shoe-horned into the top ten because although it definitely ranks as one of, if not the best album of 2019, it’s hard to gauge the legacy of a record that has only been out for a few months. Tool stretch their legs on this one with nary a track under 10 minutes. The album is a showcase for Adam Jones and Danny Carey’s masterful prowess at their instruments with Justin Chancellor holding the lengthy songs together with his classic echoing bass lines. Maynard still gives a nod to our cosmic place in the universe but largely returns to the hard truths and pointed vitriol of the Aenima era. A great album whose place will be solidified by the time we’re rolling over into 2030.
12) Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
13) Federale – The Blood Flowed Like Wine
14) T.R.A.M. – Lingua Franca
15) The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
16) Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
17) Graveyard – Hisengen Blues
18) Faith No More – Sol Invictus
19) Russian Circles – Memorial
20) Windhand – Eternal Return
21) Saul Williams – Martyr Loser King
22) The Claypool Lennon Delerium – Monolith of Phobos
23) The Black Angels – Death Song
24) Battles – Gloss Drop
25) Savages – Adore Life
26) The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
27) The Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger – Midnight Sun
28) Fuzz – Fuzz
29) Thom Yorke – Anima
30) David Bowie – The Next Day
31) Jack White – Blunderbuss
32) The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem
33) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
34) The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
35) Deafheaven – Sunbather
36) Russian Circles – Empross
37) Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
38) Meshuggah – Koloss
39) Death Grips – The Money Store
40) Daniel Lanois – Flesh and Machine
41) Grinderman – Grinderman 2
42) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
43) Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
44) Longwalkshortdock – Bigger Fish Frying
45) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
46) Radiohead – King of Limbs
47) Rocket Juice & The Moon – Rocket Juice & The Moon
48) Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Ears
49) Ex Eye – Ex Eye
50) Pallbearer – Heartless
Read our recently published feature, James Moore’s Top 50 Albums of the 2010’s.