A decade is an arbitrary measurement. They seem confined, these neat little symmetrical 10-year runs, but it’s only in hindsight that we define them, that their signifiers and trends and shorthand become codified. In reality, there are bleeds, the timbre and events of one chunk of time sliding over the border into another. If you’re seeking to characterize any period while you’re still living it, chances are that’s what you’ll see: the murkiness, the things that hang around or are just bubbling up, not yet having the distance to look back and tie a bow around history. Still, when that history is written for the 2010s, it feels as if it might still be looked at as a messy, transitional time — socially, politically, culturally.

This is the kind of shaggy, undefinable decade that feels like a passage between two eras, when the seeds sown in the ’00s came to fruition but when we have no clue where the hell we are going from here. You could feel dislocation and disorientation just about everywhere. This was the decade when most millennials reached adulthood — the generation that absorbed one kind of end-of-the-century optimism in the ’90s, then inherited a post-9/11 and post-recession America. People call us a lost generation, the ones who grew up in the final days of the old way of life, and the ones who grew into a new technological era whose social implications we still don’t totally grasp, no matter how passé thinkpieces on internet culture might seem now. It was a decade that harbored political hopes for a better civilization, then great challenges to a more humane future that have yet to be defeated. We have all of history in our pockets, but everything from here only feels more uncertain.

You could hear all of this in the music being made this decade, and you could see all of it in how the industry changed and how we consumed art. A recession and the technological realignment that came with smartphones impacted people’s ability to create and share music; it impacted how we perceive our mutual cultural experiences. What once seemed limitless last decade, with the advent of MP3s and music blogs covering smaller bands, has now fallen into diminished, depleted structures.

Your options for finding music are wildly expansive and theoretically endless thanks to streaming, but it creates silos. The same way the internet in general once seemed an entity of lawless possibility, a gigantic democratic mechanism, but eventually drove people towards those that simply agreed with them, it’s hard to pinpoint the true scope of new music now. Is an artist big because they headline festivals or have a movie sync? Are they big because sites like this write about them? When actual sales have decreased more than ever, the value and prominence of the work became harder and harder to fully understand. More and more, we seem to have conversations about how anyone but the most obviously successful — the celebrities — can make a sustainable life as an artist.

This new frontier also meant there were opportunities for bold experiments, as well as the sneaky business manipulations of the past taking new forms. Digital culture allowed for unprecedented levels of direct communication between artists and their fans, and it allowed artists to sidestep traditional apparatuses more than ever. The surprise release became an in-vogue method for an established enough artist to unveil their latest work. Much like the old-world maneuvering with radio play and charts, gaming streaming numbers became a crucial element of major pop artists’ business strategy, to the point that it impacted the creative side of things too. Famous singers and rappers started delivering bloated albums just to juice their plays; playlist placement became a boon for rising artists, the fake ubiquity of plays racked up by one list left on loop in some coffee shop somewhere leading people to strive towards a kind of sad, deflated rendition of what we once hoped a monogenre could look like.

We’re on the cusp of changes that could irrevocably alter our perception of pop music and how it operates. We’re exiting a decade in which people began to ask what an album had to be, anyway. Artists could drop it directly onto your phone; artists could upload to streaming platforms but keep editing and tweaking after the fact, turning it into a living, breathing thing. They might not think about the arc or story of an album anymore, when all it’s really about is the big singles anchoring a mushy 24-song tracklist on Spotify. They might find it pointless when infinite access and the invisible hand of the algorithm make it harder than ever to earn someone’s attention and ears, let alone money. There are many reasons to feel cynical about how music is being made and consumed. But that’s the transitional era. One could just as easily imagine, or hope for, a future in which artists aren’t in need of corporate patronage — whether labels or streaming companies — where somehow these new developments allow for a more fluid expression and creation of music.

The transitions are not just about business and functionality. They are also hinges in a story, spiritual reckonings. In the 2010s, we definitively entered the era in which all the old foundational artists of our notion of pop have started to die from old age. We lost legend after legend and, not to be morbid, it’s not going to get better in the next decade. There are always aged, beloved artists passing away, and new ones rising up — from new backgrounds, in new genres, who know how to manipulate the new landscape better. But this is a more significant sea change. All of that history we carry in our pockets weighs even more now. All those canonized, influential names from the ’60s and ’70s, the people who set the stage for so much of what came after, won’t be with us much longer. In a shaky time for the industry, and in a shaky time for society, we’re losing our formative idols and heroes.

Amidst it all — what we are watching slip away, what we don’t know about what’s to come — there is a lot to celebrate. In the face of a whole lot of threatening circumstances — late capitalist dystopia, the rise of right-wing extremism, apocalyptic climate change — it’s easy to feel like this generation’s going to be the one to see the world end. Every generation probably feels that, and they still create. So artists did that in the ’10s — those old icons leaving one last piece of wisdom while aging veterans and new voices tried to clarify their experience, to give us all some kind of connectivity and commiseration in tenuous times.

As much as we could disappear into our own corners, that’s what a lot of the best music this decade did: It communicated from further than ever before. Artists could rise to prominence in small towns and tell stories outside the industry’s urban hubs. Woodsy indie singers could appear on the biggest rap albums of the year. People crossed over between genres by creating hybrids, putting sounds — and their origins, and their listeners — in contact with one another. Rockers became dependent on a festival bubble that threatened to pop, becoming road warriors that took their music to far-flung locales. Those of us who grew up in the early file-sharing days became adults, savvy at navigating the web — knowing it was still possible for one person who felt alone in one corner of the world to find a kindred spirit, and that something new, some new sound, could someday come of that.

While the narrative of this decade is still cohering, there are those albums that stood out, the works that captured a moment and will, someday, be the markers that help us look back and make sense of something as macro as a catastrophic election and as micro as changes in local music scenes. There are works where people melted down history into a new sound, and albums where people refined their own interpretation of history; there are albums that aligned with great social change and albums that grappled with personal grief. For a period of time that felt constantly in flux, there was music that touched every part of the similarly messy spectrum of human experience. These are the albums that defined the decade as we lived it. –Ryan Leas

100 Future – Pluto (Epic / A1 / Free Bandz, 2012)

Future easily could’ve been a one-hit wonder, remembered for singing the hook on a song that wasn’t even his own. At the beginning of this decade, Future was merely a minor Atlanta mixtape star with Dungeon Family connections, known outside of town mostly for warbling on YC’s 2011 earworm “Racks.” But on his proper debut, Future proved that he could do anything: riot-starting anthems like “Same Damn Time,” lovesick balladry like “Turn On The Lights,” hypnotic strip-club reveries like “Magic.” He could transform standard Atlanta rap into his own psychedelic melodic playground. He could reshape the city in his own image. And in the years that followed, that’s exactly what he did. –Tom Breihan

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

99 Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Matador, 2016)

“It’s the new economy, we have nothing to offer and we sleep on trash,” Will Toledo sighs on “The Ballad Of Costa Concordia,” the 11-minute manifesto of Car Seat Headrest’s first proper album for Matador after years of Bandcamp releases. Teens Of Denial is an expression of adolescent angst that you haven’t outgrown, or the millennial disposition. What could’ve been written off as whiny or scrappy on Car Seat Headrest’s previous collection, Teens Of Style, is given new life with a full band and a clear concept. With this album, Toledo became something of a heroic poster boy for existential dread, assured in his emptiness and ready to validate our anxieties. –Julia Gray

98 PUP – The Dream Is Over (SideOneDummy, 2016)

Stefan Babcock found out that his vocal cords were shredded. He was told that he couldn’t scream onstage in a punk band every night anymore. “The dream is over,” his doctor said. So what did Babcock do? He screamed about it. The Dream Is Over is one big, glorious, life-affirming scream of an album, packing approximately 1,000 therapy sessions’ worth of anger and self-loathing and bile, 10,000 cathartic gang-shouts, and 100,000 melodic pop-punk hooks into its frenzied half-hour runtime. And against all odds, PUP made it look easy. That’s something worth screaming for. –Peter Helman

97 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop, 2015)

Courtney Barnett’s first studio album opens with an awkward conversation about suicide, and it ends with an awkward conversation about a funeral. In between, the LP crams in nearly a dozen finely observed short stories about people struggling through quotidian life, with Barnett as our bemused but incisive narrator — sometimes a character, sometimes not. It’s a writerly triumph, but it’s also a triumph of straight-up songcraft. Barnett proves her guitar-hero bona fides, knocking out blazingly ragged solos and serrated power-pop hooks that only make her stories richer. That first song ends with a young man proclaiming that he’s only visiting a downtown rooftop because he delights in being able to look at the world. Barnett, clearly, can relate. –Tom

96 Colleen Green – I Want To Grow Up (Hardly Art, 2015)

Here’s a novel idea: a bratty power-pop record about not wanting to be a brat anymore. Colleen Green spends I Want To Grow Up desperately seeking maturity. Both the pursuit itself and the skill she brings to her craft suggest she’s farther along than she thinks — social anxiety, fear of abandonment, and television dependency notwithstanding. In an album-closing epiphany, Green declares, “I can do whatever I want.” By that point she’s already proven it. –Chris DeVille

95 Wye Oak – Civilian (Merge, 2011)

The line with Wye Oak used to be that they were one of the few young bands making guitar music interesting, making it feel fresh, at the opening of the ’10s. After Civilian, they began upending their style. That was because they had perfected something here: an autumnal, nocturnal kind of indie rock that was personal and emotive and yet had so many subtle shades that listeners could allow their imaginations to run wild and create their own stories within it. Jenn Wasner’s yearning vocals and fiery guitar work intertwined with Andy Stack’s tumbling then anxious percussion, the duo finding a sound that was raw and elemental and haunting, injecting newfound mystery into forms we’d thought spent. –Ryan

94 Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD, 2012)

Shrines lives on the borderline between pop and esoteric. Its creeping and crisp production would end up influencing a lot of mainstream music in the decade that followed it, but Shrines by itself is compellingly weird. Purity Ring’s Megan James and Corin Roddick made a universe unto themselves, a world of lofticries and obedears and fineshrines. The duo’s vocabulary is arresting and unforgettable, filled with menace and vibrant beauty around every corner. It explores parts unknown, a space that still feels utterly alien to this day. –James Rettig

93 Hop Along – Painted Shut (Saddle Creek, 2015)

Francis Quinlan doesn’t sing, she erupts. She doesn’t tell tales, she builds worlds. Painted Shut, Hop Along’s second album, is one of folk-punk American fantasy, where hindsight transforms memories into mythology. Songs take on the meandering trajectory of stories recounted to friends — side-notes and personal anecdotes take the wheel, riffs travel in and out of detours, vivid details flourish. But just as Quinlan’s slow-burning meditation reaches its revelatory climax, it ends with an ellipsis. She’s making sense of her life through an impressionistic reality. It’s a process that has no conclusion. –Julia

92 Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs (Drag City, 2015)

It’s right there in the name, but the name is also a feint. After years of more experimental endeavors and self-imposed exile — living in Japan, far from any brushes with the Western indie rock scene of his past — Jim O’Rourke returned with his first collection of pop-oriented songwriting in 14 years. On Simple Songs, he created his own esoteric mirror image of classic rock. His rusty guitars and haggard-beyond-his-years voice make songs like “Friends With Benefits” and “Half Life Crisis” initially feel like ’70s singer-songwriter fare, but then the jazz musicians backing him up nudge the compositions into subtly arcane shapes. Simple Songs may seem straightforward, but its atmosphere — all smoky air and late nights in faraway cities — only grows more alluring with time. –Ryan

HEAR IT: Bandcamp

91 Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Oceans, 2017)

On Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore album Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Michelle Zauner is watching her life from outside of her body. Intentions and anxieties are laid bare against a cinematic blend of shoegaze and ’90s indie rock, like a movie soundtrack from outer space. She gives head in a desperate attempt to please her partner, embraces gender roles to simplify the everyday, considers marriage to stave off PTSD and the fear of death. But her detached perspective ultimately meets alienation and trauma with acceptance, putting faith in herself and the cosmos: “Knuckled under pain, you mourn but your blood is flowing.” –Julia

90 Charly Bliss – Guppy (Barsuk, 2017)

Charly Bliss emerged from Brooklyn when the zeitgeist had relocated to Philadelphia. They took cues from decidedly uncool influences like the Killers, Fountains Of Wayne, and the All American Rejects. They could have easily been swept aside by trend-conscious indie-rock politics, but with Guppy, they charged out of the gate with a debut too emphatically likable to ignore. With theater-kid fearlessness, Eva Hendricks threw herself into these bright neon pop-rock songs like a superhero whose origin story involved lightning striking a candy factory, and she paired each catchy tune with lyrics as unflinchingly vulnerable as her performance. –Chris

89 Young Thug, Birdman, & Rich Homie Quan – Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1 (Cash Money, 2014)

There is no Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 2. Shady Cash Money figurehead Birdman assembled the Atlanta duo of Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, putting them together to promote a tour that never even happened. The improbable result: an hour-plus explosion of creativity. Thug and Quan, both on the ascent, found a strange and impossible-to-plan chemistry. Quan sang sad, bluesy melodies while Thug ran hyperactive circles around him, gibbering and cawing and twisting his voice into new shapes. The ad hoc group didn’t stay together long, but in their brief moment of time, they made something eternal. –Tom

HEAR IT: Spotify | DatPiff

88 Cobalt – Slow Forever (Profound Lore, 2016)

After recording three albums of bloodthirsty black metal, the Colorado duo Cobalt splintered. Singer and Iraq veteran Phil McSorley went off on a misogynistic, homophobic Facebook freakout, and multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder kicked him out. That would’ve ended most bands. Instead, Wunder recruited new singer Charlie Fell and made an album of overwhelming, surpassing power. On Slow Forever, Cobalt slow their frantic assault, incorporating riffs and atmosphere and hooks. But they remain as righteously furious as ever — a monolithic metal machine that magically transforms anger into catharsis. Cobalt fundamentally changed, and as a result, they got better. Miracles happen. –Tom

87 Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Mexican Summer / Software, 2011)

Daniel Lopatin constructed Replica almost completely out of samples from 1980s TV commercials, but it doesn’t sound like ironic consumerist nostalgia. It doesn’t sound like anything from this universe, really. Replica fused the ambient synth-drone dreamscapes of Oneohtrix Point Never with the repetitive loop-based aesthetic of Lopatin’s “echo jam” experiments, crafting an entire luminescent world out of fragmented voices and half-forgotten sighs. It’s a hypnotic triumph of abstract texture, haunted by memory yet outside all recognizable time and space. –Peter

86 Eric Church – The Outsiders (EMI Nashville, 2014)

Gruff North Carolina-born howler Eric Church found country stardom by belting out burly, melodically precise odes to small-town life and Bruce Springsteen. The Outsiders is Church’s insurgent move, the album where he ditches assembly-line radio hits and dabbles in proggy grandeur and funky percussion. But The Outsiders is still full of expertly written crowd-pleasers like the gorgeous lighters-up power ballad “Give Me Back My Hometown.” Those feuding impulses — rebelling from Nashville and inducing windows-down singalongs — are what makes The Outsiders a great arena rock album in an era where arena rock only barely exists. –Tom

85 Sleigh Bells – Treats (Mom + Pop / N.E.E.T., 2010)

Where were you the first time you heard Sleigh Bells? With their debut album, the Brooklyn duo recalibrated loud. Their in-the-red pop attacks are extremely of a certain era, but they’ve held up impeccably well. Alexis Krauss’ sneering cheerleader chants, Derek Miller’s hardcore intensity, and a ferocity on both sides adds up to a cocktail that is thrillingly chaotic and undeniably fun. Loud music is one thing, but to have those kinds of decibels on something as catchy and compellingly listenable as Treats? Well, fuck up my eardrums and hit repeat. –James

84 Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride (Columbia, 2019)

Vampire Weekend went away for a good chunk of the 2010s, and the world kept on spinning. When they returned at the very end of the decade, they came back with Father Of The Bride, an album that’s a whole lot different from what came before. But it’s proven to be endlessly rewarding, invigorated by the same intellectual curiosity, cynical fun, and casual ambiguity that characterized their earlier work. It’s ambitious and sprawling and never boring, a party with all your friends before the apocalypse. –James

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

83 Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon, 2017)

Priests spent years working on their debut album, crafting a quick and explosive marathon of fearsome hooks, guttural howls, and dread-soaked atmosphere. Nothing Feels Natural is a stunning, assertive new voice firing on all cylinders, radiating strength and vulnerability like they’re the exact same thing. While GL Jaguar twisted up surf-guitar riffs into jagged Dead Kennedys frag-grenade explosions, singer Katie Alice Greer let loose with a demonic gut-ripper moan, and the resulting sound was like Danzig fronting the B-52’s. Released into the world seven days after the grim spectacle of Donald Trump’s inauguration invaded Priests’ Washington, DC hometown, Nothing Feels Natural channeled collective stress into something beautiful. –Tom

82 Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus (ATP, 2013)

Each Fuck Buttons album somehow managed to be better than the last, and the duo bowed out for the decade all the way back in 2013 with Slow Focus. They left behind a masterful work of towering tension and inimitable noise. Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power adopt a cinematic sprawl, crafting narratives of unease and catharsis without a single word. Slow Focus presents moment after moment of memorable transformation, sounds and songs that dig deep under your skin and reveal more hidden depths every time you revisit them. –James

81 Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl, 2012)

On their second album, Brian King and David Prowse perfected the art of rocket-fueled barroom romanticism. Merging the noisiest punk with the heartiest classic rock, they howled at the top of their lungs about dreaming big, living courageously, and loving with a legendary fire. In doing so they set off a powerful chain reaction and became legends in their genre, if not a genre unto themselves. Thousands of inspired fans, hundreds of life-affirming concerts, dozens of copycat bands, and one identically named music podcast later, Celebration Rock stands as the “WHOA-OH” heard ’round the world. –Chris

80 Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (What’s Your Rupture?, 2012)

Parquet Courts are straight-A students who consistently skip class. They’re stoner bros who get high and talk about Western philosophy. Sharp rants and poetic ramblings abound on their sophomore album Light Up Gold. It finds their brand of brainy post-punk in its rawest early stages. Tight rhythms are given loose delivery. Intellectual tangents are accompanied by musical ones, tied together by chanted choruses. These songs are ramshackle anthems — stoned, starving, and “captive in this borrowed time.” –Julia

79 Big Thief – U.F.O.F. (4AD, 2019)

Over the past couple years, Big Thief had already garnered a healthy amount of buzz and an adoring fanbase, the sort of devout listeners eager to evangelize an overlooked band. Things finally clicked into place in a big way with U.F.O.F., an album immediately hailed as a masterpiece. Deservedly so: U.F.O.F. is full of enigmas and delicate beauty, a folk-oriented album made more elusive and transfixing thanks to its cosmic, spiritual concerns. It quietly urged you to sit with it again and again, like an intimate conversation with an old friend whose head is full of big new ideas. –Ryan

78 Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD, 2010)

Deerhunter spent their early years swirling their decades-deep record collections into harrowing, euphoric fever dreams. That process peaked with Halcyon Digest, a love letter to indie, psych, shoegaze, krautrock, garage rock, and the many music-nerd classics that fall between the cracks. Mirroring that musical ethos, the lyrics largely pay tribute to people living in the margins: the spiritually inclined queer love paean “Revival,” the loopy Jay Reatard tribute “He Would Have Laughed,” Bradford Cox singing from the perspective of human trafficking victim Dmitry Makarov on “Helicopter.” Whether trembling in near-silence or erupting into gorgeous noise, it never ceases to be breathtaking. –Chris

77 SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg / RCA, 2017)

SZA’s highly-anticipated debut album arrived in the summer, and thank god for that. The airy swaths of sound on Ctrl suit the season, commanded by SZA’s voice, among the most magnetic and straight-up interesting in pop. On this album, she oscillates between self-assurance and insecurity, rage and total desperation. There is never a sense that SZA is fronting, that she is only exposing a single part of herself for the masses to consume. Instead, she allows herself to be complicated, and that refusal to fall into easy categories gives Ctrl a sense of unbridled freedom. –Gabriela Tully Claymore

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

76 (Sandy) Alex G – DSU (Orchid Tapes, 2014)

Alex Giannascoli had already built up a sizable cult following before DSU, but his fifth album put the Philadelphia musician on the map. More ambitious work would follow, but DSU is charmingly compact. Giannascoli’s twisted reveries and pinched-nerve melodies are still a little tentative, like he’s a bit hesitant and unsure of his immense powers. The songs are warbled and stumbling — on “Harvey,” he turns a cocky platitude (“Success for my buddies/ Success for my friends/ Success is the only thing I understand”) into something sincere, and a reliable singalong at his live shows. A whole of autre rock music has tried to imitate Alex G and follow in his footsteps, but he’s still the best at what he does. –James

75 Charli XCX – Pop 2 (Atlantic / Asylum, 2017)

No other pop artist has done as much wild experimentation as Charli XCX did in the 2010s. What’s so refreshing about her discography is that no matter what — whether she’s rocking out on Sucker or maximizing chaos on the Vroom Vroom EP — she sounds so unmistakably her. Pop 2 is the synthesis of everything that makes Charli XCX such a singular talent. It’s a remarkable showcase for her skills as both a songwriter and a curator, teaming up with future-pop pioneers to force the rest of the mainstream to bow to her whims. –James

74 The National – Sleep Well Beast (4AD, 2017)

Just when you thought the National were settling into a winning formula of patient, downturned arena-indie for depleted times, they showed they could still evolve on Sleep Well Beast. A reckoning with the struggles of marriage informed by the darkened cloud hanging over America in 2016 and 2017, it featured songs that were refinements of past National ideas (“Nobody Else Will Be There,” “Carin At The Liquor Store”) but also bold new experiments like “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Sleep Well Beast.” Nocturnal and claustrophobic and weary, it found the National entering the final stretch of the decade with a collection that tapped into the atmosphere as vitally as Boxer did 10 years before it. –Ryan

73 Björk – Vulnicura (One Little Indian, 2015)

In 2013, Björk broke up with her longtime partner Matthew Barney. And in 2015, she bared her broken heart on-record for all the world to hear. Vulnicura isn’t an easy listen, but it’s an immensely powerful one. Soundtracked by Homogenic-era strings and electronic beats co-produced by Arca and the Haxan Cloak, the album unflinchingly traces the dissolution of her relationship in all its devastating, excruciating detail. There’s no clear resolution, no pithy lesson learned. But by the end, Björk’s made it through the worst — bruised, battered, but still breathing. “If I regret us, I’m denying my soul to grow,” she sings on “Notget,” before concluding: “Don’t remove my pain/ It is my chance to heal.” –Peter

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

72 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (Ghosteen LTD, 2019)

There’s a very short list of artists who have had late-era stretches as monumental as Nick Cave’s. Over the course of this decade, he’s released three albums that grapple with mortality and grief, each boasting songwriting so strong you could almost make the argument that he’s putting out his best work ever. Now, the trilogy has culminated with Ghosteen, a double album meditation on the loss of his son, and what comes after. Strikingly gorgeous, restrained but also intricately discursive, it’s a piece of art that answers the unimaginable by trying to make sense of all the big questions in life. Once captivated by mythology and Americana, in his later years Cave is making the most deeply moving and human music of his career. –Ryan

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

71 Low – Double Negative (Sub Pop, 2018)

Over the course of their 25-year run, Low established themselves as masters of a patient, minimal, achingly lovely form of indie rock. And then with Double Negative, they blew it all up. Aided and abetted by Bon Iver producer BJ Burton, they ripped apart their own songs, corroding them with digital decay until the distinction between signal and static was rendered utterly meaningless. They took the violence and the uncertainty of living in Trump’s America and turned it into something beautiful, a hymn for the end of the world that sounded like the beginning of a new one. –Peter

70 D’Angelo And The Vanguard – Black Messiah (RCA, 2014)

After Voodoo cemented his reputation as a genius and a sex symbol, D’Angelo disappeared. Feeling burned by the spotlight, he spent a decade-plus in the studio with Questlove and friends, waiting for the right moment to unveil his third album. His timing couldn’t have been better. The turmoil that launched the Black Lives Matter movement proved to be the perfect context for the noisy chaos of “1000 Deaths,” the tender organic soul of “Really Love,” and especially the spellbinding epic “The Charade.” In a world that’s only gone crazier, Black Messiah remains a salve, if not a salvation. –Chris

69 Taylor Swift – 1989 (Big Machine, 2014)

Taylor Swift was only 25 when 1989 came out, as its birthdate title is meant to remind you, and she had already been through a hell of a lot. Famous since she was 16 for her country songs, her previous album, Red, demonstrated that she was getting restless with the narrow definition of what a Taylor Swift song could be. That album started messing around with EDM and other in-vogue mainstream trends, but 1989 is where Swift dominated with ruthless pop precision. These songs are brash and bold and relentlessly catchy. Swift holds onto her country roots with her pointedly specific lyrics, but she lets these choruses soar, giving herself over to a tendency that, on subsequent albums, could sometimes be too much to handle. But 1989 is a peak, the perfect blending of two different Swifts. –James

68 Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City, 2019)

The last of David Berman’s many gifts to the world was a brutally frank self-portrait delivered with his signature wit, wisdom, and grace. Returning from a decade in exile with an anthem called “All My Happiness Is Gone,” Berman plainly announced his plight: “Way deep down at some substratum/ Feels like something really wrong has happened/ And I confess I’m barely hanging on.” Purple Mountains elucidated his situation in heartbreaking detail, rendering it with the most vivid arrangements in his discography. Before his death, to listen was to laugh, to cry, to worry for him. Now, instead of worrying, you mourn. But the album’s bleak epilogue hasn’t erased the joy Berman derived from crafting brilliant songs about despair, or the comfort and camaraderie those songs continue to emanate. –Chris

67 Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Polydor / Interscope, 2019)

Goddamn, manchild — Lana Del Rey ended the ‘10s with an album that sounds like an elegy for the decade, and for California, and for America, and maybe for human life on Earth. In a series of masterful torch-song lullabies, Del Rey — her whispery close-mic’ed alto more evocative than ever — offers up glimmering images of hedonism and depression and death. The writing on Norman Fucking Rockwell! approaches Leonard Fucking Cohen levels of arch depravity, and the music shines like sunset rays hitting the ocean. There is also a Sublime cover. If this is it, we had a ball. –Tom

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

66 Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl (Sacred Bones, 2015)

The multidisciplinary artist Jenny Hval deals in obsession. Familiar themes are employed throughout her discography, none more present than the human body. On Apocalypse, girl, Hval uses the body to pose gaping, existential questions about the way power manifests itself in daily life. Provocative and confrontational, Hval’s inquiries lead her to coin the phrase “soft dick rock,” and these songs explore its many definitions. On paper this all sounds lofty, a little bit abstract, but in practice it’s a hooky proclamation that it’s possible, even crucial, to push social norms that seem impenetrable. –Gabriela

65 James Blake – James Blake (A&M / ATLAS, 2011)

If James Blake’s first three EPs cemented him as an exciting producer to watch, his self-titled debut album was where he truly found his voice — literally. Instead of cerebral dance tracks, James Blake was more akin to digital singer-songwriter gospel-soul, placing his own naked vocals front and center and surrounding them with delicate wisps of restrained electronic melancholy. Blake found the beating human heart at the center of his inorganic compositions and influenced an entire generation of artists in the process, changing the face of pop music forever. –Peter

64 Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe (Domino, 2013)

Community is at the core of Cupid Deluxe, Dev Hynes’ second album as Blood Orange. Hynes spotlights the rootless and the marginalized. He weaves narratives from New York City’s ACE subway line, a resting place for many homeless gay teenagers. He gives the floor to underground veterans like Despot, who came up in Queens’ Def Jux skronk-rap scene, and king of London grime Skepta. The songs may have a shimmering ‘80s sheen, but Cupid Deluxe is a melancholic disco, a safe haven where underrepresented stories are front and center. –Julia

63 Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador, 2011)

It’s a story as old as time. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy and girl bomb the lightbulb factory in 1980s England where boy works. Girl dies. Boy feels bad. Boy battles with villainous narrator for control over the plot. Toronto hardcore band makes their definitive magnum opus, an epic 78-minute rock opera that brings punk and indie rock together in an ambitious explosion of hooks and riffs and roars and literary threads. David comes to glorious, glorious life. –Peter

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

62 M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute, 2011)

If you have nostalgia for your own nostalgia, Anthony Gonzalez may be to blame. With Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez pushed ’80s synth-pop and new wave to their aching cinematic extremes, resulting in a double album so epic he could only follow it up with actual movie scores and an absurdist left turn called Junk. This one could have been a soundtrack, too — and at 73 minutes, it verges on feature length — but no director could possibly match the fantastical images Gonzalez’s music conjures in your brain. –Chris

61 The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Dirty Hit / Interscope, 2016)

Within music criticism, the words “slick” and “pretentious” are generally pejoratives. If you’re using those words, it’s usually because you don’t like something. But the 1975’s second album is both slick and pretentious, and it’s all the better for it. Over an impossible 74 minutes, these British pop moppets chased every idea that crossed their pretty heads, shining all of them up until they gleamed and then presenting them to the world in one vast, overwhelming glob. On the LP, the band gives us dream-pop, white funk, shoegaze, and glittering balladry — all of it sharp and self-conscious and playful and exploratory and sometimes even wise. They used slick pretension as a force for good. –Tom

60 Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015)

2015 was a big year for Kamasi Washington. The saxophonist and composer contributed to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly mere months before releasing his breakthrough album, The Epic, on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint. While mainstream associations might have nudged him to center stage following his work as a sideman for Raphael Saadiq and Erykah Badu, The Epic doesn’t sacrifice Washington’s avant-garde spirit or traditional jazz roots for popular appeal. He references artists responsible for pushing the genre forward, bridging John Coltrane-influenced free jazz and Miles Davis-indebted fusion. Modern funk and soul flourishes follow his forebears’ boundary-pushing improvisation. The sprawling three-hour record is, indeed, epic — sublime and rewarding when digested as a whole. –Julia

59 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL, 2016)

Five years after The King Of Limbs, Radiohead returned with perhaps their most lush, gorgeous album. A Moon Shaped Pool featured new tricks — Jonny Greenwood’s experience scoring films leading to unforeseen textures on “Burn The Witch” and “The Numbers” — and some of their most affecting music to date, with standouts like “Daydreaming” and “True Love Waits” colored by loss from Thom Yorke’s split from his longtime partner Rachel Owen and her subsequent death from cancer. The mortality of the album was a welcome departure from the chillier, more cerebral aspects of Radiohead’s past. A Moon Shaped Pool sounded like ancient strains of human sadness drifting up amongst the stars. –Ryan

58 A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic, 2016)

Tribe’s swan-song existed against a lot of odds. For almost 20 years, their story was one of stop-start reunions, and when one finally stuck, it turned into Phife Dawg’s last chance to shine amidst his failing health. That makes We Got It From Here… an album both joyous and tragic; it’s a collection of veterans reinvigorated, on fire once more, compelled to get back to work together as the outside world began to fall apart. But the album, and its attendant tour, also became a goodbye and tribute to Phife, who died before the music was completed. What should’ve been a new beginning became a final chapter, but the album’s energy remains undimmed — or becomes all the more powerful — because of its complicated, implausible existence. –Ryan

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

57 Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (Columbia / Tan Cressida, 2013)

Odd Future’s viral ascension began with a music video featuring Earl Sweatshirt downing a drug-filled smoothie and spitting up blood, but the then-16-year-old rapper’s deft, menacing wordplay is ultimately what stood out. He disappeared from the LA alt-rap collective when his mom sent him to a boarding school for at-risk teens, so when he released his debut album Doris in 2013, it was a long time coming, and it was worth the wait. He trades the violent fantasies of his earlier work for somber reflection, his former jarring delivery for a satisfying monotone. A magnetic gloom plays out over Earl’s trip-hop and jazz-indebted production. –Julia

56 Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy (Atlantic, 2018)

2018 was the year of Cardi B. The New York rapper’s debut, Invasion Of Privacy, came on the heels of a media blitz and the titanic success of her single “Bodak Yellow.” The album lived up to impossible expectations, showcasing Cardi at her hardest (“Get Up 10″) and most vulnerable (“Be Careful”). Though this album was released in April, it came as no surprise that the joyous bilingual collab “I Like It” went on to become the Song Of The Summer. Cardi’s charisma can’t be contained. –Gabriela

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

55 Rosalía – El Mal Querer (Columbia, 2018)

Rosalía broke through at the tail-end of the decade by doing something extraordinary: El Mal Querer takes flamenco, an Andalusian artform steeped in tradition that is very rarely heard outside of its context, and juxtaposes it against propulsive electronic arrangements and pop sensibilities. Co-produced by El Guincho, Rosalía’s musky, capacious voice guides the affair. The next decade will belong to her. –Gabriela

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54 Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL, 2010)

Titus Andronicus’ second offering was a sprawling, intricate rock album full of multi-part epics that grappled with our sense of self within a loose concept of Civil War references. Almost 10 years later it still sounds bizarre on paper, but it was absolutely vital in execution, becoming one of the most cultishly beloved rock albums of the decade. Part of that was the experience and iconography Patrick Stickles laid claim to: As he sketches out a network of Northeast locations in “A More Perfect Union,” he lets us know that here is a new soundtrack, a new guide, for those of us who grew up in the somewhere elses, in the shadows of other places, on our road to whatever’s next. –Ryan

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

53 The Knife – Shaking The Habitual (Mute, 2013)

The Knife’s final album, Shaking The Habitual, is a manifesto. Borrowing its title from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, the songs on this LP synthesize Karin and Olof Dreijer’s readings of feminist and queer theory. Their weirdo experimental pop promotes a freer world, one in which climate justice is prioritized and the nuclear family structure is dismantled brick by brick. The ideas on this album are vast, but the Knife reinterpret them through dance music, the kind that makes a dancefloor throb with life. –Gabriela

52 Tame Impala – Currents (Modular, 2015)

Few new rock stars emerged in the past decade. Kevin Parker was one of them. On the 2012 album Lonerism, Parker’s project Tame Impala fused bongwater-rattling ’70s riffage with psychedelic idealism and breakbeat syncopation, vaulting up festival bills. He had accomplished the near-impossible. But rather than continuing, Parker disappeared into his studio and emerged with something distinctly un-rock. Currents played around with disco, ’80s synth-pop, swaggering R&B, and woozy studio effects, coming up with a sound that was druggy and vulnerable and all-encompassing. And Kevin Parker became a bigger rock star. Funny how that works. –Tom

51 Sharon Van Etten – Are We There (Jagjaguwar, 2014)

Sharon Van Etten’s voice can fit a universe inside of it. Aching and surprisingly gruff at times, it’s hard to listen to it and not feel moved. Are We There is Van Etten’s masterwork. Over the course of 11 songs, she sings of the end of a relationship as if it were the end of life itself, and in no way does she come across as melodramatic. There’s a lot of hurt here, but there are moments of triumphant defiance, too, like when Van Etten sings one of her best-known lyrics to date: “I washed your dishes/ But I shit in your bathroom.” –Gabriela

50 Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal, 2014)

El-P and Killer Mike had both been kicking around for years. But when they got together — first, it should be noted, for Mike’s underrated album R.A.P. Music and then as Run The Jewels — it was a shockingly combustible, popular combo. After a strong first outing, RTJ2 was a blistering, take-no-prisoners storming of the gates. In songs like “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1″ or “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck),” the duo perfected their approach: hilarious and thoughtful raps over explosive earthquake production that makes you feel like you could tear down whole cities with your bare hands. –Ryan

49 Panda Bear – Tomboy (Paw Tracks, 2011)

Merriweather Post Pavilion made Animal Collective famous, and Panda Bear was their breakout star. Noah Lennox’s first act as a newly crowned indie-music monarch? Tomboy, an album of droning, devotional cloudy-day beach anthems full of drifting soundscapes and transcendent harmonies alike. Eschewing the monolithic sample-based psychedelia of his solo breakout Person Pitch in favor of bite-sized song qua songs, he perfected his own brand of aqueous bedroom psych-pop and set a new high-water mark for years to come. –Peter

48 Snail Mail – Lush (Matador, 2018)

The conversation surrounding Lindsey Jordan when she released her first EP as Snail Mail always seemed to come back to her age. Having just graduated high school, she was deemed a promising voice in indie rock. But her debut album, Lush, established Snail Mail as a luminary in the genre, channeling its past and future. Many have likened her sharp vulnerability and muscular guitar work to early Liz Phair. There are also flashes of Sonic Youth and Paramore. But Snail Mail isn’t just repackaging these influences. Rather, they function as a mood board. Jordan’s lyrics read like diary entries, delivered with a raw melancholy, as if the words were coming straight from the voice inside her head. Snail Mail’s earnest longing is as contagious as the sticky riffs that guide it. –Julia

47 Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni, 2013)

Katie Crutchfield was young, but she’d seen some things. She’d crisscrossed the country on the DIY circuit, fallen in and out of love, forged strong convictions, learned hard lessons about human behavior, gained wisdom beyond her years. She’d figured out how to channel her experiences into raw, intimate rock songs that felt like not just a window into her life but an invitation into the underground network that seasoned her. The songs of Cerulean Salt must have killed at house shows, but once the world at large caught on, not many homes could contain Waxahatchee’s audience anymore. –Chris

46 Rihanna – ANTI (Roc Nation / Westbury Road, 2016)

Lacking the massive singles that anchored previous Rihanna albums, ANTI is a patchwork quilt of vibes: the fuck-you song, the lovesick song, the one where Rihanna belts her heart out. “I know I could be more creative/ And come with poetic lines/ But I’m turnt-up upstairs and ‘I love you’ is the only thing that’s on my mind,” she sings on one of its highlights. ANTI is Rihanna’s most definitive artistic statement, and if the last few years are any indication, it might even serve as her curtain call for being a mainstream pop star. –James

45 Pusha T – Daytona (G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam, 2018)

Drake’s Scorpion, the biggest rap album of 2018, was 25 tracks long. Migos’ Culture II was 24. Daytona, the first and best of the five albums produced by Kanye West that same year in Wyoming, was seven. In a musical landscape dominated by streaming-inspired tracklist bloat, West and Pusha-T’s laser-focused blast of old-school high-flying, drug-dealing shit-talk felt like a necessary antidote and hit with the force of a guided missile. If you know, you know, and it only takes one listen to know that Push is still the king. –Peter

44 Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans, 2017)

Contrary to the bleed of its core sounds, shoegaze can be such a limited genre. The greats are the ones who defined it, but also the ones who know how to expand and reconfigure it. Still: Did anyone expect this from Slowdive after a 20-something year absence? Their self-titled reunion album not only keeps their legacy intact — it’s better than anything they had done before. From celestial dreamscapes like “Slomo” to skyward roars like “Star Roving,” it’s the rare comeback album that leaps well beyond justifying the return of a long-dormant band and instead makes us wonder what we missed in all the time spent away. –Ryan

43 Perfume Genius – No Shape (Matador, 2017)

No Shape opens the same way most Perfume Genius albums have — a lone, tinkling piano and Mike Hadreas’ quavering voice rising above it like smoke. But then, a minute into “Otherside,” comes a huge, rapturous cannonball of noise. It sounds bigger, bolder, and brighter than ever before, and it feels like an arrival. No Shape is both a chronicle of the winding path to hard-won queer domestic bliss and a modern art-pop classic, an artist leaning into all of their weirdness and their excess and daring you to love them for it. –Peter

42 Ariana Grande – Sweetener (Republic, 2018)

Since releasing her debut studio album in 2013, Ariana Grande has evolved from promising former child star to industry it-girl. Her music has matured from elevated, albeit cheesy, teen pop to masterful ballads and bangers. But 2017’s Sweetener established her as more than just a pop star. Living through tragedy and finding new love stoked her most soulful, vulnerable songwriting to date. You can hear her point of view leading the sleek production, the cadences of her inner monologue echoing throughout. The experimentation that once sounded like trend-driven genre-hopping is handled with artful intrigue and purpose. Sometimes her heart throbs like a trap bass, other times it flutters with wispy percussion. Sweetener exposes Grande as a human and as an icon. –Julia

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

41 Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap (Self-released, 2013)

Chance The Rapper’s mannerisms and persona, his squawky yelp and his relentless Christian-dad positivity, have curdled into shtick for some people. That’s understandable. But on Acid Rap, he wasn’t yet a star mugging for his audience. He was just Chancelor Bennett, a hyperactive motormouthed kid overflowing with boundless creative energy and an endearing love of language — listening to Dilla, trying to get a hug from his grandma while stinking of cigarettes, lamenting the ever-present violence in his South Side Chicago home. There was real darkness there, but in Chance’s sing-song cadence and set to his jazzy orchestral soul, it all sounded fresh and new and light as air. –Peter

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

40 Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (Interscope / Polydor, 2012)

Lana Del Rey has made more mature albums since Born To Die, but nothing has captured her whole aesthetic in quite the same way as her debut. Riding off the high of “Video Games,” Born To Die is an amusement park of melodramatic Americana, fun and trashy and chic. “Baby, put on heart-shaped sunglasses/ We’re gonna take a ride,” Del Rey sings on a song that could only be called “Diet Mtn Dew.” It’s that playfulness that makes Born to Die the LDR album that’s easiest to return to again and again, an escape from the oppressive California sun. –James

39 Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City, 2010)

Accessibility has never been one of Joanna Newsom’s main concerns. Her harp-driven allegorical poetry deals in lush maximalism, ill-suited for the casual listener. Newsom’s third studio album, Have One On Me, seems daunting, with three discs totaling two hours. But a sharpened focus makes it her most engaging work. The production is stylistically varied but straightforward, incorporating harp balladry, jazz and blues, and a pastoral road song. Both her voice and songwriting assert newfound depth, opening up grand scenes for thoughtful excavation. –Julia

HEAR IT: Apple Music | Bandcamp

38 Drake – Take Care (Cash Money / Young Money / Universal Republic, 2011)

Drake’s music is about nothing if not wistful recollection. So let’s get in our feelings remembering a moment when the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar were young underground sensations, when Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj were in top form, when a storybook romance with Rihanna seemed more likely for Aubrey than a bromance with Chris Brown, when Cash Money was a unified dynasty, when blurring the line between rapper and R&B singer was still genuinely radical, when Drake’s albums crawled beyond 80 minutes not to pad his streaming figures but because he and Noah Shebib had too many brilliant ideas to contain. –Chris

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

37 Bon Iver – 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar, 2016)

Haunted by anxiety and depression, Justin Vernon retreated once more: not to a remote cabin but into noise, numerology, computers — anything he could use to batter his signature celestial folk-rock until it sounded as discombobulated as he felt. Yet thanks to the warm beating heart at their center, the deconstructed cyborg hymns of 22, A Million are as gorgeous as anything in the Bon Iver oeuvre. Consider it his very own Kid A, the polarizing, masterful left turn that proved Vernon would never be content to coast on the sound that made him famous. –Chris

36 FKA Twigs – LP1 (Young Turks, 2014)

When FKA Twigs’ debut album came out in 2014, it felt like the future of pop music. Five years later, it still does. Tahliah Barnett came up as a dancer, and there’s a physicality to her fluid, experimental R&B, her liquid voice pirouetting across splintered alien sound-worlds with ease. There’s a longing in her music, too, a desire that manifests itself in the sighs and coos and gasps threaded through her glitchy electronics. LP1 lives in the liminal space between fantasy and reality, but the reality of FKA Twigs’ talent is undeniable. –Peter

35 Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2017)

Phil Elverum wrote A Crow Looked At Me in the months after his wife, the multitalented artist Geneviève Castrée, died of cancer. He recorded the album in her room, using her instruments, and the resulting collection of songs is raw and untamed, a meditation on loss that refuses to be uplifting or inspiring in any sense. “Death is real,” Elverum asserts in the opening verse before he sets up his struggle to explore his grief through music: “It’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art.” He defies his own rulebook, and what we are left with is an album that paints a portrait of death unlike any other. –Gabriela

34 Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (MCA Nashville, 2018)

Within the efficient-but-restrictive context of Nashville country, Kacey Musgraves was a rebel long before she made Golden Hour — a proud Texan misfit who sang about wage slavery and same-sex love and casual weed enjoyment with breezy, no-big-deal empathy. But with Golden Hour, she dove into new worlds. Inspired by both romantic love and LSD, Musgraves dabbled with euphoric disco and digital psychedelia, coming up with a sound that exploded preconceived notions of country music. But she kept the cheerful precision and the laser-guided songcraft of her genre fully intact. She kept what worked, she ditched what didn’t, and she found whole new audiences in the process. –Tom

33 Beyoncé – Lemonade (Columbia / Parkwood, 2016)

Lemonade came in the form of an album-length music video with visuals so memorable that they’ve become an integral part of Beyoncé’s current mythology. But even without the stunning imagery, this album is a statement piece. Beyoncé has built a career on being unknowable, but she gets up close and personal here. She sings about marital infidelity, the silencing effect of celebrity, the challenges of motherhood, and the pain and triumph of black people — particularly black women — in America. Vulnerable and unflinchingly political, Lemonade has staying power. –Gabriela

32 Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop, 2010)

Beach House are one of the most consistently excellent bands of the decade, and they broke through the barrier on Teen Dream, not only commercially but artistically. Teen Dream would set the blueprint for every Beach House album that followed. The band’s newfound confidence can be heard from the very first notes of “Zebra,” scraping upward towards the skies. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally come through clear and level-headed. The chintzy instrumentation from their first two albums is gone forever. Teen Dream marks the beginning of Beach House in widescreen high-definition. “I’d take care of you, if you ask me to,” Legrand sings on its final track, and with that Beach House became one of the most reliable bands of the 2010s, a friend to take comfort in when things got far too loud. –James

31 Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop, 2015)

What does it sound like when a cynic falls in love? For Josh Tillman, the former Fleet Foxes drummer who reinvented himself as Father John Misty during a hallucinogenic-fueled epiphany, it sounded like a postmodern sun rising over Laurel Canyon circa 1975. I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album about love made by a guy acutely aware of all the cliches inherent to men with acoustic guitars singing about love, an album-length game of chicken with sincerity. It’s bitter and caustic and funny and mean, which makes the moments of genuine sweetness and connection hit all the harder. –Peter

30 Danny Brown – Old (Fool’s Gold, 2013)

It’s not easy to make an album of convulsive, bleary-eyed, EDM-inflected party-rap. It’s not easy to put on a ferocious display of pure rapping skill, either. And it’s definitely not easy to put together a public meditation on your own most dangerous flaws — PTSD-induced anxiety, drug appetites, constant loss of perspective. With Old, Danny Brown somehow did all three. At a moment when he could’ve ridden his own hornball festival-rap notoriety, Danny Brown turned festival-rap against itself, interrogating his own hedonism and taking a bracing look at his own habits. And it still slapped. –Tom

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

29 Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar, 2014)

“Are you lonely too?” Angel Olsen breaks the fourth wall and asks her audience a direct question a few songs into Burn Your Fire For No Witness. We assume the answer to be a resounding “yes,” to which she replies: “Hi-five! So am I!” Olsen’s sophomore album is filled with tiny triumphs like this one, witty moments that make you laugh when you feel like crying. Olsen is a formidable talent — that much was made clear on her debut album — but on Burn Your Fire For No Witness, her sense of self is her strongest asset. –Gabriela

28 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD, 2011)

If Annie Clark is the David Bowie of 21st century indie, this was her first great transformation. Any vestige of late-’00s Brooklyn baroque indie disappeared entirely as she came into her own on Strange Mercy. An icy album born in self-imposed isolation, it found Clark employing a whole array of new approaches, from synthesizers both crystalline and melted to guitars warped and plastic. Partially influenced by her father receiving a 12-year prison sentence for financial crimes, it also marked a more personal, yet still hidden, vein of her songwriting. That would become the fascinating tension of St. Vincent going forward: bits of real life altered within a digital haze, Clark simultaneously more removed and more revealed. –Ryan

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

27 Mitski – Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans, 2016)

Mitski has a vision. Her records feel like carefully orchestrated one-woman plays, where each beat and breath is thought out and milked for meaning. Puberty 2 sees her leaning into that conceptual instinct, culling a diverse sound palette to match the restless discomfort of early adulthood. A distorted guitar plays throughout, casting an accurate haze over the experience. Mitski channels lounge singer sentimentality, noisy punk rage, almost hymnal balladry, singer-songwriter acoustics. These personas coalesce to capture a tender, unbearable yearning. Solace is found in kissing and cumming, temporary salves that seem to find their way into almost every song. “I am a forest fire,” Mitski sings on the final track. “And I am the fire and I am the forest and I am a witness watching it.” –Julia

26 Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City (XL, 2013)

Everyone grapples with aging and mortality in their own way. Naturally, Ezra Koenig did so with a set of eloquent, effervescent character sketches that helped usher indie rock into its gleaming post-genre future. Supplied with deft melodies and smart turns of phrase like “The gloves are off/ The wisdom teeth are out,” producers Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid finessed Koenig’s hyper-literate pop songs into stylish internet-age chamber-pop without sacrificing the punchy immediacy that made Vampire Weekend crossover sensations. It didn’t answer many of life’s big questions, but Modern Vampires Of The City was a revelation all the same. –Chris

25 Deafheaven – Sunbather (Deathwish, 2013)

The loudest, most extreme underground rock music in the world can still be a comfort blanket if you use it right. On their second album, the San Francisco duo Deafheaven — they were still a duo then — blended up black metal, hardcore, shoegaze, and post-rock into one elegantly unwieldy whole. George Clarke screamed like a banshee, and Kerry McCoy surrounded those screams with wave upon wave of almighty guitar thunder, but Sunbather isn’t a discordant album. Instead, it’s vast and soothing and emotional — a smothering hurricane of warm reassurance for the sad and the numb. Roiling, gut-scraping noise never sounded so pretty. –Tom

24 The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian, 2014)

Adam Granduciel’s arc this decade has really been something to behold: from ranking as #2 to Kurt Vile as luminaries of a small but burgeoning Philly scene, to rising as one of his generation’s only new rock stars. The turning point was Lost In The Dream. And it was an unlikely one, most often compared to the previously unhip reference points of classic rock’s demise, the time when all the boomer progenitors of this whole thing struggled to adapt to the ’80s. Yet Granduciel’s vision was too romantic-but-wizened to deny, a Technicolor panorama of history and the present at once. He wasn’t lost in the dream at all — he was wading into it, repurposing it, wielding it, reviving it. –Ryan

23 Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (Def Jam, 2015)

The dominant image of Summertime ‘06, now and maybe forever, is the young and seemingly unwell white mother who tearfully read “Norf Norf” lyrics into her webcam. That viral video was an indelible moment, but its notoriety does a disservice to Vince Staples, the Long Beach rapper who, days before his 22nd birthday, brought a deadpan narrative swagger to stories about growing up in a virtual warzone. Over terse and minimal beats from Chicago legend No I.D., Staples turned his official full-length debut — a double album — into an intricately worded meditation on the mental wages of violence. And that really is something to cry about. –Tom

22 Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar, 2011)

Justin Vernon went to the woods and then he got famous. Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album is our introduction to Bon Iver the band, the rotating coterie of musicians that would go on to define Vernon’s trajectory through the rest of the decade. But before they went on to make glitchy folk spasms, they would perfect the intimacy that Vernon himself started on For Emma, Forever Ago. “Holocene” is perhaps the epitome of this kind of songwriting, a perfect song about how Vernon is far from perfect: “And at once, I knew I was not magnificent.” The songs on Bon Iver are stupidly simple but quietly ambitious, chilly hymns to lost earth and lost time. –James

21 Solange – A Seat At The Table (Columbia / Saint, 2016)

Solange started off the decade with “Losing You,” and she sure took her time following it up. But A Seat At The Table is an incredible payoff to that anticipation, the arrival of a Serious Artist, one who had always gotten less shine than her much more famous older sister. But A Seat At The Table thrives out of the spotlight; less pressure meant that Solange was able to get weirder, be more considered and methodical. A Seat At The Table weaves in and out of different narratives and sounds, from swirling gospel to buttery smooth R&B, and in between all that she offers up interludes that reflect on what it means to be black and left out of the conversation. And with that search for an identity, that recognition of a community, Solange solidified her seat at the table. –James

20 Robyn – Body Talk (Interscope / Konichiwa / Cherry Tree, 2010)

The songs on Body Talk are so good that Robyn couldn’t even release them all at once, lest she create a rift in the space-time continuum. Instead, she eked them out a handful at a time over the course of a year, so that by the time Body Talk arrived in full, it played like a greatest-hits compilation. It sort of is. Robyn was absolutely on one in 2010, and each song from the Body Talk era strikes the exact right balance between nostalgia and urgency. It contains two earth-shattering anthems in “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend,” and the rest of Body Talk is just as good, an absolutely unfuckwithable collection of invincible pop. –James

19 Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel… (Epic, 2012)

In the past 23 years, Fiona Apple has released four studio LPs — not even a two-album-every-10-year average. This decade, she has given us one. It’s enough. The Idler Wheel… is the most Fiona Apple of Fiona Apple’s albums. Apple was a pop star once, but The Idler Wheel… is not a pop-star record. Instead, it’s sidelong and peculiar, all grunted-out exhortations and abrasive piano runs and off-kilter rhythms. Lyrically and musically, it’s full of unexpected turns, sharp and shocking and revelatory little surprises. It’s Apple at the peak of her powers, doing things that nobody else would ever think to do. –Tom

18 My Bloody Valentine – mbv (Self-released, 2013)

It should’ve been impossible to follow up a perfect masterpiece of an album like Loveless. It should’ve been doubly impossible to do it over two decades later. But with mbv, My Bloody Valentine did both, making their glorious return to music after 22 long years. And against all odds, it was another masterpiece, a subtle refinement of their swirling impressionist shoegaze that reminded us exactly why these guys are the best at what they do. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for another reminder. –Peter

HEAR IT: YouTube

17 Lorde – Melodrama (Republic / Lava, 2017)

Lorde released her impressive first album, Pure Heroine, when she was 16. Expectedly, it’s rooted in adolescence — big dreams and lunchroom politics. On her second, Melodrama, the stakes feel higher. At 20 years old, she’d experienced her first love and her first heartbreak, wild house parties and poor decisions. If Pure Heroine boils in back-to-school suburban boredom, Melodrama sizzles in the reckless intensity of summer break. Her sound is sleek and cinematic, partially owed to Jack Antonoff’s ornate production. At times, it’s blown up larger than life. It’s (duh) melodramatic, its mood constantly reshaping to fit explosive bangers, lovesick ballads, starry-eyed odes, and a Kate Bush tribute. Melodrama is a self-portrait in flux, a sparkling display of growing pains, swelling in the heat of each moment. –Julia

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

16 Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty, 2015)

After becoming an NPR-friendly anointed one in the middle of the last decade, Sufjan Stevens got elusive, spending years crafting explosively colorful experimental pop freakouts. But Carrie & Lowell was a different kind of freakout: Stevens attempting to process his mother’s death through music. He did this by stripping everything back radically, making a set of shattered and unguarded songs about his childhood and about the flawed people who raised him. The result: an elegant heartbreaker of an album, and a stark reminder of why everyone loved this guy in the first place. –Tom

15 David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia / RCA / ISO, 2016)

Blackstar was a jazz-inflected space-rock opus that felt born from a different time and place, one only Bowie could see. Of course, the context only deepened the album’s meaning — a title track featuring one more reinvention of Bowie alongside a reference to the disease that was killing him, a longing to see the English countryside one more time in “Dollar Days” turning from an aging man’s acceptance of mortality to a dying man’s realization of finality. Losing Bowie, of all the legends of the past, seemed to send long and shuddering ripple effects through the music world. Yet while it was heartbreaking, there was also something beautiful in Bowie leaving behind his perfect ending — one more new sound, one more performance, one more identity, one more rebirth even in the face of death. –Ryan

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

14 Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge, 2010)

Like the opening shot of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs holds a magnifying glass up to placid residential communities and infiltrates the shadows that fall across their well-manicured lawns at dusk. Over the course of 16 songs, small tragedies play out with an almost operatic intensity: Childhood friends find their loyalty compromised when they join different high school cliques, a man reminisces about snail mail in the age of big tech, another laments his automated daily existence. At the same time, Arcade Fire capture adolescent nostalgia beautifully here; they return us to a time when suburban sprawl represented boundless opportunity as opposed to the vast unknown. –Gabriela

13 Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE (Def Jam, 2012)

Days before the release of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean shared a beautiful open letter about falling in love with a man. Although you could call it a coming-out party, creatively speaking, the album isn’t really about his sexuality at all. But on Channel Orange, Ocean took the same vulnerability and honesty and empathy you see in that letter and channeled it outwards, imbuing his darkest characters with a warm humanity and his most adventurous songs with enough exquisite pop craftsmanship to level a stadium. He filtered a whole constellation of R&B and rock and funk through his own arty impulses and emerged a mythical, elusive new star. –Peter

12 LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA, 2010)

LCD’s one-time finale remains a fitting denouement to the trilogy of the band’s first chapter. The through-lines that existed from the start reappeared in blown-out fashion, like James Murphy’s knowingly grand conclusion to the saga. Some of the middle-aged tribulations that would overtake American Dream were present here, the sheen and expanse of This Is Happening like an attempt for one more epic night to counter the reality of years slipping away. But amidst poignant tracks like “I Can Change” and “Home,” there was still humor, that euphoric other side to LCD, enough catharsis to position This Is Happening as a maximalist final move that promised no matter how weighed down we felt by life and time, we could always dance ourselves clean. –Ryan

11 Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (Top Dawg, 2017)

Having already spun tangled, insular reflections on his own life into a coming-of-age blockbuster and filtered his post-fame meltdown into a bugged-out jazz-rap treatise on the modern black experience, Kendrick Lamar decided to try his hand at mainstream domination. The result: a #1 single, a menagerie of rap radio hits, a goddamn Pulitzer Prize, and his most endlessly replayable album. DAMN. is as dense, thoughtful, and intricately layered as everything else in Lamar’s discography, yet it plays like pop music, and it popped off as such. No wonder he had to remind himself to be humble. –Chris

10 Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine, 2012)

You’ll always remember where you were the first time you heard a Taylor Swift dubstep drop. Swift was, at least ostensibly, still a country singer when her fourth album arrived. But while previous albums nudged into crossover pop territory, Red obliterated all borders with concussive force. All of a sudden, Taylor Swift was post-breakup pop-punk pout-snarls, girls’-night-out club jams, and the best U2 song of this decade. She was also writing the smartest, most considered relationship songs of her career. Red plays like a readymade greatest-hits collection. Swift didn’t just make a pop album. She made a pop classic. –Tom

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

9 Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION (School Boy / Interscope, 2015)

With E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen created a cult. The Canadian pop star, desperate not to be forever known as the “Call Me Maybe” girl, threw herself into her third album with absolute determination. It could only be the best — the best songs, the best producers, the best feelings. There’s a fevered urgency to E•MO•TION, a certain something that elevates it beyond just an impeccable pop album and launches it into the stuff of legend. The opening horns of “Run Away With Me” became a badge of pride. Oh, you like Carly too? And that created a community, and within that community Jepsen exuded pure joy, even when E•MO•TION is dealing with messy heartbreaks. Her love songs are broad and specific, performative and intimate, and they come in abundance. E•MO•TION is all killer and no filler, and it ushered in Jepsen as a generational icon, a chronicler of the everlasting and transformative power of love. –James

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

8 Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time (Capitol, 2013)

Sky Ferreira had been through the mess of major label machinery trying to make her something she wasn’t; she had been through years of false starts. When she finally released her debut, it was a moment of liberation. With a core sound drawing from reference points as seemingly irreconcilable as grunge and new wave, Night Time, My Time didn’t quite sound like anything else at the time — or anything since, either. Ferreira was choosing a more personal, alternative route than mainstream success, and yet she ended up locating a more enduring strain of pop all her own.

From “24 Hours” to “You’re Not The One” to “Love In Stereo,” pretty much every melody on the album was perfect; even the Suicide-esque static of “Omanko” is easy to get stuck in your head. And many songs — from “Boys” to the immaculate “I Blame Myself” — gave the album the heft of shaking loose the troubles and traumas of the past and willing yourself towards a new transformation. The long-awaited sophomore album has yet to materialize, but just remember: The last time Ferreira finally released an album, it was an instant classic. –Ryan

7 Beyoncé – Beyoncé (Columbia, 2013)

Beyoncé’s self-titled opus is one of those albums that may be more famous for its delivery system — a surprise release, a video for every track — than for its musical content. But the album wouldn’t have managed a fraction of the impact if its music wasn’t awe-inspiring. From meme-spawning smashes “Drunk In Love” and “Flawless” on down to the deepest deep cuts, her game-changing digital drop comprises classics on classics. Beyoncé’s catalog is too good to settle on an easy favorite. Some say she peaked with 4 or Lemonade or even the Beychella live album Homecoming, and there are strong cases for all of them. But no album was more pivotal to her legacy than this set of dark, artful bangers that obliterated genre boundaries, and expectations, at every turn. –Chris

6 Kendrick Lamar – good Kid, m.A.A.d. city (Top Dawg, 2012)

Kendrick Lamar’s stardom was never a sure thing. When he signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label, Lamar was a hyped-up internet-underground prospect, but he was also an intense and insular figure, rapping twisty and furious self-interrogations — not exactly Drake. But then Lamar made an album that nobody could deny. With good kid, m.A.A.d. city, he took us on a concept-album ride through his Compton adolescence — the ambitions, the temptations, the resentments, the constant looming threat of violence. And he shaped those feelings into songs — holding back when he needed to, rapping his ass off when it made sense, singing hooks that would still work at festivals years later. By the time Dr. Dre showed up at the end of the album, it sounded like Lamar was doing him a favor just by inviting him. A star was born. –Tom

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

5 Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry, 2016)

Channel Orange made Frank Ocean a celebrity, but Blonde made him an auteur. The striking minimalism exhibited on songs like “Solo” and “Nikes” can be heard all over the charts now, but at the time, Blonde felt like a free-associative mood piece. The album was accompanied by an exhaustive list of contributors and inspirations, but the result is a singular work of memoir. Ocean distilled the feeling in the only interview he gave after the album was released: “How we experience memory sometimes, it’s not linear. We’re not telling the stories to ourselves, we know the story, we’re just seeing it in flashes overlaid.”

On Blonde, he illustrates the claustrophobia that comes with living in the public eye and losing your sense of self in the process. “I’m just a guy, I’m not a god,” he sings on the album’s rambling and borderline-paranoid closer “Futura Free.” Escape comes in the form of hedonism, and the songs on Blonde are peppered with references to dilated eyes, tabs of acid, blow jobs, and fleeting romance. An intense loneliness broods under the surface of these songs, and on occasion it busts out of its casing and makes itself known. In those moments, Ocean really is just a guy. He could be any one of us. –Gabriela

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

4 Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella, 2010)

“I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” With those words, uttered at the MTV Video Music Awards just over 10 years ago, Kanye West — already a polarizing figure — ascended to an even higher plane of controversy. And so he cancelled his upcoming tour with Lady Gaga, retreated to a “self-imposed exile” in Hawaii, and invited enough famous collaborators to fill an impromptu Met Gala. He came back a year later with a singular masterpiece.

Like West himself, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is full of contradictions. It’s the culmination of the maximalist hip-hop he pioneered on his early records, a grandiose, proggy, overstuffed sprawl that somehow still functions as pop music, and every track on it is a stone-cold banger. In short, it’s a spectacular mess of an album, emphasis on the spectacular, and it took a spectacular mess of a man to make it. So yeah, why not — let’s have a toast for the douchebags. –Peter

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

3 Grimes – Art Angels (4AD, 2015)

A girlish three-eyed alien cries tears of blood on the cover of Art Angels, Claire Boucher’s fourth album as Grimes. She looks oddly beautiful, worn down but still fighting. It’s a fitting face for this sensitive, courageous pop mutation.

Grimes’ voice can escalate from whispery baby talk to a guttural scream within the course of a song. She chants like a chipper, twisted cheerleader on “Kill V. Maim”: “I’m only a man, and I do I what I can.” Elsewhere, she’s just Claire, daydreaming on “Belly Of The Beat.” But the tone remains unmistakably, sometimes mockingly feminine, postured to assert dominance in love and music. Her production draws from ’90s breakbeat, hook-heavy country, baroque string arrangements, rave-ready EDM, and bubblegum pop, fused with bloops and squeaks. The result isn’t merely an amalgamation of these genres; it sounds like pop from another planet, an otherworldly subversion of power dynamics and pop conventions. –Julia

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

2 Kanye West – Yeezus (Def Jam, 2013)

The multimedia circus surrounding Yeezus yielded iconic scenes aplenty: guerilla projections on buildings, an explosive and immersive SNL performance, Kanye West and Kim Kardashan making out on a motorcycle, an eerie touring production involving druids and a mountain and a Margiela mask. High-profile interviews and countless lengthy monologues further stoked the frenzy, his claims of being the “greatest living rock star on the planet” interspersed with tangents about water bottle design. West monopolized the conversation to a radical extent even by Kanye standards, much to the dismay of those exhausted by his bluster and the worshipful response to it.

Somehow, the music itself lived up to the hype. West’s creative output has always lived in the tension between his confrontational impulse and his gift for crowd-pleasing pop. This noise-bombed, deconstructed avant-rap freakout leaned into that tension until provocation and gratification became indistinguishable. On Yeezus, West raised eyebrows like never before — sampling the lynching narrative “Strange Fruit” on a song about paternity disputes, declaring himself divine before demanding his damn croissant. But more often, and more importantly, he raised the hair right off our skin. –Chris

HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

1 Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Top Dawg, 2015)

Some albums register as something else, something more, the very first time you hear them.

When Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp A Butterfly in early 2015, he was already acclaimed and beloved. The album’s predecessor, good Kid, m.A.A.d. city, was a wider breakthrough, a showcase of Lamar’s dexterity as a rapper — full of complex ideas and images, but within the arc of a specific story and recollection, situated in songs that were idiosyncratic yet endlessly relistenable. It was easy to anticipate a sequel similar in aesthetic.

To Pimp A Butterfly was not that. At first, it could be disorienting. Here were 16 tracks, many of them flowing in and out of multiple passages, across which Lamar incorporated whole histories of black American music — the West Coast rap in his DNA, jazz interludes, funk, soul. Like-minded contemporaries Thundercat and Flying Lotus contributed to the album; godfathers were invoked, from George Clinton’s appearance to the long message to Tupac that runs through the album. It was an epic and expansive listen, all these viewpoints and stories and genres coexisting and fluidly melding together. The album could feel both loose and intricate, both classicist and forward-thinking in its style and scope.

There had been a couple advance singles, but when To Pimp A Butterfly accidentally appeared online a week early, it mimicked the rush of a surprise release — all of us hearing something together, for the first time, with no idea what we were really getting into. The album set its stakes quickly: the warped, intense grooves of “Wesley’s Theory,” Lamar’s technical workout over jazz drums on the “For Free?” interlude, one of his greatest bangers in “King Kunta.” None of it was what we might’ve expected after good kid, and why should it be? He’d already made a perfect, monumental West Coast rap album. Now Lamar was laying claim to a wider array of music, pushing the limits of his genre while upending his own style.

It’s a meditative album with a dense array of themes, and similarly, Lamar expanded his sound so much that it was impossible to wrap your head around on early listens. He continued to show he could do anything, bend his voice to inhabit all kinds of different characters and scenes — raw-voiced on “u,” fake-sweet in the would-be psychedelic daydream of “For Sale?,” defiant yet conflicted on “The Blacker The Berry.” There were some precedents — it existed in a lineage related to ’90s conscious rap, and songs like “These Walls” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” could recall the best of the Soulquarians albums — but overall To Pimp A Butterfly was on its own wavelength in 2015.

It’s one of those moments the all-time greats can pull off from time to time — arrive with something surprising and challenging and wholly out of step from current trends, and yet make everyone come to them, make everyone want to sound like them. In the hands of another artist, in another time, such a left turn would be the move of a once-promising mainstream prospect deciding they were more comfortable in an avant-garde underground. But when Lamar did it, he cemented his status as the artist of a generation, the most vital voice in what would turn out to be a tumultuous, divided decade.

To Pimp A Butterfly became an important album right away. The exploration of black music was the backdrop against which Lamar grappled with all kinds of facets of the black American experience — including going in messy, controversial directions like drawing parallels between police brutality and gang violence in “The Blacker The Berry.” He talked about people who grew up in poor, marginalized communities and later became wealthy; he tried to examine his own status, the bildungsroman of good kid followed by a self-accounting of a man who had found himself on the other side, elevated to celebrity and spokesman.

This giant multi-faceted portrait of one man’s experience, and his community and history, became a pivotal document in a moment when the deaths of innocent black people appeared on the news over and over — an epidemic newly obvious to most of America, partially thanks to social media. “Alright,” the most important song from To Pimp A Butterfly, became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. In the face of generations of struggle and subjugation, Lamar rapped about the times, but also found a gospel-esque hope in a chorus that would have to be repeated again and again: “We gon’ be alright.”

The social weight of To Pimp A Butterfly was solidified because of the cultural moment it arose from and responded to — the moment it helped listeners to process in real time — but in hindsight its reach and vision only seem more significant. A year and a half after To Pimp A Butterfly came out, Donald Trump was elected. Lamar released this album in the middle of a decade that began while we had our first black president and ended with the elevation of a racist, delusional con man, a country’s violent rebuke of recent progress that, even then, had not yet gone far enough. But as much as Trump would go on to generate startling, darkly absurd headlines, his ascension and what it represented was merely a symptom of a rot at the core of the country’s identity. Knowing what came next, revisiting To Pimp A Butterfly now only makes it feel more resounding, but also bleaker. As if what it galvanized in that moment was all for nought.

What is both personal and specific to one community also became universal. This is territory that is beyond the music industry, or album rankings from any era. To Pimp A Butterfly is the kind of work that looks all the way back to the sins that founded this country, and the longterm ramifications, the cycles that keep playing out. It powerfully addressed one era, but transcends its time. It arrived out of broken-down hopes, and lived on into a passage of history that was even worse — a time when it became that much harder to believe in that moral arc of the universe, a time in which it became harder and harder to believe we were really going to be all right. We need that refrain now more than ever. We need voices like Kendrick Lamar’s now more than ever. We need works of art like this, fighting for a country’s soul. –Ryan

Listen to a playlist with key tracks from all the albums (that are available on Spotify) here.