Reflecting on the past 10 years in terms of music gave me kind of mixed feelings: I’m not sure if any of those records listed below will stand the test of time. But the question if they are as outstanding as such a list implies is not the one we’d like to pursue here. To me, personally, the 10s have been a decade of growth. Just like my beloved editor-in-chief called his collection trying out adulthood, I’d have to say that my taste in music definitely broadened in the past decade more than it had ever before. I almost completely lost interest in the 00s indie rock, I started looking at music not solely with the need to identify (that’s still a vital part) but also with an interest for new perspectives. I might not own these perspectives myself and I’m generally still drawn to miserable white folks feeling sorry for themselves. But often that’s not enough for me anymore.
Just as much as the discourse around me grew more existential and urgent in the past years, I feel that musically the whole past decade has been rich and enthralling. So I’m not a fan of fatalism here. There’s a lot of great music accessible to anyone anytime. And said music will always reflect on the things going on around us – I still believe that it’s a barometer of our society. Picking the ten most important records from the past ten years made me realize that once again.
Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ (2015)
Yeah, going with the probably most influential artist of the decade is a safe choice. But getting into Kendrick Lamar through this record spawned a lot of new fields for me: Afrofuturism, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates – there was a whole, intellectually challenging world out there, that before has been widely unknown to and ignored by me; me meaning the middleclass white male from a small town in Germany. Thus, this record can’t be over-estimated for my personal life. The musical and psychological complexity, the madness, the off-limit-skills, the merging of jazz, rap and pop, it all made clear to me: Not the future, the present of pop music is black.
The Antlers – ‘Familiars’ (2014)
I recently hailed The Antlers‘ outstanding Hospice which hasn’t lost any of its appeal ten years after. For this list, but also in general, there’s been another album by this highly underappreciated band that somehow didn’t hit me as much when it came out. But hearing it now I have to admit that Familiars is even more of a grower, a perfectly produced, highly complex record that might be The Antlers‘ best. Hell, in terms of lyricism and vocal performance probably of the whole decade. That might have to do with how important some lines and songs were and are to me because of a relationship. But hey, this list’s ought to be personal, right? So…“no guilt, no sorry speeches…“.
The War on Drugs – ‘A Deeper Understanding’ (2017)
Well, I obviously had to pick a different one from Mr. Granduciel than Norman did. But since Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding are on pretty much the same level anyway, it’s easy to make my point: While Lost in the Dream established the new, almost stadium-sized take on War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding feels, in a way, like the infamous, difficult second record. At the same time it’s their major debut after signing to Warner. Both challenges are easily mastered by Adam Granduciel. In the end, his whole output in the 10s marks a rather unexpected return of „classic guitar rock“ in the mainstream. The War on Drugs deserve credit for acting against any of the cock rock complacencies though. Granduciel’s gifted ear for immortal melodies grounded in psychedelic rock, his sensitive lyricism and an ultimately humble public appearance are actually the complete opposite of thankfully long gone rock star clichés. And that’s why The War on Drugs have been so essential to rock music in the past 10 years.
Future Islands – ‘On The Water’ (2011)
Lately I noticed that it’s not the obvious „hit-album“ Singles that I keep coming back to when it comes to Future Islands, but 2011’s On the Water. This record marks the change in Future Island‘s sound from „weird, gloomy wave dudes“ to the richly textured synth pop that culminated in Singles. But On The Water is actually more exciting because it marks the transitional period of a band ready to lift off. From the Jenn Wasner-duet The Great Fire, over the chilling Where I Found You, to the unpredictably theatrical Grease: A full package of an album from a band that was unlikely to have such an impact on music in America and abroad. But they did.
Bon Iver – ’22, A Million’ (2016)
Speaking about game-changers: What became of Bon Iver is a bliss to music. It might have started out as a „lonesome-folkie“-cliché but it ultimately resulted in one of the most inventive artistic collectives around. In the end, I always found something I loved about every record of Justin Vernon’s main songwriting project. While the self-titled 2011 album dwelt on soft rock within the familiar, folkish regions, 22, A Million opened up completely new paths. It’s a sketchy, deconstructed, impermanent record, leaning towards dissolution – but always with the perfect tune and the perfect voice, perfectly timed. Where formerly musical subscenes would have looked at each other with suspicion, Bon Iver set out to transcend any genre boundaries. Today, this band is as important for the rap and R&B mainstream as it is for rock or folk.
The National – ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ (2013)
With The National it’s similar to The War on Drugs: It doesn’t really matter if you pick High Violet or Trouble Will Find Me. I chose the latter because I personally listened to High Violet a little too extensively but still am able to find new favourite songs on Trouble Will Find Me. Both albums are The National peak on their songwriting. It’s unlikely that we will hear another record just like these from the guys. But that doesn’t matter. The National are getting better and better because for most parts, the musicians involved don’t identify solely about their band. If they get together and make music, there’s got to be a reason. They might have travelled the long road but now they are way ahead of their peers.
La Dispute – ‘Wildlife’ (2011)
I’ve never been that much into the whole post-hardcore/emocore-thing. But this record by La Dispute, as a flagship for a whole movement, cracked me right open. The breathless, restless immediacy of this well nuanced version of post-hardcore, paired with Jordan Dreyer’s ability to write that, to me, is still quite unparalleled, still add up to an irresistible cocktail. Maybe irresistible is the wrong word. It’s like a catastrophe, a manifesto and, in my opinion, a forecast to youths still to come that’ll be even more uncompromising, smart and reflected. In all its unfiltered tragedy and rage this record was a beacon of hope.
Kate Tempest – ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ (2016)
Speaking of politics: There’s been little more intriguing experiences than watching Kate Tempest perform Let Them Eat Chaos back then. It was before one got aware of her a little too forward defence of BDS and shortly after the Brexit referendum. Foremost it perfectly summed up the irritation, the feeling of being lost and pushed around by circumstances. Despite everything that’s happened since then, the power and unique voice that articulated on this record, the then yet-unheard mixture of poetry and rap left a mark. That said, let me add: There’s no need why whe, the listeners, should diminish this record or discriminate our beliefs in unity because of some movement that proudly speaks of cultural boycots where transcending borders should be the only and ultimate solution.
Blood Orange – Negro Swan (2018)
To be honest, this record feels a little too contemporary to include here. But then again, Negro Swan is too smart to not be included. And it definitely was another one of those records that transcended my listening habits. Imagery, lyricism and a flawless, peaceful but informed vibe even outdo Blood Orange‘s Freetown Sound, which was already my secret summer record of 2016. On Dev Hynes’ records, Zeitgeist manifests in a subtle, celebratory style. That’s why his music has played such an important part in the past years and hopefully continues to do so.
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011)
Where Kate Tempest acted from within the eye of the storm, PJ Harvey anticipated the turmoil. Not from the perspective of nihilistic punk but with the open eyes of an art pop queen, she birthed Let England Shake. Once more a new layer to her already rich artistic texture, the record paints a gloomy yet darkly festive image of the UK and England in particular. Can artistry be more on point in sensing current societal developments than the one of Polly Jean? „England’s dancing days are done.“ They are indeed.
Find more personal stories about our editors’ favourite 2010 records right here.