Writing this was a tough one for me and not because there were too many albums to pick from. I am probably the youngest member of NBHAP and at the beginning of 2010 I was barely a tender 11 years old. Back then my musical education consisted mainly of listening to the classic rock hits, like Foreigner or Free on, an even back then, outdated radio. The other exposure to the industry I had were my parents playing music on our countless drives to Italy in the summertime. Usually blasting anything from Bob Marley Babylon By Bus Live– one of my all-time favorites to this day – to Amy Winehouse and Jan Delay, the stereo was only turned off when my parents had to pull over at the side of the road to turn the overly large map no one uses anymore upside down desperately looking for the route.
However, back to music, so that was pretty much all I listened to. Next came a brief phase of excessive fandom of – not proud to say it – Taylor Swift’s early country records. My twelve-year-old-self was smitten by the blond curls and the cute country ballads. But I shook this one off quite quickly. My next transition was a turn by 360 degrees when I got hooked on 90s rap and old school Hip Hop. And for the next year and a half, I fully immersed myself into the music, digging deep through the archives of Hip Hop, g-funk, and rap. When I say deep, I mean deep not just 2Pac and Nas or Naughty by Nature kind of deep. I didn’t even realize how absorbed I was in that cosmos until I started looking through my music library for this article and was shocked to find it plastered with exclusively old school rap for the better part of two years. From then on, I just went further down the road of past music.
Living in the Past
Until I started working in music journalism my library was in almost reverse chronological order going from the present deeper into the past. I think I have gone down that road as far as possible when I discovered my love for Blues. One musician came along who put me on the path to discover the music that shaped my life the most. When I first listened to Jimi Hendrix I knew this was special. And as you have probably realized by now, I am an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to music, I spent about a whole year exclusively listening to all of his records. This sounds cheesy I know, but Hendrix made me believe in music. He was the first artist who made me max out my headphones – sorry dad – and moved me on such a magical level that I had to shed a tear simply because the music was just so. damn. good.
That, I guess, set the standard for everything else I listened to since. Luckily, I discovered many artists whose music had a similar effect on me but most of those were far out of my generation. I went on to trace the path of the music I love back to its roots in the aching Blues of Skip James and Robert Johnson. Now, when I listen to music I look for that same feeling. And maybe it was for my lack of research – which I didn’t need because I never got bored of listening to the old artists over and over again – or the overwhelming offering of music and the decline of quality coming with it, but I spent most of the 2010s in the past.
Then, someday while listening to Patti Smith, The Talking Heads or Led Zeppelin back to back, I stumbled into music journalism. I have to admit that when I started writing, new music simply meant anything from this millennium to me. But entering into the industry finally gave me hope for modern music and has thankfully shown me many great artists I would have probably missed out on otherwise. So, as you imagine I still have a lot of catching up to do but I am glad that my journey to this point has given me this very special approach to music. Of course, over the years, a few contemporary albums snuck their way into my heart as well. But this is the starting point from which I gathered the most important records of the 2010s. It was a hard task because most of the records that shaped me, and my understanding of music are from the past. Having said this, here it finally goes: the ten most important records from the 2010s from my very personal point of view in no particular order.
The Black Keys – ‘Turn Blue’ (2014)
The Black Keys have been around in my life for quite a while now and definitely deserve a spot in the favorites. Even though I love their gritty and heavy blues-rock albums from the early 2000s, I have to pick Turn Blue as my favorite – not only because it falls into the 10s. Weaving synth lines into rock can go horribly wrong, but the Keys knew not to overdo it. The simple electronic elements soften the guitar-heavy vibes. This record is one I never get sick of listening to because every song strikes a different chord. The overall nostalgic and heartbroken lyrics are simple but touching. From the throbbing bassline of 10 Lovers to the groove of Fever, the songs accompanied me over the last couple of years. Especially the stripped-back ballads like Waiting on Words and the title track convey simple painful beauty of melancholy and have been with me through some sleepless nights and rainy days. To single one song out, it would have to be the six-minute-beauty Weight of Love. The subtle beat, cranked up guitar faded into the background, and the softening synth lines go under my skin. Runner up for this one was also the previous record Brother.
Cyanide Thornton – ‘Cyanide Thornton’ (2018)
When I stumbled across this Australian trio last year, it was one of the rare times when I fell in love with a band from the very first note. Admittedly, this is a small cheat because it is only a seven-track EP but I just could not make it past Cyanide Thornton’s self-titled debut. The unhurried opening track Weight has a daring length of six minutes but does not waste a single second of your time. Carefully sculpted instrumentation is kept to a minimum except when the band works towards a crashing high of instruments, like on Rotten Tooth. The abstract way of singing slurring and blurring words to colorful pallets of sound is something that immediately reminded me of Patti Smith, an all-time favorite of mine. Cyanide Thornton achieved something I haven’t heard in a long time; I love every song on the record equally. Since I discovered them last year, they flicker across my headphones on a weekly basis. I am still desperately hoping for a sequel to this beautiful composition and the utterly poetic lyrics. This is one heck of an underrated band!!
Larkin Poe – ‘Peach’ (2017)
These Atlanta sisters also stormed my heart right away. A few years ago I stumbled across Larkin Poe’s Instagram and fell in love with their old school blues covers. From Son House to Skip James and less ancient artists like The Allman Brothers, no one is safe from these musicians putting their own twist onto things. I was so excited to watch their audience grow and grow and when they released their first record I was thrilled. Peach is not their debut but the first record into which the Duo incorporated more blues influences. The LP is a combination of classic blues covers like Robert Johnson’s Come On in My Kitchen and Son House’s Preachin’ Blues, which are two of my favorites, and own work of the musicians like Freedom. Rebecca’s powerful vocals harmonize perfectly with Megan’s, the kind of harmony that comes from family ties. My highlight last year was seeing the musicians live – two times. The energy they put on stage outshines the record by lengths and when Megan hopped into the crowd and went for a walk with her lap-steel the inner fangirl in me broke loose. So you could imagine about how excited I was when I got to interview the duo in Hamburg earlier this year. This is a band I would recommend anyone to see live if they have the chance. Also, ‘lap-steel’ – do I need to say anything else??!
Blues Pills – ‘Blues Pills’ (2014)
This is a band I am still waiting to see live. I do not remember how I came across these but with a name like that and the beautiful cover art; it was no doubt something I dragged from the shelf at a record store. The heavy rock guitar riffs still thrill me every time I listen to the Blues Pills. But the true star is the voice of lead singer Elin Larsson. Not afraid to shout her soul out, she goes from earthy rasp to ear-shattering rock n roll cries. Hard rock anthems like Jupiter fade to a gentler side of the outfit. Black Smoke starts off as a minimal guitar and vocal harmony just to burst into a crashing chorus. One of my favorites is Little Sun, also a rather calm and melancholic track. Slowly building up like a thunderstorm brewing on a hot day, the single picks up more and more speed. Blues Pills is a record that understands sorrow and pain but instead of wallowing in it, bashes it to pieces with energetic hard rock arrangements.
Alabama Shakes – ‘Boys & Girls’ (2012)
Alabama Shakes is a soul treasure my father let me in on. I remember the first time I saw the singer’s bleached hair cut and heard her voice I got goosebumps. Through her soulful cries, you can feel the emotion riding the lyrics. The singer pours her all and everything into the music sweating blood and tears, which is something I often miss. Between full-on band and minimalistic parts letting the singer take center stage, Alabama Shakes project powerful energy even on record. Between heartbreaking sad songs and musical euphoria with life-affirming messages, the Alabama Shakes are pretty much companions for any situation. I am not sure what they are up to at the moment but I am still waiting hopefully for some news from the band. A band in the most old school way. Without enhancing their sound electronically, they put together layered and deep compositions paying tribute to every instrument. Alabama Shakes are absolutely timeless. Be Mine the gentle groove with blue feels between optimism and nostalgia. ‘I sing me no sad song’
Bia Ferreira – ‘Ao Vivo’ (2018)
This is also a newer addition to the favorite records. I blindly trusted a friend of mine and went to the concert by the Brazilian singer and I was absolutely blown away. The compilation was recorded live so it is not really an LP but I could not not include this artist. The energy she put on stage at the YAAM was incredible. Fighting against racism, sexism, and homophobia in her home country and everywhere else, the lyrics are highly political. Throughout her enthusiastic live show, she stopped every once in a while to hold an emotional speech about the problems in society – luckily my friend is fluent in Portuguese and did some translating work for me. The singer’s voice trembles with anger and fury when speaking about topics close to her heart. The message goes underneath the skin and I am very glad I got introduced to the artist that way. As I do not speak the language, I got hooked mostly for the instrumentation and vocals. Coming from the tiny woman on stage are the loudest cries, the raspiest depths, and the pitch-perfect highs. If that weren’t enough Bia Ferreira also laid down some mean beatboxing. The Brazilian force of nature was my companion riding the crowded Berlin subways from harsh winter into the hot summer this year and I hope to watch the singer, who came from the Favelas, gain more listeners and spread her message.
Buddy Guy – ‘The Blues Is Alive And Well’ (2018)
I am probably holding onto something long lost with this one but I just had to include Buddy Guy’s 2018 release into the list. The Blues Is Alive And Well is not his most outstanding work, which would be remarkable considering the span of his career starting in the 50s. But to honor the legacy, and an artist that shaped my understanding of music, the record deserves a spot here. In classic Buddy manner, the musician slowly plucks, bends, and caresses the strings of his dotted guitar. Being one of the last men standing from the 60s Blues boom, Buddy Guy tries to cover everything with this album. Guilty As Charged is a tribute to soul-tinged Chicago blues. With bendy guitars and an irresistibly catchy shuffle rhythm, the musician honors his past. The title track is a slow and groovy and just a little bit cleaned up version of old blues classics. I probably listened to this record less than to some other Buddy Guy LPs but I sincerely hope he hangs on a little while longer to carry on the tradition.
Marika Hackman – ‘Any Human Friend’ (2019)
I found new love this year with Marika Hackman’s Any Human Friend. Not only her charming wit and refreshing attitude, during our interview back in July made me fall for this one. The punchy lyrics of the Londoner’s third record are the true star of the album. With a no-fucks-given attitude Marika sings of masturbation, sex, and love. The brutally honest lyrics are somewhere in between tongue-in-cheek and smart metaphorical images. ‘I gave it all but under patriarchal law, I will die a virgin’ she sings on the ‘wank-anthem’ Hand Solo. Her unhinged straightforwardness regarding her sexuality makes her more than musically inspiring. By fighting against stereotypes and being truly herself she leads the way for others to follow. Next to Bia Ferreira, Any Human Friend probably follows closely for the position of 2019’s most listened record (from this millennium).
alt-J – ‘An Awesome Wave’ / ‘This Is All Yours’ (2012/14)
Something in the vibe alt-J radiate caught my ear. It is hard to decide between the two albums An Awesome Wave and This Is All Yours because I picked the songs I liked the most of the both of them and that is what I listen to. The dynamic 5-minute track Nara is one of my favorites. Its ever-evolving instrumentation never seems to stay the same but shifts and turns like a kaleidoscope. Gospel of John Hurt is another song that has been with me through many late nights. The minimalistic instrumentation at the beginning fades into the smooth chorus of falsettos and whispers. Like a small but steady wave constantly curving the rocks, this one grew on me step by step. The heavier songs like Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle catch a completely different mood but something about their way of layering sounds is so unique alt-J that it can’t be confused with anything else.
Cari Cari – ‘ANAANA’ (2018)
To be honest, I was very worried about half-heartedly digging up another album to list here. Then Cari Cari came along and saved my day – special thanks to Annett for sending this one over my desk. Another perk was that I met the Austrian Duo right away and they turned out to be on a similar page as me musically. With Alex and Stephanie, I had a chat about old blues music, the driving force behind Alex’ guitar playing. Their debut album ANAANA is dripping of blues influences and even has a rendition of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night on it. I spent my summer vacation in Italy listening to Cari Cari and was more and more enchanted with each listen. They transport the rawness of blues to the 21st century and give it a modern twist without sounding too polished.
Musicians like these listed here give me hope that I do not need to listen to the same old albums forever (which I will probably do regardless) and that people still share the same vision as I do. Thanks!
Find more personal stories about our editors’ favourite 2010 records right here.