As we reach the end of the 2010s, it seems apt to reflect on what has been the most defining decade of most of our lives here at The Gryphon thus far – especially in terms of music. After much debate, we rounded up our picks for the best albums of the decade.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West (2010)
Opening the decade, a cultivated rap album, with each beat on every track meticulously placed to take the listener on a journey at the hands of West’s genius. Not his first album to receive mainstream success but arguably the one that marks Kanye’s transition from a rapper to an artist who displayed immense talent in areas surrounding production. The level of production displayed throughout the album is thought out to an extent that cannot be rivalled by other big players in the genre, who can usually match his lyricism. In this way, standing out by marking a shift in the rap genre. This album paved the way for the last decade of rap music; more intrinsic concepts with a shift on focus to the production, pushing the boundaries of what rap music is. The album blends techniques that are unexpected on a record like this, especially for the time. This lifts the themes by exuding their meaning not only through words but through emotions evoked by often simple melodies and techniques found in genres usually far from this one. An album to be enjoyed by listeners who appreciate music with deep themes and heavy beats that take you from feeling unstoppable with tracks ‘Power’ and ‘Monster’, to contemplating your own downfalls in ‘Runaway’ and the downfall of society ‘Who will survive in America?’. Kanye tackles a variety of subjects while still being introspective and personal; no track here is wasted. Kanye has never shied away from vulnerability in his works, but this album contains a rawness, displaying a deep understanding and dissatisfaction with oneself, but also the acknowledgement that to be human is to be flawed; you can’t change everything about yourself when those flaws are also your biggest attributes. Kanye transcends the decade, with an album that’s relevance is still felt today.
Born This Way – Lady Gaga (2011)
Coming straight off the success of The Fame and The Fame Monster, it was time for an image change for Lady Gaga. At this point, she was still early in her career and who knew if she’d be able to cultivate a legacy that would extend beyond her sophomore album? In comes Born This Way where Gaga turned the weird up 5000 and embraced discussions of religion, freedom, sexuality and feminism. The eponymous single when it was released became No.1 in over 25 countries. Since then, it has become the unofficial anthem of every Pride and has since become one of the best selling-singles of all time. Four of the album’s singles debuted in the Top 10 in the US Billboard 100. When the album itself was released, it charted in the top 5 of every music chart in the entire world and sold more than a million copies in its first week – the highest in five years. Born This Way is bold for its embrace of American patriotism whilst simultaneously critiquing its lack of inclusiveness. Now it is unlikely you’ll find any pop star who doesn’t embrace the LGBT+ community in some way but Gaga was one of the first. Gaga’s explicit embrace of the political turned off many in the religious and conservative right in America but set a precedent for recent pop music’s embrace of counter-cultures, in particular the queer cultures of drag and ballroom culture.
Channel ORANGE – Frank Ocean (2012)
Frank Ocean released his debut studio album Channel ORANGE in July of 2012. Before this album, Frank Ocean was known for his part of the rap collective, Odd Future, along with those such as Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. The album won the Grammy award for Urban Contemporary Album, as well as being nominated for the overall album of the year. The album also includes the hit ‘Thinkin Bout You’, which was additionally nominated for the Grammy record of the year. However, the awards it was nominated for are not why this album will be remembered. Channel ORANGE is a bid for the album of the decade as it was the basis of the major cult following that Frank Ocean has accumulated throughout this decade. While there is a debate between Frank Ocean fans over which of his two albums are better, Channel ORANGE or Blonde (released in 2016), for me Channel ORANGE is what is considered R&B. This is because the album is packed full eccentric, jazzy, R&B records with standout features from Earl Sweatshirt and André 3000. Seeing as Frank Ocean has been one of the most celebrated and impactful artist of this decade alone, Channel ORANGE must be considered for not only the best album of 2012, but for the best album of the decade.
Cupid Deluxe – Blood Orange (2013)
Blood Orange’s first album came out in 2011, but it was the release of Cupid Deluxe in 2013 that was most pivotal for Dev Hynes’ latest project, documenting the transition from indie-pop name to all-round artist. From the cheeky guitar work and pop-y synths on ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ to the slinky percussion on ‘It Is What It Is’, Cupid Deluxe layers hit on hit, groove on groove. The record flirts with different styles and moods, tainting buoyant melodies with aching lyrics and forlorn saxophone solos, with Hynes’ vocals effortlessly gliding from shimmery to snappy. There’s a whole lot packed into 51 minutes. The album sees the sensual yet playful sound of Blood Orange refined with elaborate, noodley guitar work and strong vocal performances. Hynes is not just striking in the album’s production, vocals and instrumentation, but also in his overall performance, with his presence in the accompanying music videos reinforcing this flair. Cupid Deluxe was formative for Hynes as an artist as well as for his audience: whilst it soundtracked an entire Tumblr generation’s teenage years, it also marked an important turning point in his trajectory as a musician, laying the foundations for the two seminal albums he would deliver later in the decade.
So Long, See You Tomorrow – Bombay Bicycle Club (2014)
Bombay are back in our lives and we couldn’t be happier, but with the new year bringing a new release I think it’s time to acknowledge the golden days of 2014. The London Indie rock band’s fourth album So Long See You Tomorrow, named after the William Maxwell novel, is a euphoric and vivacious electronic-pop dream, and one that cannot be rivalled. Jack Steadman’s iconic humanised vocals are elevated by distinct melodies and pulsing percussive progressions in the tracks like ‘Overdone’, and shoved to the sidelines as the band explore the marvels of electronica in iconic numbers like ‘Carry Me.’ Their endearing and enduring melancholic musings made the cut still, with ‘Home By Now’ a piano laden dream and ‘Whenever Wherever’ a polychoral masterpiece. Bombay have given us some belters, and the distinct 4-beat succession in ‘Luna’ and the oriental melodies of ‘Feel’ are known and loved by everyone born at the turn of the century, it’s a fact. The titular track ‘So Long See You Tomorrow’ ties in everything the band do so beautifully, from subtle sweet vocals to building bass rhythms and it does so in style. This album is iconic for the cover art alone, but all in all I don’t think you’ll find a finer ten tracks all in one place.
Get To Heaven – Everything, Everything (2015)
Everything Everything, a quirky four piece from Manchester, have flown under the radar somewhat within the indie scene. Their unique falsettos and ravenous use of a variety of genres, merge within Get to Heaven. What results is a conceptual record that displays courage in tackling progressive subject matter, without the sacrifice of the sound fans have come to love. This album culminates what the band does best, a refreshing wave of complex sounds and spoken word-like lyrics that stop a listener in their tracks. The album certainly doesn’t lack variety, with recognisable tracks ‘Distant Past’ and ‘Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread’ capturing bubbliness with undertones of a more serious distinction than most danceable indie tracks. Heavy hitters ‘No Reptiles’ and opener ‘To the Blade’ create a sense of determination whilst revelling in a nihilistic nature leaving interpretation to listeners who are left with ideologies questioned. The album in this way is determined a lot by the listener; switching off and enjoying the sound can leave you feeling uplifted, but analysing the more complexities scattered throughout the run time helps create a rather existential ponderance. An album that can give you different things at different times is hard to curate as masterfully as it is done here. While lead singer Jonathan Higgs was inspired by topics of extremism, this is not blatantly obvious when listening, and most songs carefully tread the line between metaphor and reality, making it accessible to all whilst still maintaining the band’s integrity to openly discuss taboo subjects that are often left untouched by mainstream artists. In this way the album is one that doesn’t have direct comparisons, not only pushing the boundaries in terms of musicality but also tone, a welcome deviation from other music that falls into this genre and a massively distinctive album for the history books.
Stoney – Post Malone (2016)
Bursting onto the scene with Stoney left the world in awe at Malone’s ability to craft music for the mainstream that was inspired by so many of the greats; not the standard hip-hop album you’d expect from a tattooed youngster when you compare it to others on the scene. This album contains an eclectic assortment of rock infused trap music with catchy melodies across the board, no matter the subject. The singles from the album are strong, and you’ll still find them being played in the mainstream nearly five years down the line. This album helped create a solid link between the rap genre and indie music, which demonstrates why Malone has had so much mainstream success. Malone has an endearing quality that can be felt throughout the track list; after bearing his soul on album highlight ‘Feeling Whitney’ it is hard to think of him as a generic rapper who can’t reveal any heartfelt sentiment in songs. Stoney is the perfect blend of danceable beats whilst still allowing Malone’s self-scathing sentiments to flow freely. Post Malone is certainly one of the biggest names of the decade, with a hold on listeners that not many others can compete with. A name that will surely go down in the history books for bringing a new audience to the genre and always putting on a good show.
Melodrama – Lorde (2017)
There is no contesting that Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama was ground-breaking. Entirely shaking up the meaning of pop, it arguably defined the transition into adulthood for an abundance of young adults; navigating the realms of partying, first love, heartbreak, growing up and everything in between, it has quickly become the perfect soundtrack for a universal coming of age. At times it can feel as though the New Zealander is chronicling your own thoughts, yet simultaneously there are elements which are so heart-wrenchingly intimate it almost feels intrusive. Swaying wildly from the love letter to party culture that is ‘Perfect Places’, to the hauntingly earnest ‘Writer in the Dark’, Melodrama encompasses every emotion under the sun beautifully. Numerous artists have covered these themes before, but none quite have the knack that Lorde does in crafting something so vibrantly melancholic and liberating. On ‘Supercut’ she sings of a love that is “wild and fluorescent”, a sentiment which arguably epitomises Melodrama as a whole: it’s completely luminous, an experiment in flashing lights and colour, and to not include it on this list would to do a complete disservice to an album that has birthed a revolution in pop that we’re still reaping the benefits of now.
Joy as an Act of Resistance – IDLES (2018)
The release of Joy as an Act of Resistance in 2018 was a particularly defining moment for music – pure unadulterated, rage-filled punk, the album stands as a vital example of how politics and music can closely intertwine to carry forth a crucial message without compromising the quality of their tracks. Though finding its beginnings in a place of darkness, the album is undoubtedly a force for good, tackling issues of masculinity, immigration, grief and Brexit amongst a wealth of other topics. Blatantly outraged at the state of the world, and rightly so, frontman Joe Talbot somehow flits from inspiringly vulnerable to absolutely dripping in sarcasm – perhaps an accurate representation of the band as a whole. There’s a sense of unpredictability to them; incendiary but comforting, the release of this album feels like a landmark moment in this decade. Sparking conversation and encouraging people to speak out whilst still maintaining their playful, compassionately riotous sound, Joy as an Act of Resistance was perfectly timed and perfectly done. Pioneering the way for more artists to embrace wearing their hearts, and their politics, on their sleeves, there is no denying that IDLES provided us with one of the most important albums of the last decade.
Norman Fucking Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey (2019)
Norman Fucking Rockwell is the album of 2019 as it represents Lana Del Rey honing her brand of nostalgic Americana to its rawest form yet. whilst the sound is more understated and stripped back, the lyrics are taken to new extremes of poise and beauty. Make no mistake, Del Rey is unashamedly stereotypical and cliche. But this sickly sweet bad taste is what makes her unique, and this album has pushed it further than she ever has before. Obscurely long titles like ‘Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ are so incoherent and uncommercial they make one stand up and take note of how much Del Rey is evolving. Rather than being ashamed of the tropism, Norman Fucking Rockwell chooses to place them front and centre. Referring to herself as ‘24/7 Sylvia Plath’ Lana casually compares herself to arguably the greatest female poet of the modern age. No biggie. Rather than cowering in the face of the criticism of her previous albums, Del Rey has emerged victorious and proud of the sound he produces.
Some years it seemed that the quality of albums made it impossible to choose just one…here’s some alternative picks:
Electra Heart – Marina (2012)
Known at this point in time as Marina & the Diamonds, Marina’s second album, which she said was dedicated to ‘dysfunctional love’, was the perfect release for the tumblr girl era of 2012. A concept album themed around archetypes in popular American culture, the eponymous persona flirted with passionate relationships, mental health, and the joys and hardships of being a teenager and a woman. The seamless blending of the separate archetypes (Housewife, Beauty Queen, Homewrecker, and Idle Teen) makes for a bubblegum pop masterpiece, and the easiness with which Marina sings about relatable but uncomfortable topics such as eating disorders and depression on ‘Teen Idle’ creates a jarring, distorted sense of idealism. Utilising the Electra Heart persona was a success for Marina, with the album becoming a cult favourite in a time when moods were best represented by black and white gifs created by people who idolised Americana. With key tracks ‘Primadonna’, ‘Power & Control’, and feminist anthem ‘Sex Yeah’, Electra Heart launched Marina into international stardom, and became a timeless fan favourite for years to come.
Born To Die: The Paradise Edition – Lana Del Rey (2012)
The album that launched a thousand daddy fetishes, the rerelease of Del Rey’s major label debut Born to Die, The Paradise Edition expanded on the American Dream vibes of the previous album. Diving into even more explicit depths with tracks like ‘Cola’ and ‘Lolita’, its controversial lyrics only served to propel it to new heights. Criticised for its fetishisation of older men with young girls, Del Rey’s revision of her debut only serves to expand on the natural sensuality her contralto lends itself to. For her main audience, young girls much like herself, the album was less about the sexuality that the male gaze sees, and more about the teenage rebellion. On ‘This is What Makes Us Girls’, she sings of a friendship and a kinship between young girls everywhere, an intrinsic bond. Lana is like our cool older sister telling us about her exploits with boyfriends, about love and sex and all that comes inbetween. The album that changed pop music for the better, Born to Die: The Paradise Edition is a timeless classic, and a major influence in the music of the 2010s.