So it’s my turn now to go through what I consider to the twenty ‘best’ albums of years 2010-2019. I’ve spent the last month chopping and changing this list, thinking it is finally finished before waking up at 4am in a cold sweat screaming; ‘what about that record?’ I tried my best to make distinction between ‘best’ and ‘favourite’ if it’s ever possible to do that. I also tried, and sometimes failed, to quell my teenage desire to choose the most obscure records to make myself look super-duper cool. Lists like these are always subject to change and folly, four records in here were my albums of that year but don’t crack the top 10. And in fifteen years’ time I might hear a record released in 2014 I’d never heard before, that smashes all you see below. But for now, I’ve lifted the needle and paused for today, which is all lists like these ever are really.
20. ADAM & ELVIS – Through Snow & Small Talk (2017)
An album you’ve perhaps never heard of but a great one nonetheless. A deft fusion of 70’s pop and post-Pixies indie, this is a record defined by both hooks and moving intelligence – with Patrick Malone’s lyrics a mix of drunker, more bitter Cohen and a desperate but still sexy Cocker. A band destined for cult devotion.
19. Matt Berry – Television Themes (2018)
What could easily have been an awful novelty cash-in turned about to the most hypnotic, joyful and interesting record of Berry’s career. The album’s brilliance lies is not just too totally reimagine the themes for the sake of it, but to do so in order to reveal the hidden genius of the original compositions. A record that is inventive, hilarious but also deeply serious.
18. Benjamin Shaw – Guppy (2015)
The world’s best exponent of part-time, lo-fi but intensely original music – Guppy is Benjamin Shaw at his scrappily refined best. Looping drones, crinkling piano, lovely crackly static and absurd advert samples combine to create a record filled with wonderful DIY ingenuity. To some Shaw is the sound amateurism writ large; to others, myself included, he’s an unknown gem.
17. Max Richter – Black Mirror: Nosedive OST (2016)
Max Richter may have released more famous and longer records, but the 23 minute soundtrack he did for Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’ is perhaps his greatest work. An intensely melancholic piece of minimalist composition, Richter’s piano has never sounded more melodic nor more emotive. ‘On Reflection’ may be the single best piece of music released this decade; it’s a stunning depiction of intense desperation but rendered so beautifully.
16. This is the Kit – Moonshine Freeze (2017)
Kate Stables is arguably Britain’s best current songwriter, and Moonshine Freeze continues her run of making her latest record her best one. Stables melds folk and pop in a way that doesn’t demean either one, creating a sound all of her own, and with ‘By My Demon Eye’ she wrote the decade’s best chorus. Also a rare example of a band that sounds completely different but equally brilliant live.
15. The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset (2016)
At some level I think this is Kathleen Hanna’s greatest record, which is saying something. Hit Reset is Hanna at her most confessional, personal but also at her most poptastic, and this album contains more refined hooks than any Le Tigre album. Bookended by songs about her Mum and Dad, they are equal parts brutal and beautiful and testament to her song writing range.
14. Noveller – A Pink Sunset for No One (2017)
Despite A Pink Sunset for No One being her eighth record, Sarah Lipsate seemed to appear from nowhere when it was released in 2017. The album is a supreme example virtuoso guitar playing, but also how to turn virtuosity in evocative but deeply lyrical soundscapes. A Pink Sunset… is expansive and glimmering, filled with sounds that redefine what you thought the guitar could do.
13. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (2010)
James Murphy’s final LCD Soundsystem album (until the next one) is a master class in ideas driven dance music. Complex but streamlined, emotional yet distant – This is Happening is filled gloriously with killer hooks and devastating lines. Has there been a more exhilarating piece of music released this decade than the drop in ‘Dance Yrself Clean’? No.
12. The Antlers – Burst Apart (2010)
Burst Apart was the luminous shimmer to follow the mournful shriek of previous record Hospice. This is an album that still deals with extremes – death, heartbreak, the brutality of failed relationships. But on Burst Apart the music shines in multicolour rather than the stark monochrome of their previous releases. Every argument could be made that Pete Silberman has the most affecting voice in indie music; elegiac, graceful but desperately arresting.
11. Trust Fund – Bringing the Backline (2018)
The best indie band of the last five years’ swansong before lead singer Ellis Jones began his new career as an academic, saw Trust Fund at their most fully formed and sophisticated. Jones writes about mental illness in a way few others have – realistic, empathetic but devoid of sentimentality and cliché. And ‘ King of CM’ contains easily the lyric of the decade; ‘Oh, and so sweetly I reappear, a vision in royal blue
/The exiled King of Champ Man 01/02.’
10. Sarah Davachi – All My Circles Run (2017)
The biggest name to emerge from ambient music in the last five years, Sarah Davachi’s sixth record showcased her unique talent for music that feels harsh yet elegant, fierce but lilting. It’s been said that Julianna Barwick is white witch of ambient and Grouper the black, with All My Circles Run Davachi announced herself as a potent fusion of both.
9. Yoni & Geti – I, Testarossa (2016)
Yoni Wolf’s best record since 2008’s Alopecia, this collaboration with Serengeti is as weird and obscure as hip-hop gets. A skeletal concept album of poltergeists and sexual intrigue – I, Testarossa is a curious mix of the avant-garde and late-night drinking music. A bizarre, thought-provoking but wonderfully fun record.
8. The National – High Violet (2010)
The best mainstream indie album of the decade, High Violet announced The National fully to the wider world. High Violet is an album of perfectly crafted, low-key but complex indie; with Matt Beringer’s lyrics creating the weirdest, most cerebral festival sing-alongs ever. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ being a case in point, a pop gem whose main lyrical hook concerns paying interest on debts – bizarre but brilliant.
7. Marielle V Jakobsons – Star Core (2016)
Ambient music as cosmic exploration, Star Core is a mystical, uplifting and ultimately joyful record. Based upon minimalist synth, violin and flute, the record is nonetheless filled with a dizzying array of sounds. Jakobsons takes an ambient cliché, minimal music of a spacey flavour, and makes it completely her own.
6. These New Puritans – Field of Reeds (2013)
The most important band Britain has produced in a decade; These New Puritans’ third album shed some of the brutality of Hidden and created a masterpiece of avant-garde pop. Field of Reeds is uncompromising in its scope and ambition but never feels cluttered or cryptic – no matter the density of the ideas the band presents them with utter clarity.
5. Perfume Genius – Learning (2010)
Perfume Genius may have gone onto to become the world’s most esoteric pop star, but his 2010 debut Learning is as raw as music can be. Just a piano, brutally naked vocals and lyrics of simple beauty. And with ‘ Mr Peterson’ a song with the most surprising emotional journey in less than three minutes you will ever hear.
4. Jullianna Barwick – The Magic Place (2010)
A record that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before or since. Created from layered vocal, drone and piano, Barwick’s ethereal voice is stunningly original. An album filled with beguiling beauty, with sounds that at first seem totally alien but eventually feel as magical as the title suggests. The Magic Place is a unique and revelatory album that remains Barwick’s high-point.
3. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen (2011)
The first defining album of ambient music’s neo-Classical era, A Winged Victory for the Sullen is a stunning tour de force of modern composition. Graceful and complex in equal measure, this album offered a completely new context for ambient music and over the proceeding decade its influence is widely felt. This is a beautiful, enchanting and ground-breaking record.
2. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring (2010)
Romance is Boring saw Los Campesinos! throw of the youthful, frenzied exuberance of their first two albums to appear jaw-droppingly realised. Romance is Boring feels like a perfectly curated maximalist mess, with insane time signatures but undeniably brilliant pop melodies. This was record where Gareth Campesinos! came into his own as a lyricist; scathingly honest, witty, unafraid to discuss the darkness of mental health but also unashamed to place football at the centre of his writing. This is an under heralded modern classic from a band who never get their due.
1. Slow Meadow – Costero (2017)
How do you define something as the best album of the decade? Do any real metrics exist to make such a statement of finality? In the end, I went with the record that seemed to make time stand still when I first played it, which occupies my thoughts the most when it finishes. Matt Kidd’s second album under his Slow Meadow moniker, Costero, is an astonishing achievement – an album to be played to fill lulls, placate sadness or celebrate sheer euphoria. Within the swooning violin, the sepulchral cello and the gleaming piano is the full breadth of the human experience. Is it the best record released in the last ten years? Who can ever really say, but Costero is certainly the one that has affected me the most, and one that I return to again and again, and probably will do forever.