65daysofstatic: Wild Light (2013)
“No-one knows what is happening. There is a lot of danger out there, OK?” Wild Light, 65daysofstatic‘s fifth album proper, came sandwiched between two soundtrack albums that showcased the two extremes of 65’s music: their Silent Running soundtrack took the form of the most conventionally post-rock material they’ve ever made whereas No Man’s Sky is the most experimental they’ve been. Wild Light perfectly captures the midpoint between the two. It’s a portrait of a band in transition and finds them making their most exciting music in a career that’s already head and shoulders above the competition.
Blanck Mass: World Eater (2017)
World Eater is Blanck Mass‘ masterpiece, finding him hit that sweet spot of the glitchy noise of previous record Dumb Flesh with the power and weight of his band Fuck Buttons. There’s a real heft to World Eater‘s mix of bleeding edge electronics and 80s synth drama that few have matched and fewer have bettered. It pulsates and throbs and crunches and flexes in all the right places.
Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
Courtney Barnett is one of the best songwriters in the world, and it’s as simple as that. Many people will tell you the pair of EPs that preceded Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, but neither of them contained a one-two punch like ‘Elevator Operator’ and ‘Pedestrian at Best’ with its clever-clever chorus of “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” (way ahead of you, Courtney!), and that’s before she breaks our heart with a story of house-hunting in the name of ‘Depreston’. Incredible stuff.
David Bowie: Blackstar (2016)
What is there to say about Blackstar that hasn’t already been said? Sure, sure, it’s the final moment of the greatest career in pop music, it’s the dying masterpiece of an iconic genius, of course it is. But it’s also really, really cool. Bowie‘s comeback album The Next Day might have been overhyped by people who were just happy he didn’t return with more daft drum ‘n’ bass, but that album’s dull dadrock and frankly terrible cover (don’t start) couldn’t possibly prepare us for Blackstar‘s lean, lithe electronic-flecked jazz. This is the sexiest Bowie sounded since Ziggy.
Girl Band: Holding Hands with Jamie (2015)
The scorched-earth sound of Girl Band‘s debut album Holding Hands With Jamie came as a shock to the system, even for people familiar with their France ’98 EP. It’s pummelling without there being any riffs to speak of, it’s noise rock where half the lyrics are about food. For a notoriously po-faced subgenre it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and quite unlike anything being done elsewhere.
Gorillaz: Plastic Beach (2010)
OK, listen, hear me out: Blur never made an album as good as Plastic Beach. No, wait, shut up alright, listen. Many people will say that Demon Days is Gorillaz‘ high water mark but Plastic Beach is more consistent and exciting at every turn. Demon Days‘ singles may have been more commercially successful but that run of singles from Plastic Beach, ‘Stylo’ with that Bobby Womack chorus, ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ with its sheer giddy energy and the crowning glory of ‘On Melancholy Hill’ where Damon Albarn does his understated-yet-crushingly-sad thing as well as he has at any other point in the past twenty years. And all of this is before we get to the overarching theme of plastic pollution destroying the oceans. Get your dancing shoes on, David Attenborough.
Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer (2018)
I’ll be honest, I was late to the Janelle Monae party, but when I first heard lead single ‘Make Me Feel’ it blew my mind. It’s so tight, so funky, so cool, it’s simply irresistible (and impossible not to mention the Prince connection). To somehow top that with ‘Pynk’‘s glorious celebration of queer black female identity is incredible even on paper; in actuality its barely-there, flickering whisper of a verse followed by the heartbursting technicolor chorus is simply stunning. And that’s before we get past the singles; the whole album moves from blissed-out pop perfection to gritty rap without missing a beat.
Johnny Foreigner: vs Everything (2011)
Johnny Foreigner (along with Los Campesinos who are featured elsewhere in this list) have spent the past decade making the very best indie rock on the planet. Their steadfast DIY values and unbeatable ear for a pop-punk hook married perfectly on third album vs Everything. A record in three movements separated by ambient passages with spoken word snippets recorded by fans at the band’s request, and it’s stuffed with the band’s finest moments. ‘200x’ rakes over the misery of endless New Years, ‘Supermorning’ does post-rock better than most post-rock bands in just four minutes, ‘(Don’t) Show us Your Fangs’ is the other side of ‘200x’‘s coin, all about the joy of cutting ties with people who really need to have their ties cut. It’s a sprawling beast of a record but such a wonderful thing.
The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (2013)
Speaking of sprawling beasts… Shaking the Habitual came seven years after previous album proper Silent Shout so it’s fair to say that expectations were high, and it’s also fair to say that the Knife really couldn’t give less of a shit about what you expect from them. The weirdo electro bangers they made their name with are still here in the shapes of ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’ and ‘Networking’ but they’re interspersed with the likes of colossal 19 minute ambient drone track ‘Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realised’ and ten minute noise freak out ‘Fracking Fluid Injection’. These are the reasons some people hated Shaking the Habitual. These are the reasons I love Shaking the Habitual. Oh and go and read about the gigs they did in support of it, ha.
Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can (2010)
When I put this list together I tried to limit myself to one album per artist, just to keep things interesting. What it really did was make things difficult for me: how do I choose between I Speak Because I Can, Semper Femina, Short Movie? Laura Marling makes music that, generally speaking, isn’t the sort of thing I listen to. So many people do the largely acoustic, folky, singer-songwriter thing that for me, they all sort of blur into one. And yet, Marling’s body of work stands with the greats. Just from this album alone, ‘Devil’s Spoke’, ‘Rambling Man’, ‘Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)’ feel like classics and felt like classics from the very first moment I listened to them.
LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening (2010)
This Is Happening was supposed to be LCD Soundsystem‘s final album, you know this, I know this, we know this. It wasn’t, and that’s good, because it’s great to have them back, but after This is Happening anything they did was going to be slightly underwhelming. What an opening statement ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ is; the first three minutes are minimal electronics bleeping and blooping away, before those drums kick in and it blossoms into a fizzing electro workout. This album is James Murphy’s masterpiece, shifting from analogue synth smarts like ‘One Touch’ to electro pop balladry like ‘I Can Change’ and even Bowie-indebted guitar workouts like ‘Drunk Girls’. There was nowhere for LCD to go from here, so they didn’t. And then they came back, so we can get drunk and emotional to ‘Home’ again, bless them.
Los Campesinos: Romance is Boring (2010)
I could have picked No Blues for this list, I could have picked Sick Scenes for this list. But Romance is Boring is where everything really fell into place for Los Campesinos. I downloaded their demos from MySpace, I know the silly twee dance moves they used to do when they toured their first album, I remember the confusion about whether or not their second album was an album. But Romance is Boring blew me away. All of life is here, whether they’re falling in or out of love or comparing girls that you’ve kissed to footballers (actually all of those things are covered in the ridiculously named ‘We’ve Got Your Back (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #2’). It’s here that singer Gareth Campesinos came into his own lyrically, from the brilliant creativity of ‘Straight in at 101’‘s idea of gathering around a TV to watch a countdown list of breakups, only to find that yours wasn’t “heart wrenching” enough, to the beautiful simplicity of ‘The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future’ doing exactly what it says on the tin via a story of a depressed friend who “can never kiss a Tory boy without wanting to cut off your tongue again”. There’s no arguing with that.
Muncie Girls: Fixed Ideals (2018)
From one album of sad bangers to another. Muncie Girls‘ stunning second album hit me like a bolt from the blue. I’d been looking forward to it following debut From Caplan to Belsize‘s sturdy set of feminist emo. But Fixed Ideals came as I’d been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and told the story of singer Lande Hekt’s similar diagnosis. So it’s hard to be objective about it, but it’s my list of my favourite albums of the last ten years so who cares. Also anyone who says ‘Picture of Health’ or ‘High’ or ‘Locked Up’ aren’t up there with the best DIY punk rock that rages against austerity and shit men should probably listen to the album again. Anyway I’ve got something in my eye here, leave me alone.
Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal (2010)
Oneohtrix Point Never has spent the last ten years getting ever more abstract, his latest work being almost pointillist in its micro-composition. As much as his more recent work are staggering works of art, detailed to the point of being intimidating, Returnal is a watercolour landscape by comparison. Washes of synths flood past, broken only by the title track’s pulsating structure, almost a pop song by the standards of the rest of the record. It announces its presence with a slab of industrial white noise that acts as a sort of palette cleanser for literally anything you’ve been listening to before, as if to say forget anything else you’ve heard, whether it’s music from a passing car or chatting in a shop or the telly on in the background, fuck that, you’re listening to this now. It pounds you in the chest and grips you by the scruff and then it’s gone, and the New Age ambience of the rest of the record stands in stark contrast. For me, this is 0PN’s finest moment.
Robyn: Body Talk (2010)
Everyone knows Robyn‘s the best pop star around these days right? Surely everyone knows that. It’s weird to think that in 2005 her self-titled album felt like a bit of a fluke, but Body Talk firmly secured her as the best. Just look at the opening three tracks for a mission statement: ‘Fembot’ tells her critics to STFU, ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do’ tells them to GTFO, and then ‘Dancing on my Own’ is one of the best pop songs ever written. Body Talk is simply peerless, that classic combination of dizzyingly good fun music and desperately sad lyrics that Robyn has made her calling card and endless dickheads have mansplained at every open mic night on the planet. Does that detract at all from Body Talk? Absolutely not.
Shoes and Socks Off: Don’t Blame Yourself, It’s In Your Blood (2011)
As I said earlier, I decided I wasn’t going to include more than one album by any one artist in my list. Well Don’t Blame Yourself is a compilation of the first four Shoes and Socks Off albums, but I’m justifying it with the fact that it’s the only way to get hold of them these days. S&SO is the solo project of former Meet Me in St Louis singer Toby Hayes. Having left the band in 2007 his debut solo album was a rough-and-ready acoustic record, fairly standard fare for a former hardcore singer but above average. His second record was a re-recording of the first, some songs with a full band and some complete reworks. Most notably he transformed debut album filler track ‘Protect Your PC’ into something akin to the pleading of a heartbroken sampler. It was truly astonishing in its variety, and the following records that make up the second half of Don’t Blame Yourself followed a similar pattern of songs with an acoustic base interspersed with grungy full band moments and scratchy lofi electronics and samples. For such an album to feel so rich is something truly special.
Sleigh Bells: Treats (2010)
Nothing about Sleigh Bells makes sense. The deafening heavy metal guitars, the pounding hip-hop beats, the cheerleading vocals, all come together to create a brilliant racket. How many bands have said they play everything louder than everything else, and how many of those bands have just made generic rock music? There’s nothing generic about Sleigh Bells, from the combination of former schoolteacher singer Alexis Krauss and former Poison the Well man Derek Miller to the harsh side-chaining production that makes it feel like opener ‘Tell ‘Em’ and ‘Crown on the Ground’ are beating you around the head, but in the brilliant dynamics of ‘Infinity Guitars’ and the Funkadelic sampling ‘Rill Rill’ they hit on a killer formula that’s quite unique and absolutely thrilling.
Slow Club: One Day All of This Won’t Matter Anymore (2016)
One Day All of This Won’t Matter Anymore almost didn’t happen. If you’ve seen the film Our Most Brilliant Friends, about Slow Club‘s final tour, it’s clear how much they were struggling to keep it together. But One Day is the culmination of everything Slow Club had been doing from the start: the Motown influences and the California AOR influences and everything comes together here to form one of the most stunning albums of the decade. That I didn’t see it at first is sort of a testament to the staying power of these songs. I liked it but thought it was too split between the two halves of the band, Charles songs and Rebecca songs and too much separation between the two. But it’s their only album to use the same backing band throughout, and that gives it a consistency that brings these two disparate parts together, to mould them into such a lovely thing, to allow songs like ‘In Waves’ and ‘Let the Blade Do the Work’ to coexist alongside each other, building something that’s greater as a whole. (For the record, Rebecca Taylor’s solo debut as Self Esteem is the only album from 2019 I considered for this list. Give me another ten years and maybe it’ll be on here because, if you ask me, and if you’re reading this you sort of are asking me, her voice is one of, if not the best of the last decade.)
Sky Larkin: Kaleide (2010)
Katie Harkin might be better known these days for her session work with the likes of Sleater Kinney, and they doubtless pay the bills better than her own work, but at the turn of the decade she wrote two of the best indie pop records I’ve ever heard. Kaleide is Sky Larkin‘s second album and it spans metaphors for potential unrealised in ‘Still Windmills’, love letters to Anjelica Huston and plans to die together so that future generations know you’re friends in the brilliantly wonky ‘Year Dot’, all threaded through with a healthy fascination for geography. Which makes it sound very nerdy, and it is, but aren’t all the best things?
Taylor Swift: 1989 (2014)
So from an album that’s very specifically for people who are interested in oxbow lakes and slacker pop and are in their early thirties and from the north of England to the megastar pop behemoth. Everyone’s already made to their mind on whether or not they like Taylor Swift but, bullshit aside, there’s no denying that 1989 has become one of the biggest records of all time, and that doesn’t happen by accident. ‘Blank Space’ is a knowing look to endless tabloid gossip about her love life, ‘Style’ is a barely disguised cheeky wink to another ex, sure, but the main thing is you can dance to it all. And when all’s said and done, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, but I just wanna shake shake shake shake shake.