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12.05.19 Sowing's Decade List 11.11.19 A Decade In Obscurity
10.22.19 Top 20 Jimmy [Sowing's Take]10.21.19 Top 20 mewithoutYou Songs
10.16.19 Surviving Ranked10.08.19 Sowing's Week 6 Picks
10.05.19 10/4 First Impressions10.03.19 Sowing's Week 5 Picks
09.30.19 Sputnik Ideas 09.26.19 Sowing's Week 4 Picks
09.19.19 Sowing's Week 3 Picks09.16.19 Autumn Favorites
09.10.19 Sowing's Week 2 Picks09.06.19 Norman Fucking Rockwell Ranked
09.05.19 Sowing's Week 1 Picks 08.16.19 Big Week #2: Rapid Reactions
07.27.19 Another 2019 Ranking07.25.19 Sowing's 2019 NFL Predictions
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Sowing's Decade List

I was originally going to pull out all the stops with another elaborate blog post, but eventually decided to craft a more straightforward offering. I revisited about 100 of my favorite records since June in order to make sure that this list was updated and accurate. This resultant list represents my Top 50 albums from 2010-2019. Due to time constraints on my part and a secret desire to build suspense, I will be gradually unveiling the list and writing the blurbs as I go. Enjoy, and see if you can predict what's next. (I'm betting you can't!)
50Sturgill Simpson
A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Simpson is everything that’s right with country music, and A Sailor's Guide to Earth is easily one of the best records that I’ve heard come out of the genre. It's a concept album whose lyrics are Simpson’s way of teaching his newborn son life lessons through music - a figurative "guide to Earth", if you will. While the experience is dominated by adventerous tracks like the grand birth announcement 'Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)' and the angry, political 'Call to Arms', there are also plenty of warm ballads sprinkled throughout, most notably the aqueous-sounding 'Breakers Roar', which contains one of my favorite pieces of advice from Simpson to his next-of-kin: "Shatter illusions that hold your spirit down / Open up your heart and you’ll find love all around." A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is an incredible album that I’d recommend specifically to non-fans of the genre because it’s so good that it’s capable of persuading even the staunchest of detractors. (2016)
49Phoebe Bridgers
Stranger In The Alps

Stranger In The Alps may end up being one of those albums we look back upon twenty years from now and hail as a trendsetter. In the wake of this record, we saw a slew of talented women rise seemingly out of nowhere - Haley Heynderickx, Soccer Mommy, Tomberlin, Madeline Kenney, Molly Burch - all espousing similar singer-songwriter philosophies that highlight vocal melodies and lyrical content above all else. Of course, Bridgers hardly invented the formula, she simply did it better than anyone else in her time. Stranger In The Alps combines indie-folk and country influences with bare, emotional lyrics that hit you right in the gut. The pervading aura of the experience may be forlorn, but Bridgers spellbindingly beautiful voice transcends that atmosphere and colors it with a tint of hopeful, forward-looking blue. When it comes to simple, sad folk records, Stranger In The Alps is damn near flawless. (2017)
48Tame Impala

I was late to the Tame Impala party, finally discovering them in 2017 through a co-worker who played ‘Elephant’ for me – and it blew my mind. Who were these modern Beatles, playing their psychedelic hearts out, only to an even more addicting rhythm? The sheer confidence and craftsmanship made me a fan immediately, and I proceeded to download all of their other albums without so much as even giving it another thought. Over time (and despite the amazing debut that Innerspeaker was) Lonerism emerged as my clear favorite of the bunch. It's a wholly addicting slice of psychedelia, with guitars and synthesizers coalescing into gorgeous, dizzying ambience. It feels far more immediate than their other releases too, bordering on brazenness, as they channel every eccentricity with unwavering confidence. Lonerism might be the best blend of accessibility and artistry that psychedelic rock has seen this past decade; the whole experience is astoundingly executed, and ever-so-dynamic. (2012)
47Taylor Swift

At the time, 1989 was a complete reinvention of Swift’s empire. She easily could have dwelled in country-pop territory for decades on-end and sold millions of records, but her decision to start anew launched her to even more stratospheric heights – something that is borderline unfathomable when you consider the ridiculous extent to which she was already celebrated. For as strong of a foundation as her country albums built, 1989 was Swift's coming out party - triumphantly announcing her arrival as a pop superstar. Of course, Swift didn't miss a beat during the transition, as she sings on the opening track: “the lights are so bright, but they never blind me.” This is essentially an album full of Swift’s best pop moments ever: 'Blank Space', 'Style', 'Shake It Off', 'Wildest Dreams'...the list goes on, and one would be forgiven for mistaking it with a greatest hits compilation. It deserves accolades as one of the best and most influential pop albums of this decade. (2014)
46The Jezabels

Synthia is a work of pure ambition. The Jezabels have never been a band to shy away from testing new waters, as their synth-infused 1980s throwback The Brink proved in 2014. Their third LP treks even farther down that path, only with greater imagination and confidence. The hooks are every bit as strong as they were on the group’s preceding records, but there is an added flair for the dramatic. “Stand and Deliver” exists on an almost Queen-like platform of grandiosity, while nearly every track has at least a few over-the-top aspirations – be it the frantic chorus to “My Love Is My Disease” or the whirling, ominous atmosphere of “Come Alive”. The colossal posturing of this entire record suits The Jezabels quite well considering the abundance of talent at vocals and their knack for crafting incredibly strong hooks and melodies. Even the sullen, forlorn balladry of tracks such as “Flowers In The Attic” feel larger than life, a credit to Hayley Mary’s versatile range. (2016)
45The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream

The War on Drugs swept me away with Lost In The Dream: a hazy, hopeful blend of shoegaze and americana. Here, the legendary past meets modern brilliance: 'Red Eyes' burns with Springsteen levels of passion and ‘Eyes to the Wind’ sounds like Bob Dylan reincarnated, but 'Under the Pressure' and 'An Ocean In Between The Waves' are dinstinctly Adam Granduciel's brand of winding, effervescent, guitar-driven indie rock. Lost in the Dream is an an appropriate title for the atmosphere that he's engineered, as one can't help but feel transported. It's a sad record at its core but also one that is extremely cathartic, eventually gliding to a place of lucidity and acceptance. Any time I need an album to lose myself in, where I can mourn yet still pick myself back up by the end, I need not look further than this gem. (2014)
44Kevin Morby
Singing Saw

Kevin Morby’s Singing Saw is for the most part an intimate acoustic folk album that one might equate to an evening spent camping beneath the stars. It's elegant and deep-in-thought, as Morby strums his acoustic guitar and sings in his echoed, Dylan-esque inflections. However, each song also manages to accent that rural simplicity with forays into more ambitious territory and richer aesthetics. The best examples are when Morby launches into upbeat rock on ‘Dorothy', mariachi horns on 'I Have Been to the Mountain', or brass trumpet solos on ‘Destroyer.' It's this contrast that makes Singing Saw so appealing, because any time you might begin to suspect that Morby is hitting a lull, he adds a unique flair that most other songwriters wouldn't have the imagination to conjure. When you combine all of the clever twists with the vivid beauty of the album's acoustic-folk backbone and Morby's poetic lyrics, you have one of the best all-around indie-folk albums of the decade. (2016)
43The Republic of Wolves

Now three albums into their career, The Republic of Wolves remain one of the best kept secrets in indie-rock. This is a band that had the (mis?)fortune of evolving under the much larger shadow of Brand New, when tracks from their 2009 debut EP were erroneously leaked as Daisy demos. They’ve come a long way since then, developing their production from the endearingly raw fuzz of Varuna whilst growing into even more talented musicians. This has never been more clearly displayed than on shrine, where the drumming alone is capable of instilling dark, chilling atmospheres and lengthy guitar solos course through the record’s peaks and valleys like long, winding rivers. When you factor in the duality of the sensitive croons/blood-curdling screams, shrine creates a realm separate from our own: one that’s intensely dark and mysterious, but also beautiful. (2018)
42Bon Iver
22, A Million

22, A Million catapults Vernon into the twenty-first century, layering deceptively complex electronic elements with Vernon’s unique methods of production. The result is some of the most pulsing, lively-sounding vocal distortion that we’ve ever heard used in the folk genre. Vernon’s falsetto cuts are capable of diving to shadowy depths, wobbling with endearing insecurity, and soaring to rich, impassioned heights. His limitless range on this record helps to explain the jumbled, unpredictable nature of his musical surroundings. The lumberjack brand of folk that he used to be pigeonholed into has its borders shattered a thousand different ways here, be it from the thumping, tribal mysteriousness of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” or from the robotic yet desperately human “715 – CRΣΣKS”. It’s an extremely complex puzzle, layering diverging sound effects atop one another in a way that is often indecipherable yet never fails to represent itself with jaw-dropping beauty. (2016)
41Queens of the Stone Age
...Like Clockwork

To anyone who says "rock is dead", I simply point them to ...Like Clockwork. The funky, groovy beat in ‘Smooth Sailing’ is virtually impossible not to strut to, as if you’re up to no good. “I Appear Missing” features a swelling chorus which grows in intensity, surrounded by addictive riffs and a mind-blowing drum-fill/piano interchange that culminates with a complicated, wiry riff while joined by a ghostly choral refrain. ‘Kalopsia’ and ‘Fairweather Friends’ are just flat-out infectious on a level that no other rock band lately has bothered aspiring to. 'My God is the Sun' is an anthem capable of packing arenas. Put simply,...Like Clockwork is an embarrassment of riches that has aged beautifully and become a high water mark for rock in the 2010’s. It’s a genre-defining masterpiece. (2013)
40Manchester Orchestra
Simple Math

Simple Math launched Manchester Orchestra's career to a new level. Replete with devestating strings, swelling synths, and a children's choir, it's the most theatrical/cinematic offering of their careers. Despite all of the breathtaking embellishments, it's still a very hard-hitting record - both sonically and emotionally. The second half of 'Mighty' has some of the album's best drumming and Hull's most emotional shouts. The title track questions everything we know. 'Pale Black Eye' sees Hull admit, openly, that he doesn't love his wife anymore. That's some heavy content that, when coupled with these sweeping compositions, makes for an experience that is as staggeringly poignant as it is aesthetically lush. Simple Math is an album that is impossible to come away from without feeling affected. (2011)
39Damien Rice
My Favourite Faded Fantasy

Damien Rice's main draw has always been his ability to sing about love and heartbreak with a level of earnestness that simply can't be feigned. We get that here, but we also see an expansion upon the sound that made his 2002 debut, O, such a success. While the title track and 'The Greatest Bastard' see Rice continuing upon the emotionally powerful and melodically sweeping formula that gave us 'The Blower's Daughter', we also get the nine and a half minute 'It Takes a Lot to Know a Man' - a monumental track that shifts from a downtempo piano ballad to sullen post-folk, and then transforms into a dynamically string-laden, classically composed tour de force. When reflecting upon the decade, I always seem to come back to Damien Rice when considering the greatest singer-songwriter types; My Favourite Faded Fantasy is a perfect set of eight shattered, desperate, and needy Irish troubadour ballads. (2014)
38Frank Turner
England Keep My Bones

England Keep My Bones was Frank Turner's high water mark, an absolute gem of an English folk-rock album that feels like a vital part of that nation's fabric. Turner is his usual upbeat and optimistic self (mind you, this was before his overbearing cheer wore out its welcome), pitching odes to his country and to humanity while encouraging us to pick ourselves up for the betterment of the human race. On 'I Still Believe', he waxes poetic about the virtues of rock n' roll's ability to unite civilization. 'Rivers' is a lush, beauteous homage to his homeland. My personal favorite, 'Glory Hallelujah', cheerily sings "there is no God, so clap your hands together" and encourages us to put excuses in the rear view mirror: "If we accept that there's an end game and we haven't got much time, then in the here and now then we can try and do things right." This album belongs in English musical lore; it's a classic. (2011)
37The World Is a Beautiful Place...

The earth-bound warmth of The World is a Beautiful Place's Harmlessness is something I've always found enticing and welcoming. It's an emo/post-rock album at heart, but it is also infused with beautiful, shimmering indie-rock. The string-swept opener 'You Can't Live There Forever' is a perfect microcosm, gently swelling to the thought-provoking chorus "we are as harmless as the thoughts in our heads." 'January 10th, 2014' and 'Ra Patera Dance' remain to this day two of the most uplifting tracks I've heard, and the closing duo of 'I Can Be Afraid of Anything' and 'Mount Hum' - both towering at a combined fifteen-and-a-half minutes in length - add an epic flair to the album as it draws its curtains closed. When I listen to Harmlessness, I feel a perfect blend of calm and excitement, as if all is right in the world but there's still plenty of things to look forward to. Basically, this is my happy place and you're always welcome to join me here. (2015)

Lorde's Melodrama is art-pop perfected, taking the sweetest vocals/catchiest melodies and drenching them in depression - then projecting them onto a big-screen in vibrant neon lights. Fluorescent feels like the ideal descriptor for Melodrama; the album – like us – takes these mundane moments experienced by just about every human being on Earth and dramatizes them. If you’ve ever experienced a difficult breakup or felt on top of the world during a first kiss, and wondered how it would come off portrayed through the seemingly magical filter of a Hollywood screen, that’s essentially what Lorde pulls off here. Each lyrical passage is a page from her journal, and each song an award-winning dramatization of it. The result is a brazenly adventurous pop record that is equally as bare and candid, offering a glimpse into the adrenaline-inducing highs and soul-shattering lows of being a young twenty-something in today's social/romantic scene. (2017)
35The Antlers

When I think of The Antlers, I can't escape the memory of my first time hearing Familiars. When Silberman's voice glides in angelically on "Palace" atop elegant, shimmering pianos, it immediately lifts you to a world that is downright otherworldly. The record is also infused with regal trumpets and jazzy brass horns that lend it a classy - almost regal - air, as 'Hotel' and 'Revisited' display beautifully. Familiars never truly vies for your attention - instead, it draws you in with its smooth, borderline ethereal compositions. The album feels weightless, inviting you to float off towards the horizon without a care in the world. Familiars is one of the prettiest, classiest albums that this decade has seen. (2014)
Diamond Eyes

Diamond Eyes sees Deftones combine all the best elements of their music. Chino's blood-curdling screams at the conclusion of 'Royal' rank among the most intense moments in Deftones' history. 'CMND/CTRL' feels like another variation of White Pony's 'Elite', ratcheting up the screaming to the point that it consumes the entire song. Tracks such as the title track, 'Beauty School', and 'You've Seen the Butcher' all possess a phenomenal blend of heavier and more atmospheric rock. 'Sextape' is so sublime that it borders on sensual. One would be hard pressed to find a dull moment on the album. For those who thought they couldn't top White Pony, here you go. (2010)
Pale Horses

Pale Horses is an end-of-times account with one foot dangling in the Book of Revelation and the other foot planted squarely in reality. In a world where God punishes mankind with an atomic blast, we also see imperially-crowned demons ride forth from the sky. The urgency of this album is off the charts, and for the vast majority of its duration, it feels like the world really is about to end. There’s so much to delve into here, and with each successive experience, the brilliance of Pale Horses makes itself more apparent. On one listen, it might be the incredible imagery of “Rainbow Signs”, and on the next it could be a passage from “Dorothy” that makes you want to break down in tears. Somehow, effortlessly, Aaron Weiss threads all of this together seamlessly along with personal anecdotes about his deceased father, thus forming quite possibly the most emotionally climactic piece of music in the band’s history. (2015)
32Gang of Youths
Go Farther in Lightness

These Australian rockers seemingly came out of nowhere in 2017, boasting a brand of alternative music that recalls both the bustling rock-n-roll of Springsteen’s mid-1970s as well as the contemporary influence of stalwarts such as The National. Although Go Farther In Lightness wears its influences on its sleeve to an extent, there’s very little about the album that feels borrowed. Symphonic strings lift up Dave Le’aupepe’s most enlightened moments of soul-searching while successfully balancing what should be an impossible blend of inspirational grandeur and stark vulnerability. Le’aupepe is a lyrical magician here, welding together words in such a way that seems so fundamental and basic in premise that you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of them yourself: "Now I’m terrified of loving ’cause I’m terrified of pain", "All the things that I’ve run from / Are the things that completeness could come from." This album is truly an emotional rollercoaster. (2017)
31The Antlers
Burst Apart

Atmospherically, this is probably the prettiest Antlers record ever created. I can't think of a better way to describe the whole thing than "sparkly", but it's not in a bad way. It's a little less structured and far more polished than anything else they've done. 'Parentheses' is the most badass song they ever wrote; it's like curb-stomping someone to beautiful indie-rock. "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" and "Putting The Dog To Sleep" are incredibly depressing and ethereal. The entire experience is akin to floating through space or sinking slowly to the bottom of the ocean. It is hands-down the best blend of vocal performance, instrumental contributions, and production in the Antlers' entire catalog. (2011)
30Beach House

I’m not a diehard Beach House fan, but I’ll always have a soft spot for what I feel like is one of the top albums of the decade – Bloom. Each track is a gorgeously curated piece of dream-pop, and the album plays out like a collage of romantic nighttime settings. 'Myth' is a slow dance in a vacant parking lot, on a clear starry night. 'Lazuli' is a taxi drive through the city at 2am right after the bars closed, as the lit up streets blur together in an intoxicating haze. 'New Year' is watching the ball drop with the love of your life, kissing her at midnight, and feeling the butterflies in your stomach right as the chorus flourishes with that gorgeous melody. 'On The Sea' sits on the shoreline at dusk and watches ships slowly disappear into the night atop a serenade of buoyant, rhythmically uplifting pianos. This is an album that conjures dimly lit, picturesque romance, and it is also the best collection of songs in Beach House's entire discography. (2012)
Nearer My God

Nearer My God is so much more than just an album that throws caution to the wind. Anyone who has followed Foxing through The Albatross and Dealer will feel the impact of the band’s growth on what can only be described as a coming-of-age. They execute their first true guitar solo to absolute perfection on the supercharged “Lich Prince”. The unhinged screams midway through “Grand Paradise” are jarring; the kind of awakening that has defined some of indie’s most notable past acts. The record’s overarching concept is paranoid yet topical, injecting apocalyptic imagery into everything from the album title to the four horses gracing the cover art. This is Foxing embracing their wildest eccentricities and growing into those massive shoes at the same time. It’s a revelation. (2018)
28The Dear Hunter
Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise

Casey Crescenzo is an absolute madman, which is of course meant as a compliment. For as over-the-top as his ventures typically are, he possesses rare enough talent to make even the most wildly clashing concepts fit together in perfect, seamless harmony. Act IV might display that better than any other Dear Hunter album. Throughout the full-blown orchestral movements, poignant strings, and grandiose hooks that border on pop, there isn’t a single track that feels contrived or out of place. From the oceanic love metaphors found on “Waves” all the way through the charmingly self-indulgent “King of Swords”, it’s just one effortless and cohesive progression through some of the best material that The Dear Hunter have ever written. Even less obvious cuts, like the serene “Is There Anybody Here?”, demand to be heard due simply to the strength of the melodies. If progressive rock with catchy pop choruses is your thing, then Act IV will change your life. (2015)
27Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear

Honeybear is self-absorbed, cynical, insulting, and sometimes downright uncomfortable, but the fact that Father John Misty just makes you love him even more for it is exactly what allows it to be such an undeniable success. Tillman’s soulful accounts of the fucked up side of love are everything that is simultaneously attractive and off-putting about this record, as he puts forth narrations like “I obliged later on when you begged me to choke you” or “When you’re smiling and astride me / I can hardly believe I’ve found you.” These aren’t your typical PG candy-hearted lyrics; they're the opposite of such artificial emblems. It’s the fetishes we hide in our bedroom, the fucked up thoughts we keep to ourselves, and the narcissistic attitude that we suppress daily in order to keep our relationships functioning. It may also be the realest “love album” you’ll hear this decade. (2015)
26Low Roar

Ryan Karazijah’s Icelandic project Low Roar was born out of a desire to make music inspired by his surroundings. If Iceland is one-half as beautiful as his sophomore release 0, then it’s settled: I’m uprooting my entire life and moving there tomorrow. 0 manages to ebb and flow with magnificent contrast and subtle depth, all the while spanning a wide range of influences that don’t fall under the umbrella of your typical indie rock album. There’s the post-rock grandeur of “I’m Leaving”, the moody, electronically underscored “Easy Way Out”, and the sprightly acoustic folk ballad “In The Morning.” No matter what path 0 explores – and trust me, it leaves very few rocks unturned – it just seems to effortlessly succeed. The eighty-seven minute runtime may prove to be a daunting task for some, but those who allow themselves to be swept up in this diverse, genre-bending affair will find some of the most aesthetically pleasing, profoundly meaningful music that this decade has to offer. (2014)
Ten Stories

Firmly entrenched in melodic indie-rock, mwY shows a clear departure from both the hardcore stylings of A:B Life/Catch For Us The Foxes as well as the all-out Sunday school blitzkrieg that was It’s All Crazy, It’s All False…. Despite their rocky navigation of genres, mewithoutYou have always remained relevant because of their lyrics, and that aspect of their music is perhaps never stronger than it is on Ten Stories. For avid enthusiasts of words and their impact, this album is practically essential – each song is a little piece of knowledge, expressed through a variety of literary devices that would make even your most dismissive inner philosopher pleased. In a decade like the 2010s, where it seems like everything that could possibly be said through music has already been penned, chancing upon a piece as enlightening as Ten Stories is refreshing. (2012)
24Jimmy Eat World
Integrity Blues

Integrity Blues marks a triumphant return to Jimmy Eat World's dreamy, emotionally-charged atomspheric emo rock - the likes of which we haven't seen since Futures. Backed by breathtaking melodies and intimate lyrics, Integrity Blues offers us music that sounds like it was written under the stars: ripe for late night drives or for sitting up on a balcony, overlooking the sea of city lights while trying to piece together exactly what life means to you at that precise moment. Jim Adkins manages to make you feel the equivalent of musical butterflies across all 11 tracks, namely on the breathtakingly romantic 'You With Me' and the ode-to-independence 'Pol Roger'. Each song is a bare emotional canvas, dressed up in the most shimmering, awe-inspiring atmospheres. Combined with the fact that the band continues to churn out subtle hooks that grow with time, Integrity Blues is basically the perfect Jimmy album. Personally, I think it's even better than Futures. (2016)
A Moon Shaped Pool

A Moon Shaped Pool combines the cold, detached aura of Kid A with the warm, proximal beauty of In Rainbows. You will find yourself embraced by sweeping strings and acoustic guitars one moment only to be expelled into the cold, unfeeling depths of space the next. Detractors will point out that this album doesn't push as many experimental boundaries as Radiohead has in past ventures, but for what AMSP lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in depth. This album is basically the quintessential Radiohead release; it contains bits and pieces of all their strongest traits. Whether it's the eerie, paranoid 'Burn the Witch', the ambient-rock cyclone 'Ful Stop', the dreamy 'Glass Eyes', the cathartically melodic release of 'Identikit', or raw, foresaken emotion of 'True Love Waits', there's simply too many instances of immaculate, perfected indie-rock here to consider this anything other than a top-25 decade release. (2016)
22Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

This is an iconic statement - not just for Kanye, but for all of hip-hop. It shows the heights to which the genre can aspire to with a creative genius behind the wheel; it's a monumental piece that pushes musical and lyrical boundaries simultaneously. Tracks like 'Dark Fantasy' and 'Power' show Kanye's unwavering handle on his rhythm and keen ear for dynamic experimentation. 'Runaway' is emotionally unhinged and self-deprecating, while musically skirting the line of rap/hip-hop by infusing the song with isolated piano notes and distorted vocals that sound like something Sufjan might have written for Age of Adz. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is overflowing with these types of brilliant departures - the kind of stuff that elevates an artist from just another successful rapper to a legend and statesman. This is a landmark release in every way. (2010)
21The National
Sleep Well Beast

Sleep Well Beast is adrift in a detached haze. It’s desperate and needy, like when Berninger mutters on the eponymous closer, “I'm at a loss, losing grip, the fabrics rip” in such a way that sounds apathetic to losing one’s sanity. It wonders where its adolescence disappeared to, pondering decaying relationships (“I barely ever see you anymore...And when I do it feels you're only halfway there”). It marvels at its own indifference to the deterioration of its social and familial relationships: “I'm the one doing this, there's no other way / I just got nothing, nothing left to say.” It grasps desperately at emotional connections, trying in vain not to lose what makes it human: “I'm just trying to stay in touch with anything I'm still in touch with.” The National have always hummed with a sense of middle-aged boredom, but this album offers a profound lyrical backbone while pairing that with subtle songwriting/melodies. This is low-key a top 3 National album. (2017)
20Kishi Bashi

Omoiyari is Kaoru Ishibashi’s Carrie and Lowell. Centered around love stories of interned Japanese Americans during World War II, he weaves politics, violence, and romance together within a lush, flourishing folk record. Kishi Bashi sweeps us away with gorgeous acoustics, urgent violins, occasional verses in Japanese, and even a rare flash of Americana with a slight country twang. Above all, this is an album comprised of 10 nearly perfect songs – from front to end, each piece contributes just about equal value to the storyline and overarching musical aesthetic. Of course, tracks like ‘Marigolds’, ‘Summer of 42’, and ‘Annie’ are the most unforgettable; they’re career highlights that show how dynamic Ishibashi can be, especially when writing about something with so much personal and historical significance. Here, he doesn’t waste the opportunity presented to him. Omoiyari is both a worthy tribute to his ancestry as well as a decade stalwart. (2019)
19Trophy Scars
Holy Vacants

Trophy Scars have always been a ridiculous band for a wide array of reasons, ranging from insane concepts (Holy Vacants is about a couple who stalk and cannibalize angels after Hitler’s demise in World War II, thus keeping them young and in love forever) to the simple fact that Jones’ singing is, umm, an acquired taste. But the bottom line is that all the weirdness adds up to something spectacular and utterly unique, with Holy Vacants representing Trophy Scars’ peak ambition. Few songs rock harder than “Qeres”, which is driven by beefy electric guitars and thrusts Jones’ comically gruff voice against a harmonious, angelic backdrop – or are more melodically pleasing than ‘Crystallophobia’, which is just about the catchiest thing since the bubonic plague – or are as haunting as the penultimate ‘Everything Disappearing.’ Any ridiculously epic thing that you can think of seems to occur on Holy Vacants – the magnum opus of one of this decade’s most overlooked artists. (2014)
18Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Skeleton Tree

While I can’t begin to imagine how Nick Cave has felt since the horrific evening of his son’s death, Skeleton Tree is probably an accurate barometer of just how torturous it’s been. Nick mumbles through verses, sounding either grief-stricken or intoxicated; possibly both. At times, it’s as if his mind is on other things, and it often sounds as though a great deal of Nick’s effort on this album is spent merely fighting back tears. Towards the end of the record, Cave – known and documented as a religious man – essentially says there’s no God: “They told us our gods would outlive us / But they lied.” In that gorgeously sad duet with Else Torp, she closes out the song by singing, “This is not for our eyes.” One can’t help but feel that Skeleton Tree is not for our ears, either. This wasn’t made to be enjoyed or consumed, it was released by Cave as a coping mechanism. All we can do is stand by and empathize, hoping we’ll never have to go through the same thing. (2016)
17Ben Howard
Noonday Dream

“It’s so peaceful here, no one to fuck it up”, Howard quietly mutters on the closing ‘Murmurations’, before stamping the final verse with, “I could see through miles.” It feels like he is slowly being swept up into the ocean – fading, fading, until it sounds like his voice has vanished into the surrounding air. As an ending, it’s perfect. However, it’s even more indicative of Noonday Dream as a whole – a record that tends to shrink inward, fade, or retreat more than it bursts, peaks, or does anything that could be considered showy. Even at its most agitated – the cutting, electric riffs in the closing minutes of ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’ – the record seems to arrive at its moments in a state of acceptance and understanding. At its warmest, the album is melodic and vaguely romantic, like the echoed warbling on ‘Towing the Line’ can attest to. Noonday Dream unfurls like its title suggests, deftly yet unpredictably weaving between all things earthly and ethereal. (2018)
16The Dear Hunter
The Color Spectrum (Complete Collection)

The Color Spectrum is simply a testament of will, as The Dear Hunter crafts a 36 song, 9 EP collection that thematically covers an entire range of colors and corresponding genres to match. It takes your ears and your mind to destinations that you never thought The Dear Hunter was capable of going to before. The Black EP is gritty, electronically-underscored rock. Red burns with a feverish alt/indie passion, assisted by Andy Hull’s (of Manchester Orchestra) multiple cameos. Yellow brightens your day with sunny pop. Green puts you on the quiet hills of the countryside. Indigo plummets you into a digital sea, and ‘Violet’ puts you on a dramatic broadway stage. All of this may sound ridiculous in theory, but the end result is jaw-dropping. It’s an impressively consistent and shockingly varied album from a band that seems to know no creative limit. For every mood, every musical taste, and every person, there is something to like on The Color Spectrum.(2011)
15Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues

In a decade that has produced some absolutely blockbuster folk, Helplessness Blues is still a title that seems to come up more often than not when discussing the very best of the decade, and rightfully so. The natural, backwoods vibe evokes an appropriately calming response. Fleet Foxes harmonize their way through rivers, mountains, and oceans, carrying listeners on a mesmerizing journey. Helplessness Blues does this with little more than vocals and acoustic guitars, which is an impressive feat during an era when more (studio effects, orchestration, synths, electronics, etc) always seems to be better. By contrast, this is a bare bones indie-folk offering, and one that is all the more captivating for it. When success comes this easily with such little embellishment, it’s a sign of obvious talent. Fleet Foxes are synonymous with folk mastery, and Helplessness Blues is their primary calling card. (2011)

Blushing is one of the most spellbinding, depressing, and romantic things I’ve ever laid ears upon. It combines a hazy, dream-like atmosphere with Marsh’s lovelorn/philosophical verses that could place him among the best lyrical penman in all of indie-rock. The appeal of the record is based largely around his heart-shattering poetry, of which there is plenty: “They say that love is for the young, well I'm getting older”…“Some nights he screams into the infinite, tries to write a line that will outlive him”…“These days I'm terrified of silence, my thoughts unbearable in the quiet.” Every verse is practically Shakespearean in its drama and intrigue, blurring the line between the dream world and reality; between romance and existence; between life and death. This might be the quintessential breakup record of the decade, but to anyone who listens to it and begins to dissect its many facets, it’s also so much more. (2019)
13The Tallest Man on Earth
The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt is like a spur of the moment road trip through the countryside. The deceptively complex fingerpicking, the skeletal guitar-and-vocals songwriting – it all feels like a refreshing breeze blowing through the open roof of a car. It’s as if that joyous spontaneity was captured in a bottle and then released in a recording studio. Matsson sings with tremendous passion, and every lyric he pens is tethered to his heart with invisible strings. When he mutters, practically unnoticeably, “love is fake so I get hurt”, I feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach. When he belts out, almost proudly, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone”, it makes me wonder if I’ve had the wrong idea about death all along. I may never pinpoint that one trait that makes The Wild Hunt an all-time classic in my mind. But when an album makes me feel this liberated, this empowered…this free, I don’t think there’s much point in trying. (2010)
12Lana Del Rey
Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Much can be inferred from the cover of Norman Fucking Rockwell. Grant, one arm outreached with an American flag hanging in the backdrop, sets a new course at sea as an orange haze burns in the distance. It could be a metaphor for Lana’s career; a middling and inconsistent affair across five albums. It could be symbolic of her beloved nation, a country seemingly rotting from the inside out and on the brink of collapsing. Whether Norman Fucking Rockwell‘s apocalypse is personal or political, LDR cooly sits back and watches as a passive observer – someone who resigns herself to her fate. Pop records so rarely capture a nation’s essence and freeze it in time, but that’s what Del Rey has done with this jaw-droppingly beautiful assessment of a world spiraling into chaos. For an artist who began a very hit-or-miss career in 2010, it’s all too fitting that she closed the book on the decade with her most daring, complete album – an instant classic in every sense of the word. (2019)
11Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d city

good kid, m.A.A.d city packs intricate storytelling, addicting song craft, and gang violence into its purview, depicting just how difficult it can be overcome stark socioeconomical disadvantage while attempting to learn and navigate the laws of the street to find a purpose and, ultimately, inner peace. Lamar builds an amazing concept album here that comes to him effortlessly because so much of it is based within his own reality and his actual past. Whereas many other artists stand on a pedestal and preach, this album is Kendrick Lamar knowing his roots and getting on his peers’ level to remember the struggle, empathize, and ultimately guide. good kid, m.A.A.d city is proof that hip-hop can be relevant in the mainstream yet entirely sincere/honest/”real”, and here it’s accomplished with a kind of fervor that only the greatest rapper of the last ten years could pull off. (2012)
10Fleet Foxes

When someone says Fleet Foxes, the proper reaction is to recall Helplessness Blues and discuss how it’s the perfect indie-folk record. It’s not that I blame people for thinking that, because it is the perfect indie-folk record. I just feel as though they’re missing out, because they have yet to be enlightened by the more progressive, classically-infused Crack-Up, which is basically Helplessness Blues for people who want more out of life (yes – I realize how super fucking uppity that sounds). However, it’s true. Crack-Up is even more ambitious than its celebrated predecessor, liberating itself from backwoods acoustic folk with strings alongside cascading classical piano, far more unpredictable guitar progressions, pan flutes and other woodwinds, and a dazzling display of both mesmerizing ambience and pleasant cacophony. Crack-Up is the band’s most challenging creation, but for those who afford it the multiple immersive listens that it requires, it’s also their best. (2017)

[Untitled] unabashedly shatters the wildest of expectations, crafting the most intimidatingly intense, lusciously melodic experience in mewithoutYou’s canon while making it all look, feel, and sound effortless. There are times where Aaron Weiss totally loses his shit – and I mean almost beyond recognition – such as the in-your-face screams of opener ‘9:27a.m., 7/29’, the stream-of-consciousness-gone-terribly-awry ‘Wendy & Betsy’, or even more notably the dissociating wall of sound presented by ‘Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.’ Thematic content starts with the end of the world, and concludes with a total loss of identity, or perhaps even sanity. It’s a huge record that blurs the religious and personal planes of existence – a swirling vortex of uncertainty and doubt that is sang and screamed about with cryptic intent and decisive finality. It’s unfiltered passion that evades qualification; something to which we’d be performing a disservice by assigning a title. (2018)
8Brand New
Science Fiction

It’s a shame that Brand New’s career ended in disgrace, because Science Fiction deserves more acclaim than it actually receives. The band made good on eight years of mounting hype and unrealistic expectations, delivering a career-enveloping masterpiece comprised of nearly every style they had ever employed. ‘Lit Me Up’ is a chilling incantation that unintentionally prophesizes the demise of the band; ‘Can’t Get It Out’ sounds like a lost Deja mega-hit; ‘In The Water’ shimmers with beautiful guitar solos and an eerie throwback to Daisy. There’s no shortage of highlights on what can only be considered a legend-making statement – the perfect curtain call for the perfect discography, an album that was meticulously pieced together for the better part of the decade. While I certainly acknowledge the ethical dilemma of listening to Science Fiction, there is almost nothing bad that I can say about it from a musical standpoint. (2017)
7Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface

Every time I think I’ve heard the best that Manchester Orchestra has to offer, they surprise me. I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child floored me – the earnest vulnerability of “Colly Strings” sticking with me through many relationships. Then the tragic storytelling of “I Can Feel a Hot One” reduced me to tears. In 2011, it was the magnificence of Simple Math, its title track probing questions of faith and existence that I’d never pondered before. I never thought they’d top a moment of such profundity, but lo and behold, 2017’s A Black Mile to the Surface did exactly that. This is a devastating experience with multiple ways to interpret its meaning. It is both beautiful and intense, often featuring subtly shouted/screamed harmonies in the background of Hull’s laments that raise the emotional stakes on a nearly constant basis. The fact that this beat out Science Fiction for my 2017 AOTY should tell you everything you need to know. (2017)
6Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

For some time, I thought that either For Emma, Forever Ago or 22, A Million was the best Bon Iver record. One of the most surprising realizations during my almost year-long revisiting of decade favorites was just how well Vernon’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver held up by comparison. It unfurls with the natural beauty of For Emma, but sounds even better. It has the stunning production of 22, A Million, but without the glitchy beats and autotuned vocals that require a certain mood to appreciate. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, this version of Bon Iver transports me to a cabin in the woods. It feels like the best of both worlds and is appropriately situated between its comparative extremes in Vernon’s discography. There’s nothing more satisfying than that moment when the drums kick in on ‘Perth’, or when ‘Holocene’ melts you with love, or when ‘Beth/Rest’ slowly envelopes you in its dream world. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the best album from one of the greatest folk artists of all-time. (2011)
5David Bowie

Before we learned of the cancer that ended Bowie’s life, some of Blackstar’s lyrical allusions to death didn’t immediately make sense – from the title track killing off Major Tom to pretty much all of ‘Lazarus.’ Once the strategically planted hints became obvious with his passing, the final piece of the puzzle was revealed. Suddenly, things that seemed ambiguous before came into focus: “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen / Oh, I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me?” It’s unsettling the way that we were able to listen to Bowie’s farewell for days without realizing what it was. He was essentially writing his own eulogy; expressing to us through music a secret that he kept hidden for 18 months. As a fan of Bowie the person, it’s jarring, eerie, and depressing. As a fan of Bowie the artist, it’s downright brilliant. Blackstar will forever be tied to his legacy. A true artist in both life and death, Bowie earns this Top 10 decade spot without even warranting a second thought. (2016)
4The National
High Violet

Amid so many near-perfect National offerings, High Violet is the one that strikes me as their very best. It’s basically a flawless record, with 11 tracks that all contribute in unique ways to the buzzing, wintry-cold atmosphere. Matt Berninger lets his eccentricities fly, whether it’s the “doo doo doo doo…” verses on ‘Lemonworld’, or “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains…’cause I’m evil” from ‘Conversation 16.’ No one could possibly accuse the album of being cliché; what’s surprising is how these seemingly off-the-wall lines manage to hit you square in the gut every time. There’s no real way to explain it other than that Berninger is one of the very best in the business. Elsewhere, another best-in-the-biz – drummer Bryan Devendorf – absolutely owns the entire atmosphere. High Violet is a triumph in every way: guitars, drumming, vocals, lyrics, and every single dynamic in between. It solidifies The National as one of the best bands not just of the decade, but of our generation. (2010)
3Titus Andronicus
The Monitor

The Monitor is perhaps the greatest punk album of our time. With an unkempt delivery and a bold, no-fucks-given attitude, Stickles waxes poetic about American ideals (“as a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide”), then finds himself dragging his ass off the bar floor (“I know it won’t do much good, getting drunk and sad and singing…”) only to look for a fight immediately after (“…but I’m at the end of my rope and I feel like swinging.”). ‘The Battle of Hampton Roads’ sounds like a mission statement, culminating in the line “Is there a soul on this Earth that isn’t too frightened to move?” The underlying message is to be who you are, and go all out when you live your life. If you’re a drunk, “drink to excess.” If you smoke, “smoke gaping holes in your chest.” You determine the limits of your life; the only question is if you are willing to die at the risk of truly living. In a similar way, Titus Andronicus puts it all on the line here. (2010)
The Seer

The Seer is the stuff nightmares are made of. From the witch-like incantations of “Lunacy” through the jarring discordance of “The Apostate”, it’s basically all dimensions of hell sprawled across an immersive two hour experience. The swirling drone passages of the 32 minute title track force listeners to become immersed in this dark, terrifying world, and such focused commitment is necessary for an album this massive. It’s what allows the comparatively miniscule minute-and-a-half ‘The Wolf’ – with its eerie hum and Gira’s demented laments – to have just as large of an impact, and it’s the only way you’ll stumble upon the gorgeous second half of ‘A Piece of the Sky.’ There is so much to discover within The Seer, from its smallest details to its grandest climaxes, that it couldn’t possibly be grasped after a mere few listens. This could be the best album of Michael Gira’s career. (2012)
1Sufjan Stevens
Carrie and Lowell

There are times when a release simply evades qualification. Pastoral, haunting, emotional – sure – but none of that does Carrie & Lowell justice. The album pays tribute to Stevens’ deceased/estranged mother, recounting specific instances in his childhood from abandonment to surrogate father figures. Throughout these biographical narrations, we learn an awful lot about a man who – up to this point – had purposefully remained an enigma. Stevens details drug abuse and struggles with depression – even to the point of suicidal fantasies. I’ve never had an album so delicate and softspoken evoke such a visceral response. Musically, it is immaculately produced, acoustically pristine, and utterly breathtaking. Carrie & Lowell deserves to be mentioned alongside all-time classics like Pink Moon and Either/Or, and it singlehandedly enshrines Stevens as a legendary, mythical icon in the genre of indie-folk. This is the best album released in the last ten years. (2015)
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