Benjamin Kuettel

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Last Active 02-20-20 11:02 pm
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12.23.19 50 Best Albums of the Decade Ranked 12.14.19 Ben's 25 Favorite Albums of 2019 Ranked
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50 Best Albums of the Decade Ranked

Also known as best of indie and progressive rock, as that’s what 90% of this list ended up being I guess. Here’s my list of favorite albums of the past two decades: https://www.sputnikmusic.com/list.php?memberid=734942&listid=177145

A shimmering epic of fury and beauty with many emotional moments. The band laid out a strong discography these past 10 years, but it’s clear that Sunbather is the best for its amazing synthesis of musical styles, particularly the post-rock elements, and the affecting nature and profoundness throughout.
49Kayo Dot
Plastic House on Base of Sky

Kayo Dot take the sci-fi aspects of Coffins on Io and turns them up to 11. Flurrying keyboards and frantic vocals are part of a surreal picture through abstract, mind-altering sounds of the future. Each listen yields fresh discoveries, particularly with the role of guitars subtlely adding to the soundscapes.
Tales Of Us

The duo pursue a more minimalistic direction that feels more akin to Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree than their electro-pop albums. “Jo,” “Stranger,” and “Simone” are among their finest, with a gentleness and mystery that feels like vibes from a neo-noir movie.
47Tame Impala

Pure ear candy, and could be their best album if it were structured better and some of the shorter songs were fleshed out and further developed. The little guitar licks here and there add to the technicolor experience.
46Fleet Foxes

A freeing and surprisingly eclectic work of art. Diverse instrumentation, classical influences, and grand arrangements make for some of the group’s finest compositions yet. “Third of May”, the two-part “Cassius”, and the gorgeous “On Another Ocean” encompass these ideas in spectacular fashion. The beauty of Fleet Foxes’ music is just as apparent as it ever was, with an abundance of musical flourishes and progressive song structures that make for some of the band’s finest achievements thus far.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Labeled by the group themselves as their “pop” album, Ulver delve into electronic epics and gothic elegies with more of Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg’s excellent singing. Tracks will change and surprise you frequently, but the hypnotic ebb and flow from Ulver’s mind-bending ambient side is still felt. Dark synth passages vaguely recall some moments from their previous work, but this remains another impressive watershed in their discography and an embodiment of their musical identity: the frequent state of flux that makes their music so interesting to get lost in, no matter what styles are being explored.

A very welcome return that sounds like a more open extension of their best album, Solace. The instrumentalists bring about stunning results and expand on their talents by painting colors in the sky with guitars, strings, and keyboards.
43Steven Wilson
Grace for Drowning

A sprawling double album that indulges in everything Wilson had wanted to explore but couldn’t in Porcupine Tree. This is the beginning of him using prominent jazz elements along with numerous other styles he would expand on with later releases. The most musically diverse album Wilson has been involved in has a lot to offer and a stunning amount of detail. There are peaks and valleys of sound throughout, making for one of his most enjoyable and inspired albums to date.
Marrow of the Spirit

Another unique record that manages to be both more aggressive and more soft than their usual brand of music. “Black Lake Nidstang” is a truly magnificent epic, traversing sounds never heard before. This would be their last exceptional release, ending an incredible 12 years of ground-breaking atmospheric rock, metal, ambient electronic, and folk music.
41Tame Impala

A sunny, magnificent psych rock album that channels The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin without even being derivative. For a debut album, Kevin Parker establishes a remarkable sense of skill, both with songwriting and production.
40Phoebe Bridgers
Stranger In The Alps

One of the best debuts of the decade from a new singer-songwriter who displayed a remarkable way with words and world-weary attitude despite her young age. Bridgers possesses exceptional talent musically and lyrically, and a nice detail is a beautiful bass tone reminiscent of music from Twin Peaks.
39The National
Sleep Well Beast

The National return with a sprawling and adventurous new album that holds up to their legendary career. The music however evolves into new sounds while lyrics traverse the ups and downs of married life. The changes in mood from song to song are handled with finesse and care. The National certainly aren’t afraid to take risks, and the electronic elements add new dimensions and possibilities to each song. Despite the changes the group have undertaken, their brand of indie rock remains as impressive and fresh as their previous classics.

Ursa is a more patient record than its predecessor, The Blue, with less emphasis on genre bending but just as detailed and compelling. “Australis,” “Umana,” “Agathae,” and “Fin” are counted with the best songs they ever wrote, lending Ursa to the triumphant feel it exudes for much of the running time. The fluid atmospheres recall bands like Opeth and Katatonia, while sounding just as original.
Autumn Eternal

Magnificently harnesses the essence of autumn throughout with ghostly atmospheres, particularly the soothing opener and "Oaks Ablaze". Much of Autumn Eternal balances incredible guitar solos and blasting drums with clean guitar breaks and beautiful naturalistic interludes.
36Flying Lotus

A cosmic journey with an electrifying edge, Flying Lotus creates his masterpiece and blows the doors off conventions by exploring avant-jazz, future-pop, and layers of electronics. His personality is fully felt and the potential shown from Los Angeles is brought to new heights in a multi-dimensional listening experience.
35Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues

A groundbreaking modern folk album that harnesses the natural world and brings to mind life in simpler times. The band’s first full-length and the EP were impressive, but they establish themselves as next-level musicians here with more progressive songwriting and wondrous vocal harmonies.
Dust and Disquiet

One of the densest albums I’ve heard this decade, it took a while to get used to and drink in what the album had to offer. Once you take each song for what it does, there’s so much to appreciate and enjoy. All spectrums of post-rock/metal are explored, and there’s something for everyone one way or another.
33The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream

An original fusion of musical traditions like Americana, shoegazing, dream pop, and indie rock reaches its peak in an incredibly compelling result with extended jamming and layers of sound indulging in melancholy. The band have released a highly impressive run of albums this past decade, but this is clearly their strongest and most emotionally resonant.
32Animals As Leaders
The Joy of Motion

Newly invigorated, The Joy of Motion sees Animals As Leaders rivaling their masterful debut, putting forth their most diverse and focused release yet. The virtuoso instrumentalists behind Animals as Leaders once again prove that they are masters of their craft, expertly blending elements of jazz, modern metal, and progressive rock into one of their finest achievements. The Joy of Motion is different from anything else they have done, but ends up being just as impressively well thought out and impactful as before, managing to even rival their impressive debut LP.
Koi No Yokan

The band create a gorgeous blend of alternative metal with dream pop soundscapes, pushing the boundaries of their sound and emphasizing keyboards too. They really sound like they’re taking their time with each song, building on layers of sound and delivering stunning climaxes similar to a post-rock band. “Entombed,” “Tempest,” and “Rosemary” are three of their best and push the boundaries of what the band had been willing to do up to this point.
30The Jezabels

I stumbled on Prisoner a few years ago, and considered The Jezabels among the better indie bands of the time. Synthia is their best record yet, with a lot of dimensions to it including vulnerability, love, loss, and triumph. It’s not quite as straightforward as the band’s previous two, and feels more urgent overall. Everything comes together and feels strange yet beautiful, with moments of irony lending to the personality the band have shown to possess. Synthia shows an indie rock band continuing to grow into themselves, delivering an impassioned exercise in social issues, heartbreak, and naked emotion.
Clockwork Angels

This is the first time Rush have sounded so strong and inspired since the mid 1980s. The band are filing on all cylinders and provide an ambitious progressive rock concept album with their best instrumental performances in many years. The band sound their heaviest, their proggiest, and their most compelling in decades. Few bands go out on such a high note, but Rush solidified themselves as one of the consistently all time greats.
Axioma Ethica Odini

Enslaved deliver a stunning left turn after gradually emphasizing their progressive metal side more and more. An irresistible furiosity returns to the band’s music and collides with the progressive rock styles they had developed throughout the previous decade. What comes about are some of their strongest cuts to date, like “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” “Giants,” and the final tracks.
27Toby Driver
They Are the Shield

Toby Driver has created an original, sophisticated work of art by composing stunning string arrangements within atmospheric epics. Soundscapes come alive through an interplay of violins and sublime ambiance. While retaining focus, a wide range of dynamics are explored, from unsettling ambient sections to uptempo passages of a kind of undefined middle ground between chamber music and post-rock. Toby Driver continues to prove that he’s an uncompromising artist, not averse to trying new musical ideas but remaining focused on the emotional impact and beauty of what a piece can express. They Are the Shield finds Toby Driver continuing to evolve as a solo artist, with masterful string arrangements and gorgeous atmospheres for one of the finest albums of 2018.
26Tame Impala

The greatest Tame Impala album does what any sophomore effort should do: build on what made the debut work and make it even better. There’s more musical terrain covered and even catchier songs with a more skillful approach to the songwriting. “Feels Like We’re Going Backwards” and “Elephant” are two of the best pop songs of the decade, and “Endors Toi” and “Keep on Lying” contain phenomenal guitar work. Lonerism is an addicting and fantastic effort, being Parker’s best album of his first decade as Tame Impala.
Wars of the Roses

A more energetic direction for Ulver yields another unique outing and their best since Shadows of the Sun. “February MMX” is perhaps their catchiest song to date, with an immediacy the group are not known for. “Island” is a gorgeous, pastoral piece and one of their best songs. “Providence” is a fantastic epic, exploring a range of moods that aren’t usually heard together in one Ulver song. The album’s style would evolve to the dark pop in The Assassination of Julius Caeser.
24Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

The band continue from Skeleton Tree with a more ethereal direction, even more sparse and dreamy by focusing on synths and piano alongside Cave's voice. After the devastation and darkness of Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen finds Cave in a place of healing, or at least on the path to trying to accept life after the tragic passing of his youngest son. An uncompromising companion to Skeleton Tree and even more open, meditating on large questions relating to spirits, tragedy, and the meaning of life. His lyrics continue to be wonderfully impressionistic, ranging from the surreal and fantastical to some very intimate and personal musings as well. It's another triumph and one of the finest albums of the year. Highlights are "Bright Horses," "Sun Forest," and "Galleon Ship."
23Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros follow their calmest record to date, Valtari, with their most heavy and blistering. But like Foals, the self-advertisement of being more aggressive really only applies to a few songs, and with not even that much of a change. This is primarily business as usual for the band, but there’s a new level of inspiration at play. The enhanced focus on percussion in the opening tracks and more immediate but still soaring choruses in many of the tracks come together for stunning moments. In adding a grittiness and apocalyptic fury to their usually dreamy and uplifting brand of avant-rock, a collision occurs that could have been disastrous but instead brought about total success. The band establish themselves as one of the very best of the past 25 years alongside other top tier groups like Radiohead, The National, and Tool.
22Morbus Chron

One of the best metal records of the decade, with half of it being more of a dark brand of progressive rock, through not in the vein of Opeth. What started as a standard death metal band transformed into an incredible prog album bursting with creativity. It’s a shame that this would be their final release, as it seems to be just the beginning of a game-changing career.
21Submotion Orchestra
Finest Hour

A gorgeous debut album that marries together nu-jazz and dubstep with a lush atmosphere. The heavenly vocals add to the smooth sound brought about by the musicians, but there are high-energy instrumental sections as well. It’s a warm embrace of a record with numerous excellent ideas and numerous sublime moments.
20David Bowie

1. After his passing, I went through David Bowie’s back catalogue before checking this one out, having only heard his most famous songs and seen some of his movie performances. Suffice it to say I was stunned with the forward thinking musical ideas of Station to Station, Low, Heroes, and others. After being exposed to the highly emotional and praising reception to his final record, I was finally ready to give it a listen. It was certainly different to what I was expecting, and was especially impressed with the title track, Lazarus, and the final two songs. Much like Skeleton Tree, there’s a lot of melancholy and character to Blackstar, with a beautiful sense of catharsis at the end.
19Steven Wilson
To the Bone

Steven Wilson creates his most colorful and triumphant record yet, a bold new direction by being a lush, diverse rock odyssey overflowing with creativity. To the Bone feels deals with universal human themes throughout. In multiple ways it feels like an album that anyone can enjoy. What’s most rewarding is how song-based it is, while holding up to Wilson’s more complex musical past. He displays that it’s just as impressive to write an effective pop song as it is to create a progressive rock epic. Steven Wilson proves that an artist can venture into uncharted musical waters, even 30 years into their career, for ambitious and vibrant results like these.
18Kayo Dot
Coffins on Io

1. Another left turn for a band that thrives on change. This time, they pursue a laid back darkwave sound with science fiction themes. Glimmering synth tones and retro production are the name of the game here, delivering a unique experience drenched in futuristic atmospheres. “The Mortality of Doves” and “Spirit Photography” are gothic epics and two of the band’s best. “Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22” actually sounds catchy and glides along in a satisfying, straightforward way. Coffins on Io goes down easy, being a more digestible and inviting album but still embodying the band’s esoteric nature.

Destroyer push themselves into their finest incarnation yet, crafting a lush, blissful, pop odyssey. There are no misfires to be found, as the band deliver hit song after hit song, any of which could serve as a pre-release single. The title track in particular is a gorgeous pop song and one of the band’s best. There are more experimental moments as well, with the epic “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” passing the eight-minute mark and traversing a range of musical passages and instrumentation including a sunny flute melody against a more downbeat, contemplative backdrop. There is so much going on in Kaputt while maintaining an addicting and catchy manner, striking an impressive balance and being a true watershed moment for music in the 2010s.
A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead look inward and craft spacey atmospheres and engaging compositions, recalling the warm, melancholy qualities of In Rainbows wonderfully. It retains the coldness of The King of Limbs and Kid A as well, but this is very much its own incarnation. Despite largely being a more ambient affair, there are moments of driving guitars with tense builds, like in album highlight “Ful Stop.” This is among the best on A Moon Shaped Pool, along with the otherworldly “Decks Dark,” ambient “Daydreaming,” mournful album closer “True Love Waits,” and “Present Tense.” Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are masters of their craft, always seeking new ways to explore and reinvent their sound. A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead’s most quiet and subtle offering yet, highlighting their most stripped down emotional core and emphasizing Jonny Greenwood’s sublime string arrangements.
Valley of Smoke

One of the best metal albums of the century so far, Intronaut display a remarkable skill at crafting compelling progressive metal and expanding their sonic palate. The balance is achieved nicely between prog metal and post-rock sections with fantastic musicianship. The drumming is even more technical if that were possible, and the lighter sections are the band’s best to date. The band are among the best metal has to offer in recent years, with Valley of Smoke being their best to date.
Fear Inoculum

The long-anticipated and infamous new Tool album was worth the long wait; it’s a massive, compelling piece of music that unfolds beautifully and balances their unique style with plenty of rewarding new elements. It’s a mammoth album of nearly all 10+ minute long songs and sounds like it could have been written at any point during Tool’s classic period. The instrumentalists lay down some of their most impressive and technical performances yet and the magic they create together sounds more transcendent and harmonious than bands half their age. “Descending,” “Invincible,” and “7empest” are the highlights for me. Everything falls into place and flows with a fluidity that Tool is always able to accomplish. Any fears that they would not live up to their past can be abated; Fear Inoculum is truly groundbreaking and one of the best albums of the decade.

The atmosphere of Japanese folklore is explored by Alcest in Kodama, a euphoric and complex work of art. While their predecessor Shelter was an enjoyable diversion from what was expected, this sees Alcest once again emphasizing sweeping post-rock atmospheres colliding with intense metal soundscapes. “Je Suis D’ailleurs,” “Untouched,” and the heavenly title track traverse multicolored waterfalls of sound, with dizzying atmospheres to get lost in. Alcest are once again casting aside genre labels and harnessing a more sophisticated approach than the typical dynamic motifs one hears in their genre. They keep to the dreamy, yet abstract and complex musical explorations they have always excelled in. Kodama once again proves that Alcest are still making music at the peak of their potential.
12Storm Corrosion
Storm Corrosion

Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson bring about the collaboration of the decade. This project sounds nothing like their main bands, instead going for a more avant-garde and ethereal direction inspired by psychedelic folk music. There are no rules to abide by or conventions obeyed, as songs will drift and glide along into the air it seems. When you think it’s going to disappear into the ambiance, a jolt will occur in the form of static or a drumbeat in a surreal manner. The results are a blend of the occult and disturbing but often beautiful as well, with the closer being one of the greatest songs of the decade.
11Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

For Emma, Forever Ago is widely lauded as Justin Vernon’s magnum opus. However, it’s clear that the self-titled album by his band, Bon Iver, is the peak of his abilities. Elements of indie rock, electronic music, and all manner of instruments are added to the band’s sound for an original sound and heartfelt songs like “Minnesota, WI,” “Holocene,” “Michicant,” and “Calgary.” Vernon expresses his wanderlust and big questions in a truly profound manner throughout, opening himself to the world after the introspective indie folk of For Emma.
10The Contortionist

A wonderful balance of technicality, atmosphere, emotional resonance, and straight-up excellent songwriting. The Contortionist embody how progressive metal should be in the 2010s, not wasting time on mindless instrumental wankery or cheesy singing and lyrics. They manage to avoid all those pitfalls and manage to make something that sounds straight out of the future. There are no gimmicks or stupidity found here, just pure progressive rock goodness.
9Kayo Dot

After a few years of mucking around, the band get back on track by releasing a mind-blowingly ambitious and musically diverse double album. It explores very dark territory at times, but there are lighter moments as well and so much genre-bending that it all really shouldn’t be able to work together, but it does. The members of Kayo Dot amazingly pull it off, displaying an understanding of so many ideas that could have been extended to five albums.
8Sufjan Stevens
Carrie and Lowell

The folk AOTD, Sufjan gets intensely personal as he recounts feelings and memories from childhood. He grapples with the emption of a complicated relationship that had reached its conclusion with the recent death of a parent, and with the way he was raised. The stripped down nature recalls the intimate Seven Swans, but C&L is very much a different beast. It sounds ghostly and longing, with sections of eerie ambiance providing an abstract side to a highly emotional and cathartic listening experience.
7Queens of the Stone Age
...Like Clockwork

Josh Homme pours his heart out with a mostly very serious album that grapples with mortality. He nearly died from a sudden illness, and this life-altering event inspired him to write a more meditative and moody record, their best since Songs for the Deaf.
The King of Limbs: From the Basement

An expanded version of the studio album with better production, more songs, and better sequencing. “Bloom” in particular is elevated to one of their best, and everything in general sounds clearer and more impactful.
5Steven Wilson
Hand. Cannot. Erase.

A modern concept brought to life by an impressive mix of accessibility and complexity. [i]Hand. Cannot. Erase.[/i] blends in modern influences and poppier melodies with his trademark complexity into one of the most enjoyable and easily digestible listens of his widespread musical career. Wilson is aiming for a sleeker, more modern sound and [i]Hand. Cannot. Erase[/i] is another rewarding evolution of these efforts, not only being Wilson’s best solo album, but one of the finest musical outputs he has ever been involved in. Elements from his past projects are explored, as well as an abundance of new ideas that also suggest a bright future.
Total Life Forever

Total Life Forever excels in providing a rich, stunning, aquatic atmosphere throughout. Everything from the guitar effects, keyboards, vocals, and percussion comes together in service of adventurous and naturalistic textures. This is a rich, beautiful record that displays just the right amount of accessibility to accompany its ambitions. This album has it all and shines bright in its creative, melancholic beauty and emotional resonance.
3Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Skeleton Tree

After 2010, Skeleton Tree is the finest album by any musician or band to date; a captivating, heart-rending meditation with lyrics that paint bizarre, beautiful pictures of lost loves in much the same way as predecessor Push The Sky Away did. Continuing from where it left off, the instrumentation is largely based on minimalist string arrangements and unsettling ambience. The bare bones playing provides appropriate musical terrain for Cave to exorcise his demons, giving a tense feeling over the listening experience. This is due largely to the vulnerable, and sometimes even quivering vocal performance by Cave. Skeleton Tree is meant to be a record for everyone, purely honest in a stunning way.
Écailles De Lune

Souvenirs was an excellent debut that began the blackgaze genre, but this is where the potential reaches its heights. One stunning musical section after another proves Alcest are capable of amazing things and weaving together beautiful soundscapes in genres like metal, dream pop, shoegazing, and post-rock. The groundbreaking musical style they started is exemplified at its greatest, and has yet to be bested. The album harnesses a progressive spirit, with most of the run time devoted to the two-part title track and gorgeous, aquatic album closer. “Solar Song” is a perfect shoegaze track and “Percées de lumière” flies through all manner of riffs and quieter moments for a perfect encapsulation of their sound.
1The National
High Violet

The best of the decade goes to the fifth full-length album by The National, which follows their masterpiece Boxer and takes their sound to a new level, brighter and more ethereal but just as poignant. Strings, horns, and synths are added to the mix for a truly intoxicating result. They were already an amazing band with Sad Songs, Alligator, and Boxer, but High Violet solidifies that even more with new dimensions. The lyrics explore topics like apathy, anxiety about reaching new life stages, and cryptic themes as well. The band would go through a variety of changes in the coming years afterwards, but High Violet is the first noticeable evolution that lead to further success and established the band as one of the best. I think Boxer will always be their greatest achievement, but this is a close second and a truly singular experience.
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