The 2010s weren’t the most influential years for my musical tastes — that would be the 2000s, when some of my all-time favorite albums were released, and I was exposed to a bunch of new music while at college.
But, thanks to Spotify, the way I listened to music changed over the past decade. I decided to look back on my favorite albums released between 2010 and 2019. A quick disclaimer: my point is not that these are the best albums of the past 10 years. Rather, these are the albums that I listened to the most, that stuck with me, with a preference for an album’s overall consistency, rather than its best songs.
2010 — High Violet, The National
If there is a single song that defines the 2010s for me — the decade I graduated college, worked for three daily newspapers in three different states, gained 80 pounds (and then lost 40 of it), worked more 70-hour weeks than 40-hour ones, the decade I discovered who I was and made the best kinds of friends — it’s The National’s “Sorrow.” The steady rata-tat-tat of Bryan Devendorf’s drums kicks everything off, then a fevered acoustic guitar, and thus begins the 2010s. The National put out three more albums in the 2010s — the aching Trouble Will Find Me, the mature Sleep Well Beast and the almost literary I Am Easy to Find. But High Violet demonstrates The National at their most contemplative and, therefore, at their most melancholy. It’s also their best. The National love, or at least loved, “Sorrow” as well — they once played it 105 times in a row.
Favorite songs: Sorrow, Bloodbuzz Ohio, Lemonworld, Conversation 16
2011 — Sounds of a Playground Fading, In Flames
In Flames has built an impressive discography over its 30-year career. The Swedish band helped establish and dominate a new brand of heavy metal, and consistently produces high-quality, head-banging work. Sounds of a Playground Fading isn’t the band’s best work, either of their career or even of the decade, but the album is chock-full of strong songs worth replaying. This the album that made me fall in love with In Flames.
Favorite songs: Deliver Us, Darker Times, Fear is the Weakness, Enter Tragedy, Where the Dead Ships Dwell
2011 — Love Pt. 1 & 2, Angels & Airwaves
Angels & Airwaves didn’t revolutionize rock ’n’ roll, as founder and lead singer Tom DeLonge (yep, that Tom DeLonge) once proclaimed, but damn if the former Blink 182 lead singer doesn’t know how to craft a great hook. Love Pt. 1 & 2’s almost operatic, atmospheric sound is impossible for this ’90s child not to love. Portions of the album are part of the sci-fi film of the same name. I’m not going to argue if you think this is a silly album to have in a Top 10 list. But I am going to keep listening to it, because it’s sonically delicious.
Favorite songs: Young London, Shove, Epic Holiday, Hallucinations, The Moon-Atomic, Soul Survivor, Saturday Love, Anxiety
2013 — The Bones Of What You Believe, Chvrches
This is another example of my first exposure to a band being the most personally significant. Chvrches is indie rock royalty now, and the Scottish band’s 2018 release Love Is Dead is breathtaking. But my first dance to Chvrches was their 2013 rookie album, and I fell in love with the pop-synth goodness. Lauren Mayberry is Chvrches’ not-so-secret weapon, but it’s the band’s willingness to craft complex melodic tunes that just keep on giving that is Chvrches true greatness.
Favorite songs: The Mother We Share, We Sink, Recover
2013 — The 1975, The 1975
I guess 2013 was one hell of a year for freshmen UK pop bands. The 1975 somehow delivered a fresh take on what could be described as a classic sound, Matt Healy crooning on songs with names like “Chocolate,” “Sex” and “M.O.N.E.Y.” If The 1975 eschewed depth for popular themes, their self-titled effort was remarkably mature. Future efforts have been uneven at best, but their first album remains endlessly fun to listen to.
Favorite songs: Chocolate, Sex, Robbers, Girls, Undo
2014 — Run The Jewels 2, Run The Jewels
It might be difficult to take the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels (one half Killer Mike, one half EL-P) seriously, considering they released a special version of their second self-titled album using cat sounds as back tracks called Meow The Jewels (it’s intentionally unsettling, like a melodic version Cats five years before that abomination was released). But it’s impossible not to give the band, and particularly RTJ 2, significant respect. EL-P holds his own for certain, but it’s the Atlanta-based Killer Mike who runs the show. He has the best lyrics and delivers them with a confident sneer (And even if some good will die, f*ck it, the Lord will sort ‘em). Lay that on top of beats that absolutely slap, and you have an album that belongs on permanent repeat.
Favorite songs: Blockbuster Night Pt. 1, Close Your Eyes (And Count To F*ck), Lie Cheat Steal
2015 — ASD, A Skylit Drive
It’s a shame that 2015’s self-titled effort by the metalcore A Skylit Drive was its last, because the band had hit its peak. Despite losing bassist Brian White and drummer Cory La Quay, or perhaps because of it, Michael “Jag” Jagmin was truly rolling. It’s stirring, memorable, heavy and light all at the same time. At least ASD went out on top.
Favorite songs: Falling Apart In A (Crow)ded Room, Shock My Heart, Risk It All, Running Circles, Oblivion
2017 — Reputation, Taylor Swift
Reputation isn’t T-Swift’s best effort in the decade; that distinction rests with Red, the album that minted her as a pop superstar. But Reputation is what encouraged me to embrace my love of Swift’s sugary-sweet earworms, and while Reputation’s uneven track list and misguided attempts at cultivating a “bad grrrl” reputation for Swift are significant flaws, the album also show Swift at the top of her game. Few have reached such heights.
Favorite songs: Getaway Car, King of My Heart, Dress, New Year’s Day
2018 — Ember, Breaking Benjamin
Breaking Benjamin isn’t the most lyrically or sonically innovative bands in the world; adding them to this list does nothing for my indie cred. But I’m a firm believer in the fact that there’s not such thing as a guilty pleasure, and something about Breaking Benjamin’s melodic hard rock has inspired me for more than a decade. Ember is the band’s best post-breakup/rebirth album, and lead singer Benjamin Burnley still knows how to craft a tight, driving rock song. It was my most-listened-to album of 2018.
Favorite songs: The Dark of You, Blood, Save Yourself, Close Your Eyes
2019 — War/Peace, Demon Hunter
Demon Hunter is my favorite band of all-time. One of the most compelling aspects of Demon Hunter’s music is this marriage of the heavy and the melodic, the aggressive and the calm. The War and Peace double album takes this dichotomy and expands it with 22 songs evenly split between the two sides of Demon Hunter. While lacking the raw brilliance of earlier albums like Summer of Darkness, War/Peace is an absolute masterpiece. “Loneliness” is one of the best songs this band has ever written.
Favorite songs: On My Side, Lesser Gods, Loneliness, Peace