By Epigram Music
As we approach 2020, Epigram music give the run down on the top 10 albums of the last decade.
10. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
By Lucas Arthur, First Year Geography
Few artists are as good at telling stories as Courtney Barnett. Sometimes I Sit weaves lucid tales of road trips, house hunts, lane swimming and sleepless nights together with flawless wit and infectious Aussie charm. Barnett perfectly balances humour and exposition. Nestled within each song is a compelling and emotive vignette of modern life. Barnett’s mood shifts from playful, to pensive, to macabre sometimes all within the same song. Musically, too, the album delivered. The tunes are tight, pulling in elements of garage rock, country ballads, folk and psychedelia, and bounce along with infectious energy. Independent of one another, the music and lyrics might not have been so profound, but their pairing makes for something both poignant and masterful.
9. King Krule - Six Feet Beneath the Moon (2013)
By Tom Taylor, Digital Editor
6 Feet Beneath the Moon is the gritty debut album of singer and musician - Archy Marshall, performing under the name King Krule. It quickly gained critical acclaim, effortlessly mixing stripped back jazz with Marshall’s grungy dark vocals. It’s Archy at his best: drawing you in with tender vocal moments before reverting back to the gritty realism which defines King Krule. The distinctiveness of his voice, which I first heard on Mount Kimbie’s 2017 album Love What Survives, is almost a genre within itself – instantly recognisable no matter the context. It’s worth considering, also, that the album was released on his 19th birthday. Six Feet Beneath the Moon is an album of celestial proportions – a dark and brooding jazz behemoth.
8. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
By Bethany Marris, Deputy Digital Editor
There are few albums as audacious as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, yet there are few artists as audacious as Kanye West. As the naughties became history, Kanye guided Hip-Hop into the new decade with a release that captured the contemporary cultural and political landscape of America in vivid colour, simultaneously offering a futuristic trajectory of 2010’s Rap. Pink Friday was ready to drop, Bon Iver were largely unheard of and Rihanna’s hair was garishly red. Aphex Twin’s sound was exotic, Taylor Swift was completely offended and Kanye was gloating a monopoly on US music that still belonged to Jay Z.
Twisted Fantasy sketches the continued subordination of African Americans in Obama’s progressive America. The artist re-constructs himself as ‘Malcom West’; he assumes the responsibility of amplifying racial injustice to the youth of the day, whilst paying homage to the revolutionary discourse of Gill Scott Heron as he duties the activist’s words with closing the album.
Of course, if there’s one thing that doesn’t need stroking, it’s Kanye’s ego. Yet it’s difficult to contest this album’s right to occupy a chart-topping space in the lengthy list of records that have defined the last ten years. Enlisting Rick Ross’s dirty husk to juxtapose decadence with lyrical filth on ‘Devil In A New Dress’, Pusha T’s pronounced hiss to amplify the mood of disgust on ‘So Appalled’ and Nicki Minaj’s ferocious lyrical prowess on ‘Monster’, there’s a sense that each track was tailored for these A-Listers from conception. Paradoxically laced with anger, vulgarity, affection and admiration, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is nothing less than a testament to Kanye’s curation, production and ambition.
7. Beyonce - Lemonade (2016)
By Gruff Kennedy, Third Year English
This is a tremendous portrait of the tumult of emotions surrounding marital infidelity, a tribute to female solidarity, and an excellent pop album in its own right. Beyoncé is one of the most powerful women in the world, not to mention one of the greatest pop artists in history, and she knows it - so her pain and her rage come through in full force. The lyrics are blistering, the beats are hard, and the influences are dizzying. Beyonce rockets and veers between strength and vulnerability in an eerily accurate portrait of the emotional confusion that the violent breakup of a relationship always inspires. Beyonce quotes Warsan Shire, mimics Pipilotti Rist, samples Malcolm X, pays tribute to her mother, her daughter and HOV’s grandmother-- and, miraculously, the album remains razor-sharp, never incoherent. This is indisputably her best album.
6. Bon Iver - Bon Iver (2011)
By Dylan Morley, Third Year History
In a prolific decade for indie-folk music, Bon Iver’s self-titled 2011 release stands out distinctly from the crowd. A follow-up to the early success of For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver catapulted Justin Vernon and co. into the spotlight, transgressing their fringe persona. Vernon - the founder, frontman and principle creative contributor - entices and intrigues his listeners in equal measure throughout this finely balanced conception. Bon Iver takes its listener on a surreal and abstract journey; from the disconcerting chaos of 'Hinnom, TX' to the lyric-less tranquillity of 'Lisbon, OH'. Vernon combines his innate vocal talents with his technical studio mastery to create a timeless great of an album.
5. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (2015)
By Paul Ray, First Year Spanish and Philosophy
You might think that an album centred around the death of an estranged parent would be crushingly sad, and Carrie & Lowell does have a formidable reputation as one of the decade’s most potent tearjerkers. Nevertheless, to pigeonhole Sufjan Stevens’ seventh album as a sad death album good for crying to and little else would be doing it a massive disservice. With its emotional range, spiritual undertones and flashes of light and beauty amidst the grief, Carrie & Lowell is a revelatory album that continues giving after countless listens.
Paring down the orchestral maximalism of previous efforts down to intricate guitar fingerpicking and hushed vocals, Carrie & Lowell possesses an intimate, quiet intensity - unparalleled this decade. Carrie & Lowell is one of those rare albums that cuts to the very heart of the human condition, without feeling the need to sermonise or make grand pronouncements about the meaning of life.
4. David Bowie - Blackstar (2016)
By Sophie Brown, Phd Chemistry
January 2017 saw the release of the 25th and final studio album, Blackstar, from music icon David Bowie on his 69th birthday. It was only a few days later in the tragic news of Bowie's death that the true profundity of the album was fully realised. Blackstar was Bowie's parting gift - a devastating masterpiece of a life laid out on a musical canvas, crafted by a man battling a cancer diagnosis and facing the magnitude of his own mortality. ‘Lazarus’ provides the poignant and thought-provoking pinnacle of the album, with its solemn orchestration offering up Bowie’s self-crafted eulogy. Bowie leaves his legacy eternally laced with ethereal mystery and enigmatic beauty.
3. Aphex Twin - Syro (2014)
By Francesa Frankis, Music Editor
As if Aphex Twin didn’t need to prove himself anymore after his first 6 acclaimed works, he then went and released Syro in 2014; a phenomenal album that deserves every last drop of the cult status it’s reaped over the years. Swerving in and out of normalities, Syro perfectly captures a moment of immaculate electronic chaos layered onto the backdrop of a thoughtful ambient self-discovery.
The crushing hi-hats of first track ‘minipops 67’ run heavy throughout the record and evolve into wacky arpeggiated rhythms as the album breezily runs on. Just when you think you can’t keep up, Aphex Twin does what he does best and chimes in with gleaming, satisfying melodies like with ‘Produk 29 ’. ‘180db_’ is another stand out track; thumping kick beats give way to freaky synths that squeeze their way out of some kind of electronic existential crisis. Whilst Syro isn't for the fainthearted, it offers up moments of profound tranquility nestled in between Aphex Twin’s celebrated unruly computerised movements. The significance of final track ‘aisatsana ’ cannot be understated; a gentle and poignant piano arrangement, quietly finding resolution in the disorder of the entire work. It isn’t until listening to the whole album cover to cover and finishing it on this note that it finally all makes sense. Aphex Twin’s Syro is an indisputable classic that propels sound beyond any limits of time, place or genre.
2. Frank Ocean - Blonde (2016)
By Bethany Marris, Deputy Digital Editor
Unlike Frank Ocean’s sun-laced debut Channel Orange, Blonde encapsulates every back-en dish sentiment of the autumnal transition. Released in the close of August 2016, Frank’s sophomore record offers a sonic depiction of the changing of the seasons; an articulation of transition.
Infusing the record with a sense of metamorphosis, the artist reflects on meaningless flings, lengthy romances and platonic love. Frank paints the freedoms of youth, whilst synthesising bleak periods of loneliness on ‘Self-Control’ and the myriad societal expectations that come with adulthood through ‘Seigfried’. Blonde captures moments of emptiness, hope, and sensuality in one woefully relatable offering.
In pitching Blonde as a decade-defining album, Frank’s meticulous production can’t go unacknowledged. From the moment in which day becomes ‘Night(s)’ through a calculated mid-record beat-shift, to those instances where periods of instrumental melancholy seamlessly bleed into electronic chaos, Blonde’s production is faultless. Pioneering in arrangement and lyricism, there’s little doubt that this genre-spanning project has earned a top-spot in the musical cannons of R&B, Hip-Hop and Neo-Soul alike.
- Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
By Daisy Lacey, Comparative Literatures and Cultures
Three years after his reputation-affirming sophomore record Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp A Butterfly. With every track laced with political consciousness, TPAB exhibits the artist talent as both a skilled MC and an accomplished wordsmith.
A testament to the messages espoused by the record, ‘Alright’ quickly assumed it’s place as the soundtrack for the modern day Black Lives Matter Movement. Kendrick offers hope in a social, cultural and political climate still geared against the uplift of African Americans. The artist metaphorically grapples with racial discrimination most evidently on tracks such as ‘Hood Politics’, ‘Institutionalised’ and ‘King Kunta’. Furthermore, whilst exposing societal ’demons’ Kendrick simultaneously tackles personal demons. Through ’U’, he sketches a bleak, drunken profile of the artist mourning the complexities of love; navigating the complexities of fame.
TPAB is symbolically rich. From it’s luxurious, jazzy foundation to references to Malcom X and interludes of protest, Kendrick celebrates Black culture whilst warning that institutional change is imminent, necessary and long overdue. Although the Grammy slipped his grasp, the rapper's third record stands as a universally acclaimed project; an album for a generation and a masterpiece of its time.
Featured Image: Francesca Frankis/Epigram
What are your top albums of the last decade? Let us know down below!