Kendal four-piece Wild Beasts began the new decade in very similar fashion to how the ended the previous one – at the top of their game. 2009’s Two Dancers won an avalanche of plaudits with its warm, intelligent music and sexually suggestive lyrics and, if anything, Smother was even more sensual and rhythmical. Mysteriously overlooked for the Mercury Prize, it was weighted slightly more towards synthesisers than guitars, with tracks like ‘Loop The Loop’ and ‘Reach A Bit Further’ gently working themselves into resplendent peaks of ecstasy. Wild Beasts are one of the few British bands left who understand the power of patience, tension and restraint in indie music – providing little universes for us to lose ourselves in. (EB) (LISTEN)
Maintaining their ridiculously prodigious output rate, Bombay Bicycle Club released their fourth album in a little over five years. But that wasn’t what was most remarkable – it was the amount of fertile musical territory that they’d covered in the intervening time. In a way, So Long, See You Tomorrow was the pinnacle of everything they’d been building towards, picking up slivers of diverse musical inspiration hither and thither. It produced a euphoric adventure playground of a record, full of different ideas all executed with the same flair joy of experimentation. Eastern-flavoured tracks like ‘Luna’, the Sri Lankan drums of ‘Feel’, and the hypnotic effects produced with the rhythms of ‘Overdone’ and ‘Carry Me’… it’s hard to see where BBC could go from here. Doubtless, they’ll defy all our expectations and find some completely new place to make their nest next time. (EB) (LISTEN)
Having unexpectedly gained exposure to a global audience after Danny Boyle used two tracks from their 2009 masterpiece Tarot Sport in the London Olympic Games opening ceremony, Worcester duo Fuck Buttons somehow managed to sound even bigger with their third album Slow Focus. Its seven tracks of industrial percussion, primal rhythms and mangled, alien synths build into huge swathes of electronic noise that pummel the listener into a state of wondrous submission. On the 10-minute epics ‘Stalker’ and ‘Hidden XS’, they were at their very best, with sheets of noise roaring and crashing like waves on a rocky shore. 2013 was a pretty great year for music, but nothing sounded like this. (EB) (LISTEN)
Having scored a Number 1 hit single with 2007’s ‘With Every Heartbeat’, a piece of utterly sublime modern pop, Swedish enigma Robyn sought to bring the same qualities to Body Talk, her first album for five years. Though it was technically a compilation edited down from three mini-LPs worth of material, it was the most vivid artistic vision in pop music in 2010. Her talent was to infuse the cold, pristine electronic soundscapes of her music with genuine heart and soul, pointing the way to a glinting future for pop, sounding like a more chart-bound version of Scandinavian avant-garde compatriots The Knife. Robyn portrayed herself as a kind of emotionless cybernetic (on opener ‘Fembot’) and intoned over throbbing, intense rhythms that spanned krautrock to Eurodisco, providing a template for dozens of artists subsequently. (EB) (LISTEN)
After building up a cult reputation for a couple of EPs and lots of rather nifty remix work, Derwin Schlecker (a.k.a. Gold Panda) released this hauntingly beautiful debut album in late 2010. Lucky Shiner is one of the best examples of the micro-genre referred to by a number of labels (chillwave, folktronica, glitch), and it played like a dreamy, half-awake travelogue, constructed from recordings of unusual instruments from around the world and any amount of field recordings. Schlecker demonstrated the inquisitive attitude of a true connoisseur, a musical crate-digger always tweaking and perfecting his sounds. Tracks like ‘Same Dream China’ and ‘Snow & Taxis’ sounded like Boards Of Canada trying to reconstruct an Underworld album from memory. Absolute bliss. (EB) (LISTEN)
The world’s first ‘app album’, Björk’s seventh LP may initially have grabbed the headlines for its innovative presentation: before it was released traditionally, Biophilia was an interactive multimedia project linking nature and technology with musicological concepts. Once that novelty factor had worn off, the collection stood out as one of the more intimate and rewarding experiences in her back catalogue, given repeated listens. UK post-dubstep producers 16bit collaborated with Björk to bring these gnarled, ingenious arrangements to life, with highlights ‘Mutual Core’ and ‘Virus’ sounding like nothing else on this earth. Full of fluid electronics and synthesisers, strange syntaxes and imagery and twisted beat patterns, Biophilia was a forward-thinking resolution of nature and machine, of ancient and futuristic. (EB) (LISTEN)
One of the most critically acclaimed debut albums of 2010, Innerspeaker achieved the first of many peaks for Aussie psychedelic rocker Tame Impala. Voted 8.5 by Pitchfork and 8/10 by NME, critics particularly praised the lyrical talent of lead singer and songwriter Kevin Parker, who gave a modern twist to Lennon-esque pop psychedelia. Featuring tracks such as ‘Lucidity’, ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ and ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’, the album had a deliciously retro blend of hazy guitar hooks alongside clever vocal delivery from Parker, that seemed to make sense in the context of this socially atomised decade. With the assistance of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev producer Dave Fridmann, they perfectly captured an intuitive, original psychedelic sound which lies outside the boundaries of modern day rock. Innerspeaker was a beacon for the burgeoning Australian psych scene, influencing bands such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Following line-up changes, Tame Impala lashed their aesthetic to a consistent concept for 2012’s Lonerism, which also features in this chart – but where? (ML) (LISTEN)
As a rule, mixtapes wouldn’t usually make it into our selection criteria for these sorts of lists. Their high turnover rate and under-the-radar operation make them next to impossible to document, temporally speaking, they don’t quite offer the same kind of a snapshot of an artist in time like most official album releases do. But we’re making an exception for Acid Rap, the second such mix from Chicago’s fearsomely talented Chancelor Bennett (aka. Chance The Rapper). When it dropped in April 2013, demand was such that it crashed the hosting site Audiomack, such an epochal event that Acid Rap forced its way into mainstream consciousness, and it’s just the first documented evidence that we’re dealing a truly sensational artist. Chance encompasses soul, gospel, blues, trip-hop and rock, reminiscing about his childhood and looking with a mixture of optimism and dread at the future. This should be a chaotic sprawl on paper, but he keeps everything tight and marshalled to his compelling vision for rap in the ‘10s. (EB) (LISTEN)
In this history of long-awaited follow-up albums, there are long waits, and then there’s My Bloody Valentine. m b v took half a decade longer even than the legendary Chinese Democracy to materialise, coming a full 22 years after the group’s visionary Loveless which had changed the rules about how guitar music could sound, the foundations for which were laid in the years before their original break-up in 1997. Kevin Shields picked up the thread a decade later and reassembled the band, and spent a further six years putting the finishing touches to it, with a perfectionist’s eye. For once, the lack of a discernible shift in direction was comforting, as it was evident that MBV’s talents had been immaculately preserved. m b v was a dense, intoxicating whirlwind of distortion, of tremolo guitars that one minute sound like bagpipes and the next like angels sighing, and an exemplary addition to the back catalogue of one of Britain’s most influential groups ever. (EB) (LISTEN)
Though the mission of all the greatest pop and rock is the quest towards the future, sometimes you just can’t beat a good dose of retro. John Dwyer’s prolific garage rock project Thee Oh Sees, responsible for 14 albums in just over a decade, came up with their career best Floating Coffin in 2013. Recorded using vintage equipment from the era they wished to evoke, it was a compelling mixture of The Cramps and Nuggets, its mixture of cartoonish, gory imagery and psychedelic guitar punk was like a fleeting flashback of a bad acid trip. But amid the menacing atmosphere was a keen sense of melody combined with absolutely stellar execution. It could have been made at any point between 1963 and 2013, but that simply means that Floating Coffin was timeless in the best possible way. (EB) (LISTEN)
Tags: Adele, albums of the decade so far, Alt-J, Anna Calvi, Aphex Twin, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, Band Of Horses, Battles, Beach House, Bill Callahan, Bjork, Bombay Bicycle Club, Bon Iver, Caribou, Chance The Rapper, Cloud Nothings, Crystal Castles, Daft Punk, David Byrne, Deerhunter, Disclosure, Django Django, Drake, Eagulls, Ed Biggs, Elbow, FKA twigs, Flying Lotus, Foals, Frank Ocean, Fuck Buttons, Girls, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Gold Panda, greatest albums of the 2010s, Grimes, Haim, Jagwar Ma, Jake Bugg, James Blake, Jay-Z, Joanna Newsom, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Kurt Vile, Laura Marling, Lauren James, LCD Soundsystem, Local Natives, Lower Dens, M83, Matthew Langham, Melody's Echo Chamber, Metronomy, My Bloody Valentine, Parquet Courts, PJ Harvey, Pond, Pulled Apart By Horses, Purity Ring, Queens Of The Stone Age, Real Estate, Robyn, Run The Jewels, Savages, Sharon Van Etten, Sleigh Bells, St. Vincent, Swans, Tame Impala, The Black Keys, The Drums, The Horrors, The Maccabees, The National, The Student Playlist, The War On Drugs, The xx, Thee Oh Sees, These New Puritans, Tuneyards, Two Door Cinema Club, Vampire Weekend, Warpaint, Wild Beasts, Yeasayer
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