The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Albums of the 2010s

To adapt that famous misquotation attributed to Mark Twain, reports of the album’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Ever since the turn of the millennium, conventional wisdom has had it that the traditional long-player is on its way out, an arcane format out of time with the digital world that will cede inexorably to a future of one-off singles and listener-customised playlists. But while many artists have experimented with what an album could and should be – many high profile artists have made surprise releases, while emerging ones have relied upon mixtapes and free downloads – the format has proven surprisingly resilient throughout the 2010s. Despite the amount of changes that have threatened to put paid to it for good, the idea of the studio album is a fundamentally solid one. In critical discussions and artistic circles, it’s still the gold standard by which artists compared to one another, and for fans, they’re still the tentpoles for world tours, the basic unit of consumption.

While physical sales overall are down, and even paid-for digital downloads collapsing in the face of the streaming revolution, there were many reports that the oft-maligned, even older format of the vinyl album enjoyed a renaissance. There’s still a dedicated, and maybe even growing, audience out there that’s prepared to take physical ownership of the music it enjoys, despite the scandalously high price of much new vinyl, fuelled by the runaway success of Record Store Day – so much so that the Official Charts Company in the UK announced a chart tracking the sales of vinyl only halfway through the decade.

Perhaps our attention span isn’t as worn-down as it’s said to be; maybe it’s too much effort to keep on chopping, changing and adding to our own personally curated lists; or maybe the record companies and artists haven’t figured out a more effective way to promote music than by touring schedules based around new material recorded in short bursts of studio time. For the meantime, it looks as if the full-length album is still the measure by which artists measure their own progress, and each other’s.

Hopefully, these 200 albums are a compelling argument that the album format is not only alive, but still the optimal medium through which artists express themselves: what we think have been the greatest records of the 2010s (January 1st 2010 – December 31st 2019).

All words are by Ed Biggs, unless otherwise specified. We recommend installing Spotify on your laptop or device in order to access the (LISTEN) hyperlinks.

200. DJ Koze – Knock Knock (Pampa) (2018)

Stefan Kozalla has always traded on his near-encyclopedic knowledge of dance sub-genres for his albums under his DJ Koze moniker. Knock Knock, his third record, pulled together everything from psychedelic pop to hip-hop via everything on the spectrum of electronica, bringing in stars from modern disco diva Roisin Murphy to Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner to help. Crucially, he treated all of this source material with the same love and respect. (Ed Biggs) (LISTEN)

199. Little Simz – GREY Area (Age 101) (2019)

An album that saw her propulsion into a more mature persona as well as breaking her into the mainstream, the North London MC’s third LP GREY Area tackled a variety of social and personal issues against a jazzy and sonically diverse soundscape. From rampant flows to assertive statements, it cemented her as one of the most dominant forces in UK hip-hop right now. Showing Simz at her most artistically refined, GREY Area is a refreshing take on an increasingly crowded UK scene. (Daniel Antunes) (LISTEN)

198. Forest Swords – Engravings (Tri Angle) (2013)

English producer Matthew Barnes mixed his first full-length Forest Swords album outdoors on headphones, which gave Engravings its pastoral and richly atmospheric demeanour. Chilling and wintry compositions like ‘Thor’s Stone’ were placed next to warmer textures like ‘The Weight Of Gold’, making for an experience that had a dream-like intensity and emotional heft. (LISTEN)

197. Soccer Mommy – Clean (Fat Possum) (2018)

When Clean was released under the guise of Soccer Mommy, Sophie Allison stepped in line with the likes of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski and Adult Mom to shatter stigmas and connect to audiences. Presented in such an easy-listening and comforting fashion, one that appears simple but is really difficult to imitate, stand-out tracks like ‘Your Dog’ and ‘Blossom (Wasting All My Time)’ touched on subjects such as weakness, self-destruction and heartache – and makes it all feel okay. (LISTEN)

196. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop) (2011)

An album far ahead of its time when released in 2011, the spectral, sometimes sludgy and abrasive production on Black Up predicted the bassy, off-kilter production now normalised in hip-hop. Coming from an era of liberated consciousness, the brainchild of Ishmael Butler (AKA Butterfly from Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire pushed boundaries through its quasi-multi-dimensional feel, stream of consciousness deliveries and presentations of the pressures of black living through a higher plain of existence. (DA) (LISTEN)

195. Fat White Family – Serfs Up! (Domino) (2019)

Bust-ups, make-ups, and even the odd heroin addiction couldn’t stop the Fat White Family from making the record that their fans had been waiting for since 2013. With two very good albums under their belt, Serfs Up! was the band’s first truly great LP – dynamic, diverse, even stable in places, and far more complete and coherent than anyone could have expected. The Fat Whites’ days of relentless gutter-punk have finally given way to something with so many more interesting shades and flavours, altogether more biting, nuanced, and occasionally beautiful. (Louis Marlow) (LISTEN)

194. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima (BMG) (2019)

The opening lead single ‘Lux Prima’, which appeared at the end of 2018, presaged what was to come from the album of the same name, an initially curious-looking match-up at first but an inspired one in practice. Merging otherworldly soundscapes and the YYYs frontwoman’s lyrics about love, motherhood and survival with Brian Burton’s suave, clipped pop productions, Lux Prima showcased a slightly different side to each of its contributors. (LISTEN)

193. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge / Dead Oceans) (2011)

The ninth album by Canadian veterans Destroyer was arguably the career high-point for Dan Bejar, the group’s creative wellspring. Unlike other albums that rely heavily on era-specific nostalgia – in Kaputt’s case, the shinier end of ‘80s pop culture – the songwriting was strong enough to repel criticisms made by other overly hagiographic artists. (LISTEN)

192. Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man (Virgin EMI / Sub Pop) (2017)

On her sophomore record and having signed with Sub Pop records, Marika Hackman perhaps not completely shed the more contemplative folk persona of her debut, but definitely embraced a blunter, less metaphor-clad, more rock-esque sound. From the witty and satirical track ‘Boyfriend’, which features an ingenious guitar solo that emulates a woman screaming in pleasure, to ‘Time’s Been Reckless’, a track that pulls from earlier indie rock classics for its immediacy, I’m Not Your Man is both ridiculously fun and sensual throughout. (Ellie Wolf) (LISTEN)

191. King Krule – The Ooz (XL / True Panther) (2017)

Archy Marshall’s second King Krule album The Ooz is a trip of beat-esque poetry, wailings of sax, dealing with the ‘gunk’ – the subconscious – of one’s mind, experimental jazz and Portuguese whisperings. It’s still intrinsically South London, but now in space, another notable step in the growling British songster’s discography, embracing the lack of rules and playfulness even further. (AS) (LISTEN)

190. Pusha T – DAYTONA (G.O.O.D. / Def Jam) (2018)

The first in a run of Kanye-produced mini-albums in the spring of 2018, DAYTONA set the bar so high that none of the albums that came after quite matched it. For those just looking for some off-kilter beats and production, there’s plenty to be found here: from the chopped up vocal samples of ‘If You Know You Know’, to the piano-led ‘Hard Piano’. For those willing to sort through the intensely street-coded verses of Pusha T, there’s plenty to digest, right up to the ultimate rap-beef answer to Drake on ‘Infrared’. (EW) (LISTEN)

189. Twin Shadow – Forget (4AD) (2010)

One of the highlights of first swells of the chillwave movement, George Lewis Jr.’s debut Twin Shadow album heaved and sighed with the aches of nostalgia, remembered pain and fleeting joy. Produced alongside Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, it was sophisticated and modern and yet sounded curiously timeless, pitched between intimate indie and sparse R&B. (LISTEN)

188. Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp) (2014)

One of the biggest music stories of the decade was the return of Richard D. James, releasing an album under his Aphex Twin moniker for the first time in 13 years. Two things strike you about Syro – firstly, how wonderfully ambient and lush it sounds, full of bouncy synth sweeps and jittery beats, and secondly, how much it plays to his strengths. We associate James so much as an artist who revolutionises music with every release that it was strange to hear him play it so safe. But Aphex Twin on cruise control is still totally engrossing, more so than most other pop musicians are capable of even when operating at maximum capacity. (LISTEN)

187. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (LL / Atlantic) (2011)

Lykke Li’s sophomore record Wounded Rhymes has become a classic for the heartbroken yet hopeful, looking for a ray of light in the post-romance darkness. The most powerful moments on the album turned out to be the ballads – ‘Sadness Is A Blessing’ or ‘Unrequited Love’ showed the real strength in vulnerability and Lykke Li’s talent to tackle those emotions in a sincere yet ethereal way. Once haunting, once defiant and provocative, Wounded Rhymes presented a confident and fearless artist, not afraid to sing “I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some”, to later confront her pain on the aching ‘Silent My Song’. (Alicja Rutkowska) (LISTEN)

186. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty (Purple Ribbon / Def Jam) (2010)

Four years after OutKast went into deep freeze, Sir Lucious Left Foot saw Big Boi reassert himself in artistic terms. Often dwelling in the shadow of his bandmate Andre 3000, particularly in the back-end of the group’s career, the rapper doubled down on all the basic elements that had characterised his style – bounce and bass-heavy sound, rooted in Southern hip-hop, with Big Boi’s intelligent wordplay and versatile flows placed front-and-centre. (LISTEN)

185. These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds (Infectious) (2013)

After the huge critical acclaim of 2010’s Hidden, the record that brought These New Puritans to the attention of switched-on indie fans nationwide, their leader Jack Barnett wasn’t prepared to rest on his laurels for the group’s third album. For Field Of Reeds, he ventured even further out of the post-rock rough and into the steamy experimental undergrowth, making its already challenging predecessor sound like Stock Aitken Waterman by comparison. Where Hidden utilised musique concrete, field recordings and often sounded like the work of a band on ‘attack’ mode, Field Of Reeds relied more upon silence, the gaps between the notes, to emphasise the unsettling tensions in their sprawling arrangements. The haunting synth refrain on ‘Organ Eternal’ are the disintegrated jazz of ‘V (Island Song)’ are highlights, but only scratch the surface of what is one of the most rewarding and unexpected left turns in modern British music. (LISTEN)

184. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time! (Olsen) (2014)

Recorded and pieced together over a three year period, a time that saw him score a cult favourite hit in the shape of the irresistible ‘Inspector Norse’, producer Terje Olsen marshalled all his experience amassed over a decade in the industry for his first debut album. Immersive deep cuts constructed with an expert ear were broken up by enjoyable interstitials, giving the listener a bird’s eye view of music’s disparate, boundary-free and time-dislocated state in the streaming age. (LISTEN)

183. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy (Columbia) (2017)

One could say that this solo effort was the true emergence of Tyler, The Creator as not only a rapper but a fully-fledged artist and songwriter. As opposed to his previous releases, Flower Boy sees Tyler embrace his singing as well as his rapping skills, alongside his more vulnerable emotional side. Enlisting some A-list collaborators such as A$AP Rocky, Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy, Tyler presents a narrative of anxiety as well as braggadocio, loneliness and sexuality doubts alongside firm demands. It stands up as one of the most fully-fledged musical hip-hop statements of the past decade. (EW) (LISTEN)

182. Black Midi – Schlagenheim (Rough Trade) (2019)

Black Midi Schlagenheim

A massive disrupter in the noise rock scene, Schlagenheim saw Black Midi propelled into the upper echelon of critical appraisal. Filled with frenzied, skeletal drumming and cryptic bouts of mania and free-association flows of jagged, angular and improvised rock, the onslaught of sound thrown at its listeners seemed like something pulled directly out of a diary from bedlam. More in the realm of art than music, this project was a standout in 2019. (DA) (LISTEN)

181. Skepta – Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know) (2016)

In 2016, no one made as much of a statement in grime as Skepta did. All ready a veteran in the scene, the BBK member finally made his full mainstream debut with Konnichiwa. An album that defined the beginning of the grime revival, it felt more like a moment than an album. Filled with rags to riches stories and reflections of growth, the album’s sensational Mercury Prize win that year backed Skepta as one of the kings of grime. (DA) (LISTEN)

180. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (self-released) (2011)

A mixtape of instrumental compositions that he laid down for various rappers – mainly Lil B and Soulja Boy – Michael Volpe’s first collection of productions has quietly influenced a great deal of the decade’s finest hip-hop, in the same way that J Dilla’s Donuts did for the Noughties. Squidgy, fluid and time-dilated textures were explored, and couched in a more regular dialect of bouncy basslines and dubstep-influenced rhythms. (LISTEN)

179. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest (Because) (2017)

An sharply biographical record exploring the deaths of her legendary father Serge and her half-sister Kate, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s fifth album Rest sought to express grief in terms of anger as well as sadness. With production credits mentioning Brian Burton and Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, deep cuts like ‘Deadly Valentine’ and it was a bilingual tour-de-force. (LISTEN)

178. Django Django – Django Django (Because) (2012)

If there’s only one thing Scotland can do brilliantly, it’s producing indie bands formed at art colleges, and Django Django are just the latest in a grand old tradition (the London quartet all met at Edinburgh College of Art). Taking a long three years to put together after their 2009 AA-side ‘Love’s Dart’ / ‘Storm’, their self-titled debut was immediately one of the most irresistibly danceable records of the new decade, quite aside from the intelligence and painstaking way in which it was put together. It’s as if Django Django zoned in on a primitive, hard-wired part of the human brain. Seriously, just try not moving your head or feet along to the Public Enemy-esque sirens of ‘WOR’, the spaghetti-western guitar groove of ‘Default’, or the surf-and-sunshine rock of ‘Life’s A Beach’. You can’t stop yourself. (LISTEN)

177. Young Fathers – Dead (Anticon / Big Dada) (2014)

An often bewildering mish-mash of styles that didn’t fit together on paper and which carefully toed the fine line between pop and experimentation, the debut album from Edinburgh trio Young Fathers turned expectations of British hip-hop on its head when it won the Mercury Music Prize in 2014. Innovations in popular music turn on the ‘shock of the new’, something in pretty short supply in the modern industry, but Dead was one of them – and even better was to come from Young Fathers. (LISTEN)

176. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors (Domino) (2017)

2017 saw experimental indie-folk outfit Dirty Projectors release the cultural successor to 808s & Heartbreak. And while the guy known for writing interestingly arranged indie songs being inspired by genres like rap, R&B and electronica can seem a bit iffy at first, the band’s (read: Dave Longstreth’s) new self-titled effort is an infinitely layered and captivating, if at times unapologetically bitter, break-up album. Songs like ‘Keep Your Name’ and ‘Up In Hudson’ being exemplary showcases of sampling and excellent songwriting. Longtime fans might have been slightly put off by the sudden shift in tone, but Dirty Projectors really is yet another reaffirmation of Longstreth’s knack for tasteful experimentation. (EW) (LISTEN)

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