The decade has come to a close. But before the memory of wild election results, EDM and the re-emergence of the bumbag fade into oblivion, it's time to recap the best albums of the last 10 years.
Before we begin, though, some disclaimers. There has been more than one conversation regarding the metric being used to make such a list. Is it best album or greatest album? Are we ranking personally or gauging popular opinion? Well, dear reader, we’re shooting from the hip with this one.
Each album represents a member of the GQ team and speaks to what they think has been the musical highlight of the past 10 years. Seeing as we are only allowing one per person, there are a few notable absences.
No Kendrick, I hear you say? (I know, it hurts me too.) But them’s the rules. Here’s our list and we’re sticking to it.
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell
Released smack bang in the middle of the decade, Sufjan Stevens’ seventh album is a work of experimental genius. Relating to the death of Stevens’ mother, Carrie, it dives deep into the songwriter’s soul to offer something so raw it somehow swings between confronting and relatable at the same time. Of the writing process, Stevens would say: “I was recording songs as a means of grieving, making sense of it. But the writing and recording wasn't the salve I expected. I fell deeper and deeper into doubt and misery.” Stevens’ loss was his listeners’ gain – an album of almost unparalleled emotional honesty.
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye West doesn’t mind a spot of controversy. But before the Trump stuff or the cult-y vibes he’s been giving off with Sunday Service, it was the moment he drunkenly stumbled up onto the VMA’s stage to tell Taylor Swift that Beyoncé should have won the award she was literally holding in her hand, that has threatened to define his career.
There’s the years-long feud between the singers, of course, but the impact went well beyond headlines. Instead of an apology, the ensuing media firestorm saw West retreat to Hawaii where he set out to deliver a response to the critics who’d ever doubted his genius.
The result is his fifth album, an epic, raw, masterpiece that is probably his most extravagant and indulgent work to date. With star-studded features from Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver, Rick Ross, it might have been released in 2010, but still holds up as one of the defining albums not just of West’s career, but of the decade.
If the tracks on Beyonce’s second visual album Lemonade weren't enough to land it on this list, then it would have to be the cultural events that surrounded it: from the ‘elevator incident’ to everyone on social media trying to find out who the f*ck “Becky with the good hair” was, the notion of realness on this album (coming from a perfectionist who controls her image meticulously) was iconic.
Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
It’s hard to think back on the decade when all 10 years seem to have bled into each other, culminating in a pungent marinade of political unrest, environmental concern, and a general crisis of identity. But like a speck of gold amongst the rubble, Weyes Bloodproves that what is bad for the heart is good for art.
Titanic Rising is the thing you appreciate because you remember there was a time when the sky was blue and you weren’t required to filter the smoke with your lungs. It’s the present hurt of a break-up softened with the knowledge that time heals all wounds. It’s waking up to find that the future we all envisioned doesn’t look like the future at all and that with barely enough time to clear the throat, we’re faced with a reality that’s far uglier.
OK, I may have made this out to be bleak (and to be fair, the lyrics kinda are) but balanced with Blood’s distended vocals and dream-like soundscape, Titanic Rising is the relief that comes upon surfacing after holding your breath underwater. It’s taking delight in the mundane and unremarkable stretches of months that make up a decade and not needing to round-up or curate our accomplishments, knowing that to survive with a relic of hope is enough. It’ll sneak up on you, but for me it’s the Album of the Decade.
Against All Logic, 2012-2017
Most will know Against All Logic as acclaimed Chilean composer and producer Nicolas Jaar, but it was under his old alias that he put together one of the most unique and addictive dance music albums of this century. A sumptuous mix of trip-hop, glitch, traditional house and underground electronic music, the album's layers-upon-layers of sampling make for an incredibly catchy, intoxicating listen.
I always come away from it having found something new and having fallen in love with one of its myriad of tracks for a different reason, and as such, just can't stay away from it for more than a couple of months before it sucks me back in.
Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day
Low-key the biggest influence in hip hop music since he came on the scene in 2008, Cudi introduced a level of emotional vulnerability not before seen in the genre. Without the Cleveland artist, we wouldn’t have our Travis Scotts or our Lil Uzis, and for that alone, Cudi should be getting more credit. This album still stands as an iconic moment in music as Cudi stretched the definition of hip hop both thematically and sonically to a point of no return. The simpler days of boom bap rap were gone and in their place, Cudi marked a new era in which indie rock and punk music bled into the tapestry of rap leaving an art form so charged with emotional urgency and relevancy, it has become by far and away the most important in modern pop culture.