Coming-of-age synth pop, groundbreaking rap and fiery political commentary encompass just a few of the genres and themes of the decade’s top albums. Some won awards and topped the charts, others remained underappreciated by the masses — but all shaped listeners’ 2010s. Here’s the albums that soundtracked The Phoenix A&E staff’s decade.
Lorde: “Melodrama” (2017)
Chosen by Amanda Maurer
In her debut album, “Pure Herione” (2013), Lorde proved herself to be a noteworthy artist at just 16 years old. In “Melodrama,” she built upon the foundation of excellence she set for herself.
More than just a good group of songs, “Melodrama” is a true work of art. When listened to in order, the album tells the story of a single house party with all the anticipation and thrill that accompany it. With upbeat songs such as “Green Light” alongside ballads including “Writer in the Dark,” the album perfectly portrays all the emotions — from sheer excitement to utter heartbreak — a young adult can experience in just one night.
Each song showcases Lorde’s distinct style and voice, and the range of emotions and song types demonstrates her versatility. “Melodrama” is a carefully curated collection of songs and an experience in and of itself.
Kendrick Lamar: “DAMN.” (2017)
Chosen by Zack Miller
Kendrick Lamar went down in history long before “DAMN.” won the first Pulitzer Prize in Music outside of a classical or jazz album, but the award certainly helped. The committee noted that he captured the “complexity of modern African-American life” in the 14-song long play, highlighting violence and race-based oppression through storytelling that covered much of his childhood in Compton.
These are not new subjects for the hip-hop artist, but “DAMN.” tackles them in a way that somehow tops the incredible storytelling of his last two full-length albums. The sample of Geraldo Rivera’s Fox News statement in “DNA” sums up a commonly held negative attitude toward hip hop, only to be proven wrong by “DAMN.” which lets youth similar to Lamar know they aren’t alone in their experiences. The album solidified hip-hop’s place among the greatest forms of artistic expression and continues Lamar’s path of trailblazing within the genre.
Glass Animals: “How to Be a Human Being” (2016)
Chosen by Mary Grace Ritter
Glass Animals might not have figured out all the intricacies that come with being alive, but its 2016 album “How to Be a Human Being” pulls back the veil of idealism and peers into twisted realities, mundane conformity and boredom.
Each track tackles a new person’s story, each of which are pictured on the album cover, making this an ambitious concept album in a time focused on the success of singles. It tackles the raw emotions of loss and grieving in “Agnes” and the unattainable perfection of fame and fortune with “The Other Side of Paradise.” Even interlude “[Premade Sandwiches]” addresses the monotony of convenience.
In this tangle of individual stories, Glass Animals manages to maintain a coherent psychedelic pop sound. Dark, sticky bass builds in “Take a Slice,” eight-bit video game sound effects find their way into “Season 2 Episode 3” and an indie rock guitar riff commands “Poplar St.”
NinjaSexParty: “Cool Patrol” (2018)
Chosen by Sam Halfpenny
Over the past decade, NinjaSexParty has gone from a small comedy duo on YouTube to an internationally renowned comedic band selling out shows on tour around the US and Europe and performing on Conan. Its latest original album — “Cool Patrol” — perfectly captures the growth the band has experienced throughout its career.
With songs such as “First Date” and “Heart Boner” that encapsulate humor and rock and small recorded skits between songs to keep the track light, this album can be placed on a pedestal with fellow comedy musicians such as Weird Al or The Lonely Island.
One Direction: “Up All Night” (2012)
Chosen by Mary Grace Ritter
One Direction didn’t win U.K. singing competition “X Factor,” but that didn’t stop the group from skyrocketing to international fame. Its debut single “What Makes You Beautiful” became an instant hit ushering in a new era of British Invasion.
“Up All Night” found its stride in uplifting, uptempo and undeniably catchy tracks. Focusing on romance and relationships, the album plays perfectly off the inherent charm of five British and Irish boys who’s accents make girls melt. One Direction left fans hoping they have that “One Thing” to make the members say it’s “Everything About You” or “I Should Have Kissed You.”
They captured the hearts of teen- and tween-age girls around the world — an often dismissed demographic. Those adoring fans catapulted the members’ careers, causing the album to debut at the top of the Billboard 200 and stay on the chart for two years.
Ellie Goulding: “Halcyon” (2012)
Chosen by Alec Karam
Ellie Goulding became a sensation with her 2010 sleeper hit “Lights” off of her debut album of the same name. Out of obscurity, Goulding released her second album “Halcyon” in 2012, which remains her magnum opus almost a decade later.
“Halcyon” perfects the electric folk-pop sound of Goulding’s debut with witty, dark lyricism that soberly encapsulates the life of a lovestruck 20-something. Opening on the haunting and innovative “Don’t Say a Word,” Goulding reenters the musical world more assured than ever.
The 12-track standard edition is a tight, succinct journey through Goulding’s heartbreak. The album avoids feeling too dreary with high-energy tracks such as the bombastic “Figure 8.” These occasional bursts of energy help the ballads hit even harder.
Through a versatile roster of triumphant anthems and despairing ballads, Goulding doesn’t miss a beat with her sophomore album. A stark contrast from the bubblegum electronic music that dominated the early years of the decade, “Halcyon” stands out as a hallmark of the 2010s through its evocative lyrics and pulsating beats.
Hozier: “Hozier” (2014)
Chosen by Hannah Duff
With a combination of traditional Irish lyricism and American blues and rock music, Hozier’s eponymous debut album creates an unparalleled musical experience. From the tender and ethereal “Work Song,” to the razor-sharp, stomp-clap rhythm of “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” to the haunting vocals and gut-punch percussion of “Take Me To Church,” Hozier delivers heart-wrenching poetry and melodies that sweep listeners off their feet.
His music often deals with heavy themes such as rape culture, domestic abuse and homophobic institutions, but does so in a way that feels earnest rather than patronizing. He doesn’t beat around the bush — he comes right out and says what he has to say. In an age where the truth can sometimes feel hard to come by, Hozier’s honesty and genuineness is refreshing to say the least.
The Sonder Bombs: “Modern Female Rockstar” (2018)
Chosen by Zack Miller
In the decade in which the #MeToo movement started and the fight for gender equality continued, it’s only fitting that one of the albums that define this decade tackles these very topics. Willow Hawks, the vocalist of The Sonder Bombs, switches between ukulele and guitar throughout “Modern Female Rockstar” as she traverses topics that non-men face in the music scene as well as in society.
Gender stereotypes, a lack of representation of non-men in the spotlight and sexual assault are just a few of the topics covered by Hawks but the songs seek to empower those that suffer these injustices. The rhythm section, comprised of Eric Heald and Jake Stephens on drums and bass respectively, carry the heavy messages with punk beats and rhythms that match Hawks’ aggressive vocal style while conveying these messages.
On the other side of this is the beautifully melodic part of the album carried by Hawks’ softer vocals and Jimmy Wilkens’ lead guitar riffs. The diverse nature of the album only adds to its power and helps to solidify the album’s spot on this list.
Car Seat Headrest: “Twin Fantasy” (2018)
Chosen by Ben Mooney
An album of the decade is an album that defines and captures the feeling of the decade in which it was created. A product of its time in the best way, Car Seat Headrest’s “Twin Fantasy” captures the feeling of being unable to move on from someone you loved and lost as well as the idea of being lost in your 20s.
Each track stands on its own while also building the album’s narrative and tying into the other songs. Ranging from one to 17 minutes, each track feels distinct and delivers amazing lyrics and creative instrumentals. The standout songs on this album are “Beach Life-in-Death,” “Bodys” and “Famous Prophets (Stars),” all delivering emotional lyrics and breathtaking production. Originally record in 2011, the 2018 re-recording is an improvement on all fronts and a definite contender for album of the decade.
Paramore: “After Laughter” (2017)
Chosen by Mary Grace Ritter
Most often remembered for “Misery Business” and frontwoman Hayley Williams’ fiery red locks, Paramore stepped away from the pop punk business in its 2017 album “After Laughter.” The trio traded in angry rock for vulnerable pop proving its maturity and creativity.
Lighthearted riffs and synths distract from pessimistic lyrics of lead single “Hard Times,” tapping into escapism from everything that “make[s] you wonder why you even try.”
Williams’ bold and commanding vocals emphasize the emotional depth of “After Laughter” as she belts out lyrics about faking happiness and taking off the rose-colored glasses. Her range still leaves room for soft, acoustic moments of holding onto hope in “26” and the desperate, urgent tone calling for an end to unachievable expectations in “Idle Worship.”