Monday, December 2, 2019

Top 50 Albums of the 2010's: Numbers 50-41

Way back in 2009 we were lucky enough to help contribute to Glide Magazine's list of Best Albums of the 2000's. Hard to believe it has been ten years since we filled out that list, but it is that time again to look back at the previous decade and put together some arbitrary rankings. Since this site has been going strong the full decade we have a lot to pull from.

Here comes RtBE's picks for the top albums from the last decade, 2010-2019.

If we reviewed the album we will provide a link to that review in the title, a brief reflection on the record and a tune from it. A lot can change in ten years and a lot stays the same. Some albums were just right for their time and place and haven't aged particularly well and others were perhaps misunderstood or even prophetic as to where the world was headed.

Just our two cents, but this decade will not be looked back at fondly when it comes to remembering music in general. Things (for the most part) are being programmed and mushed together into mellow, white bread, digestible tunes with a hip hop foundation around pop hooks, synth vibes, a few strings and nothing the least bit exciting or offensive for the majority of music out there. In an era that should be considerably ripe for protest, outrage, and individual expressionism, very little of actual substance has escaped to the masses. 

Also from a practical standpoint, never before has the concept of "album" been so meaningless in our streaming/playlist curated society. While RtBE isn't completely old fashion, we still haven't bought into those ways of consuming music and the album is still our only way of listening to things, whether on vinyl or downloaded; no shuffling of singles here. This list focuses on full lengths that are played from beginning to end and deliver the goods.  

We will break this down over five parts, doing ten albums a day. There were a ton of good records released over the last ten years, much more than fifty, but these are our choices. We kept our personal musical releases off the list, but feel free to listen and critique those.

As a note, Glide Magazine, the main site we contribute to, changed its rating system in the middle of the decade from 5 Stars to 10 stars, then removed it all together so if you see say #49 on our list with only 4 stars, consider it doubled to 8.

Like all of the lists RtBE have done, this is meant to start conversations, not end them. So let's kick it off...

#50 Kanye West - Yeezus 2013

This will be our longest synopsis in this whole look back as we need to explain some things. RtBE was raised up on hip hop and metal (separately) and while the 2010's were clearly a hip hop dominated decade, there were very few full length albums that we have gone back to in the genre and in turn, ranked on this list.

Most of that can be traced directly back to Kanye West's Yeezus, an art experiment which changed hip-hop for the decade, pulling out the beats, bass and well...the hop from the hip. West was just reaching the zenith of his social fame and this audacious record goes for everything with mixed results; social commentary, race relations, groupie love, to proclaiming himself god (I wonder how current Kanye feels about that track now).

Not to rehash the original review (which we think covers this record well), but Yeezus was a clear minimalist reaction to the over the top maximist My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which we will get to). It played as a one off creative effort, far from perfect, but interesting in it's view of bass-less and beat-less hip hop for extended stretches. Yet, its worst tendencies infected 98% of the decades mainstream hip hop which followed. Don't even bring up the "still work in progress" The Life Of Pablo which was a train wreck but somehow got a pass from fans and critics alike.

The style Yeezus employed, "having so much space that you insert your own bass/drums as you listen", was everywhere in the '10's, fueling Mumble rap and whatever the fuck 6ix9ine's "Gummo" is considered. As lesser artists followed this surprising trend; hip hop was worse for it. Some artists avoided the trap, like Kendrick Lamar, but RtBE has never warmed to him much and the other artist who dominated the decade who you won't find on this list as Drake, never struck a chord either.

Perhaps RtBE will look back on this list in five or so years and be mad we didn't include more hip hop from this decade, but the state of the genre and the lack of truly memorable full length releases lead us to a mostly rock/folk collections for the next 49 records...and unfortunately we can trace that directly back to Kanye's Yeezus. For the good and the bad and the influence it had, this album deserves to start our list

#49  Dead Weather - Sea of Cowards 2010

Jack White was everywhere on our top 50 of the 2000s and he turns up for the first time on this list with the second record from his leather clad rock outfit The Dead Weather. Playing almost as one continual song, Sea Of Cowards addresses the internet with its title as relationship issues flow throughout. A half hour of grimy, sexy rock with the bass and drums at the forefront and Alison Mosshart's howls in your ear like, on the killer effort "The Difference Between Us".

The record breezes by and tracks "Blue Blood Blues" and "Cut Like A Buffalo" hinted at the hip hop love Jack White would mess around with at the end of the decade on Boarding House Reach. Yet it is the burning "Gasoline" which shows the true sweet spot of this gritty side project.

#48  Dr Dog - Shame Shame 2011
Dr. Dog just keep walking along, making their directly retro loving rock and roll which takes from The BeatlesThe Beach Boys and The Band, and their best release this decade came in the form of Shame, Shame.

They tried to capture their live stage presence on this album and it feels more vibrant because of it. Tracks like "I Only Wear Blue", "Mirror, Mirror" and "Jackie Wants a Black Eye" are all still concert staples and sound great. Standout ode to their hometown of Philly, "Shadow People" is the groups best tune on this solid collection.

#47 Archie Powell & The Exports - Great Ideas In Action 2012

Some of the most engaging power pop of the decade unexpectedly arrived from this Chicago outfit whose second full length release Great Ideas In Action was chock full of catchy tracks that jangled and shook with sweet sounds and great lyrics. "Shooting Spree", "Crazy Pills", "I Need Supervision" and the title number combine Powell's literary song writing with grooves and swelling riffs as the four piece play with a somehow tempered sense of abandon, teetering on the edge of full on chaos.

While not as well-known as others on this list, it doesn't change the fact these eleven songs still pack a power pop punch eight years removed from their release and always will going forward.

#46 Screaming Females - Ugly 2012

Screaming Females had it all when it came to blasting off live on stage to start the decade but this record was the first time things really clicked on a studio album.

Ugly shows the band doing what it does best, no frills ripping into aggressive rock with punk flairs, via powerful playing from the three piece. The band partnered with Steve Albini for the first time and they quickly hit it off. "It All Means Nothing", "Rotten Apple", "Tell Me No" all kick ass, as does the mega riffing snake like "Leave It All Up To Me", but it is "Doom 84" which is RtBE's favorite, capturing the group stretching out a bit and still destroying. This is just the first time the New Brunswick, NJ trio makes the list, as they grew into one of the consistently great rock bands of the decade.

#45 Galactic - Ya-Ka-May 2010

Sometimes  records truly capture the sound of a place in time, such is the case with Galactic's 2010 release Ya-Ka-May. The band themselves played the background supporting role on their own record, yet they brought a who's who of the New Orleans music scene at the turn of the decade and crafted a perfect sonic snapshot.

For example, Allen Toussaint helps out on the bubbling “Bacchus” directly before bounce “sissy rapping” stars Katey Red and Sissy Nobby do their booty shaking thang on “Katey vs. Nobby.” Just between those two cuts, which are sequenced next to each other, you span generations, genres, and cultures while bending genders and followings, showing just how diverse the NOLA music scene is. RtBE favorite's like The Rebirth Brass BandBig FreediaThe Morning 40 Federation and Trombone Shorty all have guest spots. Shorty's first full length release Backatown just missed this list as it was a fine debut, but Ya-Ka-May does more for the sonic structure by tossing the whole city into Galactic's gumbo.

#44 Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky 2012

The improbable reunion of Dinosaur Jr.s original lineup continues to this day and back in 2012 they may have released their best album since You're Living All Over Me with I Bet On Sky. Small flourishes like adding in twinkling piano do wonders for the patented thunder of Lou Barlow and Murph behind the airplane engine guitar pedal work from J. Masics.

"Don't Pretend You Didn't Know" uses the new piano accents wonderfully with upbeat strums while "Almost Fare" contains an odd Caribbean influence sounding down right pretty next to their woolly sonic assaults. The whole album cooks but stand out single "Watch The Corners" joins the ranks of the bands best songs. Here's hoping they keep it going into the next decade and beyond.   

#43 Shannon & the Clams - Onion 2018

While Shannon and the Clams released some top notch garage rock in the early part of the decade their pairing with producer Dan Auerbach resulted in the best album of their career, Onion. Like Screaming Females, Auerbach shows up a lot on our list with his playing and his increasingly great levels of producing through his Easy Eye Sound studio.

Using their deeply emotional connection to the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire the band displayed depth and longing in their songwriting while their playing was enhanced to crisp pop levels by Auerbach's production. Tracks like "I Never Wanted Love" display their 50's surf rock on acid vibe before galloping through "I Leave Again" and drench the ear with sweet organ sounds for "Did You Love Me". The centerpiece anthem "Backstreets" has grown with the band as they continue to stay true themselves and refine their sound to a larger audience.

#42 Tom Waits - Bad As Me 2011
A very solid late career record from Tom Waits, and one which rocks more than a lot of his previous sound collages. The injection of guest spots from Keith RichardsFlea and Les Claypool for a couple of tracks helps out but it is the core band of Casey Waits on drums, Marc Ribot strumming guitar and Clint Maedgen on sax who control the uptempo flow.

"Chicago" cooks; the slower "Everybody's Talking At The Same Time" is classic Waits while "Satisfied" growls, bangs and struts all over the place. The killer title track is a perfect theme song for the mad howler as he proclaims we are the same kind of bad as him...

#41 Jenny Lewis - The Voyager 2014

While the main producer of this album is facing major issues as the decade ends, Ryan Adams work with Jenny Lewis on the The Voyager resulted in some vintage 70's pop rock.

Dealing with relationships, and the results of one of the hardest periods of her life, Lewis dug deep for these songs. However that deep lyrical pain was mixed with straight up easy going pop rock with a capital "P". There are many hints of past sonic successes, but Lewis manages to own them with floating vocals, lush arraignments and rolling groove. Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty's sound comes to mind, but Lewis's writing brings it even above those levels on tracks like "You Can't Outrun 'Em" and "She's Not Me". Standout single "Just One Of The Guys" produced by Beck just bounces along to a perfect groove as the excellent observational lyrics almost get lost in the sweetness. 

Numbers 40-31 arrive tomorrow. Until then, agree, disagree, feel free to comment below.

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