Michael Fremer’s Top 50 Albums of the 2010’s (+Honorable Mentions & Playlists)

Frankly speaking, I don’t like lists. It’s bad enough to pick 5 best albums over a year, never mind 50 over a decade. It’s worse to have to almost arbitrarily list them in descending order, but that’s the self-assignment so that’s what I’ve done. While I was already Social Security eligible a decade ago, many people found my behavior to be that of a 4 year old, so perhaps that’s why my pal Malachi, the site’s other “regular writer” and I get along so well. Plus, while I won’t repeat his political comments, we are on the same page there too, though he’s probably slightly to my left. Clearly we diverge somewhat musically, though both of us agree on the #1 record of the past decade and David Bowie is our favorite artist. He’s encouraged me to listen to Kanye and Tyler, the Creator as well as Frank Ocean and I’m glad he did. I turned him on to Gil Evans and he’s glad I did.

While Malachi gave you Tidal and Spotify playlists of his “honorable mentions”, I’ve chosen not to. However, I’ve followed his lead and provided a sampling of my AOTD choices on both Spotify and Tidal—though the chosen tracks differ on the two streaming services.

Honorable Mentions:

21 - Adele (2011)
Once I Was An Eagle - Laura Marling (2013)
Black Messiah - D’Angelo (2014)
Popular Problems - Leonard Cohen (2014)
Tree of Forgiveness - John Prine (2018)
1989 - Taylor Swift (2014)
Bon Iver - Bon Iver (2011)
Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down - Ry Cooder (2011)
Tempest - Bob Dylan (2011)
Fanfare - Jonathan Wilson (2013)
The Voyager - Jenny Lewis (2014)
Southern Blood - Gregg Allman (2017)
High Violet - The National (2010)
Rifles & Rosary Beads - Mary Gauthier (2019)
Carry Fire - Robert Plant (2017)

I spent way more time than I have assembling this list but I’m glad I did. You will see that most of these albums have not been reviewed on this site, though I’ve bought the vinyl versions of most of them. What’s up with that? I felt obligated to review more of the sonic blockbuster reissues most of which I was sent, and fewer of the newer records that I purchased myself. This decade I'll try for a better balance!

50) God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise - Ray LaMontagne (2010)
49) Random Access Memories - Daft Punk (2013)
48)ANIMA - Thom Yorke (2019)
47) This is Happening - LCD Sound Systems (2010)
46) The Nashville Sound - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2017)
45) Wildflower - The Avalanches (2016)
44) The Harrow and the Harvest - Gillian Welch (2012)
43) Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes (2016)
44) The Epic - Kamasi Washington (2015)
41) Bisch Bosch - Scott Walker (2012)
40) Norman Fucking Rockwell! - Lana Del Rey (2019)
39) Bloom - Beach House (2012)
38) Simple Songs - Jim O’Rourke (2015)
37) The River & The Thread - Roseanne Cash (2014)
36) Syro - Aphex Twin (2014)
35) Metamodern Sounds In Country Music - Sturgill Simpson (2014)
34) Masseduction - St. Vincent (2017)
33) Tell Me How You Really Feel - Courtney Barnett (2018)
32) Boarding House Reach - Jack White (2018)
31) James Blake - James Blake (2011)
30) Wanderer - Cat Power (2018)
29)The Idler Wheel… - Fiona Apple (2012)
28) I’m New Here - Gil Scott-Heron (2010)
27)Divers - Joanna Newsom(2015)
26) Carrie and Lowell - Sufjan Stevens (2015)
25) Post Pop Depression - Iggy Pop (2013)
24) The Life of Pablo - Kanye West (2016)
23)Trouble Will Find Me - The National (2013)
22) Build A Rocket Boys! - Elbow (2012)
21) All Mirrors - Angel Olson (2019)
20) Pure Comedy - Father John Misty (2017)
19) Bad As Me - Tom Waits (2011)
18)Currents - Tame Impala (2015)
17) IGOR -Tyler the Creator (2019)
16) LeNoise - Neil Young (2010)
15) DAMN - Kendrick Lamar (2017)
14)You’re Driving Me Crazy - Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco (2018)
13) Dark Matter - Randy Newman (2017)
12) Blonde - Frank Ocean (2016)
11) The Next Day - David Bowie (2013)
10) Swing Lo Megallan - Dirty Projectors (2012)
9) Stranger to Stranger - Paul Simon (2016)
8) EMANON - Wayne Shorter (2018)
7) Let England Shake - PJ Harvey (2011)
6) Lighthouse - David Crosby (2016)
5) A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead (2016)
4) You Want it Darker - Leonard Cohen (2016)
3) To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar (2015)
2) Dreams and Daggers - Cecilé McLoran Salvant (2017)
1) Blackstar - David Bowie (2016)

COMMENTS
Vinyl On Tubes's picture

n/t

Michael Fremer's picture
Thanks. Fickst it!
Ortofan's picture

... classical music on that list.

Wonder if anyone will be performing or listening to the music from any of these albums 200 years from now?

PeterPani's picture

Lana del Rey, Leonhard Cohen and maybe Radiohead and Kanye West migh have a chance. For sure Cohen and Dylan will be listened to. Regarding classical music in the last ten years I am not so sure that something will survive. Maybe Dionysos from Rhim. What else?

MalachiLui's picture

kendrick, bowie, frank, and fjm.

audx's picture

I listen to classical as well though I may not make it past another 20 years.

I don’t expect Fremer to be a Rap or classical authority.

I’m not saying that he cannot be.just that I don’t expect him to be.

For me, it’s about the reissues.

And for better or worse, the Coltrane and Miles Davis reissues/rediscoveries compete with new jazz and anything else I choose to purchase.

Michael Fremer's picture
Reissues in next set of AOTD list.
2_channel_ears's picture
Michael Fremer's picture
And will be listed in Reissues of the Decade" coming up soon
Ortofan's picture

... reissues.

How about this one?
https://www.analogplanet.com/content/classical-pianist-and-youtube-pheno...

Did you ever make a comparison between the analog and digital versions?

Anton D's picture

If you could construct a list of your top 50 newly composed classical pieces from the past decade, you'd really be on to something.

Classical music has had the luxury of 200 years traveling through the crap filter. We don't listen to over 99% of what was created back in its time, either...because it was crap. Only the good stuff persists. You just think it's all great because the crap filter did your work for you over the past 200 years!

audx's picture

Ades, Adams, Einaudi, Glass, Saariaho, Muhly, Brant, Theofanidis, Wolfe, Turnage, Currier, Lindbergh, Mazzini, Thorvaldsdottir, and Sigurdsson come to mind.

Einaudi released seven discs last year.

Oh let’s not forget Richter with an 8 disc sleeper.

I don’t have a “top” per se as I’m listening to either new releases or new to me discoveries.

Ortofan's picture

... how much of the music on this list would you speculate will pass through the "crap filter" and still be performed as covers 200 years from now?

Anton D's picture

Maybe less!

I'll let you know! ;-D

tcinoz's picture

Rather than the usual ploy in threads like this of starting a reply with "how could you possibly omit..." I thought it would be more constructive (and fun) to simply list my own top ten - as follows:

1 Anais Mitchell - Young Man in America
2 Guy Clark - My Favourite Picture of You
3 Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
4 David Rawlings - Nashville Obsolete
5 John Mellencamp - Plain Spoken
6 Sinéad O'Connor - How About I Be Me etc
7 Tiny Ruins & Hamish Kilgour - Hurtling Through
8 Twerps - Range Anxiety
9 Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
10 Sarah Jarosz - Follow Me Down

Jay's picture

Thank you Mikey for providing such a useful public service. That list just shows how utterly woeful most of the music of the last decade has been.

Glotz's picture

Along with Malachi's list, these selections will be very helpful when I can't figure out what to buy.

MalachiLui's picture

there are great albums that didn’t make either of our lists. music was at its best in the 2010’s, except those who don’t look past (mostly terrible) top 40 radio won’t notice that. were there hundreds, maybe even thousands, of great albums released last decade? yes. did we get around to listening to all of them? unfortunately no. listen to the albums on both lists and try to still convince yourself that it’s “utterly woeful.”

Jay's picture

Actually Malachi I have listened to many of the albums on that list and in the case of Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Lana Del Ray, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, Daft Punk, Bon Iver, Rihanna and Tame Impala I've also seen them play live.

I've never been one to avoid listening to new music and hopefully I never will be, but in the last few years or so I've noticed a change. Very little of what I hear and like stays with me for any length of time. It fizzes and dissolves away far too quickly to be satisfying over time. Such music is really the auditory equivalent of energy drinks or cheap candy that just leave you empty and craving the next sugar rush.

Personally I want a steak not a cheap hamburger and I'm not getting it here. I'd like to hear something that engages with me on a deep emotional level, I want to experience the shock of the new but I'm sorry to say that I just don't hear it. What I do hear in most cases is as stale and formulaic as the American pop music of the early '60's was before the British invasion.

culturcide's picture

I was never a fan (or really aware of) Kanye until I discovered Yeezus, which I thought was a minimal punk masterpiece. I tried selling it with little luck to my friends. Then I discovered Lou Reed’s review which was so spot on and well written. I felt vindicated.
https://www.talkhouse.com/lou-reed-of-the-velvet-underground-talks-kanye...

ChrisM's picture

for pointing Lou Reed's review, it's awesome.

culturcide's picture

Hands down favourite artist of the last 10 years is Ariel Pink. In my 50s I now find it harder to find good new music. His last 4 more ‘commercial’ LPs are so rewarding. His knowledge and grasp of popular (and not so popular) music stretching back to the 50s all filters out to a unique LA pop/punk sensibility. To see him at his peak check out the extraordinary clip for ‘Dayzed Inn Daydreams’ on YouTube.

MCasey's picture

great new years listening project to work through the list using Roon and Tidal. Streaming Gillian Welch this morning which is right in my wheelhouse but have also played Daft Punk and Avalanches (never heard of them) and enjoyed both. Not sure how many repeat plays but as an old man need to open my ears to new music! Much appreciated.

PeterPani's picture

was „Happy“ by Williams Pharrell

OldschoolE's picture

Trolls will be trolls, but what gets me is how people feel the need to harshly judge each other for musical choices (and gear). Everyone has different taste; sounds resonate differently with different people.
The judging seems to be mostly in the “audiophile” community, which is somewhat odd since most audiophiles listen to gear, not music.

When I get a chance, I intend to listen to most of this list for a taste. That is what I use streaming for (I just play Spotify through my system, thank you Alexa…at least she doesn’t troll about one’s music choices).

My musical tastes are quite a divergence from this list, but I’ll check out everything but that Kardashian dude. I’m not much for Rosanne cash (now Johnny Cash is a different story for me) or Jack White myself, so I’ll probably avoid those too. Other than that, the rest are fair game for me.
I listen to everything but rap, hip-hop, today’s pop and modern Country music. I also don’t listen to top 40 stuff.
I like to go into the deep cuts on LP’s, that is where the gold veins are in my opinion. The band Chicago is my favorite example. I used to avoid their discography like the plague due to the top 40 stuff one hears endlessly. Then I picked up one of their older vinyl LPs and sat for a listen…holy crap, those guys can rock hard! I then went and picked up the rest of their older discography including the incredible live multi-disc LP “Chicago, live at Carnegie Hall”… just so you know, they do a Beatles cover and surprise…a Pink Floyd cover! I forget which exact songs, but you can find out yourself. (Mind you, I won’t be picking up later Chicago stuff when they went corporate or whatever the hell that noise is called).

I also like classical music and don’t think I’ll ever not like it, but I do take small breaks from it every now and again. (Lately, I’m really into Russian orchestras, there is just something about the musicianship that make symphonies they play come alive, composer not withstanding either, it doesn’t have to be strictly Russian composers either, though Rachmaninoff has captured my interest of late). Of course, Russia is one of the birthplaces and capitols of music, especially classical, so maybe that makes sense.
As for Classical on vinyl or CD, my take is: I prefer well produced classical on CD only because the slightest noise in classical bothers me. It’s not a snob thing, it is the fact that some passages are extremely quiet and when you are trying to really feel the music and some odd noise comes in (ticks, pops, etc.) it instantly breaks your concentration and it is hard to get it back. Flipping a record doesn’t bother me in the least. I have found a lot of classical CDs while quiet, but also sonically poor (they tend to sound thin to me). It is not easy finding well produced classical CDs. That said though, there are some great classical works from years gone by put on vinyl (in the form of box sets), that will never see CD or even digital file. Fortunately, those sets tend to be in pristine condition, no matter how old and can be quiet enough for me.

I’m also very into classic rock, prog rock, ambient, the list goes on for miles.

MalachiLui's picture

give kanye's music a chance. he might be closely associated (and in love with) people who are essentially made out of plastic, but kanye himself is anything but. his storytelling (in full album form - his albums are like movies) is among the best of all time, in any art form. i've heard many stories from around the internet of older listeners hating kanye before listening to him, then listening to his albums and becoming hardcore fans of his works.

if you're into abrasive industrial music with punk rock energy, listen to "yeezus." if a genre-bending pop album about committing to one's family and becoming a saint sounds interesting, "the life of pablo" will be quite rewarding. if a 24-minute psychedelic rock-tinged album about overcoming one's internal demons (most specifically, mental illness and addiction) sounds cool, "KIDS SEE GHOSTS" will hook you onto kanye. at least try to understand his art before disregarding him as an artist.

OldschoolE's picture

Hey there Malachi, I was not sure how to spell his name when I was writing so I used what was familiar. I know you are a Kanye defender, but I am not at all interested in what he has to say (provided I can even hear or understand the lyrics). I'm not much for abrasive industrial or pop and I can almost guarantee that the album in question is not a distinct sampling. The basis for my personal "dismissal" of Kanye is the fact that I do not keep up with the latest pop music and have zero interest in it. You will note that I did not publicly disparage him or any other artist, I merely mentioned that I am not interested as I just don't resonate with the style.

We can all like who we want to like, that is the freedom of music, we all resonate differently with different music.

MalachiLui's picture

1. how are you not interested in what he has to say when you haven’t even tried to understand what he has to say? he’s made some big musical statements about ego, mental health, celebrity, religion, and personal loss. i’d say those are significant things, many of which are explored in other, inferior music throughout history.

2. unless you’re completely deaf, there is no excuse for not hearing the lyrics. and it’s not too hard to understand them after a few listens. each listen helps connect the narrative dots further.

3. not all pop music is bad. and kanye bridges experimental, more underground styles with pop music (see “fml” and “hold my liquor”). he is essentially the david bowie of today, except david bowie will always be the greatest artist of all time (not a knock on kanye).

4. many older, historically significant artists like kanye’s music. here’s lou reed’s “yeezus” review:

https://www.talkhouse.com/lou-reed-of-the-velvet-underground-talks-kanye...

nick cave’s opinion about kanye:

https://www.theredhandfiles.com/fear-losing-old-fans/

and the song that kanye did with paul mccartney:

https://youtu.be/ZmYdIykD5g8

but if you decide to ignore kanye, then your loss.

OldschoolE's picture

Come now Malachi, one can't force people to like stuff. I just don't resonate with Mr. Kanye and I have heard some of what he has to say outside the music and we do not agree in the slightest. Same thing with Ted Nugent both in and out of the music, can't agree with anything he says. Some folks think Taylor Swift is a song goddess, I can't agree, I find her like any other pop artist, boring and really not much to say that is relevant or helpful. We can respect their right to have their thoughts and their say of course, but we can also agree to disagree.

We all like what we like and we all make discoveries in our own time lines. Why turn this into a attempt at force feeding anyone? I happen to be a big fan of Rush (RIP Neil Peart), but plenty of people can't stand them. I don't try to force them to listen nor tell them that they are missing life if they don't. Rush is too cerebral for some folks, I get that, no problem.
I agree about David Bowie being one of the greatest artists of all time and I only really got into him about a year before he passed. My favorite song from him is "Heros".

Loss only exists when felt and I am not personally feeling loss by not listening to Kanye, (Not a diss on him).

I think this can be put to bed now.

MalachiLui's picture

sure, a lot of what kanye does outside of his art impacts his art, but you can’t ignore his art purely because of what he says/does. if we did that with all art throughout history, then how much great art would we be ignoring? a lot.

i’m not forcing you to like kanye, but at least give his work a listen, and try to understand it. while the man himself might not resonate with everyone, his art is often about general human experiences except thru kanye’s lens (as one would expect). you don’t have to like him, but you should at least listen to and make an attempt to understand his art before deciding you don’t like him/it.

weirdo12's picture

"sure, a lot of what kanye does outside of his art impacts his art, but you can’t ignore his art purely because of what he says/does"

You absolutely can. Is there another good reason to ignore him?

MalachiLui's picture

you CAN ignore him, but it's just a really STUPID idea.

but if you guys wanna be stupid, not my problem.

FSTNBLBS's picture

over who was the better guitar player, Mark Farner or Glenn Buxton. Glenn won but I did sustain a few bruises. Point is, I don't have those kind of music arguments anymore. If I disagree I simply say, "I'm not a fan." Although I can't resist throwing some bait out there into the room from time to time,("Van Morrison has always sucked!")can really stimulate spirited dialog! I don't always agree with Mikey and Mal but I do enjoy respect and consider their views. Please keep it up guys!
Here is MY list of artists of the last decade who seem to have been, in my estimation, criminally underappreciated..

Stan Ridgway, Freedy Johnston, Paul Kelly, Susanna Hoffs, Jennifer Warnes, Marianne Faithfull, Graham Parker, Joe Jackson and Tom Jones.

Best comeback... "Western Stars" by Bruce Springsteen. A true return to form after what seemed a long period of sub par output.

Peace to all.

FSTNBLBS's picture

once over who was the better guitar player, Mark Farner or Glenn Buxton. Glenn won, but I did suffer a few bruises. The point is, I don't have those kind of arguments over music anymore. If I don't agree with someone I simply say, "I'm not a fan." Although it is fun to throw some bait into the room from time to time. Some of my favorites are," Van Morrison has always sucked!" or "Louis Armstrong never really did anything better than Hello Dolly." comments like these can really light up a room! I don't always agree with Mikey and Mal but I always take time to reflect and respect their opinions. Please keep up the great dialog friends.
My list of artists who, in my estimation, have been criminally underappreciated this decade would have to include..

Stan Ridgway, Freedy Johnston, Susanna Hoffs, Marianne Faithfull, Joe Jackson, Paul Kelly, Graham Parker, Jennifer Warnes, Todd Rundgren and Tom Jones.. Best to All.

FSTNBLBS's picture

"Western Stars" by Bruce Springsteen. A real return to form after what seems like a long time of subpar releases.

avanti1960's picture

"The Secret". Possibly my favorite rock record of the last 10 years. A little jazzy, a little "Broadway" and definitely a lot "Alan Parsons". It works because the songs are so darn strong- well written, memorable and stick with you for days. When was the last time we could say that ?

Jay's picture

I was surprised that neither Birdy's Fire Within or Florence and the Machine's Ceremonials have been mentioned.

MalachiLui's picture

neither nor i are alan parsons fans. we both find him immensely overrated (among audiophiles at least) and greatly lacking talent. do you like “i robot?” i find that “i robot” is a boring album that just features a bunch of david gilmour and roget daltrey impersonators. plus the sound isn’t even that great.

and when was the last time i could say that an album had songs that are “well written, memorable, and stick with you for days?” the answer is january 17, when 070 shake dropped “modus vivendi” and when mac miller’s posthumous album “circles” arrived.

avanti1960's picture

i like i-robot but don't listen to it very often and it is far from my favorite.
my favorite is "a turn of a friendly card" (the title track suite is amazing) and listen to it just as much these days as I did when it was first released. definitely a lot of filler albums with little artistic value. among the ones I find value in are-
eye in the sky (despite the overblown sports arena track)
ammonia avenue - (pipeline is a great instrumental)
and gaudi, a work inspired by spanish architect antonio gaudi who began work on the continuously evolving cathedral "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona which is an epic organic work of art with an incredible structure and interior atmosphere. the album feels his pain as an architect / craftsman who took on the task to be completed over multiple generations.
many of the other APP records are somewhat easy to overlook.
peace.

avanti1960's picture

edgar alan poe. somewhat uneven the record does have its moments though.
the latest one just gets me though, i like somewhat poppy melodic tunes as i get older- as long as they are good! .

MalachiLui's picture

i’ll try to check out a couple of those records and report back.

lazerdewd2020's picture

How is it even possible that Tool's "Fear Inoculum" album didn't even make honorable mention for 2019? It was their first record in 13 years, debuted a strong #1 on Billboard's album chart (which after such a long layoff is amazing in and of itself) and frankly their first class musicianship makes some of these other bands on this list look silly. Tool is a band that has always done things "their way" with zero compromises - they truly kick rear

rajkmrraj735's picture

Thnaks for sharing the list

avanti1960's picture

her for a long time not really liking the popular songs but on "sometimes i sit" the unpopular songs are great and well worth the price of admissions- audio quality is fantastic too-
check "small poppies" and that bluesy guitar and "depreston" love em!
peace

Grx8's picture

Mike, do you know Ryan Adams?

audiotom's picture

Rhiannon Giddens and Wilco are definitely worth a spin

Glad to see St Vincent on the list

audiotom's picture

Thank you for posting Elbow and St Vincent

Arcade Fire, Rhiannon Giddens and Wilco are worth a listen.

Don Roderick's picture

Michael - am I to assume that your list is based solely on the musical pleasure derived with NO regard to sound quality? Or is it rather some combination thereof? Thx, Don R.

joerand's picture

But that's my opinion, purely a matter of musical taste, and to be honest, I could only listen to Blackstar once wondering what all the fuss was about. Like Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" (which I've also watched just once) I think the high accolades associated with both aforementioned performances are more ado about the death of an artist. Not that the performances aren't good, they are. But especially in Bowie's case, he did SOOO much better than Blackstar on any one of the seven albums he released between 1970 and 1975. Even in the context of albums from the 2010s, Blackstar is hardly a blip to me. If you want to get genuinely sentimental about an artists' swansong, listen to Warren Zevon's "The Wind" from the previous decade.

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