As the numerically pleasing 2020 approaches, we find ourselves looking to the past, celebrating the recent decade of creation, progress and the destruction that currently define our lives. Music amongst it all, serves as a wonderful footnote that can help mark certain memories and distinct images, kept with us for as long as we hear them. This list of 20 albums is an attempt to touch upon anthemic works that have struck a chord with the college students of today, and the sounds that they have grown up on.
20. Tyler, The Creator: “Flower Boy” (2017)
From the ostracized days of Odd Future and being hailed as a king of the underground, to the festival-throwing, genre-defying king of the masses that he holds strongly to today, Tyler is an artist that has truly matured right alongside us. “Flower Boy” is the diary of a misunderstood character, with full-disclosure lyrics that relate to an entire generation as if it were written for them alone. A star-studded cast of features to boot, Tyler navigates through the lo-fi angelic tune of “Boredom” to the aggression-laden “I Ain’t Got Time!” as if he were flicking a light switch. Fans and newcomers alike will leave with their own “November” of the first time hearing this project blossom in full.
19. SZA: “Ctrl” (2017)
2017 was a big year for the R&B push into the mainstream pop. We’re talking about the same year as Sampha’s “Process,” Tinashe, Byson Tiller, Kehlani all popping off and the back end of Solange’s 2016 masterpiece “A Seat at the Table.” What separated SZA apart from the others though was the gorgeous composition and story-telling that she expels track after track. The honesty on “Drew Barrymore” and the feeling of inferiority, to making Travis Scott sing from the soul on “Love Galore,” to the female-positivity shining on “Doves in the Wind,” “Ctrl” offers so many sides to one artist.
18. Drake: “Take Care” (2011)
“Take Care” functions as the quintessential Drake album, proving his capabilities to perform in all facets of the hip-hop realm. From wishing an old friend “happy belated” on the fast-paced, bar-filled “HYFR,” to the dance-filled title track “Take Care” featuring a Rihanna verse perpetually stuck in our heads. This album paved the road for Drake and gave him all the lanes to drive in. It’s what allowed for him to experiment so gracefully and still come out on top in the end.
17. Arcade Fire: “The Suburbs” (2010)
Arcade Fire’s 2010 project is the fitting soundtrack for practically any coming-of-age movie. The euphoric motifs on “Ready to Start” pay tribute to any outsider child down on their luck. The album itself is littered with uplifting progressions that linger in the sadness of Win Butler’s lyricism, creating that crying-on-the-dancefloor type of sensation. “Sprawl II” is a timeless dance track that lives on almost a decade later, proving once again that true creativity and individuality will always prevail in art.
16. Arctic Monkeys: “AM” (2013)
The British Invasion might have long since passed before a young Alex Turner won award after award for fronting the Arctic Monkeys over in England, but it was not until the groups fifth album “AM” that the Arctic Monkeys finally made a larger name for themselves across the pond. In truth, the album is a slow burn compared to the punk-heavier influenced debuts. Where it shines, though, is in the silky-smooth production that comes from years of success in the industry — Alex’s sultry voice echoes throughout and his songwriting is as good as ever. When not swooning, there are moments of pure jubilation, such as the hook to “Arabella” or the breakdown in “Do I Wanna Know?”
15. Beach House: “Teen Dream” (2010)
One of the most prolific outfits to come out of the indie pop scene, Beach House find ways to blur lines when it comes between indie and mainstream music. Inspiring legions of talents, from where it can be heard in the underground, to the unlikely nod of The Chainsmokers, “Teen Dream” feels like just that. A dreamy soundscape encapsulating what it means to have little care and so much love for the world around you.
14. Lorde: “Melodrama” (2017)
Coming onto the scene very early in her musical career thanks to breakout single “Royals,” “Melodrama” is a four-year process that acts as Lorde’s true debut album. Her take on dance-pop blends the avant-garde with the familiar. The hooks, as catchy as ever, only seem reached after personal ballads of verses that allow full expression from the young New Zealand native.
13. Playboi Carti: “Playboi Carti” (2017)
The term “mumble rap” gets tossed around the industry to define lackluster hip-hop artists with little to no lyrical prevalence. Playboi Carti is often pigeonholed as the godfather of this. Where mimics of Carti fail though, is in understanding that his voice is an instrument, not a story-telling device. His cadences have been studied by linguists and ad-libs have been used as full-blown features. Carti’s self-titled debut revolutionized hip-hop, with each song perfectly imperfect. From the breakout “Magnolia” to the self-aware “wokeuplikethis,” Carti knows what he’s doing every step of the way.
12. LCD Soundsystem: “This Is Happening” (2010)
When the nine-minute intro track “Dance Yrself Clean” begins to make its way into your ears, it becomes hard to stop it short. Electronic music delving greatly into the emotional is few and far between, and the New York City powerhouse of LCD Soundsystem makes it look easy. What was supposed to be the curtain call for James Murphy’s beloved project, is full of desperation and the search for meaning. It can be, at times, a difficult listen, not readily accessible off the first cut. Over time, however, the glitchy production and lovable ramblings of Murphy will find their way to creep back into your head.
11. Tame Impala: “Lonerism” (2012)
Kevin Parker seems almost incapable of making a “bad” album. His work around the psychedelic from the pop-end of “Currents” to the fuzzy guitars of “Innerspeaker,” it was Parker’s second album that really showed the growth at hand. Its hits are easily recognizable, from swagger-filled “Elephant” to the poetic “It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” “Lonerism” will go down as a timeless classic years from now and might as well be considered one today. Aside from the radio-friendly tracks, the album as a cohesive whole is 12 tracks of layering gold.
10. Lana Del Rey: “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” (2019)
A late entry into the decade, Lana Del Rey’s 2019 masterpiece is undoubtedly her best work to date. The first five tracks all need to be edited for the “clean” version, and that comes with some preemptive thought. Lana starts amidst a breakup, letting out anger in her elegant voice. As the album progresses and calms in both tone and language, she sees no need to curse, moving on from the past into self-acceptance and love. Her old-school west coast suave shines brilliantly on this project from the scintillating “Bartender” to the Sublime cover track “Doin’ Time.”
9. Mitski: “Puberty 2” (2016)
While her time in the spotlight may not come until the 2018 “Be the Cowboy,” it’s in this album that Mitski builds the stepping stones to becoming one of the greatest artists of our generation. The hazy, anthemic “Your Best American Girl” deals with the struggles of trying to be worthy of love in a country where she does not fit in, a song of praise for all young girls who feel out of place in life, teaching them to love where they come from with the powerful lines of “your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I finally do.” At only 31 minutes, it is but a blip in the scale, but one of immaculate meaning, giving definition to the quality over quantity mindset.
8. Rosalía: “El Mal Querer” (2018)
Most listeners in America may not understand a single lyric of Rosalía’s flamenco pop magnum opus, yet this only make the work itself more spectacular. The breathy Spanish vocals are musical ASMR, though on tracks like “Que No Salga La Luna,” she will yell when necessary. Her classical training and love for pop led to one of the most exciting releases of the decade and helped pave the way for a lot of Latin-pop overseas.
7. Sufjan Stevens: “Carrie & Lowell” (2015)
The self-published folk works of Sufjan Stevens are as bleak as they are hopeful. Admitting thoughts of suicide on “The Only Thing,” past failures on “Should Have Known Better” and fluctuating faith and belief in God all throughout the album, Stevens is able to relate to many through the very stable message of the human experience regardless of creed. Named after his late parents, the whole project feels like a conversation Stevens is unable to have with them now.
6. Kanye West: “Yeezus” (2013)
With track three being titled “I Am A God,” the tongue-in-cheek title of “Yeezus” feels like it is more than just a play on words, mixing brand Yeezy with his devout belief in Christianity. It is an album that had many first-time listeners divided. It is edgy, provoking, euphoric, in short, ahead of its time, and all that can be heard in just the first 30 seconds alone. Contrary to its beloved counterpart “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” where that album fails in production is where “Yeezus” shines. This album could have come out a week ago and nobody would know any better. Its intensity on songs like “Blood On The Leaves” are where Kanye really shines as a creative — a love song dipped in chaos.
5. Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016)
With so many incredible Beyoncé albums in one decade, “Lemonade” might take the cake from the femme-power track “Formation” alone, but thankfully that’s not where the greatness ends. “Hold Up” conjures up the relationship issues surrounding Jay-Z and lets Beyoncé come out on the other end shining. “Lemonade” celebrates Beyoncé as the most powerful woman in the world and the separation between artist and person in a global spotlight where everyone wants to claim her.
4. Grimes: Visions (2012)
Grimes’ ascent into the limelight started with two of the greatest songs of the past decade in “Genesis” and “Oblivion.” The former features delicate piano fills over heavenly synths draw the listener into Claire Boucher’s world of magic. The latter is a dark turn into the harsh reality that is life. Tackling a personal experience with assault, “Oblivion” plays a similar façade to that of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” where “you don’t wanna listen you just want to dance” comes into effect. An otherworldly beat blips back and forth as Boucher’s lisp whispers a diary like tale of losing one’s innocence. It’s a complex album that encapsulates modern political movements and the advocation of a woman’s right to be heard.
3. Vampire Weekend: “Modern Vampires of the City” (2013)
Their third and perhaps last album as a full band, “Modern Vampires of the City” sees the maturation of young college friends growing in their own personal rights. Here, Ezra for the first time really takes on his faith and problems bigger than himself. It’s a philosophical ride of challenging preconceived beliefs while keeping a positive outlook. An old spoken word recording on the track “Finger Back” helps display these feelings in a simple interlude conveying an Orthodox girl falling for Arab man and wondering why she’s been told that it is wrong.
2. Kendrick Lamar: “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015)
A celebration of black excellence in modern America, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is much more than just an album. Calling upon fellow creatives such as the prolific funk bassist Thundercat, legendary west coast artist Snoop Dogg and jazz icon Kamasi Washington. Lamar calls into play stereotypes, exploitation and the anger felt by black Americans in a time where our media preaches change. “To Pimp a Butterfly” is an album, a play, a choir service and a way of thinking spread about in 16 tracks.
1. Frank Ocean: “Blonde” (2016)
What can be said about this album that has not already been spoken into existence. “Blonde” is the album that will define our generation for as long as we are here and well after. A true creative by all senses of the word, when Frank speaks the world listens. He adheres to none of the pressures that seem to plague modern music, disappearing and coming back like a magic trick when the people seem to need his voice most.
There is an old story that Frank once went to a very small Alex G concert shortly after the tremendous success of “Channel Orange,” hid in the crowd like an average fan, proceeded to ask Alex for an autograph post show and then left in silence. It is a mantra to the elusiveness that is Frank Ocean, his love for all things pure in the creative spectrum, and the overlooked fact that he really is just one of us.
All photos courtesy of spotify.com