top 100 albums of the 2010s

Top 100 albums of the 2010s: 100-91

Video playlist for albums 100-91.

100: Future of the Left – The Plot Against Common Sense (2012)

It feels odd that the decade is ending with a McLusky reunion, and it perhaps risks overshadowing Future of the Left a bit. The latter were the more prolific band in the end, with Andrew Falkous’s ferocious imagination and knack for unexpected imagery giving both bands their distinctive identities – that, and a very great deal of noise. The title of this record turns out to have foretold the path of British politics with chilling accuracy.

99: Juanita Stein – Until the Lights Fade (2018)

After their debut album, I suppose I was a bit unclear about what type of band Howling Bells were, or were trying to be. They released a succession of decent records with some great songs, but nothing seemed to cohere, or capture critical acclaim, quite like their first album. Juanita Stein’s solo career has had a clarity to it that contrasts with that: both albums have had a distinctly American sound, the first more overtly country-influenced and this second one more clearly rock, and produced with quite a sheen. Almost in a Springsteen tradition in places? Maybe faintly. The effect is pretty grabbing, either way, and Juanita’s voice is showcased to good effective both as a singer and as a writer.

98: Edwyn Collins – Losing Sleep (2011)

One of three albums released this decade, along with Understated (2013) and Badbea (2019), Losing Sleep was Edwyn Collins’ first album written and recorded after the cerebral haemhorrage he suffered in 2005. I saw his now semi-legendary headline slot at Indietracks in 2011, when the extent of his physical limitations was very evident. But his voice retains a hugely pleasing depth and timbre, that anchors the songs here delightfully. Really, any of those albums could happily have gone here, but on a repeat listening I found myself most drawn to this one, by a smidge.

97: Phantastic Ferniture – Phantastic Ferniture (2018)

Julia Jacklin came to prominence as a major talent in the second half of the decade, and has released two good albums. For me, I really connected with about half the songs on each and quite liked the rest, so there’s a great album’s worth of material there, but that’s not how this list works. Instead, this side project band with two friends seemed to enable Julia to hit the highs really consistently, at least to my taste – it’s an enjoyable record with plenty of oomph, and a slight slacker rock sound that’s absent from Julia’s solo work but really suits the songs.

96: The Loves – …Love You (2011)

Going to Indietracks for the first time felt in many ways like re-connecting with the music I’d followed closely around the turn of the century and had kept only partly in touch with since I’d graduated and John Peel had died. The Loves were the most direct embodiment of that – a Peel-supported band that I’d never seen at the time, and who were in fact gearing up to release their final album ahead of a long-planned split on Valentine’s Day 2011. This is a short record – under half an hour – but listening back to it, it’s got a striking hit rate in terms of the quality of the songs.

95: Black Kids – Rookie (2017)

It seemed hard to believe it was ten years since Black Kids had released their bouncy, jangly heartbreak single I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You… and it seemed even harder when Rookie emerged, and they didn’t sound a day older in either their sound or their subject matter. For all that they’re not rookies any more, this is still lyrically a set of songs from and about young people, rather than reflecting any sort of changed outlook as you might expect after a decade. And really, I liked it all the more for that – ten years on, and still an irreverent bunch of fun.

94: Badly Drawn Boy – It’s What I’m Thinking Pt.1 – Photographing Snowflakes (2010)

Ten years ago my write-up of Badders’ decade was a pretty sad one: having loved his shows around the time of Bewilderbeast, and the record itself, I watched as he tried and repeatedly failed to achieve the same alchemy again, each time falling short by a seemingly longer distance. I haven’t dared see him live since 2007. By 2010 he had done more soundtrack work and reportedly recorded and then ditched an album’s worth of material, so this record seemed like a somewhat tentative toe back in the water of ‘full’ albums after a bit of a gap. In the event, it turned out to be probably his most successful record, artistically anyway, since The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, with some charming and reflective songs, attractively arranged – all a bit understated, but well crafted for that. It boded well for the second and third instalments of the apparently planned trilogy of albums… which then didn’t emerge. Since then, Badders has continued to play live, done a bit more soundtrack work, traded on some nostalgia for his debut album, and gone grey. It might seem like a bit of an underachievement, but let’s not overlook the strength of this album.

93: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011)

It’s hard to know what to make of art that focuses on England right now. By association, it feels like it must be guilty of… something. We didn’t have a de facto English nationalist government in 2011 though, so it wasn’t quite so much of an issue. And to be fair, Polly Harvey’s England is often as faded and tattered as it is enchanted and beguiling. She pulled off a neat trick here of making music that was distinctive and idiosyncratic, but at the same time accessible rather than alienating. The only Mercury-winning album on this decade’s list.

92: Hard Skin – Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear? (2013)

Bit of an oddball record, this one – but curiously endearing. As a twist on their new record, On The Balls, Damaged Goods punk veterans Hard Skin released a second version of the album with a variety of female punk and indie singers performing the lead vocals. The result includes Beth Jeans Houghton and Manda Rin showing off their potty mouths.

91: Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’ (2010)

Indiepop was accelerating into a strong phase at the start of the decade, and this was the album that confirmed there was something going on. Allo Darlin’ leapt fairly immediately into the status of poster child, with a run of main stage Indietracks appearances that culminated in a memorable headlining set in 2014. This record’s songs were the mainstay of their sets throughout, and with a few exceptions were seldom bettered by tracks on their subsequent two albums. The band crossed over a bit, with some decent support slots and fairly regularly popping up as background music on Bargain Hunt for a while. Er, I’ve been told. But they clearly got as far as was possible on the redoubtable Fortuna Pop!, and their final show at the end of 2016 was a convincingly joyous farewell.

Top 100 albums of the 2010s: statporn preview

We all love some statporn, right? So here’s a preview of my top 100 albums of the decade in stats, that won’t really tell you anything about what’s on the list.

The albums come from the different years of the decade in the following numbers:
2010: 12
2011: 13
2012: 11
2013: 12
2014: 9
2015: 5
2016: 10
2017: 9
2018: 15
2019: 6.

Number of albums by artist country of origin:
England: 48
Scotland: 7
Wales: 3
USA: 29
Canada: 8
Other (or combinations of nations): 7.

Debut albums: 25.

Albums by artists who also featured on my 2000s list: 23. (A further 5 are by artists whose former bands appeared on that list, and one artist who appears here in their own right featured on the 2000s list in collaboration with another artist.)

Self-titled albums: 15.

Albums by artists who have played the Indietracks festival (at any time since it started in 2007): 41.

Albums by artists I have seen perform live: 81 (77 of them this decade; I’ve seen a further 3 perform live with previous bands, but not in the form featured on this list).

Albums by artists whose Wikipedia entries are currently illustrated with photos taken by me: 6.

Albums released on Fortuna Pop! Records: 10.

Videos that might make you cry: 3.

Number of albums on list: 102.

Top 100 albums of the 2010s: introduction

When I compiled my favourite hundred albums of the 2000s, I was wondering if it would even be possible to do the same for the coming decade, or whether the album as a format might die a death. In the event, the album has continued to be in rude health, so I am able once again to compile a list of my favourite albums of the decade – but much around it has changed. Now, in 2019, it looks as though CDs are on the way out, with some records on this decade’s list never being made available on that format, and many people no longer owning CD or DVD drives or players of any sort. Instead, streaming and a curious revival of vinyl (20 quid minimum for something bulky and inconvenient! Perfect!) seem to be the formats that are in the ascendancy. Still, at least the ridiculous mid-decade fad for cassettes seems to be dying off a bit.

Streaming was just starting in 2009, and has been transformative: it’s easy to forget just how much of a difference it makes that you now don’t have to pay up-front for an album (mostly) before listening to it. I might be unusual in still liking albums end-to-end; certainly I’m unusual in still wanting to buy them – preferably on CD direct from the artist or label at gigs, or on download from Bandcamp. I suspect many music lovers might come to regret, in 20 years’ time, not owning the music they care about, if streaming services prove not to be sustainable over the long term for whatever reason.

For me personally, this has been overall a better and happier ten years than the previous ten – as it should be really, as the journey from 27 to 37 isn’t the same change as from 17 to 27. But it’s been a troubled decade for the country I live in, increasingly so as it wore on; I count myself fortunate to have avoided (so far) the serious consequences that so many other people have experienced. In fact it was a decade of two halves, almost exactly: I moved out of London to Bedford in October 2014, and after that returned to presenting music-based radio shows, albeit intermittently. Wherever one draws the line, the 2000s and 2010s were the decades when I was, broadly speaking, young; the 2020s and 2030s will be the decades when I am middle aged…

As for the list, obviously it’s my personal top 100: I’m not claiming it’s in any way some sort of authoritative list of the ‘best’ records of the last ten years. Indeed, it feels like a bit of a fraud putting them in order, really – is it meaningful? Still, it’s a convention, so let’s roll with it. Certainly I’ve listened to more and better music this decade than last, and it’s a stronger top 100 than the list from the 2000s. Partly this is thanks to streaming making so much music so readily available for investigation, but possibly also some of the structures around how DIY music can be made and distributed to a high standard have meant that more artists are able to get their visions out there than ten or twenty years ago. And in a way, obviously this is a piece of autobiography – yes it’s self-indulgent, so if you’ve got a problem with that you can sling your hook now.

Plus, there’s no getting away from it: my decade’s listening has been to a large extent framed by the Indietracks festival. I first went in 2010, and have attended all bar two events since. It undoubtedly gave focus to the type of indie music I documented in the previous decade, which was in particularly rude health in the first part of the decade, and has developed in interesting ways since.

I wouldn’t do the same top 100 albums of the noughties now as then, so this is how I feel at the end of 2019 – it’s a snapshot, and I’m sure my views on some of these records will continue to develop. There are bound to be some records that would have been sure-fire entries on the list if only I’d heard them in time. I’m sure I’ll mop some of those up over the next few years. Similarly, I’m assessing records from earlier in the decade with the benefit of a greater measure of hindsight; some have grown in stature to me, while others don’t impress me anything like as much as they did at the time. Evaluating more recent records is more difficult – maybe in the mid-2020s I’ll wonder how I came to make some of these choices.

Finally for this post, the general rules I set myself in compiling the list. It only contains albums, not EPs; records that might arguably be mini-albums are given the benefit of the doubt where merited. There is only one album per artist; where there is such a massive contrast as to justify it, or some other clear reason, I’ve combined two albums in a joint single entry. There have been some interesting upshots of this: some bands who have had excellent decades are represented by one album but could just as easily have been represented by another. Some other bands have been live favourites over many years and released a lot of good songs, but not an album that was strong enough, end-to-end (to my ears), to make the cut. And inevitably, a few records were on the list until I finalised the ranking and found out that 100 isn’t such a big number after all.

Tomorrow there will be a preview post by way of some statporn, and the albums will be counted down, ten at a time, over the last eleven days of the year and decade (with a break on Christmas day). There will be a Youtube playlist for each ten-album segment, so fire up your Chromecast…