We’re half way through the 2010s so it’s the right time to look back at the last five years and celebrate 50 of the finest albums. We’ve ranked the top 50, according to NME, and here you can read about 25 – 1.
25. Queens Of The Stone Age - '...Like Clockwork' (2013)
‘…Like Clockwork’ brought desert rock titans Queens Of The Stone Age back with a hip-shaking, boot-stomping bang. Steamier and smuttier than ever, even for a band that had always sounded filthy and feral, it reached new heights of sexy and might as well have come with a restraining order attached.
24. Merchandise - 'After The End' (2014)
A progression from their previous two records, ‘After The End’ moved into far more polished territory without losing what made Merchandise so interesting in the first place; Cox’s silky croon, David Vassalotti’s spiky, intricate guitar work. The band might have started out in hardcore punk bands but ‘After The End’ opened a new chapter.
23. Foals - 'Holy Fire' (2013)
From the instant rush of melody and light on 'My Number' to 'Inhaler'’s dark and primal passion, third album 'Holy Fire' captures the two sides of a band that can work the listeners brain as hard as their heart. Foals most impressive work to date.
22. LCD Soundsystem - 'This Is Happening' (2010)
Everything about LCD seemed so meticulous, and by the time ‘This Is Happening’ came Murphy had declared the album their last. But the guy’s not capable of throwaway. Even ‘Drunk Girls’, ‘…Happening’’s dumbest track, has the amazing line: “Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut / It comes back but it’s never the same”.
21. Caribou - 'Our Love' (2014)
Caribou’s loose concept album about human affection managed to take love into the places it doesn’t normally fit in pop songs. This was Snaith displaying the wisdom of a decade-married man of his years. Spare yet brimming, it showed a man with the artisanal skills to master his craft like a Swiss watchmaker.
20. Aphex Twin - 'Syro' (2014)
A hot little rave in a funhouse mirror factory, much of the joy of Syro was how much it resisted any kind of attempt to get a grip on what it was. It kept morphing into something else every few bars. Like looking at a drop of water in a microscope, beneath its essential simplicity, everything within it crawled and teemed with bizarre new life.
19. Vampire Weekend - 'Modern Vampires Of The City' (20130
Radical theology, dead explorers, Buddhist balladry, gnomes aplenty. Like many graduates unleashed onto the metropolis with their heads swimming with ideas, Vampire Weekend experienced a creative explosion on third album ‘Modern Vampires…’, out to see just how far they could stretch the confines of pop music.
18. Alt-J - 'An Awesome Wave' (2012)
‘An Awesome Wave’ disrupted the motifs of British guitar music. Joe Newman’s voice was androgynous and rich, crooning lyrics that were idiosyncratic. Their quirks paid off: the album won the Mercury Prize and ‘boffin rock’ spread like minimalist pop wildfire.
17. St Vincent - 'Strange Mercy' (2011)
Before evolving into the snow-haired, otherworldly futurist-pop invincible that stormed 2014 album-of-the-year lists with ‘St Vincent’, Annie Clark had a more human side. 2011’s ‘Strange Mercy’, though similarly adventurous with its sci-fi guitar histrionics, was full of moments of vulnerability - and raw, beautiful invention.
16. The War On Drugs - 'Lost In The Dream' (2014)
The songwriting for ‘Lost In The Dream’ had come from a gnarly place of mental illness and all the loneliness and dislocation that comes with it. But the result was profoundly uplifting, a record of towering relief, a sweet road-trippin’ balm that took the listener on Granduiciel’s troubled and intoxicating journey.
15. Mac DeMarco - 'Salad Days' (2014)
His goofy persona meant Mac was seen as a good time guy, so no-one expected him to sound so down. In doing so however, he unleashed emotions that allowed him to make an instantaneous, endlessly relatable classic, storming bravely onto expansive new territory, both musically and emotionally.
14. These New Puritans - 'Hidden' (2010)
The alien sounds on TNP’s second album ‘Hidden’ prompted comparisons with Radiohead’s more experimental work: an album that starts with the haunted, eerie woodwind of ‘Time Xone’ and the earth-quaking bombast of ‘We Want War’. Even now, five years on, listening to ‘Hidden’ is like peering into the future. And it’s a terrifying place.
13. Arctic Monkeys - 'Suck It And See' (2011)
The Monkeys were starting to blend the best of rock’n’roll traditions on this record, which provides the stepping stone between the Josh Homme-influenced heaviness of 2009’s ‘Humbug’ and the all-conquering strut of 2013’s ‘AM’. The blank, beige cover art may have promised little, but the contents delivered in spades. Suck that.
12. Daft Punk - 'Random Access Memories' (2013)
‘Random Access Memories’ is an album that hides its oddness beneath its chrome veneer. They may have sacrificed house and techno for guest stars and retro-futurism, but Daft Punk’s fourth album was the one that made them into superstars.
11. Kurt Vile - 'Smoke Ring For My Halo' (2011)
From the moment Kurt Vile’s fingers slid audibly up the neck of his guitar on ‘Baby’s Arms’, ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ was an intensely intimate listen, a long, dreamy and compelling diary entry. Vile let his consciousness flow over mellifluous folk-rock that drifted like smoke from a fire. One of the decade’s finest confessionals.
10. Metronomy - 'The English Riviera' (2011)
From the opening strains of its title track, all sampled washes of ocean and squawking, circling seagulls, ‘The English Riviera’ was idiosyncratic British pop music at its finest; a singular vision from a songwriter who’d finally started to harness the full potential of his wonkily brilliant powers.
9. Arcade Fire - 'The Suburbs' (2010)
A grainy polaroid of adolescence and ennui, partly autobiographical (Win and Will Butler’s upbringing in Houston, Texas was a key inspiration) but novelistic in its scope and heft. This is an album which is striving to be important from the outset, that's bursting with Something To Say - and miraculously finds the words to express it.
8. Kendrick Lamar - 'Good Kid M.A.A.D. City' (2012)
Prior mixtape, 2011’s ‘Section 80’, had hinted at glory, but ‘good kid…’ was another beast altogether: lean and uncompromising, with daring dashes into the hip-hop unknown. A new hip-hop kingpin was crowned.
7. St Vincent - 'St Vincent' (2014)
Annie Clark on 'St Vincent': "I wasn’t in a place where I felt that kind of self-laceration, self-loathing, self-denial, all that stuff. It was more that I had come through a whole lot of pain and was in a better place, so the record reflects that.” And it was so brilliant we voted it album of the year in 2014.
6. Kanye West - 'Yeezus'
It features major names (Rick Rubin, Daft Punk, Bon Iver), future stars (Hudson Mohawke, Gesaffelstein, Arca), an actual song called ‘I Am A God’ featuring the actual lyric “hurry up with my damn croissant”. It’s all just so unbelievably Kanye.
5. Grimes - 'Visions' (2012)
Grimes’ 4AD debut brought pop melody to the experimental electronica of her earlier work for Montreal’s Arbutus Records. It had crisp electronic sounds and vocals that dance around octaves, her voice a gurgly, ethereal instrument. It was also an album fit for dancefloors, with tracks such as ‘Genesis' and ‘Circumambient' cranking up the beats too.
4. Tame Impala - 'Lonerism' (2012)
'Lonerism' was Kevin Parker’s faltering internal monologue translated through a pop filter into a giddy, spine-tingling aural hug. An album that somehow made sprawling seven-minute oddities sound accessible and catchy. A timeless nugget of near-perfection that pushed its isolated author into the arms of a global audience.
3. PJ Harvey - 'Let England Shake' (2011)
Four years ago, Polly Harvey reinvented the war album, and changed its shape and form and future forever. Rather than limiting herself to just one conflict, Harvey flitted throughout history and perspectives to show how war, blood and guts have shaped England’s history. It was startlingly different from anything she’d ever done before.
2. Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' (2010)
‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ is a telling product of its time - at 14 songs and over 68 minutes long, its meandering sprawl seemed a reflection of contemporary American excess. It felt like a man spilling his psyche directly into your headphones and it was easily the Chicago artist’s best work to date.
1. Arctic Monkeys - 'AM' (2013)
The new dawn of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’ was a sassy snarl in the face of a cynical ‘post-guitar’ age; proof that rock’n’roll was still capable of dragging itself out of the swamp and evolving into wild and exotic new species. ‘AM’ sounded like the beginning of Arctic Monkeys’ imperial period and for modern rock’n’roll too.