FEATURE: Albums of the Decade: Part I: 2010-2012



Albums of the Decade



Part I: 2010-2012


THERE are not many months left in the decade...


and I am pretty sure there will not be many contenders that will challenge this list - when I get to the 2019 part, that is! Speculated albums from Madonna and The 1975 might be in with a shout of being the albums of the decade but I am starting this rundown with a look at the best albums from the three-year period that covered 2010 to 2012 - I might have a separate list for 2019 in December. Every decade boasts terrific records but this decade has been really strong and seem some truly unexpected revelations. I am starting with those first few years of the 2010s; when there were people asking how music would change and whether we would see anything as good as the 2000s. Here are the fifteen albums that defined and owned the years 2010 through to 2012. Future parts will bring us right up-to-date but here, in this opening part, we can see albums that made the 2010s start...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Fiona Apple/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

WITH real fire.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify/Getty Images



Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Release Date: 22nd November, 2010

Labels: Def Jam/Rock-A-Fella

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Power/Runaway/Who Will Survive in America

Standout Track: Monster


Yet the ruthlessly self-indicting ”Runaway,” expanded to nine minutes from the version he debuted at this year?s VMAs, complicates Fantasy?s intermittent ugliness. ”You?ve been putting up with my s— just way too long,” he admits to a girlfriend, or maybe the entire listening public, before leading a bitterly ironic ”toast for the douchebags” in the chorus. It?s a dose of harsh reality that casts the excesses around it in a new light. West may be obnoxious, but at least he?s interested in confronting those aspects of his identity through his music. Few stars of comparable wattage would dare do the same” – Entertainment Weekly

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs


Release Date: 2nd August, 2010

Labels: Megre/City Slang/Mercury

Producers: Arcade Fire/Markus Dravs

Key Cuts: The Suburbs/Modern Man/City with No Children

Standout Track: Ready to Start


The anxieties of Neon Bible still lurk in some of these songs – the unease of the "Modern Man" is rendered with the deceptive naivety of Talking Heads, and the futile search for "the places we used to play" in "Sprawl 1 (Flatland)" is beautifully evoked by shimmering strings. But part of the band's appeal derives from its ability to balance music and emotions in poised equilibrium while grasping confidently for the future, so the misgivings are forever being swept aside by hope.

Playing the character of a trapped suburbanite with unfulfilled dreams, Regine Chassenet sings in "Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" about how "these days my life, I feel it has no purpose; but late at night these feelings swim to the surface". As if to suggest those lurking ambitions, it's sung over cycling synthesisers, in the manner of some self-assertive Euro electro-diva. Despite it all, she will survive” – The Independent

Robyn - Body Talk

Release Date: 22nd November, 2010

Label: Konichiwa

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Fembot/Indescribable/Call Your Girlfriend

Standout Track: Dancing on My Own


Some songs sound even better here than they did on the EPs: “Love Kills” and “None of Dem”'s playful dancehall function more clearly as bridges to other tracks than they did before. Body Talk’s new songs also make good on the EPs’ gradual shift from fierce independence to togetherness, particularly on “Call Your Girlfriend,” a thoughtful twist on a love triangle that finds Robyn enjoying new love while being concerned for someone hurt by it, and “Stars 4-Ever,” which gives a fizzy, Euro-dance tinged happy ending to the Body Talk project. After the EPs’ conciseness, the album feels downright roomy, and maybe slightly too long; obviously, Robyn had a lot of songs to work with. Overall, though, Body Talk is more focused than Robyn, and just as bold in the intimacy it creates with listeners” – AllMusic

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

Release Date: 22nd March, 2010

Label: Virgin

Producer: Ethan Johns

Key Cuts: Devil’s Spoke/Rambling Man/I Speak Because I Can

Standout Track: Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)


Many of the songs struggle with Marling’s conflicted yearning for both traditional monogamy and unfettered independence. “I tried to be a girl who likes to be used,” she sings on Goodbye England, “I’m too good for that/ There’s a mind under this hat.” Elsewhere she gazes back into Greek mythology for female companionship, addressing the marriage goddess Hera and conjuring the spirit of Odysseus’ patient wife Penelope. I Speak Because I Can is my favourite release of the year so far – and certainly an album worth sailing home for” – The Daily Telegraph  

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

Release Date: 28th September, 2010

Label: 4AD

Producers: Deerhunter/Ben H. Allen/Henry Barbe

Key Cuts: Earthquake/Revival/Basement Scene

Standout Track: Memory Boy


When a skeletal drum-machine beat sputters to life on opener “Earthquake,” Deerhunter’s third album threatens to be their most threadbare yet, but then a dreamy guitar floods the senses. Like frontman Bradford Cox’s solo records as Atlas Sound, Halcyon Digest exists mainly as another iteration of his shifting id, deeply plumbing memories real and imagined with a sound by turns spare and sumptuous. On the pensive “Basement Scene” and sublime centerpiece “Desire Lines” (actually written by guitarist Lockett Pundt), Deerhunter couples the Everly Brothers’ drawling croon with ’90s Sonic Youth surge, making for a blissed-out yet bittersweet reverie” – SPIN


PJ HarveyLet England Shake


Release Date: 14th February, 2011

Labels: Island/Vagrant

Producers: Flood/Mick Harvey/John Parish/PJ Harvey

Key Cuts: Let England Shake/The Words That Maketh Murder/On Battleship Hill

Standout Track: The Glorious Land


Rock songwriters don't write much about the first world war, but, perhaps understandably, when they do, they have a tendency to lay it on a bit thick: you end up with songs like the Zombies' The Butcher's Tale, so ripe it sounds more like the work of a fromagier. Harvey clearly understands that the horror doesn't really need embellishing: her way sounds infinitely more shocking and affecting than all the machine-gun sound effects in the world.

You're left with a richly inventive album that's unlike anything else in Harvey's back catalogue. That, she told Marr last year, is the point: "My biggest fear would be to replicate something I've done before." Let England Shake sounds suspiciously like the work of a woman at her creative peak. Where she goes from here is, as ever, anyone's guess” – The Guardian

St. VincentStrange Mercy

Release Date: 12th September, 2011

Label: 4AD

Producer: John Congleton

Key Cuts: Cruel/Cheerleader/Hysterical Strength

Standout Track: Strange Mercy


On ‘Cheerleader she confesses: “I’ve seen America with no clothes on, but I don’t want to be a cheerleader no more”, and while this too clearly has personal resonance, it also captures the pervasive soul-searching of her fellow countrymen. Among all this intense intellectual wrangling sits the seductive title track, a song etched from beauty itself; Clark’s voice has never sounded so beguiling and her fretwork is tasteful, skilful and mesmeric.

It’s this combination of unforced sonic gorgeousness and a refusal to settle for the obvious that puts Clark in a field of her own, and makes for a strange and wonderful record that shows no mercy in blowing your mind
” – NME

Bon IverBon Iver


Release Date: 17th June, 2011

Labels: Jagjaguwar (U.S)/4AD (Europe)

Producer: Justin Vernon

Key Cuts: Minnesota, WI/Wash/Calgary

Standout Track: Holocene


Vernon's most magnificent act on this follow-up to 2008's solitary, introspective For Emma, Forever Ago, is to open Bon Iver up to the world. That expansiveness influences everything, from the way the song titles reach beyond Vernon's Wisconsin home to the number of collaborators (10) and their intricately textured sound. In opening track Perth, you can almost hear Vernon exit his cabin in the woods to be dazzled by the colours and brightness outside, communicated in bold military drums and surging horns. But whether exploring supple R&B in Minnesota, WI, joyful country in Towers, or swollen soft-rock in Beth/Rest, Bon Iver remains rooted in the emotional sincerity that made Vernon's debut so mesmerising” – The Guardian

James BlakeJames Blake


Release Date: 4th February, 2011

Labels: ATLAS/A&M/Polydor

Producer: James Blake

Key Cuts: The Wilhelm Scream/Lindisfarne I/Give Me My Mouth

Standout Track: Limit to Your Love


The same goes for the album-ending "Measurements", which somehow pulls the sound of a Southern black gospel choir from Blake's laptop and white-boy coo. Feist cover "Limit to Your Love" works in just enough of dubstep's bass flutter and snare snap. If Blake really does cross over and become the pretty white male who introduces a broader audience to dubstep, with its foundations in Jamaican music and black musicians in South East London, he'll receive the tired, requisite backlash. But these 11 songs-- gorgeous, indelible tunes that are as generous in content as they are restrained in delivery-- will last a lot longer” – Pitchfork  

Kate Bush50 Words for Snow

Release Date: 21st November, 2011

Label: Fish People

Producer: Kate Bush

Key Cuts: Lake Tahoe/Misty/Snowed in at Wheeler Street

Standout Track: 50 Words for Snow


But it's "50 Words for Snow" itself which offers the most engaging, genial development of the album's wintry theme, its scudding groove assailed by chilly wind as Stephen Fry enunciates the terms – mostly made-up by Bush herself – with quiet relish: "Eiderfalls... Wenceslasair... Vanillaswarm... Icyskidski...", while she stands on the sideline, occasionally jumping in to cajole him, like a coach boosting her player's morale. It's a fitting climax to a seasonal offering that manages to evoke the essential spirit of winter while avoiding all the dog-eared clichés of Christmas albums – or indeed, any overt mention of that particular fairy story. Which is some achievement” – The Independent


Fiona AppleThe Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do


Release Date: 18th June, 2012

Labels: Clean Slate/Epic

Producers: Fiona Apple/Charley Drayton

Key Cuts: Valentine/Left Alone/Periphery

Standout Track: Every Single Night


Lacking either ornate production or a pop single, The Idler Wheel plays like Fiona Appleat her purest and that's plenty complicated: she takes no shortcuts or easy turns, her intent somewhat shrouded but never absent. Much of the charm of Apple's music isn't decoding what it all means but learning its internal clockwork, letting the songs take root, so the love songs ("Jonathan") seem sweeter, the braggadocio ("Hot Knife") funnier, the pathos ("Valentine," "Regret") and paranoia ("Werewolf") feeling fathomless. Once the startling Spartan surfaces of The Idler Wheel become familiar, similarities to her three previous albums are apparent -- she takes certain jazzy strides that hark back to Tidal, there's a rigorous dexterity reminiscent of When the Pawn -- but what's new is an unwavering determination and cohesion. Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so” – AllMusic

Frank OceanChannel Orange


Release Date: 10th July, 2012

Label: Def Jam

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Sweet Life/Pyramids/Bad Religion

Standout Track: Thinkin Bout You


Channel Orange is as dazzling as it is baffling, rarely staying still long enough to get a grip on. This may be a drawback when it comes to scoring big hit singles, with only one track, the chugging Lost, really conforming to the kind of straightforward song construction favoured by radio. Yet, there has been a sea-change in mainstream pop of late, as the popularity of guitar rock has waned and the sound of blips and beats have become utterly dominant in the top 40” – The Telegraph

Kendrick LamarGood Kid, M.A.A.D City

Release Date: 22nd October, 2012

Labels: Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe/Money Trees/M.A.A.D City

Standout Track: Backseat Freestyle


Equally heavy is the cautionary tale of drank dubbed "Swimming Pools," yet that highlight is as hooky and hallucinatory as most Houston drank anthems, and breaks off into one of the chilling, cassette-quality interludes that connect the album, adding to the documentary or eavesdropping quality of it all. Soul children will experience déjà vu when "Poetic Justice" slides by with its Janet Jackson sample -- sounding like it came off his Aunt's VHS copy of the movie it's named after -- while the closing "Compton" is an anthem sure to make the Game jealous, featuring Dre in beast mode, acting pre-Chronic and pre-Death Row. This journey through the concrete jungle of Compton is worth taking because of the artistic richness within, plus the attraction of a whip-smart rapper flying high during his rookie season. Any hesitation about the horror of it all is quickly wiped away by Kendrick's mix of true talk, open heart, open mind, and extended hand. Add it all up and even without the hype, this one is still potent and smart enough to rise to the top of the pile” – AllMusic



Release Date: 31st January, 2012

Label: 4AD

Producer: Grimes

Key Cuts: Oblivion/Visiting Statue/Skin

Standout Track: Genesis


Visions is anchored less by Boucher’s voice, a small but versatile falsetto with unexpected range, than by her personality, which grounds even the album’s oddest digressions with sweetness and sensuality. She sings mostly in a cryptic blur of impressions, preferring expressive sighs and squeals over complete thoughts, but the lyrics that are decipherable leave a mark. On “Oblivion,” Boucher pines for the simple comforts of romance, and on the penultimate track “Skin,” she reflects on how physical contact forges emotional bonds. It’s Visions’ longest, saddest song, but it’s a fitting closer for a record that’s so evocatively textured it’s practically a tactile experience” – AV Music

Jack WhiteBlunderbuss


Release Date: 20th April, 2012

Labels: Third Man/XL/Columbia

Producer: Jack White

Key Cuts: Sixteen Saltines/I’m Shakin’/Hip Eponymous (Poor Boy)

Standout Track: Weep Themselves to Sleep


There are plenty of made-in-Nashville flourishes – fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel. White mostly strums acoustic, occasionally going electric for noise-splutter solos. But he power-riffs the Seventies stoner boogie “Sixteen Saltines,” his loudest and funniest tribute to the destructive force of passion and the healing power of overcranked guitars. “Spike heels make a hole in a lifeboat” – that could be White’s epitaph.

Yet through all the heartbreak, he remains a mystery man, as if Don Draper went to that Rolling Stones show on Mad Men and ended up jamming with the band. White has the Midwest con-man reserve of Draper, along with the flamboyant-yet-unknowable flash of Jagger. So Blunderbuss gets stranger and more fascinating the closer you listen. It doesn’t give up any of the man’s secrets. And make no mistake: That’s exactly how Jack White wants it” – Rolling Stone