There were still plenty more albums that didn’t make my Top 50. So here are 15 superlatives, along with an additional 50 honorable mentions.
Best Epitaph for a Genre
Girl Talk – All Day
It seemed like Gregg Gillis would release albums like this forever. Every two years, here comes another incredible mash-up, taking hundreds of songs from past and present and fusing them into something breathtaking. But he hasn’t put anything else out since, and neither has anyone else. Mash-ups were the domain of the 2000s, but not of the 2010s. We just didn’t realize it at the time.
Best Greatest Hits Collection
The Flaming Lips – Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition)
The Oklahoma band has put out some of the greatest music of my lifetime, but they’d never had a proper retrospective until 2018. It’s 30 years in three discs, but it’s the rarities disc that makes the set, providing all the hidden gems from their incredible career.
Best Collaboration Album
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus were already among the best singer-songwriters of their generation. Combining their powers was almost too much to take. This EP is only 21 minutes, but it’s a knockout.
Best Diss Track
Pusha T – “The Story of Adidon”
Like mash-ups, diss tracks all but died in the 2010s, for a variety of reasons. But Pusha T unleashed a definitive one in his beef with Drake. Uncovering not just a photo of him in blackface, but a fatal blow with the line “You are hiding a child.” It’s ugly and brutal. Drake may have survived, but it began a noticeable decline in his public perception.
Best Covers Album
Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back
Gabriel hasn’t released much music since the turn of the century. This was his first album since 2002. His covers are carefully chosen, with absolutely nothing half-assed. While his companion album And I’ll Scratch Yours didn’t completely work out, with some artists declining to participate, he delivered an essential album, with a few versions that even surpass the originals.
Best Live Album
Kate Bush – Before the Dawn
Until 2014, Bush hadn’t graced a stage in 35 years. Understandably, people were excited, resulting in a 22-night sell-out. This collection of highlights proves she hadn’t missed a step, performing most of Hounds of Love and Aerial in full. The only thing more impressive would have been to experience it in person.
The Replacements – Dead Man’s Pop
Don’t Tell a Soul was already an excellent album, the group’s most underrated effort. But this 30th anniversary box set makes it even better, using the original mix and sequencing, throwing in a host of demos to see how the songs evolved, plus a complete show from their drunken heyday.
Prince – Originals
I’ve wanted to hear Prince’s version of “Manic Monday” for as long as I’ve known he wrote it. In 2019, I finally got my wish and more. His estate released this album, comprised entirely of songs he wrote for other people, including Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” and the Time’s “Jungle Love.” In rough form, they don’t surpass the originals, but you hear how much craft went into each one.
Best Box Set
Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
And speaking of Minnesota R&B, this box set of Prince’s forerunners and contemporaries is a fascinating look at a scene that was much larger than people outside of native Minnesotans and music historians knew about. It’s easy to imagine how with a little more luck and the right connections, any of these bands could have at least been as popular as the Time.
Best Odds & Ends
Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
Just how prolific was the Boss in the late ’70s? He released a double album of unreleased songs (with some new vocals and instrumentation) in 2010 like it was nothing. It’s even more impressive than his Tracks box set, yet another piece of evidence that he’s one of the greatest artists of all time.
Best Free Album
David Ramirez – SerialBox Presents EP
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, free and pay-what-you-want albums were, before streaming came along and ended that. But that was my first introduction to Austin singer-songwriter David Ramirez, which included the original version of “Fires,” which my wife and I danced to at our wedding.
Best Album You Have to Assemble Yourself
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Kanye’s follow-up to Yeezus experienced delay after delay. Even after he officially released it, he kept tinkering with it. The final product is the definition of a mixed bag, featuring some of his highest highs and lowest lows. But thanks to streaming services, you can keep tinkering with it yourself, trimming all the fat and heinous couplets. Instead of 19 tracks, mine is a much more manageable 11.
Best Brotherly Love
Bear and the Beasts
My extremely talented brother-in-law has started a number of bands this decade, but Bear and the Beasts feels like the ultimate form of his sound – complete with horn section! – that blows me away, and would do so even if we weren’t related.
Most Unfairly Maligned
U2 – Songs of Innocence
I still maintain if a hipper artist had done exactly what U2 did – put their new album on your iPhone for free – they’d have been hailed as brilliant forward thinkers. But because few bands are as un-hip as U2, everyone bitched about it, often without even listening to the album. But it’s certainly among their best albums of this century, with the triumphant “Every Breaking Wave,” the heartbreaking “Song for Someone” and the intense “Raised by Wolves” as highlights.
And here are 50 more honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut:
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS
Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
Beach House – Bloom
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Lucy Dacus – Historian
Bill Fay – Life Is People
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
Foxing – Nearer My God
Foxygen – Hang
Kirk Franklin – Hello Fear
Friendly Fires – Pala
Gang of Youths – Go Farther in Lightness
The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever
The Hotelier – Goodness
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Jamie xx – In Colour
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Margo Price – All American Made
Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
The Roots – Undun
Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
Joan Shelley – Over and Even
Solange – A Seat at the Table
Chris Stapleton – Traveler
The Struts – Everybody Wants
SZA – Ctrl
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
The Walkmen – Lisbon
Wilco – The Whole Love
“Weird Al” Yankovic – Mandatory Fun
Yo La Tengo – OHM