A Decade of Albums in Review

Ah, New Year’s Eve. It’s that magical time when everyone likes to think back on the year and reminisce about all the memories they made, people they met, experiences they had and so on. But this New Year’s Eve, dear reader, this New Year’s Eve is different. It not only marks the end of another year gone by but also the passing of the past decade as we make our way into the 2020s. Looking back on the past 10 years fills us with nostalgia, especially when thinking about all the great music that has been released since 2010. Being a radio station, we thought it only fitting to compile our favorite albums of the decade so all of you can reminisce with us. We have no official ranking and spent much time debating and deliberating over which albums get to hold the title as one of our favorites of the decade, but we would like to present you with our 10 favorite albums of the decade, listed in chronological order.

2010: Vampire Weekend – Contra (Jan. 11)

Honorable Mentions: Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh

Ever have a solo dance party? Where you jump around your room, busting moves in front of a mirror, only for you to see? If not, I have the perfect record for you: Contra by Vampire Weekend. In 2008, Vampire Weekend, hailing from NYC, release their debut album. It was revolutionary.  Their second LP is nothing short of the first record’s legacy. Contra is jaunty, exuberant, and relatable. Chock full of songs that anyone and everyone will like while remaining deep and varied with the classic afro-punk textures that Vampire Weekend is known for, it is a fantastic piece of music – that’s why WLUW has chosen it to kick off our favorite records of the decade. The group has faced some (valid) controversy about their use of African beats in nearly every song. I can’t talk about the band without discussing this; it’s an important conversation. Here’s an interesting perspective on that topic. The record is filled with shorter songs – the average length is probably three minutes. However, a standout song is “Diplomat’s Son,” over six minutes long and an absolutely perfect ballad to dance/cry/study with, etc. A song that serves many purposes.  One of my favorite parts of the album is the mixture of natural sounds – violin, drums, xylophones – with computerized noises. They work together with lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice to create a gorgeous piece of music. – Elise McGannon; Favorite Songs: “Horchata,” “Holiday,” “Cousins”

2011: Bon Iver – Bon Iver (June 17)

Contrary to what the title may imply, Bon Iver’s self-titled album is not the artist’s debut; Bon Iver is Bon Iver’s second release. Although it wasn’t written in a secluded hunting cabin like 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver is nonetheless a breathtaking piece of artwork which deserves as much recognition. Bon Iver marks the artist’s transition from more traditional folk elements – which can certainly still be seen throughout much of the album – into more experimental musical ventures, exemplified in later albums 22, A Million and i,i. The album builds and unfolds over its 10 songs in a way that gives you chills and leaves you with nothing left to do but hit restart. “Beth/Rest” really might be my favorite song off of it – in high contest with “Holocene,” the first song I really loved by Bon Iver. “Best/Rest” is heavily inspired by 80s pop ballads and, as my best friend first suggested to me, is best listened to with headphones on a walk by yourself in the midst of an overcast day. Perhaps Bon Iver’s most experimental piece of music at the time, “Beth/Rest” seems the only appropriate way to close the album – it serves as a transitional period listeners held onto for five years before the release of their next album. I could live in the world it creates, float in it forever. – Morgan Ciocca; Favorite Songs: “Beth/Rest,” “Towers,” “Holocene”

2012: Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (July 10)

Frank Ocean made waves with his debut full-length album in 2012. At 24, Frank Ocean had established himself as one of the most deeply gifted lyricists of our time with the release of his debut full-length album, Channel Orange. As pointed out by Rolling Stone magazine, Frank Ocean “writes with a precise sense of place”; Channel Orange proves deeply his unprecedented abilities as storyteller and musician, drawing listeners in to his created world of witty lyrics and intense, at times reckless, emotion. “Thinkin Bout You,” of course, became an instant hit and continues to be a favorite among his fans. Turning into sort of a meme over the years, the song nonetheless stands today as a piece of emotional poetry, as Ocean is immortalized forever singing the words: “Yes, of course, I remember, how could I forget / how you feel? / You know you were my first time, a new feel / It won’t ever get old, not in my soul, not in my spirit, keep it alive / We’ll go down this road ’til it turns from color to black and white.” My younger brother is actually the person who introduced me to Frank’s music; at 14 years old he had become obsessed with this album and I remember him playing “Bad Religion” in the car, a song that places listeners pouring their soul out to their taxi driver: “Oh, unrequited love / To me, it’s nothin’ but a one-man cult / And cyanide in my styrofoam cup / I can never make him love me / Never make him love me.” Again, Ocean’s clear sense of place is starkly apparent as he takes us along for the ride of heartbreak; it feels like you’re listening to a friend and forms a real emotional connection with listeners. His emotional candor is so raw and real that you can’t help but feel his same pain like a punch in the gut. Frank Ocean’s lyrics – ranging from clever references and tongue-in-cheek wit to masterfully artistic prose – paired with his jaw-dropping vocal range come together to craft a masterful album that is both playful and a piece of musical genius, worthy of the pedestal it has been placed and remains upon. – Morgan Ciocca; Favorite Songs: “Forrest Gump,” “Thinkin Bout You,” “Monks”

2013: Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time (Oct. 29)

Nearly 7 years after its release, Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time continues to redefine modern pop music today as we know it. Despite all odds, whether it was her label grooming her in hopes of her rise as the next Britney Spears, or how they ceased their funds for producing the album after her persistent refusal to fit their mold, Ferreira fought tooth and nail to ensure this album saw the light of day. In true DIY pop fashion, Ferreira chose to fund the album into completion on her own. Ferreira faced obstacle after obstacle head on, which ultimately resulted in one of the most influential and monumental pop albums of our time. Ferreira’s attention to detail is superb. Her commitment to perfection pairs effortlessly with her knowledge of pop history, which is on full display throughout the album. As she bounces back and forth from 80’s synth music to 90’s grunge vocals, Ferreira is also unknowingly rewriting the future of indie pop music. Her honesty in songwriting roars through each track, as her magnetic demeanor and crooning vocals draw you in. Ferreira’s power is unstoppable from start to finish. This album serves as a testament to Ferreira coming into her own as a pop star on her own terms. – Olivia Cerza; Favorite Songs: “24 Hours,” “I Blame Myself,” “Heavy Metal Heart”

2014: Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Jan. 21)

Identity has often been a topic of discussion surrounding Against Me!’s career. With their early success landing them label signings and tours, many within the DIY punk community questioned their rise as a way of conforming. On Transgender Dysphoria Blues, though, the spotlight is solely on Laura Jane Grace and her own identity. Following an already successful career as an established musician within the punk scene, Grace announced that she was transgender in 2012. This album allows the listener a chance to understand her experience through her own perspective. Throughout the album, Grace’s voice is a whirlwind of emotions. Her powerful and fiery lyrics punch through each track, emphasizing that her authenticity is immovable and intentional. Each song is an anthem to authenticity and a battle cry for equality and acceptance. With a career that has often faced questions of authenticity, nothing is truly more punk rock then Grace’s unapologetic acceptance of herself, its resulting allowance of the queer community into the sometimes harsh punk scene, and her bold middle finger to anyone that questions her. – Olivia Cerza; Favorite Songs: “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Fuckmylife666,” “Black Me Out”

2015: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (March 15)

Honorable Mention: Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

After the release of good kid, m.A.A.d. city, it didn’t seem like Kendrick Lamar could go much higher. But To Pimp a Butterfly was an explosion of creative energy, a swirling of hip-hop, jazz, p-funk, politics, self-love, self-hate, frustration and joy. Despite being heady and high-concept, the album instantly became a cultural beacon, with the Pharrell-featuring “Alright” becoming a staple at protests across the U.S. Structuring the album around a single poem, one which Lamar recites throughout the album, Lamar strings together a bevy of motifs and themes in a series of vignettes that attempt to paint a picture of Lamar’s experience as a black American. To Pimp a Butterfly presents itself as a quilt made of many different fabrics, and it’s this messy quality that makes the whole of the album so appealing. Though it may not be Lamar’s most popular album, it will likely be looked back on as his biggest artistic risk and ultimately his most important work. – Jamie McMillin; Favorite Songs: “Wesley’s Theory,” “Alright,” “u”

2016: Noname – Telefone (July 31)

Honorable Mention: Frank Ocean – Blonde

With her debut record Telefone, Noname makes the political personal. Telefone manages to be at once somber and wholesome. There’s a cuteness to much of the instrumentals, reflecting the sounds of glee clubs and music boxes. There’s a warmth to the different synths and organs used throughout the album, creating a church-like sense of welcoming, something which is tied together by the softness of Noname’s voice. But on top of this foundation, Noname constructs a lyrical monument to her lost peers and loved ones. She explores the discouragement and self-doubt she faces as a young black artist living in Chicago. She explores death on almost every track – the death of her grandmother, her mentor, she often ruminates on her terminated pregnancy. Somehow, she manages to cobble together a message of hope, self-belief and community. This direct interplay between these two disparate themes is best executed on the introduction, “Yesterday,” on which Noname reflects on the death of her mentor and friend Brother Mike: “When the sun is going down / When the dark is out to stay / I picture your smile, like it was yesterday.” – Jamie McMillin; Favorite Songs: “Yesterday,” “Shadow Man,” “Forever”

2017: Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (Sept. 22)

Honorable Mentions: SZA – Ctrl; St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

This is one of my favorite albums of all time. A masterpiece from beginning to end, Stranger in the Alps showcases, in my opinion, the sheer talent and ability of one of the best songwriters of our generation. Truly both a poet and a storyteller, Phoebe is strikingly raw and emotional in her lyricism. Her instrumentals are heartbreakingly beautiful throughout the entire album; it’s hard to pick favorites, and I often listen to Stranger in the Alps as a whole instead of individual songs. The lyrics hit you hard with their honesty – I tried to pick and choose examples but there is no sample that feels like it can capture their emotion out of context. I don’t know what else I can say than this album gives me full-body chills and you have to listen to it to understand. From a lament on mortality in “Funeral” to an imagined conversation with an ex in “Scott Street” to a fictionalized depiction of Sid and Nancy in “Chelsea,” you may cry while listening to this album – but it’s surely a worthy cause. – Morgan Ciocca; Favorite Songs: “Scott Street,” “Demi Moore,” “Motion Sickness”

2018: Mitski – Be the Cowboy (Aug. 17)

Honorable Mentions: Lala Lala – The Lamb; Lucy Dacus – Historian

Placing ourselves in 2018, WLUW decided that Mitski’s Be the Cowboy really hit the nail on the head as far as cultural relevance and popularity among our DJs and listeners. Mitski is a staple of college radio music and indie rock because of her poetically soul-crushing lyricism and magnetic performance style. Be the Cowboy is Mitski’s fifth studio album and she still managed to pump out hits like “Nobody” and “Geyser.” Furthermore, 2018 really saw the rise of the cowgirl/cowboy in social media and subsequent albums. Kacey Musgraves, Big Thief, and Orville Peck followed suit in 2018 and 2019 with their charismatic folk and country-inspired albums. Mitski was on the forefront of this movement, using her cowboy imagery both in reference to American culture and as a songwriting device. – Allison Lapinski; Favorite Songs: “Lonesome Love,” “Washing Machine Heart,” “A Horse Named Cold Air”

2019: Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs (March 8)

Honorable Mentions: Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaires Club; Mannequin Pussy – Patience; Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center

Stella Donnelly is WLUW’s top album of 2019 for a few reasons. The artistry with which Stella paints a horrifying portrait of modern-day struggles, with such beautiful sound and overtones, is apparent throughout the 13 songs. A theme of empowerment against abusers is introduced early-on in the album with debut track “Old Man,” in which Donnelly bleakly sings, “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face.” Released prior to the “#okboomer” meme, “Old Man” perfectly sums up how many young people feel about antiquated ideas like victim-blaming and predatory behavior from older generations. 2019 truly was the year for abusive corporations, musicians, and politicians to “beware of the dogs”; as we have seen across trials to impeachment hearings, the dirty and disgusting shit that you hide under the rug will come out eventually. “Boys Will Be Boys” is an ode to women who were silenced prior to the Me Too movement, calling out existing stereotypes surrounding sexual harassment. Donnelly takes a stand, asking abusers and apologists: “Would you blame your little sister, if she cried to you for help?” One final reason to love Stella’s album is her sheer charming and carefree attitude behind the microphone. “Seasons Greetings” is a particularly resonant song to listen to during the holidays, as you may struggle to deal with the political views of certain family members. And the corresponding music video is just as hilarious as it is brilliant, with Stella as the centerpiece of a dysfunctional family dinner. – Allison Lapinski; Favorite Songs: “Boys Will Be Boys,” “Tricks,” “Season’s Greetings”

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