Determining the “best” album of a single year is hard enough, let alone a whole decade. Though I have amassed a great collection of musical experiences over the past 10 years, it’s only fair that I relegate these posts as “favorites” in lists that follow my own arbitrary rules.
” Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strongJanelle Monáe, “Cold War”
May all evil stumble as it flies in the world
All the tribes come and the mighty will crumble
We must brave this night and have faith in love.”
10. Usher – Looking 4 Myself
Year: 2012 (The Roundtable’s No. 9 album of 2012)
Oh, how I hoped this album become would be the cornerstone for pop’s future sound. Alas, tropical house nuked all hopes of that in the middle of decade and morphed into this current iteration of pop. It’s not for 30-year-olds, I can tell you that much.
Nearly eight years later, I stand by Usher’s sound here and it still holds up.
Defining Moment: I finish every run envisioning myself as Usher at the 3:20 in the video above. There are about four songs on this album that are pure energy, with “Euphoria” bringing about endless chills.
9. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
This album is pure art. I have not been able to unpack this masterpiece for all it is worth, but when you know, you know.
Defining Moment: The first full track, “Don’t Bother Calling,” stunned me upon first listen. Those vocals hover in thin air and do not bother finding ground.
8. Jorja Smith – Lost and Found
Transport to somber realms through vintage ambiance and a voice of fierce vulnerability. Jorja is on an ascent to stardom.
Defining Moment: “The One” ambles along that sweet spot of a relationship before it becomes a relationship: “I don’t want to need no one/I’m not tryna let you in/Even if I’ve found the one.” That is savage independence.
7. Con Brio – Explorer
If you want a dead giveaway that the music industry doesn’t know a lick about good music, consider that this band’s most popular song has 264K streams on Spotify. Let’s fix that right now. Belting songs of peace and love like Powerline from A Goofy Movie, Con Brio is an undeniably good time.
Defining Moment: “Royal Rage” rules.
6. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Year: 2010 (The Roundtable’s No. 9 Album of 2010)
There are certain artists who truly glow when you throw them into assorted playlists. When a Janelle Monae song pops on, verbs happen. Visions occur. Everything else is dull in comparison. I used to think she was weird when this album came out, but 10 years later, I see the genius.
Defining Moment: I just listened to “Cold War” again, and it’s up there with any song this decade. How is there a guitar solo in there?
5. Solange – A Seat at the Table
You can see a woman evolve into a butterfly here in real time. Glossy, intricate sounds envelop the black experience as one woman comes to understand her place in world and the possibilities within.
Defining Moment: This is an unpopular opinion, but I enjoyed this album better than her sister’s album from the same year.
4. SZA – Z
Discovering this after her critically acclaimed CTRL‘s release, I didn’t realize how much SZA’s sound had changed. Z boasts more of a shimmer than its successor, personified by the textured production and kaleidoscopic vocals. It’s a hidden treasure by one of the great artists to emerge this decade.
Defining Moment: “Shattered Ring” elicits tears before you even know what’s going on. It is a grand spectacle and vague enough to be as crushing as you can possibly imagine.
3. Khalid – Free Spirit
Year: 2019 (The Roundtable’s TBD album of 2019)
Oh ho ho! You have stumbled upon a rarity – a 2019 album to make the all-decade list. You will have to stay tuned for the 2019 year-end list, my loyal birdies.
Defining Moment: Once this album hits the second half, it reaches unbelievable heights. I choked back tears twice upon first listen, which has rarely happened in all my years.
2. Daley – Days & Nights
Year: 2014 (The Roundtable’s No. 2 Album of 2014)
Milky. Neo. Soul.
How I wish I could call upon this album’s comforting heartache when I was in high school. Because I have been married for almost the entire time this album has been out, I have not experienced the full capabilities of Days & Nights. The nights where you come home alone and wonder how it all went wrong. The nights where you pray for another chance. The nights where love is the worst pain imaginable.
Defining Moment: I always introduce eager listeners to Daley via “Broken,” a banger of a bummer. Sick beat, universal heartbreak, catchy hook – that’s the recipe for a hit, baby.
1. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Year: 2012 (The Roundtable’s No. 1 album of 2012)
I will quote my 23-year-old self:
“But, even for great narrators, a fitting ambiance is essential. Channel Orange goes everywhere musically, from the sweet and pitch-perfect “Thinkin Bout You” to the jazzy “Sweet Life.” His creation of these worlds, musically and vocally, is a true novelty.”-The Roundtable’s Best Albums of 2012
I thoroughly enjoy compiling these lists because I get to revisit these albums with a broader perspective. Going back through Channel Orange on the day of this writing has been even more delightful than it was in 2012.
Defining Moment: “Pyramids” is one of the rare landmark song of our lifetime. Cherish it for all that it is and be blessed that it resides within this space and time. It is the only 10-minute song I have ever had on repeat.