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.
“There is a war inside my coreLykke Li, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”
I hear it fight, I hear it roar
Go ahead, go ahead
Lay your head where it burns.”
10. Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts
This album signifies a drastic turn in my early 2010s musical growth and sets the stage for this entire list. I have, I admit, come a long way into seeing the quality in quality music. I owe Norah Jones a lot of backtracking as I embark upon my 30s.
This is yet another album on these lists produced by Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse – I need someone to please keep track of how many I’ve listed already. It took Danger Mouse’s chill aesthetic to realize that Norah Jones is more vicious in her songwriting than she lets on.
Defining Moment: “After the Fall.” That’s prime NJ and DM in perfect harmony.
Bonus: For those of you in the know, you’ll recognize “Miriam,” which appears in my Halloween playlist. And that list is only reserved for the darkest of songs.
9. Delta Spirit – Into the Wild
I have no recollection of how I found this band and I don’t know where they came from. But, my goodness, there is no way this album received the notoriety it deserved. Hallowed be thy grit.
Defining Moment: I still have trouble figuring out if “The Wreck” is happy or sad, but I think therein lies the beauty.
8. Florence + the Machine – Cermonials
I give you permission to insert any other Florence +TM album released this decade into this list. This just happened to be the first chronologically and therefore the one I have listened to most.
Florence glows with a magnificent aura of an artistic marvel and vocal powerhouse. If you aren’t listening, listen well.
Defining Moment: “What the Water Gave Me.” That song could summon a typhoon with one of the great choruses you’ll hear this decade.
7. Jason Mraz – Love Is a Four Letter Word
I owe so much to this man and do not have the time nor space to flesh out why our history matters.
I was emotionally invested in this album, which came on the heels of Jason Mraz and his fiancee/fellow singer-songwriter Tristan Prettyman ending their engagement. The album is surprisingly not overcome with grief, but with a lighthearted expression of hope, joy and support.
I typed that last word – “support” – and it felt odd. After writing umpteen music reviews throughout my life, I can say that is a pretty rare feature in a song. But with songs about allowing your significant other to figure out themselves and being available (not necessarily present), there’s a bit of an unseen depth to what these songs mean.
Also, if you’ve been following the other lists: Oof, here’s another artist I forgot went through a disheveled phase.
Defining Moment: I saw him play “I’m Coming Over” (the hidden track) live during his encore for the tour supporting this album. He started on the stage playing by himself and, one by one, his band mates joined him until there were about a dozen people up there with him.
This does not sound like a remarkable occurrence, but it was oddly sweet and remains a concert performance that has never left me.
6. Kris Allen – Horizons
Year: 2014 (Previously reviewed on The Roundtable)
Everything I have to say about this album was discussed at the link above.
The TL;DR of it: Kris Allen exemplifies why shows like American Idol are not ideal methods of finding the next hit musicians. The contract you get for winning the competition stifles individual creativity and the artistry that propelled the artist into our hearts in the first place.
Defining Moment: My chest ablaze and hands on the wheel during a slushy winter night, events from that week were dangerously close to burning my heart into cinders. In a desperate moment of need, I found the perfect sounds to douse those unruly fires.
I think this album saved me that night from something truly dark.
5. Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire
This man has changed my life in ways I’m still trying comprehend. I believe Dustin to be among the great songwriters out there, with this album showcasing his brightest and finest.
“Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”
4. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Year: 2015 (The Roundtable’s No. 2 Album of 2015)
It is at this point that I realize the incisions upon my heart have been stitched together from many of the albums in this genre, making this a surprising case for the most personal of all the lists.
In an album about life and death, Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell came to me when I was reconciling both. When music makes you stronger, that is art doing its job.
Defining Moment: I have been to many live rock and metal shows in my day, but this man shook my core with a suffocating instrumental explosion like I have never felt before. I had no idea what was going on or how to describe it, but I know you cannot get that feeling through headphones.
Furthermore, his soliloquy on the bacteria in our bodies waiting to eat our bodies when we die runs through my head every day. That one-off tidbit helps me cope with existence.
3. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Year: 2014 (The Roundtable’s No. 3 album of 2014)
We’re riding the pain wave on this list, and the worst of it ends here. This stunning woman tapped into a depth of heartbreak I hope to never reach.
Defining Moment: When you can hear her choking up at the end of “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone.” To be used as if you are something less than human – brutal.
2. Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love
Year: 2014 (The Roundtable’s No. 4 album of 2014)
Paolo is one of the great voices of our age and should be revered as such. He has a rare universal appeal if you can tolerate any level of sophistication.
He is also the only artist on this list who has not put out music of any kind over the past five years, so I have bubbling anticipation for what is to come.
Defining Moment: On some splendid, rare occasions, you hear a song that cannot be bound by the restraints of love and sin, as it transcends into the realm of gods. “Iron Sky” is one of those songs.
1. Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
Years: 2016 (The Roundtable’s No. 1 album of 2016)
As exhibited in my original review, this album came around when my furious passion for social justice was at a tipping point. Yet, I also felt my most powerless.
One of the great lessons I’ve learned from the past 10 years is that having a voice does not necessarily mean you must speak. Bound by the rules of reality, I can understand the injustices put upon black men, but I cannot comprehend walking the street as one. I can say that I am a feminist, but, by definition, I cannot be. So, instead, I am left with choice. And if I don’t know what to do with that choice at this point, I have not been listening close enough.
Defining Moment: Many of you probably heard “Cold Little Heart” as the intro to Big Little Lies. It is a dazzling song, but did you also know that it is almost 10 minutes? And did you also know that it opens the album? And did you also know that Danger Mouse is making another cameo here?