This is a list of my favourite fifty albums of the last ten years, from 2010-2019. Making this list has been fun, arduous, and more time consuming than I’d care to admit. I’ve been putting it together in bits of spare time over the past year or so. It has involved a lot of revisiting albums, thinking about albums, and listening to new albums that kept coming out as I was going. For every album I ended up including, there was another album (or two, or three) I had to cut to make room.
Why was I so excited to put this list together? It was a much more fulfilling list to make than my usual end-of-year round-up. Perhaps it is because the last ten years more or less map onto the first ten years of my adult life. Music has always been a big part of my life, and so making this list was to some extent a process of going back over the soundtrack of my 20s, seeing how my tastes have expanded and mutated over the years, and how my life has changed too. It certainly brought back lots of memories.
A few words on the nature of the list. I’ve stuck to a rule of one album per artist. The list would be very different otherwise, but I think that rule makes for a more interesting read. It’s safe to say that the majority of the artists below (though not all) released other wonderful albums within the same time span. Some of them released more than one truly great album, which necessitated a bit of hand-wringing over which to choose. I’ve generally mentioned that in my write-ups where it’s occurred.
The ordering has been agonised over, carefully thought through; and yet it remains, as it must, imperfect. Ranking things is an inherently silly thing to do. But it’s fun. It’s also worth remembering that this is a piece of writing first, and a ranking second. Sometimes the ordering reflects that. It’s also a very personal list. It’s a list of favourites, not a best of. Having said that, I’ve not included anything for purely personal reasons. That is, I would contend that each one of these fifty albums is very good in their own right, separate from my attachment to them. Each is worth any curious listener’s time and attention.
I have tried to keep my write-ups for each album short and varied. Sometimes I have described what I think is good about the record in as simple and clear a way as I could. Sometimes I have taken a more oblique approach. Sometimes I’ve given context, and sometimes I’ve left you to do the research yourself if you’re not already familiar. Hopefully this mix of styles keeps things fresh rather than being infuriating. The aim is, as always, to inspire you to listen, either again or anew. I’ve provided a link to a key track for each album as a taster.
Of course, such a list can never be a full picture: only a snapshot. I surprised myself by what ended up being cut. Any picture of my listening of the decade would have to include a lot of artists who aren’t on this list, both big names and personal favourites. I’m going to resist the temptation to list them here, partially to avoid spoilers and partially because any such list would be incomplete. But suffice to say, just because someone isn’t on the list certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t find a lot to admire and enjoy in their work across the decade.
A decade is only significant because we make it significant. If we didn’t have a decimal numeral system, it wouldn’t feel significant at all. And maybe it isn’t? But these albums are. Or they are to me. For the past ten years, I have spent a significant part of my free time listening to albums, giving them my full attention, approaching them with an open mind and open ears. These were the fifty best ones I heard.
50. Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here?
We kick off with Emeralds: spirals of glittering synth arpeggios whipped up into tornadoes of komiche splendour. These are huge compositions, gathering in the speakers like weather systems. They spin in and out of field. This is absolutely a nighttime record, and should only be listened to between the hours of, let’s say, 11pm-4am. It should also be listened to as loud as possible. It reminds me of driving home late at night from my girlfriend’s house, through the dark woods of Woodbury Common. The limbs of the trees overhang the road, flickering like ghosts in the headlight beams. I feel myself as a small presence in the universe.
Taster track: Candy Shoppe
49. Women – Public Strain
A modern post-punk masterpiece, Public Strain is the very definition of a grower. At first, the overwhelmingly muddy, lo-fi production and twisting, nonlinear song structures are hard to find one’s way around it: a monochrome maze of alleyways and dark passages that feel like unnecessary detours on the way to final track ‘Eyesore’, the obvious and immediate highlight. But as you listen more, as you get to know the maze, the journey becomes almost as thrilling as the destination: full of subtle melodic payoffs and buried harmonies. I say ‘almost’. ‘Eyesore’ will always remain the highlight, its final intertwined guitar-and-bass riff (you know the one I mean if you’ve heard it: that riff) the shimmering culmination of what the rest of the album is building towards. It always makes me tear up a little, partially because of guitarist Chris Reimer’s tragic death shortly after the album was released — as the song fades out, I imagine that riff continuing on forever, somewhere up in heaven.
Taster track: Eyesore
48. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Recorded in St. Peter’s Church in Dorset, some five years before the Brexit referendum, this album has taken on a new life for me since 2016. It now seems to foreshadow the shaky, post-Brexit/pre-Brexit nightmare we find ourselves in daily, with all its attendant ugliness: “Goddamn Europeans, take me back to beautiful England!” she sings on ‘The Last Living Rose’. You can hear the words reverberating in the church. The sound is damp and very British, but also furious and angry. War is another recurrent theme: Harvey sings with gritty poetry of “young men, hiding with guns, in the dirt” (‘In the Dark Places’) and soldiers who’ve “seen and done things they want to forget; seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat, blown and shot out beyond belief” (‘The Words That Maketh Murder’). It is some of her finest songwriting, backed by instrumentation which is somehow lush, understated, and earthy all at once.
Taster track: The Last Living Rose
47. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
A ‘nepenthe’ is a cure for sadness, a medicine. Barwick’s record is undeniably uplifting — there are moments here where soft pillows of choral voices break over each other like huge, shifting, cumulonimbus clouds lined with golden light, moments that sound heavenly. But any medicine for sadness must contain sadness within it, the hair of the dog. What stops Nepenthe from tipping over into the saccharine, what lifts it to the level of transcendence, is a continually churning darkness: moments that evoke not choirs of angels but night falling over a windswept field, or the pitch-hued mystery of a deep lake. The Magic Place is gentler; Will is darker still; but it is Nepenthe where Barwick strikes the perfect balance between light and dark, night and day.
Taster track: Forever
46. Mary Lattimore – At the Dam
It’s such a simple idea that it is hard to believe no one has done it before: long, improvised runs of harp, twisted and coiled by live electronic effects. The result is extremely relaxing, but also has a spookiness and otherworldliness to it that reminds me a little of Karen Russell’s short stories: its magic has a little shagginess to it, the electronics fraying the harp around its edges. This is not the music of the stars, but of the amateur astronomer camped out in the desert, wrapped up in a scruffy jumper, searching out wonder with their telescope. The titles suggest the start of a story — ‘Otis Walks into the Woods’, ‘Ferris wheel, January’ — and the listener is left to search out the rest. I’ve picked At the Dam as I find it the clearest, simplest expression of her central musical idea, but Lattimore has produced a whole body of wonderful work this decade, much of it in collaboration with other artists, and it’s all well worth exploring.
Taster track: Otis Walks into the Woods
45. Colleen – The Weighing of the Heart
Anchored in Cécile Schott’s expressive playing of the viola da gamba, an instrument which looks like a cross between a cello and a guitar, this is an album which is full of surprises and curveballs. Like Lattimore, Schott uses loop pedals and electronics to augment her playing; like Lattimore, these effects are never used out of laziness, but only to develop the compositions further. Bells, clarinets, a wonderful barrage of organ (at the climax of ‘Moonlit Sky’) and various other instruments, as well as a few simple sung vocals here and there, are all used to similar effect: to add moments of wonder and delight. Though intricate it is never fussy, and though complex it is never difficult: it is a record of simple pleasures. Fitting, then, that the highlight for me is the simplest track of all, the solo viola de gamba performance ‘Geometría del Universo’, which thrills through nothing more than its lively, virtuoso playing.
Taster track: Geometría del Universo
44. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
In just a few short years, Big Thief have become one of the most exciting bands in America. On last year’s U.F.O.F, their finest album yet, they combined raw emotion, felt like a cut to the body, with spectral dreaminess, little magical touches that flicker around the edges of the music. The result is utterly beguiling. Like all their music, it is built on a few key ingredients: the naked vulnerability of Adrienne Lenker’s voice; her sometimes uncomfortably precise and wounding lyrics; and the subtle, imaginative playing of her three band members. What really makes the band special, though, is the clear bond the four musicians have with each other, both musically and personally. Listening to this, I picture four friends stood huddled in a river, facing inwards, the water up to their knees. Cattails sway by the riverbank. They spy a U.F.O. in the distance, an eerie orange light high up in the huge, open sky — but it isn’t scary, because they’re with each other, maintaining contact.
Taster track: U.F.O.F.
43. Jlin – Black Origami
Black Origami is a barrage of rhythms that never settle into a groove, but keep folding in on themselves. It sounds like a New Year’s Day Parade along an Escher’s staircase: military drums, steel drums, footwork drums, electronic drums, all come marching past and then reappear again upside-down, sideways, back-to-front, overlapping in new configurations. The party ends up in the steel mill critics can’t stop mentioning, where there’s an impromptu dance competition among the workers: bodies folding, twisting into impossible shapes, each trying to one-up and out-do the other. They’re bending sheet metal, spinning on poles. Shafts of sunlight enter through a crack in the grimy window, little bullets of silence. The marching band comes crashing in again through the doors of the emergency exit. The manager’s upstairs playing Resident Evil, and sometimes the sounds of the game come spilling out of his door.
Taster track: Nyakinyua Rise
42. Sun Araw – On Patrol
On Patrol is psychedelic dub music, so lo-fi it’s no-fi, the sound blown out and waterlogged. The trippy nature of this album is furthered for me by a weird glitch on my burnt CD copy: a scratch on the surface causes the last track ‘Holodeck Blues’ to judder near the end, stutter for a few seconds, then start playing an endless loop of mid-album highlight ‘Deep Cover’ until you press stop. I have never bothered burning another copy: that digital equivalent of a locked groove, that warping back to the middle, is now a unique part of the album as I know it. (It helps that ‘Deep Cover’ is one of the few songs I could listen to on repeat forever.) The album is a total, transportive experience: close my eyes, and I’m travelling through a cyberpunk swampland, smoke billowing from the back of a busted bayou boat. There are mutant alligators in the water staring up at me with their neon green eyes. We pass a burnt out car sinking into the mud. Its radio is still playing ‘Deep Cover’ on that loop.
Taster track: Deep Cover
41. Destroyer – Poison Season
The grittier, moodier middle cousin of Dan Bejar’s loose trilogy of records this decade, Poison Season takes the sophisti-pop of Kaputt and dusts it a up bit: it’s a bit more weather-beaten and weary in its tone, if not its sound. Both are masterly, near-perfect albums, but while Kaputt had the greater impact more widely, Poison Season just has the edge for me personally. (The third, ken, is great too.) In Bejar’s hands these swooning, sumptuous, sax-slick songs become surreal and transportive, a trip through an ersatz past.
Taster track: Times Square
40. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here…
By far the best reunion record of the decade, We got it from Here… was that impossible thing: a comeback album from a legacy act that somehow not only didn’t disappoint, but that actually built on and furthered the legacy. This easily stands up with The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders as Quest’s top-tier work. It is as good as, if not better than, those early 90s classics. It does that by having it both ways: it is absolutely the classic Quest sound (‘Ego’ and ‘Whateva Will Be’, in particular, sound like long-lost cuts left off those earlier albums), but it is also absolutely contemporary, absolutely — both lyrically and musically — an album of 2016. ‘The Space Program’ and ‘We the People’ are the best one-two punch opener on a hip-hop album I can think of; closer ‘The Donald’ is genuinely moving. It’s a 90s and a 2010s classic, rolled up into one.
Taster track: We the People
39. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
A subtle, supple techno album built around various combinations of deep, muffled bass, slightly off-beat rhythms, lots of soft and eerie reverb, and the texture and hiss of Stott’s piano teacher’s voice, which is heavily sampled throughout. The result is a highly interior sound world, full of atmosphere, like fog creeping through the mind, gradually enveloping it. Yet within this essentially monochrome landscape, Stott finds surprising variety — no two tracks sound the same. They’re also liable to do unexpected things midway, as on the title track, where what sounds like a higher fidelity song occasionally stumbles for a few seconds into the mix (see 2:06 for the first example). Stott has continued to tease out new possibilities from this sound world on subsequent albums Faith in Strangers and Too Many Voices, but this remains his high point so far.
Taster track: Luxury Problems
38. Caribou – Swim
If Luxury Problems is an example of dance music in monochrome, then Caribou’s fifth album Swim is its opposite: dance music in technicolour. The record has a unique energy to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Everything is slightly oversaturated. It’s a damp, wet sound, but a bright and sunny one too: the results are full of rainbows, like light catching water spraying from a fire hose. It’s as if various strains of minimal electronic music, including house and techno, met sunny psychedelic pop and had a weird, mutated lovechild. I can’t think of anything else like it: it’s a total kaleidoscope of sound. (Side note: For a record that’s so sunny and outdoorsy, most of my memories of listening to this are weirdly in kitchens. The coiled energy of ‘Sun’ and ‘Bowls’ are surprisingly good for cooking to.)
Taster track: Bowls
37. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
One of the best debut albums I heard this decade, Moses is certainly one to watch for the 2020s: I’m very excited for the follow-up, græ, later this year. He has a gorgeous, crooning voice, which is set here in a hugely exciting variety of different contexts: an internet-enabled journey through rock, R&B, experimental electronics, pop, folk and field recordings. Despite those different influences, the album is full of space, each of its musical elements starkly highlighted against a surrounding bed of silence: like the floating body on its striking cover, its shape sharp against the white wall. The resulting sound is like Matisse’s cutouts, with Sumney’s voice the scissors gliding swan-like through the paper.
Taster track: Doomed
36. Amen Dunes – Freedom
This is tough like chewing on a piece of ginger, and it grooves like a rattling train. Populated with fallen surf heroes, glue addicts, Roman emperors, Melville characters, vampires and Napoli thugs, it is an exploration of self as refracted through others. Cut through this and it’s like taking a knife to carbon fibre: tightly wound threads encased in a soft-touch sheen. Perfect, masterful songwriting. Enough said.
Taster track: Believe
35. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Across three albums, Mitski has developed a wholly unique songwriting voice, one marked as much by what she leaves out as what she leaves in. Often, on Be the Cowboy, she gives us what feels like one verse and one chorus, with the second half of the song apparently chopped off, or else skipped over to get to the coda. That sounds easy enough, but it isn’t: most songs with such a structure would simply sound like a song with two parts, free from the idea of verses and choruses altogether. How do you imbue a song with that sense of phantom limbs? I’m not sure, but Mitski continually does it, and the songs are all the more powerful because of it. The same is true of her lyrics, which often seem to simultaneously reveal too much and yet not give anything away. She’ll give us a feeling or an object or a character, evoked with such piercing detail that it feels confessional, and yet leave the other parts of the story implied, ghostlike. That mirroring of songwriting with lyric-writing, each simultaneously concealing and revealing, is what makes her so riveting.
Taster track: A Pearl
34. Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa
Utterly infectious, catchy melodies collide with complex, clattering Congolese rhythms and punk energy in this one-of-a-kind album. Hailing from the streets of Kinshasa, where much of the band still live and busk, Mbongwana Star are a ferociously talented seven-piece who smash together African and European ideas with abandon. You can smell and feel the busy, bustling city in this music. Yet, at the same time, there is also something wonderfully spacey about it, as suggested by the astronaut-like figure on cover: the first track (and original album title) is ‘From Kinshasa to the Moon’, which gives some idea of where the album is going to take you. This is music which is simultaneously hyper-local and interplanetary.
Taster track: Nganshe
33. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Stereogum infamously dismissed this album as “just fucking puzzles”. Well, you know what? I like puzzles. If piecing together these cracked, fragmented songs is the sonic equivalent of doing a cryptic crossword, then sign me the hell up. In truth, the lyrics, while full of metaphor and wordplay, are often clear and powerful in their evocations of modern life; they are certainly less opaque than, say, Bon Iver, who Fleet Foxes were in their early days often grouped together with. The songs, meanwhile, are beautiful, intricate things: if they are puzzles, then they are those carefully crafted wooden ones, full of delicate moving parts. As usual, beautiful harmonies and top-notch musicianship are on display throughout. The production is also lush and inviting. It’s a real treasure of an album, I think.
Taster track: Third of May / Ōdaigahara
32. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Titanic Rising sounds like a classic 1970s Californian singer-songwriter album, but its concerns are thoroughly contemporary: climate change, online dating, the loneliness of 21st century life. There is so much care and love that has gone into this album, right down to its immediately iconic front cover, which was created by building a real bedroom set and then submerging it (along with Natalie Mering herself) in water. That care is reflected in the immaculate sequencing, mixing, and mastering of the album itself, not to mention the quality of the songs. Even from the first few singles it was clear Mering was onto something special here. Yet who could predict how grandly theatrical (or rather, as album highlight ‘Movies’ would suggest, cinematic) the whole thing would sound when put together? It feels to me like the soundtrack to a long-lost musical, and is so evocative that I can follow along with it, picturing the characters and scenes as it unfolds. It is a complete, front-to-back, fully absorbing experience.
Taster track: Movies
31. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
For me, the quintessential London jazz album of the 2010s. I remember buying UK jazz albums a decade ago, stuff like Polar Bear, Portico Quartet, Roller Trio, Led Bib and the like. Some of that is really good music, but it always felt a little bit safe somehow, even when it was, on the surface, noisy or abrasive. The last decade, though, has seen UK jazz evolve into something vital. Now many of the same players (Seb Rochford from Polar Bear, for example, joins in on most of Your Queen…) are playing jazz like they invented it, like they have something urgent to communicate. Perhaps it is the chaos of the times. This is a fiery and political record, reminding me of 70s jazzmen like Art Blakey, Bubbha Thomas and Max Roach, how they made jazz into something urgent and political. Like all the best jazz, it is promiscuous, always with one foot in other genres, borrowing, imitating, thinking forward. At the same time, I’m struck by how it does so much with so little: it’s a very minimal album, just sax, drums and tuba. In contrast to the cosmic searching of Shabaka Hutchings’s other (also brilliant) band, The Comet is Coming, Sons of Kemet’s sound is stripped back, pared to the essentials, and defiantly earthbound.
Taster track: My Queen is Harriet Tubman
30. Jolie Holland – Wine Dark Sea
A hugely underrated talent, Holland really stretched out and shot for something very ambitious on her sixth album Wine Dark Sea. Mixing jazz, folk, blues, rock and country, the album is something like a celebration of different guitar textures. There are a lot of guitars on this thing. The liner notes in the album’s booklet describes them wonderfully, as it tries to indicate who plays which part: “ranting, weeping guitar”; “clonking, detuned rhinoceros guitar”; “solemnly witnessing guitar”; “rhythmy shimmery guitar”; “arsonist guitar (enters at solo)”; “space cows coming home to roost”; “Cy Twombly mandolin”, etc. The result is an album which is highly textural, in places almost abstract, but is at the same time anchored by a number of brilliant, quite traditional country and blues songs. An overlooked gem of an album.
Taster track: On and On
29. Grouper – A | A
Grouper’s songs are so muffled one can barely hear them. Using a simple palette of sounds, consisting mostly of piano, distorted electric guitar and voice, she constructs miniature worlds, then buries those worlds under layers and layers of dust and static. The effect is haunted, and haunting. There’s nothing quite like it — it captures a particular emotion so evocatively that when I feel that emotion, there’s only Grouper to turn to. The closest I could get to describing it is that it sounds like the peace one feels walking in a graveyard, or along a bleak beach on a wintry day. There is sadness in it, yes, but it isn’t depressing, nor is it especially pensive or melancholy: it is just a warm sadness without the wish to dissipate it. She has many wonderful albums, which are remarkably different from each other considering her relatively niche aesthetic, but A | A, which consists of two parts, Dream Loss and Alien Observer, is her masterpiece.
Taster track: Vapor Trails
28. Mountain Man – Made the Harbor
When one thinks of music that foregrounds the voice, one tends to think of big, powerful, individual voices: the powerhouses of soul, perhaps, or folk singers with unique cadences. (I’ll leave you to fill in your own examples.) But I can think of no record that captures the pure physical pleasure of singing — the feeling of breath going in and out of the diaphragm, of hearing your voice move from inside to outside — more than this one. Mountain Man are three women, singing folk songs, some originals and some covers, some sung in harmony and some in the round, sometimes with a little acoustic guitar for backup, often simply a cappella. That’s all there is to it, pretty much, but the effect is spellbinding. Just really magical. The songs are all wonderful, too — I carry them with me, and have sung them in all sorts of places. (I have a particular memory of wandering in a coffee plantation in Vietnam and singing ‘Mouthwings’.)
Taster track: Mouthwings
27. Julian Lynch – Mare
Like putting on a really comfy pair of old slippers, or drinking a cold beer on a hot day, there is something immediately comforting about Mare. Yet there are musical ideas here that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anywhere else — really unique approaches to composition and texture. You’re just not going to find anyone shouting from the rooftops about it. It’s not that sort of album. It’s comfy, and warm, and all too easy to take for granted. I love it. It’s my fuzzy jumper album, my slice of apple pie album, my never-fails-me pick-me-up album. It’s an album that reminds me how small things can make a difference.
Taster track: In New Jersey
26. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
The Caretaker’s music is an investigation into themes of memory and forgetting. Stitched together from samples of old, poor-condition 78s, mostly pre-WWII ballroom jazz records, the work recalls William Basinski’s use of decaying recordings to evoke particular emotions (most famously in The Disintegration Loops, which I wrote a long essay about here). Here the particular emotions come from the nostalgia of the old ballroom tunes in combination with the loss and degradation implied by the vinyl noise and static. The idea is a relatively simple one, but the effect is complex and profound. As the album advances, the samples become more fragmented and distorted, dropping out sometimes from one of the stereo channels; one feels the past literally slipping away. Memories becomes confused: ‘Mental Caverns Without Sunshine’ plays again, a few tracks after it has already played.
The Caretaker’s more recent work has been linked more explicitly to Alzheimer’s disease, and has been made on a much larger canvas — his most recent project, Everywhere at the End of Time, unfolds over six-and-a-half hours, with the last few hours reaching new levels of disintegration, degradation and, eventually, total loss. That project is remarkable, and admirably ambitious, but Empty Bliss remains the more powerful experience for me because of its concision: one can sense the whole of a life lived and lost in under an hour. It is also more open to interpretation: it could be someone remembering, or someone forgetting; it could be a lost world, or a world that never existed to begin with; it could be the Titanic sinking as the band plays on.
Taster track: Mental Caverns Without Sunshine
25. Atlas Sound – Parallax
Shortly before the release of Parallax, Bradford Cox released, for free on the internet, four volumes of demos and home-recorded sketches called Bedroom Databank, Vols. 1-4. In that collection was an early version of ‘Mona Lisa’, which sounded to me like someone singing alone in their bedroom into a hairbrush, imagining themselves on a stage surrounded by people, longing to be a star.
On the cover of Parallax, Cox is that star, chiaroscuro-lit, clutching a vintage microphone. And on the version of ‘Mona Lisa’ which sits at the centre of this album, he sounds like the inverse of the singer in the demo: someone up on stage, singing to hundreds, but longing in their mind to be back in their bedroom, back on their own. That clever effect comes from Cox’s talent as a singer, which is often overlooked. But it is also emblematic of the particular mood of this album, which is all about loneliness. It contains several haunting moments: I particularly admire how much work the word ‘probably’ does in the title track’s chorus: “your pain is probably equal”. It is as cutting and exact a line as any I’ve heard sung. Then there is the howl of pain on the closing ‘Lightworks’, where Cox sings “everywhere I look there is a light and it will guide me”: you desperately want to believe him, but hear, in his voice, that it probably isn’t true. All of this is in addition to the album’s main draw, which is, as always, Cox’s brilliant, sticky, intuitive way with melody: as Bedroom Databank shows, songs seem to just pour out of the man. Whether on his own or with his band Deerhunter, he is one of our best living songwriters.
24. Four Tet – There is Love In You
While the whole thing is Four Tet at his finest, it is the first twelve minutes of this album that really shine: one of the best one-two album opening punches I’ve ever heard. We begin with ‘Angel Echoes’, four minutes of circling drums and synth washes coming into view over the horizon. Glockenspiel arrives. The ghost of the album title is formed in the way the almost wordless female vocals are cut together. More elements arrive: it becomes difficult to keep track. It is like new love fluttering into being inside your ribcage. Everything comes closer and closer, and then collapses.
Enter ‘Love Cry’: 9 minutes, 14 seconds of total, unadulterated musical pleasure, every microsecond of it controlled to deliver as much of a hit as possible. We begin in the rubble of the previous track, with what sounds like photocopier noises, which then coalesce into a faint rhythm. Wisps and whirrs of other sounds flicker around the edges. Then, at 1:05, a double drum hit: like someone falling through a door. (It reminds me a little of the famous kicking-down-the-door drum hit that opens Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, only it feels more like a tumble.) A shuffling drum rhythm starts up, shifts around, sometimes building up as though about to take off, sometimes muffling down to just a kick drum. Finally, a voice arrives: ‘love cry… love cry… love cry…’ Those two words, repeated over and over, contain more than many whole songs. That is life, no? Sometimes you love, sometimes you cry. There is joy, there is pain. The way the two are stitched together, the word ‘cry’ always feels like it is surprising the word ‘love’ — even on the hundredth repetition it feels unexpected. We are never ready for pain.
Taster track: Love Cry
23. Panda Bear – Tomboy
Brian Wilson described the Beach Boys’ Smile, the never-finished follow-up to Pet Sounds, as a “teenage symphony to God”. In 2011, The Smile Sessions was released, assembling the recordings from the abandoned sessions to resemble the album Brian had intended to make, producing the closest thing to a finished Smile we’ll ever get. (Side note: it is astonishing. I decided it didn’t really ‘count’ as an album ‘of the decade’, recorded as it was back in the 60s, but if you do want to count it then please move it up to number one on this list. Or maybe number two. But no lower.)
What does all this have to do with Panda Bear? Well, in the same year as those sessions, Tomboy was released, and to me, it feels like this century’s answer to Smile: it, too, is a teenage symphony to God — or at least, to some higher power. Panda Bear’s work is often compared to The Beach Boys because of his harmonies, but what really makes the comparison stick is his collision of effortlessly cool, laid back style and yearning spirituality: there’s even a song called ‘Surfer’s Hymn’ on here. The music is built around simple maxims, repeated until they become mantras. The effect feels both minimalist and cavernous at the same time, drenched as everything is in reverb, as though recorded in a huge, echoey church. When everything comes together — as on the bridge of ‘Last Night at the Jetty’, the coda on ‘Alsatian Darn’, and the final sung harmonies on ‘Benfica’ — the effect is transcendent.
Taster track: Alsatian Darn
22. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Cosmogramma resists taxonomy. Here are some of the genres listed at various points on the album’s Wikipedia page: electronica, IDM, psychedelic hip hop, ambient, chip tune, digital glitch, dubstep, drum and base, free jazz, nu jazz, house, P-funk, soul, techno, Afrofuturist, maximalist, and that great catch-all ‘experimental’. Sure, you can hear some of those influences in here, but really what the collective author of the page is trying to say is: we have no idea what this sounds like. If you tried to map this album you might end up with something like its artwork: overlapping circles, symbols and lines, gestural and spectral, suggesting a map of the stars or instructions for a cult ritual. Structurally, it feels as though it is always in the process of inverting itself: the first track begins in media res, while the ‘Intro’ comes in at track four. This is the great unfolding ‘cosmic drama’ (the phrase the album’s title is a mangled mishearing of — uttered by Ellison’s great-aunt Alice Coltrane, who more than anyone is this album’s guiding spirit) as mapped by one intrepid adventurer through it.
Taster track: Drips//Auntie’s Harp
21. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
Hecker’s music is often described as ambient, but that doesn’t seem quite right to me. For this is music that keeps your attention rapturously held. Noise or drone might be more appropriate terms, although they suggest a formlessness, a lack of melody and beauty, which again gives the wrong impression. Whatever genre it is, Hecker is certainly the master of it, and has released a number of essential albums this decade, of which Ravedeath to me is still the best. Beginning with compositions played on a pipe organ in a Reykjavík church, Hecker then augmented these with guitar and piano, before partially destroying the results through digital processing. The results are extraordinary, beautiful, and immediately visceral, like photographs being dissolved in a bath of acid. It is heavy yet light, crushing and uplifting at once. It has no real sense of structure or development: it just is, an experience more like touching a material than listening to music. Like that piano being pushed off the roof on the cover, it is a single moment held in time, something forever on the cusp of dropping.
Taster track: The Piano Drop
20. Cass McCombs – Wit’s End
One of my favourite living songwriters, I sing McCombs’s songs to myself all the time, not only because I love the stories they tell and the images they conjure, but because I love his way with melody, how it feels in the mouth, in the throat. There is no one I enjoy singing along to more. And what a bounty of songs he has given us over the last ten years, releasing six (!) great albums, ranging from the freewheeling, genre-agnostic double-disc Big Wheel and Others, to the sumptuous, laid-back Mangy Love, to the rarities collection A Folk Set Apart. He is very much an artist of the song rather than of the album — each collection is really just the latest batch of goodies. Front-to-back, though, my favourite grab-bag remains 2011’s solemn, minimal, slow-tempo set Wit’s End, a winding road-trip of an album that journeys through different forms of longing and yearning. It takes in some of his best characters: a cave-dwelling hermit, a lonely doll, a singing corpse, a minstrel and his muse. Best of all is opener ‘County Line’, on which the narrator, driving back to his childhood home, wonders about how things have changed, and how his old county will receive him when he arrives.
Taster track: County Line
19. Bjork – Vulnicura
A brutal, eviscerating excavation of heartbreak and all that it entails — the entrails it leaves strewn across the floor of two people’s lives. A lot of breakup albums fall into one of two traps. They are either too melodramatic, a trap Bjork skirts close to (it is Bjork after all…) but ultimately avoids by focusing on the ordinary, pedestrian details of two entangled lives (‘History of Touches’) and the complex, nuanced emotions that result from that entanglement (‘Lionsong’). Or they are too quick to make light of the breakup, too eager to move on and find solace in self-empowerment. Bjork finds that solace at the end of this album, but only after recognising how drastically everything has changed (‘Black Lake’, ‘Family’). For a breakup is literally that — a breaking up, a shattering — and the self is therefore irreparably damaged or altered in the process. To risk that damage is what makes a relationship real — it has stakes. Vulnicura, in its soul-baring vocal performance, its diamond-sharp lyrics, and its startling blend of string arrangements and cutting-edge electronic production, is an album that conveys the full reality of those stakes.
Taster track: Stonemilker
18. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan is a polite, well-respected indie darling who behaves like an undiscovered outsider artist. He does whatever the fuck he wants. Over the last decade he has scored a dance performance based on the Ten Commandments, written an avant-garde string-led paean to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, released his second five-disc-long Christmas album (plus an accompanying ‘chopped and screwed’ hip-hop Christmas mixtape), made an hour-long ‘homage to the apocalypse’ which was for some reason marketed as an EP, and collaborated with members of The National on a suite of music based around the planets. Along with Carrie & Lowell, his only other official studio album this decade was The Age of Adz, a baffling, melodramatic, occasionally brilliant piece combining goofy electronics with grandiose string arrangements and lyrics about Jesus, robots and volcanoes, which culminated in a 25-minute long song.
By contrast, Carrie & Lowell seems almost boring. It’s about as standard as you can get: 45 minutes, eleven songs, played mostly on acoustic guitar, with a few backing vocals here and there, and some occasional, subtle piano or synth. But it is, in fact, the most original, and best, record he’s ever made. I love maximalist Sufjan, but it turns out minimalist Sufjan is even more powerful. He focuses on making every small moment count: the tiny pause, for example, after he sings “I want to save you from your sorrow” on ‘The Only Thing’. That is maybe my favourite tiny moment of music from the whole decade.
Taster track: The Only Thing
17. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Outside the White House black men are gathered, celebrating, bringing the funk, realising the long-ago dream of Parliament: the chocolate city with vanilla suburbs. (They still call it the White House, but that’s a temporary condition, sang George Clinton forty years before he’d open ‘Wesley’s Theory’). Yet all is not well. Drugs, poverty, racism, they’re still continuing. Obama may still be in office, for now, but the hope of 2009 is very much in the rear view mirror; no one knows yet what is to come in 2016. The problems don’t vanish at the happily-ever-after; Kendrick might have reached the success he’d been striving for, but his anxiety, confusion, pain, doubt, frustration, they’re still there. They don’t just up and disappear. Life goes on.
Taster track: For Free?
16. Elza Soares – A Mulher do Fim do Mundo
There’s a story to be told, when assessing the music of this decade, about late left turns by established greats. I’m thinking of David Bowie’s burning out all-guns-blazing on Blackstar; the continued late-career blooming of Mavis Staples on albums like We Get By and If All I Was Was Black; Leonard Cohen’s final smoke-charred albums. There is something particular about this ‘late’ work: something about age setting the artist free to tear up the rulebook and do what they want.
But I have never heard the freedom of lateness expressed more vitally than in the three incredible albums released in the second half of this decade by samba legend Elza Soares, of which the first — A Mulher do Fim do Mundo, or ‘The Woman at the End of the World’ — remains the most powerful (perhaps simply by nature of being the first). This is an album that heaves, sputters and gurgles with life. Soares’s aged, guttural voice is full of gusto, and it growls its way through a suitably chaotic, explosive instrumental backdrop that takes in punk, ska, noise rock, jazz, and a dirtied-up take on the samba through which she made her name. It is a concoction unlike anything I’ve ever heard. You’ve got to hear it.
Taster track: A Mulher do Fim do Mundo
15. Deerhunter – Monomania
Mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania… mono mono mania…
Taster track: Monomania
14. D’Angelo & the Vanguard – Black Messiah
Slipping in at the tail end of 2014, and so avoiding a lot of year-end lists, Black Messiah feels like an album both of its time and out of time. Out of time in that it isn’t particularly contemporary in its sound: it’s full of 70s funk sounds, and its warm, grainy production is decidedly analogue, giving it a feeling of timelessness. Indeed, the album took a long time to make, and is clearly the product of great care, passion, and obsessive attention to detail; drummer and producer Questlove describes D’Angelo building his own patches from scratch to get just the right sounds. But it is also decidedly of its time in its themes and lyrics, particularly in its focus on the repeated killings of unarmed black men by American police forces. That it remains so funky, hopeful, and full of light and space musically only makes that darkness, when D’Angelo does touch on it, hit all the more powerfully.
Taster track: 1000 Deaths
13. Laurel Halo – Chance of Rain
A rainy street in Berlin. Or imagined rain. Staring at my weather app, I’m inhabiting a future where it’s raining and it’s not raining at the same time. I’m in the roll of the die. In limbo.
Taster track: Oneiroi
12. Goat – Requiem
Records aren’t your friends. They make poor friend substitutes; I know this from experience. I think one of the problems I have with Spotify is that it seems to think we should ‘like’ music in the same way we ‘like’ other people. But that’s not what experiencing music is like: I don’t go to hang out with it. It’s like conflating a list of your Favourite Actors with a list of Actors You’d Most Like to Have a Beer With. They’re totally different lists.
But if this was a list of Records I’d Most Like to Hang Out With If They Were People, then Requiem would be at the top. Requiem would be my best bud. I’d hang out with Requiem every day. I’d give the best man’s speech at Requiem’s wedding and I’d talk about how I first met Requiem dancing in a muddy field at End of the Road, and how we’ve been inseparable ever since. Then I’d get drunk and kiss Requiem and piss off Requiem’s new bride and persuade Requiem to run off with me instead. Because I fucking love Requiem. It’s warm and lush and inviting, infectiously rhythmic, full of psychedelic flourishes, Afrobeat grooves, snarling riffs and jazzy flute trills. It’s the lighter, sprightlier sister to its two (also excellent) older, harder-hitting siblings; it likes lounging around sometimes, but it still kicks just as much ass when it wants to. It is the most fun I have had listening to music all decade.
Taster track: Trouble in the Streets
11. Anna Meredith – Varmints
Anna Meredith’s music is full of energy. She takes classical compositions and shiny electronic pop songs and smashes them together like a kid with a couple of dustbin lids. There is an intoxicating and childlike joy in this music, in which the pure pleasure of making sounds is palpable. This isn’t just a kid banging a saucepan though. The danger, perhaps, of the fizzing, bubbling energy is that it distracts from just how much technical skill there is underpinning Meredith’s compositions. This comes across most clearly in her live show: I have seen her twice, and each time I was blown away by the sheer talent of Meredith and her band. The use of unexpected and overlapping time signatures, as well as sudden compositional shifts, makes the music sound as though it is often on the verge of falling apart — yet the band always somehow know exactly where they are and what they have to do next. Varmints shows how complicated and technical musical ideas can produce results that are nonetheless thrilling and fun to listen to, that hit you right in the heart.
Taster track: Nautilus
10. Low – Double Negative
A flickering electric light outside a closed department store. An empty car park. Huge swathes of darkness. The air is cold, and you can feel it as you breathe it in, filling your head, you can smell it. Somehow, even though it’s shrouded in darkness, the world feels more real then. The faint outline of a holly bush, a trickle of water running off the pavement into the drain. You can almost feel your blood beating in your brain, the faint pulse keeping you alive. For now. For the moment.
Taster track: Quorum
9. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
In his brilliant work The Four-Dimensional Human, Laurence Scott writes: “Did we imagine, during the first whisperings about this exotic thing called the internet, which in the mid-1990s began to possess certain chosen desktops in the school’s computer lab, that it would ultimately create an analogue to life, a collapsed replica of the world that we inflate with each journey inside and which contains many of the same concerns and dangers?” This conflation of reality and virtuality seems to me to be the great subject of the music Daniel Lopatin makes as Oneohtrix Point Never. The way he, on the appropriately-named Replica, takes his junk-shop source materials — sounds from commercials, low-budget documentaries, the various detritus of the everyday — and breathes not new but renewed life into them by bringing them into an incorporeal, shimmering, and essentially playful digital space captures better than anything else what modern life among the internet feels like: that strange extension of human life into the fourth dimension of the internet. But this is not the perfectly-curated feed of an Instagram influencer, where only the prettiest, best-framed details are chosen. No, this is the weird corners of the internet, the YouTube videos with views in the dozens, the Tumblrs filled half with dead links and half with strange, contextless moments divorced from earthly life. This is music that evokes what it is like to increasingly spend so many little fragments of our time — every snatched second, every toilet break, every kettle boiling — in an ever-expanding replica of our ‘normal’ 3D world.
Taster track: Sleep Dealer
8. Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleurs libre
I can think of no other project from this decade more ambitious than Coin Coin, Matana Roberts’s planned twelve album series investigating themes of identity, memory, ancestry, slavery, race, and time. So far, Roberts has recorded and released the first four albums of the series, which range dramatically in style and tone: this first chapter was made with a sixteen member band, while chapter two was recorded as a sextet and chapter three is a solo work created using field recordings, loops and effects pedals. The project is interesting for a number of reasons, but one is the relation between its form and its content, between the nature of its composition and its themes. The music is rooted in improvisation, but is also partially composed using conceptual methods and graphical notation. This is a work planned out in advance: yet, assuming Roberts continues at a similar rate, it will be another 20 years before the project is completed, before some of the improvisations which were planned at the start of this decade actually come into being. That creates some fascinating overlaps with the music’s themes of memory, ancestry and time; and it will be interesting to see how the project continues to shift and change as the world around it shifts and changes too.
I knew little of that, though, when this album first blew my mind back in 2011. All of that is very interesting to think about, but it isn’t what hit me. What hit me was the extraordinary power and beauty of the music itself. What hit me was Matana working her way up from a stuttering newborn’s glottal mutterings to a full-throated scream across the first minute of ‘Pov Piti’. What hit me was the artistry with which so many styles of jazz, from screeching avant-garde to romping big-band, were woven into the same tapestry. What hit me was the burst of applause at the end, reminding me that what I’d just heard was recorded live in performance. It is simply the best, most vital jazz album I heard all decade.
Taster track: Kersaia
7. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
An album of extraordinary precision, each song pared to the bone, with singer Mike Hadreas not repeating a verse or even a line unless it needs repeating, not adding anything that doesn’t pull its weight. That is not to say Too Bright sounds minimalist: the gongs and siren blasts of synth on ‘My Body’, the buzzing fuzz-bass on ‘Grid’ (courtesy of Portishead’s Adrian Utley), the flurries of handclaps on ‘Longpig’, and the mixture of bright keyboards and swirling synth work on ‘Queen’ could hardly be described as such. But each element is present here for a reason, each sonic touch supporting the song, adding nuance and complexity to it. And what extraordinary songs they are: by turns tender, muscular, withering, withered, defiant, longing, battered, loving.
Taster track: Fool
6. Holly Herndon – Proto
My favourite album of last year by some margin, Holly Herndon’s remarkable Proto was made using an AI computer ‘baby’ called Spawn, which Herndon created herself in a “DIY souped-up gaming PC” and then ‘taught’ to sing using her voice. As she worked on the album, she fed parts of the developing music into this computer, who recomposed it and fed it back to her. The line between what Spawn contributes to the album and what Herndon herself has made is thus blurred: I have listened to this many times, and cannot hear any obvious places where the music shifts between woman and machine.
As with Roberts’s Coin Coin, though, this narrative around the album is simply one aspect of it, the part which is interesting to think about, and easiest to write about. What matters most is the result, and what the album is like to listen to. Well: it is glorious. It is not an easy listen, and it took me multiple attempts before it started to click: the sound, especially across the opening third of the record, is very dense and overwhelming. But then, listening to ‘Frontier’ one day, everything suddenly clicked into place. I heard how Herndon was combining ancient-sounding harmonies and choirs of human voices with alien electronics, not to contrast them — as artists like Bjork and Arca have done so powerfully — but to suggest continuities between them. The results are radical and truly futuristic: a vision of a possible world which is neither dystopian nor utopian, but is simply the next step in human evolution. Utterly, utterly remarkable music.
Taster track: Frontier
5. Julia Holter – Tragedy
For me, Julia Holter is the artist of the decade. No one else has more consistently produced such unique, exciting work in such volume across the last ten years. Since appearing more or less from nowhere in 2011, she has produced five stunning albums, each different from the last, each utterly essential listening. I could easily pick any of the five for this list: Aviary is her most ambitious and original album, while Have You in My Wilderness is her most fully realised, her most ‘perfect’ from front to back; Ekstasis has her best song (‘Marienbad’), while Loud City Song is the one that moves me the most personally. But when all is said and done, I think her debut, Tragedy, remains her best overall work.
I vividly remember first hearing it, back in 2011, and thinking: music can be like… like this? It was baffling. It didn’t seem to fit into any genre I could grasp. It sounded like high art, but also like bedroom pop recorded to a shitty cassette tape. It sounded ancient, but also modern and new. It was clearly intricately composed, with an ‘Introduction’, ‘Interlude’ and ‘Finale’, yet parts of it felt like they’d drifted together by accident: it kept stopping, little bubbles of silence on the tape. Every time I listen to a new Holter album I get this feeling: that truly anything might happen at any moment. That is a very hard feeling to conjure in a way that isn’t exhausting for the listener. That is, it’s easy enough to just throw a bunch of random sounds together and call it music. But to have those surprises be satisfying, and still surprising, on the second or third or tenth or twentieth listen — that takes real care and talent. Holter has both in spades.
Taster track: Finale
4. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Black Up is a hall of mirrors. It’s a trip through outer space, and it’s a kid playing hopscotch in the dirt. It’s a laser beam coming out a flimsy cardboard ray gun. It’s an old scratched saucepan I’m washing up that looks like a U.F.O. for a moment. It’s a fortune teller’s caravan, and it’s a car trunk rattling with bass in the middle of the night. It’s a trumpet made of tin foil, a kids choir clapping hands in time to atoms whizzing round the Large Hadron Collider. It’s spacey and psychedelic, and it’s earthy, tough, and minimal. It’s snapping muscular grooves and drifting ambient fog. It’s my favourite hip hop album. No qualifiers.
3. Richard Dawson – Peasant
Richard Dawson’s music is nothing less than a force for good in the world. I find it encouraging and grounding in a way I do nothing else. I want to live like Dawson sings: honestly, emphatically, and empathetically, full of gusto and heart. There is, of course, a surface-level heartiness to his music, one that comes from his gruff, Newcastle accent, his earthy and prickly guitar tones and the gritty observational details of his songs. But that is not what I mean when I describe it as hearty. I mean that it seems rooted, that it seems to come literally from the heart. It comes from a place of real honesty, about himself and about the world, and from a place of real compassion, too: his songs are always about other people, filled with the minute details of their lives.
On Peasant, that compassion extends to the imagined lives of a group of townsfolk in fifth century Bryneich, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the area around the current Scottish-English border. This world is evoked in remarkable detail, but it is the emotional truth of it that makes the album so endlessly rewarding. We feel the communal panic as a chorus of village voices sing of “scouring a fortnight in the hills” for a lost boy, finding him finally “pointing from a sett, a small grey hand”; then the music shifts from public to private, to an anxiously noodling guitar and a lone voice, scared by the boy’s death, stuffing “straws into their windows” and covering their goats’ faces with “tansy rags” for protection. There are no shortcuts to making music like this: it simply requires excellent writing, the perfect marriage of a well-observed lyrical detail and the melody in which it’s couched, in combination with production choices — a blast of horn, a shiver of noise — that tease out every emotional nuance of that detail. And then another moment like that. And then another. Keep going and eventually you have a masterpiece.
Taster track: Ogre
2. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté – Ali & Toumani
To give some idea of how much I love this album, let’s say this. For me and my partner’s wedding a few years ago, I made a playlist of music to play in the background. That playlist began with the entirety of this album. And then, later on, the track ‘Be Mankan’ again, a second time. There was just nothing else that set the mood — that got to the core of what we wanted that day to be about — so well. Like Dawson’s, this is music that somehow expresses how — no, teaches how — to live and be our best selves.
The second album of duets between guitarist Touré and kora player Diabaté, following their highly-lauded 2005 album In the Heart of the Moon, these are the last recordings Touré made before his death in 2006. As such, this does not really feel like an album ‘of this decade’ — though released at the very start of 2010, it was recorded four years earlier — and I was in two minds over whether to include it. Yet, in the end, I could not leave it off.
Taking various pieces from throughout Touré’s career and reworking them, the album has the feel of someone going back through their life and reliving each memory one last time while they still can. The album has an extraordinary sense of peace, one that I have only heard on albums made in the presence of encroaching death: if I may make a wild comparison, for a second, I hear a similar peace in moments of J Dilla’s masterpiece Donuts. But while that record has a profound sense of solitude to it, made by one man and a sampler on his literal death bed, Ali & Toumani has a contrasting spirit of togetherness and collaboration. My knowledge of Malian music is simply not good enough to hear all the complexity in this work (Touré, from the north of Mali, and Diabaté, from the south, are coming from very different backgrounds, and there is a fusion of different folk styles going on here), what does come through, even to my untrained ear, is a great sense of friendship overcoming difference, and the bringing together of different ideas and approaches (Touré’s questing spikiness and Diabaté’s cascading grace) to create something that could only be made through dialogue.
That is one reason this places so highly: that spirit of dialogue is something that feels so sorely missing in our world right now. But the other reason is this: it is just the most unbelievably, gorgeously, sumptuously, rapturously beautiful music.
Taster track: Be Mankan
1. Joanna Newsom – Divers
Divers is many things. It is the distillation of Joanna Newsom’s songwriting into its purest form, reining in the sprawling tendencies of her other masterpiece this decade, 2010’s Have One On Me, to create something shorter, subtler, and stranger. It is a book of poetry — complex, beautiful, and densely allusive poetry — hiding in a lyric booklet: note, for example, just how many different things she does with bird metaphors throughout. It is a masterpiece of arrangement, a huge variety of instruments giving tone, nuance and shape to Newsom’s compositions without ever overwhelming them. It is a document of virtuoso playing and singing: a voice that does not get enough credit for how malleable and expressive it has become over the course of four albums.
But above all, it is a truly beautiful and moving meditation on time. ‘Sapokanikan’ takes us deep into the past, burrowing through the layers of history under the busy surface of New York City. ‘Waltz of the 101st Lightborne’ takes us far into an imagined future, telling the story of a time-travelling military unit from the perspective of a soldier’s wife. These are wildly inventive, imaginative songs, full of melodic and linguistic play. But the album is at its most powerful when it deals with time on a human scale: specifically, the intertwined experiences of time, death, and love. Across the intricately braided stories told throughout the record, Newsom reveals how death is necessary to give love stakes. In doing so, she reawakens my senses to the “nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating joy of life”, as she sings on the extraordinary closer, ‘Time, as a Symptom’. Every song on Divers is so fresh, so revelatory, that it is like being given eleven new colours to see with; eleven new shades or hues that one couldn’t see before in the world, but now one can. What more could one ask for from music?