60. 100 gecs, 1000 gecs (2019)
When was the last time you heard a synthesis so original it broke your brain? Look at the YouTube comments on 100 gecs’ normie-slaying “Money Machine” video and watch commenters’ real-time battle between confusion and fascination. The Missouri-raised duo of Dylan Brady and Laura Les always wins that war, earning their devoted fans one head-scratching composition at a time. Irreverent visuals are part of their gecs appeal, but it’s their Frankensteined genre-fluid lab concoctions that make 1000 gecs impossible to resist. The deranged psycho-pop of their full-length debut mixed country twang with abrasive dubstep, snotty punk with Eurotrash techno, and industrial squawks with trap 808s for one of the most jarring and welcome headaches in recent memory. We’ll take 100000 gecs, please. — K.B.
59. Miranda Lambert, Platinum (2014)
Country’s Sign o’ the Times in every way except double-CD, Platinum is the genre’s most gifted star showing off her CV of everything she can do. These include, but are not limited to: Title track about how blonde she is that’s also the most polysyllabic (“disposition,” “permeates,” “calculation,” “pretentiously,” “compensation,” “irrefutably,” “genetically”) tune she’s ever written. “We Will Rock You”-meets-Aerosmith Carrie Underwood duet. Complex-feminist makeup song about “the amount of rejection I see in my reflection.” Fake-1930s western-swing breakup song. Clap-along sympathy song for Priscilla Presley (“It’s a difficult thing being queen of the King”). Fogey nostalgic anthem-single topped by sprightly nostalgic ditty that goes, simply, “I’m a fan of it / Old shit.” And then she followed it with country’s first-ever double-CD by a woman. — D.W.
58. VHÖL, Deeper Than Sky (2015)
Even the best metal bands of the decade have their obvious reference points, a tyranny of history. Those that can’t transcend the RIYLs are even worse off. Banging on tradition looks even stupider when you’re covered in tattoos and long hair; West Coast thrashers VHÖL both honor metal and banish frat mentality on their sophomore effort Deeper Than Sky. John Cobbett is explorer and captain supreme, bouncing VHÖL from power thrash (“The Desolate Damned”) to terse hardcore (“3AM,” where Yob vocalist Mike Scheidt returns to his brutish roots) to blackened detours (“Lightless Sun”). It’s unified by their collective love of metal at its weirdest, most nonsensical, and most unpolished. The four-piece finds beauty in over-Xeroed Eastern European black metal and Canadian prog-metal also-rans, and their enthusiasm in filtering their obsessions is the power of loose guides over dogmatic playbooks. Sky’s best moment is when Cobbett temporarily ceases command: “Paino” pits Sigrid Sheie’s jaunty piano against Aesop Dekker’s limber d-beat, resulting in an instrumental that works precisely because it’s so ridiculous, humorous without having to let you know it’s funny. Such cleverness is rare in metal. — A.O.
57. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob (2013)
In which the sisters Quin complete their metamorphosis from scrappy indie-rockers into the world’s biggest synth-pop band, causing Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Paramore, and countless others to embrace the neon. Working with producer Greg Kurstin — whose own career took a stratospheric leap two years later with Adele’s seismic “Hello” — the twins tabled the guitars and sanded off the two-minute angst of The Con and Sainthood in favor of meticulous three- and even four-minute songcraft. Heartthrob is the all-killer/no-filler LP they’d been building toward, frantically tucking hooks into pre-choruses and bridges as if running out of places to put them. Every tune is a gleaming megachurch of melody — from the windows-down, new wave nostalgia of “Drove Me Wild” to the tear-streaked stomp of “Shock to Your System.” Heartthrob perfectly captured the decade where no one dared cry “sellout” when our favorite indie bands landed opening slots for Taylor Swift; instead, we only applauded their hustle. — R.R.
56. Noname, Room 25 (2018)
Room 25 captured Noname at a startling moment of personal and creative discovery. The Chicago-bred rapper had already amassed a name for herself in the slam poetry community and a reputation for delivering one of the strongest guest spots on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape, but she had not yet emerged as a breakout star-turned-radical anti-capitalist voice. On her debut album, her rhymes are alternately diaristic and revolutionary, all delivered in the conversational flow that she’s described as “lullaby rap.” From the syncopated grooves of “Blaxploitation” to the lush, sighing neo-soul of “No Name” and “Regal,” Room 25 is awash in a low-key virtuosity that feels like a spiritual kin to the Soulquarians movement of the late ’90s — it’s so good, you almost expect D’Angelo to show up when summoned. We’d respect her decision to quit music, but we really hope she doesn’t. — Z.S.
55. Against Me!, White Crosses (2010)
To a listener in 2010, Laura Jane Grace espousing support for teenage anarchy and individual expression sounded like typical punk-rock righteousness. But in the decade that’s followed, the Butch Vig-produced, E Street-indebted White Crosses has revealed itself as arguably the most prescient rock record since Washington D.C. banned Bad Brains. Anthems like “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” (and its evergreen video) remain visceral calls to action dressed in arena-rock boots, and in retrospect, the album’s most powerful demand was that listeners expand their perspective beyond oneself. During the early stages of Grace’s public transition and making history as one of rock’s most visible trans icons with the advent of 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, many were quick to examine her lyrics for deeper personal truths. Well, try the epic “Bamboo Bones” refrain that takes White Crosses out: “What God doesn’t give to you / You’ve got to go and get for yourself.” — A.C.
54. Dawn Richard, Blackheart (2015)
After tasting mainstream stardom as a member of Danity Kane and Diddy-Dirty Money, New Orleans-born singer Dawn Richard left the Bad Boy family and released a string of audacious independent R&B albums. But in a decade when artists like Frank Ocean and the Weeknd mined similar left-of-center territory and eventually topped the charts, Richard’s psychedelic R&B symphonies remain a cult curio. And Blackheart is her most experimental album, trading out the EDM-flavored Druski productions of her early solo projects for dense soundscapes that sometimes sound like a Brandy album written by Björk. She boldly surrenders the first two minutes of its first full song, “Calypso,” to a variegated collage of manipulated vocals before anything resembling a melody emerges. But the seven-minute suite “Adderall/Sold (Outerlude)” is the centerpiece, hopping between genres from minute to minute and priming the listener for the trippier second half of one of the decade’s greatest headphone albums. And just when it feels like Richard has gone as far out as she can go, the simple, stately piano ballad “The Deep” brings it home. — A.S.
53. PUP, The Dream Is Over (2016)
If a punk album is only as good as its backstory, then The Dream Is Over is a phenomenal one. As ancient legend has it, PUP frontman Stefan Babcock went to see a specialist after developing a cyst on his vocal cords. The doctor grimly informed him that “the dream is over” and he’d need to quit singing. Babcock ignored her advice, got a second opinion, and proceeded to screech his lungs out on one of the best punk albums of the decade (titled, of course, after the initial doctor’s disposable wisdom). The Dream Is Over is an uncommonly exuberant album about disappointment and disillusionment, full of fist-pumping chant-choruses that hit so hard that even in lockdown you can smell the sweat and shitty beer. Yeah, you’ve heard punk songs about drinking too much and refusing to grow up, but when have you heard a song this affecting about a sick pet chameleon? — Z.S.
52. Omar Souleyman, Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (2011)
The three-decade career of the world’s greatest wedding singer is full of live recordings of the Arabic electronic dance music known as dabke that probably give Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 a run for its money. But we only have access to so many, and this one turns Philly, Berlin, and Melbourne among others into Cheap Trick at Budokan. The bellowing “aaaaaayeeeeeeeaaah” hook of unlikely star Souleyman matched frenetically with the redlining buzz of Ali Shaker’s saz (lute) and Rizad Sa’id’s relentlessly programmed beat comprise the most indelible hour you’ll hear outside of studio fare in a decade that completely abjured the concert recording. And in a discography whose repetition makes the Ramones and Clinic look like the 1975, there is truly more where that came from. — D.W.
51. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You (2019)
The very end of the decade teased a bright future for 2020s pop between the wise-beyond-her-years Billie Eilish, and the barrier-destroying utopianism of Lil Nas X. But in terms of raw talent, showmanship, and more personality than her stage props have air, no one had the world-conquering aplomb of Lizzo. She bared it all on this album (and its beautiful cover art) beginning with that thirsty-with-desire title track, which recalls Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ soul-shivering performance on “I Put a Spell on You.” The CeCe Peniston-flavored Harry Styles favorite “Juice” is as perfect as pop gets and the proper addendum to 2016’s “Good as Hell,” bursting with self-love and every line worthy of its own CafePress store. “Jerome” is the sultry kiss-off to a millennial timewaster not worth a wax (“smileys and hearts aren’t the way to my juicy parts”), while “Tempo,” a duet with the sorely missed Missy Elliott lays a spooky, twisting beat beneath a tune championing body positivity (with a fantastic nod to a Lizzo onstage trademark – “twerk skills up on legendary”) and sneaks in a bar of her famous flute. So much was 2019 the year of Lizzo that it rocketed 2016 and 2017 lizzobangers to the top of the charts where they belonged in the first place, but don’t be surprised when this multi-hyphenate Prince protégé reigns supreme over decades to come, too. — J.L.