The #10yearchallenge hath landed. And besides the decade-long span that separates two strategically selected selfies, we thought it fit to add to the larger conversation 10 culturally impactful albums that celebrate their 10th anniversary this year. How much have the artists on this list changed changed, if at all? Where are they at in their lives? Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? Below, we help you answer these pressing questions.
The xx – xx
You can’t turn back from a record like xx. It’s indie pop’s 808 & Heartbreak. In the path-lighting thrall of inescapable songs such as ‘Crystalised’ and ‘VCR’, filigreed shoegazing pop coalesced with R&B’s heavenward exhortations, allowing earthiness and ethereality to commingle in transfixing dialogue. Then, there are the beats. Jamie xx’s first reveal was staged here. After this, he ascended to become one of the best producers of our time.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix predicted it all on this record. Not only has Wolfgang aged tremendously well, the hindsight that comes with its advanced years shows how ahead of its time its makers were. Here, Thomas Mars and co. conceived the foundational tenets of contemporary indie pop: Globalised, dancey, synthesiser-heavy and mass. Don’t call this a “cult favourite”.
Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Day
“I would’ve killed myself if I didn’t have Kid Cudi. If you’re 25 and under, I truly believe that Kid Cudi saved your life”, Pete Davidson once said. And in a recent interview with us, KYLE explained why. It wasn’t till this moment in hip-hop, that the reality of isolation and the crushing weight of vulnerability that every human being feels at some point, was given obsessively cinematic treatment.
Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster
This was the record that bore ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Telephone’ and ‘Alejandro’. As long as pop music has room for ingenuity and bite, this record will never leave the cultural bloodline. Lady Gaga’s career-long celebration of what was sacred about the profane and the shunned received its first panoramic display here. This album birthed a true icon – a star who’d light the way for generations to come.
The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
This is a band that isn’t a stranger to Great Lists. Few other bands reside in the foreground of popular consciousness for the express purpose of fucking it up and crossing its wires. Embryonic is the 12th time this happened – and a first in double-album form. Psych-rock is the obvious veneer here but there’s so much more that swirls in the blackest, existentially harrowing depths and in the rare moments of light-giving levity.
Rihanna – Rated R
This was the first full-length Rihanna transmission to come after that Chris Brown incident. Everything about it, from its monochromatic sleeve, to the juddering and barbed hip-hop and electropop bangers it housed, reflected the tension between seething anger and raw vulnerability she felt at the time. But its overarching thrust is triumphal and forward-destined.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
It’s 2019 and still, no one’s figured out how to emulate Merriweather Post Pavilion. The record will always be haunted by its reception as the taste-makers’ pick but even in our gatekeeper-less age, its shadow is tall and mythic. Psychedelic, Rorschach-blot blooms of sound with high-impact resonant power and a winking, self-reflexive verve? Thank the heavens we once had the time for that.
St. Vincent – Actor
“Throw the phone out the window / If you want the neighbors woke / You'll have to shout out loud / And set the bed alight and slow” – This line from Actor standout ‘Black Rainbow’ contains the essence of Annie Clark. Art as a plea and challenge and emotion as barometer of the intensity of the telling – that was its scope. Actor was a presentation of a woman-goddess ordering her world.
Mos Def – The Ecstatic
Conscious, political, uncompromising, alternative – the descriptors and signifiers of The Ecstatic are even more important now, when the world needs reminding that wokeness is a performative social media post away and that Black Lives Matter. But before the Internet became the disease and cure, the artist we know now as Yasiin Bey blessed the ether with an urgent, sincere and masterful work.
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
The immortal charm of Bitte Orca lies in the fact that it expanded and enriched the lexicon of something initially esoteric (indie) with an accessibility that was never a nefarious low cop-out. Compositionally dazzling but filled with gorgeous melodies and irresistible, deep-burrowing R&B-facing hooks, it marked an elevation of all the canons it parsed into a higher, more rarefied realm.