In celebration of my one-hundredth blog post, here are one-hundred must-listen-to albums. These are by no means the one-hundred most-important albums to listen to. That would be impossible to decide, and would include many albums from the same artists, most likely. I attempted to cover a majority of genres, a majority of years and time periods, and limited myself to one album per artist. I am planning on making another hundred, if and when I hit two-hundred posts, so there were a lot I left out. But for now, here are one-hundred albums I would recommend, based on quality, significance, and at least a little bit of personal bias (listed in chronological order).
Follow along here, with my Spotify playlist, with one song from each album (minus Majora’s Mask):
100. Billie Holiday – An Evening with Billie Holiday (1953) – Jazz
Billie Holiday is easily one of the best and most influential vocalists of all time; causing waves of impact across not just jazz, but music as a whole. Few people can replicate her raw natural talent, combined with her ability to capture romance and intimacy inside of her voice. This album has some of her more famous tracks, like the fun and nostalgic “Yesterdays,” and the melancholy “Stormy Weather.” It’s hard to pick a best record of hers, but this is up there, and is a must-listen for anyone who loves fantastic vocal performances.
99. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959) – Modal Jazz
Miles Davis released quite a lot of music over his years as an artist. And while a majority of those pieces were high quality, and worth listening to, nothing compares to Kind of Blue; one of the most influential, and best records of all time. Many different composers, a lot from the ’60s, highlight this as a turning point in music, and many people that went on to compose future rock masterpieces would reference Miles Davis, and this record specifically. Despite its masquerade as a quick jazz LP, it’s much deeper than that, and requires a listen for that reason.
98. The Ronettes – Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (1964) – Pop/R&B
At first, this record may not seem important. It’s standard early ’60s pop, that just happens to be sung by a skillful group of female musicians. Or so you think. But The Ronettes’ usage of simple, upbeat, group-pop melodies is a lot of where future musicians stole their song structures from; most notably, early punk bands like the Ramones. If you were to slow down, and brighten up some of the original punk songs from the early-to-mid ’70s, you’d get something very similar. And while it’s not clear out of the gate, it’s still there. Plus, it’s fun, innocent, and enjoyable.
97. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – Folk Rock
Bob Dylan is the king of powerful songwriting and lyricism, period. His instrumentation and compositions are obviously serviceable, if not fantastic, but it’s clear that’s not his main focus. Instead, he’s a poetic God, and Highway 61 Revisited is home to some of his most famous, and best works. There’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” his most popular song, and the eleven-minute “Desolation Row,” an impressive feat in itself. This album is gold from front to back, and while it might be a “typical” pick for his best album, it’s well-loved for a reason.
96. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966) – Chamber Pop/Psychedelic Pop
Pet Sounds is experimental music disguised as pop. The complex compositions created by Brian Wilson, and usage of wall-of-sound production created a grandiose effect on a digestible scale. There are certainly your traditional, simplistic songs that are typical for the Beach Boys in their history, but a lot of this record is filled with stepping stones towards the future of music. The Beatles and the Beach Boys were at the forefront of music innovation, and this is the Beach Boy’s magnum opus.
95. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – Pop/Rock/Psychedelia
The Beatles were certainly one of the most inventive bands in music history, but Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is their peak, singular inventive stride. As one of the first concept albums, it helped popularize certain ideas behind modern music production, and also created an explosion of imagery, both in music and pop culture. The fusion of traditional rock and pop with more worldly sounds, and even marching-band influences, created a completely new brand of rock, and helped influence the creation of psychedelia as a specific genre. There’s not much this album didn’t do.
94. The Doors – The Doors (1967) – Blues Rock/Psychedelia
Some people have named the Doors the “creators of modern music.” And while I don’t agree with that statement realistically, the sentiment is certainly true. Tracks like “Light My Fire” exude a certain level of creativity and originality that was definitely groundbreaking at the time. Alongside legends like the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, they were able to define the up-and-coming hard rock sound with an increased focus on guitar composition, and other creative instrumental decisions. This wasn’t the album that created modern music, but it’s one of them.
93. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967) – Psychedelia/Acid Rock
Jimi Hendrix is known around the world as probably the most influential guitar player of all time, and that’s well-deserved. What other man would’ve played the national anthem live, with his teeth? Electric Ladyland (1968) is probably the most powerful guitar-playing record of his, but this is the earliest domination he was able to show. New kinds of distortion sounds, complex melodies, and song structures were proven possible through this record alone, in just one-hour’s time. And “The Wind Cries Mary” is a legendary example of psychedelia.
92. The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground Nico (1967) – Art Rock
It’s not surprising that Andy Warhol sponsored the band’s music, and continuously brought them to parties. They were as artistic, and out there as he was. Innocent pop songs like “Sunday Morning” help masquerade this experimental rock album, that also features seven-minute cuts like “Heroin” and “European Sun.” At times, they sound like the Beatles, but most of the time, they’re doing whatever the hell they feel like. The Velvet Underground were the silent innovators, and that truth isn’t changed on this record. Lou Reed’s genius sparks on almost every track, even the tame ones.
91. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969) – Hard Rock/Blues Rock
The harsh reality of Led Zeppelin’s thievery is now out there, but despite that fact, they were key in inventing the hard rock sound. “Dazed and Confused,” has been credited with the creation of the standard heavy metal brand, and outside of that, it’s just a damn good song. Led Zeppelin isn’t their best record, but it was a key point in the discography of rock and roll, bringing some extra edge, energy, and instrumental intensity to a genre that was largely ruled by pop-based bands like the Beatles. Through gorgeous one-of-a-kind guitar solos, and long song structures, they expanded rock’s horizons.
90. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) – Progressive Rock
King Crimson were a band consistently ahead of their time. Their fusion of jazz and rock was unparalleled at the time, and the different techniques they used with a variety of instruments wouldn’t see the light of day until the late ’70s. Where bands like Pink Floyd and Yes excelled at using strategies already mostly-formed, King Crimson decided to invent their own brand of music entirely. “21st Century Schizoid Man,” sounds like it’s from 1979, and even then, it’s debatable. There are few bands as forward-thinking in the history of music, and this album showcases it.
89. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970) – Heavy Metal/Stoner Rock
If Led Zeppelin didn’t create metal with “Dazed and Confused,” this is the album that really did it. The name Black Sabbath itself sounds deeply disturbed, and they are. Entering with rain, thunder, and bells tolling, it’s hard to create a more sinister environment that quickly. The slow tempo guitars and bass add to this effect even more, until you feel you, yourself, are about to get possessed by some entity. All the metal basics started here, and would later be touched upon by both Black Sabbath and other subsequent bands. But without this, they wouldn’t exist.
88. The Stooges – Fun House (1970) – Hard Rock/Proto-Punk/Avant-Rock
The roaring of the riffs matchup perfectly with the roaring of the vocals on this high-powered rock journey. Iggy and the Stooges continued to innovate on the harsh rock they excelled in with each and every release, but this is definitely their best. The distorted screeches of Iggy on “T.V. Eye” sound like a vocal performance by Ozzy Osbourne on one of their darker tracks. “Dirt” is a psychedelic, surprisingly mellow jam, experimenting greatly with the guitar. And “Fun House” features some really jazzy saxophone. Every song is a party, and a unique one at that.
87. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971) – Folk/Soft Rock
Joni Mitchell is one of many women who excel more than most at songwriting. But when she does it, there’s a certain inherent feeling of melancholy alongside it. If you couldn’t tell, this isn’t the happiest record, but with sadness comes quality emotion, and realism in music. Her beautiful voice and some light strumming are all that make up this record, but she can do more with a guitar and a voice than most bands can do altogether. This emotive journey through Joni’s mind is as poetic as it is beautiful, and reminds us that we’re all human.
86. Yes – Close to the Edge (1972) – Progressive Rock
Before Yes came into the realm of pop with albums like 90125 (1983), they were prog rock giants. There are a variety of outstanding, old Yes albums, but none are as unique as Close to the Edge. The weird bass distortions, early usage of synthesizers, and fusion of electric and acoustic instrumentation bring a once-in-a-lifetime experience together on this project. The songs may be ten-to-twenty-minutes long, but even then, the amount they accomplish in that time period is mind-boggling.
85. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973) – Progressive Rock
Is there a more stereotypical/memorable album cover? Probably not. But it’s for a good reason. Dark Side of the Moon is a dark, ambient adventure through rock music, and its expansive universe. Behind the simplicity of the album cover is a wonderland of different sounds, and inventive tracks. Whether through the vocal solo on “The Great Gig in the Sky,” or the various instrumental transitions, each piece of this album is meticulously constructed to flow together. There are few records that are as cohesive, or intriguing.
84. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975) – Rock and Roll/Pop Rock
Bruce Springsteen brought the skillful, nostalgic lyricism of Bob Dylan to the pop-centric rock market. The wall-of-sound production makes every song an anthem, and his decision to be a bit more vague in his New Jersey references allowed for much more relatability. It also established his deeper singing voice, charismatic persona, and instrumental abilities, with the attention to detail being expanded a lot compared to his first few releases. Bruce Springsteen became a power house, and it was all thanks to this.
83. Ramones – Ramones (1976) – Punk Rock/Pop Punk
The Ramones weren’t the first to make simple rock, or noisy rock, but they pulled both ideas together into a seamless invention of traditional punk rock. Borrowing from bubblegum pop trends, each song becomes catchy as all hell, and will get stuck in your head for days if you’re not careful. It’s also the album that provided the rough-edged visual to punk rock, before it was increased by the likes of the Sex Pistols a year later. This album, and a few of their others, cannot be overstated in their influence. It was just a shame they never found commercial viability.
82. David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977) – Experimental Rock/Art Pop
David Bowie pioneered so many trends in music, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him on this list. “Heroes” is specifically inventive in its fusion of guitar-driven prog rock, pop vocals, voice filtering, and utilizing ambient sounds. Certain instrumental sections of this record sound like they were created by Rush, and others, the Talking Heads. The crafty mind of David Bowie is on full display here, and it reaches into every bag music had to offer. Plus, there’s always “Heroes,” a victorious pop anthem featured on numerous movie soundtracks, and rightfully so.
81. Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine (1978) – Electronica/Synth Pop
Kraftwerk were always a step ahead of the ’70s. Their electronic-focused sound was about a decade from relevance, but that exact futuristic production provided them a lot of listeners. This record specifically, The Man-Machine, is one of the inventors, and creators of the typical synth sound that would be used a few years in the future. It’s not quite as polished into the pop-giant that it would become, but these are its origins, and it’s easy to see the influence it would have on future artists. Without this, ’80s pop, rock, and electronica wouldn’t be the same.
80. The Clash – London Calling (1979) – Post Punk
After departing from their initial punk sound, the Clash decided to explore other areas of music surrounding rock and roll. Some of these were reggae, rockabilly, and rhythm and blues. But they continued to bring the punk attitude to those other genres. The punk approach to those increasing variety of sounds is captured on this record. The collision of sounds is unlike many records out there, and a showcasing of an impressive amount of musical ability. This record is immortalized as a skillful transition from the punk sound for the Clash, on one of the greatest records ever.
79. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979) – Post Punk
Surprisingly, this album is actually a piece of music, and not just a t-shirt design! Crazy, right?! Ignore my cynicism, and let me tell you about this inventive masterpiece. Unknown Pleasures is easily one of the most important albums ever. It influenced post punk, new wave, gothic rock, and pretty much any counter-culture. Ian Curtis’s self-destructive lifestyle and experiences with epilepsy brought him to a brink, best represented in this project. Its themes of alienation, isolation, and depression are relatable, intense, and real, because they were. The empty themes are accompanied by an empty sound, and inspired many bands to pursue this dramatic realism in the future. This record wasn’t just a stepping stone for post punk, and a new avenue of sound, but it also jump-started the careers of the other band members, that would go on to create New Order following Ian’s death, and influence more new wave and synth pop groups in the future. Despite not being an emo record, it might be the most influential album to emo as a whole, and impacted the rest of the music community as well.
78. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980) – Hardcore Punk
Dead Kennedys took the politically-driven themes of punk, and took them to the next level. With Sex Pistols-like balls, they openly criticized everything from international rulers, to the military-industrial complex, to capitalism, and more. But if you weren’t scared away by song titles like “Kill the Poor,” and “I Kill Children,” then you’re in for a good time. Full of satirical humor, like the aforementioned cuts, it pokes fun at almost anyone in a position of power in a high-voltage, loud, intense ride. But despite my warning signs, it still maintains a very accessible sound.
77. The Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980) – New Wave/Post Punk/Worldbeat
The Talking Heads were always an eccentric band in both their sound, and personalities, but Remain in Light took them from inventive, and brought them to mind-blowing. Every ’80s music fan knows “Once in a Lifetime;” a quirky, David Byrne-driven pop song about reflecting on your life, and all its confusion. But past the veil of fun pop, are a variety of genre-bending tracks, like “Born Under Punches,” and “The Great Curve.” With a combination of techno, funk, rock, pop, worldbeat, new wave, electronica, and more, there’s nothing this record doesn’t do.
76. Rush – Moving Pictures (1981) – Progressive Rock
After seven straight albums of progressive rock exploration, Moving Pictures became Rush’s avenue to huge commercial success. With much shorter song structure, more synthesizers, and consistent, pop-friendly melodies, they were able to take the essence of prog rock, and bring it to the masses. Because of this, it’s the ultimate introduction to the genre, that maintains many of its strengths. The use of techno-esque tools on “Tom Sawyer” is incredibly inventive, and Neil Peart’s drumming is still some of the best ever.
75. The Cure – Pornography (1982) – Gothic Rock/Post Punk
Pornography finds itself at a crossroads in the Cure’s history. They transitioned producers, they were collapsing from drug use, and the bassist was about to leave. Because of this, it’s by far their darkest record, even with their prior two albums being quite depressing. But it’s also the most polished of those records, coming at the tail end of this era for the Cure, and utilizing just a tad more pop ideas. The result, is a well-produced, accessible, incredibly-written goth rock highlight; and a snapshot of the old Cure, before their dive into the pop scene.
74. The Descendents – Milo Goes to College (1982) – Punk Rock
The Descendents actively challenge the image of the typical punk rocker, without challenging its sound. Owning the fact that they’re a bunch of nerds, they continuously push commentary on the experience, even within the punk scene, with songs like “I’m Not a Punk.” Despite being most-often played by middle-class white men, punk often deflects the anger to society, and lacks the self-reflective side, but the Descendents do just that, talking about suburban homes, marriage, and other incredibly realistic ideas in the minds of privileged youth.
73. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982) – Pop/Post Disco
There had to be a Michael Jackson album on here. I mean, they don’t call him the king of pop for nothin’. Thriller is the quintessential Michael Jackson album for a few reasons; the outstandingly-consistent tracklist, the genre splicing (with rock songs like “Beat It”), and the collaborations with stars like Paul McCartney and Eddie Van Halen. The creative energy required to make hits like “Thriller,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “Billie Jean” is also amazing. This is a quality pop record, through-and-through, with some of the most popular songs of all time.
72. Misfits – Walk Among Us (1982) – Horror Punk/Pop Punk
Misfits indexed heavily on everything that made punk great: speed, short song structures, and simplistic songwriting. But they did leave out a lot of the political discussion associated with the genre, preferring horror-based themes instead. This resulted in a bit of a more evil sound, but a more fun one as well, and spawned an entirely new grouping of punk bands called “horror punk.” There isn’t much innovation from their singing or instrument playing, but they stylized a genre to fit them, and it took to people very well.
71. Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (1983) – Thrash Metal
Believe it or not, Metallica was once an unknown quantity, but not for very long. Their initial release, Kill ‘Em All, invented the thrash metal genre (alongside Slayer), with their intense, orchestral guitar-playing, and unrelenting force alongside it. It’s not their best album, most popular album, or even most recognizable one, but it’s the most important, in that it spawned everything that would come after it. Not to mention the numerous following genres and bands that would come quickly after; influencing black metal across the seas, just to mention one.
70. New Order – Power Corruption and Lies (1983) – Synth Pop/New Wave
The group of people that initially founded new wave, and continued in a new form (being born again from Joy Division), then brought synths to the picture. A lot of the same song themes, structures, and patterns are felt here, as they were on Movement (1981), but they’re given a boost of energy from an added instrument. The lack of an empty, dark void, meant more attention, more radio play, and more influence. This is the increase in production that was necessary to bring New Order to the pop realm, and after this, they didn’t look back.
69. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983) – Folk Punk/Post Punk
With punk-centric song structures, and acoustic instrumentation, Violent Femmes took ideas from past bands like the Velvet Underground, and officially founded folk punk. Every song is quick, interesting, and simplistic. The influences are clear. It’s easy to hear Lou Reed on this project, but not to the point of staleness. And surprisingly, it feels as full as any other punk group’s sound, despite lacking the power and volume of electricity. I wouldn’t think I’d enjoy an acoustic guitar solo, but this proved me very wrong.
68. The Replacements – Let It Be (1984) – Post Punk/Indie Rock
Each generation has a variety of releases that help illustrate the feelings of anxiety and frustration among the youth. For adolescents around 1984, it’s Let It Be. Transitioning from their initial punk-based sound, The Replacements came to the post punk side of things, and focused more on emotive songwriting. It worked. “Unsatisfied” is a painful illustration of anyone who’s dealt with depression in their life, “Sixteen Blue” brings those themes to a more specific place and time, and “Androgynous” challenges the idea of gender norms. Each song on here means something important.
67. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985) – Post Punk/Noise Pop/Bubblegum Pop
I’m not saying Psychocandy invented the shoegaze genre, but I’m not not saying that. By bringing a tinny layer of guitars in front of almost every melody, they made pop incredibly noisy, but in the best way. “Just Like Honey” is a soft rock and pop jam that, without the additional guitar layers, would be any other ’80s new wave song. Instead, it’s catapulted to a new level of relevancy with just that one addition. It’s sad to see their innovation fall flat on their future projects, but this record is a mainstay in the camp of inventive records.
66. Tears for Fears – Songs From the Big Chair (1985) – Progressive Pop/New Wave
Songs from the Big Chair is a candidate for the best pop album ever. In only eight songs, they managed to create four radio-play giants, and showcased almost every popular ’80s pop trend in the process. With synths, echoey loops, gorgeous guitars, and more, every song on here is a blast, but relatively self-aware as well; unlike a lot of pop music. It also provided a huge boost to genres like new wave, which, at the time, were a less popular alternative to the synth pop of the ’80s. There’s not much here you can criticize, and that’s a rarity among huge pop releases.
65. The Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986) – Rap Rock/Hip Hop
Were the Beastie Boys the most creative, mind-blowing artists out there? No. Were they key in bringing large movements like hip hop to popular music? Of course. Them and their producers were masters of stealing others’ ideas, and transforming them into fun, quality music that most people could jam to. And in their own way, that’s impressive as hell. The record is filled, front-to-back, with good, fun, catchy hip hop, surrounded by rock instrumentation. It’s like the Run–D.M.C. x Aerosmith collaboration, for an entire record. And without it, hip hop wouldn’t be where it is now.
64. The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (1986) – New Wave/Post Punk
The Smiths put out a lot of music in the ’80s, but few records are as highly touted as this one. Like him or not, Morrissey’s sense of humor and lyricism peaked on this record, and drive a majority of it. The silky smooth guitars accompany his pretty, unique voice across the short thirty-seven minute runtime. The instrumentation is a combination of fun and dark, mirroring a lot of the topics discussed here as well. With everything being so rock solid, it’s the highlight of the Smith’s discography, and potentially the highlight of new wave as a whole.
63. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (1988) – Gangsta Rap/Hardcore Hip Hop
There are very few bands that are able to stir up the public more than N.W.A. did, in the face of this release. Strong language like “Fuck the Police” fill this record from head to toe, and were understandably contested by the lay man. But that intense rhetoric was key to establish them as a rap powerhouse, and to gain attention for the issues they were discussing. Their influence was so big that “Straight Outta __” t-shirts fill up closets and “Fuck the Police” is being played from the rooftops right now. It also spawned the careers of many rap legends.
62. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) – Hardcore Hip Hop
Public Enemy was the East Coast equivalent of N.W.A. With political messages, aggressive deliveries, and outstanding rapport, the group brought hardcore hip hop to the other side of the nation, and in a more accessible form as well. A more subtle approach, with less F-words, and more Flavor Flav, were enough to make aggressive rap relatively acceptable in the eyes of many. But the important thing is, they didn’t lose the artistic level or the political speech. “Rebel Without A Pause,” and “Bring Tha Noise” are just a couple examples of hip hop gems on this record.
61. Pixies – Doolittle (1989) – Alternative Rock/Noise Pop
The Pixies’ fusion of low-key, acoustic, folk-type instrumentation, and intense, loud aggression is what brought the idea of “loud, quiet, loud” to a lot of popular ’90s music. This record is solid from front to back, and in my opinion, in the discussion for best record of the ’80s. Kurt Cobain stole their songwriting style and riffs, and Bono was a huge fan as well. Despite their lack of huge commercial success, almost every rock and pop musician that would become huge, was at one point a fan. And you can’t judge them for that.
60. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990) – Synth Pop/New Wave
Depeche Mode were always relevant in the new wave genre, but never hit international stardom like they did with Violator. Both “Personal Jesus,” and “World in My Eyes” charted incredibly well across the globe, and gave ears to a fully-developed new wave sound. It maintains some of the darker themes of most new wave, but in a pop-heavy, danceable way that made it club-friendly. This late-stage new wave album is one of the genre’s high points, and is incredibly impressive for coming so late in its development.
59. A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990) – Jazz Rap
A Tribe Called Quest brought rap back to its roots, both sonicly, and geographically. Based in New York City, hip hop’s birthplace, they focused on the camaraderie and more genuine aspects of the genre, and explored themes of afrocentrism, which wasn’t as relevant in the public sphere. Most of their percussion was acoustic, rather than synthetically crafted, and it was a genius way of bringing these nostalgic themes to life. This was the album that invented ATCQ, and put important discussions of blackness to the table, and it does both fantastically today.
58. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991) – Shoegaze/Noise Rock
Loveless is continuously cited as one of the most important releases in rock history. My Bloody Valentine reinvented the guitar, and energized the entire shoegaze genre with this one release. Moreover, it’s an impressive, and perfect representation of what the album cover looks like, and the themes feel like. Mimicking the overwhelming rush of love, and the hardships and challenges associated with it, the guitars suffocate you, but in a gorgeous and bright way. There isn’t any other album like Loveless, even in the genre, and it was the one that started it all.
57. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991) – Grunge
It’s no secret that it was Nevermind‘s growing popularity that pushed grunge to the top of the charts. Where would the genre be without “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Lithium,” or “In Bloom”? Probably somewhere, but not to the legendary status it has now. Even though it’s pop’s edition of grunge, Kurt Cobain’s songwriting and lyricism here are much better than they were on Bleach (1989), and each track was most likely blared through the radio speakers somewhere in the early ’90s. It is the grunge album, despite Kurt’s frustration, and would be my representative for the genre.
56. Slint – Spiderland (1991) – Math Rock/Post Rock
Slint’s Spiderland represents the official birth of math rock as a genre. Its long, drawn-out song structure, attention to instrumental composition, and poetic lyricism make up much of what the genre is about. Many people think this is one of the greatest records of all time, but unlike many other candidates for the crown, it’s loose, empty, and not well-polished. But that’s what makes it great. The dreary guitars, the isolated vocals, the sudden jumps in energy, invented almost an entire genre reliant on what are effectively jam-sessions with occasional lyrics. It’s a minimalist masterpiece.
55. Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992) – Norwegian Black Metal/Death Metal
Norwegian black metal has a relatively long history, jumping off of the work of thrash metal bands like Metallica. So Darkthrone wasn’t the first black metal band ever, but they did help create the visual style associated with the scene. When it comes to sound, they weren’t the typical black metal band, recording much of the music in lo-fi, in one of the member’s bedrooms. But because of that, it’s not quite as overbearing as some other groups’ projects. It ends up sounding like a much heavier version of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All (1983), with a very gross, scary vocalist.
54. Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992) – Gangsta Rap/West Coast Hip Hop
Dr. Dre was key in defining gangsta rap off the bat, as a member of N.W.A., but this went double for his first solo record, The Chronic. Him, alongside Ice Cube, quickly established themselves as hungry, skilled artists outside of the group, but Dr. Dre would also go to define the West Coast style of hip hop, with his production work on this project, and future projects. The Chronic acts as the birth of West Coast production, Death Row Records, Snoop Dogg, and others. Without this, most of the West Coast scene wouldn’t have existed.
53. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992) – Indie Rock/Noise Pop
There’s little to say about this album that hasn’t already been said. It’s in the top five of all ’90s albums according to multiple publications, in the top one-hundred albums of all time, and the best indie rock album ever. Slanted and Enchanted, and Pavement as a whole, effectively created the modern indie rock genre. Its relevance exploded over the ’90s, and now it’s incredibly popular, but before this record, that wasn’t seen as much. Its energetic, lo-fi nature is exciting to the ear, but it pulls itself back on more mellow tracks like “Here.” It has everything the genre has to offer, because it was the genre.
52. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992) – Rap Metal
Funky bass lines, shredding metal guitars, and a fantastic, educated emceeing from Zack de la Rocha make up pretty much every Rage Against the Machine album, but this did it first. The heavy instrumentation was something relatively new to the hip hop genre, before bands like Linkin Park, and several nu metal representatives. For a while, they were the cornerstone example of how to pull it off. And because of the still-relevant lyricism from Zack, it aged significantly better than its counterparts. If you want quality metal and quality rap in one, this is the album to go to.
51. Slowdive – Souvlaki (1993) – Shoegaze/Dream Pop
Unlike a lot of shoegaze, Slowdive lays off the gas on the guitars, and focuses more on lyrics. But because the energy is often concentrated in the instrumentation, it feels almost empty. This emptiness is doubled-down upon with a lot of the themes and topics featured in here as well. These decisions create a whole other brand of shoegaze, apart from the likes of My Bloody Valentine; one that is a bit more friendly to the pop genre. As a result, you’re left with a dreamy, lonely album with a shoegaze frame, and a key release for the genre.
50. The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993) – Grunge/Shoegaze
The Smashing Pumpkins’ work came a long way from their humble beginnings on Gish (1991), on their second record, Siamese Dream. Where they initially established themselves as an alternative rock group, with a variety of influences, they continued to take from the rest of the scenes around them, and bring them to the pop sphere. Siamese Dream takes the best, most pop-friendly aspects of more underground genres, and brings them to light in a way that anyone can enjoy. It’s not as rough as grunge, or as guitar-invested as shoegaze, but it brings both forms to a good, friendly point.
49. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) – Hardcore Hip Hop
The Wu-Tang name, and symbol, both transcend the music industry in their importance and their recognition. The entry to their universe was full of swagger, rapport, and a clear love of Eastern films and music. The thematic decision to include those samples is unique and independent, and helped throw the idea of sampling even further into the genre. It also established each individual member as a recognizable artist, jump-starting the careers of people like GZA and Raekwon. Today, it’s a very strong hip hop record, with an unfettered, contagious vocal attack.
48. Blur – Parklife (1994) – Britpop
Where Oasis approached the more rock-side of britpop and britrock, Blur eventually put heavy attention on the more pop-oriented side. Parklife is an energetic example of British life; using a lot of British references, language, and feelings of the British people. But even as an outsider, its political commentary and mentions of mundanity are incredibly relatable. The daily journey with this unnamed man on “Parklife” is a lively one; but one with a subtle dread, as he continues to live the same day over and over. That, and more, are featured on this peak britpop record.
47. Green Day – Dookie (1994) – Pop Punk
Pop punk, in principle, has been around since the Ramones; with accessible, fun, and easy-to-listen-to songs, even from them. But the pop punk we know of today was birthed almost entirely from this record, and other early Green Day. Focused on the frustrations of early adulthood, Green Day molded the anger and anxiety perfectly with incredibly melodic and accessible music. “Basketcase,” to this day, remains as a staple in the genre, if not its most popular song of all time. And even through many shifts, and an extended time in rock opera, this is still their most important record.
46. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994) – Industrial Metal
Trent Reznor is one of the more creative, independent minds in music, and has been since his very first record as Nine Inch Nails. His initial project was a large stepping stone in industrial music, but put a heavy concentration on synths, and was relatively small. The Downward Spiral is everything but. It consistently defies expectations with large dynamic transitions, and surprisingly intimate moments. And its lyrical themes seem wrapped together in the effective idea of, well, a downward spiral.
45. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (1994) – Gangsta Rap/East Coast Hip Hop
For a long time, Biggie was the face of East Coast hip hop; even in a time where groups like A Tribe Called Quest, and the Wu-Tang Clan were ruling the genre. His very thoughtful verses were full of realism, honesty, and confessions, which was the exact opposite of what the West Coast was often doing. The harsh reality he constructs with his words are a lot of what great hip hop is about; poetic truths among digestible music. Even for me, who prefers the production style of the West Coast, this is a groundbreaking release that shouldn’t be understated.
44. Portishead – Dummy (1994) – Trip Hop
This has been largely credited as the album that popularized the trip hop genre. The slow, jazzy patterns of percussion, and long, drawn-out guitars bring a level of suspense to the music. Despite being full of instrumental variety, it feels almost empty. Beth Gibbons’ lyrics fill the voids in the music, creating an environment similar to a quiet club or a bar, with just her on the stage. It’s fit for an ambient background if you want, but loaded with enough content for active listening as well. And while it’s not the first of its kind, it’s the ultimate example of trip hop done well.
43. Weezer – Weezer (Blue Album) (1994) – Alternative Rock/Power Pop/Emo
Rivers Cuomo is a very polarizing person. His music is undoubtedly catchy, but often problematic; especially towards the beginning of his career. And songs like “No One Else” illustrate this perfectly. But with his brutal honesty comes painfully accurate, and gorgeous lyricism. The songwriting here is only rivaled by their follow-up, Pinkerton (1996), but even then it’s debatable. Every song on here is punchy, fun, and sad all at the same time. But more important than those, are the long epics like “Only In Dreams” and “Undone,” which have yet to be replicated by the band in their past twenty-six years.
42. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995) – Britpop/Rock
As time has passed, most of Oasis has been diluted to “Wonderwall” memes, and little mention of their historic influence on British pop music. But this record; the follow up on their initial explosion, Definitely Maybe (1994); is as creative as it is meme-heavy. The patience on display in regards to songwriting is fantastic, with songs like “Champagne Supernova,” and “Some Might Say.” The project as a whole is a wonderful combination of pop-driven rock music, often compared to bands like the Beatles, but updated to the more grunge-heavy sound of the ’90s.
41. 2Pac – All Eyez On Me (1996) – Gangsta Rap/West Coast Hip Hop
Coming straight out of jail with the help of Suge Knight and Death Row Records, 2pac agreed to create three albums under the label, and this double record counted as two of them. The album isn’t memorable just as his last full-length recording before his death, but it’s also by far the longest, and best piece of work him and Dre helped create. This is peak West Coast hip hop production, with the old gangsta influences fully developing as a viable production style, and 2pac’s verses were heightened as well. This is a historic record in the timeline of West vs. East hip hop, and is as consistent as it is important.
40. Beck – Odelay (1996) – Folk Rock/Rap Rock/Alternative Hip Hop
Before Beck made his attempts at pop music; which he continues to do; he was doing his best to destroy genre descriptions. This album has everything from coffee shop indie, to folk, to hip hop, to hard rock, to electronica, and everything in between. Through hip hop beats, highly filtered vocals, and layers of guitars, he brings just about every corner of music together. Odelay is a snapshot of almost every ’90s trend, sans R&B, and will likely not be replicated ever again. This is the start of Beck’s creativity, and an experience unlike any other.
39. Tool – Ænima (1996) – Alternative Metal
While I’m certainly sure there were a long list of people who knew of TOOL prior to this record, Ænima was what put them on the map. The inventive metal gurus are highly contested when it comes to quality. Some think they’re wonderful. Others think not. But there’s no argument to be had over their influence on future generations of musicians. Their insanely long compositions are experimental and enjoyable, and they helped normalize controversy in music, through their titles, lyrics, and outside statements. Without Ænima there would be no TOOL, and without TOOL, there wouldn’t be modern metal.
38. Radiohead – OK Computer (1997) – Alternative Rock/Art Rock
Is it the best record of all time? Probably not. But a variety of websites will tell you it is, and there has to be some reasoning for that. Radiohead’s experimental approach to the rock genre hits a high here, especially conceptually. While not quite as melodically evolved as something like In Rainbows (2007), it creates an unparalleled dystopian environment eerily similar to our own. The songs are simultaneously catchy and thought-provoking, the ideas come by the thousands, and for its time, it was as progressive as it could be.
37. Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998) – IDM/Electronica
Boards of Canada have quickly become one of the most well-known and well-received electronic bands in history, and most of it stemmed from this record. Music Has The Right To Children combines IDM beats and transitions, with inventive sampling to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sometimes it’s eerie, sometimes it’s joyful, but all the time, it’s reminiscent of a childhood; some speculate it’s attempting to mirror the experience of a lost child. Either way, it’s a great ambient record to put on while studying, or to analyze actively. Its usages are limitless and its influences are too.
36. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998) – Indie Rock/Folk/Lo-fi
Loving Neutral Milk Hotel has become a huge stereotype for music lovers on the internet; especially male ones. But while this may not be the greatest album to ever exist, it’s hard to criticize it. The modernized folk plays incredibly well alongside gorgeous melodies, and even prettier lyricism. At times it feels like a concept record, but at the same time, it’s incredibly personalized to the listener, with a lot of vague concepts sprinkled throughout. It’s a journey through history, nostalgia, puberty, and more, capturing the lives of many, and questioning even more.
35. American Football – American Football (1999) – Math Rock/Midwest Emo/Indie Rock
American Football did an incredible amount of work for numerous genres. Its soft rock tendencies brought accessibility to math rock. Its gorgeous instrumentation brought complexity to indie rock. And its growing popularity gave a face to Midwest emo music as well. The instrument-driven experience is an emotional one. “Never Meant” is still a staple across all three genres, and is a great track for people from the outside, looking in. The way it goes about displaying the qualities of these genres makes it a perfect introduction to each one, and a great record in general.
34. Built to Spill – Keep It Like A Secret (1999) – Indie Rock/Alternative Rock
After perfecting the quick and punchy songwriting on There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994), Doug Martsch embarked on a longer, emotional, guitar-driven project, Perfect From Now On (1997). Their fourth studio album, Keep It Like A Secret, brings the best of both worlds. With the older, more relatable, and shorter songwriting, the album becomes much more accessible; but within each track is often a gorgeous message, surrounded by some of the more complex and flexible guitar melodies ever crafted. The end result is a perfect balance of unique but listenable indie rock, that covers just about every ’90s trend.
33. The Avalanches – Since I Left You (2000) – Plunderphonics/IDM
Plunderphonics is one of the more curious realms of music. The word is a fancy way of saying “mashup,” as it relies almost entirely on previous compositions and samples to make something completely new. The Avalanches might be the professionals at just this. Skillful splicing and added beats were all that was needed to create this masterpiece; which sounds like a joyful experience on a tropical cruise. But exceeding those expectations, it also gives emotional context, throwing you in someone else’s shoes for the whole ride.
32. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000) – Post Rock
Godspeed might be the best band to ever attempt a recreation of real life, just through music itself. Their long-lasting tracks are full of instrumental transitions, and just enough vocal samples to add meaning to each one. Lift Your Skinny Fists, to me, is if Pink Floyd evolved within the post rock scene, evoking emotions with pinpoint accuracy in each little section, until you’re left sitting there in silence, wondering what you’re doing with your life. This project is one of the most reflective, realistic pieces of art entirely, and something few other records can even try to do.
31. Koji Kondo – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000) – Video Game OST/Orchestral
I wanted to have one representative of video game music on here, and Majora’s Mask fits the bill more than any other I’m aware of. Ocarina of Time (1998) was groundbreaking in its usage of music within game mechanics, and for atmosphere as well. But what Ocarina was able to do, Majora’s simply does better. Taking similar themes and musical cues, Koji continued his development of the string-and-ocarina based soundtrack, but made it much more emotional. Majora’s is easily one of the most anxious gaming experiences out there, and about 75% of that is just the music.
30. Outkast – Stankonia (2000) – Southern Hip Hop/Psychedelic Funk
The tag team of emcees in André 3000 and Big Boi were great in the ’90s. Their experimental flows, production, song styles, and even album covers brought new life to the Atlanta area. As they jumped into the 2000s, their differing musical styles began to show themselves, with one being more pop-oriented, and the other, hardcore hip hop. But instead of clashing, like on future records, Stankonia showcases the best of both worlds. It’s hard to think of another album with both a “Ms. Jackson,” and a “B.O.B.” Their two-sided work created an album that highlights early 2000s R&B and hip hop perfectly.
29. Björk – Vespertine (2001) – Art Pop/Electronica/Ambient/Minimalist
Björk’s influence on the pop, electronic, and trip-hop genres began in the early ’90s, and has continued through to today. It’s hard to pick the best, or most important of her discography, because each project seems to be its own little journey. That being said, Vespertine is one of her more unique records, fusing her traditional electro-pop with a minimalist dream, focusing almost solely on her vocal performance. The result is a gorgeous, smooth, melancholy, often-lonely look into Björk as a person, and a rarity among her discography.
28. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001) – Electronica/Disco/Pop
Daft Punk came into the music scene with Homework (1997); a danceable, but simplistic taste of french house music. It was new and interesting, but nothing too insane quite yet. But Daft Punk’s return, Discovery, is out of this world compared to its predecessor. Where Homework felt like ’80s techno, Discovery feels like 3030 pop music, even to this day. They perfected the pop formula, found a production style unlike anyone else’s, and created melodies unlike anyone else. This was possibly the biggest electronic record of the 2000s, and with everyone sampling Daft Punk, I don’t see it being forgotten soon.
27. The Strokes – Is This It (2001) – Indie Rock/Garage Rock
The Strokes are the closest thing we’ve gotten to the Beatles since the ’60s, in terms of sound, attention, and influence on rock specifically. The only bands that really rivaled them were Oasis, and potentially Blur, whose explosions didn’t land far outside of the UK. The simple, accessible, pop-driven indie rock brought back a genre that was on the brink of extinction; and revitalized it to the point of over-saturation a few years later. This collection of songs can’t be overstated when it comes to musical importance, and as a result, it will forever live as a classic rock record.
26. System of a Down – Toxicity (2001) – Nu Metal/Alternative Metal
Despite nu metal’s criticism throughout the years – especially more recently – System of a Down has proven to be a band with long-lasting critical acclaim, and it’s clear why. They bring a very skillful, and often politically-driven depth to the genre, that normally focuses on pure rage and anxiety. Their sound is a lot cleaner too, albeit obviously very aggressive. Toxicity is an outstanding, digestible, relatable, and fun spotlight into a genre that hasn’t aged well. But it being one of few exceptions just illustrates how great it is.
25. Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf (2002) – Desert Rock/Stoner Rock
Queens of the Stone Age is the poster child for desert rock, stoner rock, and other similar brands of music jumping out of the Southern California and Nevada areas. The mix of grunge, hard rock, and psychedelia is unique to both them and their very limited scene. Songs for the Deaf takes that interesting combination of sounds, and contextualizes it inside of the desert itself; masquerading as a radio broadcast in the middle of nowhere. This concept record doesn’t just provide great music, but instead, an inside look into the people, and region, that created it.
24. Amy Winehouse – Frank (2003) – Jazz/R&B
Amy Winehouse was quite possibly the greatest vocalists of the 21st century. Her very raw technique emotes each lyric incredibly, and it doesn’t hurt that each song was personally written by her. Frank is by no means her best record, her most grandiose, or her most well-received, but I think it highlights the parts of her music that work the best. Its stripped-back production puts the full focus on her, whereas Back to Black (2006) is more of a full band sound. As a result, Frank is the most “Amy Winehouse” of her discography, and a must-listen for anyone who loves intimate songwriting and vocals.
23. The White Stripes – Elephant (2003) – Garage Rock/Blues Rock
Elephant (2003) is easily one of the best projects to come out of the garage rock revival back in the early 2000s. It came at a perfect time for the White Stripes. After perfecting their production and developing their songwriting over three records, they found the right balance of simplicity and imagination. Their simple drum patterns and heavy guitar-centered sound recreate the best parts of both blues and hard rock; while Jack White’s lyricism and storytelling do the rest of the work. And “Seven Nation Army” is up there with the best album openers ever.
22. Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004) – Experimental Hip Hop/Jazz Rap
Madlib and MF Doom proved their individual worth with their solo careers prior to Madvillain’s existence. Madlib was, and is, one of the greater active music producers; and Doom’s swagger exudes maybe stronger than any other rapper’s. The combination of their talents ends up being one of the greatest experimental hip hop records of all time. Rather than spend four minutes on a track, they give a twenty-two song collection, averaging out to about two minutes each. If you want some good sampling, this is the best there is. There’s a great variety here, and for once, “experimental” doesn’t mean inaccessible.
21. Gorillaz – Demon Days (2005) – Art Pop/Trip Hop/Alternative Rock
The Gorillaz’ innovation began with their creative decision to become a character-based, internet band. It continued on their debut record, Gorillaz (2001), with their artistic, experimental fusions of electronica, rock, and hip hop. Their follow-up, Demon Days (2005), took their original sound through a concept journey surrounding the band’s members, and helped tighten up their more sloppy ideas from their initial project. Each song on this project is incredible, distinct, and comes together for a thought-provoking trip through a near-flawless musical project.
20. My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade (2006) – Pop Punk/Emo/Hard Rock/Rock Opera
A concept album packaged in a fusion of pop-punk and emo? Couldn’t be. Influenced by classics like Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979), MCR were able to bring the weight and grandiosity of a one-hour concept album to the incredibly simple and often-shallow genre of pop-punk. Telling the story of a dying patient, and spinning-in personal references and emotions, the group pulled off an experiment that has yet to be replicated. Not to mention, it spawned the immortal emo epic, “Welcome to the Black Parade.”
19. Ratatat – Classics (2006) – Alternative Rock/Electronica
Ratatat have spent their entire career showing off the infinite possibilities that exist with just two dueling guitars, and Classics is their magnum opus. The completely-instrumental record is about 90% guitars, and 10% electronic beats. The fact that they were able to create a ten-track, forty-two-minute album with just those two features is impressive in itself, but when you note diversity, the creativity, and the danceability, it gets so much better. Any fan of guitars, electronica, or any kind of experimental music should be all over this. I know I am.
18. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007) – Dance Punk/Electronica/Indie Rock
I sadly can’t credit the quote, but I once heard someone say “LCD Soundsystem is dance music for people who hate dance music,” and while that’s not entirely true, it’s relatively accurate. James Murphy’s ability to fuse simplistic disco beats, punk attitude, and various synthetic sounds results in an indie-dance fusion for the overly-self-aware. He teaches you to own yourself, on the very f*ck-you anthem, “North American Scum,” reminisces about friendship and partying with “All My Friends,” and leaves with a somber finish in “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.”
17. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008) – Indie Rock/Chamber Pop/Worldbeat
Indie music has reached new heights over the past twenty-or-so years, and it wouldn’t be nearly as big without Vampire Weekend’s explosion toward the latter half of the 2000s. Unlike many indie bands who ride off the coattails of other artists until they develop their own sound, Vampire Weekend came out of the gate with their own identity. Through worldly instrumentals and tropical beats, they brought a more international flavor to American indie. And, of course, Ezra’s joyous critique of upper-class living adds a bit of punk to their otherwise-unsuspecting style.
16. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Hip Hop/Art Pop
Kanye’s discography has gone through a lot of shifts in his sixteen years as a signed artist. There’s old Kanye, there’s new Kanye, and I guess now there’s God-worshiping Kanye. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy acts as the transitioning between old and new. More than that, it marks a transition in him, as a person. The maddening power and attention he was given created a grand persona best represented in this project; but it maintains a certain self-awareness that makes it relatable. It’s a fantastic and inventive hip hop record, with a much bigger backstory, that makes it even more rewarding.
15. Skrillex – Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (2010) – Dubstep/Brostep
This record almost single-handedly brought the UK genre, dubstep, to the United States, won two grammies, and is arguably the most influential EDM record of the past ten years. Skrillex’s hardcore past brought a refreshing and aggressive focus to electronic music, spawning an entirely new genre, “brostep,” which played a part in ruling 2010s dance music. To this day, some of these tracks seem futuristic; specifically “With You, Friends (Long Drive):” a bitpop jam featuring some pretty chilling piano over the top. This all becomes more impressive when you realize it’s a six-song EP.
14. Death Grips – The Money Store (2012) – Experimental Hip Hop/Industrial Hip Hop/Electronica
Whether or not you enjoy them, there’s no denying that Death Grips are unlike any other group. Their ability to blend the attitude of punk and metal, with the sound of hip hop, creates a sound that transcends all genres. The Money Store isn’t nearly as forward-thinking today, as it was in 2012, but I still think there isn’t any other album like it. The unfettered insanity of MC Ride comes into full-effect when backed by a mix of guitars, keyboards, and electronica. And with some very thoughtful pop-inspired choruses, some songs like “Get Got” maintain a certain level of accessibility.
13. Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Man (2013) – Indie Rock/Electronica
Car Seat Headrest today, is a large band full of creative members. And they continue to make incredible indie rock because of it. But ten years ago, it was just Will Toledo, and his in-van recording studio. Believe it or not, this two-hour-long epic, was made completely independent of anyone else. Toledo’s expansive mind crafted multiple thirteen-minute-long tracks that sport incredible dynamic shifts, instrumental flexibility, and more. This album stands as a perfect example of songwriting over production, and is proof that even alone, anything is possible.
12. Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013) – Atmospheric Black Metal/Shoegaze
Almost all black metal fanatics absolutely despise this record, for the exact reason that makes it incredible: Sunbather is far-and-away the most accessible black metal album to ever exist. The intensely bright guitars shed off the typical heavy, black void of the genre, and instead, sound like you’re staring directly into the sun. The energy doesn’t fade, and on principle, its sound is incredibly similar to the genre’s traditional bands’. But a simple change in tone, and a huge influence from ’90s shoegaze makes these tracks scream “beauty,” rather than “death.”
11. Ariel Pink – pom pom (2014) – Experimental Pop/Art Rock/Psychedelia
Ariel Pink’s music is incredibly strange and forward-thinking, and this isn’t an exception; even while being his most accessible. Somehow melding almost every popular trend from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Pink creates a powerful and fun pop and rock experience. Every song on here is incredibly different in its approach to the overall sound on this record, with some being very fast and guitar-driven power-pop jams, while others are slow, narrative-building soft-rock tracks. Either way, Ariel Pink’s creativity is at an all-time high here, and holds some of his most inventive tracks yet.
10. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014) – Hardcore Hip Hop
Ten years ago, no one would’ve thought to pair El-P and Killer Mike together, but as soon as it happened, everyone realized it was a match made in heaven. Killer Mike’s style, energy, and unapologetic aggression drives almost every track, and El-P’s unrivaled production never gets old. Their two lyrical styles attack on two sides; one being incredibly direct, and the other providing a little more lyrical depth. The duo makes up for each other’s weaknesses, to make one of the most well-balanced musical duos out there, and this is by far their best project.
9. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Hip Hop/Jazz Rap/Soul
If good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012) wasn’t enough to cement Kendrick Lamar as an elite songwriter and narrative-constructor, this certainly was. The jazz-rap revival is impressive enough in its musical skill. Each composition is catchy, complex, and unique, but as an overall project, it rivals the best concept albums of all time. The interludes build on top of each other for almost an hour and a half, creating a commentary on capitalism, the music industry, family relationships, race, power, and everything in between. And “Mortal Man” might be the best payoff of any record in history.
8. Travis Scott – Rodeo (2015) – Hip Hop/Trap
Trap is a historically-minimalist genre, focusing strictly on a few percussive elements and very derivative topics, but Rodeo expands the sound more than any other record has. With a wall-of-sound approach, infinite artist features, and up to eight-minute tracks, this is about as full and creative as any record, period. The pop-friendliness of ASTROWORLD (2018) isn’t as present, but that might be for the best. Instead, each instrumental is as progressive, experimental, and fulfilling as the next; and Travis Scott’s lyricism is surprisingly engaging.
7. Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016) – Experimental Pop/R&B
Frank Ocean’s debut, Channel Orange (2012), was a fantastic pop record that put the main focus on his gorgeous vocals and intimate songwriting. His follow-up, Blonde, expanded as much as it could, without losing his essence. It’s just as strong lyrically, and just as smooth musically, but way more diverse and creative. His pitch-changed voice and experimental instrumentation take the rather one-dimensional base of Frank Ocean’s sound, and bring it to the next level. The result; one of the more intriguing pop records of the decade.
6. Against All Logic – 2012 – 2017 (2018) – House/Electronica/IDM
Nicolas Jaar, known here as Against All Logic, is one of the more creative minds in electronic and dance music. This release, 2012-2017, takes a collection of his songs between those years, and puts them together in a pretty fluid record. Almost every decade of dance music is featured here, but it’s clear that house music is one of the main influences. Either way, it’s a diverse compilation of different dance music styles, all well-produced, and experimented with; to give it just a bit of added flavor. It’s the crossroads between club-friendly jams, and the out-there approach of IDM.
5. Haru Nemuri – harutosyura (2018) – J-Pop/Noise Rock/Punk Rock/Pop Rock
Haru Nemuri’s only full studio release is simply labeled “J-pop” by most music streaming services, and that couldn’t be less true. This release bounces from standard pop, to noise rock, shoegaze, punk, bitpop, and even techno in its short forty-eight-minute runtime. There are few albums as dynamic as this one, and its breadth doesn’t destroy its depth in the slightest. Each track is meticulously constructed, and catchy, even in the instances where they’re only two-minutes-long. For all of these reasons, in my opinion, this is the best introduction to Japanese music out there.
4. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake! (2018) – Art Rock/Punk Rock
Grounded in ’70s rock, Wide Awake! brings back the intriguing, multi-faceted side of the now-stale genre. Whether it’s through politically-driven punk (“Normalisation”), new-wave goth (“Back to Earth”), or a sequel to everyone’s favorite southern rock song (“Freebird II”), they make it meaningful and enjoyable. Each song is vastly different from the next, but all of them have something to say. The end result is a fast-and-fun, meaningful compilation of rock’s various pasts.
3. Playboi Carti – Die Lit (2018) – Hip Hop/Trap/Mumble Rap
On the surface, it seems like just another generic trap or mumble rap release, but in reality, it’s a minimalist’s dream. Each track is filled to the brim with wall-of-sound production, but with each only using a few individual pieces to construct the overwhelming sound. When everything is pieced together, it’s way more reminiscent of punk, or even shoegaze, than it is current hip hop. The packaging may be enough to dissuade many people, and it’s understandable if you don’t enjoy some of the lyricism featured in this project. But at the end of the day, it’s a unique, hypnotic trip through music’s recent trends.
2. 100 gecs – 1000 gecs (2019) – Hyperpop/Electronica
1000 gecs is the product of a decade of online music production and sharing. With the influences of Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and other independent platforms, 100 gecs brought meme-filled pisscore, and other trashy genres to the mainstream. With some effective pop songwriting, and a couple of fun-loving personas, Dylan and Laura have become yet another example of why the internet is the new place to find your stride. One studio album in, and they’re already collaborating with Fallout Boy, and Charli XCX. I’d be surprised if this sound doesn’t continue to spread its wings in the near future.
1. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (2019) – Chamber Pop/Pop Rock
Titanic Rising sports some of the best songwriting of the 21st century so far, with its flair for the dramatic. The emotional, intimate chamber pop bounces from melancholy, to victorious; and both have a very hypnotic quality to them. The numerous layers of various chords and strings create a melodramatic journey through almost every decade of music, including this one. I can’t say for sure, but I personally feel a lot of Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell in this record. And I think Natalie is the closest thing we’re going to get to either of those stars, for quite a while.