There has never been a decade as hard to pin down musically as the 2010s.
Genres like trap and EDM took the mainstream world by storm as underground outsider genres like vaporwave (a genre consisting of already-existing ‘80s songs slowed down with reverb) challenged conventions of what music could be in the modern day.
As a result, it has also never been easier for great albums to fall under the radar. Here’s a list of the best albums from the 2010s you may have missed, in no particular order.
DJ Rozwell - “NONE OF THIS IS REAL” (2014)
If albums of the decade were crowned only by ingenuity and novel concepts, “NONE OF THIS IS REAL” would take the prize with no competition. This 55-track, hour-long instrumental hip-hop album comes with instructions to set a crossfade of five-to-six seconds and shuffle the whole album in an attempt to recreate rogue-like video games of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
It's a good thing the music is almost as good as the concept, too. It sounds like it exists in a world where the TV only shows History Channel documentaries that play at 3 a.m. and the only video games to play are Gauntlet and Chrono Trigger. If you haven’t experienced this album, download it today.
The Flaming Lips - “7 Skies H3: 50 Minute Edit” (2014)
The original mix of this album is 24 hours long. You read that right; it’s not 24 minutes or 2.4 hours, it is 24 hours long. Even though that easily makes it one of the most ambitious projects ever created, I can’t recommend listening to the entire thing (I have once, it was torture). Luckily, there’s a 50-minute edit of the album which takes all of the best parts and condenses it into a digestible project that hones all of its amazing potential.
The sound is a downtrodden but psychedelic mix of rock, alternative music and electronic noodling. Listen to it if you’re partial to groups like Tame Impala, but don’t go in expecting anything like “The Less I Know, the Better.”
Alex Cameron - “Forced Witness” (2017)
This record is easily one of the funniest and catchiest albums of the decade. Inspired by ‘80s pop and singers like Bruce Springsteen, “Forced Witness” sees Alex Cameron taking on the persona of various internet-age losers who are hopelessly unlucky with love.
With guest appearances from Brandon Flowers of The Killers and song titles like “Studmuffin96,” this album shines a light on morally reprehensible facets of the modern day through earworm-after-earworm chorus.
The Caretaker - “Everywhere at the End of Time” (2016-19)
Easily the most somber and “difficult” of the records featured here, this album is actually a collection of six album-length “stages” released once every six months from September 2016 to March 2019. The “stages” are collections of 1930s British Dance Band music (inspired by the music from “The Shining”) that slowly deteriorate as the series progresses.
The idea for the album came about when the person behind the project, Leyland Kirby, decided it was time to retire his “Caretaker” moniker he had been using since 1999. He decided to “kill off” the project by “giving it dementia” and exploring the effects of the disease through music. Stage One is a creepy but relatively untampered set of looping orchestral ballroom music, while Stage Six sounds like sitting in a cavern filled with radio static and vinyl crackle.
It’s hard to explain what makes it so good, but listening to the various stages one after another is one of the most harrowing musical experiences of the decade.
The Garden - “Mirror Might Steal Your Charm” (2018)
On Tyler the Creator’s “I Ain’t Got Time!” he says “All smiles over here, shoutout to The Garden,” referencing this group’s 2015 song “All Smiles Over Here :).” This album is the band’s first release since Tyler’s shoutout, and it does not disappoint. On “Mirror Might Steal Your Charm,” The Garden put together an eclectic mix of punk, hip-hop and ‘90s electronic music in a 34-minute adrenaline-filled package that roars by in an instant. It’s some of the most fun and forward-thinking music that has come out this decade.
Neon Indian - “Vega Intl. Night School” (2015)
While this list is not a ranked list, if it were, this would easily be No. 1. It is one of the best underground pop albums of the decade. Up until this album, Neon Indian was primarily a group riding off the coattails of the late 2000s Chillwave movement, an indie-pop offshoot genre inspired by the sounds of AM radio and groups like MGMT.
“Vega Intl. Night School,” released years after the movement had fallen out of the mainstream, takes the genre and gives it an infusion of Prince-style synth-funk and club-ready house music. Every song on the album is immaculately crafted and it’s easy to put it on and be unable to turn it off until the last song fades out.
Alex Whetham is an Asst. Arts Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @alexo774.
Alex Whetham is an asst. arts editor for The Spectrum.