DECADE IN REVIEW: The top 102 albums of the 2010s

At the beginning of 2019 I set three New Year’s resolutions for myself—track my calories in my phone every day, eat at least one bagel a week, and select a different year from over the past decade each month and listen to albums that were released that year. 

I somehow managed to track my calories for the first 295 days of the year until a weekend on vacation got the best of me, and while I started the year off strong with bagels, that streak ended sometime in early May when my fiancée Melissa and I bought a home and moved away from the two neighborhood bagel shops I was frequenting. 

The one resolution I did keep was the music one, and what was originally just supposed to be a way to go back and relisten to some old albums I used to know turned into a way to listen to all of the significant music released over the past decade.

Each month, I selected a year (starting with 2010 in January, 2011 in February, and so on) and downloaded an about 75-album mix of the most acclaimed and most popular releases from that year.

I listened to all of them at least once. Some I liked, some I loved and have gone back to multiple times, and some I wouldn’t care to listen to again. In hundreds of instances I was listening to an album, or a genre, or an artist that I had never tried before. 

It was fun at times, tiring at other, but my New Year’s resolution was a success and a highly rewarding project. By the end of 2019, I had listened to and scored 684 albums that were released in the 2010s. 

This list is the culmination of hours of listening and organizing, and it highlights my 102 favorite albums of the decade. Why 102? Because that’s how many 4-star or better ratings I awarded, which signifies a great album in mind. 

In total, I awarded 7 albums a 5 stars rating (signifying an almost perfect album); 28 albums 4.5 stars, 67 albums 4 stars, 101 albums 3.5s, and 202 albums 3s. I consider every album that’s a 3 or higher at least a good album.

I awarded 173 albums 2.5 stars, which is reserved for average albums—nothing special, but nothing too bad about them either. And finally, I gave 106 albums a score of 2 or worse, representing albums that are below average or just flat out bad.

Listening to music, talking about it and sharing it with others is my favorite thing to do in the world. Whether you’re just scrolling through the list, skimming it for your favorite artists, or actually reading the reviews, I thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to look through, and I’m so happy to finally be sharing this with all of you

Here are my top 102 albums of the 2010s.

Continue reading “DECADE IN REVIEW: The top 102 albums of the 2010s”

NO THANK YOU – Little Simz ★★★★

2022NO THANK YOULittle Simz★★★★84Hip-Hop

An album that was likely missed and that might be forgotten because it was released in late December, 2022, NO THANK YOU by British emcee Little Simz once again shows that she’s one of the best and smartest out there.

Always a good lyricist that is able to command your attention with her words and rhythmic proficiency, Little Simz has refined the sound she went for on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert in the best way possible. When that album came out in 2021, I thought it was interesting, but that some of the “artistic” elements like strings and percussion felt a bit too intentional to be actually impactful. What carried that album was the artist, not the sometimes overproduced music around her message.

Here, those extra elements are integrated much better, and never steal the spotlight. Things like the violin riffs or the inclusion of a choir or backing vocals aren’t exactly subtle, but they feel appropriately interspersed to bring depth and movement to the songs, matching Simz’ energy instead of trying to create energy on their own.

I really like the record as a whole, with some tracks like “Angels,” “Silhouette”, “No Merci” and ”Heart on Fire” standing out as early favorites. There isn’t one dynamic song that I keep coming back to, both a testament to the strength of the album front to back but a little bit disappointing compared to some of the absolute bangers like “Venom” and “Selfish” and “How Did You Get Here” that she’s put out in the past.

It’s Almost Dry – Pusha T ★★★★½

2022It’s Almost DryPusha T★★★★½85Hip-Hop

A hip-hop veteran who’s always worn his confidence and swagger on his sleeve across his collaborations, albums and feature verses, Pusha T has been in a great rhythm since Daytona came out in 2018. It’s Almost Dry is such a solid hip-hop album, there isn’t really that much I have to say about Pusha T’s performance other than I really like it. It’s Pusha T doing what he does best: sounding cool and talking about pushing drugs over good beats. 

Pusha T proves for the second album in a row that he can carry his own album and be the star of the show. “Call My Bluff” and “Brambleton” are probably my favorite tracks here and showcase Push’s range and craftiness. 

But while he’s the focus first and foremost, a big draw of the record is the collaborations with folks he’s worked with in the past. Jay Z fits in with Pharrell and Push on “Neck & Wrist,” which serves as a nice sequel to 2016’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous.” “I Pray For You” is a triumphant reunion of Push and his partner in Clipse, Malice.

For production work, It’s Almost Dry also brings together two familiar faces: the aforementioned Pharrell — who produced Pusha T’s work with Clipse back in the 2000s — and Kanye West — who produced Daytona and countless other Good Music tracks featuring Pusha T over the previous 12 years. (Thank God It’s Almost Dry came out before Kanye was truly, unequivocally known as an anti-Semite). 

While Kanye seems to mail it in with his two guest features on this album, as a producer he pulls some rabbits out of his usual bag of soul samples and beats.  “Diet Coke” is one of the most obvious Kanye-sounding sample flips he’s made, but it really works and is one of those songs that, if you have it on repeat, you could listen to it five or six times before realizing it’s starting over. “Just So You Remember” sounds like it’s straight from the Daytona sessions. 

But Pharrell really brought his A Game on this one and kind of wiped the floor with Kanye. He counters Kanye’s samples with some soul pulls of his own like on “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes.” And for some reason Pharrell’s patented Neptunes bounce throughout in the bass and percussion tracks — from “Brambleton” to “Neck & Wrist”  and “Call My Bluff” — feels more energized and adds a bit more depth to the overall mix than usual. 

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar ★★★★

2022Mr. Morale & The Big SteppersKendrick Lamar★★★★82Hip-Hop

Whenever Kendrick Lamar puts anything out — a full album, a compilation, a new single, a new feature — it’s an event. It’s something that demands attention beyond just hip-hop fans or those that follow music culture closely. It’s the first thing anyone listens to that day, and then (if you’re me, anyway) you roll it back again, and again, and again until the day is over. Because every record he’s put out since 2012 has been a masterpiece, every single he’s put out has been solid at worst, and almost every song he’s been featured on, he’s spit hot fire.

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is, again, a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece, because no individual other than Kendrick can weave so many different themes into one record. No individual other than Kendrick knows how to consistently push the boundaries of, not just hip-hop production, but production for all popular music genres. Nobody raps like him. Nobody writes like him. Nobody sounds like him. Nobody demands your attention on a song like him.

Harmonies open the album, before sharp, individual piano chords welcome Kendrick on “United in Grief,” his voice building with the addition of chaotic drums mimicking tap dancing, bouncy staccato strings transitioning to full, smooth chords, and fading out to gentle piano that contrast the opening notes. Similar to the opening moments of To Pimp A Butterfly, it sets the scene flawlessly, sounding like something new that you haven’t quite heard before, and lets you know Kendrick has something to get off his chest.

The second track, “N95,” is the closest thing to a radio hit on the album, and the hard-hitting piano and synth production mixed with Kendrick’s lyrical repetition makes it instantly captivating.

The tap-dancing sounds season the record here and there and connect themes across moments, while that piano is ingrained in the fabric of the record, with almost every track featuring it in some way.

Prime examples of the piano both being used as a driver for the song and as just a texture are “Father Time,” which features a great Sampha appearance (where has that guy been?), as well as “Purple Hearts,” with guest features by Summer Walker and the legendary Ghostface Killah, the almost tribal sounding “Crown,” and likely the most personal, moving, Vulnerable, genuine, heartbreaking song on the record, “Mother I Sober,” featuring the incomparable Beth Gibbons.

My favorite track on the album is “Silent Hill,” which sonically sounds different from the rest of the record. A more standard hip-hip/R&B composition compared to some of the more nuanced production across the album, the song gives off strong driving/chilling at night vibes using a thudding bass underneath soft, dreamy chimes and strings that drag in emotion. Plus, Kodak Black inexplicably gives the best verse on the album.

Another album highlight is “Mr. Morale” featuring Tanna Leone. Produced by Pharrell, his patented bouncy percussion and backing vocal layers build intensity, mixing with haunting chanting in the distance. It stand out as a welcome change of pace near the end of the record and between two of the album’s heaviest songs emotionally.

But, while the album has a lot to praise, it’s the most imperfect of Kendrick’s masterpieces. Partly because we hold Kendrick Lamar to a higher standard than we do most other hip-hop artists, both musically and as a person.

Maybe that’s unfair. After all, as he points out specifically on the album, he is not our savior, he didn’t sign up to be the moral conscience of hip-hop music and he’s never pretended to be a perfect person or someone without demons.

Kodak Black was featured on dozens of records over the past two years before Kendrick got roasted a bit for giving him a feature. Is Kodak Black’s inclusion a fair criticism?

Probably not, but… Kendrick probably should have known better, or at least expected some of the backlash, and maybe could have found someone else to give multiple appearances to, as good as Kodak might have been on the songs.

Similarly, criticism comes from his repeated use of a gay slur on “Auntie Diaries,” a song that’s specifically about sexual/gender identity and how the meaning of the word and how it was used in his youth, when he admits he was ignorant, is different from his view of it today.

Hundreds of classic hip-hop songs, as well as big hits in the not so distant past, used the word and other similar slurs casually with little repercussion, if any at all. Is it fair to hold Kendrick to a different standard and to get up in arms about it, especially when he’s doing it in a way that’s trying to actually discuss the issue?

Probably not, but… there’s no way Kendrick didn’t think at least some people would be offended by it, and the hubris to say it over and over, even if it’s intentionally for impact, probably is worth talking about. After all, if this was a white guy in a song using slurs to prove a point, no matter how smart of a point they might think it is, they’d be canceled in a second.

It is all worthy of criticism, I think, because we have had a decade of Kendrick Lamar proving that he’s the smartest guy in hip-hop, that he understands big-picture political movements and struggles. Whether he signed up intentionally to be a mouthpiece for change and higher thinking or not, that is what he became, and with the years of praise and bowing down in awe of his best works comes a more critical lens when things don’t work as well.

But beyond the few things on the album that got some riled up to pseudo-cancel Kendrick when it first came out, the main issue about the album is, despite the great musical moments and lyrics, I don’t find some of the tracks particularly memorable.

The songs seem more important and deep than 2017’s radio-friendly DAMN. (although DAMN. had some pretty heavy stuff in it too despite the more accessible façade), but the story telling isn’t as fun or vivid as good kid, m.A.A.d city, and the lyrics and metaphors aren’t nearly as poignant as To Pimp A Butterfly and sometimes fall short (as fun as “N95” is, “Bitch, you ugly as fuck” as a chorus is pretty lazy for Kendrick standards).

Although I like most of the tracks, I tend to turn some of them on, sit through a verse or two, and then skip to the next, instead of listening through the whole song from start to finish, something I rarely do while listening through an album I really like.

It could be a product of Mr. Morale being a double album that’s almost 75 minutes long, or that the interludes and beat switches make it feel even longer sometimes than 18 tracks. And while songs like “Worldwide Steppers,” “Die Hard,” “Rich Spirit,” “Count Me Out” all sound cool, they feel like they don’t really go anywhere once you get to the meat of them, and “We Cry Together” and “Auntie Diaries” aren’t really songs I’d want to listen to, although I understand why they’re on the record and their production is solid musically.

Not all great albums are great to run back time and time again, and after that initial rush of the release back in the early summer of 2022, I haven’t found myself going through Mr. Morale start to finish all that frequently. Some songs are for sure in my rotation, others are great — like a highly acclaimed, important movie that you watch once and appreciate, but don’t have to rewatch too often — and some I choose not to listen to. But it is a great record.

Renaissance – Beyonce ★★★★½

2022RenaissanceBeyonce★★★★½86PopDance PopR&B

What are the two things you want from a DJ when you’re out dancing? You want them to play something that you recognize, and you want the music to transition seamlessly from one track to the next. On Renaissance, Beyonce does both those things better than almost any other pop or R&B artist could. 

The familiar: Beyonce’s voice is obviously familiar, and she gives a vocal performance up there with the best she’s given. But with that, comes a mix of nods to other dance music as well as samples that make her original songs feel instantly relatable like old friends. 

Not all the references are as straightforward as the “Show Me The Love” sample on “”Break My Soul” or “Milkshake” on “Energy,” or as easy to draw comparisons as  “Cuff It” and “Virgo’s Grove,” which are the closest thing to Daft Punk since… well, Random Access Memories, with Nile Rodgers replica guitar riffs and a “Voyager” styled synth breakdown. But that, plus moments that draw from artists like Donna Summers, Big Freedia and dance hall club records mesh really well together to form a complete package that’s varied in sound but consistent in aura. 

That consistent aura leads us to point No. 2: seamless transition. The opening notes on the album through the end of “Break My Soul” is a nonstop party, with songs morphing naturally. Even when the style changes the energy stays the same or evolves. After that, right when you might start to get a little tired, it shifts to still fun, but less in your face, fast dance music that’s welcome. The shifts are a little more blatant or abrupt in the second half of the record, mixing in soul, hip-hop and R&B more, but it all works really well and feels sleek, shiny and precisely manicured. 

This isn’t a flawless record by any means. Even if it’s fun almost throughout, at 62 minutes and 16 songs it feels long, especially with its relentless nature. 

Also, I’m usually bothered a little when older, more mature artists do or say things that are trendy with the younger generation when they’re probably beyond what they’re saying. Maybe Beyonce is still going out on weekends dropping it like a thottie, but something about lyrics like that always rubs me the wrong way a little, although the song itself is good and the line is absolutely appropriate for the setting of this album.  “Thique” is another one that just doesn’t work for me in that way, and is a little too dumb. “All Up In Your Mind” works better for the hip-hop influenced tracks than.

Diaspora Problems – Soul Glo ★★★★½

2022Diaspora ProblemsSoul Glo★★★★½87RockPunk RockPost-Hardcore

Every few years I come across a creative album that a lot of people are talking about and that on first listen I’m a bit puzzled about. What is this exactly? What genre is this? I kind of like what I’m hearing, but I don’t know if it’s actually good.

Sometimes the albums grow on me, sometimes they fade away, and sometimes — in the case of Soul Glo — they become one of my favorite records of the year, and something I go back to over and over and over.

Hardcore music isn’t always my jam. I tend to prefer punk music if I’m looking for something with energy. Punk can be a little more melodic and accessible with a similar vibe compared to hardcore songs, which usually end up breaking down and devolving into noise and creative shouting.

That said, Soul Glo is the shit. Everything they do feels deliberate while staying organic and carefree. They do so many different things on their songs — from shouting, to singing to rapping, from electric guitars, to horns, to synths and dial tones, from live drums to drum machines and rogue industrial sounds. Most of it is incorporated in fun ways that add depth and layers instead of just cranking up the volume. The band just feels like they’re having fun making music together and throwing different elements in.

With each listen, I have a new favorite song. Sometimes it’s “Thumbsucker,” a punk-styled rager with horns, or “Gold Chain Punk,” with its triumphant opening section and hardcore breakdown, or “We Want Revenge,” a loud, heavy, straight-up rock song.

Most of the time, though, it’s one of the hip-hop tracks. “Driponomics” is essentially a souped-up drill song with pounding bass, screeching guitar tones and an intense feature verse by Mother Maryrose. “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit” seems like it should be corny, but the song slaps, with a 90s funk vibe that feels like Rap Rock but actually… good? It’s kind of amazing how all you need is a real vocalist or rapper to make rap rock palatable. The build at the end with the horns and hard core vocals are the icing on the cake.

Yes, sometimes Soul Glo strays away from the center a bit too much for me, a reminder that it is indeed hardcore music. Something like shouting “Who’s gon beat my ass” is a good line once or twice, but maybe not for a whole two minutes. Overall though, it’s a fun, creative, get-amped album with a lot to say in a genre that usually has a whole lot of noise and not much else.

Skinty Fia – Fontaines D.C. ★★★★½

2022Skinty FiaFontaines D.C.★★★★½86RockAlternative RockPost Punk

Four years ago, Fontaines D.C. popped into an aggressive Irish post-punk scene with a slightly more youthful, lighthearted take on the genre. Songs like “Boys In The Better Land,” “Roy’s Tune” and “Television Screens” were catchy and had softer moments that made them stand out from the more intense, loud, heavy artists in the genre. 

I wouldn’t have guessed at the time that they would be the post-punk band that would take the darkest turn with their music going forward, but it makes sense considering they never were the screaming type and were more emotional than blatantly angry.

A Hero’s Death was a pretty stark contrast to Dogrel that was more mature and serious, a bit more interesting musically but also sounded repetitive, didn’t have much range and didn’t fully capture my attention. On Skinty Fia though, Fontaines D.C. really hones in on the darker sound in a fulfilling way, and all that positive growth they showed before gets amplified. 

Skinty Fia’s tracks are sometimes slow and cold, and feel like you’re plodding through the muck or snow, but without it sounding sparse or isolating. “Big Shot,” “How Cold Love Is” and “Bloomsday” are often closer in character to slowcore or shoegaze than punk music, and have gorgeous instrumental builds that can be repetitive and monotonous but in a pretty beautiful, captivating way. And when moments may seem a little too melodramatic, Grian Chatten’s straightforward, even vocal performance balances it out.  

The more upbeat tracks like the opener and  “Jackie Down The Line” have heavy 1990s grunge-style guitar effects and drums that build in energy as they go. “Roman Holiday” is a bit more lively, with a cool opening guitar solo, some warmer chords mixed into the minor keys, and a softer outro, and the record’s title track has an industrial groove that makes it stand out.

For how slow tempted some of the songs are, especially near the beginning of the record, it’s a breezy 10 tracks and 44 minutes. 

Cocodrillo Turbo – Action Bronson ★★★★

2022Crocodrillo TurboAction Bronson★★★★77Hip-Hop

Action Bronson’s a pretty interesting character, and he’s had an interesting career too. He started underground, making mixtapes and singles with pretty esteemed producers, and was featured on tracks with Odd Future, Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky and others before making his major label debut in 2015. 

From that point, across albums like Mr. Wonderful, White Bronco and Only For Dolphins, he’s continued to grow and do interesting things, while being himself, staying New York at heart, and not really seeking too much of the spotlight in the music industry.  Because of this, his songs have always been intriguing, fun and carefree, but for some reason usually aren’t particularly memorable, and never really become part of the greater hip hop conversation, despite some pretty good acclaim.

However, he’s always had an aura about him, which is probably why he’s gotten opportunities to host his own TV programs like like Fuck, That’s Delicious, and has made cameos on scetches and movies like The Irishman. He’s never had that star power a big hip-hop artist can have, but he can kind of hold your attention still.

That aura, his talents and his personality I think shine through on Cocodrillo Turbo more than ever before. While there still isn’t a hit single on it, there are so many subtle intricacies to his lyrics, the references, the instrumentals and overall product that it’s easy to keep going back to. 

Despite The Alchemist and Daringer producing most of the tracks, Bronson clearly has a hand in it all.  There are lion and crocodile growls, dogs barking and cars screeching, shattering glass and distorted shouting over a loudspeaker, raindrops falling in the background. There are jazzy drum lines behind The Doors-styled keyboards (“Subzero”) , surf’s up guitar riffs (“Tongpo”), elegant piano pieces “Estaciones”, soul samples (“Jaguar,” “Ninety One”) and gnarly underground clangs, dial-tone beeps and kickdrums (“Turkish”). 

But there’s nothing too showy going on. It all feels DIY, like he took the sounds of New York City and stitched them together with a drunk afternoon at the Bronx Zoo to create these snippets of dreams or consciousness. Or maybe they’re just a hazy bunch of memories, ideas and hallucinations. It still lacks a little top-level star power, but almost every track is cool enough to work, and there’s a lot to digest during the brisk 30 minute trip. 

SOS – SZA ★★★★


If SZA’s gonna consistently put out classics, I’m fine waiting five years between releases, and I’m happy with them including 23 tracks. 

SZA’s stardom in 2022 is so much bigger than it was back in 2017, when she was about to release Ctrl, so it makes sense SOS would be a little more pop-forward and not as raw or intimate. But that does not at all take away from the music, her soothing and emotional voice, her clever lyrics or the fabulous production she works around. And a popular R&B singer not making a record that leans towards producing a few dance hits nowadays is pretty refreshing. 

For a record this long, it really does move and keep your interest by changing tones and doing more than just her dreamy, on my own at nighttime-vibed songs we love over and over again. The instantly catchy “Kill Bill” and “Blind” do that really well, while dark, heavier songs  like “Low” and “Shirt,” as well as “Used,” “Smoking on my Ex Pack” and “Forgiveness” bring some classic hip-hop beats to the mix. I don’t know where she found that unused Ol’ Dirty Bastard sample but it works. She also includes some summer poolside or beach songs, “Notice Me,”  “Conceited,” “Too Late” that widen her range.  It’s a testament to how talented and adaptable SZA is that she can produce an R&B record that sounds 100 percent authentic, stays true to traditional Hip-hop/R&B but also can appeal to a mass audience that might not always like slower, softer songs like this on the regular.  

My criticisms are slim and pretty nitpicky, and come with a handful of compliments too. The guitar driven acoustic or power-pop tracks near the middle of the record feel a little random.  “Ghost In the Machine” probably works best, “Nobody Gets Me” and “Special” are fine songs, but “F2F” isn’t my cup of tea. They serve as a nice change of pace on what is a long album, but there are so many pop and indie artists making sad guitar tracks or pop rock that I didn’t really need that from SZA too, especially when she’s sooo good at the more classic hip-hop based R&B. 

Another critique is that I don’t know if I needed her singles from the past two years — as good as they all are — to be added to the album, especially just kind of tacked on near the very end. “Good Days” is probably my favorite SZA song, but it had been out for two years when the album dropped and already had north of 600 million plays online. Undeniably a great, huge hit, as was “I Hate You” and even “Shirt,” but they existed out in the world and were entities on their own. When you’ve got 23 songs to get through and an hour plus of new music already, it could have been streamlined a bit, or at least integrated a bit more into the track list. 

SOS being released just a few weeks before the end of the year, I might be overhyping it a little with my ratings as I try to finalize my list of Best 2022 Albums. Overall though, it’s a great, enjoyable record from the very first listed that continues to grow even more as you get familiar with it, and I keep going through it and back to it over and over again.

The Forever Story – JID ★★★★½

2022The Forever StoryJID★★★★½89Hip-Hop

Whether it’s rapping on his own albums, as a feature or part of a collaboration, I think JID has pound-for-pound become the most consistently high-performing hip-hop artist out there today. 

Sure, when Kendrick Lamar releases something it’s still an event that demands your attention unlike almost anyone else. And there are guys like Tyler The Creator, who’s multi-faceted creativity as an artist — from his instantly recognizable brand of produced to varying personas through the years — has constantly pushed musical boundaries in the genre. And there’s Vince Staples, who every year puts out a solid, subtle, smart record that just works. 

But JID does not miss these days. The Forever Story is somehow only JIDs third solo record, and his first since 2018. But in the time since then, his few features a year routinely dominate other rappers on tracks. That’s on display throughout his 2022 release. 

His spit-fire delivery is up there among the most technical rappers we’ve had, and grabs hold of you with ease in a way few others can. The way he intricately weaves his words and themes together is rivaled only by the best wordsmiths out there. And he can smoothly ride an ever-changing beat with supreme confidence, energy and varying vocal inflections. Plus, he just sounds cool as shit saying most of the things he comes up with. 

This new album is an absolute powerhouse that fully showcases JID’s skill and ability as a lyricist, a crafter of rhymes and lines. The production is essentially perfection for that task, bringing underground feelings of grit and rawness while also placing moments of more soulfulness, vocal samples, softer R&B stylings and classical music precisely at the best times. 

Every song on here is good, but “Raydar,” “Dance Now” and “Crack Sandwich” are a stellar 1-2-3 punch at the very top of the album. “Surround Sound” with 21 Savage is a fun track that lets the duo rap over a “Ms. Fat Booty” sample, appropriate for an album that later features a timeless Mos Def/Yasiin Bey verse over a beat that would fit right in as part of Black on Both Sides back in 1998. “Just In Time” brings JID and Lil Wayne together for the first time, a great pairing considering JID’s swagger, energy and even vocal quality are clearly influenced by old school, braggadocious Wayne mixtapes. The slower, more reflective and soulful tracks like “Sistanem,” with James Blake, “Can’t Make You Change” with Ari Lennox and “Kody Blu 31” help give balance to the record in a way that feels appropriate, not forced. 

I loved DiCaprio 2 in 2018, but that album’s hard hitting, sometime heavily-handed instrumentals did some of the work in making it a success, and led to more of a well-crafted mixtape feel versus an intentionally-crafted work of art. JID shows so much growth on The Forever Story, and the result is more honed in themes, a more refined, sophisticated sound and a better product overall. 

Ants From Up Here – Black Country, New Road ★★★★★

2022Ants From Up ThereBlack Country, New Road★★★★★97RockArt RockPost Rock

Following up a debut that is as beloved by a fanbase as Black Country, New Road’s For the first time will always be a tough task for a band. That’s especially the case when a band creates such a unique and distinctive sound on their debut, which features Eastern European melodies, math rock rhythms, wild dynamic shifts and vocals that were poetic, highly personal but also came across as somewhat sarcastic and unhinged. 

Somehow, the band exceeded expectations with record two, and not by doubling down on their original sound or falling back on more conventional instrumentation, but by almost transforming what they were conveying entirely. 

Ants From Up Here is an absolutely beautiful album filled with warmth, life and personality. The chamber instruments in each song build effortlessly to shape the emotion being conveyed through the lyrics. The band doesn’t follow traditional song structures too often, but the music never feels uncomfortable or forced. Some of the best and biggest moments on the record are these buildups of chamber music and group singing, which are reminiscent of peak Arcade Fire if you had to find a comparison but without the childlike, innocent aesthetic. 

From the violins to the pianos, to the horns, the classical guitar and all the rest, there isn’t an album that sounds quite like this, or that moves so flawlessly both within each song and as a full package. Averaging almost 6 minutes a song (and with two songs over 9 minutes in length), you wouldn’t expect Ants From Up Here to be as accessible as it is, but the record doesn’t drag at all and keeps you fully engaged. 

You also hardly ever find vocal performances as emotionally moving and authentic sounding as Isaac Wood’s here. He sounds like he’s just talking at times instead of singing, but you can hear and feel the agony in his voice, the regret and doubt he sometimes has, and the reminiscence of love and relationships. The ballads are emotional, but he also throws in funny lines, some self depicting comparisons that make it all feel warm, lively and, most importantly, real. The lyrics can be heart wrenching and extremely personal, but still relatable and easy to understand. The themes and symbolism are cleverly placed, and return throughout the album in a way that makes it feel familiar and more impactful with each return listen. 

Ants From Up Here grabbed my attention from the opening saxophone notes and strings on the intro and “Chaos Space Marine,” all the way through the Midwest-emo section of “Basketball Shoes” that transitions into the epic, anthemic, singalong-style melody that closes the record.  “The Place Where Her Inserted the Blade” and “Good Will Hunting” are probably my favorite individual tracks, but each song on the album can stand alone as its own, fully formed thought, as well as perfectly as part of the complete project. I could go track-by-track to point out the best moments, but there is so much depth in the lush instrumentation, so much meaning in the lyrics and so much movement in the music that I’d be writing for hours. I can’t say enough good things about this record.