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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.

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Honestly, Nevermind – Drake ★

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2022Honestly, NevermindDrake24PopPop Hip-Hop

What would happen if you took “Passionfruit,” removed the fun character of it and threw it on top of a watered down tropical house beat? 

What would “One Dance” be like if you removed the memorable upbeat vocals and gave it a pre-set Fruity Loops Studio dance track?  

These are questions nobody has ever asked themselves. But for some reason Drake felt the need to answer. And not just once, but 13 times across 52 minutes. 

Drake has had some success with dance tracks in the past, but on his seventh studio album, Honestly, Nevermind,  he deserts almost all elements of hip-hop and trap music to fully embrace dance beats. 

The problem, beyond Drake segmenting some of his fanbase, is that the beats selected and the lines delivered are so watered down, so lazy and so unoriginal that there is nothing whatsoever that draws you in. Especially compared to his previous club, tropical house and dancehall-influenced songs — which aren’t always great, but can be a lot of fun and well timed to break up an album — each song on Honestly, Nevermind is a very clear cut below, if not multiple levels worse.

There’s not one song here that stands out, not one chorus that’s catchy enough to grab your attention, not one beat fun enough to get you up and on your feet.  Everything is just the exact same level of bland and unimaginative.

Well, except for the final, 14th track on the record, which is a fine, traditional hip-hop song featuring 21 Savage (the only guest on the entire record). The track is fine, and of the expected quality of a normal cut on a normal Drake record. Here, it feels totally misplaced and unnecessary, although, if I do return to one song on this album, that would likely be the one. 

Maybe a song from Honestly, Nevermind gets picked up for radio and becomes a hit thanks to a meme or TikTok (it tends to always happen with Drake), and maybe in the perfect situation a song from here will pop on and catch me at the right time for it to work, but I think that chances are pretty slim that I’ll change my mind on this one. 

What this record does do is help highlight how long it’s really been since Drake released an album that was legitimately good.

I like Drake, but it’s been at least seven years since he produced a strong, concise project that worked all the way through. I’d argue that If You’re Reading This… is his last good record, and we’ve come a long way in hip-hop since 2015.

Drake will always produce mega hits, he’ll (almost) always have a few really solid songs on every record, and he’s still great at hopping on the right person’s track for a well-placed feature. And he has some timeless tracks and tracks that are perfect for certain situations. But at this point, until Drake proves otherwise, I think we can stop anticipating his albums as momentous releases that could one day be seen as a classic, and just wait to enjoy the few songs that end up popping. 

For this reason, Honestly, Nevermind is aptly named. 

Person One “Oh wow, Drake dropped a surprise album? I’m going to have to check that out!”

Person Two: “Yeah, it’s listed under dance music, not hip-hop, and has no features.”

Person One: “Honestly… nevermind.” 

Drunk Tank Pink – SHAME ★★★★½

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2021Drunk Tank PinkSHAME★★★★½87RockAlternative RockPost Punk

Shame’s 2018 debut Songs of Praise was my second favorite punk album of the 2010s, behind Idles’ Joy as an Act of Resistance. Praise was fun, high-energy alternative rock that was easy to listen to and straightforward in a good way for post-punk music.

When Drunk Tank Pink came out three years later, I was not at all expecting the massive jump in creativity and musicianship that the band made. They matured from a band of kids sounding like they were having a good time, into a band that had painstakingly pieced together every section of every song. 

Musically, they went into an extremely technical rock mindset, focusing heavily on syncopations, time signature shifts, melodic rounds and guitar layering. The songs still feel conventional because, at its simplest form, all the tracks are guitar, bass, drums and vocals, but they don’t particularly follow conventional structures either. There are abrupt tempo changes that kind of knock you on your ass at times, with songs building in intensity and speeding up before you get a double time release and climax of noise. 

Punk music can sometimes be overlooked for its musical creativity or mischaracterized as repetitive, because even some simple sounding phrases can be deceivingly complex. But there’s nothing deceptive here, this is impressive work. 

I enjoy every track on the record, but there are few things that really get me excited every time I listen from track 3-6. “Born in Luton” is a masterpiece, and the guitar just bursts in right onto the scene with commanding intensity before the rhythm guitar begins Talking Heads-style dance-punk clicks and strumming. That alone would be great, but the track’s slowed, almost shoegaze-styled chorus takes it up to the next level. The next track, “March Day” then ups the ante with some unconventional time signatures, throwing in an extra two beats that leave you off kilter and a groovy bassline that connects it all together as the song builds in intensity and chaos. “Water In The Well” is more of a traditional post-punk track, but still messes around with timing. “Snow Day” is darker and softer, with a big climactic outro right after the bridge where the time shifts, creating one of the strongest moments on the album.

Endtroducing….. – DJ Shadow ★★★★½

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
1996Endtroducing…..DJ Shadow★★★★½88ElectronicAlternative Hip-HopTrip-Hop

DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. is a pioneering album that set the standard for sample-driven instrumentals in electronic and hip-hop music, and solidified the sound that would come out of most trip-hop artists for the rest of the decade. 

Sample-heavy music absolutely existed prior to 1996. However, having an album created almost entirely from obscure record samples, one that also carried emotional weight and creative energy in the same way a song with original vocals would, was something pretty unique. 

Similarly, trip-hop existed before Endtroducing..…, with Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Bjork and others crafting the genre from the ground up in the early 1990s. DJ Shadow himself had influential songs that defined the genre early, years before his debut record was released in 1996. But, while the trippy and laid-back part of the genre was there already, what Endtroducing.… introduced was a new depth in the layering and sound engineering process, and demonstrated how intricate a producer could get in stitching various elements together in instrumental mixes.

Creating an anatomospherice album that feels raw and urban, cold and bleak at times, and that doesn’t have many unsampled vocals to add warmth or life to the songs should not be something that demands your attention as much as this album does. But, even when the repetitive songs stretch past seven minutes, it’s impossible not to feel fully ingrained in your surroundings. 

The samples are blended together in a way that feels seamless, but that also feels like freeform jazz; you never know what will come next but it’s still precisely crafted. The sounds pile up like snow on a winter day, but smoothly glide like ice across the top of a puddle. 

The funky basslines. The hypnotizing drum loops and dizzying turntables scratches. The trippy vaporwave string and electronic samples. The eerie pianos, harps and vocals. They all work hand in hand. Most of the time, you can’t tell that it’s all been patched together from different sources. 

The entire album works as a whole, but most tracks also stand on their own and bring something interesting or clever to the mix.  

“Number Song” has a relentless drum kit loop, a funky beat switch halfway through for the bridge before returning back, and various samples that count in the beat. “Changeling” is a classic, extended trip-hop track, taking you on a journey that’s sounds evolve and change as you get deeper into the adventure. The earliest “What Does Your Soul Look Like – Pt. 4” has jazzy drums and  a memorable, soulful bass, while “Pt. 1” (which appears later on the record as the penultimate track) has laidback DJ scratches, and a reflective, pensive vibe that’s appropriate for the end of a record.

One of the standouts is “Stem/Long Stem.” Its snowy bells and haunting harp and strings set the mood before mechanical, machine-gun drumming gets more and more intense until abruptly being interrupted and starting up again, the final reprise building through trumpets and synths instead of percussion. 

The album is a bit long and at an hour and three minutes is draining. There is some fat that you could trim — “Transmission 2” is just a preview of a song later on the album, the interludes are harmless but don’t really add too much, and some of the white space in song intros and outros could be tightened up without losing anything — to get a pared down 50 or 55 minutes that’s a little easier to sit through every moment of each time. 

It’s also repetitive by design, because the point of the genre is to sit and settle in over time and to groove with the music as it morphs in a familiar and a hypnotic kind of way. But the lack of melody to grasp onto at times does lend itself to the “background music” criticism from folks not totally into the genre itself. If it’s background music, it’s damn good background music.

Harry’s Room – Harry Styles ★★★

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2022Harry’s RoomHarry Styles★★★59PopPop Rock

Harry Styles has gotten really good at making pop records that still feel like indie music, even though there isn’t anything indie about a former member of a boyband who puts out a few smash Top-40 hits every two years. 

The lyrics and concepts sometimes lack substance on Harry’s House, and are obviously catered directly to his audience and his fan’s demographics (calling a song “Music For a Sushi Restaurant” is something clearly for the obsessive playlist creators of the Instagram/TikTok generation). But it’s a charming performance, and the music and production is fun throughout. 

Upbeat moments like the opener, “Late Night Talks,” and “Daydreaming” use horns over dancy basslines and funky synths or guitar, inspired by the likes of Prince, Earth, Wind and Fire, and others.  “As It Was” is a quick indie-inspired  track with clapping percussion; soft, modulating indietronica keys; and some friendly, harmless electronic hints. 

“Daylight” is more laidback, with daydream-styled versus and some Tame Impala-influenced bursts of energy.  “Matilda” is your typical acoustic, personal sad-guy guitar ballad, but it works. 

Some of his classic softer tracks like “Grapejuice,” and “Boyfriend” fall flat for me here, or are a bit too directly corny for my taste, like “Cinema” and “Little Freak.” But the music is still pleasant enough, and they do give the album some variety. It’s the acoustic guitar and sometimes funky strumming on these tracks that allow Harry to keep that indie-pop vibe, even if the music is probably a lot closer to The Weeknd’s brand of pop than a lot of fans might be willing to admit. 

Be – Common ★★★★½

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2005BeCommon★★★★½89Hip-Hop

The concept of a comeback record wasn’t really a thing in hip-hop back in 2005. One reason, and a big one, is that the genre was still relatively new at the time. With only 20 years or so of history — and closer to about 13 years as a genre producing hits at a relatively consistent basis — there weren’t too many opportunities for artists to fade away and come back. 

But additionally, “the comeback” just didn’t mesh with the trajectory of most hip hop artists.  Some stars from the early days were still in their primes, and never left the spotlight. For a typical rapper though, they would have a big breakout hit or record, they’d enjoy their moment in the sun for a few years, and then the shine would slowly dim and be replaced by someone else’s. Maybe they’d have a nostalgic single come out here or there, or a guest feature that reminded people they were still around, but that was kind of it. 

Common looked like he was going to fit that second description. He was an underground hip-hop favorite through the 1990s, debuting with 1992’s Can I Borrow a Dollar? and gaining critical acclaim and a name for himself following Resurrection’s release in 1994. Commercially, he didn’t really getting too much play until the late 90s and early 2000s, when he started collaborating on projects with like minded artists J Dilla, Questlove, Bilal, Erykah Badu and old friends like Q-Tip, Mos Def and rappers Talib Kweli. 

He was a fine feature on songs, had a friendly delivery and was able to throw down a smart line or two here and there, but, outside of Resurrection, was hardly a big star and never really put everything together on his own record again. After 2002’s Electric Circus failed to really move the needle, it seemed like Common would be joining the ranks of countless other 90s rappers who were more or less out of the game. 

Be in 2004 was a comeback record in the truest sense. It revived Common’s career, as he returned to form while also displaying the maturity and wisdom he had gained since his early years. And teaming up with Kanye West to produce the project made it all click. His charm, his conscious rap style, his confidence, his distinct voice and convincing flow all came together and met the perfect music at the perfect time. 

What makes Be so great is the nearly flawless selection of samples used to create soulful, gentle, moving and smart-sounding music that’s equal parts serious, fun and welcoming. And not one track over the breezy 42 minute runtime feels one bit out of place. It’s also as tight an album as you can find. Everything melds together perfectly to create a cohesive work. Each song individually is almost just as effective as the album as a whole. 

When discussing Be musically, you have to start from the beginning. You’d be hard pressed to find an opening track on any album that showcases exactly what the rest of the record will be like as perfectly as the intro on Be. The slow string bass riff artistically and calmly welcomes you to the program, and as it speeds up, pianos and a synth are layered in before the soulful violin sample takes over and introduces Common’s poetic opening verse about free spirits, death and  resurrection, and embracing and appreciating new beginnings while acknowledging the troubles that surround us. 

Throughout the record, samples and backing voices — which on most albums would be used as small, filtered flourishes or to add a little color — are crystal clear and used here as dominant vocals and hooks more often than not. “Faithful,” and “Testify” are prime examples, where John Legend’s vocals on “They Say” have the same effect. Kanye’s sometimes uncredited vocals on hooks for songs like “The Corner,” “GO!” and “The Food” are also effective in varying the different voices you hear throughout the record, and giving you some time to rest and digest between Common verses. 

The album has a few tracks that are a little more aggressive or tough sounding, like “The Corner” and  “Chi-City,” that serve as pretty good changes of pace. However, while they might feel a little more raw or underground compared to the other tracks, the mix is so clean you lose a lot of that more authentic grime you’d want in a song like that. 

Another slight criticism in a similar vein is that Common clearly sees himself as part of the conscious rap movement, and somewhat acts the part, but in a way that is far more digestible to a commercial audience than contemporaries like Mos Def, Talib Kweli or Lupe Fiasco after him. It’s smart, but feels like it’s a little basic or watered down thematically and lyrically even if it sounds good and works ultimately. 

Overall, Be is Common at his best, and Kanye West — who is in peak form as a producer — curates the album to really capture Common’s abilities and feelings, and also sound so perfectly made for its era, when production was getting more and more rich.  That’s not to take away from the great beats legends like No I.D. and J Dilla (who has two songs here as well) were able to put together for him earlier in his career, but what Kanye added was some commercial accessibility without it feeling like Common was selling out. It took Common to a different level, one where his critical acclaim in the hip-hop world was finally being met in the rest of the music world.

Finding Forever – Common ★★★½

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2007Finding ForeverCommon★★★½72Hip-Hop

Finding Forever is the victim of being in the shadow of the classic Common album that came out just a few years prior. The album is a clear step down from Be, both for Common as an emcee and for Kanye West as a producer. It’s not nearly as cohesive, and switching slightly from the warm, friendly soul samples on Be to something a little more mystical, spacey and less obviously upbeat at times isn’t the same vibe. 

But, with some distance and without comparing it to the album that came before it, I think Finding Forever is actually quite good, and is an underrated record that can stand up for itself. 

While not strictly soul-influenced, this is still close to peak Kanye West on a production and concept level. Almost every track fits together, and Common’s performance slides right in again so naturally.

“Start the Show” — with its grand, building chorus and cluttered but fun verses —   and “The People” — a classic, catchy Common delivery with a smooth and intricate Kanye beat and soothing Dwele hook —  are a fabulous one-two punch to open the record, and flow right into “Makin Me Wild.” 

“Southside” has a bit more of a playful hook, while Kanye and Common trade lines back and forth in a fun way. “The Game” and “Break My Heart” also have all the calling cards of a Kanye song — muted horn samples, scratchy drum kicks and vocals that are pitched and chopped up.  

“I Want You” and “Misunderstood,”  — which are two of the three tracks not produced by Kanye — still sonically fit into the record, but both seem like a step below the rest.  Will.i.am’s feature and slightly more pop-influenced sounds on “I Want You,” in particular, don’t really add anything to the record.

However, “So Far To Go” — the other track by an outside producer — is probably my favorite on the entire album. Rapping over a classic J Dilla flip of an Isley Brothers sample, and with the elusive D’Angelo singing backing vocals, the track draws me right in. Musically it’s beautiful in a chill, relaxing kind of way. Even though it was already included on Dilla’s posthumously 2006 album, this slightly altered version fits in really well here and feels like a fitting tribute, and a moment of zen and reflection in the middle of the record.

Universal Mind Control – Common ★★

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2008Universal Mind ControlCommon★★39Hip-Hop

There was a lot to be excited about in late 2008, when Common was about to release new music. Common was coming off of his two most successful albums, and was about to make the third of his deal with GOOD Music. Kanye West was back to executive produce, and was also coming off his biggest year to that point. The Neptunes, who produce the majority of the record, were making a bit of a comeback of their own. 

But sometimes, too much of a good thing can ruin something you were looking forward to. In the case of Universal Mind Control, I think the three parties involved were feeling themselves a little too much. 

Pivoting entirely away from the mature, subtle and laid-back vibes of his previous two records, Common fully goes for a radio-friendly, upbeat album filled with supposed club tracks. The title track — which served as the lead single and opener for the record — does a good enough job to set the party’s mood and to make it feel like the album could actually work. There are upbeat, trance-like drums, booming synths and bass, and fun, electronic riffs. 

After that, though, things go downhill, and fast. Compared to Be and Finding Forever, the beats are simplistic and dull, with trademark Neptunes and Kanye techniques being overexaggerated in an almost comical way at times. There are Pharrell four-counts to start almost every track, some egregious to an almost comical level. Drum tracks are mechanical and lack bounce or creativity. Vocal samples chops are in-your-face, and the mix is so crisp that everything sounds one level. 

Common’s performance itself is also lackluster. His lyrics are sterighforward, overtly sexual at times and lack any of the more mature themes or sentimentality of his past records. Sure, there are a few moments here and there that end up being fun, but most of the time it feels overdone, even cringy. 

Common seems like a nice guy, and I could see myself going to a museum or a dinner party with him. But he never would have been my first pick to go clubbing with. Universal Mind Control I think cements those feelings.

To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar ★★★★★

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2015To Pimp A ButterflyKendrick Lamar★★★★★96Hip-HopWest Coast Hip-HopJazz Rap

I remember the night To Pimp A Butterfly came out. The album’s two lead singles helped build up hype in Kendrick Lamar’s fanbase — which had slowly but steadily grew in size since 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city was released three years earlier — and for music critics, who hailed the rapper as one of the genre’s most creative minds after just one studio album.   

Released a little before midnight and with work in the morning, I threw the album on, but didn’t know if I would have it in me to fight through my tiredness. Should I stay up, or just go to bed and listen first thing in the morning?

Within the first minute and a half of “Wesley’s Theory,” my mind had been made up. For the next hour and 18 minutes I knew I was in for something special. 

I don’t know what exactly I expected To Pimp A Butterfly to sound like, but whatever it is that “Wesley’s Theory” is — a funky, psychedelic, jazz experiment produced by Flying Lotus, with multiple layers of soul vocals, old school, screeching West Coast synths and Thundercat’s distinctive bass slapping — was something I had never heard before on a hip-hop record. That feeling is carried throughout the record, both musically and lyrically. 

Similar to what Kanye West did for hip-hop in the mid 2000s — expanding the understanding of what hip-hop as a genre could do, with more lush, colorful production, and bringing a huge roster of collaborators together to vary the sounds, voices and personalities found song to song — Kendrick here redefines how deep, how personal, how political and how innovative a hip-hop record can truly be.  

The beats and music are sometimes through-composed, constantly shifting and morphing to match his vocals. The lyrics are smart, powerful, memorable, sometimes catchy and sometimes unexpected, and Kendrick’s various voices and inflections perfectly match his themes and the characters he forms through his stories. Elements like saxophone and clarinet solos, background conversations, brief interludes and harmonies, are continuously added to the album to keep the listener on their toes.

He achieves all of this while staying true to himself and being grounded in his roots — West Coast production flairs, snippets from hometown heroes like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and themes that revisit his old songs and Compton life. 

Compare almost any song on To Pimp A Butterfly with a typical hip-hop hit from 2013-14, and the chasm between the two makes Kendrick’s tracks almost feel like a different genre. But looking at some of the things artists have put out since, it’s impossible not to credit Kendrick for removing any preconceived constraints of the genre and inspiring the intricacies in storytelling and album building seen from the likes of Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples, Danny Brown, JID and others. 

That point, to me — the vast pallet Kendrick formed and made accessible to a wider audience, not only for himself, but for others — is just as impressive as any of the poignant and timely statements about racial empowerment, social justice and police brutality Kendrick makes throughout the album.

While every track on To Pimp A Butterfly is good, I do prefer listening to good kid, m.A.A.d city. Some of the weightier themes and slower moments on Butterfly drag at times, making the album feel long. And the best tracks on good kid are more fun and better to listen to on repeat, because To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t supposed to be an easy, laid back experience. 

Still, To Pimp A Butterfly is almost undoubtedly Kendrick Lamar’s most important album — the most important socially, the most important for the genre, and the most important for his own career — making it one of the five or six greatest hip-hop records of all time.

Deathconsciousness – Have a Nice Life ★★★★

YearAlbumArtistStarsScoreGenre
2008DeathconsciousnessHave a Nice Life★★★★77RockShoegazePost Punk

Deathconsciousness is an atmospheric, muddy, desperate feeling record that draws from the dark, post-punk sounds of Joy Division, the heavy, slowcore plodding of Low, the drawn-out post-rock creativity of Slint and the haunting noise-rock production of early My Bloody Valentine.

The beauty of what Have a Nice Life does here is the band uses low-fi layers of heavy distortion, droning vocals and a blended mix of buzzing that makes it difficult to hone in on the melody a lot of the time, but then offers glimpses of warmth that resolve the tension and become the focus. Just when you think there’s too much going on, a clean acoustic guitar line, or a set of strings will cut through the mix, and flip the feelings of dread or peril to peace and calm. 

Those calming elements are introduced right away on the album’s atmospheric opening track, “A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut.” On the almost eight minute instrumental work, a soft guitar arpeggiates start to finish, accompanied by swelling space synths and hypnotic, echoing chimes. It’s a lot of different noises, but is never too loud or overwhelming, showing the band almost always knows the limits of what they’re trying to accomplish. 

“Bloodhail” follows the opener, and is a slow, dark, overbearing rock track with sharp, industrial snare hits and distant Midwest Emo vocals. Harmonies of lonely vocals at the song’s climax mix with these distorted but almost childlike synths that form a very cool, calming tone to the song’s tension. 

“The Big Groom” uses more traditional shoegaze fuzz guitar layers; slow, pounding drums that come in half way; and distorted vocals. Despite the bleak, isolated sounds, it somehow doesn’t really sound sad, and the tender strings that come in later have a sobering effect that adds a lot of life and brightness. 

“Hunter” gradually builds and speeds over 9 minutes, until the second half of the song introduces quicker drums, violins and echoing vocals. The first driving, higher energy moment of the album leads well into “Telephony,” a muted but more traditional rock song. 

“Muted” is a word that I’d use to describe a lot of this album, from individual sounds like the vocals that are almost hidden in the mix, or the moments on the album that sound like they should be loud or heavier musically, but are actually played at a soft volume. 

Tracks on the album fall into two camps — slow, plodding, atmosphere-building sections like the opening handful of songs mentioned earlier, or more traditional, quick-tempoed, punk tracks that are a bit more common on the back half of the record. 

“Waiting for Black Metal Records…” is a would-be standard, upbeat, heavy punk rocker, if it weren’t for the choked vocals and low-fi, almost violent drum mix. “Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000” starts with a lonely folk guitar and builds by upbeat, alternative dance percussion and mixes it with dark, gothing guitars that sound like their bouncing off the walls of a church sanctuary, before transitioning again into an industrial-styled march. While nobody would confuse it or “Deep, Deep” as a dance track, there are elements — like the dancefloor synths in the “Deep, Deep” chorus — that do get you moving a bit, even if they clash with some of the unsettling guitar strumming. 

While this is a record that you can find things to write about and can admire, with an hour and a half runtime, mostly incomprehensible vocals, and production that intentionally uses the mix to make the listener feel uncomfortable, it’s not the most accessible listen. Deathconsciousness is probably more easily approached as an ambient, industrial electronic record — sitting through it to feel out the vibe and to discover the different layers and depths of the music — than a standard rock album. Beneath its raw, cold, low-fi surface, the band is able to create a shockingly gorgeous mix of sounds. 

Turn On the Bright Lights – Interpol ★★★½

YearAlbumAtristStarsScoreGenre
2002Turn On the Bright LightsInterpol★★★½74RockAlternative RockPost Punk Revival

It’s nice when you can pinpoint the birth — or revival — of a genre. Interpol’s debut Turn On the Bright Lights might not have technically been the first Post Punk Revival record, but it started a run by numerous indie acts that brought the genre to prominence through the late 2000. You can hear Interpol’s driving drums, rhythmic strumming and sometimes layered guitarwork in a lot of other band’s records.

However, Turn On the Bright Lights doesn’t sound quite like many of the other albums of the genre that followed it. Interpol’s songs are darker, more serious sounding — even emotionally desperate or on edge at times — than most of the upbeat, warm, somewhat poppy choruses found in works by Bloc Party, The Killers, and even the Arctic Monkeys. 

There’s a cold, melancholic atmosphere and tension that’s felt throughout the album. Paul Banks’ effective flat, sometimes monotone vocals definitely add to that feeling of desperation, and are something that give Interpol a distinct sound. Same goes for the sparse production with disonent, staccato, hypnotically repetitive riffs, and muted drum hits that make you feel lost or alone and can be found on all of their records over the next two decades. 

Interpol also draws more from 90s’ shoegaze acts than most other bands in the genre, which helps the band juxtapose the alienating, unfriendly sections with lush choruses and layered outro sections on tracks like “PDA,” Obstacle 1” and “Roland.”  Not every song has a wall of dense guitar sounds, but the few slower tracks like “Untitled,” “NYC,” and “Hands Away” have shoegaze’s unmistakable whaling guitars and sustains in the distance. Interpol themselves move farther and farther away from it over time, except on select tracks, but that element adds to this album’s depth and does make it stand out from the crowd.

Turn On the Bright Lights is by no means a perfect album. With how distinct Interpol might be, it does make their songs all sound pretty repetitive. It’s almost all one energy level, all a similar style and tempo, and lacks any sort of real warmth. That narrow focus— while creating a really consistent vibe and sound — makes the album drag, especially near the end, and does make it lack some of the variety and creativity of its imitators. And Bank’s delivery and sometimes nonsensical lyrics make it hard to grasp onto many hooks.  

But, Turn On the Bright Lights is undoubtedly a good record, and is as pioneering as a record can be that clearly draws influences from music 10 and 20 plus years before it —  from Joy Division, Television’s Marquee Moon and even the Pixies. Here, Interpol was able to shape alternative rock for years, and allowed countless other bands to build off the groundwork they laid.