We’ve done it. Nobody thought we could do it, but we’ve finally done it—the most bold, the most daring, the most innovative thing a music magazine could do at this specific point in time: we made a top albums of the decade list.
In all honesty, most of our writers do not have a musical background, and as such, can’t critique music from a technical perspective—how many different ways can you write about how a synth sounds, after all?—but we do know this. We listen to a $#!& ton of music. We gather together in a tiny room every single Wednesday to nerd out about it. And we spent a lot of time in said tiny room arguing about our albums of the decade. So, rambling about music is kind of our forté.
So, without further ado, Tufts’ most reputable—and honestly, the only relevant—music publication presents: the most incoherent list of the decade. We corraled our staff members to each select their personal album of the decade and tell us a little bit about what made it decade-defining to them. Sure, they may not all be boundary-pushing, ahead of their time, or genre-defining, but they hold a special place in our writers’ hearts. It may not be a Pitchfork-quality list, but dammit, it means a lot to us.
Melisma has survived on this campus for over six years now—long enough to cross over from one decade to the next. And we hope that in 2030, long after all of our current team members have all graduated, that we’ll be reading a best of the 2020s list published by another small team of pretentious Melismaniacs. Until then though, we hope you enjoy this glimpse of our decade.
From all of us at Melisma—here’s to another 10 years. May it bring more highly spirited debates about the cultural importance of Taylor Swift, ridiculous memes, and plenty of people to share it all with.
Ethan Lam (‘22)
LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (2010)
At first, it doesn’t make sense that I, a then-14 year old who was in the midst of his first serious crush, identified so strongly with a record about being in the throes of your umpteenth mid-life crisis (which to be fair, is the entire LCD Soundsystem discography). But perhaps it makes more sense than it should—James Murphy’s hyper-self-awareness has always been the key force behind LCD Soundsystem’s work, in which he examines and reflects on his nervous anxieties with clarity. In other words, music that could speak to a moody, melodramatic, and nervous teen who thought the world had it out for him.
Even though “Dance Yrself Clean” is built upon a quiet, shuffling, sparsely composed synth and cowbell arrangement that progresses at a near glacial pace, it explodes into one of the decade’s most monolithic drops (seriously—goosebumps, everytime). Also, give me a more brutally honest lyric than “talking like a jerk except you are an actual jerk / and living proof that sometimes friends are mean.” “I Can Change” is the synth-heavy lovesick pop song to end all lovesick pop songs—“Tell me a line, make it easy for me / open your arms / Dance with me until I feel all right.” “Home” and “All I Want” are beautifully bittersweet, sentimental, and infinitely wise art-rock songs that overflow with emotion. And on the other side of the spectrum, “Drunk Girls” and “One Touch” are throbbing, skittish, and lively tracks that highlight LCD Soundsystem’s knack for making infinitely danceable songs (and my god! The analogue synths on “One Touch” are to die for).
I’ll admit it right now: I latched onto this album when I was that young partially because I wanted to be a bit of a pretentious, contrarian, “cooler-than-you” asshole. But even now, I don’t regret it for a second. James Murphy once remarked that “I think the word pretension has become… just this catch–all term to distance people from interesting experiences, cultural engagement, and possible embarrassment. Pretension can lead to other things.” He’s right. Of course he is, because he’s James Murphy. This Is Happening is a unique melding of indie rock and electronic music, and it served as my gateway to these genres. As such, it is one of the defining works that my entire taste in music is built upon. Murphy’s introspective musings have also informed my worldview and become a part of my personality, and I mean that in the most sincere of senses. He taught me that it was alright to not have everything all figured out right now, that my constant ruminating was a normal thing to do. My silly, stupid adolescent heartbreak led me to this album—and that has made all the difference.
Lola Nedic (‘22)
Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
After waiting five years for what I thought would be AM: The Sequel, I was extremely disappointed when Arctic Monkeys decided to release the exact opposite. Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino wasn’t like anything I was listening to at the time, and it was radically different from the other Arctic Monkeys records I’d known and loved. I hated that I couldn’t dance to it, and I was confused as to why Arctic Monkeys would trade their signature rock sound for something so jazzy and frankly uninteresting. I didn’t understand any of the lyrics, and struggled to find a reason why Alex Turner would write an album that takes place on the moon. Which is why I find it hard to explain why this is my pick for album of the decade. In fact, I spent the better part of two months avoiding writing this, because I’m still not even entirely sure why I like it at all, other than that it makes me feel really warm inside.
As time passed, everything I didn’t like about the record became something I loved—the sound I once found boring and slow became dreamy and beautiful, and the lyrics I once found weird became clever. I realized that the album’s surrealism made it all the more interesting. The ever-so-dreamy Alex Turner’s deep cigarette smoker vocals were bewitching enough to distract me from the fact that the lyrics didn’t really make any sense. I started to recognize the beauty in the album and it quickly became my favorite of all time. On my fifth listen or so, I started to understand how all the songs on the album fit together to create the world of Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino. In a lot of ways, this record opened doors for me. It made me appreciate when artists go out of their comfort zones and make radically different music. Unlike the rest of Arctic Monkeys’ albums, TBHC is a concept album, made up of a million little anecdotes pieced together to tell a story of the lunar Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino. I found beauty in the album’s narrative and yearned to dive into the little worlds it created within itself. I found myself dreaming of living in the in-between universe that Alex Turner had created—one that was far removed from Earth, but still bore all the tragically personal sentiments of being human.
TBHC wasn’t an album I related to at all—nothing about a casino on the moon screams “teenage girl,” but that was what I liked most about it. I loved the idea of immersing myself in something that was entirely foreign to me—something that made me feel very removed from my world, but effortlessly in touch with myself.
Laura Wolfe (‘21)
ROSALÍA: El Mal Querer (2018)
I haven’t stopped thinking about ROSALÍA’s El Mal Querer since she released it in 2018. The first few times I listened to EMQ, I was caught on ROSALÍA’s agile, expressive voice winding through complex flamenco melismas and catchy pop hooks. Something different strikes me with each listen: the palmas (handclaps) laying down bulería rhythms, the sound effects (motorcycles revving in “Malamente,” knives slashing and jewelry jingling in “Que no salga la luna”), and the jaleo inspired callouts throughout (“tra tra,” “tiri tiri”). ROSALÍA and her producer El Guincho worked hard to seamlessly combine classical flamenco conventions with the pop, trap, and hip hop sounds of the moment.
EMQ has so many layers of sound and meaning that make it both enjoyable to listen to and ripe for analysis and discussion. The album makes flamenco music, which is generally a bit of an acquired taste, exciting and accessible to a global audience. ROSALÍA turns a medieval Spanish manuscript about a bad relationship into something to dance to, which is no small feat.
In addition, EMQ has pushed conversations about cultural exchange and appropriation in Spain and the U.S. to the forefront. In Spain, flamenco is tied to gitano culture, but ROSALÍA is Catalán and she profits from performing a gitano art and gitano aesthetics like long hair, elaborate nails, and big earrings. In the U.S., she has found a niche in the Latin charts despite being Spanish, not Latina.
ROSALÍA’s El Mal Querer is my album of the decade for its beauty, complexity, and cultural significance.
Charlie Billings (‘20)
Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (2015)
This is an amazing album about topics I don’t understand, and I should be made fun of for choosing it. But I Love You, Honeybear feels like such a perfect product of the delirious depravity of the 2010s that it immediately felt right when I stumbled into choosing it for this list, and I couldn’t shake the random impulse to pick it. I can’t tell if Josh Tillman is an irreparable asshole or a hilarious, astute genius, but I imagine he’s a bit of both, and ILYH is his crowning achievement. Over 11 songs and 45 minutes, Tillman weaves self-centered tales about the louche lifestyle of his alter ego that is too fake to be real and too real to be fake, but always droll and weirdly thought-provoking.
On songs like “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.,” Josh Tillman made his bearded indie music into a full-on memescape with quips so petty, pretentious, and clever that they have to be heard to be believed. The social commentaries of “The Ideal Husband,” “Bored in the USA,” and “Holy Shit” feel forgotten at the end of the decade, but represent a deep and meaningful examination of the angst-filled condition of 21st century life, even for a man as pale and straight and seemingly fortunate as Tillman. We’ve been blessed with so much music that explicitly analyzes our era, but it’s this album’s sardonic takes on WikiLeaks, existential boredom, and the intersection between religion, politics, and consumerism that ring even more true during the Trump era than they did during the time they were written.
The album hits its peak with its peculiar brand of love songs, from the longing of “Strange Encounter” and “True Affection” to the complexities of “I Went to the Store One Day.” These songs are profoundly affecting, with swooning swells of gorgeous strings and guitars that threatens to bowl you over with its emotional power. In short, ILYH is confoundingly funny, shrewdly sarcastic, and purely beautiful, and it deserves to be recognized as one of the decade’s best records.
Katie Fielding (‘20)
One Direction: Up All Night (2012)
In choosing an album of the decade, I was hung up on what “album of the decade” means. If it was the best album technically, it wasn’t a question I was qualified to answer. If it was the album with the largest cultural impact, I felt unable to answer that question without an outrageous amount of personal bias. And if it was my personal favorite album, how was I to define that when my own tastes have evolved tremendously over the last ten years. The answer I settled on was the album that represented what the 2010s were for me, and that was a coming of age.
This album bonded my middle school best friend and I—I couldn’t begin to count the hours we spent giggling at One Direction interviews on Youtube after school. I spent a lot of my time in high school pretending I didn’t blast this album through my Skullcandy headphones when I needed a pick me up. I slowly became aware of how sexism—not only in the music industry but often from my own friends—tells young women that the music they listen to is lesser.
And now, I can unabashedly choose this album as my album of the decade and praise the catchy choruses that are near impossible to not sing along to. They mastered record shattering singles (“What Makes You Beautiful”), ballads laden with harmony and displays of their undeniable vocal abilities (“Moments”), and arena rock inspired hits (“Stand Up”), all on their debut.
This album sparked an international sensation. Since its release, this band’s name has never left the mouth of the musical world and is ever present in pop culture. Even now, the legacy of One Direction lives on in their solo careers.
To me, this album is nostalgia. It’s shameless joy and simplicity. It might not be a Pitchfork editor’s definition of an era, but it’s mine. Don’t @ me about it.
Diana Hernandez (‘20)
Glass Animals: ZABA (2014)
It was a tough choice in deciding what my album of the decade was. I say that even though I chose the first album that came to mind. ZABA by Glass Animals was unlike any album I had ever heard before at the time. I related to the album, not through the lyrics, but through its mellow tune. It matched my mood. I’d always catch myself humming along to its songs like “Black Mambo” and “Hazey.” Glass Animals’ combination of percussions, jazz, and electronics made their album stand out to me. I could listen to it while I did homework or on the car ride back home from school or even at a house party. Even as I listen to it now, it still fits my mood.
Siddharth Jejurikar (‘20)
The Hotelier: Home Like Noplace is There (2014)
CW: Mental Health
From controversy about the genre’s boundaries, its label, its origins, its quality, its level of association with 90s Emotional Post-Hardcore, the discourse around Emo Revival is about as heated as that around the new Star Wars. Still, there’s one thing no Emo oldhead, Punk purist, or critic can credibly deny about the revival: you start with The Hotelier. This Massachusetts outfit and their 2014 magnum opus, Home Like Noplace Is There, have come to be considered the poster child for the contemporary scene—and for good reason. The LP does not take too many musical departures from the broader Punk canon. Instead, it executes and recombines the existing tools from Emo, Folk Punk, Math Rock, Power Pop, and Indie Rock in back-to-back anthems for the damaged to create a broad and exhaustive sonic palate. On top of all this, Christian Holden’s lyricism paints an incomparably powerful, yet often abstract, picture of isolation, addiction, dissociation, toxicity, and self-harm. It is the albums ability to be simultaneously flexible to the kinds of mental health struggles private to the listener and to traumas so deeply specific that give it its edge and power. Emo is a genre that has often been deeply meaningful to many on a cult level, but ignored on a critical one. In the 2010s, faced with the waning of its mainstream moment, the scene is kept alive and relevant by bands like The Hotelier who eschew the trope of gaslighting breakup songs that the 2000s wrought. Instead, they favor depth, subtlety, and a fearlessness of vulnerability.
Michael Cambron (‘22)
Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (2010)
Have One On Me has been with me for the long haul. The long plane rides, the long road trips, the long nights that morph into days when I’m lying in bed where everything feels heavy except my eyelids and I don’t know exactly why I’m feeling this way or what to do about it except to get lost in this album’s intimate grandeur. You know, that feeling.
Have One On Me sees songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Joanna Newsom take inspiration from 70’s singer-songwriters and jazz musicians, yet making something uniquely hers. Newsom’s impeccable lyricism shines throughout the album’s 18 tracks and 2 hour runtime, with the absolutely devastating “Baby Birch” never failing to make my eyes water. Elsewhere, harp-led ballads such as “Esme” and “Go Long” let Newsom’s stories come to life. The jaunty, piano jam “Good Intentions Paving Company” is the closest Newsom has ever come to writing a pop song (albeit, a seven minute long pop song with an extended breakdown). My favorite song on the album, “In California,” features a mesmerizing build-up and absolutely gorgeous poetry, with Newsom singing one verse that reads “Well, I have sown untidy furrows across my soul but I am still a coward / Content to see my garden grow so sweet & full of someone else’s flowers / But sometimes I can almost feel the power / Sometimes I am so in love with you / Like a little clock that trembles on the edge of the hour / Only ever calling out / ‘Cuckoo, cuckoo.’” This is one of many, many Holy Shit I Will Never Write Anything This Beautiful If I Tried To My Whole Life moments on the record.
Writing about Have One On Me does it little to no justice. Listening to it in full is something that everyone should clear out 2 hours on their Google Calendar to experience at least once. The power, craftsmanship, creativity, and emotional complexity displayed by Newsom on this record is why it’s my album of the decade.
Miranda Feinberg (‘22)
Sufjan Stevens: The Greatest Gift (2017)
In deciding on a favorite album of the decade (which is an impossible and cruel task), I shuffled through so many many choices, ranging from A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie to Wild World by Bastille, to How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine, even to the Baby Driver soundtrack. I finally decided on Sufjan Stevens’s The Greatest Gift, a collection of outtakes, demos and remixes from Stevens’s other amazing album Carrie & Lowell. The Greatest Gift expands on an already deeply personal album to create a truly beautiful, evocative, and introspective collection.
I love the intimacy that the tracks allow and the slight imperfections that add character and meaning to his popular tracks, and more often than not find myself listening to these versions over those included on Carrie & Lowell. This album is a culmination of his artistic personality and an expansion on his creative process. The backings, the vocals, the lyrics of each song work so well together and create such a unique and distinct atmosphere of music. One of the more important aspects of choosing an album of the decade for me is longevity (or at least personal longevity)—how long will I continue to like it, how often do I or can I listen to it, etc. The Greatest Gift is an album that I always return to and don’t see myself ever growing tired of.
What makes Stevens such a special artist is how he steeps his songs in feelings and sentiments, making them feel soft and personal. The Greatest Gift contains so much heart and personality that it manages to connect listeners to experiences that are not their own. They are songs that feel relatable even though they speak to singular moments from Sufjan’s life. The new takes on his songs from Carrie & Lowell, as well as new additions such as “Wallowa Lake Monster,” are incredibly charming, and, to me, are just so beautiful. In a decade where my own taste in music has evolved so much, The Greatest Gift stands out to me as something of a common denominator, the album that I feel the closest to.
Kayla Avitabile (‘22)
Catfish and the Bottlemen: The Balcony (2014)
Anyone who knows me knows that I have listened to this album at least 100 times—and this is not much of an exaggeration—since I discovered Catfish and the Bottlemen in late 2014. This album remains a favorite of mine because of its pure indie rock sound. I can’t think of many more bands that really embody “indie rock,” with a particular emphasis on the “rock” element, as much as Catfish and the Bottlemen. The guitars maintain a perfect balance between dreamy and crisp, and I get lost in the multi-layered soundscape of all the songs off this record. When I listen to this album, I visualize driving through a city at night with the lights glinting off drops of fresh rain, conjuring a specific aesthetic that I find especially beautiful. While this is highly subjective on my part, if you don’t at least appreciate the musicianship and arrangement of final track “Tyrants,” you’ve gotta rethink your music taste.
Mike Norton (‘22)
Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (2017)
This album is heartbreaking. It hurts to listen to. A Crow Looked at Me doesn’t romanticize death; it brings us closer to death by venturing into its practical realities. Phil Elverum’s vulnerability and honesty goes beyond other stories of loss and pain, throwing the listener into his suffering.
Katelyn Desjardins (‘23)
Hayley Kiyoko: Expectations (2018)
The day that Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko was released was the day of a field trip for all of the juniors at my high school. The second my best friend and I were seated on the bus, she pulled out her headphones, put the left one in her ear, gave me the right one, and pressed play on “Expectations (Overture).” We listened to the whole album in order, occasionally pausing to discuss our opinions—almost all were positive. We looked over at each other, mouths ajar, silently appreciating how each song blended into another. Expectations is the first album I can remember listening to in such a powerful way. Our emotional connections to the songs were different, but the songs themselves served as a way for us to bond.
I love pop music, but as a queer girl, I rarely find the lyrics that relatable. Expectations gave me some wonderful pop music that I could scream along to as I drove around by myself for the very first time, some songs that I could sob to, and some songs that I could dance around to with friends. When I saw Hayley Kiyoko live on her “Expectations” tour, I was so moved by the music that I think I blacked out. All I really remember is feeling everything so deeply that I left the concert crying. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I want out of a concert. Maybe Expectations does not belong on an objective “album of the decade” list, but there is no way I could leave it off of my personal list. My experiences listening to Expectations mirror the experiences that caused me to fall in love with music over the past decade.
Adam Krasnoff (‘23)
Julia Holter: Have You In My Wilderness (2015)
Released at the halfway point of the decade, Julia Holter’s gorgeous Have You in My Wilderness is not only the crowning achievement in a decade featuring five incredible records from Holter, but one of the best art-pop albums of the decade outright. This is Holter at her boldest, crafting instrumentally rich, vocally daring songs which ache with longing. It’s impossible to forget the weeping, delicate strings that hang behind her husky vocals on “How Long?,” the shanty-like sway of “Sea Calls Me Home,” or the slow-burning progression of “Betsy on the Roof,” which builds from a whisper to an enormous, emotionally overpowering climax. Across the album, Holter’s writing is evocative and abstract, never obvious yet always catchy enough to render her lyrics unshakable. “It’s brighter than sky we left years ago / I’ll take a photograph and pass it by my eyes every time,” she sings on “Everytime Boots,” and on opening track “Feel You,” “Can I feel you? / Are you mythological? / Figures pass so quickly that I realize / My eyes know very well / It’s impossible to see who I’m waiting for.” The record’s chilling final mantra is, “Tell me, why do I feel you running away?”
Georgia Moore (‘22)
Lorde: Melodrama (2017)
I stayed up until midnight to listen to Melodrama the day it dropped. Three days ago I stayed up until midnight listening to Melodrama on repeat and softly crying because of the sheer beauty that is Lorde + Jack Antonoff. Lorde’s words have been there for the beginning, middle, and end of my teenage youth. When I was a middle school girl who just wanted to write, she was there. Last summer, I was moving away from my home of 18 years, and she was there. Last winter, I realized I was breathing the last breaths of my childhood, and she was there. This summer I was almost in love, but then I wasn’t, and she was there. Melodrama is the perfect album for the raw human soul. Don’t accept any imposters.
Geoff Tobia (‘22)
Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly shows appreciation where it’s deserved, and criticism where it’s necessary. Saxophones, horns, organs, and grand pianos find their way into nearly every song on this album, demonstrating Kendrick’s appreciation for jazz music. Thematically, K-Dot’s lyrics cover a host of topics like racial inequality, Black culture, and self-love. While these themes were extremely common in music for this decade, no artist could deliver them with such prowess and pride like Kendrick Lamar does on this album. Throughout To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick takes on various different identities by changing his flow and vocal delivery, from a whimpering Kendrick on the second leg of “u,” to a rage-filled and raspy Kendrick on “The Blacker the Berry.” Pharrell and Thundercat are among the group of producers that help make this album’s instrumentals equally as memorable. Not only is To Pimp a Butterfly a remarkable album, it’s also a key piece of artwork that has spread social awareness at an important time in this decade.