EditorialFor the love of music


For when you’re feeling social


Craig Clemens

November 18, 2014

Pitchfork did something similar earlier this year and even then I was skeptical of their motivation of doing this list not even half way through the decade they’re featuring. Nonetheless, as the year winds down, it is most certainly “Best of… list” season and this Top 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far from Fact is a good place to start.

Here’s some of the highlights:


(Self-released, 2010)

“The debut mixtape from a 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt was audacious in all senses of the word. His horrorcore fantasies of rape and murder were as vivid as they were vile: noxious syllables seemingly tumbling out of his mouth as soon as he could think them up, set to the sinister tones of an equally twisted Tyler, the Creator. Earl’s hateful lyrics are very much piss-your-parents-off material, but knowingly so — telling tall tales of cop murder in one breath and then heading “back to the fucking crib for some tea and crumpets” in the next. Even if he’s disavowed it, the mixtape is still one of Odd Future’s best records and a reminder of why “Where’s Earl?” was the only thing fans wanted to know during the clique’s meteoric rise.”


Love Remains
(Lefse Records, 2010)

“Tom Krell’s first full-length offering as How To Dress Well was a lo-fi love letter to the R&B of the ’80s and ’90s: melodies lodged in the collective consciousness deconstructed and reconstructed as spectral hypnogogia. Stripping away bombastic percussion and singing-competition dramatics, Krell leaves the listener with his falsetto, fog and fragments of the love, pain and heartache that R&B does best. A few years removed from all the hand-wringing and think-pieces about “PBR&B,” Love Remains feels like a breakthrough both for Krell and for Tri Angle; the label re-released it as their first album, anchoring their flawless run of early records.”


Born to Die
(Interscope, 2012)

“Loaded with teen girl fantasies and Americana anthems, Born To Die is no less masterfully singular now then when it dropped in early 2012. Perhaps the most divisive pop artist of our time, the Instagram ingenue formerly known as Lizzy Grant crystallized a vision of pop somewhere between Disney and David Lynch with a nearly-flawless hit parade that is astounding no matter how you slice it, whether as a pop record, a debut album or a major label release. ‘Video Games’ and ‘Blue Jeans’ are just as poignant as when they first captured the zeitgeist; ‘Summertime Sadness’ has surpassed them both at this point. She’s grown as an artist since its release, but Born To Die will always be the quintessential portrait of Lana Del Rey.”


(Self-released, 2011)

“Now, of course, Danny Brown seems like he’s been around for ever, a technicolour rap jester cavorting across the cultural landscape. But his archetype wasn’t fully formed before XXX dropped: up until that point, he’d been a clearly talented but slightly unfocused mixtape rapper, with a penchant for early Wu-Tang style beats and drama and a brief and slightly unlikely alliance with G-Unit. Then suddenly, at the age of 30, there he was – finally finding his own voice, hooking up with a giddy array of producers, and hollering about drugs every which way but loose. An inspiration for grafters everywhere, and a reminder that rap doesn’t have to be a young man’s game.”


The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
(Clean Slate / Epic, 2012)

“Fiona Apple doesn’t release much, but when she does you can bet it’s going to be something special. What makes The Idler Wheel… so great is that it was so unexpected. She produced the record in secret with the help of her touring drummer Charley Drayton rather than usual collaborator Jon Brion and in doing so managed to avoid the label drama that plagued her earlier releases. The result is a peculiar, personal, deeply bizarre set of songs that might be among the best Apple has ever put together in one place. It’s not an easy listen, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more absorbingly tangled collection of uninhibited songwriting in this list, at least.”


Seeping Through the Veil of the Unconsciousness
(Digitalis Limited, 2010)

“Not really fitting in with the synth set and never totally at ease with the miserable drone lot, Rachel Evans has managed to sit firmly in her own space over the last few years. Seeping through the Veil of the Unconscious finds her at her transcendent, delicate best. It’s a collection of tracks that wisps and washes through like a warm, gentle breeze, blending her swooping wordless coos with subtle, wavering synthesizers and creating a virtual dream world that’s both welcoming and decidedly singular. While most of the B.O.-drenched uber-masculine synth lot have been rightly brushed under the carpet, Seeping Through the Veil of the Unconscious is a lasting example of just how good the scene could have been with a few more x chromosomes floating around.”


40. KATY B
On A Mission 
(Rinse, 2011)

“Many have tried to fuse British urban sounds with traditional chart pop and many have failed. It’s incredible, then, that Rinse managed to cobble together this hodgepodge of productions (from Zinc, Benga, Geenius, Skream and Artwork) and emerge with an album that does everything so bloody right. There’s really no filler – it’s a small but perfectly formed tracklist that does exactly what it should without resorting to poor approximations of its core sound. Katy B acts as our guide and sounds as if she’s enjoying every minute, prompting us to remember that dance music’s supposed to be fun after all.”


Twists and Turns
(Self-released, 2013)

“Last summer, a revitalized Jack “Mumdance” Adams returned after a two-year hiatus with a new approach and sound. During his time away, Adams looked back to the music of his roots — hardcore, proto-jungle, garage, grime — and came up with this hardware-born mix of hydraulic instrumental grime, pulsating industrial techno and queasy shoegaze washes. Comprised entirely of his productions and collaborations, some of these tracks would end up being released by the likes of Keysound, Tectonic and Unknown to the Unknown, like the warped-and-wonderful ‘Springtime’ that appears near the end of the mix’s 48-minute run. It’s the closest thing we have to a full-length Mumdance record, and with the impact he’s had in the last 18 months, it definitely belongs here.”


Dagger Paths
(Olde English Spelling Bee, 2011)

“Now signed to Tri Angle, plenty of writers have lumped Forest Swords in with a generation of producers combing r’n’b influences with experimental aesthetics, but although Swords is an open devotee to Aaliyah (who he covers here) and MKS, Dagger Paths is really closer to the doomy blues of groups like Grails. As Simon Hampson wrote in FACT at the time of its release, what continues to astound about Dagger Paths is that for all the layers of studio treatment – thick sheets of processed mist; dubby, World of Echo-style blips – it’s an incredibly intimate album, with its process (hands scraping across guitar strings, untreated echos) laid bare at every turn. Few albums paint pictures of expanses this vast without losing details to the horizon.”


House of Balloons
(Self-released, 2011)

“The rightful soundtrack to 2011’s most insalubrious moments, House Of Balloons took slow jams to the dark side and cast a narcotic pallor over R&B from which we’ve barely recovered. Though 20-year-old Abel Tesfaye’s red-eyed wisdom and scenery-chewing histrionics provide the focus of the mixtape, it’s that opiatic production that still hits hardest, the gothic mood smeared on thick and heavy through Siouxsie samples and those sludgy, cavernous drums.”


Classical Curves
(Night Slugs, 2012)

“Few albums in this list have been as influential as Jam City’s Classical Curves. In the two years since its release, a host of producers have attempted to replicate the album’s precision crafted, chrome-plated sound, and most have failed to even come close to evoking the singular vision put forth by Jack Latham on his debut. Classical Curves draws the listener into a vividly sculpted future, seamlessly blending influences of proto-grime and Prince with nods to Danny Weed and Masters At Work. Sparks of emotion invigorate Jam City’s sparse, cyborg-like rhythms and the result is a stunning listen that still maintains its otherworldly sheen today. Tracks like robotic Detroit hybrid ‘How We Relate To The Body’ and funk-meets-ghetto-house number ‘Strawberries’ sound like nothing that was created before – or since.”


The Redeemer
(Hippos in Tanks / World Music, 2013)

“After the dissolution of Hype Williams, Dean Blunt’s first official solo venture offered a palpable change in mood. The merry prankster was in a bit of a state, basically – heartbroken and disarmingly genuine as he came to terms with his loss by enlisting Joanne Robertson’s gently fingerpicked guitar, some cheapo synthesized strings and primitive drum beats, and his own dog-eared baritone. Call it a break-up album, or perhaps the whole thing is more arch than that –regardless, it’s one of the most fascinating records made in the last five years.”


(Def Jam, 2013)

“From its first analogue squelch to its final soul sample, Yeezus is Kanye West’s most essential album, in the purest sense. This is the most fundamental expression of Kanye West: the asshole, the jackass, the douchebag; the college drop-out and the kid in the pink-ass polo and a fucking backpack; “Imma let you finish” and “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” The first three albums are the hit parades; 808s & Heartbreaks the rap-game game-changer; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the baroque masterpiece. But Yeezus is Kanye doing whatever the hell he wants. In this case, that means dropping an industrial-tinged polemic designed to piss off not just the usual suspects, but also his fans (“Soon as they like you, make ‘em unlike you,” indeed).

You may quibble over his definition of “minimalism,” but it’s hard to argue with the lean-and-mean results: Kanye kicks off Yeezus with his angriest finger-in-the-eye anthems ever; he then pairs Bon Iver with Chief Keef, appropriates ‘Strange Fruit’ and closes with ‘Bound 2’ — a song we’re still wrapping our heads around. Unlike with 808s, the sound of Yeezus has not trickled down to the rest of hip-hop (maybe it never will, and maybe that wasn’t the intent), but its attitude certainly has — and we’re all better for it.”


Glass Swords
(Warp, 2011)

“If Classical Curves was the decade’s most influential dance record in terms of making producers rethink their rhythms and drum kits, then Glass Swords was the one that made them rethink their entire approach.

In the UK especially, dance albums were all-too-frequently judged in terms of a home listening vs. club setting binary, as it if wasn’t possible to make dance music that – like the best pop music – can sweep you away no matter where the setting, without being a cynical crossover attempt (see albums by several of Rustie’s peers made in the years prior to Glass Swords). Dance albums weren’t meant to be larger-than-life, they were judged on restraint; swing; atmosphere. Glass Swords, as inspired by Daft Punk, hyphy and RPGs as it is the UK/techno continuum, thumbed its nose to this attitude, straddling the line between fill-up-the-grid club bangers and classic pop structures like few others could. ‘Surph’ is a sun-kissed diamond riding a wave of footwork 808s and a handclap every beat; ‘All Nite’ is a better radio-friendly dubstep tune (with trap snare rolls to boot!) than, well, just about every dubstep radio hit ever; ‘Ultra Thizz’ is the sound of a thousand angels crashing together at once; ‘Hover Traps’ and ‘Death Mountain’ are somewhere between Hud Mo and the Home Improvements theme.

Glass Swords is full of exhilarating, ecstatic, thrilling, fun and sometimes downright silly songs, but that’s not all – It’s the sound of someone changing dance music by utterly disregarding dance music. It’s a slap round the chops of meditating on bassweight, it’s a wet-willy right up the ear of going back to go fwd>>, and it boots the burnt-out junglist bores straight out the after party. It’s ecto competitions, trance hands at dawn and a reminder that although it’s fine for dance music to be dark and smoked-out, it’s also possible for it to be The Most Fun In The World – and the latter had started to feel sorely, tragically out of favour. With more artistry than AraabMUZIK and less throwback fetishisation than Where Were U in 92, Glass Swords wasn’t just the feel good hit of the Summer; it lit up the whole half-decade, and continues to shine today.”