Oracle Staff Picks: Top 25 Albums of the Decade

Since 2010, a lot has changed surrounding music: how we consume it, how it’s rolled out; how it’s being made, and whose making it. From the early years of the decade, when pop ruled the mainstream, to 2019, the year a hip-hop/country hybrid made by a teenager became the longest running no. 1 single of all time, it’s safe to say that a lot has changed in the last 10 years.

Now more than ever, it’s important to reflect on the music — and more specifically, the albums — that defined the decade. With streaming overtaking the industry and rapid-fire single releases becoming more and more standard, the 2010s may be the last great decade for the classic full-length LP. If this is our tragic fate, then at least the album went out with a bang, as exemplified by the 25 The Oracle staff has chosen as the best of the best. 

From changemakers to hitmakers, country to rap, and critically acclaimed to… questionable, here are The New Paltz Oracle’s picks for the best albums of the 2010s. 


25. By The Way, I Forgive You 

“I don’t know what happened to all three of us at the same time, but we all just decided to cut the shit and write about things that are important to us,” proclaimed Brandi Carlile at a gig back in 2017, months before the release of By The Way, I Forgive You. These themes of importance saturate the record, which garnered six Grammy nominations for the singer-songwriter. She tackles motherhood, reminisces about heartbreak and even tries her hand at a politically-charged rally song. Despite the thematic shifts that occur across the record’s 10 tracks, one constant remains: Carlile writes with a level of intimacy that no other songwriter has managed to capture since the likes of Joni Mitchell, a badge of honor that Carlile wears proud. – Jake Mauriello


24. Carrie & Lowell 

Ever since Sufjan Stevens broke into the mainstream with 2005’s Illinois, he has been regarded as one of America’s finest singer/songwriters. Stevens’ soothing voice, intimate lyrics and his incorporation of non-folk influences makes him stand tall in a genre with many imitators. On Carrie & Lowell, Stevens outdoes himself by stripping things back and speaking from the heart about the loss of both of his parents, his tested faith and even his entrapment in an abusive relationship. Each song on this album is an emotionally charged firebomb that hits straight at the heart, and in my opinion, is the best album in his discography. -Matt McDonough


23. HERO 

Bear with me for 100 words of the only actual country album on this list. HERO was Morris’ first album to hit country radio and it quickly brought her into the spotlight. It features hits like “Rich,” “My Church,” “I Could Use a Love Song” and “80s Mercedes.” This album was important for Morris and country radio as it brought a female artist into the overly male-saturated genre. You might know her from Zedd’s “The Middle,” but Morris is one of the few female country artists in the new wave of country, melding the classic storytelling of old country with the newer, slight pop influences found on this album. – Rachel Muller


22. Day Breaks

Day Breaks is another reminder of the silky, nostalgic, romantic and melancholic voice of Norah Jones, which never gets old. The forty-year old grammy award winning artist showcases her beautiful jazzy talent in more ways than one on this record. Songs like “Tragedy,” “Burn” and “Peace,” are a slower and more reflective characteristic of the love songs that Jones is so well known for. Groovier songs like “It’s A Wonderful Time for Love” and “Day Breaks” are what makes listening to Jones so great — they’re ephemeral, nostalgic and lucid. Jones’ deep, velvety tone is prominent and makes listening to her feel like the embrace of love. – Dani Gardner


21. bcos u will never b free

Rex Orange County’s debut album is the pinnacle definition of “sad boi” music. This bedroom pop record came out at the time when the genre exploded, featuring unpolished yet charming production, nasally and melancholic lyrical delivery and a surprising amount of sonic variety. Nobody can downplay the moody acoustic hits of “Corduroy Dreams” and “A Song About Being Sad.” The fact that Rex was only 17 when creating the LP displays his wildly gifted and creative musical intuition. While this album may not be as popular as its follow-up, Apricot Princess, it got Rex recognized by Tyler, The Creator to collaborate with him on Tyler’s quintessential album, Flower Boy. – Jared LaBrecque


20. E·MO·TION

On her first album since the overwhelming success of “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen did a complete 180, trading bubblegum for cool, breezy ‘80s synthpop. From the iconic saxophone solo that opens “Run Away With Me” to the final notes of “Favourite Colour,” E·MO·TION is a triumph, a feat of pop music that achieved and retained cult status with ease. When paired with Jepsen’s follow-up EP, E·MO·TION: Side B, it becomes obvious why the record is one of the most celebrated pop albums of the decade. Much like the flower she compares herself to in the title track, Jepsen at her fullest potential bloomed on E·MO·TION. – JM


19. Teenage Dream 

No albums of the decade list would be complete without Katy Perry’s candy coated pop album. Debuting in 2010, it was Perry’s third album and the second album in history to produce five number one singles. Most songs center around love and sex (gasp) and for many around the ages of 19-22, songs such as “Teenage Dream,” “California Gurls” and “Firework” were a significant score to their formative middle school years. What the lyrics lacked in substance, they made up for in rhythm and could be played on repeat in a parent’s minivan for optimal enjoyment. – Shyana Fisher


18. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

People who roll their eyes when they hear the words “THE 1975” have never been a depressed fourteen-year-old girl. Before you judge 1975 fans, make sure to walk a mile in their faux-leather Doc Martens. I Like it When You Sleep followed The 1975’s self-titled album that defined the early part of the decade for many chain-smoking tweenagers and anyone who wanted to feel cool while staring out the window of a train. When You Sleep follows this spirited rock album with a more aggressive pop sound that can give a listener the good kind of whiplash. Recommended tracks include “Love Me,” “A Change of Heart,” “Loving Someone” and  “Somebody Else.” – Dani Walpole


17. Dirty Computer

Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae is a decadent, immersive album that rightfully dominated 2018. Though Monae narrowly lost her (deserved) album of the year Grammy to newcomer Kacey Musgraves, Dirty Computer is a super-fun and culturally cognizant album that speaks to how many feel in our current era of technology, social media posturing and publicity. It is an exciting and beautifully produced album about politics and sexuality. As a Black pansexual woman, Monae’s voice is a much-needed addition to the canon of this decade. She sings “Everything is sex, except sex which is power. You know, power is just sex. Now ask yourself who’s screwing you.” – DW


16. A Seat at the Table

Solange’s tone on A Seat at the Table resembles the feeling of an older sibling; for many people of color, this album feels like Solange giving you a warm embrace and reminding you that you are beautiful, you are allowed to get angry and your hair is your crown (therefore, nobody touch!). With its methodic and harmonic combination of songs and recordings of her family members sharing their stories, Solange manages to educate, captivate and inspire all within one album. She reminds that people of color we deserve a seat at the table, while warning the rest of the world: make room. – Amayah Spence


15. Golden Hour  

Kacey Musgraves was once referred to as the resurrection of Mozart in an Oracle meeting. While this might be slightly overstepping, there is no doubt that Musgraves has come into her own in her fourth studio album, Golden Hour. An eclectic blend of soft pop paired with her acoustic country roots, Musgraves manages to invite listeners on a journey. The 2019 Grammys Album of the year starts off with “Slow Burn,” where Musgraves reminds us not to live life in a hurry, and travels through themes of love, loss and empowerment. Ending the album with “Rainbow,” an emotional self-love ballad, Musgraves once again proves to the world that nothing can replace good lyricism. – SF


14. AM  

The Arctic Monkeys define their own version of rock, combining artistry from the Beatles and Black Sabbath to give us after-hours relaxation on their 2013 LP, AM. Starting off the album with “Do I Wanna Know?,” to Black Sabbath’s influence on “Arabella,” the Arctic Monkeys are bringing us into a time of rock nostalgia.  “I Wanna Be Yours,” the final song of the album, closes out the true meaning. They begin with wondering, but end with what they indefinitely want. Anyone who listened to AM remembers their time of teenage angst and, although the band took an extended break until 2018, they left fans with an album to always remember them by. – Susanna Granieri


13. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye at his best as both a rapper and producer. Even when compared to Yeezus and the The Life of PabloMBDTF stands tall as Kanye’s defining record. It’s an epic narrative about the pitfalls of fame and unbridled ego, all wrapped up in Kanye’s forward-thinking production that aged like wine. Each song on this album is a triumphant artistic statement, but some of the best cuts include the triumphant “Power,” the reflective “Runaway,” and the explosive finale that is “Lost in the World.” It’s Kanye’s finest hour and is one of the best records of the decade. – MM


12. Paramore 

The year is 2013. While your friends are out Harlem-Shaking and local pop stations are playing “Blurred Lines,” Paramore quietly premieres their self-titled album. It is punchy, witty and bold. It fits into the Emo school of thought that is shamefully omitted from this list. Hayley Williams is a living firecracker with two-tone hair and sparkling vocals to match. She sings with bursting passion on tracks like “Ain’t it Fun.” “Still into You” is anthemic and sweet. “Fast in My Car” tells of adolescent rule-breakers who cause trouble just to feel a rush. Paramore was the album for optimistic young adults in the 2010s looking towards the future. – DW


11. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) 

Hamilton is certainly the musical of the decade in my book, and the album’s place on this list makes me very happy. Lin-Manuel Miranda is an absolute genius, and Hamilton proves it with the waves it made in the showtunes scene. I will never forget being an awful theatre kid jamming out to this album in the halls of my high school. A musical incorporating hip-hop and rap was unheard of until Miranda, and the impact this show made for musicals to come must be recognized. I still sing and dance to Hamilton songs like “Helpless” or “Satisfied” at home! – Madalyn Alfonso


10. 1989 

Now this is truly the album that will never go out of style, even if haters try to shake it off from memory. With 1989, Taylor Swift created an ‘80s-inspired, pop sensation masterpiece, staying true to her romantic and reflective language while diving into clear blue waters of freedom and self-discovery. Chopping off her signature curly locks and cleansing herself of toxicity, Taylor sent listeners to wonderland. As someone who has a lyric from New Romantics tattooed on her shoulder, you could say that this album has rightfully left its mark on me. Taylor could build a castle out of all the awards and recognition that she deserves for this artwork.- Kelsey Fredricks


9. Swimming 

“I was drowning but now I’m swimming,” the late Mac Miller states in “Come Back to Earth,” which is track one on his fifth and last album, Swimming. This album was released on Aug. 3, 2018 and was nominated for a Grammy in 2019 for “Best Rap Album.” Swimming is about struggles with fame, Miller’s mental state and an ongoing battle with addiction. Although this album is depressing overall, songs like “Ladders” and “What’s the Use?” manage to be upbeat. Ultimately, Swimming is uniquely musical for Miller, fitting not only in the hip-hop genre but also jazz rap. Miller sluggishly raps over classical, jazz and funk music, giving the album an original sound. – Nikki Donohue


8. Blonde

Frank Ocean has a very special place in the landscape of modern soul and R&B. Not only is his voice rich and soulful, but his lyrics place a great emphasis on existentialism, navigating modern society and his bisexuality. His first studio album, Channel Orange, put him on the map, and he followed it up with Blonde, one of the finest albums of the decade. Ocean opens up like he never has before on this record, and his production takes on a surreal and spaced out vibe as opposed to the more straightforward Channel. “Futura Free” is one of the best album closers of the decade, mixing hip-hop, soul and on the spot interviews. – MM


7. thank u, next 

thank u, next is more than just a catchy pop album, it’s Ariana Grande’s rawest piece of work yet. This album epitomizes how celebrities have real feelings, too. Released just last February, Grande uses songwriting to cope with her broken engagement to Pete Davidson and loss of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller. What makes this album so humanly is the conflicted emotions. In “needy” she explains her longing for validation and attention, followed right by “NASA” where Grande prefers space. thank u, next shows the evolution of pain and heartbreak through “fake smile” and “ghostin” into beauty with “imagine.” Somehow, hearing Grande’s emotional pain helps me cope with mine. – Emily O’Neil


6. Melodrama

Lorde’s 2017 album, Melodrama, is true to its title in the best possible way. It is emotionally indulgent and not for anyone who is unwilling to have meaningful realizations about their love lives. “Green Light” opens the album with an exhilarating beat under the phrase “But I hear sounds in my mind,” — a beat that can single-handedly foreshadow the power that is to come out of each and every song in the album (lyrically and rhythmically). Masterfully, Lorde crafts “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” which will first make you cry over your ex and then make you want to find him and cause some serious damage. For this reason, in the words of Lorde, I would recommend listening when you’re “Sober.” Melodrama is a triumph of 2017 and the entire decade. – Ethan Eisenberg


5. Flower Boy 

It’s been hard to nail down Tyler, the Creator’s character. His albums Bastard (2009), Goblin (2011), Wolf (2013) and Cherry Bomb (2015) are marked by extremism and exclusion: confessions of homicidal and suicidal tendencies, along with the marginalization of women and queer people with violently misgoynstic and homophobic lyrics. Conversely, Tyler, the Creator trades out his rampant deviance with beautiful reflection and self-improvement in his album Flower Boy (2017). He challenges the things that have shaped his psyche, like loneliness, isolation and disillusionment, and focuses on the necessity for growth (hence the lyrics “water your garden my n**** and stunt,” from his song “Where this Flower Blooms”). The transformative and lovestruck album Flower Boy graces its listeners with hopeful and genuine songs about finding yourself and finding someone who values you completely. – Nicole Zanchelli


4. To Pimp A Butterfly 

Kendrick Lamar: a name that will undoubtedly go down as one of the most prophetic and influential rappers of the past decade, perhaps of all time. Lamar’s third studio album is arguably the greatest example of his poetic prowess and razor-sharp insight. Audiences were baffled by incomparable bangers such as “King Kunta” and “Alright,” which still command crowds to this day. “The Blacker the Berry” is easily the most powerful track: Lamar spits venom at institutional racism and social injustice that plagues America while chronicling his own internal struggle. Two songs later, “i” lifts the spirits with a funky, gospel-esque dance track to help groove the blues away.  – Max Freebern


3. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

Being the youngest artist on this list, Billie Eilish entered the 2010’s at just eight years old but has, since her 2016 SoundCloud success, taken the world by storm. Ending the decade at 18 with six Grammy nominations and, more impressively, a spot on The Oracle’s tumultuously argued Albums of the Decade list, Eilish exhibits a talent well beyond her years in WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Her debut album offers a wide range of sounds and moods from the melancholy “Xanny,” to the upbeat alt-pop anthem “Bad Guy.” The raw, emotional “When The Party’s Over” and “Bury a Friend” which sounds like an actual descent into Hell — but in a good way. – Morgan Hughes


2. Lemonade 

Perhaps the reason everyone is so nostalgic about Summer ‘16 is its defining music releases including the very speculative Lemonade. Giving the masses a peek into her personal life, Beyonce delivered an anthem for women scorned. We saw the vulnerable side of the Flawless Beyonce and sympathized with her. Ranging from fun, brainless bops like “Formation” to heart-breaking, yet empowering tracks like “Sorry,” Beyonce’s sixth album had quite an impact on popular culture. She chose her features wisely with the likes of The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar. In 14 tracks she was able to turn the world against Jay-Z and secure the bag while doing it. – Mahnoor Ali     


1. Norman F*cking Rockwell!

Coming in at the very end of the year and decade, Lana’s latest record has captured the hearts of both her loyal fans and new listeners alike. Some may say this is her most feminist album yet. Emulating an American west coast essence, Del Rey delivers 14 tracks of pure calculated and articulated emotion. Poetics are the star element of this record with relatable lyrics sung in her classic, soft ghostly coos. The record is full of ballads, a few self-reflective pieces and a sick Sublime cover; it is Lana Del Rey realized. Additionally, Del Rey does not have a single feature on this album and you don’t even notice. – Mahnoor Ali