Some exceptional albums came out during the noughties decade: Keane’s Hopes and Fears, Gigi Leung’s Suddenly This Summer, Utada Hikaru’s Heart Station, Jay-Jay Johanson’s Rush, Alizée’s Gourmandises, Gary Numan’s Pure, Twins’ Touch of Love, and Lights’ The Listening. The tens were fabulous too. We have compiled our 100 favourite albums of the decade and present them ranked below from 100 to 1. While our end of year lists looked at works from Canadian artists only, we have decided to open things up as we stand at the gateway to the twenties. We wanted to see how Canadian artist albums fare compared to their international counterparts. By international we mean albums from around the world recorded in any language. All genres were taken into consideration. Albums of cover songs were included only if we felt the tracks were better than the originals. We have allowed for multiple entries by the same artist. Excluded are EPs (discs whose total runtime sits below 25 minutes or collections of album bonus tracks). Also excluded are various artist compilation albums, remix albums, Christmas albums, live albums, and greatest hits albums.
It is important to note that the reader may find discrepancies between this list and CMB’s end of year lists. For example, an album which finished ahead of another in an end of year list may appear behind the other in this decade list. The explanation is that, over the years, some albums grew on us while others we tired of quickly. New albums came to our attention as well. The end of year lists remain true statements of how we felt about those albums at the time of publishing, and the list below is an honest account of how we feel about the albums now at the end of the decade.
♦ Black Moon ♦
Triple threat Kaelen Ohm, recording artist, actress, and award-winning filmmaker released album Black Moon under moniker Amaara in 2017. Technically an LP (with six tracks, it has a run time of 27 minutes), Black Moon is drenched in dream pop atmospherics. Amaara, having served as a member of Reuben and the Dark, proves she can make just as satisfying music as a soloist. The music frolics airily through lullabies, fantasies, and fairy tale magic. The exceptional title-track perfectly delivers her style. “Dreamcatcher” blends the ominous with the soothing before breaking into a soft flow. Amaara’s Black Moon is a hauntingly beautiful album for those seeking something magical.
♦ Slowdive ♦
Monarchs of shoegaze, Britain’s Slowdive released its first album in 22 years in 2017, a self-titled affair. It sounded like the players had never left the scene. Opener “Slomo”, sluggish and dreary, seems to pick up from the band’s “Crazy for You” days in 1995. Outstanding number “Star Roving”, buttressed by many layers packs one heck of a punch. And through the haze and the daze this magnificent album generates, one emerges at the other end wondering what just hit him. A welcome return.
Foster the People
♦ Torches ♦
Los Angeles is home to many talented underground acts, but Foster the People broke out early thanks to hit single “Pumped Up Kicks”. Weird, wacky, and fun, it’s the sort of novelty track that resonates with the masses. The group followed up the single with album Torches and its bouncy opener “Helena Beat”. The disc is drenched with jangly guitars, whirring keys, quirky vocals, and funky verses cascading into infectious choruses. This is a great band.
♦ Golden Age ♦
Ladies and gentlemen, we are in serious danger … of enjoying ourselves, thanks to album number two from Phèdre, offshoot of Toronto’s Hooded Fang. The duo transported itself to Berlin to lay down the tracks for Golden Age, a celebration of experimental and very catchy electronica. The vocals, intentionally at times slightly off-key and delivered in a spirit of boredom, add an extra dimension. In fact, the entire package seems to have been borne by the winds of a tesseract. Phèdre reminds us of music’s great potential to excite, and they have succeeded in tapping into this gold mine of creativity unleashing the magic sparklers of all things weird and wonderful.
♦ Devotion (Gold Edition) ♦
Those used to a wall of sound may need some time to let the sparse arrangements on Jessie Ware’s R&B inflected Devotion grow on them. Rather than presenting the pizzazz of a complex cacophony, Jessie settles for stringing up little hooks and etching subtle grooves that eventually caress those tympanic membranes. A number of versions of the album are available. Whichever you get, make sure it includes “Imagine It Was Us” quite possibly the Brit’s best song.
♦ I Become a Shade ♦
Montreal synth-tickling trio Seoul prunes the roadside foliage providing for a picturesque, velvety drive through shady climes. I Become a Shade is the band’s debut LP, a seamless merging of the organic and the ambient, a sombre ride that never falls into despair. We feel as if we are cruising at high speeds on petrol fumes alone or perhaps aboard a Maglev train. It is a solid album throughout, all tracks hitting the mark, whether they pause for a bit of reflection or decide to get a bit funky. The ethereal “Galway” is a nice treat to close the work.
♦ Rosa ♦
Exotic would be an apt word to use in Rosa Laricchiuta’s path to her debut album. She’s a Montreal-born singer of Italian descent discovered in a karaoke venue which led to a tour of Asia performing in the poshest of venues and wound up as a finalist in Canada’s The Voice. But that’s not all. Melissa Etheridge was so impressed with her that she invited Rosa to join her on tour. Meanwhile, king of Francorock, Éric Lapointe, took it upon himself to get her debut album launched under the auspices of Sylvain Cossette’s record label. And of all genres of music, the powerhouse vocalist has selected rock, and we are grateful. The eponymous album, Rosa, includes great guitar work, powerful rock drumming, and well-written nuggets of catchiness surrounded by an amazing voice.
♦ Everything in the World ♦
Wanting (Qu), originally from the ice sculpture capital of Harbin, China, settled into Vancouver as a teenager and on her trusty keyboard began writing songs. She felt she had something to offer and submitted a batch to Terry McBride of the Nettwerk Music Group (home to such artists as Sarah McLachlan). The rest, as they say, is history. The singer and songwriter’s knack for penning good tunes is very evident on her debut record Everything in the World. The music here is just beautiful. While she hits the mark on English language tracks “Drenched” and “Life Is Like a Song”, she does the same on Chinese language numbers “Today” and her megahit that swept the masses in the land of her birth, “You Exist in My Song”.
You Say Party
♦ You Say Party ♦
This post punk group released its fourth album in 2016 following a hiatus. The band tragically lost drummer Devon Clifford during a gig in 2010. The remaining four decided to use drum machines rather than recruit a new percussionist. The result effectively gives the music a more emotionally drained, droning sound, which is fitting, as the album tries to make sense out of the band’s loss and uncertain future. The cover art is an accurate reflection of the gloomy atmospherics the disc explores. It’s an honest and authentic representation of the dark detour the group was forced to take, slightly experimental, as the four players explored unfamiliar terrain but emerged with an impressive work of art.
♦ Gravity the Seducer ♦
In 2005, English-Bulgarian electronic outfit Ladytron put out one of the finest new wave songs of the new millennium, “Destroy Everything You Touch” off album Witching Hour. Success often leads to record label switching, and the group crossed the floor from Island Records to Canada’s Nettwerk. Gravity the Seducer, burbling with perhaps a smoother brew, came in 2011. The glittering chimes of “White Elephant” herald swinging “Mirage’s” pastel cool. The album offers slow burning charmers like “Ambulances” as well as haunting numbers like “90 degrees”.
Young Gun Silver Fox
♦ AM Waves ♦
The Brit-American duo of Andy Platts and Shawn Lee smartly recreates soulful 70s soft rock (think of America or The Doobie Brothers) and gives it a fresh, modern twist. AM Waves is the pair’s second album together. Homogenizing warm breezes, palm trees, convertibles, AM radios, vocal harmonies, downtempo grooves, and electric keyboards, we are so grateful for such an album to materialize in the 2010s. Whether crooning at “Midnight in Richmond”, playing it funky in “Take It or Leave It”, or turning up the joyous vibes in “Kingston Boogie”, we dig it, man.
♦ My Wild West ♦
The United States’ Lissie pulled off an impressive neo-trad feat on her third album My Wild West. She even dedicated a song to Ojai, California, the dusty wild west hometown of hi-tech heroes, the bionic man and woman. At the core of the sound is roots music (rock, country, folk), but it is often dressed in handsomely progressive attire. There are some tender moments and rollicking ones when she pumps out her powerful but pleasant vocals. Pure ecstasy is achieved when she blows things wide open like an emotional tornado but leaves everything intact. The album tames the bronco, unstoppably pulses along, ploughs through the dirt, and lets loose when it needs to. Hear big choruses of elation on “Wild West”, “Hero”, and “Don’t Give Up on Me”, and beautiful writing and delivery on cuts like “Together or Apart”.
♦ Volcano ♦
Jason Bajada launched album number six, Volcano in 2016. The music is rich, well-written, and brilliantly executed. We love how he tenses up the verses to burst into eruptive choruses, not so much in terms of noise and fury, but rather dreamy, hair-raising gleams of infectious melodies. His soothing vocals take us on a pleasant ride through the disc with the perfect tempo to keep our ears perked, and he throws in some molten hot guitar solos that flow like lava, most notably in opener “Pékin (les amitiés)”. Other standouts include “Si je craque” which begins with folky, level field guitar strums combined with bouncy vocal notes and then bursts into a gorgeous chorus. “Busky” begins with minimalist keys and a funky bass and then yields to an irresistibly delicious wall of sound. Yup, Jason Bajada got our wow factor on automatic repeat with Volcano.
♦ Kalaboogie ♦
Sibling Blumas trio created ambient moods from original textures qualifying them as archaeologists unearthing relics from both tribal villages and radically advanced metropolises on foreign planets. The robust hypnotic music proceeds from grunts and grinds through droning shimmers in some form of a Suspiria-based X-file. It’s dark and dense and absolutely brilliant.
♦ Noir Éden ♦
Peter Peter, a synthpop specialist, Quebec City native, and multiple Polaris Prize nominee, cast forth his third studio album, Noir éden in 2017. We highlight some standout tracks such as delightful keys dancing along in “Damien,” reminiscent of say Gazebo’s “I Like Chopin” or Double’s “The Captain of Her Heart”. “Allégresse” includes a nice touch of aloof vocal work that Phèdre did so well on “Ancient Nouveau”. Hear captivating bass synth on the title track adding nicely to other detailed touches in a very well put-together song. “Loving Game” is pure 80s, a bilingual, pulse-driven standout with French verses and an English chorus reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”.
♦ Dashboard Renegade ♦
Edmonton’s award-winning country music star Livy Jeanne released her first full-length album Dashboard Renegade in 2015. It contains country radio hits “Wrong Side of the Dirt” and “All Kinds of Crazy”. Ensuring excellence in all 10 tracks, she co-wrote with ace hit-makers Brian White (Rascal Flatts, Tim Hicks) and Jeff Cohen (Sugarland, The Band Perry). We have a welcome mix of upbeat and slow songs, some leaning more toward country-rock grounds. We were immediately taken by “Fake It Past Goodbye” and “I Got Your Number”. When we began listening to Dashboard Renegade, we experienced severe problems with memory: we forgot who Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton were.
♦ 27 fois l’aurore ♦
Album number two from this dynamo was hailed by critics all around the world as a masterpiece. Sculpted from folky basics, a latticework of art and electronics was continuously refined with intricate detail. Suspense and atmosphere abound and curve balls get thrown in. This is a hair-raising thrill ride through uncharted territory, always surprising and forever impressing.
♦ Temps bipolaire ♦
Navert is the brainchild of Annie-Claude Navert and Guillaume Chartrain. As demonstrated on Bipolar Time, they have tapped the Muse when it comes to songwriting. The 80s influenced synthpop is a mix of the electronic and organic, light and dark, hopefulness and despair, and we envision riding on a carousel in the clearing of a dark forest. Among choice tracks “Ta cadence” and “Ma chanson”, find a cover of Daniel Lavoie’s Ils s’aiment”.
♦ Blue ♦
Let’s make the artist’s name a bit clearer: I am. Am I? Who am I? We doubt Jackie Chan had anything to do with it. This is an electronic duo from Sweden. Its strength lies in its uniqueness, carving out a style of electronica that sounds very different from all others, embracing harsher, more punctuated synth voices hearkening back to, say, John Foxx’s Metamatic. At times, the darkness of the music is crushing. Jonna Lee’s crispy, haunting vocals are a good fit for such musical endeavours. Album Blue (2014) is a little more polished than previous albums. Satisfying musical composition jacked up iamamiwhoami above other electronic acts in the decade.
♦ Devotion ♦
Thanks to Mia Martina, the 2010s were not all doom and gloom. She knew how to get us dancing and partying. Her debut disc Devotion offered a fresh, breezy, ocean-flavoured take on EDM. The culturally rich disc spawned three Top 40 hits, including Top 10 “Stereo Love” with Edward Maya. “Burning” is an absolute blast, and “Go Crazy” should have been a hit. While the album version of “Missing You” is a winner, even more so is the remix version. That song found a place in Russian hearts, as it reached #2 on their charts. Don’t miss out on the French versions of Martina’s songs; to us, they sound even better.
♦ TRST ♦
Welcome to your best nightmare. Like iamamiwhoami, duo TR/ST carved out a niche for itself, coming up with a sound and style like none other, as heard on debut album TRST. Austra’s Maya Postepski joins Robert Alfons to create something dark, dense, menacing, and atmospheric. It’s hypnotic, sombre, and intense gothic electronic rock at its very best with synth grunts, blips, and pulses, and melodies taking on unexpected twists and turns on a joy ride to the edge of doom.
♦ Crystal Castle ♦
One of the finest crafters of electronic music these days is Germany’s Markus Guentner. In fact, some credit him as the inventor of the “pop ambient” configuration. Markus is especially good at weaving the music into a climax, as we hear on his excellent album Crystal Castle, his sixth. He creates tesseract infused atmospheres, elicits high-flying moods, and expands the mind to infiltrate hidden worlds. Brace yourself, as the space dust comes for you and sweeps you somewhere light years away.
♦ Into the Sun ♦
David Myles is a singer-songwriter from New Brunswick. He was in the Shanghai area in 2001 attempting to learn Mandarin. It was there that he bought his first guitar. When he was growing up, he learned the trumpet. He has been a prolific artist releasing volumes of music in the 21st century. We like his sixth studio album, Into the Sun, best. The disc includes his popular track “Simple Pleasures” but all of the little ditties will have you bursting with smiles. Think of Sugar Ray. Reggae-flavoured, light, fun, find yourself getting pulled into the sun on this splendid work.
♦ Kin ♦
Raw, palpably dark, and extra spicy, iamamiwhoami’s Kin digs its claws at you with synth voices so sharp as to leave your heart cut up gloriously. Like an undertow, the music pulls you into overwhelming feelings of despair. Resistance is futile. Best listened to in the autumn months when the sun’s rays try reaching you at a shallow angle and then lamentably abandon you behind the horizon. “Good Worker”, “Idle Talk”, and “Kill” would have made excellent tracks to include on the Ex Machina soundtrack.
Anna of the North
♦ Lovers ♦
Her fellow countrywoman Anne Lilia Berge Strand (Annie), shone in the noughties decade. In the 2010s however we enjoyed this fine figure. Stage name of Norway’s Anna Lotterud, Anna of the North concocted some remarkable electropop on her choice debut disc, Lovers. “Moving On” and “Someone” supercharge things right off the bat. As a whole, the work is buttressed by the charm of her soft and frothy vocals. She takes a dig at gold-diggers on “Money”, heats up the dancefloor on “Fire”, and calls for more loveable conditions on “Lovers”. This was named one of the most overlooked albums of the decade by Billboard Magazine. It sure wasn’t overlooked by us.
♦ Reaching for Sunlight ♦
Before she was running for a municipal city councillor position in Toronto, passionate community organizer Lily C (the C is for Cheng) released beautiful “happy pop” album of music Reaching for Sunlight. The disc has voice, lyrics, song-writing, and production at a very fine level. “I Am a Bee” percolates with charm. “I Choose to Be Me” centers on the theme of shrugging off pressures from the media to be physically attractive in order to win society’s acceptance. As sweet as honey, “Take Your Shoes Off” hits the mark in the adult contemporary domain capping things off nicely.
♦ About U ♦
Muna is an American all-female new wave trio and the highly praised About U its debut album. While the for-profit press focussed on the disc’s lyrics which cover some attention-grabbing themes like abusive relationships, female empowerment, and one of the Orlando shootings, the music is something to be cherished too: punchy, synth-laced confections with half-tone dips and air-cutting guitars. Katie Gavin’s unique singing style helps give the band a signature sound.
Foster the People
♦ Sacred Hearts Club ♦
While Foster the People’s third album, Sacred Hearts Club, failed to produce any big radio hits, there are so many good songs on here, it is an LP for the taking and perhaps the band’s finest work. The glistening atmospheric production makes the group sound like it knows what it’s doing rather than stumbling in the dark through jagged indie terrain. At times psychedelic, at moments more electronic, with the odd dash of funk, the right balance of diversity and cohesion is struck, and these interesting tracks keep the listener engaged through to the end.
♦ Tropic Electric ♦
Following her massive hit “Don’t Call Me Baby” (the 26th biggest song of 2008) from her debut disc, Kreesha Turner released her second album amid the throes of dying record label EMI, and it did not receive the promotion it deserved. The album managed two minor hits, “Love Again” and “I Could Stay” which are both superb electro-R&B tunes. The first half of this wonderful concept album Tropic was recorded in Jamaica and carries with it an island vibe, while second part “Electric” furthers the style that made her famous.
♦ Fusée ♦
One of the finest artists in the world when it comes to coffee house adult contemporary, Ariane Brunet decked the decade’s halls with her sophomore record Fusée, for those yearning for something soft and graceful. It contains an assortment of delicacies like the beautiful sweep of “Le temps de vivre”, the rousing “Vertige”, melancholy “Mon plus beau naufrage”, and perky “L’évidence”. Lead single, “Bagatelle” spent some time in the iTunes Francophone Top 10 and is one of the decade’s best songs.
♦ Nine ♦
One of the decade’s best singers from the land down under (she won the X Factor), the silky cool of Samantha Jade finally served the masses an album of originals after a debut covers album (check out her boss version of Kanye West’s “Heartless” on that one). Two of Nine’s tracks became Top 40 hits in Australia: opener “Always”, co-written with Canadian record producer John Levine and “Shake That” featuring the rapping talents of the ubiquitous Pitbull. A total of eleven tremendous pop and dance pop tracks make Nine a perfect ten.
♦ Memory Emotion ♦
It was a long wait, appeased in part by a soundtrack album, for Canadian duo Electric Youth to release a followup studio album to the brilliant Innerworld. The anticipation was rewarded, the artistry hit progression, and there were few albums released in 2019 that were this good. Dynamic vocals, cascading synthesizers, and emotional depth dot the landscape with vivid colours. Pulsating “The Life”, wispy “Arawa”, 80s-esque “Breathless”, and dreamy “Real Ones” effectively open up the dazzling world of electrifying tranquility. And then comes the captivating “On My Own” which really gets the ride going. The vocals are as angelic as ever and the path breathtaking. “Thirteen” is a nice throwback to Innerworld era EY with those pulsating bass synths. But it is perhaps the melodic, delicately crafted, and a touch creepy “Evergreen 143” that serves as the album’s best track.
♦ Crazy Enough ♦
Award winning and charting country artist Bobby Wills served his third album Crazy Enough in 2014. Find on this picturesque horseback ride some clever, poetic lyrics, “Building a Mystery” guitar riffs, and alluring vocals. “Still Something There” is a prime opener. “All Kinds of Wrong” refreshingly brings some morals into the mix and “That’s Why I Pray” some thirst-quenching devotion. The album contains Wills’ Billboard Hot 100 charting singles “Crazy Enough” and “Never Didn’t Love You” as well as catchy single “Undressed”.
♦ Nos cœurs ensemble ♦
Fun, award-winning, electropop duo Alfa Rococo brightened the party atmosphere with its finest achievement, third album Nos coeurs ensemble. A tighter, less sparse sound than its other releases, the album is also filled with irresistible hooks and unanticipated detailed techniques. Lead single “Lumière” was declared song of the week by iTunes. But the album offers even choicer tunes. The electro-pulses and gritty guitars on “Le sexe des anges” are as addictive as the masterful composition on “Deux” with smooth guitar plucks and whistling keys. And if that doesn’t win you over, there’s the hum-along charm of the title track.
♦ Leaving ♦
Tawny Lucas under alias Ominar added some sparkle to the decade that was the 2010s with LP Leaving. Dark, moody, and gothic, this thing drips with a black, ominous rain. It is a very cohesive work, and many tracks feel like a variation of a central theme, leaving the listener both morose and spooked. This talented gal heroically fills a hungry void, as dark wave is relatively barren here, and she does an excellent job at it. If nothing else, this disc reminds us of indie pop’s capacity to make things exciting.
♦ The Midnight Mass ♦
After parting ways with Lillix, the band’s bass player, Louise Burns began releasing solo albums and crafting a style she could call her own. That style has thus far resulted in two Polaris nominations. With her handsome Stevie Nicks’ reminiscent vocals, she brings us to The Midnight Mass, her second work. Siouxsie and the Banshees with some added synth textures could serve as a reference point. The lead single, “Emeralds Shatter” unseals the album with its cinematic, nighttime opening followed by twangy, Twin Peaks bass, jamboree percussion, and heightened vocal reverb. The sweeping, melodic “Ruby” follows, the album’s second single. A driving beat opens “San Andreas” where matter-of-fact, ominous storytelling bursts into an irresistible, perfectly-constructed chorus. A rocking chair on a hot, dusty porch at a country home comes to mind with spaghetti western influenced “He’s My Woman”. “Jasper’s” determined beat breeds addiction, while “Heaven” glides gracefully, leading up to the slow burning glory of “The Lodger”. The album concludes with a dark wave cover of the Gun Club’s “Mother of Earth”. We were burning the midnight oil listening to this gem over many months.
♦ Gemini ♦
In pervasively male terrain, Astronautica (Edrina Martinez) of the US city of Los Angeles, is a bright light in the field of record production. Her electronic downtempo masterpiece Gemini is proof of that. “*69”, a feathery, chillout anthem for dreamers; “Palm Springs”, a soft throbbing glide for dancers; “PNW”, an airy tinkler for gamers; “Falling for You”, a sultry silkworm for lovers; and “Bad Habits”, a jiggly, ethereal ray of neon light for loungers are all mouth-watering bits of mind-numbing flavours, best enjoyed beneath the stars.
♦ We Are King ♦
Speaking of masterpieces of female-led production, we arrive at another winner, the Grammy nominated We Are King from American dreamy, chill, electronic R&B femme-trio King. It stands as the only LP released by the group to date. Letting loose a rich, interwoven wall of sound that knocks you out of your boots, the disc may remind some of 80s or 90s offerings like Nu Shooz. The album made many year-end best-of lists deservedly so. The album is without a weak moment. Opener “The Right One” is a good representation of King’s genius sound.
♦ Heart Beats ♦
Let’s face it, the vocals of Australia’s Dami Im kick serious hide. In contrast to the silkier skills of her fellow Aussie X-Factor alumnus Samantha Jade, Dami offers an alternative and equally admirable style—a powerhouse of gaping, glass-shattering pursuits. Heart Beats, a basket of assorted pop fruits, is responsible for a pair of #11 hits down under, “Super Love” (not to be confused with Charli XCX’s “Superlove”) and “Gladiator”. Those hungry for some softer, more reflective songs can tune into “Heart Beats Again” or “Solid Ground”. Otherwise, enjoy the flight on EDM-inflected soar “Living Dangerously”.
♦ Sea Island ♦
Vancouver’s Loscil (i.e. Scott Morgan) has here a great ambient electronic album. As its title and cover suggest, this is best listened to wandering around YVR’s Sea Island on a cloudy day with maybe even a little drizzle. The mood the music conjures is the perfect match for such as that. The album’s flavour is less poppier than, say, Ulrich Schnauss and more along the lines of Steve Roach with some of those atmospheric bell-like synth chimes of Vangelis. Sweeping and airy, it subdues, it captivates, and it tugs the listener into a glorious hypnotic state.
♦ 21st Century Ballads ♦
Drenched in atmospheric production, piano and voice stunner 21st Century Ballads was one of the decade’s most beautiful artistic works. The poetry shines through the gorgeous music as Gryner explores issues of a friend dying from cancer (“Visiting Hours”), knowing someone accused of criminal activity (“Duped”), suicide among teenage girls (“The Wild Weight of Earth”), and finding a family/work balance (“The Race”), the latter inspired by the example of fellow Canadian artist Lawrence Gowan and which also references her time playing keyboards in David Bowie’s backing band. The emotional depth the album digs is profound with heart-shattering lines like, “You can solve it all by holding me, but you don’t”. We were floored.
♦ The Far Field ♦
US trio Future Islands is a modern outfit that captures the new wave sound splendidly, not just in the instrumentation but the singing style which masters the measured theatrics and pitch dipping techniques used by the original acts of the genre. Blondie’s Debbie Harry is featured on a track off album The Far Field, a disc that scuttles along at a stately pace and oozes with charisma. All the tracks here are delightful and more catchy than a hangar filled with Velcro. We never thought getting carried away to fields afar would be so much fun.
North Atlantic Drift
♦ Departures, Vol. 1 ♦
Working with a hefty palette of sounds, this duo brushed onto the musical canvas a landscape of electronic murmurs adorned with daubs of recorded nature sounds, making the perfect soundtrack for our fantastic voyage. The album takes us on a trip to the fog clouded chill of the north Atlantic, and we are grateful for a suspense-filled journey. We can literally smell the sea salt as it grazes past our face. Opener “Temperance” – one of the finest ambient tracks of the decade – alone makes Departures, Vol. 1 a worthwhile listen.
♦ White Silence ♦
From the unfamiliar country of Belarus (area 200,000 sq km; population 9.5 million) Ugasanie (Pavel Malyshkin) sculps a climate of icy trepidation on ambient electronic work White Silence. One can almost hear the chokehold the snow has on the frozen pines lining dusky treacherous northern forests that cut the slaty sky. Layers of electronic shivers are sprinkled with frosty field recordings. “Permafrost”, “White Silence”, and “Tundra Fogs” will have you longing for some shelter with a wood stove and wool blanket.
♦ Before Then Was Now ♦
RLMDL, sometimes going by moniker Rolemodel, is the project of Toronto’s Jordan Allen. Dream pop has existed since the 50s when the industry discovered the beauty of reverb. “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Flamingos is a prime example. The Mamas and the Papas ran with the torch in the 60s. “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc was a standout track from the 70s. Flying the flagship in the 80s was The Cocteau Twins. In the 90s, shoegaze music became popular in the UK with artists like Slowdive. RLMDL advanced the general genre in the 10s and on album Before Then Was Now uses melodic and fuzzy guitars, synths, laid back electronic percussion, and sombre singing to achieve the effect. Track “Bilingual” is a standout.
♦ Reminisce ♦
Julie Fader and Graham Walsh are duo Etiquette, and Reminisce its debut album. Avoid the danger of lumping the act in with other electronic outfits. The style ditches the spirit of wooden elation for animated melancholy. The hooks dangle in abundance as the music waddles its way through raw climes decked in some of the experimental garments worn by such predecessors as The Legendary Pink Dots and Cabaret Voltaire. It’s not all subdued; there are a couple of peppy inclusions that twinkle like stars on and on. Overall, on Reminisce, the ethereal drones effectively hypnotize in ways that will leave you reclining in satisfaction.
♦ Alexe Gaudreault ♦
Complete with flowing copper curls, Alexe Gaudreault (who since release has dropped the surname and now goes simply by Alexe) dished out the pleasant surprise that was her eponymous debut album which followed the big Franco radio hit “Placebo”. The album is a pop tour de force with catchy beats, peppy swagger, sonorous choruses, and a fabulous, creamy voice leading it all. “Mirage” and “Couleurs” had us hooked immediately. The delicately played “Éclat” glowed its way up the musique Francophone charts. In short, every track on this one is a winner.
♦ Heavenly ♦
Rosemary Fairweather presents her take on synthpop on her debut album Heavenly, a collection of previously released singles. Feathery and angelic, with punchy beats, some of the choice cuts are “Moonlight”, “Like a 45”, and “Too Low”. The album will have you dreaming of surfing the clouds. Rosemary’s sequel album, Heavenly 2, is also worth checking out. She signed to Universal Music following the quality of her releases, and her lower profile is, sadly, due to suffering an unfortunate concussion and its after effects.
♦ The Courtneys II ♦
Vancouver indie fuzz all-female rock trio The Courtneys debuted in 2013 with a set that impressed on an international scale. In fact, New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records signed the group to oversee the sequel, The Courtneys II, released in 2017. The aloof, sugary singing from drummer “Cute Courtney” binds nicely with “Classic Courtney’s” exciting frenetic guitar work. Together with “Crazy Courtney” on bass, the trio takes us on a highly engaging ride through lo-fi slacker culture and bubble-gum garage punk. The disc opens with “Silver Velvet”. “Country Song” bursts with a wall of guitar sound, the album’s standout jam. “Lost Boys” pays tribute to the 80s’ vampire craze while surf rock dresses up “Mars Attacks”.
♦ New Sun ♦
The rarest album on our list, you will be hard pressed to find a physical copy anywhere, a digital one, or even the full album available on a streaming service. Jaki Song’s New Sun is a winner because the electronic masterpiece sounds like nothing else. The synth and percussion voices she uses are on a road not taken by other artists. Her spicy vocals provide distinction as well. “End of Time” cascades into a driving, flowing climax. “I Adore You” could serve as a theme for a sci-fi & spy combo movie if ever there was one. This is great art.
♦ Believe ♦
Following his debut LP My World 2.0 and Christmas album Under the Mistletoe, global pop superstar and teen idol Justin Bieber landed album Believe. It placed seven songs onto the charts beginning with lead single “Boyfriend” which reached #1. “Beauty and a Beat” (co-penned by Max Martin and Zedd) reached #4 and “All Around the World” and “As Long as You Love Me” the Top 10. Aside from the pop and EDM charmers, the Biebs proved adept at acoustic ballads: “Catching Feelings” and “Fall” are among the disc’s finest moments.
♦ Innerworld ♦
Much credit has been given to Canadian duo Electric Youth for placing a song in the soundtrack of feature film Drive with Ryan Gosling. The greater feat is churning out an entire album of similar treats. Soft flowing electronica with gentle vocals is perfectly done on debut LP Innerworld, which takes us on a hypnotic trip into some otherworldly reverie. It isn’t all glide and burble, however. “Without You” is a heavy hitter with biting synth attacks. The far-reaching sweep and driving beats of “Runaway”, the pop and pulse tailoring of “Tomorrow”, and the beautiful tear-jerking delivery of refrain “And you, and you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me” in “The Best Thing” are just a few of the many takeaways here.
♦ Young Mopes ♦
Louise Burns’ third album Young Mopes is sculpted in introspective, guitar-oriented new wave with some strokes of synth, New Orderesque high-pitched bass pulses, tight drumming, and includes a cover of the Blue Nile’s “Downtown Lights”. Track “Strange Weather” sees Burns master the country-inspired genre complete with lap steel. Standouts include punchy opener “Who’s the Madman”, the swaggering “Pharaoh”, the melodic “Moonlight Shadow”, and the misty “Hysteria”. The tunes are deliciously shadowy, and Burns’ bright vocals and energetic delivery give it a sunny glaze.
♦ Tigerlily ♦
It is a mere coincidence that we place an album from Louise Burns’ former band immediately following her splendid album. Once Lillix was freed from now defunct record label Maverick and its insistence on punkier stylings, the band hit its stride. This excellent album with beautifully written songs is done in a much more satisfying pop-rock with a progressive edge. The 2010s needed more music like this. The whacking beats of “Believer” give the album its engine, the energy of “Nowhere to Run” its fuel, the pretty balladry of “Say No More” its comfort seats, and the clawing guitars of “Back Up Girl” its traction.
♦ Sucker Punch ♦
Nestled within a year of disappointments, a bright spot in 2019 was Sucker Punch, the debut LP from Norwegian singer Sigrid. She performs in English and broke out in the British Isles with one Top 20 and one Top 10 hit (“Don’t Feel Like Crying” and “Strangers” respectively). The album is so good, however, that these are not necessarily the album’s best moments; in fact, it is hard to pick one. There are a few ballads on the disc, but where she really shines is on the cleverly-constructed powerhouse pop numbers with unpredictable, elevating choruses, especially the title-track. Her dabbling in pulsating EDM (“Never Mine”) is satisfying as well. The album delivers quite the … sucker punch.
♦ Sound of a Woman ♦
With Kiesza, the 2010s unveiled some real talent. Her smash “Hideaway” topped the charts in the UK before anyone in her home country had heard of her. Sound of a Woman has the Canadian singer taking us on a sumptuous journey through deep house infused gems punctuated by her exquisite vocal talents. Little details contribute to the disc’s excellence, like the leaky faucet in “Piano,” delicious beats on “Over Myself,” and complex percussion work on “Vietnam”. “No Enemiesz”, a dance floor thumper, tosses in a spicy synth at the close. “Losin’ My Mind” gives us a cool backbone-sliding groove followed by even slicker “So Deep,” and then there’s the fun, spooky treatment on “Bad Thing”. But perhaps the album’s finest moment is Kiesza letting loose her dynamic sky-scraping vocals on the album’s title-track.
♦ 2 Be Free ♦
With 2012’s pleasant surprise 2 Be Free, Hong Kong’s heartbeat skipping duo Twins (Gillian Chung and Canadian-born Charlene Choi) released its best album since 2003’s Touch of Love. Besides inspired writing and of course those beautiful voices, the music is delivered with a warm, magical quality, always an indicator of Twins being in top form. The Cantopop album celebrates a full decade since the girls’ debut in 2002 and includes Asia Game Show 2011 theme song “Take the Field”, hit ballad “Bigger Than Sky”, and the irresistible melody of “Let Me Fly Away”.
♦ Dead Son Rising ♦
Dubbed the godfather of electronic rock, Gary Numan had the fifth biggest song of the year 1980, and in his native Britain has managed to pilot some 21 songs into the Top 40. Although you might count what could be considered his studio albums differently – by our reckoning Dead Son Rising is his 21st – a point of agreement is that Numan’s output has been prolific with releases in five decades! Rising has been characterized as an album of unfinished songs from the past that Gary got around to completing (while busy raising three daughters). Dense and hauntingly dark, the industrial album has the godfather rocking out on progressive anthem “The Fall” (watch the MV at your own spooked out risk). Other gems are slow-burning jam “For the Rest of My Life”, the rustic “Not the Love We Dream Of” with a slightly out-of-tune piano, and “We Are Lost” that has some crazy insect sound buzzing around in your ear. Brilliant.
City and Colour
♦ The Hurry and the Harm ♦
A male with angelic vocals? According to Pink, yes. City and Colour is the stage name of soloist Dallas Green, author of two double platinum albums, for a true double-double. The Hurry and the Harm went platinum. The melodic music flows with wistful melancholy beneath dreamy skies. The flannel vocals, delivering poetic lyrics, unfold themselves softly. The tales he tells are of internet trolls and online gossip, sticking it to the US state of California, and grief over leaving the band Alexisonfire—heavy themes delivered with so much class and grace. No harm in that.
♦ Little Machines ♦
This was electronic pop-rock virtuoso Lights’ third album. It merges the synth pop catchiness of debut The Listening with the gritty experimental brilliance of Siberia. Little Machines, which made it to #5 on the Canadian Albums chart and #34 on the Billboard US 200, opens with the atmospheric Twilight Zone spook of “Portal” and proceeds through an assortment of ear-caressing melodies. Hit single “Up We Go” highlights a host of infectious anthems all decked in handsome electronica and endearing vocal delivery.
♦ Let ‘Em Eat Cake ♦
Demi Lovato has said that it is because of Alexz Johnson that she decided to make a career in music. This is the Canadian singer-songwriter’s sophomore full-length and arguably her best work. Featuring adult pop with soulful vocals, progressive undercurrents, flickering guitars, and a good groove, Let ‘Em Eat Cake wins the baking contest by its crisp and robust drumming which carries everything at an exciting pace. The warm throbs of “Heart Like That”, charming swagger of “Cologne”, and intriguing stabs of “That Pain” are among the nine jewels here.
♦ Muse ♦
Hailing from the island of Taiwan, Jolin Tsai released her first album in 1999 and has now authored 14, four of which appeared in the 2010s. She has played a huge role in popularizing dance pop in the heavily favoured adult contemporary climate of Greater China, no easy task. In her rise to superstardom, she has continuously attracted more and more high-profile producers and songwriters from around the world to work on her projects. The result is, in general, an increasing quality of music with each album released. Jolin has also managed to reinvent her sound and image over the years making each album era a fresh one. A crisp sound certainly plays a role in EDM inflected album Muse from 2012, a disc that placed three songs in the Top 25 on Hit FM Taiwan’s year end chart for 2012: booming opener “The Great Artist” (#2), beautiful ballad “Wandering Poet” (#10), and spicy dance pop anthem “Dr. Jolin” (#24).
♦ Saved ♦
It took five years for KC Dalager and Brad Hale of Minneapolis, USA to craft this new wave seasoned album, and the time put in resulted in something terrific. Driving tick-tock rhythms carry swinging moods over tension tinged turf and realms of relaxation. KC’s soft, subdued honey-soaked vocals add extra lure to a very engaging work. We are sure that “MJ” would have put a smile on the king of pop’s face. Hear delicate synth tremors on “Holy Water” set up the bursting pulses of “Yours” nicely. This album will have all saved from boredom.
♦ Isolation ♦
Give Kali Uchis credit for bypassing the dinky finger snaps and mopey autotuned vocals of late 2010s pop and creating an album with a sound so fresh and alluring as to isolate her from her peers. Isolation carries a romantic nocturnal vibe that is lush, layered, and dreamy. It is an eclectic mix kneading reggae and Spanish stylings into the dough (Uchis has Colombian roots). But aside from these culturally rich elements, the tracks house varied, sophisticated instrumentation, and Kali’s sultry vocals mindfully flutter over the music ever so gracefully. We won’t name any songs here as they are all splendid.
♦ Fire Within ♦
Following an album of impressive covers, British piano pop songstress Birdy dropped this disc of originals when she was 17. In some ways, she comes across as an old soul who has weathered many storms, something that gives the work universal appeal. “Wings”, co-written with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, is one of the handsomest songs of the decade. Tracks like “Heart of Gold” and “All You Never Say” benefit especially from Birdy’s fragile vocal work. Other notables include pretty piano ballad “No Angel” and the emotionally haunting “Shine”.
♦ Myself ♦
Selling 25 million records in a region of 99% piracy, Jolin Tsai has achieved an estimated net worth of more than 85 million Canadian dollars. The Queen of C-Pop released album Myself in 2010, her second disc under Warner. The fun record has short instrumental snippets interspersed between the songs. The album opens with big dance beats in an ode to the Chinese stratagem of the Honey Trap – sending a beautiful woman to lure the (male) victim. It was the number one song of the year 2010 at Hit FM Taiwan. Irresistible dancefloor smash “Love Player” – arguably the album standout – follows. Other delicious confections are “Black-Haired Beautiful Girl”, slower number “Nothing Left to Say”, and ballad “Real Hurt”.
♦ Teenage Dream ♦
The United States’ Katy Perry did in her country what Mylène Farmer accomplished in France and Delta Goodrem in Australia—she released an album that spawned five number one hits. They are summertime anthem “California Gurls”, catchy title track “Teenage Dream”, emotionally powerful “Firework”, electropop torch-bearing “E.T.”, and funky, frolicking “Last Friday Night”. The album has even more pop stunners on board, making it a disc that littered the 2010s with tasty confections.
♦ Schizophrène ♦
Active in releases since 2005, Anik Jean went for the jugular in fourth album Schizophrène. This revved up masterpiece wafts in a breath of fresh air similar to what Joan Jett did in the 80s. The album opener rolls in like a cartwheel of demons and sets up a disc packed full of grinding guitars, exciting rock drumming, and piano pouncing. “Minable” places Anik’s voice atop an iron pedestal circumambulated by the echo of a yowling guitar. Larger than life anthem “À la vie, à la mort”, soaring, carefree “Liste noir”, no-holds-barred “B***e moi”, and pent-up and bursting “Si tu m’entends” elicit a wide range of emotion. Hear a touch of Placebo in “Tu es mon enfer”. The album closes out with the balladry of its title-track, sealing the deal on a great masterwork.
♦ Angela Zhang ♦
Angela’s aspirations towards becoming a singer grew while attending Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Vancouver. She returned to the Republic of China some time after graduation and released the song “Invisible Wings” which elevated her to superstar status overnight. Her self-titled album – her eighth – appeared in 2014. As the record label is called, this is … wonderful music. Her raspy voice with touches of vibrato ices tasty tracks like “When You Live for Love”, “Sunshine and Air”, “Love Is Not Wrong”, and our favourite “Ingratiating”. This is Mandopop at the top of its game.
♦ Out of the Blue ♦
New York based Canadian seven-string guitarist Adam Smale has the only jazz album to make our list, Out of the Blue. Accompanied by a trio (piano, bass drums), Adam takes the helm with impressive guitar work, and the overall sophistication of the instrumental jazz is played to both soothe and invigorate. “New Start” sets the scene complete with a vibrant nocturnal atmosphere and fanning out into a variety of flavours, care of the bluesy “Blues to Yous”, contrasts in “Yes and No” between breezy keys and sprightly strings, Spanish style “Jazzenco”, rocked up “Night Drive”, and dreamy “She Knows Me”.
♦ Love Life ♦
Debuting in 1998 this R&B star has scored some hits, but as far as albums go, this big, anthem-drenched work is second to none. Here are the finest examples of all elements of the recording process: writing, singing, arrangement, and production. There is not a weak moment on the entire disc; every track oozes with class and charm. Deep grooves, nocturnal ambiance, romantic vibes, and warm sparkles abound. The songs contain meticulously crafted, catchy details like little electronic riffs and arpeggios which make the music highly engaging.
♦ Red ♦
A large slice of the decade’s spotlight was given to Taylor Swift of the USA in part because she transitioned from country to pop. Arguably, her best music was at the pivot stage, when her constructs could not be called either. And at the core of that stage is album Red. Opening with arena-ready drumming is pomp-romp “State of Grace”. Later tracks on the album pick up on themes begun on the earlier ones, a technique which conveys a musical story. The sensitive playing and vocal nuances begun on “Treacherous” are advanced on “All Too Well”, sculpted into a towering climactic statue. Bold statements which, sung by others, would come across as too personal or awkward, work for Swfit (“I Knew You Were Trouble”, “We Are Never Getting Back Together”). While tracks like “Begin Again” celebrate what Taylor has done, “22” heralds the pop superstar to come.
♦ Something Good ♦
This prodigy, inspired by the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones began composing music at 10. With her angelic voice, the singer-songwriter decorated the 2010s with a genre that at times seemed to be in short supply—adult contemporary, an intriguingly mature sound for a teen. On her debut record Something Good, keys patter down like spring rain and are joined by some bluesy guitar, sparkling brass, and heart-tugging strings. The extra delicate arrangements and musicianship bring out the finesse of the compositions. While the blood of the album is melancholy, it is pumped through channels gracefully with occasional intensity. It is as though we are riding on a low-flying raincloud over rush hour traffic, free of stressful gridlock and dry. While several household names laid down some powerful poker hands of the genre through the decade, it was a 15-year-old newcomer from Montréal who dropped a royal flush, and her name was Azélie.
♦ A Head Full of Dreams ♦
A Head Full of Dreams was a return to form for the lustrous British band, not so much in recapturing a style lost—quite the opposite, a fresh reinvention—but in the writing of an arsenal of good songs for a solid album. In contrast to the more sorrowful previous effort (Ghost Stories), Dreams, as the cover would suggest, presents a positive, upbeat kaleidoscope of rich, colourful, beautifully orchestrated pop music. Coldplay gets down to boogey over star-sparkling disco beats and flashy, scaling guitars, and we’ve hardly ever had so much fun.
♦ Britney Jean ♦
Somewhat underrated and overlooked, as albums from women who begin losing their youthful looks often are, Britney Jean was one of the decade’s finest dance pop albums. Even a decade and a half after Ms. Spears stole the show and proved her worth by selling 150 million records, stick-in-the-mud critics were still questioning whether she deserved to be a pop star. Britney’s main appeal is in her presentation which is first-rate and shows no signs of wearing thin on this 2013 album. The sweep, glide, and choppy beats of “Alien” is an immediate enchanter opening things up for the delectable “Work B***h”, made cuter with a faux English accent. “Perfume” carries the fragrance of a memorable melody, “Til It’s Gone” … ditto, and “It Should Be Easy” the breezes of will.i.am EDM smarts. But perhaps the most electrifying of all is dancefloor-ready “Body Ache”, a seductive juxtaposing of hamming and rubbery keyboard riffs.
♦ Analog Love ♦
In 2012, piano whiz Shawn Hook introduced himself with charting electropop singles “Every Red Light” and “So Close”. He furthered his campaign two years later with dance-pop quaker “Million Ways”, co-authored by Grammy winning songwriter Victoria Horn (Dirty Vegas’ “Days Go By”). But the presses stopped when he launched double platinum certified single “Sound of Your Heart”. The latter two songs make up the biggest appeal to sophomore album Analog Love, but the disc contains other nuggets of gold which will, more than anything else, have you … hooked.
The Massive Attraction
♦ Live Out Loud ♦
Jonas’ (Tomalty) debut 2004 album was certified gold, and recording under the band title Jonas & the Massive Attraction, disc Live Out Loud was hurled forth in 2013. Although essentially a hard rock work, there are some power ballads and electronic textures. Hear fabulous rock vocals, frenzied drumming, and even some dazzling electric guitar solos. “Ultimate Low” catapults a massive boulder at the moon knocking it out of orbit. Chugging guitars and menacing drums collide in the great “Riot”. “Cover Me” contains some killer keyboards hoisting us into the 5th dimension—beautiful song. Power ballad “Good Life” has the semblance of dancing on a tightrope … in a pair of skates. “Too Young to Be Broken” ensures our youth remains intact.
Carly Rae Jepsen
♦ Kiss ♦
No-one was more surprised than this girl from next door when she was promoted from two gold-certified Top 40 hits domestically to international superstardom via the biggest digital selling single of 2012, “Call Me Maybe”, included on EP Curiosity first. This global breakthrough led her to working with international writers and producers for her second album, Kiss, a winner both in terms of critical and commercial success. Extra sweet, with wispy keys and perky bass, it is the feel-good disc of the decade hatching several charting singles. Standouts include #1 smash “Good Time” with synthpop icon Owl City, “This Kiss”, “Tonight I’m Getting Over You”, “Tiny Little Bows”, and the overlooked “Hurt So Good”.
♦ Connection ♦
This is trippy, chillout house electronica’s finest hour. Dreamy and ethereal, the album mixes instrumentals with some vocalized pieces, and the vocals (from various singers) are astounding. While the soothing ambient surf of tracks like “Get Closer” caresses the soul, the disc also bristles with energetic beats heard on cuts like “Knockdown” and “Would You Just”. Importantly, hypnosis is also a factor, most evident on “Falling”. Four years in the making, this masterpiece contains not a single yawn-inducing moment; it is a solid joyride from start to finish.
♦ Little Red ♦
The UK’s Katy B dresses deep house EDM with her rich R&B vocals, brings narrative back to the dancefloor, and Little Red dazzles the 10s like Madonna’s Ray of Light did for the 90s. “Crying for No Reason” was a Top 5 hit in Britain, but the flashy, trance-thumping songs never crossed the great Atlantic barrier, and millions of people stood deprived. Another standout is “Aaliyah” with the princess of smooth, Jessie Ware. The beat sparkler and keyboard wobbler that is “I Like You”, arcade anthem “Everything”, misty laser show “Play”, suspense creeper “Sapphire Blue”, thrilling adventure piece “Still”, and bouncing thruster “Sky’s the Limit” are all first rate.
♦ I Love You, Period! ♦
This album is just beautiful. Mandopop singer Pets Tseng launched her career via the singing competition and acting route. She rocketed to fame with the release of debut album I’m Pets in 2014 and the hit singles it spawned including “Just Lose It”. Sporting short hair and overalls, she, along with her expert team, went all out on this, her second effort, released three years later. The innocent yearning of her voice is the biggest draw, and its cooperation with superb songwriting and sensitive arrangements make for a massive hit record. While so-called adult contemporary struggles to keep its foot in the western door, it continues to dominate the field in greater China; they do the genre better, in part, by focussing on crafting captivating melodies, and this album is a prime example. A standout here is “Love Is Paranoia”, but most tracks on this disc shine resplendently. I Love You, Period! rightfully deserves at least a 20th spot on our 100 Best Albums of the Decade list.
♦ Birdy ♦
An album of covers, the debut from British ace Birdy (Jasmine van den Bogaerde) is remarkable on several fronts. Choosing mainly non-hits with potential, Birdy’s delicate treatment of songs from a range of indie artists has her covers bettering the originals (“Without a Word” is the lone track composed by the artist). She centers the presentation on the elegance of piano, and attires the core with the odd cello weep and synthesizer burble. The intelligent arrangements are brought to fruition however with Birdy’s outstanding vocal work, fragile and sincere, and all done up in her savory Hampshire accent.
♦ Femme Fatale ♦
Without a doubt and with three Top 5 hits (“Hold It Against Me”, “Till the World Ends”, and “I Wanna Go”), Femme Fatale was the Britney Spears album of the 2010s. Bigger, bolder, fresher, and fiercer than any of her other works, this thrashing dance disc is what pop music is supposed to be—devastatingly euphoric. Its relentless beats, glistening keys, and soaring vocals pwn lethargy. In this world of posh production from the elite including Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Cirkut, Shellback, and will.i.am, the plenitude of hooks all lead to fun.
♦ Tell the World ♦
Do tell the world that Kristina Maria is an exceptional singer. This bright upbeat dance-pop album spawned five charting singles, three of which went gold. The instantly lovable “Let’s Play” was the 64th biggest song of 2011. “Co-Pilot”, a party anthem for the ages, features Corneille. The hits aside, Tell the World is jam-packed with instant classics from the beautiful power ballad “It’s All Games” to the bright lights and fun of “Up and Up”, and ground-shaking, sky-scraping juggernaut, “We Belong Together”.
♦ Derelict World ♦
Solo artist Tobias Hornberger of the USA released the epic, dark ambient album Derelict World in 2010. Feeling as if we are coming terrifyingly close to landing in a remote spot of deep, black ocean in the middle of the night, the album fills the air with old creaking ships, whirring tornadoes, and the crashing waters of the sea. Both menacing and beautiful, the dense musical soundscapes crafted satisfy the adventurer in a quest for both alertness and calm, standing in a desolate world before the awesome forces of nature.
♦ Goodbye Lullaby ♦
The small-town pop-rock superstar who vaulted to fame in 2002 released her fourth album, Goodbye Lullaby, in 2011 with production duties, in part, by Max Martin and Shellback. Seeking refuge away from the trying times of a marriage breakup, Avril symbolically found a peaceful spot with a piano in a forest’s glade lying in wait and crafted her new work. With the spirit of reflection caressing the music, the result is a mellower, more emotional sound in contrast to previous phases of rambunctiousness. “What the Hell”, launched at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, drove home the fact that the skater girl can sing the pants off most of her contemporaries. Around this time, she began to distinguish herself by being able to sing live nailing difficult notes in pitch perfect fashion. The sassy “Smile”, another standout, presents funky electric guitar strums and punchy beats leading to a powerhouse chorus. The crisp, more stripped-down acoustic number “Wish You Were Here” encapsulates the theme of missing someone. The pouncing “Alice” Avril penned herself for the Tim Burton feature film. Lavigne articulates her feelings well, be they in the realm of smiles or pouts but it is her wholesome genuineness that makes the album one of the decade’s best works.
♦ Avril Lavigne ♦
By the release of her eponymous, fifth studio album, diamond superstar Avril Lavigne had sold 35 million records worldwide, and the days of chillin’ at the mall were long gone, or so we thought. The music video for platinum party anthem “Here’s to Never Growing Up” had Avril revisit her skateboarding days from a decade earlier, and she came across looking just as young and fresh. Also excellent is fist-pumping jam “Rock N Roll”, a revved-up stick-it-to-the-man piece of battling bearsharks with band-saw guitars in a quest for world salvation. The stream of fun continues with a testimony to the age of her rocketing from obscurity to spotlight, 17, and a school’s out, summer anthem. Ghostly irony swings forth on a piano string in the hygienic, breakup-themed “Let Me Go”, a duet with then-husband Chad Kroeger of the world’s finest and most successful post-grunge band, Nickelback. Sorrowful isolation abounds on the skillfully composed “Give You What You Like” answered by the decadent and delicious collaboration with goth growler Marilyn Manson. Homage to Japanese cartoon icon Helly Kitty receives the fitting electropunk treatment it deserves. “Sippin’ on Sunshine” cranks up the bass for a funky treat. The album closes with a pair of slow songs reminding us that Avril Lavigne can do it all and remains one of the world’s most talented icons.
♦ Play ♦
With Play at #13, Jolin Tsai is the only artist to land three albums on our 100 Best Albums of the Decade list. Launching her singing career by winning champion standing at an MTV competition in 1998, her crowning achievement was 2014 album Play, a pop masterpiece. Opening with jungle anthem “Gentlewomen”, the album contains an amazing assortment of stunners. Hit single “Play”, a pop tour de force that was the biggest song of the year at Taiwan’s Hit FM. Club thumper “Phony Queen” is followed by alternative rock hair raiser “The Third Person and I” penned by Singaporean superstar JJ Lin. Hear also sweeping piano and strings ballad “Lip Reading”, cinematic delight “Miss Trouble”, and perfect synth-driven closer, “We’re All Different, Yet the Same”.
♦ Ominousium ♦
An ultra dark web has been woven. Kave is the solo project of the Netherland’s Bram Gollin. One of the most hair-raising ambient albums ever released, Ominousium drills deep into the heart of human emotion and creeps the living daylights out of those who dare to gently nudge its irresistible phantoms. While unearthing secret feelings, the album elicits a meditative mood, forging inner latticework, mending broken spirits, and healing past wounds, as with goosebumps we wander through an obscure road with pieces of ash floating in the air. The tracks seem to get better as the album progresses and reach a breathtaking climax.
♦ Breathe In. Breathe Out. ♦
There are few things in this world more seductive than Hilary Duff’s voice. We could listen to her sing, or just talk, for all eternity. When you combine that with some of the best pop music compositions of the decade, a masterpiece is born. Hear that voice charm the uncharmable in tracks like “Lies”, “Stay in Love”, and “Picture This”. Elegant Top 5 album Breathe In Breathe Out is one of the finest – and overlooked – pop records to grace modern times. More than 20 writers and producers from around the world were involved in the project (including Ed Sheeran and Tove Lo). The whistling “Sparks”, upbeat “My Kind”, and banger “One in a Million” will have you holding your breath. Don’t forget to breathe out.
♦ Une enfant du siècle ♦
In 2010, French singer Alizée took a detour away from dance pop into the otherworldly climes of electronica, crafting a concept album unexpectedly dedicated to the life of mysterious Californian 60s icon Edie Sedgewick. In brief, the latter, an Andy Warhol backed underground actress and fashion model enjoyed a brief stint in the limelight before being snuffed out along with the so-called American counterculture experiment by overdosing on drugs when she was 28 years old. Alizée’s choice is interesting given that pop culture in 1960s USA is often thought of as dark, morose times, while, in sharp contrast, the period in France was a brightly lit renaissance with flashy fashions, upbeat music, and new wave cinema. Perfectly capturing the spirit of the wide-eyed protagonist, Alizée tells her story over a throbbing, rich tapestry of electronica that smartly runs with an undertow of melancholy. The concept album is a masterpiece to say the least, one that deserves a Top 10 placement on our Best Albums of the Decade list.
♦ Golden Hour ♦
“Texas is hot, I can be cold. Grandma cried when I pierced my nose” the American alternative country singer states in opening track “Slow Burn”, a song so simple and yet so unbelievably gorgeous, one is drawn into the music in a flash. For one of the most beautiful voices in music to carry the catchiest of songs with an ambiance of production filling the air with the sweetest of perfumes, this is the album that left fans of all genres of music completely stunned. Its winning the Album of the Year Grammy award was in the bag from the start. What’s in store besides the opener? Where do we begin? Find driving beats on “Lonely Weekend”, Vocoder on “Oh, What a World”, ace songwriting on “Love Is a Wild Thing”, the most exhilarating of choruses on “Happy & Sad”, and disco throbs on “High Horse”.
♦ Haerts ♦
The eponymous debut full length from German synthpop duo Haerts feels as if it holds its head up through dark times. This blend of confident optimism and melancholy snugly cradles finely written tunes. Ocean waves crash and the cradle rocks, but never loses itself. Beyond the smatterings of similar genius that decked past landscapes (Book of Love and Propaganda come to mind), Haerts by way of sophistication demonstrates a perfect genre can be tweaked into an even more efficient machine. There is no track on here to be skipped over, and the emotions the music conjures expand the reach of the heart.
Say Lou Lou
♦ Lucid Dreaming ♦
These Swedish/Australian twins managed to put together songs on debut album Lucid Dreaming that leave a lasting imprint. Interest is kept through all tracks, a remarkable feat, as we dip our heads in devotion to the slickest of synthpop. “Everything We Touch” is an instant classic of the genre with choral flux offering great rewards. Pulse infused bass jam “Glitter” and arcade laced “Games for Girls” further the cause. Personality shines through on the sensual sincerity of “Julian” and ultra cool seduction of “Peppermint”. Both inventive and authentic, dreamy and sobering, Say Lou Lou’s Lucid Dreaming fills the air with iridescent bubbles and the earth with fluorescent dust; it ensured the 2010s were anything but drab. This is another entry on Billboard’s most overlooked albums of the decade list, and again we’re not overlooking it at all.
♦ Scandinavia ♦
Creating a band name along the lines of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Johnny Hates Jazz, Denmark’s Michael Learns to Rock or MLTR released its eighth album in 2012, Scandinavia, arguably the soft rock group’s finest achievement. Keeping alive the genre made a big deal by acts like Fleetwood Mac, Air Supply, and Chicago, this excellent album casts some potent fuel on the fire with drums, keyboards, guitars, and bass animating US-born lead vocalist Jascha Richter’s pleasant, salty singing. The punchy “Renovate My Life”, catchy “Any Way You Want It”, tasty “Heaven Is My Alibi”, and upbeat “Crazy World” are all superb. Fans of cool keys should dig “Hanging On”, and perhaps the crowning achievement is the final number, the title track, which can boast a chorus uplifting enough as to renovate the region that is … Scandinavia.
♦ Free Dimensional ♦
John O’Regan under stage persona Diamond Rings recruited producer Damian Taylor who has worked with Bjork and The Killers for his sophomore album. The refreshing sound hearkens back to the early 80s echoing the new wave synths of Blancmange, Simple Minds, and The Spoons. John goes all out on the project dressing the tunes with his cool, baritone voice, and himself (in the “I’m Just Me” MV) with a glittery space cadet wardrobe and square, diamond-themed shades. The music on this album is a giant leap forward from his last effort, and everything gels together in spades. The pop-rock has transitioned from unrefined glam-pop into a dynamic electronic universe rife with positivity, addictive hooks, and big choruses.
Tegan and Sara
♦ Heartthrob ♦
Tegan Quin, one-half of the identical twin sister duo, once said, “When we asked our parents if we could play music instead of go to university, they were really mad at us. And they agreed to let us do that for a couple of years. And somewhere in all that we signed a record deal with Neil Young and Elliot Roberts. And Elliot Roberts told us that when we were in our 30s we’d write good music, but that our 20s were for exploring the world and experiencing heartbreak.” The crowning achievement, after stacking up indie albums through their 20s, came with Greg Kurstin produced effort Heartthrob in 2013. The twins turned 33 that year. In a refreshing transition, the scruffy acoustics of turbulent youth were sculpted into the pristine glamour of synth pop. Verses cascade into dramatic choruses, and the driving horsepower seldom runs out of steam. Heartthrob delivers such a wallop, you will be forever grateful for being knocked into your senses. The album was rewarded with three JUNO trophies.
Carly Rae Jepsen
♦ Emotion ♦
Opening with a saxophone wake up call, the most seductive since the instrument’s use in Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender”, the third album from this triple JUNO winner, grows on you incessantly, and it is no wonder the disc was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. If the sax wasn’t hot enough to awaken the sun, the switch on of those catchy beats should do the trick. And then there are those booming synth pulses that could well make chorus history. The production on such an opener, entitled “Run Away with Me”, is so phenomenal, few would fail to utter the word, whoa. This blistering pop record has more good songs than most artists are able to muster in a lifetime. “I Really Like You”, certified gold, is an immediate charmer (“Who gave you eyes like that, said you could keep them?”) and one of eleven charting singles for the British Columbian singer. The title track smartly blends retro vibes with modern currents on the cutting edge of pop. Hooks flourish as in a fishermen’s convention on cuts “Gimmie Love” and “Your Type”, and bouncy bop “LA Hallucinations” has Carly deliciously elbowing “Buzzfeedbuzzards and TMZ crows” for spreading false rumours. Perhaps the most sensational of all is the slick chill of “Warm Blood” and its seductive vocal nuances. If … all that …. is not enough, there is companion disc Emotion Side B to be savoured. “The One” and “Fever” even border on outdoing everything on Emotion “Side A”. And to cap off the entire Emotion era is the most glorious song of them all: with “Cut to the Feeling” Carly Rae Jepsen proves she is pop music’s last stand. End of discussion.
♦ Shut Up and Dance ♦
Original rock music was music you could dance to. You can dance to Bill Haley & His Comets. You can dance to Chuck Berry. That was its main attraction. That was its appeal. The Clash’s Joe Strummer in a Canadian interview reminded us of the fact. And, for music that makes you want to get up and dance, nobody does it better than triple threat Victoria Duffield (singer-songwriter, actress, dancer). Half the tracks from her JUNO nominated debut album Shut Up and Dance made the charts. One went platinum (the title track) and one gold (“Break My Heart”). While several writers worked on the disc, it is the cuts penned by Duffield and producer Ryan Stewart that really knock the ball out of the park. Add “Save Me” and “Final Warning” to a list of pop songs so good you won’t want this relatively short LP to end. The album pumps you up and hurls you into sunlit skies of unfailing ecstasy. Don’t miss out on the exquisite music videos made from the key numbers which feature the quick as Jackie Chan moves from its author, one heck of a professional dancer. Yet another album highlight is a collaboration with Cody Simpson. Victoria took what Britney Spears did, made the whole package so much better, and made it her own. This album was pop music’s finest achievement through the entire decade, an absolute winner.
Canadian Music Blog’s
♦ Album of the Decade ♦
Beating out all albums released round the world, in all tongues, and across all genres is a work dedicated to northern Asia. It takes the crown of the 2010s’ album of the decade. Its author, a brunette Canadian female soloist with quite possibly the world’s loveliest combover, in a splash of genius and electronic wizardry, created The Pleasure Principle of the 21st century, satisfying the anticipation that rose from her platinum synthpop debut LP, The Listening. Snuggled in a nest of nine charting singles (as the lone main artist) and three JUNO awards, the artist’s sophomore effort debuted at #3 and was quickly certified gold. Like a light saber, the music on this disc flickers and flashes in dazzling array but also burns through dense atmospheres in carefully choreographed slashes. Above the colourful gleam beams and fiery sparks shines the sweetest of voices carrying us through icy climates and gritty terrain of a place like, well, Siberia. It is magical, it is emotionally brutal, it is spooky, and it is gloriously euphoric. Among the standouts is the title-track, an ice-shattering thumper glittering with ethereal synths and sobering melancholy. The upbeat and sprightly “Toes” is as charming as the dreamy lush lullaby of “…And Counting”. “Cactus in the Valley” haunts eerily, droning along the edge of the unknown, but it also carries warm vocal breezes dripping with sincerity. One of the unexpected twists on the album is the inclusion of rapping talents from Shad which pop up briefly in a couple of spots. Rapping on an electronic pop-rock album may seem mislaid, but the production smartly pushes its intensity into the background, blends it with the assortment of effects, and we are reminded of an enervated traveller striving to survive in a post apocalyptic landscape like some scene from The Book of Eli. This record is just so damn good. Canadian Music Blog declares Siberia by Lights as the 2010s’ album of the decade.
♦ Siberia ♦