WQHS’ Albums of the 2010s

FKA Twigs: MAGDALENE (2019)

Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 10

There is something quite captivatingly classical about FKA twigs’s MAGDALENE. Operatic phrases from “thousand eyes” are reminiscent of some of Giacomo Puccini’s most exquisite arias, the introduction to “mary magdalene” sounds like an animate Claude Debussy prelude deconstructed to oblivion, and the sardonic drama of “fallen alien” is undeniably similar to the iconoclastic passages of Sergei Prokofiev’s war piano sonatas. It might be hard to picture all of these influences cohesively flowing in a single album, but the sound engineering, led mostly through Nicolas Jaar and twigs herself, along with twigs’ therianthropic voice help MAGDALENE succeed. MAGDALENE is indeed a political statement as the title may suggest. But it is also a musical statement that warps genres, time periods, and sounds: a compelling next step for an artist who has already left an imprint in music with her infallible brilliance. – Gene Pak

Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016)

Quality: 9, Cultural Splash: 10

Frank Ocean’s Blonde represents the pinnacle of what music can be. Breaking a four year musical silence, Blonde is as enigmatic as its creator. It even has spurred fans to analyze and interpret every moment of the album on its own podcast “Dissect.” Lines throughout the album resonate deeply with the listener. The intriguing narratives and storylines are uniquely Frank’s, but the feelings conveyed feel overwhelmingly universal. Frank Ocean wants you to feel every feeling of being human. On “Ivy” we hear the warm vocal delivery of “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me” and return again on “Godspeed” with “There will be mountains you can’t move/ yet I will always be there for you.” The album’s poeticism and emotional intensity is supported by music production that is pristine.

As the world anticipates the next Frank Ocean album, which will likely be quite different from Blonde, there’s there’s no doubt that it will be one of its own albums of the decade. Frank Ocean’s music has a way of inspiring innovation throughout all of popular music. – Julia Davies

Grouper: A I A: Alien Observer (2011)

Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 8

It’s difficult to pin down all of the instruments and sounds that make up Grouper’s massive and vaporous Alien Observer: a citadel of frequencies that leaves you with little room for interpretation. What remains is a sensation that I can only associate with mysticism. A union. A surrender to the celestial. – Gene Pak

Jessie Ware: Devotion (2012)

Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 3

The first perfect album made by a white person. – Gene Pak

Jessy Lanza: Oh No (2012)

Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 4

I got fraternity brothers to get down to “It Means I Love You.” And that’s just one song off of Jessy Lanza’s Oh No. This album is an irresistible invitation to dance. – Gene Pak

Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (2010)

Quality: 9, Cultural Splash: 3

It must have been tough to follow up the greatest album of all time. Compared to the comprehensiveness of Ys’ sweeping narratives on mythos and the comsos, Joanna Newsom takes the opposite approach and turns inwards with Have One of Me.

Reflecting much more of the interpersonal and intimate than universality (though there’s some of that, too), Newsom approaches these subjects through a tangled sprawl stretching across three records. The expansiveness shows there are no easy answers as the songs twist and wind around more tactile, sensory moments, never quite reaching closure. Concluding the album with “Does Not Suffice”, there’s mention of the tangible materials and space (“boucle, jacquard, and cashmere”, “unburdened hooks and empty drawers”) before there’s nothing left to say and the track fades into a wordless echo. – Will Miller

Kamasi Washington: The Epic (2015)

Quality: 6, Cultural Splash: 8

About every year, there are only a couple of jazz album that cross over and get attention from the mainstream press. This year we had Joel Ross’ KingMaker, last year Origami Harvest, and so on. The Epic announces itself with a presence that has endured beyond the usual press cycles. The album seems almost designed for canonization: huge track list; huge instrumentation of choirs and strings accompanying the sept-/oct-/nonet; and huge ambition to draw from all range of influence from the past 50 years. The mix of styles is so maximalist that even if there are few particularly unique minute, there has never been such a respective and celebratory compilation.

The Epic can only be faulted for the greatness it borrows. There’s maybe a few too many tributes to the same beatified figures, and the arc of Kamasi Washington’s solos might become a little familiar over the course of the album. But when it all comes together, it reaches a height as great as its forbearers. A track like “The Rhythm Changes” deserves as much praise as it can get, and the arrangement of “Claire de Lune” is becoming as likely to be played by teenage jazz combo as “Chameleon”. The best songs here, like so many jazz standards, have a longevity that supersedes the trends of its time. – Will Miller

Kelela: Take Me Apart (2017)

Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 5

Honestly, I don’t feel qualified to be dishing out any comment on quality here. In the case of Kelela, I’m coming from a place of reverence and awe. There was a lot of build up in her career in the form of mixtapes and EPs and plain old waiting leading up to the release of Take Me Apart. And absolutely she is worth the wait. Self-assured, smart, and vulnerable, Kelela balances more familiar R&B sounds on songs like “Waitin” while forging new paths on tracks like “Blue Light” and “Onanon.” One of my favorite things about this album is that even in the moments when you hear Kelela let go, she never slips (see: title track). The energy revolves in a tight spiral, like a column of water collecting into a vortex on command. More than two years on, Take Me Apart still sounds brand new, serving as a testament to Kelela’s singular vision and execution. Long live. – Nour Elkassabany