Mac Demarco: 2 (2012)
Quality: 4, Cultural Splash: 8
Every time I’ve heard a band at a house show play a song that’s just the sound of one thousand jangling strings through a CH-1 while the singer complains about an ex-girlfriend and then start another that sounds exactly the same I feel a little more personally wronged by Mac DeMarco.
It’s a bit weird that this album has been the foundational blueprint for indie rock of the decade. 2 is a collection of songs that are at best pretty catchy and at worst forgettable. It’s a rock album that relies on yacht rock nostalgia and the strength of a handful of genuinely great melodies. Not every albums needs to be a groundbreaking opus, and this one fits a nice niche of easy listening and relaxation.
And this small niche opened up into the dominant sound of indie rock. It’s easy to write and make and a great way to get out what you wish you would’ve said to the girl who sat in front of you in freshman English. Mac DeMarco struck some kind of nerve in the population of teenage kids and all due respect should be paid to any artist who achieves his level of independent success. But as an album, its impact has been dulled by hearing it over and over by dozens of different bands. – Will Miller
Macintosh Plus: Floral Shoppe (2011)
Quality: 3, Cultural Splash: 10
There are no memes anymore. Everything that was supposed to not matter ended up being what actually happened. Everyone I graduated high school with in 2016 is now 45 years old. We work in coal mines and are proud of our lawns. When our spouses are sleeping and we can’t, the only melodies we have to remember are the ones we heard. Everything we did ironically was equally as done as what we did sincerely and in retrospect the two are inseparable. – Will Miller
Mariah Carey: Caution (2018)
Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 2
The album starts with the one and only Mariah Carey lusciously singing “Get the fuck out” over a Porter Robinson sampled soundscape constructed by Mariah herself and Nineteen85. What more could I say? What more could you want? – Gene Pak
MGMT: MGMT (2013)
Quality: 6, Cultural Splash: 4
Something about MGMT’s ~narrative, filled with snowballing irony, is gripping and sometimes a little upsetting (to me and probably only me). After the astronomical success of their debut album and cult status of their second, the reception to the third, self-titled one was much cooler in comparison. They’ve always been kind of reactionary, so it’s not entirely surprising that the combination of growing fame and a tendency for self-parody resulted in a prog-y, less accessible, almost alienating release.
That being said, MGMT’s handling was mostly a failure of expectation. It’s really not that weird, pretty good even! A little playful, dark at times, a contrast that they pushed even further five years later with their return Little Dark Age (2018). Following that same sonic trajectory, they self-released “In the Afternoon” to close out the decade. For a group that took off so quickly and so dramatically, a future of independent releases for MGMT feels not like a fresh start, but a rewarding development for a maturing band. The goths know. Listen to the album.- Nour Elkassabany
Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked At Me (2017)
Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 5
It reminds me of a dying fire that you desperately tend to, trying to keep something from the once powerful flame alive as simple things slowly flicker from memory. Little things, like a flowery scent from a perfume or a distinct laugh eventually dissipate into a darkness that is difficult to revive once the flame is lost. Tragedy tints the most simple things with a twinge of sadness and grief, something that is apparent throughout the entire album as Elverum grapples with raising his daughter in the aftermath of his wife’s death.
The album begins with a powerful affirmation: “Death is real/ someone’s there and then they’re not/ and it’s not for singing about/ it’s not for making into art.” Elverum makes it clear he’s not exploiting death for the larger narrative of his art. He tries to look at how to live a life after death, a question he struggles with throughout the album. The intimacy, sincerity and heartbreak are all woven together into a wonderful refuge to contemplate the lives of our loved ones. – Ashna Yakoob
The Mountain Goats: Goths (2017)
Quality: 7, Cultural Splash: 7.5
A love letter to the goth subculture by the fabulous Mountain Goats, only adding to their dizzying collection of releases. In their third decade of existence, they’re as sharp and as popular as ever, reliving their own fleeting lives as goths. Beginning from a refusal to ever waver from wearing black, they end with just memories and mementos of said black clothing. Although the album gets lost in its own dismal dreariness, it’s a fun concept album that accepts that reality awaits us all, even the goths. – Ashna Yakoob
Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)
Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 10
I’m not even slightly kidding when I tell you that this is one of the most important albums of all the time. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a monstrous and masterful mash of hip-hop histrionics and plastic electro-pop impulses. It’s a tremendous thesis on mental illness as a social construct, commercialization in music/art, and more. Just watch her interviews. She knew exactly what she was doing when she created Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. And don’t let the memes fool you. This project is as serious as it gets. As a listener of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, you are either the victim or the perpetrator. If this album speaks to you it’s one thing. If this album seems terrible… well… you know. – Gene Pak
Paramore: After Laughter (2017)
Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 6.5
Paramore released their fourth and fifth albums in the 2010s, the former following the band’s punk rock trajectory, and the latter (After Laughter) branching into a more pop/retro style. After Laughter is centered around the idea of hiding mental struggles behind a cheery façade, evident in both the lyrical and musical stylings on songs like “Hard Times” and “Rose-Colored Boy”. Paramore has always been open about the struggles that the band and its members have faced, and this is most evident in After Laughter. In the time between their 2013 self-titled album and this 2017 release, the band had broken up, undergone law suits, and lead singer Hayley Williams went through a divorce. Thankfully, the band decided to reconvene, and the result was a sad, happy, honest, raw, and utterly entertaining album. And, if you’re looking for a good breakup song, Hayley’s got you covered with “Tell Me How”, the album’s final song. – Matt Dougherty