Robyn: Body Talk (201o)
Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 8
The blueprint. The staple. The oracle. Robyn paved the way for pop in the 2010s. What more is there to say? – Gene Pak
Robyn: Honey (2018)
Quality: 9, Cultural Splash: 9
Robyn’s 2010 release Body Talk was absolutely prophetic. Its sound, lyricism, and production provided Robyn’s contemporaries a sonic blueprint for evocative pop music. Fast-forward to 2018, Honey only solidified Robyn’s status as pop oracle. It was a delicate reinvention. A soft but passionate evolution. Honey is more than just an addition to Robyn’s formidable discography, it is a prescient vision of its own. – Gene Pak
SOPHIE: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES (2018)
Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 8
Pots and pans have never sounded this brilliant. Except SOPHIE didn’t use pots and pans. She engineered all of her sounds. And created one of the most inventive pop records of this decade. – Gene Pak
Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Quality: 10, Cultural Splash: 6
We were listening to the leak in the dark in a stairwell during locker break. Laying on the ground and staring at the spaghetti ceiling. On the way to band practices. While trying to go to sleep. Getting heated during a game of Mario Party 5. When we were saying goodbye before going to college, then walking around the engineering quad alone, still listening. Turning it on when we got back together, listening still while leaving again, over and over.
I’ll probably never stop listening to Carrie & Lowell. It has become so ingrained into every memory that it’s passed sacrosanctity and into a something insistently present. Of course, it’s referential to a very specific part of Sufjan Stevens’ actual life, but the music of Carrie & Lowell can’t be contained to a single narrative. There’s only so much that lyrics can force onto melody. These are the kind of songs that are endless, so complete in their precision that they transcend what a single song can be and open themselves towards becoming new memories, over and over. – Will Miller
Tirzah: Devotion (2018)
Quality: 8, Cultural Splash: 6
Organic, ersatz, and intimate. Tirzah’s Devotion is a masterclass in musical transparency and collaborative chemistry. – Gene Pak
Tommy Cash: ¥€$ (2018)
Quality: 9, Cultural Splash: 1
For every list that put Mitski’s Be the Cowboy at the top of their year in review, I grew more fervent in my assertion that it was in fact Tommy Cash who released the AOTY. After a quick scroll through his Instagram, anyone can see that the Estonian conceptual artist/rapper is a master of executing his vision. On his latest album, he enlisted the help of producers like Amnesia Scanner, A.G. Cook, Danny Harle, and Boys Noize to that end.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” is an appropriate way to describe this album. Where some of his previous standalone singles were hit (“Pussy Money Weed”) or miss (“Little Molly”), he benefits from the fuller package afforded by an album. “WAIT A MINUTE!”, arguably the album’s most twisting, hard-hitting track, opens with a take-no-hostages attitude that carries through most of the album’s first half. Even slow burn/no burn tracks like “VEGETARIAN” and “NOT CARE” are slotted into the tracklist with intention, usually as a break before something louder, weirder, more abrasive. That being said, there are genuinely beautiful moments, especially in the back half of the album with sleeper hit “BLACK JEANS, WHITE T-SHIRT” and droning but sparkling “COOL 3D WORLD” featuring trademark Charli XCX “vroom vroom vroom” backing vocals.
To some degree, everything that Tommy Cash does is ridiculous, but writing him off for the weird aesthetics is a lukewarm shallow critique made at the cost of losing out on truly really good music. We’ve given people entire careers for far less. It’s kind of uncanny that the best way to access Tommy Cash is to surrender to him completely. He got literal Rick Owens on this?? Support an independent artist, spread the word. – Nour Elkassabany
Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017)
Quality: 7, Cultural Splash: 7
For all the works over the decade that immediately stick out in my mind, there is an equal charm in those that I find buried in my music library or old playlists. Maybe Big Fish Theory didn’t share the staying power of other releases, maybe I’m growing impatient waiting for Vince Staples to do anything. Either way, I’m always happy to come back to it. It’s well-paced and fun, thanks in part to the rave/rap action happening. Vince is serious (but not too serious), always clever, and endlessly charismatic. Here’s to all the albums that are not mind-blowing, just good. *clink* – Nour Elkassabany
Yung Lean: Unknown Death 2002 (2013)
Quality: 3, Cultural Splash: 9
This album is kind of like unlocking Mewtwo in Super Smash Brothers Melee by leaving the Gamecube on all night. It’s really not any more complicated than that, but that is actually extremely complicated. Mewtwo is not only the most powerful of the Pokémon, but he’s also the clone of the original Pokémon Mew. It was really something to try to find such a mythological being, defeat it, and then become that powerful yourself.
Unknown Death 2002 was treated like a joke on its release. Now it’s one of the most influential hip-hop albums of the decade. It was “meme-rap”, now it’s just rap. When something really feels like something, it really feels like something, which sometimes ends up a bit weird. Listening to Yung Lean is like trying to sleep knowing that you’ve got to fight Mewtwo in the morning. It’s a more vital feeling than anyone could’ve known at the time. – Will Miller