As we hone in on the top 10, the albums become more and more significant, if only for me. Many of the albums on here were landmarks in my coming of age, and served as moments of awakening for my adolescent self. If you haven’t read parts one, two, and three, please do so, but with that let’s get into it.
20. HARSH TOKES AND BONG JOKES (Your Heart Breaks, 2012)
This was the first album I ever preordered. On the strength of 2008’s Love Is A Long Dark Road (Love Is All You Need), the most significant album of my life of the 2000s, I knew I HAD to have the followup. I was not disappointed. Heavier on grunge and distortion than their previous release, Harsh Tokes and Bong Jokes still doesn’t shy away from Clyde Peterson’s innovative songwriting and beautiful lyrics.
19. <|°_°|> (Caravan Palace, 2015)
Movits may have been the Kings of Electroswing, but Caravan Palace elevated the genre into a whole new level of art. Fusing the established electroswing with RnB influences and hip hop arrangements, Caravan Palace ushered in a whole new era for the genre with the release of the “Lone Digger” single alone, and the rest of the album only hammered the point home even more. The experimental atmosphere of songs like “Russian” contrasted with the deeply disturbing tunes like “Wonderland” make for the most diverse electroswing album I’ve ever heard.
18. THE MUSICAL STYLINGS OF… (Blair Crimmins and the Hookers, 2010)
I remember being about 15 years old and listening to this album for the first time. Mostly shocked that hot jazz was still being made, but also truly astonished by the sophistication of it. This is the album that made me then go back to Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbecke and understand them better. Immediately captivated by the upbeat anthems like “Oh Angela!” and “Mean Mean Man,” the slower burns were also there in the gothic songs like “Demon Like Me” and “Checked Out Early.” There was a year or two there thatI thought Blair was one and done with this album, and he would’ve had a perfect discography if he had, but thank God he didn’t.
17. BIG BEAT ’59 (Black Pistol Fire, 2012)
Big Beat ‘59 is when Black Pistol Fire figured out exactly what they were about. The power duo had experimented with their style on their first album, but absolutely nailed it on this sophomore release. Their songwriting is deviously simple but ingenious, an insight you don’t truly grok until you try to learn some of them yourself. The riff-driven nature of the songs makes rhythm absolutely vital, and Kevin and Eric deliver that in plenty on this release. From the upbeat, lighthearted ditty “Hot Mess” to the heavy, overdriven ballad “Lay Low,” Big Beat ‘59 is a landmark in Black Pistol Fire’s discography.
16. ROGUE TAXIDERMY (Days n Daze, 2013)
The intersection of Southern Gothic and folk punk had to make it onto my list of albums of the 2010s. Days n Daze might best be described as a metal band that can’t afford amps or an attention span (scarce is the song that goes over four minutes), but that’s kind of exactly what I want out of metal. The tempo shifts in songs like “Rockabilly Impending Deathfuture” and the amphetaminee driven intensity of “Goodbye Lulu” are clearly metal inspired, but everything else feels taken out of the heroin riddled fever dreams of Johnny Hobo himself.
15. 1989 (Taylor Swift, 2014)
In 2013, Taylor Swift was still a guitar-based act. She was drifting away from the style of pop she had established herself as on her early albums, but RED was still very much a guitar pop album, not a modern pop album. As such, 1989 was a dramatic leap for Taylor. It was even more of a transition for her than the jump into Reputation (the less said of the better). But she pulled it off masterfully. With slick new rhythms on songs like “Style” and “New Romantics,” heavy synth influences on “Wildest Dreams” and “Blank Space,” and the massive jump into Macklemore-esque territory on her sensational hit “Shake It Off,” 1989 was a massive risk that Swift pulled off with grace.
14. PAINKILLERS (Brian Fallon, 2016)
In a Facebook post immediately after it came out, I initially gave Painkillers an 8/10, saying it wasn’t up to par with Gaslight’s best but was a refreshing change of pace for Brian Fallon. Just goes to show how much one’s opinion on an album can change after repeated listening. Now, over three years and a thousand or more listens later, I can safely say it’s my favorite album from Brian Fallon and any of the bands he’s been in. Lyrics like “I built a room for you in the back of my mind/Where the ravenous wolves and the ghosts I know reside” over sweet acoustic guitar, brushed drums, and pedal steel make for a masterpiece. Looking forward to his new album Local Honey next year.
13. ROLL THE BONES (Shakey Graves, 2011)
Shakey Graves is not one of my all time favorite artists, but after this album came out there was a short while where he was. A complete reinvention of the blues, Americana, and the Southern Gothic style of music, Roll The Bones is a beautiful collection of downbeat, heartbreaking, acoustic ballads with a unique production that creates a breathtaking soundscape of depression and desperation. It’s only a masterpiece.
12. LAST (Sainsteneca, 2011)
Last has the most satisfying kick drum in the history of kick drums. Listen to “Acid Rain,” the first track on the album, and hear that massive thud that sounds out on the backbeat and you’ll understand what I mean. It’s like a giant smashing boulders together. The songwriting is brilliant, both in terms of the odd chords they use (I’m pretty sure they have an obsession with Sus2 chords), and the breathtaking lyrics like “I saw the light/and I turned it off” and “My brother’s born on Christmas/my brother’s born on Easter/God is my half-brother and/God, I’d like to meet her.” Sainsteneca never really came anywhere near this style of folk punk again, but if they had stopped making albums right after this one they still would’ve been one of the finest groups of the decade.
11. BLAK AND BLU (Gary Clark Jr, 2012)
Gary Clark Jr was what got me back into mainstream contemporary music. In 2012, I wouldn’t give anything a shot if it was signed to a major label after about 1985 (Taylor Swift excluded). But I found out about Gary Clark Jr on Bandcamp meer weeks before his signing to Warner Brothers, and I was changed by this album. The horns that blare open the first track, the smooth Marvin Gaye-esque singing on “The Life,” the Lightnin’ hopkins inspired beauty of “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” it all came together as an absolute masterpiece in 21st century blues
Come back next week for the top 10!
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.