Join us all month long as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. After revealing our Top 100 Albums of the 2010s, we’re now getting a bit more specific with a genre-by-genre breakdown. First up, our Top 25 Rock Albums of the 2010s.
Alas, it was inevitable; every reign must come to an end. And while many long-time rockers have been mourning rock and roll’s slow death for years, this decade delivered finality to its demise as hip-hop usurped the guitar-driven format’s popularity crown in 2017. But the outlook on rock and roll in the 2010s isn’t as bleak as it sounds. Despite an identity crisis and diminishing sales, rockers both young and old created masterpieces across a myriad of subgenres, allowing the subversive spirit of rock to live on and impact listeners worldwide.
While the previous decade returned rock to a danceable revivalist genre with high-energy performances from The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and more, Tame Impala took the genre’s next evolutionary step, marrying groove-heavy rhythms with hypnotic club-ready synths on their 2015 insta-classic, Currents. In a similar vein, Vampire Weekend led the indie charge on 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City as they leaned on Paul Simon melodies and Buddy Holly rhythms to simultaneously induce movement and meditation on existential wonderings.
Others like Kurt Vile surmised rock’s way forward would be found in returning to its roots. The master guitarist and songwriter evokes the late ‘60s fusion of folk and electric rock a la Bob Dylan on his 2013 record, Wakin on a Pretty Daze , where he muses about life, plain and simple.
One of the biggest rock bands of the previous decade, Foo Fighters also found inspiration in returning to basics. The band recorded their 2011 album, Wasting Light, in Dave Grohl’s basement in an attempt to fight against over-digitization. The album’s warmth and undeniable crunchiness come courtesy of the analog equipment used during recording, leading us to question why we ever left that technology in the past.
While the changing sound palette of rock is interesting to discuss, the most important change the genre experienced this decade centers around gender. The fact isn’t up for debate; in the 2010s, rock and roll belonged to women. From the experimental wanderings of St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy and Masseduction and Mitski’s feminist magnum opus, Be the Cowboy , to the straightforward, yet captivating, storytelling on Lucy Dacus’ Historian and Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow, women changed the voice of the genre and offered brave, new perspectives on a tumultuous social climate plagued by misogyny and xenophobia.
All of this happened while rock and roll was dying, a death we deeply felt with the loss of heroes Tom Petty, Prince, Chris Cornell, and David Bowie, just to name a few. Yet, before he left us, our beloved Starman offered one last masterpiece in 2016’s Blackstar — a cryptic, yet impactful, piece of work where Bowie explores textures as passionately as his own mortality.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he begins on the song “Lazarus”, a line that cuts deeper with each day of his absence. Yet, there’s solace found by the song’s end as he repeats, “Just like that bluebird/ Oh, I’ll be free.” Bowie is gone, and so is rock and roll as we once knew it. But both are free now — free from the unbearable weight of a dog-eat-dog world obsessed with metrics, optics, and absurd antics. Who knows what the 2020s have in store for the rock genre, but I’ll bet you it soars “just like that bluebird.”
Click ahead to see our Top 25 Rock Albums of the 2010s…
25. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013)
From the Archives: “…Like Clockwork was a huge risk. It’s one of the most hyped rock albums in recent memory (due in part to a big-budget publicity campaign that included everything from a mockumentary film to animated shorts and cryptic letters). Yet, it’s also the most ambitious Queens of the Stone Age record — both sonically and conceptually. It takes confidence to sing about your own demons when thousands of people are listening. Homme doesn’t waver.” Read Jon Hadusek’s full review.
24. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013)
From the Archives: “What’s he searching for? That’s a hallmark of Wakin on a Pretty Daze: he’s everywhere. Whether it’s withered love, a hunger over lost friendships, poking fun at life, or just getting plain stoned, Kurt Vile’s anxious thoughts avoid any navel-gazing through idiosyncratic storytelling, where emotions and situations are often muddled by enough ambiguity that one finds immediate connection — another loose characteristic of the ’70’s best stuff. And while Vile’s slumming it in his own mental ditch, he’s always surrounded by interesting people: us. So, hang onto your ego, man, and ride, ride, ride.” Read Michael Roffman’s full review.
23. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014)
From the Archives: “For the first time since The Green Album, Weezer retreated to their heads and set out to prove something instead of just indulging every playful genre experiment on Cuomo’s mind. According to the band, they sought to recapture their roots (aka the anomalous success of The Blue Album and Pinkerton) with Everything Will Be Alright in the End, going as far as to once more hire Ric Ocasek to produce it. Did they succeed? Could their ninth studio album accurately be called Bluerton, some flawless hybrid of the band’s first two works? Not exactly. Cuomo isn’t the brooding, isolated man he was when he wrote “Say It Ain’t So” and “Across the Sea”. Yet, in revisiting those times, in trying to get back in touch with that man, he and the rest of Weezer have created something that’s completely unique to their catalog, a record that tries its damnedest to feel alienated by the conflicts of the past, but discovers that it’s actually at peace with them.” Read Dan Caffrey’s full review.
22. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (2012)
From the Archives: “At the very end, the guitars dissolve into fireworks again, like the aforementioned thunder but also reminiscent of the frantic, passionate Jack Kerouac, whose alter ego in On the Road famously rhapsodizes that he loves people who “burn burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everyone goes ‘Aww!’” So too does Celebration Rock burn and burn, faster and harder, all the way through to the delirious end, a blur of an album that somehow helps you see more clearly. If you listen to it close and hard enough, you’ll be pleasantly exhausted by the end — like the end of a hard-living, hard-loving summer day — fireworks included.” Read Megan Ritt’s full review.
21. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light (2012)
From the Archives: “Continuing to probe and seek answers to questions only he may know, Spiritualized’s latest is a fully realized effort. Coming in at just under an hour, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light covers a broad aural spectrum from surrealistic haze to outward pop and as such, is some of Jason Pierce’s and Spiritualized’s best material since Ladies and Gentlemen. A man who obviously has a whole new appreciation for life, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light is the product of an artist truly inspired. It’s just a shame he almost had to die to achieve it.” Read Len Comaratta’s full review.
20. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy (2015)
From the Archives: “This is music that wants to be read as a text, and deserves to be. The fact that it comes to us in an era of smartphones and shortening attention spans only serves to underscore its audacity. I’m reminded, once more, of Titus Andronicus the play. It’s messy, it’s ugly, it’s borderline barbaric. And yet it endures. Whether or not the final, sustained note of “A Moral” is the last we hear of Stickles and co., their career can be summed up in three words: Titus Andronicus forever.” Read Collin Brennan’s full review.
19. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (2012)
From the Archives: “With last year’s self-titled album, Baldi had his share of hooks and ideas, but altogether it felt too unfocused. He recycled harmonies, he relied on the scruff, and the songs pulled its punches. With Attack on Memory, Baldi’s never felt more alive or more authentic. On closing tracks “Our Plan” or “Cut You”, the band knocks out taut exercises in songwriting, taking what they’ve learned and pushing forward in signature style. Those aforementioned hooks and ideas? They’re fully realized, and that’s when things get dangerous – or, when guitar sales start to bloom. Either way, it’s another win in rock for Ohio.” Read Michael Roffman’s full review.
18. Lucy Dacus – Historian (2018)
From the Archives: “Lucy Dacus played Historian almost entirely front to back, with the exception of closing with the opener/lead single, ‘Night Shift’, and saving the title track for the encore. Even without the gorgeous touches of strings and horns featured on the record, the rich artistry of the new material was immediate and authentic. Dacus’ performance was subtle and effortless, with no pretense to distract from what has to be one of the purest, sturdiest young voices today. She seemed so approachably unassuming, dressed in a $3 thrift store blazer with her Epiphone guitar and casual smile. Yet, for all the nonchalance of her delivery and presence, there was no lack of power; in fact, the apparent reserve only served to make the set’s incendiary moments (the final build of “Body to Flame”, the back half of “Night Shift”) that much more dynamic.” Read Ben Kaye’s full review.
17. Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love (2016)
From the Archives: “‘Surface Envy’ is the sound of three people tired of all the bullshit, ready to break free. Sleater-Kinney are sick of the rules as they stand, but they don’t just want to break the rules; they want to make new ones. They could only do that by coming back together to reintroduce their own perspective and fight their own battle. If it took eight years to reach this boiling point and fuel this inevitable explosion, so be it.” Read Adam Kivel’s full review.
16. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)
From the Archives: “Linking up with producer John Congleton, the Hakeem Olajuwon of engineers, was a wise choice for Sharon Van Etten. Prior to recording, she sent him all sorts of influences or sounds she was feeling at the time — ranging from Suicide to Portishead to Nick Cave’s heartbreaking last record, 2016’s The Skeleton Tree — and he clearly designed a fitting blueprint. This isn’t so much an evolution, but a complete restructuring of Van Etten’s sound. It’s her OK Computer if you want to get frank.” Read Michael Roffman’s full review.
Click ahead to see more of our Top 25 Rock Albums of the 2010s…
15. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011)
From the Archives:“The truth is that consistency is a way of life for Foo, giving us a kind of modern rock that’s tangible, agreeable, and, most importantly, genuine to the band. On this, their seventh LP, the band has musically plateaued in their sound, only they keep climbing to bigger and better places, simply because they continue to hone in on what has made it work over the years. To date, the Foo Fighters have never tried to reinvent the wheel, per se; they just want to keep it rolling. And that’s just what Wasting Light does. For that purpose, Foo Fighters give us a solid record from open to close. The drought is over. Rock is back.” Read Ernest May’s full review.
14. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (2016)
From the Archives: “‘With my voice I am calling you,’ he repeats on ‘Jesus Alone’, an attempt at connection that never seems resolved. Throughout the record, Nick Cave moves in and out of focus, though always clearly to his own ends — whether that be to protect himself or because the pain is so insular and fresh that he can’t translate it. Either way, as an artist, he needed to release the record in just this way in order to process his pain. Skeleton Tree was released for us, but it’s for him.” Read Adam Kivel’s full review.
13. Arctic Monkeys – AM (2013)
From the Archives: “You can hear Alex Turner growing up on AM. He’s beginning to play a wiser medium in his love songs, his words expressing a vaster array of emotions as his headstrong male protagonists stumble from relationship to breakup to relationship. Perhaps these emotions were always evident in Turner’s lyricism and now they’re being emphasized by Arctic Monkeys’ newfound moodiness. Their music is suddenly sexier, no doubt a credit to Turner’s vision for AM, and continues to mature. Instead of pandering to listeners or indulging the idea of being the most popular in Britain, Arctic Monkeys follow Turner, and Turner follows his gut. Maybe that’s why they prevail.” Read Jon Hadusek’s full review.
12. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (2010)
From the Archives: “James Murphy’s ultimate conclusion in ‘Home’ is that people fear what they need and that really we are surrounded by potential friends, lovers, and strangers who can relate to us in some way. Or as he concludes in ‘Dance Yourself Clean’, ‘We have to try a little harder,’ the same phrase Craig Finn sings in The Hold Steady’s ‘Two Handed Handshake’, a track that is quite similar in theme as ‘Drunk Girls’. And if you seriously think for a second that, all of a sudden, in 2010, the moral compass and protectors of our youth are James Murphy and Craig Finn, well, that’s pretty fucked up. But who better to sing for the children but the ones who at least still remember, who don’t ask to do as they say, but rather ask to just do something, think, and know that life is happening now. And just steal the damn album like the rest of us…” Read Philip Cosores’ full review.
11. Angel Olsen – My Woman (2016)
From the Archives: “Since releasing Burn Your Fire, Angel Olsen has been plagued by the leathered critique that her music sounds like it’s coming from a ‘girl’ who’s either trapped or lost in some folksy rabbit hole — a trope that is implausible in the wake of My Woman. ‘I dare you to understand/ What makes me a woman,’ she challenges on ‘Woman’, pushing the end of each line skyward like she’s hitting the high striker at the county fair. Although her bio insists that the narratives within the record aren’t intended to comment on gender roles, My Woman strikes down the notion that either Olsen’s artistry or her womanhood can be limited.” Read Ciara Dolan’s full review.
10. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)
From the Archives: “Here, as in all of Against Me!’s best work, punk is rendered not as a detached political ethos but simply as the will to survive when the world around you tells you to cave in. This is an album about gender, sure, but it’s more an album about daring to thrive against the odds. Transgender Dysphoria Blues will be remembered as a milestone not because it’s the first widely known punk record performed by a trans woman, but because it brandishes a genre saturated by empty, male-centered politics to broadcast the most punk statements possible: Fuck the haters, be who you are, hold fast to those who love you.” Read Sasha Geffen’s full review.
09. The National – High Violet (2010)
From the Archives: “With High Violet, The National argue with the saying ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ They’ve taken some minor risks, tailored their sound, and emerged with a record that can stand confidently beside Boxer and Alligator, all without overdoing or losing any of its predecessors’ merits. It’s the kind of record that can reaffirm your belief in the consistent rock band. They’ve done it again, even if they took a while to get it done. After three years of waiting, The National is here to stay, thank god.” Read Drew Litowitz’s full review.
08. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)
From the Archives: “With Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Anthony Gonzalez digs deeper into his influences, crafting what he’s heard all these years. The end result is an incredibly ambitious and personal effort that shines, sparkles, and thrills. Some might complain at the length, but they’d be missing the point: This isn’t a consumer’s album. It’s a listener’s. And the time has come to separate the wheat from the chaff.” Read Michael Roffman’s full review.
07. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
From the Archives: “Take a stroll. See the sights. Feel the vibes. Rinse and repeat. As Win Butler sings, ‘Now our lives are changing fast/ Hope that something pure can last,’ the same should be said for music. These days we’re speed demons with our audio. We never stop, either. We only switch gears and accelerate faster. Sooner or later, we’re bound to crash. With The Suburbs, the Arcade Fire takes their time in visiting one street after another, and while some might turn the corner a block or two early, the majority should find the ride quite enjoyable. Just don’t let anyone touch the dial.” Read Michael Roffman’s full review.
06. David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
From the Archives: “It would have been so easy for David Bowie to make Next Day after Next Day, to satisfy the nostalgists with carefully measured Bowie rock. But Bowie has always been more of a pose than a sound, and to see him fall into complacency would disrupt his cultural standing more than any deviation from his formula. ★ is a battle cry against boredom, a wide-eyed drama set in a world just beyond our scopes. It doesn’t get more Bowie than that.” Read Sasha Geffen’s full review.
Click ahead to see the very best of our Top 25 Rock Albums of the 2010s…
05. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014)
From the Archives: “Lost in the Dream isn’t vague at all. It’s not lyrically specific either — there are no easily discernible narratives here, or even colorful metaphors — but there are dramatic stakes that come from someplace very real within Adam Granduciel. And he’s figured out the perfect combination of words, music, and ambiance to convey his doubts.” Read Dan Caffrey’s full review.
04. Tame Impala – Currents (2016)
From the Archives: “There’s a new world to play in on Currents, a fantastical vision that cranks up the saturation and weakens the laws of physics. Do we fault Tame Impala for changing? Do we chastise Parker for trying to be Prince? No — that’s just the fluctuation of life represented in sound. Tame Impala has departed to new territory, even through the seemingly basic, heady repetition of guitars and synths on “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”. Currents is all about the wide lens. It’s not the landscape worth falling in love with, but the way Parker gives us a tour. Let it happen, and it will carry you off somewhere much further away than you realized was worth visiting.” Read Nina Corcoran’s full review.
03. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (2018)
From the Archives: “Be the Cowboy shows that love and loss can be grand and small at the same time. That two minutes is more than enough time to melt down emotion into a pure concentrate and nearly drown yourself in it. That every moment can be a epic love story, that every heartbreak can be as hard and small as a pearl and just as coveted.” Read Kayleigh Hughes’ full review.
02. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (2011)
From the Archives: “Annie Clark is telling her own stories in grand, masterful imagery and in heavily detailed, intensely characterized, smart narrative. With each album, her willingness to push the envelope in both halves of the equation grows, as if she trusts her audience to in turn trust her enough to follow her further along the path. And Strange Mercy achieves that sweeping goal, delivering on its promises, challenging thematically and intellectually, while also entertaining.” Read Adam Kivel’s full review.
01. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
From the Archives: “It’s difficult and somewhat superfluous to say exactly what Modern Vampires of the City is ‘about,’ as this particular Vampire Weekend record values impressionism over specificity. But its imagery is certainly cohesive, and it seems to paint New York City as heaven, hell, and purgatory all at once, while also acknowledging it simply as a place where a bunch of people are trying to figure out what it means to notice time passing in a city where calendars flip like seconds tick.
Time, life, death, religion, New York City, and New York money are big topics to tackle in a 45-minute pop album, and Modern Vampires doesn’t even attempt answers to the questions it raises. Instead, it’s content to expound upon the Vampire Weekend aesthetic in inventive, imaginative, and undeniably successful ways. Modern Vampires of the City shows that if you’re still giving a fuck about a Vampire Weekend privilege narrative, you’re having the wrong conversation.” Read Chris Bosman’s full review.