40. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) (2017)
Meg Duffy was an accomplished studio musician and guitarist before they finally recorded their first solo work. Befitting an artist used to being in the background, Wildly Idle was low-key and unassuming, with moseying songs that showcased their lyrical guitar playing and vulnerable vocals. Duffy’s songs portrayed introversion and shyness with startling clarity; the way they were constructed to start slowly and then open up on the choruses was reflective of most of my experiences interacting with people as a weirdly timid person.
39. Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical (2017)
Rose was a staple of the noise pop/girl group revival that started just before the turn of the decade, performing as a drummer in Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and then fronting her own band, The Outs. Under her own name, she started playing synth-driven pop and she peaked (thus far) with Cage Tropical, which used her life and music experience as the basis for a series of masterfully written pop gems. Her smooth, shiny production and songwriting was enough to make this album a great listen, but Rose’s lyrics and themes of self-doubt added layers of wistful emotion that made it stand out from the vast amount of synth releases.
38. Allo Darlin’ – Europe (2012)
Allo Darlin’ were the type of band that got left behind this decade, as original heart-on-sleeve indie pop was tossed to the side so every site could cheerlead for celebrities to try to drive meaningless clicks to their websites. Powered by Elizabeth Morris’ sweet and heartfelt vocals and lyrics, Europe was an irresistible jangly throwback that prioritized warmth, humanity and craft over gimmicks. This album was so sincere and gentle that it almost felt like real punk in a context where everyone else was trying so hard to be cool and edgy.
37. The Green Child – The Green Child (2018)
This collaboration between Mikey Young of Total Control and Raven Mahon, formerly of Grass Widow, was the exact kind of subtle retro-futuristic psychedelia I love. Channeling the usual bands I name in every post (Stereolab, Broadcast, etc.), they still found their own sound on their self-titled debut, which was a mix of swirly synths and Mahon’s floating vocals, which added a haunting ambiguity to the songs. The best tracks, like the stunning “Her Majesty II,” combined sounds from multiple different eras into a single thought-provoking and timeless package.
36. Field Mouse – Meaning (2019)
Rachel Browne faced an existential crisis of sorts prior to the recording of Meaning, wondering if there was any point in making art in a landscape that often seems to punish worthwhile work. Luckily, instead she channeled those fears into a relatable, endearing album with bright guitar pop songwriting and introspective lyrics that offered a rare level of insight into an artist’s frustrations. The cruel irony was Meaning going completely ignored by music outlets, somewhat proving Browne’s fears, even though this album was more timely, relevant, and enjoyable to listen to than almost anything I heard in 2019.
35. Nona – Through the Head (2013)
One of the true hidden gems of the decade, Nona released just this one album, which didn’t make it too far outside of their local Philadelphia scene (I was lucky to hear about it on Twitter). Through the Head had that scrappy local indie band charm, with songs that rocked and were fun to listen to without any pretension. But what really made them special was singer Mimi Gallagher, who had a voice unlike anyone else’s — her high-pitched, energetic singing and lyrics about riding the bus, youthful crushes and anxiety were a portal back to childhood, including some of the parts you’d rather forget.
34. Girlpool – Powerplant (2017)
Girlpool started off making intentionally amateurish music that centered on the unique bond and musical chemistry of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. On Powerplant, the band added a drummer and daringly made actual rock songs, but instead of watering the band down, the pair’s strengths shined through even more. The vulnerable lockstep harmonies now were met with noisy blasts of guitar on songs with quiet/loud dynamics, which gave the album the feeling of young people entering the frightening real world while still having each other’s backs.
33. Widowspeak – Expect the Best (2017)
By the time they released Expect the Best, Widowspeak had established themselves as a band that made gorgeous sounds but seemed to live in the past too much. This album played off that perception of them, weaponizing the natural nostalgia in their music and asking difficult questions to the listener and themselves, about the dangers of inertia and not moving forward. Singer Molly Hamilton had one of the best pure voices in music, and on Expect the Best she matched it with a powerful emotional core.
32. Afrirampo – We Are Uchu No Ko (2010)
I have to go on memory on this one because We Are Uchu No Ko is impossible to find now and I lost the mp3s two laptops ago. The Japanese noise band’s presumed final album added a slight layer of sophistication to their trademark chaotic bursts of noise and energy, showing all of their many strengths gained through an odd career that included touring with Sonic Youth and living with African pygmy tribes. The songs on the album’s front half, including single “Miracle Lucky Girls,” were loud and frantic bursts of craziness and joy, while its back half showed Oni and Pika’s more meditative side with a long instrumental passage that was psychedelic and entrancing.
31. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (2019)
In the mold of a few albums on this list, Titanic Rising was a beautiful album made with disaster looming over it. Weyes Blood was inspired by climate change, but thankfully didn’t fall into the trap of singing about glaciers melting in an obvious, pandering way. She imagined herself as a character living her life as a movie — a relatable conceit to everyone living through these heightened, unreal times — and she soundtracked her film with opulent strings and piano, which along with her rich vocals gave the album a pleasant throwback vibe that added power to the internal struggles in its lyrics.