I am here for any list compiling the top albums of the 2010s. It’s hard for me to ignore journalistic consensus, and I’m fascinated by the processes behind creating these lists. These compilations clue me in on what music I may have missed this past decade, and as different lists are curated based on different criteria, there’s no dearth of new sounds to explore. Publications tend to approach their decade lists from a myriad of angles, so that “top” or “best” could actually mean “favorite” or “most influential.” I’m interested in all the questions: What albums best captured the zeitgeist this decade? Which records will prove to be the most timeless? The most devastating? The most worthy? Will any end up in the American canon?
But while I can’t stop reading these lists or listening to decade-end podcasts, I’m not so sure music should be categorized or ranked this way. I’m saying this as someone who relentlessly assigns a number value to albums I listen to, primarily thanks to a ranking habit I picked up back in college. It’s tiring, though, because the best music (whether it’s sung in church or heard on headphones or rolled through venues) transcends rational classification. We naturally love to order things, but music carries the capacity to shatter our systems, encourage us to feel something, and move us toward vulnerability.
I remember during my junior and senior years of college my friend Jared and I would lay down on the wood floor in my bedroom while we listened to Sigur Ros’ album Takk. Sometimes we would listen in silence; other times, depending on our mood, we’d try and match Jonsi’s outrageous falsetto. Yet whenever “Glosoli” played, we let the music cascade off the walls, fall over us, and give us some respite. Some of our most meaningful conversations followed.
None of this is to say that music shouldn’t be open to criticism or analysis. I deeply appreciate long form music analysis that doesn’t rate the music it’s evaluating with a score out of five or ten (for example, the podcasts Dissect or Song Exploder). Deep dives into the context and subtext of an album allow us to engage more significantly with what we’re hearing, which I think accentuates the emotional impact of an album or song or performance of live music. The same goes with most art forms; the closer we look, the deeper our wonder grows. And as sappy or tired as this may sound, wonder opens us up to new realities.
By now, you might be able to tell that I’m fighting every urge to rank my favorite albums of the past decade, and I just wrote four paragraphs to convince myself that it’s not the best way to enjoy music. So I won’t do it!
Instead, I’ll spend the time re-listening to music that’s had a lasting impact on me since 2010: everything by Kendrick Lamar (the other day I had this revelation while listening to “Alright” that it exactly matches the ethos of Julian of Norwich’s famous “All shall be well” quote), mewithoutyou’s Untitled, Carrie & Lowell, The Weakerthans’ live album (and their final release of recorded music). And yes, I’ll play catch-up thanks to the dozens of decade-end lists, because hopefully I’ll find something that shifts me, for a moment, into a new realm of wonder.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.