Spotify launched in 2008, and was available to everyone in the UK by 2009. Being an American, I wasn’t able to access the groundbreaking app until July of 2011, when it was released in the states, in which I signed up immediately.
The second decade of the 21st century can arguably be defined as the Spotify Decade. However, I prefer to call it the Philadelphia/female fronted decade, as my top 20 albums of the past ten years have a large representation of that.
Much like the early 90s is defined as the Seattle grunge scene, I believe that years from now, the 2010-2019 era will be known for the burgeoning punk scene in Philadelphia, and a large number of female fronted bands.
This collection of 20 albums represents the music that had a profound impact on me, and if anyone discovers something new that they like here, I’d be happy.
I’m not really outdoorsy, but Fleet Foxes makes me want to go outside. If you’re into folk-rock bands like Mumford and Sons, and the Lumineers, Fleet Foxes is a more introspective, darker version of the genre.
Take Amy Winehouse, bubble pop it by a few notches, make the voice higher, multiply it by two, and that’s the best I can do for a comp. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig have a great visual component where they have the same hairdo, outfits that give off a 60s vibe, and a pop-art painting from the 60s of a girl eating ice cream.
It’s been a long time since 2005, when the National watched the crowd peter out because they were there for then buzz band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. 12 years later, firmly entrenched at the top of the indie rock world, Sleep Well Beast seemed like an unnecessary victory lap. Their seventh and longest album cements the National with five consecutive really good to great albums going from Alligator, Boxer, High Violet, Trouble Will Find Me, and Sleep Well Beast.
Before Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner fronted Little Big League, a pop punk band from Philly. Her voice reminds me of Belly’s Tanya Donelly and The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler combined with the ferocity of Liz Phair. Zauner’s screaming puts the band over the top for me.
As I was buying the CD at the merch table at Shea Stadium (small Brooklyn venue, not the Mets former home) I told Zauner she reminded me of Belly, and I was surprised when she told me she never listened to them. I’m old.
“I’m surprised you like her,” is the most common thing I hear when I tell them I like Taylor Swift. People think I’m only into indie rock, (which is 97% true), but I really like entire albums where I don’t need to skip, and 1989 is a perfect pop record that I can enjoy with the whole family.
Artist: Neko Case
Album: The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
Starting with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood in 2006, Middle Cyclone in 2009, and The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, the More I Love you in 2013, Neko Case owns the rare holy trinity of three consecutive albums that get progressively better. Case started her career as a country singer in the late 90s, but gradually got poppier and darker, especially when harmonizing for the Vancouver indie rock band the New Pornographers.
Case starts off the song Ragtime with lyrics that make me want to create snow angels in the middle of the street.
Last night, late, I was watching it snow
It always goes sideways in the city
It isn’t a ragtime song – just an ode to it. The horns in the chorus triumphantly concludes it as she sings, “I am one in the same, I am useful and strange.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sure sounds great.
Julien Baker takes every 90s Lilith Fair musician, crumples them up like a piece of paper, throws it into a fire, and extinguishes them with her powerful 2017 album. It’s difficult to find a more emotionally raw artist.
Appointments, the second track off of turn out the lights, exposes her vulnerability.
I’m staying in tonight
I won’t stop you from leaving
I know that I’m not what you wanted
With a sparse guitar and piano chord, Baker’s mesmerizing tone carries throughout the song – concluding with a slightly hopeful, “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright, and I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is”.
Frightened Rabbit were a Scottish band that put themselves on the indie rock map with their second album, The Midnight Organ Fight. Lead vocalist and guitarist Scott Hutchison’s thick brogue is sometimes so indecipherable that it almost sounds like a chant.
Their third album, Winter of Mixed Drinks, completes one of the best back-to-back albums of the decade.The seventh track Not Miserable starts off with a quiet drone over the lyrics, “I will always remember the night that I almost drowned, all alone in the house.”
Backed by what sounds like a small orchestra, the drums kick in during the middle of the chorus, “I’m not miserable now, no one knows” as it repeats, crescendos, and slowly and victoriously fades out.
Sadly, Hutchison committed suicide in 2018.
Back in 2012-16, when Lorenzo Gills Cook was a student at Syracuse University, he converted his off-campus house into a DIY concert venue called the Scarier Dome – a clever take off of the iconic sports arena Carrier Dome. In addition, he formed Petite League with roommate Henry Schoonmaker
Petite League’s low-fi quick cut poppy songs have a direct lineage to Guided By Voices, not only by style, but output. Cook released four albums in the decade: Slugger and No Hitter in 2016, Rips One Into the Night in 2017, and Rattler in 2019.
In my mind, the four albums combine to form one epic mega-album, so it was difficult to pick one, let alone a song. But I think Pocketknife is a good opening representation.
Take Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis’ high-intensity guitar riffs, mix it with My Bloody Valentine’s Belinda Butchers early 90s shoegaze vocals, and you get Joanna Gruesome’s way-too-brief run of two albums starting from 2013’s Weird Sister and 2015’s Peanut Butter.
Unfortunately, lead vocalist Alanna McArdle left the band in 2015, and just as unfortunately, I never saw them live, but it doesn’t stop the fact that every time I hear them, I want to dive head-first into a mosh pit without my glasses.
Low-fi DIY power pop songs that clock in around two minutes that leave you wanting for more. Guided by Voices, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Apples in Stereo, and a dose of mid-80s R.E.M. are among the influences.
I like this band so much, I interviewed the lead vocalist and guitarist, Sam Cook-Parrott five years ago.
Allison Crutchfield’s pop-punk band Swearin’ are of the many bands from Philadelphia’s thriving punk scene. Along with her twin sister Katie Crutchfield, who leads Waxahatchee, they are grizzled veterans and guiding stars for young female-fronted indie rock and punk bands.
When I discovered Pinegrove and found out they were from Montclair NJ, I listened to a few of their songs on Bandcamp, and was completely mesmerized by Evan Stephens Hall’s songs so much that I went out there and interviewed him in 2016.
Since then, Pinegrove has reached a level of success that includes immediate sell-outs at mid-sized venues and an extremely passionate fan base.
They’re sometimes described as alt-country, but I think they’re closer to the Decemberists.
Firmly entrenched in the power pop lineage of Big Star inspired bands like Teenage Fanclub, Fountains of Wayne and Matthew Sweet, Matt Scottoline leads this Philly trio with songs you want to learn so you can sing and bop along to.
Artist: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die
Think Explosions in the Sky with male and female vocals and a huge backing band. Their songs are atmospheric and all-encompassing.
Taking their cue from the Pixies loud-quiet-loud aesthetic, lead vocalist Brennan Greaves starts the song Bonhomie with a slow and dreary 90s slacker vibe. Then the tempo significantly increases to a Dinosaur Jr.-like mid to fast tempo complete with J. Mascis guitar distortions. Midway through the song, vocalist and guitarist Britty Drake complements Greaves’ with a playful back-and-forth volley.
I bought a ticket to their Market Hotel show (BKN) when Drake quit the band. I figured, “Hey, they’ll hire another female vocalist, but that wasn’t the case. Greaves covered both parts. That was disappointing but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the original Pity Sex lineup represents one of the best male/female vocal indie rock bands of the 21st century.
Last I checked, there were four waves of emo, with the Hotelier part of the current fourth one. Christian Holden’s screamy voice work perfectly with his lyrics.
I called in sick from your funeral.
The sight of your body made me uncomfortable.
There is no faking of angst here.
They sound like five guys, but actually they are two dudes from Vancouver who sing anthemic shout-along songs. Brian King plays guitar, and David Prose plays drums. They both sing. Lots of “oh-oh-ohs.”
The opening track Get Lost are nearly identical to the Cars My Best Friend’s Girl. The tempo is the same, but it’s played in a slightly lower key. According to Spotify, it was my most listened to album of 2019.
Coming in at number one, my favorite album of the decade comes from Portland, Oregon. Typhoon is fronted by Kyle Morton, who struggled with Lyme disease as a child. The illness helped form his introspective lyrics.
Besides your basic rhythm section, they sometimes perform with two drummers, two violinists, and three trumpeters! As seamless as 13 tracks can get, White Lighter is a modern masterpiece.
The link to the Spotify playlist is right here!