Rewind the Decade: Best male albums of the 2010s

Ryan Reichard, Columnist

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The 2010s shaped up to be a better decade than anyone expected. Yes, this is positivity and yes, having optimism is a somewhat overdone cliché in this decade. 

However, this decade saw mental health being discussed on a public platform and sung about in the car on the way to 9-5 jobs; self-care became not only a cultural phenomenon, but a staple in music. LGBTQ issues finally got a seat at the marriage table, and rallies and marches were held for various groups of people. As the time flew by and the decade passed in an instant, the sounds cultivated from and formed some of the best works music has had to offer in some time. Some sounds make you laugh, others make you cry and some both at the same time. This is a collection of not only nostalgia, but a place to stay, a place to be safe and a place to call home. Here are the best male albums of the decade.

1) “Dying Star” – Ruston Kelly 

Ruston Kelly’s work over the last decade has played out on every one of his releases, from dealing with his own mental health struggles and self-doubt on his debut EP “Halloween,” to overcoming addiction amid a crumbling relationship on the masterful “Dying Star.” Throughout the album, Kelly comes to terms with his addiction, acknowledging his faults both as a man and as a partner to his wife and fellow musician Kacey Musgraves across the genre-bending 14 tracks.

From the opening track “Cover My Tracks,” where Kelly attempts to hide his addiction before finally overcoming it in the final track “Brightly Burst Into The Air,” “Dying Star” is one visceral gut punch after another. Where other albums in the same vein fell into cliché territory, “Dying Star” managed to subvert that by rooting itself in the honesty of the daily battle that many face. More than an album, “Dying Star” is an intimate slice of humanity that transcends boundaries to reach us at our most vulnerable. 

 

2) “Bloom” – Troye Sivan 

Since first being discovered on YouTube in the early years of the decade, Troye Sivan has managed to build himself a career that goes beyond trends and reactions that clutter the pages of the site today. His first album, “Blue Neighbourhood,” was a love-letter to the LGBTQ community and propelled the Australian singer to queer stardom; however, it was on his second album, “Bloom,” where Sivan cemented his status as a queer icon.

From confidently owning his identity and sexual prowess on songs such as “Bloom,” “My My My!” and “Dance To This,” to the more personal moments, such as “Seventeen” where the singer talks about losing his virginity to an older man and the transition into adulthood. Sivan also tackles the unequal ending of a relationship on “The Good Side,” where “Bloom” tows the line between expertly crafted synth-pop songs and subdued ballads a considerable feat considering Sivan was 23 at the time of its release. Where “Blue Neighbourhood” saw Sivan bud into the pop music scene, it was his second album that allowed him to “Bloom” into an all-out pop star. 

 

3) “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” – The 1975 

If there has been any band to emerge out of the last decade and single-handedly follow and defy the status quo at the same time, it is The 1975. This is the backbone of the band’s career defining album “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.”

From the electro-rock driven “Give Yourself a Try” to the acoustic, self-destructive “Be My Mistake” to the Oasis-inspired “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” the band’s third album manages to form a collection of sounds that are just as jarring as the times we live in, and that is why it works as well as it does. For an album that tackles the pitfalls of modern society, the sound reflects the subject matter.

It’s jarring and beautiful all at the same time. Its sarcasm is rooted in honesty. A snapshot into what the decade has had to offer for the next generation of adults, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” is an album for the life we both choose and are forced to live in. 

 

4) “To Pimp a Butterfly” – Kendrick Lamar 

When presented with grief, frustration and depression, artists tend to turn to their artwork to life with the weight of their heavy heart. That is what “To Pimp a Butterfly” does for Kendrick Lamar. Tapping into the rapper’s struggles with racial tensions, depression and finding his faith, Lamar crafted this decade’s equivalent of “What’s Going On.”

The production is as multi-layered as the lyrics across the album as it tries to keep up with Lamar’s rapid-fire delivery. What best sums up “To Pimp a Butterfly” is Lamar’s masterful song “Alright,” a song so powerful and revolutionary that it became the unofficial anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” was served as the crack so “To Pimp a Butterfly” could become his breakout album, and one that would become as valuable as the lyrical Mona Lisa. 

 

5) “Traveler” – Chris Stapleton

There is some irony in Chris Stapleton’s rise to fame. While Stapleton got his start in bluegrass music, he made his eventual transition into country music. However, his first solo album flew completely under the radar until he joined pop star Justin Timberlake on stage at the 2015 CMA awards to perform his cover of “Tennessee Whiskey.”

From there, the song became a viral sensation and propelled Stapleton to the top of the charts. The virility of the performance made him a seller; however, it was the quality of “Traveler” that made Stapleton a star. Stapleton tackled mental health issues on the tear-inducing “Fire Away” and reassured his partner on “Parachute.” Then there’s the self-reflection of “Nobody to Blame” and the ode to those with wanderlust on the title track.

The most striking aspect of “Traveler” and the one that makes the album work so well is its simplicity, both in the production and the lyrics. It isn’t stuffed with head-scratching metaphors, and it was engineered on a person’s computer. It’s a record that presents itself as “what you see is what you get.” What you get is one of the best albums of the decade and the one that revitalized country music as a whole.