25 WILDEST PATTERNS OF THE DECADE (2010-2019)
1. Sleep Over - Forever
Quite simply my favorite album of all time - not just the decade. It’s the sound of pure ephemeral intimacy, captured through otherworldly vocal harmonies, big cavern drum machine and shimmer-bent analog synthesizers. The pinnacle of ghostly decadent, intangibly romantic ambient pop bliss. This is an album that hasn’t just molded my taste in music, it’s molded my entire being. I know that I can always return to Forever and feel alive in every positive, revitalizing aspect of the word.
2. Pure X - Pleasure
Such a heartbreaking record, sunk so deep into the inner thoughts of depression, existential void and damaged love. The atmosphere captured on it is astonishing - hissing, warm analog production poured over long-decay guitar and soft, unassuming drums. Strung out on doo wop chord progressions and ragged vocal melodies, the band slides around in slow motion, wrapped in an acid psych lattice of slapback reverb and tasteful wah wah distortion.
3. Grouper - The Man Who Died in His Boat
This is actually the first album I listened to by Grouper. Needless to say, it kicked off a full blown obsession. Having now rinsed her entire back catalog, I see how TMWDIHB is a distillation of the various vibes she was exploring throughout the years prior. She trades between acoustic guitar eulogies and the unsettled twilight soundscapes, - both of which are buried in smears of reverb and tape delay - beckoning you towards a gray forest totem that’s been lost to time. Pull on your tattered death shroud and the ceremony is complete. TMWDIHB is an album that’s as bleak as it is soothing.
4. Honeyslide - Honeyslide EP
Honeyslide was the band that kicked open the door to my fascination with new, DIY shoegaze. An unassuming band from the UK that dissolved not long after the release of their self-titled EP, it’s a bittersweet kind of thing to think about what they might have done with an album or two. That said, this EP is more than plenty. It really is the model of my perfect shoegaze cocktail: heavy slabs of distortion, sleepy, unpolished vocals and hammer-down drums living, most importantly, within a slacker-grunge emotionality. The songwriting is so pure and uncomplicated, which helps push all the elements to really hit hard and stay with you.
5. Beach House - Bloom
I remember when Bloom dropped there was a massive marketing roll out, complete with a Pitchfork-produced concert in the desert - a performance that is still amazing to watch to this day. Ironically, Beach House hadn’t sunk in for me by then. It was a year or two later when a friend talked passionately about their love of the band, that Bloom was already their favorite album of the decade, all as they strolled down the street in their shirt with the album art on it. I felt I had to investigate. You can guess what happened next. Bloom still shocks me with just how damn gorgeous and sweeping it is. The lushest synth chords and guitar lines, soaked by the dreamiest vocal melodies. Bloom exemplifies Beach House’s pitch perfect, simultaneous focus on atmosphere and songwriting. It would be enough for the sonic wash to stand on its own, but the band’s chops at crafting iconic dream pop melodies and guitar lines is unmatched, pushing their music into rarified space.
6. Sun Glitters - Cosmic Oceans EP
The quintessential EP for getting super lit and hiking through a sun-dappled mountain forest. Cosmic Oceans is a short set of chillwave euphoria, where everything is 1000% saturated. The EP throbs with immense, beatific vocal slabs, side-chained into nothingness for an instant and then exploding outward the next. The entirety of tracks are dragged up and down by massive bass drum hits, with all sorts of filtered snare and cymbal trickery decorating the spaces in between. The whole thing is tuned into nature - the kind of electronica that bypasses synthesis and instead loops into organic resonance with a patchwork mesh of lo-fi textures, spindles of percussion and canyon-echoed vocal plumes.
7. Salem - King Night
Setting aside the fact that King Night is one of the most the influential albums of the decade (and not just in witch house circles), the record just slaps like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, I feel like Salem - a group prone to wild antics and controversy - very much felt that way when they were making it. The album is a grimy, spectral blast of weed smoke right in your face, a flowing night drive in a shitty car with rattling speakers through the backwoods of a pine forest. I think what kicks this album up to transcendent territory is the group’s willingness to let it be unironically sensual and ironically gross at the same time. You’ve got your big, busted out trap beats setting the foundation, detuned synth leads sliming around the middle and reverb-saturated, mumbling vocals that spread out over the entire mix that seem to beg to be played during sex. More specifically, ghost sex.
8. Dominic Coppola - Beloved
I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this album, thanks to me playing it like every night before I go to sleep. It’s the quintessential sleep aid after all: so full of billowing satin textures that roll through, you can’t help but spiral into a void of relentless bliss. There is, of course, a sadness and sense of decay within the green-white plumes but it only serves to make the album more beatific, due to the implication of loss and yearning. To be honest, everything Dominic touches is absolute gold, but, for me, Beloved is a peak specimen in his collection.
9. Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated at Last
I love at least 80% of Thee Oh Sees discography. A great average, considering John Dwyer is a maniac and puts out, like, ten thousand albums a year. With such a mountain of good records to choose from, it was tough to decide, but Mutilator stands tallest for me. It came out at a time when my love of the band had just hit its stride: I was starting to pour over some key albums, I experienced the electricity of their live shows, got to see the two drummer setup - I was hooked. Mutilator captures a pure shot of Dwyer’s raw, adventurous spirit and infectious songwriting, not a misstep or questionable choice within the playlist - it’s just all bangers, all day long. The guitar fuzz is thick and rips wildly over firework drums and snaking bass lines, and this time even a little bit of analog organ synth is thrown in for good measure. Dwyer’s high-pitched vocals - which sound like an evil wizard from a Saturday morning cartoon - top things off, singing theatrically about all sorts of pulp absurdities. Everything is at full tilt, and the quality of songwriting rides along with it. Thus, it is a pleasure to be flattened by this delirious, acid circus bulldozer, over and over again.
10. Blue Hawaii - Blooming Summer
Like the title suggests, this is a summer feels album, but more specifically it’s about summer love. The chillwave duo conjure up a palpable air of optimistic, yearning romance that is undeniable. Both sonically and lyrically, Blooming Summer slathers itself in biorhythmic detail, full of amorous longing and dreamy adoration. The backdrop is absolute tropical fantasia, with lush reverb vocals cresting over deep bass drum hits and dotted synth lines that glitter under the sunset. I know I can always go back to this album and feel revitalized by euphoric affection, all under the afternoon sun, lazily reclining in a beach gazebo, drinking from a coconut and watching the waves roll in.
11. Grimes - Visions
Maybe Grimes really did have aspirations all along to be a controversial, oblique superstar. Maybe she was destined to be more about her persona than her music. Regardless, Visions bypasses what was to come, landing in that sweet spot just after she was coming out of conceptual dance experimentation and before her transformation into meta pop princess. As a result, you get one of the best records of the decade, hinged upon the notion that it is deceptively balanced - in fact, let’s tack on “most evocative of the decade” as well, since it effectively popularized the archetype of indie bedroom producer turned professional success. The best way I can sum up this record: socially conscious, post-apocalyptic cyborg hedonism. Bright specters and layer cake technology roam free and wild in a landscape filled with cavernous vocal passages and high-pitched overdubs, but intriguingly offset by the straight-ahead, mid-fi production of crinkly drum machine and mid-90s synth patches. Though the album is clearly high concept, Grimes makes sure the music slaps just as high. It’s ultimately a dope soundtrack for meditations on existentialism and acerbic patriarchal critique.
12. Haunter - Haunter
I’ve had this EP on normal rotation ever since I first came across it in 2014 - I simply can’t get enough of the cozy but depressive basement vibes. Insulated by thick, lo-fi guitar distortion, the band invite you to crash on the couch and sooth your existential dread. Aidan Keyes’ gentle vocal delivery and soul-crushing observations make the whole experience strikingly cathartic and vital. It might be the gold standard of shoegaze to slowcore ratios - though the entire EP is caked in fuzz, the song arrangements feel more solemn, more personal, more emotionally dissatisfied.
13. Helen - The Original Faces
Two things you feel like you’d never see together: Liz Harris and acrobatic bass lines. But that’s what The Original Faces is all about. Liz filters her Grouper atmospherics through a prism of noisy surf rock, that’s unabashed in its lo-fi production and willingness to let jams be jams. The album is absolutely soaked through by Liz’s photo negative guitar distortion and, as you’d expect, her vocals are buried within, melodic phrases that are hummable but ultimately dissolve into the hissing ether. The sleeper attraction, however, are the bass lines. Limber and expressive, the bass does a lot of heavy lifting on this record, more than you’d expect from any kind of shoegaze or shoegaze adjacent release. Since the guitar noise is so smeared and washed to the edges, a middle space is left open for the bass to take charge. It all adds up to a fantastic ramshackle cacophony with strung out bubblegum melodies phasing through the chaos.
14. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire for No Witness
This album is so affecting that I literally have to take long breaks from it in between plays. I’m not much of a lyrics guy, but Angel’s words are all the most perfectly expressed gut punches, one hitting right after the other. Charged with emotional intelligence, she has this versatility to be deeply vulnerable and caustically observant at the same time - pair that with one of the most distinctive, power-sad voices of the decade and you’re in the best trouble you can imagine. On top of it, the music itself oscillates between expertly written acoustic dirges, garage punk, early 70s alt-country and singer-songwriter ballads, bringing a range of backdrops to her aching observations on love, hypocrisy, futility and more. To be honest, they should sell this album with kleenex.
15. CASTING - LATE TO BE REAL
CASTING was one my first vaporwave experiences, proving that sometimes you get lucky and you start out with the best of the best. The producer makes solid gold albums and EPs semi-regularly, however, LATE TO BE REAL is the one that I put on more than any other. There’s an ethos here of slamming everything in your face, all the funk and R&B samples are thick, heavy and pound through like there’s no tomorrow. This is actually something of a rarity in vaporwave - most producers are concerned with emulating the nostalgic, thinner production of the 80s/90s, but CASTING brings it right into modern times with the biggest beats and the deepest slap bass. The producer’s intuition for chop n’ screw edits is simply amazing, every stutter and low pass filter feels perfect. It’s all in service infectious grooves with big impact - you can’t really ask for more than that.
16. Shell - dreamphone
The dreamed out and drowsy tones of Shell are a rare thing, considering the band only ever put out a random single and just one EP, dreamphone. But what an EP it is. A shimmering, fuzz-soaked gem with lo-fi production to keep it feeling warm and thick, the EP washes over you and slows down time in the process. It feels loose and organic in its arrangements but that ethos never detracts from the emotional or sonic impact of each song. The band always feels like they are trying to get somewhere with their jams, to achieve some kind of resolution which serves to leverage the odyssey of their squealing guitar leads, clobbering drums and sparkle cake distortion.
17. Shannon and the Clams - Gone by the Dawn
It’s rare for throwback bands to make songs that are better than the era and aesthetic they’re referencing, but Shannon and the Clams are stalwart songwriters, so their piece of 60s revivalism is transcendently tasty. I feel their album, Gone by the Dawn, is the best example of this, seamlessly combining soul, doo wop and garage rock into a stew of aching hearts, witch cults and murder. Through the low rasp of Shannon Shaw and high, ragged croon of Cody Blanchard, each song feels like a short story, totally lived in by tragic characters who find themselves trapped in unbearable relationships and strange circumstances. With lo-fi, paisley production, biting guitar licks, shuffling drums and noodly bass lines as the soundtrack, the stories take on a vintage quality, making it seem like you’re reading a dusty old pulp compilation found in a thrift store.
18. Foxes in Fiction - Ontario Gothic
My previous band was able to play a show with Warren when he was touring Ontario Gothic. It was in Chicago and it was winter - kind of the perfect way to hear anything from this album for the first time. There’s a majestic desolation to it, where the snow piled on top has a beautiful shimmer but buried underneath is dormant soil, filled with emotional wounds and unprocessed memories. The spindling guitar lines that lace out amidst a cascade of strings, climbing synth patterns and ambient textures give the record an ornate, fragile quality, rounded out by Warren’s shy but affecting vocal delivery. Winter in and of itself can make you feel down, why not feel down with the best soundtrack for the season.
19. No Joy - Wait to Pleasure
No Joy occupies one of my top spots for “most formative bands”, influencing how I made shoegaze of the fuzz n’ grunge variety for many years. None of their output inspired me more than their second album, Wait to Pleasure. The record is a real jigsaw puzzle of stylistic divergences, but it all fits together within the parameters of accessible experimentation. The point clearly isn’t to alienate you, but to welcome you to the puzzle, encouraging you to see how the pieces fit together. Even though the band tosses in all sorts of things like electro pop rhythms, weird time signatures, piano, progressive trip-hop and more, Wait to Pleasure still comes off like a tried and true shoegaze classic. I think it’s because the ratio for all these elements is, whether by accident or design, in harmony with the traditional gaze elements of distortion, dreamy textures and reverb-laden vocals. While it falls more on the traditional side, the song “Slug Night” is worth the price of admission alone - just a straight up supreme dream fuzz slab that drags you in and crunches you up real nice.
20. Twin Galaxxies - Pink Secrets
Pink Secrets is the type of album that you feel unlocks something new inside yourself every time you listen to it. It’s a giant cosmic house where one door always leads to another and another and another, each further room connected by a bubbling pool of nostalgia. Floating on top are random bits of 80s and 90s oddities, from design software to midi programming to new age sound design to ad dialogue, it’s a pool all washed together by warm analog synths and formless composition. The record is peak vaporwave ambient that flows like a hybrid organism, making you want to step inside its embryonic lattices and yearn to be dissolved within its grasp.
21. SSLEEPERHOLD - Ruleth
This album has been a real go to for when I need my darkwave fix. It has all the obsidian synth bass and metal sheet percussion you could want, wrapped inside warm, lo-fi production. The album’s minimalist approach for each element really to strike through - the thick, acidic synth decay has extra bite and hammering drum machine really smacks you in the face. Jose’s penchant for industrial decorum fuses very smoothly with the chugging blocks of dark synthwave that pulse through the entire album, all the clanging girders and buzzing generators make it feel like a techno-death cult conjuring necromancy at an abandon construction site.
22. Jackal Onassis - Big Deal Party
Jackal Onassis are a triple threat of shoegaze, grunge and math rock, so seamlessly blended you forget you’re listening to several genres at once. Rarely is a band so acrobatic in their song arrangements without diluting their emotional intensity, but the trio confidently somersault forward with plenty of catharsis for your feels. Chunked up, intricate guitar chords and crunchy bass lines dance around each other, creating a space for vocal murmurs to slide through. Of course, the drums are a real standout, constantly toppling down and flipping over themselves, driving home a full on sonic assault. I can’t reiterate enough how natural all the pieces fit together, every nuance feels considered and thoroughly understood, making for a highly unique mini-album that’s both technically impressive and makes you have big feelings at the same time.
23. Tamaryn - Tender New Signs
Tender New Signs is a fantastic album in and of itself, but it also has the benefit of coming out during a very formative time in my life. I was changing cities and following my own musical ambitions for first time in any real way, finally being able to cast off a huge weight of social anxiety and creative insecurity that I had been harboring for years. Tamaryn was the first show I saw when I moved and, it seems cliche, but it really inspired me. She was touring TNS, so I got to hear a lot of the album in full dimension right from the start. Rex’s washed out, shimmer-distortion guitar really fills the space of this record, considering how air-pattered the drums feel and how smokey-soft Tamaryn’s vocals are. People are quick to say Tamaryn is the main event here - it’s her name on the project after all - however, it’s more like she and Rex’s guitar are doing a bit of a shoegaze duet. Together they make a gorgeous LP: every guitar flourish and vocal murmur grow around each other, eventually floating away - like a bed of flowers suspended in a starry night sky.
24. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest really sunk its claws into me early on and they’ve been stuck on every repeat listen. Since Deerhunter tend to ride on this wave of contradiction in their attitude, sound and even approach to writing music, it makes total sense that HD operates on two different wavelengths at once. On the one hand, you have the chiming march of psych pop that seems to be the band’s default setting overall and then on the other, you have Bradford Cox’s foray into drum machine, dream pop and hypnagogic loops. This is the golden ratio that speaks to me. The songwriting is so on point in terms of existential engagement and sonic parfait, it drives home how capable the band is of greatness. At times sparse, at times swaggering, at times wistful, the record flows like a twilight river where the currents might be unexpected but the thematic catharsis carries you through each and every time.
25. Austra - Feel It Break
Austra was among the first bands that revitalized my interest in new music, a passion which, funnily enough, started in 2011. I still remember seeing the SXSW performance of their track “Lose It” on Youtube and being totally floored by it. Three-part choral harmonies set to dark electronica with aching, provocative lyrics was a true gift for the ears and the soul. Feel It Break is steeped in mysterious spells, while staying forthright and clear in its song arrangements, an excellently woven mixture of synth pop and darkwave. Also, the deluxe edition of the album comes with a gothic cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, which is some very, very good shit.