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Review: Albums Turning 10 in 2023

In this feature I’m reviewing ten albums turning ten years old which were quintessential to my teenage years and defined a generation.

In this list, which is in no particular order, we’re featuring an album that was written in the Lake District, an album that won the Mercury Prize and an album written by a singer that was hailed by the late great David Bowie as ‘the future of music’.

So sit back, grab a snack and indulge in some serious nostalgia with us.

Beyoncé: Beyoncé

Image credit: Beyoncé's album cover designed by Todd Tourso

The 5th studio album by Beyoncé encapsulates the evolution of Beyoncé as ‘just’ an R&B artist to experimenting with new genres such as Electronic and trap beats. The album was the fastest selling album in the history of iTunes Store up until Adele released 25.

It featured at 81 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Albums of All Time List released just three years ago to mark the new decade. The album explored sexuality with the video for ‘Haunted’ which displayed Bey in a more androgynous style than she has ever sported, which was an affirming move for the queer community.

If Beyoncé can smash gender roles with the platform she has, everyone else can too.

Beyoncé in the music video for haunted. Image credit: Beyoncé YouTube

It’s clear to see from records such as ‘Pretty Hurt’s and ‘Flawless’ that this album was concerned with smashing misogynoir (misogyny directed towards black women) and fighting against microaggressions and stereotypes we as black women face within society.

Flawless, the lead song for the album, is a trap record before trap really hit the mainstream.

It contains samples of a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled ‘We Should All be Feminists’, an empowering speech which further reminded the audience that this album was made to celebrate black-womanhood.

The album was a reflection of issues many young black queer women, like myself, go through in our formative years and was affirming for me that feminism wasn’t just for white women, but for all women.

A$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$AP

Image credit: Long.Live.A$AP album cover produced by former designer Virgil Abloh, the creator of Off White

Long.Live.A$AP is the debut studio album by Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky. A$AP abandoned both drug use and selling to pursue his first mixtape Live.Love.A$AP.

Critically acclaimed record producer Hit-Boy, who produced some of the best songs of 2013, collaborated with A$AP Rocky on the lead single for the album ‘Goldie’.

Goldie is a feisty hip-hop record that includes vocal distortions and a heavy reverb accompanied by an aggressive yet melodic flow from the rapper, who is currently dating Rihanna.

The cover for the lead single Goldie. Image credit: RCA Records

The 2010’s was the era of collaboration and A$AP gathered the biggest rappers in the game: 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar and Drake to produce ‘F**kin Problem’ which became one of the biggest rap collabs of the year.

This album introduced me to an entire new genre outside the confines of traditional rap we came to expect of Jay-Z, Kanye and Lil Wayne.

A$AP paved the way for cloud rap which favours more lo-fi characterised beats with a heavy focus lyrically on drug use and trap lifestyle.

Arctic Monkeys: AM

Image credit: AM’s soundwave cover was designed by Juno Liverpool

The Arctic Monkeys are a staple band in the UK indie rock scene but no one could predict how successful this self titled album would become.

It went on to be nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize and ranked in NME’s album of the decade at number one.

In an interview on BBC Radio 1 with Zane Lowe, Frontman Alex Turner he’d lifted the title of the album from the Velvet Underground Album ‘VU’:

“I actually stole it from the Velvet Underground, I’ll just confess that now and get it out of the way. The ‘VU’ record, obviously,” adding that it was a cop out.

It was the first time the band had deviated from the traditional indie rock route of ironic, moody and stomping anthemic sounds. Turner explained how rap and hip-hop influenced a lot of the record to NME:

"It sounds like a Dr Dre beat, but we've given it an Ike Turner bowl-cut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster."

‘I Wanna Be Yours’ was Turner's take on Manchester poet John Cooper Clarke's poem by the same name.

It is possibly one of the most eclectic love letters in music I’ve heard to date and Turner elevated the poem to such an extent that it’s even included in GCSE English poetry anthology.

John Cooper Clarke and Alex Turner at the NME Awards in 2014. Photo credit: Dave J Hogan

The tunes ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, Why’d You Only Call Me When You're High and ‘Knee Socks’ instantly transport me back to summer 13’ listening to these anthemic, psychedelic rock and hip-hop esque bangers that have now become staple melodies of any indie rock club night.

AM is an album I probably will never get bored of, it still has the same impact it had ten years ago.

It’s a go to when you need to appease everyone at house parties and is undeniably one of the best indie rock albums of the 2010s.

It showed us that in Alex Turner’s own words that the band are more than just ‘four lads playing in a room this time’.

The Weeknd: Kiss Land

The Weeknd sporting his infamous dreads with a backdrop of Toronto, his hometown.

Image credit: Republic Records

The Weeknd produced three iconic mixtapes in 2011, House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence before venturing on to produce Kiss Land, his debut album.

The Weeknd’s mixtape House of Balloons sampled many well known artists such as the Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Beach House.

It blended the melodies of dream pop and post-punk artists with his haunted strip club sound and infamous use of a trilling 707 drum machine.

Artists in the 2010s used sampling more than ever before and even though some musicians condemn sampling, The Weeknd mastered the art of samples in House of Balloons.

However, it’s Kiss Land where we see a shift from alt R&B to the dark wave genre, possibly inspired by his love for 80s bands as we saw with House of Balloons.

The cover for the Weeknd’s mixtape House of Balloons which became widely disseminated

with various versions across the platform Tumblr. Image credit: XO records

Kiss Land is an album where we see Abel demonstrate the development of his vocals with parallels to Micheal Jackson's voice on records like ‘Wanderlust’.

Mixed in with the vocals are high rising cinematic toned tracks that are juxtaposed with the heavy and dark undertones of minor key tonality.

We hear this on tunes such as ‘Belong To The World’ where he samples Portishead’s Machine Gun.

Kiss Land for me is a uniquely structured piece of art that went beyond what was expected of a debut.

It was the first time I’d heard R&B that could really hone in on my teenage angst.

The moodiness mixed in with something you’d expect to hear from a Oneohtrix Point Never score made Kiss Land ahead of its time.

In my opinion, it is undoubtedly the best album from Abel that sounded more authentic than any album he’s produced since.

Lorde: Pure Heroine

The simplistic cover for Lorde’s Pure Heroine album. Image credit: Universal Records

Lorde, the New-Zealand singer-songwriter, burst onto the music scene in 2013 with her debut album Pure Heroine.

She was dubbed by David Bowie as ‘the future of music’ and Foo Fighters lead Dave Ghrol said Lorde gives ‘hope for the future of pop’.

Lorde wrote the lead single Royals in just 30 minutes and drew influences from aristocracy which inspired the song and her stage name.

Despite Royals deriving influence from the rap and hip-hop scene of the time, the majority of the album is a critique of the culture that’s emblazoned and concerned with what Lorde described as "bullshit" references to "expensive" alcohol and cars.

The cover art of 'Royals', the lead single for Pure Heroine

Songs such as ‘White Teeth Teens', ‘Ribs’ and ‘Buzzcut Season’ are all rooted in coming of age stories, satire on the zeitgeist of the 2010s and the ridiculousness of modern life.

The genre bending in this album was both brave and revolutionary at a time where most musicians produced ‘safe’ albums.

The outset of the album is very much dream pop, but it’s also somewhere between chillwave (Glory & Gore), hip-hop (Tennis Court), tropical (Buzzcut Season) and deep house (Ribs), yet it is all made cohesive through the storyline, vision and Lorde’s soft Mitski like voice.

It’s an affirming album and for me as a teenager that didn’t fit into the mould of a ‘White Teeth Teen’.

It was made with the outsider in mind, despite its massive commercial success.

Disclosure: Settle

The iconic drawn faces on Disclosure's album Settle that has become a running theme

throughout their music videos and album covers. Image credit: Island records

The UK brother house duo of Guy and Howard Lawerence stormed onto the music circuit in 2013 to transform the year that was dominated by the EDM/Pop fusion scene of the early 2010s with Settle. The album featured an all star ensemble of collaborators with the likes of indie pop band London Grammar, singer songwriter Eliza Doolittle and pop singer Jessie Ware. The brothers lead single of the album Latch featured pop singer-songwriter Sam Smith which helped launch both their careers into the mainstream.

This is despite the duo describing in an interview with Billboard that they didn’t think it would do well: “We thought ‘Latch’ was too weird for the radio and not clubby enough for the clubs,” Howard described in an earlier Billboard interview that they wanted to do something different to the prominent EDM/Pop fusion scene of the 2010s:

"trying to bring some soul into the songwriting... using jazz chords and interesting melodies instead of boring, stabby EDM triads."

The cover for their hit single Latch. Image credit: Island records

The first track on the album ‘When a Fire Starts To Burn’ vocally is inspired by ballroom culture mashed with the energetic 124 BPM tempo.

However Latch, the following record, acts as the cool down tune whilst still vocally similar to the ballroom vocals from the first track. This juxtaposition is washed and repeated throughout the album. This album holds so much nostalgia for me during a time where I’d find myself going to house parties and taking control of the aux to play something that wasn’t dubstep/EDM.

I remember people being confused at first and then slowly growing to love the deep house album as much as I did.

This album is timeless and the brothers certainly made their mark with this debut.

James Blake: Overgrown

James Blake fronting his own album cover. Image credit: ATLAS recordings

Singer-Songwriter James Blake released Overgrown just two years after the commercial success of his self titled album.

The album won the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2013 beating strong competition, two of which feature on this list: Arctic Monkeys’ AM, Disclosure’s Settle and David Bowie’s The Next Day. The album’s vision from the outset was about falling in love, Blake told Hot Press and added: "I can't deny it. There's no point in trying to come up with some other explanation for what I've been writing about... When it happened, I was really struck. Y'know - Suddenly I'm hit!"

‘Suddenly I’m hit’ is in reference to ‘Retrograde’ the lead single of the album which is drenched in an oxymoron of both moodiness and melancholy about his former girlfriend. In one of the most surprising collaboration of 2013 RZA of Wu-Tang-Clan teamed up with Blake to produce ‘Take a Fall for Me’ for the album where he raps alongside Blake and bizarrely for an American has the line: “Candle light dinner, fish and chips with the vinegar with a glass of cold stout or wine or something similar”.

RZA’s flow accompanied with the slowed and reverberated backing drum machine compliments the entire song.

James Blake and RZA fistbumping at Coachella 2013. Image credit: Somekindofawesome

Despite the main storyline being about Blake’s former girlfriend, the concurrent message of the album is one about the impermanence of life.

This really spoke to me, drove me to want ambition yet led me to also understand that overall as human beings we are fallible and that life is too short to get caught up in trivialities and difficulties:

“Time passes and the constant stays”.

Blake pioneered the way into blending electronic music with soul during the EDM era of the early 2010s and if his Mercury Prize win is anything to go by, he mastered it.

Lady Gaga: ARTPOP

Image credit: album artwork was designed by a good friend of Gaga’s- Jeff Koons.

The background features ‘The Birth of Venus' by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli

Promised by Lady Gaga’s manager to be Gaga’s most insane album yet, the third studio album ARTPOP was described in Gaga’s words as:

“It’s my intention for you to have a really good time”.

According to an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Lady Gaga talked about how time off for her hip injury and time with friends made ARTPOP the record it was:

“ARTPOP is a celebration and a poetic musical journey through my friends and I hanging out and enjoying being pop stars,”

Pre-release it was said that Gaga had written over 50 songs for ARTPOP that had to be whittled down to just 15 tracks.

The albums genre, like many others on this list, was influenced by the early 2010s EDM era and everything that Gaga took inspiration from in her life such as fashion, sexuality, feminism and club culture.

Tracks like ‘Dontella’ and ‘Fashion’ were an ode to Gaga’s love of fashion and lyricism.

The sound of both these records were inspired by Ballroom culture vocals and compositions which fits in nicely with club culture.

The song ‘Manicure’, is about going on the pull and ‘Applause’ even helped Gaga push through and give her fans a performance when dealing with her injury.

The cover art for applause which shows Gaga literally becoming the provocative art.

Photo credit: Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

I remember when this album came out and people hated it with the exception of ‘Applause’ but now that years have gone by, many Gaga fans argue that this is her best album and it was way ahead of its time. It’s one of the first albums I’d got on vinyl and served great as a precursor to any night out with friends, albeit I really didn’t like the tracks Jewels n' Drugs and Dope. However, as Gaga told: "I designed it for it to be fun from start to finish, like a night at the club in terms of the DJing aspect of it. When you listen to it, it really flows nicely. It's really fun to pop in with your friends.”

Childish Gambino: Because the Internet

The album cover is a gif to link it to the title of the album. Image credit: Glassnote records

Triple threat singer-songwriter, comedian and actor Donald Glover is best known by his stage name Childish Gambino.

He put his acting career as Troy Barnes in the hit US comedy show Community on hold to work on and produce Because the Internet.

The title of the album was decided after a conversation between Gambino and his good friend 80s musician Beck.

He was reminiscing about how rock stars didn’t really talk to each other back in the day and wanted to know from Gambino what it was like for artists now, to which Gambino replied:

“I was like, ‘Well, actually…because the internet’ to which Beck replied ‘that should be your album title’” Glover told MTV.

The album’s release was accompanied by a short film of a screenplay Gambino wrote ‘Clapping for the Wrong Reasons’ which parallels the album. The album tackles class divide in songs like ‘IV Sweatpants’, existentialism in ‘3005’ and internet culture in ‘II Worldstar’ where he ironically references WorldStarHipHop:

“Yeah, motherfucker, take your phone out To record this, ain't nobody can ignore this”. Gambino is known at concerts to ask his audience not to record his performances.

The cover art for the single 3005 showing Gambino looking out to a beachfront in California.

Image credit: Glassnote records

Gambino’s quips throughout the album like “fisker’s don’t make noise when they start up” in IV Sweatpants, and use of simile and metaphor with lyrics like “When I hear that action I’ma be Scorsese” in II Worldstar, truly demonstrated his multifaceted talents.

I’d argue that this isn’t Gambino’s best album, that right is reserved to ‘Awaken My Love’.

However, it captures the perpetual feel of the internet culture of the time. It’s dangers and advantages with a blend of existentialism themes were all relevant to mine and others coming of age, in the age, of well, the internet!

Bring Me The Horizon - Sempiternal

The golden flower of the Sempiternal album art cover. Image credit: RCA records

Yorkshire metalcore band Bring Me The Horizon made some major changes when producing Sempiternal.

They introduced two new members to their band; Guitarist Lea Malia and keyboardist Jordan Fish, whom they had previously worked with. They also joined major record label RCA, who pushed them to write the heaviest album they could. RCA also secured Terry Date as the band’s producer who has worked with the likes of Soundgarden, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit.

The yorkshire lads took to the Lake District to write and record their album. In an interview with the Independent, lead singer Oli Sykes explained why:

“We started there because that’s the usual approach we take: recording in isolation. Most albums we go away somewhere remote and record.”

The album drew influence from film soundtracks like 28 Days Later and The Beach with Sykes stating they would play his 28 Days later theme before writing up the album.

The album’s lyrics and themes are concerned with an anti-religious message ‘Go to Hell for Heaven's Sake/House of Wolves’, self-reflection on analysing the consequence of someone's actions ‘Can You Feel My Heart’ and the hypocrisy of the internet (Antivist).

The flowery tattoo stylised artwork for the single 'Can You Feel My Heart'

which gained significant popularity in 2021 from TikTok. Image credit: RCA records

This album was angst, existential hurt and hopelessness, all very common themes in teenagehood.

I attached myself to this album when I was feeling, excuse the pun, emo.

I listened and consumed it, for the most part in the privacy of my bedroom, adorned with movie posters and bands I’d really gotten into.

I still go back to it when I need to let out my frustrations and those anthemic choruses aren’t only made for arenas but for your bedroom on full blast to let people know you're pissed off.

What's your favourite album from 2013?

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