I know you’re probably a little over the top 10 lists, but I recently realized that it’s literally the end of the decade, and I would be remiss to forgo one of the most important Top 10 lists! This decade was predominantly during my mid to late 20s, and therefore some of the most formative, challenging, important, and defining years of my life! I started this decade in Nashville, the music capital and ends now with me as a 34-year-old mom in the Nation’s capital. Life is weird, man! Truly. There was so much in between these bookends that truly changed everything for me. I saw the world, I saw love, heartache, joy, sadness… and music was there for me for every step, turn, and bend. So, with that, I give you the 10 albums that meant EVERYTHING to me from 2010-2018. (I’m excluding 2019 since I already did a “Top 10” for this past year.)
10. Andrew Ripp – “She Remains the Same” (2010)
Andrew Ripp is still pumping out music in good ‘ol Nashville and I am so grateful that he is. I first saw him in someone’s backyard at a small house show (it’s a thing) in East Nashville after JUST moving to the area with big dreams and even bigger hopes. He was singing with Dave Barnes, Ben Rector, and Steve Moakler. It was the four of them with guitars – and that was it. No bells. No whistles. Just raw talent. It is still one of the most profound music memories of my life. Andrew stood out to me that night and he still does. This album released shortly after that performance and was continuously pumping from my speakers after that. Andrew has this soft, yet powerful ability to belt and reign in at the same time. It’s brilliance, personified.
9. Chris Stapleton – “The Traveller” (2015)
If you were in, around, or a fan of Country music for any amount of time, Chris Stapleton’s songwriting credits were somewhere, anywhere, everywhere. Before this album blew up the charts at a record pace, he had hundreds (HUNDREDS, PEOPLE) of songs where he was credited as the sole songwriter or co-writer. This guy was one of those gloriously hopeful Nashville stories of writing and writing and writing and doing everything you can to be able to finally “make it” in one of the hardest businesses out there. This album is a true Country/Bluegrass/Folk masterclass and it was one of the first Country albums that I actually bought a physical copy of. (I’m admittedly not the biggest Country music fan, so this is a big deal for those who truly know me.)
8. Lucius – “Good Grief” (2016)
In what may be the most intricately precise and perfect albums ever written, Lucius gave me in 2016 what not many things could have — peace. What this duo does best is blends two otherwise different voices into one harmonious sound. They blend together better than most family groups out there, which is equal parts baffling and impressive. They write songs that have the power to evoke thought and change and they execute it in such show-stopping, fashionably-entertaining ways. This album is incredible, start to finish, but I will leave you with the song that began my love for them.
7. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” (2010)
Back in 2010, there was this amazing shift in music where independent artists were starting to move into the bigger scope of music. Meaning, bands and musicians like The Avett Brothers, Jack White, and Arcade Fire were seeing some meteoric chart-topping successes that hadn’t really happened before. It wasn’t unknown bands being discovered, signed to big labels, changing their sound and style, but it was independent artists, remaining independent artists, and then winning Grammys… as independent artists. (I also use the term indie artist not in the literal “no label” sense, but the non-mainstream sense) Arcade Fire ended up doing what very few had done before. This obscure band of, like, 100 musicians (I kid) beat out Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Lady Antebellum for Album of the Year in what was a major “Wait, what? Who is that?” moments that I remember actually watching live and LOVING it.
6. Damien Rice – “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” (2014)
Damien has given me so much over the years, and I mean that genuinely. His music has been such a huge part of my life and in many ways, I feel truly grateful that he exists in this world. He has an execution of sound that no one, and I mean no one, has been able to replicate. There are a lot of buskers out there with their acoustic guitars and thoughtful lyrics and I respect and love the genre, but Damien is one of those that with the readily available ingredients, makes the most delicious, life-altering meal. When this album came out, I was already a fan, so honestly, it could have been him yelling nonsense for an hour and I still would have loved it. But this album once again proved that he is the OG, never to be duplicated.
5. Chance the Rapper – “Coloring Book” (2017)
When I was living abroad in Korea and going through a lot of truly testing times, I fell out of love with music for a while. I really did. It was this album that brought me back from the dead. It made me feel something again. Chance the Rapper took passion and subtle power and turned it into mass attention and adoration. He took me to church, but not in a way I had ever experienced before. This album is nuanced and beautifully crafted, all while being expertly written. Chance the Rapper seems to be one of the most approachable, humanized rappers out there and there’s something to say about a guy who can take a hook from “How Great is our God” and get it played on mainstream radio. His reach is exponential and his message is innately positive, without losing his grit, who he is, and where he came from. He’s the full package and so was this album.
4. Bruno Mars – “Unorthodox Jukebox” (2012)
In 2012 there was no other top-billed album in my book. Which is weird because most of the music I listened to back then was indie or alternative. But when Bruno gave us one of the most perfect musical gifts in the history of the world, I was hooked. (Literally, and figuratively. I mean, catchy hooks are basically his thing.) This album had subtle nods to the greats, especially Sting, so when he eventually performed on the Grammy stage with him, I about done lost it! Bruno has the pipes, we all know that. But he also has everything else to back it up! He’s not just some pop dude who performs songs written by underpaid, undervalued songwriters, because he does everything himself! He writes his lyrics. He writes his music. He produces it all. He writes for OTHER people. He performs the HECK out of his songs. And he’s got one of the best bands in the game. I’m sorry, but this album is still straight-up fire and sexy as hell. I’ll die on this hill. And I don’t even care.
3. Bon Iver – “Bon Iver” (2011)
If you knew me in 2010-2011 you would know 2 things. One – Bon Iver was the blood that flowed through my veins and two – I had questionable hair cut/color choices. I can still remember/feel what I felt the first time I heard “For Emma, Forever Ago” and more so when this album came out, how in Holocene when that bass note hits after the verse, it literally caught my breath. There are not a lot of moments, in my memory, where a particular melody line or note played evoked something so insightful that it brought me to tears. This album brought me to tears… and it still does. When I’m having a hard time, this is one of my go-tos (along with the upcoming #s 2 and 1 on this list). Vocally, we all know that Justin Vernon changed the game. The scruffy dudes with falsetto dreams made into reality thanks to his unique worldview. In 2011, I won tickets to see Bon Iver perform this album at the Ryman Auditorium. Not only was I in one of the most historic music venus in the world, but this album performed live was something I still can’t accurately describe with words. At one point, I just closed my eyes and cried because it was just. that. good. In the MANY live shows that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, this will always be the undeniable best.
2. Sigur Ros – “Inni (Live)” (2011)
“Say, Dayna. If you had to name one band to listen to for the rest of your life and NO others… who would it be?”
When I’m feeling low? Sigur Ros. When I’m feeling happy? Sigur Ros. When I’m feeling anxious? Sigur Ros. When I’m feeling peaceful? Sigur Ros.
Inni (Live) came out in 2011 when my world was being changed by so much local Nashville talent and bands like Death Cab and the above-mentioned Bon Iver were moving me emotionally. I could’ve told myself it was just a live album of their previous work and call it a day. But I didn’t. I preordered the DVD with the CD and the day it came in the mail I prepared myself for an entire weekend of JUST Sigur Ros. It still remains one of the best weekends of my life! I don’t even CARE how lame that makes me sound. Sigur Ros sings in a language I don’t understand and make music so wistfully epic, that it doesn’t usually lend itself to life-altering listening. BUT IT DOES. I know with them, it’s love or hate. I am 100% aware of that. But what Sigur Ros did for music was to make intricate, classical undertones great again. They were, are, and will forever be the soundtrack to my life.
For this one, you have to also see it. Experience it like I did that weekend, many years ago.
1. The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow” (2011)
Clearly, it shocks no one that they are #1 on my best list of the DECADE because it is definitely the obvious choice. But in the world of duos, none have ever truly come close to what was once pure, unadulterated excellence. Big words, I know. But I stand by them! The harmonious duo of John Paul White and Joy Williams created something so truly special that it just hasn’t been replicated since. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing duos out there, some of which are truly great, but this album was quintessentially perfect. John Paul and Joy together, perfect. The anticipation among people in Nashville for this release was palpable. So many were eagerly awaiting this album. I know someone who heard it early for their blog and it WRECKED me. But it did eventually happen. Barton Hollow happened. And from beginning to end, this Folk/Americana masterpiece took us on a journey through love, joy, pain, and loss. It was everything. It is STILL everything! I will never stop listening and I will never stop hoping that one day these two will sing together again. But until that day comes…
Gotye – “Making Mirrors” (2011)
Seriously, 2011 was a banner year for incredible music. ANYWHO, you may know him at the one-hit-wonder with “Somebody that I Used to Know” but this entire album was truly great and I still listen to it!
The Avett Brothers – “The Carpenter” (2012)
What’s not to love about the Avett Brothers. I mean, I tattooed their lyrics on my body! They have continuously been hit-makers and no matter what anyone says, I’ll always be a loyal and avid fan.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – “Chasing Someday” (2011)
I was only in their music video for “Fire and Dynamite” for a hot second… but I got to spend time with him, Ellie, and the band all day. I got my hair and makeup done. And got free Sheperd’s Pie! This album was and is crazy good.
Sugar & The Hi Lows – “Sugar & The Hi Lows” (2012)
Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup were already incredible solo artists and then they made this super strange leap, and it TOTALLY paid off. I love this album… so very much.