The 25 Most Underrated Albums Of The Decade
Justice for 'Sheezus'.
The culture doesn’t always get it right.
In fact, most of the time hype so totally scrambles our critical compasses that we overpraise the thin and the stringy, and ignore the forward-thinking and innovative. Too often we let the real good shit pass us by, making mistakes that seem practically criminal in retrospect.
But it’s never too late to correct the record. Here then are the 25 most underrated records of the last decade, fresh works of art that are practically begging to be rediscovered.
Perfect Pussy — Say Yes To Love
Perfect Pussy eventually exploded into tattered pieces, only keeping themselves contained as a band for precisely the amount of time that it took to release one staggering, ugly bruise of a full-length record. Eight tracks, each meaner than the last, Say Yes To Love is American punk at its most abrasive and minuscule; a series of shining meat hooks.
Shopping — Consumer Complaints
Post-punk acts can sometimes lose their sense of humour, trading in wit for a series of increasingly dour songs about oppression. Not so in the case of Shopping, a band that have always balanced their Devo-style surreal bops with a taste for tongue-in-cheek kitsch.
Consumer Complaints is the best distillation of that style, a fiery takedown of capitalism that’ll make you want to raid your local supermarket with a truncheon in one hand and your best glad rags in the other.
Wet Lips — Wet Lips
No record so brutally exploded the insular Melbourne indie scene as Wet Lips’ self-titled debut. Barbed and galling, the thing takes self-possessed punk men to terrible task, worming a series of put-downs around some of the most exemplary punk that this country has ever seen. We didn’t deserve Wet Lips, and we should despair that they’re gone every single day.
Honor Found In Decay
According to the popular narrative, the three best Neurosis records are the first three — after that, so the story goes, they dropped off, never to return to the peaks of their heydey. But that’s all bullshit.
Neurosis have spent 15 years churning out some of the most inventive and emotionally wrought metal that the American scene has to offer. Honor Found In Decay, their last record, is no pale imitation of former glories — it’s an oddly beautiful, deeply sinister thing, one that finds the exact midpoint between heavy metal and folk and mines that territory for everything it’s got.
Kanye West — Yeezus
Given that Kanye West is one of the most over-hyped and over-discussed artists of the decade, it feels weird to call anything that he’s done underrated. But Yeezus tends to get lost these days in a fog of controversies surrounding the rest of the nonsense that he’s been up to.
Ignore all that: at the end of the day, this record is one of his most sublime documents — a pure distillation of his rage, his poetry, and yes, even his beauty.
Violent Soho — WACO
They might sometimes have a reputation as being nothing more than a bunch of rock and roll rabble-rousers, but WACO is proof positive that Violent Soho can be as nuanced and on-the-money as the next act. A perfectly-tuned mix of straight-up bangers and mournful ballads about lost love, this is Australian alternative rock at its most accessible and inspired.
Chairlift — Moth
Moth, the last Chairlift record, was only ever going to be overshadowed by the group’s dissolution — even before the tour for the record was over, the band announced that they would be no more.
It was a great tragedy: not only that one of the most enigmatic and inventive pop groups of the thousands were over, but that their greatest work was dismissed as some trite swansong. In actuality, Moth is this great, giant, shining thing — unashamed pop, full of wit, and warmth, and intelligence. So many have tried to ape ‘Ch-Ching’, so few have replicated its pleasures yet.
Lily Allen — Sheezus
Too many people in the world are under the misapprehension that Lily Allen peaked somewhere around the early thousands, and that everything since then has been a tired rehash. But Allen never really went away — her influence can be seen everywhere, on everyone.
And anyway, Allen has spent her career only ever improving on her early work — Sheezus, both a reflection on time’s passing and an ode towards the potential of the future, might be her magnum opus.
Deafheaven — Sunbather
It seems rather odd to talk about Sunbather as underrated, given the way that it launched a thousand think pieces about the state of modern metal. But that’s just the problem. All that discourse distracted from the album itself, folding up critics in endless conversations about what, exactly, metal might be.
In actual fact, it doesn’t matter for a second what precise niche Sunbather falls into. All that matters is the sheer might of the thing; the uncompromising, endless pressure of its genius.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring — Rush To Relax
Eddy Current Suppression Ring changed the face of contemporary Australian independent music. Making weirdo garage rock that channelled the bare necessities of The Stooges and The New York Dolls into a pungent, abrasive brew, their music was proud of its own simplicity; awed by its own power.
Alternative radio stations have been littered with Eddy Current Suppression Ring imitators for years. But no band has been able to touch them — nor one of their finest works, Rush To Relax.
Tropical Fuck Storm — A Laughing Death In Meatspace
It was clear that something was changing for Gareth Liddiard on the last Drones record, Feelin’ Kinda Free. Having abandoned the salt-water-rusted pang of his early work with that era-defining band, he went funkier; wilder; more spasmodic.
That project has only been continued in the form of Tropical Fuck Storm, an endlessly-cool supergroup that explore the exact intersection between horror and humour, warbling between emotional tones like a paralytic businessman trying to navigate the Imperial War Museum. The apocalypse has never been so much fun.
Cyanide Thornton — Cyanide Thornton
A series of deeply personal confessionals wrapped in layers of scuzz and wordplay, the debut Cyanide Thornton record deserves to be shouted from the rafters. The whole thing’s just so alive; so wrenched with honesty. No shortcut is ever taken; no emotional cliche is ever gestured to. This is an album that takes a series of truths and nails you to them.
Earl Sweatshirt — I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.
In the Odd Future days, Earl Sweatshirt seemed poised to be a mini Tyler The Creator, obsessed with layering gleefully obnoxious jokes with bombastic, over-the-top rhythms. But then everything changed. Suddenly, Earl records were sad; insular; quiet. And, maybe most surprisingly of all, short. The man who seemed poised to be hip hop’s next oversized clown instead turned into its most low-key chronicler of melancholy.
So sure, it’s not surprising that a record like I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside was largely ignored. But it still hurts.
Scott Walker — Bish Bosch
Not many artists craft a final record like Scott Walker‘s Bish Bosch. Ugly, cruel and endlessly inventive, it’s no late-career elegy to lost love, or mourning of past selves. It’s as uncompromised as an interlocked series of bruises running up a chest; as nihilistic as shallow puddle on a dark street. Walker spent the second half of his career mastering music that pushes you away just as it pulls you in. With Bish Bosch, he perfected that.
Madonna — Madame X
I get it: there’s just so much stuff out there. It’s impossible to keep track of all of the records that the critics are crying from the rafters about, let alone just getting down to the work of seeking out stuff that aligns with your own very niche taste. But still, there was no reason for us all to have ignored Madame X, the new record from Madonna. This is no late-career lip-service to a legacy; this is a new formulation of it, a bold restatement of purpose. We take Madge for granted sometimes, and that’s a problem.
Peep Tempel — Joy
Peep Tempel are one of the finest acts that Australia has to offer — period. Best-known for their delightfully grimy single ‘Carol’, a love song laced with ketamine, the band have only ever fired off masterpieces. And the best of them all might be their last, the anthemic and terrifying Joy. Nobody can tell stories like this band. Long may they live.
Mermaidens — Undergrowth
New Zealand’s Mermaidens have supported acts as diverse as Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie, and Mac DeMarco, all without getting their proper dues. That should stop right now.
The group of weirdo cult-rockers have released some of the finest albums of the last three decades, chief among them Undergrowth. Picture something very soft coated in something very gross and you kinda get the picture — this is a band that can toe the line between the humane and the horrific like few others.
Cattle Decaptiation — The Anthropocene Extinction
No band has better summed up how the environmental apocalypse feels than Cattle Decapitation. Or at least, no band has done it while still having so much fun.
The stupidity of mankind might be threatening to buck us right off the planet Earth, but that’s a little bit funny, and The Anthrpocene Extinction rings with the energy of a band that don’t take themselves too seriously. Thank God: otherwise this thing might genuinely be too much to handle.
RVG — A Quality of Mercy
Melbourne band RVG have always done things their own way. With A Quality of Mercy, they ignored the usual requirements of the press cycle altogether, dropping an album with barely any interviews, and letting the thing talk entirely for itself. And talk it does: the titular single is a crushing exploration of justice, capital punishment and rage which might be one of the most eloquent songs of the decade. And they’re all that good.
Metallica and Lou Reed — Lulu
When it first came out, Lulu, a collaborative record between metal superstars Metallica and warrior poet Lou Reed, was decried as the worst work that either act had ever done. But fuck that noise. Lulu is the definition of an album that dropped ahead of its time. It’s not only that critics misunderstood it; it’s that they radically underestimated its vision of the music of the future. Wormy, and strange, and brutal, and beautiful, it’s a true work of anti-art, that literally every person who first reviewed it failed to grasp.
Gareth Liddiard — Strange Tourist
A Gareth Liddiard acoustic record almost seems like a contradiction in terms — this is a man who has spent his career wielding instruments like broken bottles in a bar fight. But Strange Tourist, his singularly inspired solo record, has all the power and energy of his electric work. ‘Blondin Makes An Omlette’, a gnostic story of wire-walkers and alcoholics, might be the best thing that he’s ever done.
Dirty Three — Toward The Low Sun
How do you even describe Dirty Three? The whole point of the band’s music is that it bypasses language altogether — when violinist Warren Ellis introduces their songs at gigs with long, vibrant monologues, it’s something of a joke; a gesturing towards the fact that these are songs that can’t be summed up with language. So there’s nothing that I can say about Toward The Low sun that would hold its pleasures properly. Instead, you should just listen to it, from start to finish, and soak yourself in the kind of beauties that language fundamentally fails.
Jen Cloher — Jen Cloher
Jen Cloher isn’t an album — it’s a diary entry. An itemised list of regrets, hopes, dreams and desires, it’s the sound of an Australian legend speaking their truth without filter. The result is a listen that challenges, sometimes, but always gently — with love. Listen to it in order to hear an entire worldview translated into music, and offered up to whoever has the patience to hear it.
John Cale — Shifty Adventures in Nooky Wood
Listen, I’m more than willing to admit that this record isn’t for everyone. But neither was the Velvet Underground, the band that Cale led as a young man, and look how firmly the culture has come around to a record like White Light / White Heat. In fact, Shifty Adventures is the solo record that most brings to mind Cale’s work with that outlet of game-changers; it’s just as flippant, strange and insidious. ‘I Wanna Talk 2 U’, a collaboration with Danger Mouse — yes, that one — feels like the work of a man about 50 years Cale’s junior.
Torres — Three Futures
Torres — real name Mackenzie Scott — has always called Three Futures her “black sheep”: low sales of the abrasive, mournful album got her dropped from her record label. But when has commercial superstardom ever aligned neatly with genuine artistry? Three Futures was just too much for the culture in which it dropped. But not because it tried to ignore that culture — because it analysed it too closely; revealed it too deeply.
Mixing the vague with the very specific, the political with the deeply personal, this is the work of a consummate artist laying an entire way of being to rights. We did not deserve it.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.