In recent weeks, publications and websites have taken stock of the music of the 2010s, recounting the trends, movements, and albums that defined the decade. But the stuff we remember in 2019 is only part of the story. There is also the stuff we used to remember, and then forgot.
I refer to the most memory-holed albums of the 2010s.
This is the music that, for a time, captured the imagination of the media and the public. And then … it all just sort of drifted out of our collective memory banks. Perhaps we thought, years ago, that these albums were important and relevant and signified truths about the culture. But now … what were we talking about again?
Before we continue, let’s make an important distinction. This is not a list of bad albums. Some of these albums are, in fact, quite good. In those cases, I believe they’ve been wrongly memory-holed. But they’ve been been memory-holed nevertheless — because there was a critical backlash, or public favor shifted, or the subsequent followups were bad, or because you can’t find them on your streaming platform of choice, or maybe it’s just the passage of time eating away our brains.
Some of these albums are also not good.
Anyway, please enjoy this trip down memory(-hole) lane!
Tune-Yards — Whokill (2011)
Contemporary Praise: “A tremendous leap forward from Tune-Yards’ previous efforts, Whokill proves that [Merrill] Garbus isn’t just a brainy artiste with a killer voice, but an event, someone to take notice of, a new center of gravity in the musical underground.” — Slant Magazine
Present Reality: In 2011, Tune-Yards — or tUnE-yArDs, as exceedingly patient music journalists dutifully typed back then — seemed like the future. A highly theatrical Oakland-based indie act that combined experimental noise with boisterous pop and world-music influences headed by the adventurous singer/multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus, Tune-Yards shocked many observers when their second album Whokill — or w h o k i l l, because we really had a lot more time for this sort of thing back during the Obama years — became the lowest-selling album to ever top the Village Voice‘s annual Pazz and Jop critics poll. But in retrospect, Whokill sounds less like the beginning of a new era than the delayed end of the ’00s, a time when highly theatrical indie acts with an artsy bent on pop music were held in high esteem. (A series of ho-hum follow-ups to Whokill didn’t help this perception.) In time, this album would seem less like the future and more like the future as it looked to those who mistakenly believed that aughts hipster culture would live forever, safely protected from the encroachment of dominant mainstream pop.
Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience (2013)
Contemporary Praise: “As a complete package, The 20/20 Experience will surely be remembered as one of the first of what will hopefully become a trend in popular music of releasing challenging, experimental, and expertly written material.” — Sputnik
Present Reality: A few weeks ago, I started a thread about memory-holed albums from the 2010s, and this was my go-to example. Though, one could argue, that my suggestion sort of invalidates it as a memory-holed record — after all, if I remembered it as a forgettable record, how forgettable could it really be? Also, this album did spawn the enormous hit “Mirrors,” which is surely playing at your mother’s salon as we speak. However, is there a major release by a superstar act that made as big of a commercial and critical splash upon release, and then proceeded to be almost immediately set aside afterward? In 2013, The 20/20 Experience felt too big to fail — fans had been waiting seven years for the followup to 2006’s FutureSexLoveSounds, and music critics were eager to display their newfound philosophical shift toward imperialist pop by heaping praise on the next white elephant. In the short term, Timberlake benefitted from great timing. But when he dared to release a second volume of The 20/20 Experience later that year, music writers market-corrected him severely, and Timberlake has been a critical punching bag ever since.
Dr. Dre — Compton (2015)
Contemporary Praise: “Compton gives every indication that Dr. Dre is as potent now as he was in the 20th century’s final decade.” — The Source
Present Reality: When I argued that The 20/20 Experience was the most memory-holed album of the 2010s, a reader countered with Compton, a record I had literally forgotten existed until this person reminded me. Which, clearly, makes it a very strong candidate for the “most memory-holed album” crown. As we’ll see elsewhere on this list, the memory-holing of Compton is a testament to the power of Spotify — you still can’t hear Compton on one of the most prominent streaming platforms several years after it was released as an Apple Music exclusive. Perhaps that was a wise business decision in the short run, but it has effectively put Compton in a silo that has drastically affected its cultural penetration. As ubiquitous as The Chronic was in the ’90s — and still is even now, if the weddings I’ve attended in the past decade are any indication — is how memory-holed Compton was in the 2010s.
Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment — Surf (2015)
Contemporary Praise: “It’s a rare record that exists due to the harmonious power of its collaborators, but the reason why it will have a lasting legacy is due to how utterly fresh it feels, making for the rare kind of album that sounds just as accessible on its first listen as it does on its hundredth.” — Popmatters
Present Reality: In the future, when people make a jokey reference to 2010s music — as they do when referencing A Flock Of Seagulls as a signifier of 1980s synth pop, or Jet as a representative of 2000s corporate garage-rock – I recommend that they use Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment as a stand-in for this era’s well-intentioned but, well, corny genre hybrids. Rising to fame due to their association with hometown hero Chance The Rapper, the Social Experiment was Chicago’s answer to the feel-good polymath show bands that exist in every local scene, mixing hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and saccharine soft rock as inoffensively as possible. Only this band somehow landed at No. 15 on the 2015 Pazz and Jop poll, just ahead of Joanna Newsom, Future, Drake, The Weeknd, and Kacey Musgraves. How? Why? Honestly, it’s hard to get overly worked up about what is basically a good-natured record that reflected relatively happier and more optimistic times. Sadly, the Donnie Trumpet era was short-lived: The following year, after the election of Donald Trump, he reverted back to his given name, Nico Segal.
Jamey Johnson — The Guitar Song (2010)
Contemporary Praise: “On his audacious, frequently excellent third album, The Guitar Song, Johnson shares his dream of outlaw country becoming as dominant a commercial force as it was in the ’70s, over the course of 25 songs rooted in the past, but not indebted to it.” — The A.V. Club
Present Reality: For the record, I wrote that blurb. And I stand behind my praise of this album, which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart and was a genuine crossover critical hit outside of the usual country-music circles. Oddly, while The Guitar Song has been largely forgotten in our end-of-the-decade music discourse, its influence and legacy are undeniable. A singer-songwriter with one foot in outsider country and one foot in the mainstream — he co-wrote Tracy Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” after all — Johnson paved the way for Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, and large swaths of the modern-day Americana scene. Unfortunately, a dispute with his record label has sidelined him for most of the decade. But The Guitar Song should still be remembered as a landmark.
Daft Punk — Random Access Memories (2013)
Contemporary Praise: “Daft Punk’s best album in a career that’s already redefined dance music at least twice. It is, in short, a mind-blower.” — Q Magazine
Present Reality: 2013 truly seems like a watershed year for pop music this decade. It was the year that saw the debut albums of artists like Lorde, The 1975, Sky Ferriera, and Haim that would help demolish any lingering separations between the pop and indie worlds. And it was also the year of huge promotional campaigns for establishment superstars like Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Jay-Z who put out middling, little-loved records that nevertheless flooded the culture. While Daft Punk was once aligned with the upstarts, their massively hyped fourth LP, Random Access Memories, put them firmly with the superstars. I remain a defender of RAM, an eccentric paean to analog culture by two Gen-Xers who had become (perhaps unwittingly) millennial icons. But aside from the undeniable “Get Lucky,” this album’s homages to Giorgio Moroder and Paul Williams made it seem like an old-fashioned throwback, a dad-rock record for retired club-goers.
Disclosure — Settle (2013)
Contemporary Praise: “Disclosure’s debut is not only 2013’s best dance record so far, it’s also one of the most assured and confident debuts from any genre in recent memory.” — Pitchfork
Present Reality: Like I said, this was the year that many of the biggest stars of indie-pop put out their first records, which has undoubtedly overshadowed Disclosure’s moment back in ’13. In fairness, it’s worth noting that the best and most popular track from Settle, “Latch” (featuring a pre-fame Sam Smith), has been streamed nearly 500 million times on Spotify. But while that song has hung around, this British brother duo has more or less fallen off the face of the planet ever since the release of their disappointing sophomore effort, 2015’s Caracal. Around the same time, Chainsmokers started to emerge with their own brand of hooky electronic pop, effectively taking over Disclosure’s lane.
Jack White — Blunderbuss (2012)
Contemporary Praise: “Perhaps his greatest record.” — Tiny Mix Tapes
Present Reality: This album debuted at No. 1 and was nominated for five Grammys over the course of two years, including Album Of The Year. Seriously! Freaking Blunderbuss! Isn’t that strange? I remember really liking it at the time. I even bought it on vinyl, because I was a 35-year-old straight white male in 2012. But if you put a gun to my head in 2019 I couldn’t name one song off of it, even though I could still probably recite the entire track listing from at least three White Stripes albums. As White’s first album after the White Stripes broke up, Blunderbuss garnered the praise that rightfully belonged to his former band, though that critical goodwill would soon evaporate upon his subsequent solo releases.
Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon (2015)
Contemporary Praise: “Goon is an indisputable triumph and a staggering opening statement from pop music’s newest Piano Man.” — Now Toronto
Present Reality: Along with Donnie Trumpet, Tobias Jesso Jr. has been reduced to shorthand describing flash-in-the-pan 2010s indie stardom. A cute Jesse Eisenberg-type with curly brown hair and unassuming goofball charm, Jesso made a name for himself by writing simple, melodic ballads in the mode of Todd Rundgren’s early ’70s hits. Again, not the sort of thing you would expect in retrospect to set the world on fire, but for about three or four months in 2015 Goon was the bee’s knees. (Even Adele loved him.) Eventually, Jesso Jr. retreated behind the scenes, and continues to work as a songwriter-for-hire for pop acts, without question one of the best-case trajectories for an aspiring indie-rock tunesmith.
The Carters — Everything Is Love (2018)
Contemporary Praise: “Everything Is Love in many ways completes the Knowles-Carter conceptual trilogy in an expert, tactical showing of family brand management.” — The New York Times
Present Reality: Here’s what I remember about Everything Is Love: (1) My Twitter feed exploded on a Saturday afternoon over news that a new collaborative album by Jay-Z and Beyoncé was about to come out. As a music critic, my heart sank, because I knew that I would have to take time out of my weekend to hear this and formulate an opinion about it. (2) By Tuesday, nobody cared. That’s how long it took for an album by two of the most famous people in the world to be memory-holed. Is it possible that the public recoiled at what amounted to a lot of ostentatious “look at us, we are literal works of art” bragging without the added benefit of great songs? Maybe. Though it could be argued that debuting any album exclusively on Tidal, no matter how consequential, is akin to being automatically memory-holed.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.