Ranked and Rated! The best European albums of the 21st century

Ranked and Rated! The best European albums of the 21st century

We can sense the nods of agreement and hear the rumbling of discontent, but Euronews Culture stands by its much fought over selection. How many have you listened to? Do let us know your choices @euronewsculture #euronewsculture

Last month, we gave you our ranking of the Top 30 European Films of the 21st Century

Now, the Euronews Culture team are at it again, bringing you yet another ambitious list: The Best European Albums of the 21st Century. 

We adhered to three simple rules:

  1. The artists or bands need to be European and their albums must have been released between 2000 and today.
  2. Short releases, maxis, or EPs are not eligible.
  3. No artist or band can appear more than once.

So, without further ado, here are the Top 30 European Albums of the 21st Century:

30) Altın Gün – Yol

(Netherlands / Turkey – 2021)

Kicking off our list of the finest European albums of the 21st century, we present ‘Yol’ by Altın Gün as our first entry. Despite the psychedelic rock band being based in Amsterdam, their music predominantly stems from reimagining traditional Turkish folk music, infusing it with a contemporary production twist. Notably, the band’s spellbinding vocalists, Merve Daşdemir and Erdinç Ecevit Yıldız, hail from Turkey themselves. Emerging onto the scene in 2016, Altın Gün has garnered considerable critical acclaim for their initial two projects, ‘On’ and ‘Gece’ (the latter of which received a Grammy Award nomination in the Best World Music Album category). However it’s on their third album, ‘Yol’, released in 2021, where their distinctive sound shines the brightest. The band introduces a fresh layer of synths and drum machines to their foundation of funky psychedelic rock, 80s-inspired disco and hypnotic percussive grooves. The production quality of this album is genuinely remarkable, with standout tracks such as ‘Hey Nari’, ‘Maçka Yollari’, and ‘Yüce Dağ Başında’. In essence, Altın Gün’s unique musical style sets them apart from any other band, and their exceptional talents truly warrant mainstream recognition. Theo Farrant

29) Hinds – I Don’t Run

(Spain – 2018)

Warm, rambunctious and feisty, ‘I Don’t Run’, the second album by Spanish indie rock band Hinds is brimming with the lo-fi, punkish attitude that makes their brand of righteous girl power an addictive force. Their debut ‘Leave Me Alone’, released in 2016, propelled Carlotta Cosials, Ana García Perrote, Amber, Ade Martín, and Amber Grimbergen to the forefront of the European indie scene. Excelling at delivering loud summery-sounding indie-pop hooks and endearingly rough-around-the-edges energy to their recordings (and live shows), ‘I Don’t Run’ was the confirmation that if you wanted a euphoric soundtrack to a messy relationship or to a post-break-up funk in dire need of a good kicking, Hinds were your port of call. The guitar riffs on ‘Soberland’, the catchy ‘New For You’ and the retro pop of ‘Echoing My Name’ all shine, as well as the punchy demo charms of ‘Tester’ and the surf-influenced ‘Linda’ – all coalescing into an album that makes anger and heartbreak feel uplifting. If you don’t know the Madrid quartet yet, the uproarious sound of your summer is right here. David Mouriquand

28) Quimby – Kilégzés

(Hungary – 2005)

Together for over 25 years, Hungarian alternative rock band Quimby’s album ‘Kilégzés’ (‘Exhalation’) became an important milestone in the band’s history and granted them a spot on the mainstream musical landscape in Hungary. One song particularly stands out from this album: ‘Most múlik pontosan’ – literally translated ‘Fleeting Away’ or ‘I Let It Pass Me By’. It has even inspired a documentary titled I Let It Go by Balázs Lévai which covers the background of this song. But that is not why it became widely popular and the reason why many other singers chose to cover the track (as well as being a widely preferred choice for performers at Hungary’s talent scout shows) – it’s just a damn good song. When looking for the most popular Hungarian pop songs of the 2000s, this one manages to capture the Hungarian folk soul, the weeping consolation, the romance of resignation in a genius combination – all traditionally important elements of Hungarian culture. There’s also no way to attend renowned Hungarian musical festival Sziget Festival without hearing at least one version of this song. Doloresz Katanich

27) IC3PEAK – До Свидания (Do Svidaniya)

(Russia – 2020)

The electro duo IC3PEAK are one of the most exciting bands to come out of Russia in years, bursting onto the scene with their explosive 2018 hit ‘Смерти больше нет (Death No More)’ that got them put on Moscow’s blacklist. Known for their theatrical music videos and performances that blend witch house fairytale nightmares and political dissidence, IC3PEAK have racked up millions of plays and found famous fans including Grimes and Skrillex. Their 2020 album ‘До Свидания’ (Do Svidaniya, “Goodbye”) shows off their full range, with Nastya Kreslina’s haunting vocals beautifully embellishing Nikolay Kostylev’s pristine production. The track ‘TRRST’, featuring former 6ix9ine songwriter ZillaKami, addresses censorship, with Kreslina singing in English: “Mama, they say I’m a terrorist (what?) / I did nothing wrong but I got on a blacklist”. In ‘Плак-Плак (Boo-Hoo)’ they take on domestic violence, which was decriminalised in Russia in 2017. Kreslina often refers to the band as an audiovisual art project, and ‘Goodbye’ is the ultimate expression of their creative vision. Anca Ulea

26) Kae Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

(UK – 2016)

Kae Tempest had long been a rising star on the spoken-word scene in Britain when they started releasing albums. Their incandescent words blended a single story with drum n’ bass beats on first album 2014’s ‘Everybody Down’. It was in the follow-up album 2016’s ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ though that Tempest created something sublime. Released mere months after the chaotic Brexit vote, ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ tells the story of a London street’s residents as they stir awake at 4:18 am. Class, politics, drugs, gender, violence and humour are all baked into Tempest’s effortlessly brilliant lyrical storytelling. For a better summation of a broken Britain that’s just shot itself in the foot, look no further than album centrepiece ‘Europe is Lost’. Jonny Walfisz

25) Manu Chao – Próxima Estación: Esperanza

(France / Spain – 2001)

After the international success of his 1998 first solo album, ‘Clandestino’, the founder of the defunct band Mano Negra, José-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao – better known as Manu Chao – followed it up with an exciting multi-cultural patchwork of influences and styles. The Franco-Spanish artist tends to sing in up to seven languages and ‘Próxima Estación: Esperanza’ is no different – a diverse melting-pot that includes Spanish and Latin American folk, African rhythms and plenty of reggae. It all flows like an effervescent street party you’re listening to on the radio, with samples of broadcasts, voices and crowd noises. From Cuban horns to Roma influences, via New Orleans exuberance and groovy pop, the joy Manu Chao communicates is infectious, whether he’s singing about multiculturalism, tolerance, politics or weed. The album highlight was its lead single, ‘Me Gustas Tú’, sung in both Spanish and French to better reflect his dual identity through a naively romantic song about confusion and loss (“¿Qué voy a hacer?, je ne sais pas / ¿Qué voy a hacer?, je ne sais plus / ¿Qué voy a hacer?, je suis perdu / ¿Qué hora son, mi corazón?”). It sounds like a Jacques Prévert poem put to song, and the simple melody encapsulates the Grammy-nominated album’s unpretentious yet embellished sounds. DM

24) Moderat – II

(Germany – 2013)

In the realm of electronic dance music, a clear divide exists between the fierce and relentless club tunes that you’d expect to hear within Berlin’s infamous Berghain and the pristine, sugar-coated melodies of pure pop electronic music. However, in a stroke of brilliance, Moderat, the collaboration between Apparat (Sascha Ring) and Modeselktor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary), bridged the gap in their second full-length album, titled ‘II,’ creating a masterpiece that harmoniously merges these contrasting realms. With three cooks in the kitchen, you’d expect the two electronic powerhouses’ style to clash. But there’s no signs of dissonance here. An early gem of the album, ‘Bad Kingdom’ perfectly encapsulates the essence of Moderat’s sound. Apparat’s ethereal vocals haunt the listener’s senses and sit beautifully on top of a monster bassline, warm pads and a meticulously crafted and ever evolving drum groove. With ‘II’, Moderat showcase the boundless potential of the electronic music genre, proving that it can surpass its perceived limitations. This extraordinary work also served as a catalyst, inspiring a new wave of talented artists such as Jon Hopkins, Floating Points, and Tourist. TF

23) Gemma Hayes – Night on my Side

(Ireland – 2002)

Ireland’s musical output over the last 23 years has been eye-wateringly impressive and it’s with a heavy heart that albums like Lisa Hannigan’s ‘Sea Sew’, Damien Rice’s ‘O’, The Divine Comedy’s ‘Bang Goes The Knighthood’, James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Early in the Morning’, Fontaines DC’s ‘Skinty Fia’ or Fight Like Apes’ brilliant ‘Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion’ haven’t made this Top 30 list. Still, one of the two Irish albums to make the cut is an underappreciated gem from the Tipperary born singer Gemma Hayes. ‘Night on my Side’ was her debut LP, which toggles between dreamy oblivion and heavy guitars – a tug of war between Beth Orton and PJ Harvey, if you will, one that works wonders to this day. Her lush collection of songs excels in balancing catchy riffs (‘Hanging Around’, ‘Let A Good Thing Go’) with more tender tracks (‘Tear In My Side’, ‘Ran For Miles’), and Hayes’ disarmingly confessional lyrics allow for beautiful introspection. Each listen since 2002 has yielded both feet-tapping joy and gorgeous emotional resonance which few have managed to conjure since. Whether you’ve heard of her or not, there’s little doubt that Gemma Hayes and her continued discography represent one of the Emerald Isle’s most treasured musical exports. DM

22) The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious

(Sweden – 2000)

Despite its launch right at the start of the 21st century, The Hives’ masterpiece ‘Veni Vidi Vicious’ – its name a play on words referring to Julius Caesar’s famous quote after conquering Asia Minor in 47 B.C. – sounds as fresh as ever. Boasting countless bangers for the ages – give the gloriously rocky and seminal ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’ another listen if you’ve forgotten how great it truly is – it’s no surprise the second studio album from the Swedish five piece drew universal acclaim from music critics. ‘Veni Vidi Vicious’ also cemented the band as a truly creative outfit, namely with the video for ‘Main Offender’ which looks like a comic book animation, following the members on a thrilling journey through ‘Punkrock city’ on their mission to defeat some evil clones made in their image – and why not?! Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, The Hives are still going strong. They’re set to release their long-awaited sixth studio album, ‘The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons’ this August. Considering that the name ‘Randy Fitzsimmons’ refers to the imaginary sixth member of the band as well as its manager who is usually credited as the sole songwriter on The Hives’ tracks, the new record is set to breathe even more new life into the Swedish greats’ oeuvre. Saskia O’Donoghue

21) Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

(UK – 2005)

The first half of the 2000s was a veritable British indie deluge: The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, Kasabian, Editors, The Rakes… It was hard keeping track, with the NME echo chamber giddily championing a new saviour of indie rock each week. The ubiquitous “We want to be the new Strokes” posturing led to the disparaging term “landfill indie”; but while history hasn’t been too kind to the British mid-00’s scene, Bloc Party and their brilliant debut album ‘Silent Alarm’ continues to stand out to this day. Unlike their contemporaries, Kele Okereke and his lot were much more influenced by post-punk and danceable rhythms, and channelled their twitchy energy into a note-perfect, no-filler statement of intent. Tracks like ‘Banquet’, ‘Helicopter’ and ‘This Modern Love’ still sound as thrilling today as they did 18 years ago, and the album’s emotional core has stood the test of time. If there was one album not to discard into the post-Britpop dumpster, it’s ‘Silent Alarm’. DM

20) Dizzee Rascal – Boy in da Corner

(UK – 2003)

Whether it is in the form of Skepta’s multi-award winning albums, Stormzy’s astounding Glastonbury headline set in 2019, or the growing influence of British talent on the far bigger rap industry in the US, grime is one of Britain’s biggest cultural movements of the 21st century. This is the album that started it all. Grime had been around for a while on pirate radio stations, but it was Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 album ‘Boy in da Corner’ that pushed it to the mainstream. With slick anarchic dance beats and Rascal’s distinctive vocal cadence, nothing in the British charts had sounded anything like it. The fact that Rascal is one of Britain’s wittiest lyricists who can still tease out life’s darkness didn’t hurt. ‘Boy in da Corner’ propelled Rascal to stardom, winning the Mercury Prize and leading to follow-up chart hits. Alongside other early popularisers like Wiley and Kano, ‘Boy in da Corner’ set the scene for the massive popularity of acts like Stormzy two decades later. JW

19) Rosalía – Motomami

(Spain – 2022)

‘Motomami’ isn’t just the title of Rosalía’s Grammy-award winning third studio album, it’s a whole vibe. Urban Dictionary describes the term as “the liberty of being free and making bold choices,” an energy that washes over you with the vroom-vroom volatility of tracks like ‘BIZCOCHITO’. Considered one of Spain’s most influential singers, Rosalía has received widespread critical acclaim since the release of her 2017 debut album ‘Los Ángeles’, lauded for her innovative infusion of traditional flamenco stylings with modern-day pop and hip-hop. ‘Motomami’, released in 2022, is the most exciting example of this yet, a boundary-pushing blend of bad-ass bops, effervescent with experimentalism. It’s a reggaeton-fuelled acceleration into Rosalía’s world of fast-found fame and the toxic fumes that can engulf it, before slowing at points to a simmering sensuality and state of self-reflection. Listen to ‘Motomami’, become a Motomami. Amber Bryce

18) Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

(UK – 2016)

Four years before Michael Kiwanuka deservedly won the prestigious Mercury Prize with his self-titled hit record, the singer-songwriter launched his 2016 album ‘Love & Hate’ which solidified the musical talent as one of the best contemporary British artists. Probably best known for the track ‘Cold Little Heart’ – the opening theme for hit TV series Big Little Lies – and the titular song ‘Love & Hate’ which has featured in countless shows and films, this album is more than just its commercial success. The album’s first single release was ‘Black Man in a White World’ – and it’s a real stand out. Kiwanuka called its beginning “slave music” – clapping accompanied with a distorted acapella vocal giving way to funk and haunting backing vocals. Kiwanuka’s Black identity and experiences are prominent themes throughout ‘Love & Hate’, and it is impossible to separate the album from this perspective. One of the reasons ‘Love & Hate’ is so memorable is the seamless way Kiwanuka blends genres; the album is a mosaic of musical styles, drawing influence from the ’60s and ’70s soul, rock, and folk music. Its complex and layered production, combined with Kiwanuka’s smooth and soulful voice, makes it an immersive and powerful listening experience. SO’D

17) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine

(Ireland – 2020)

Róisín Murphy’s 2020 album ‘Róisín Machine’ is a veritable tour de force that showcases the Irish singer-songwriter’s talents while exploring various genres ranging from electronic music and disco to house, funk, and soul. This album was Murphy’s highest-charting vehicle to date, appearing in countless ‘album of the year’ lists. It’s particularly special for many reasons, including the high-quality production value, the creative lyrics, and Murphy’s unique voice and energy, which blend together seamlessly to create an unforgettable listening experience. The opening track ‘Simulation’ sets the tone with a propulsive beat and pulsing synths straight out of the disco playbook. The funk-infused ‘Kingdom of Ends’ adds a soulful twist, while ‘Something More’ is a shimmering slice of house music that wouldn’t feel out of place on a ‘90s dance floor. Murphy’s voice is unmistakable, imbuing each track with personality and flair. The lyrics, too, are often witty and insightful, exploring themes of love, desire, and frustration in a way that’s relatable yet never clichéd. ‘RóisínMachine’ is, at its core, an album that feels both nostalgic and fresh. Whether you’re a fan of disco, house music, or just good pop music, there’s something on it for everyone. SO’D

16) Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

(Sweden – 2011)

Dreamy, dark and dappled in moonlit feelings, ‘Wounded Rhymes’ makes you want to run through haunted woodland and contemplate heartbreak. The second studio album from Swedish singer Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson, known as Lykke Li, was released in 2011 and encapsulates a sad girl brand of indie/electro-pop that ruminates on unrequited love and longing; the visceral vocals turning thoughts swimmy and soundtracking many a millennials’ coming of age moments. From its infectious hit ‘I Follow Rivers’ to the more sombre tones of ‘I Know Places’, ‘Wounded Rhymes’ stands out within Lykke’s (much overlooked) discography for its atmospheric production, unique bluesy influences and ability to evoke such authentic feelings of isolation, where desires unravel and echo in dissonance. AB

15) Noir Desir – Des Visages Des Figures

(France – 2001)

‘Des Visages Des Figures’ is the last album from Noir Désir, one of France’s most treasured bands. They broke into the mainstream in 1996 with ‘666,667 Club’ but it’s their final outing which became one of the Hexagone’s best selling albums. Their sixth LP was much quieter than their previous releases, and encompassed several musical genres; from the Léo Ferré-inspired ‘Des Armes’, the thrashing rock anthem ‘Lost’, the apocalyptic sounds of ‘Le Grand Incendie’, and the jazz / Middle Eastern influenced epic ‘L’Europe’ – a sprawling and entrancing rallying cry against globalisation – there isn’t much this ambitious album doesn’t embrace. Numerous artists participated, including the aforementioned Manu Chao, who played guitar on the hit single ‘Le Vent Nous Portera’, a dazzling folk pop ballad which stands as one of the band’s greatest songs. The dizzying mix of influences created a fascinating blend of moody and at times unnerving atmospherics, made all the more tangible in retrospect. Indeed, Noir Désir called it quits in 2010, following frontman Bertrand Cantat’s incarceration for the accidental death of his partner, the French actress Marie Trintignant. His crime doomed the quartet’s career, but doesn’t stop ‘Des Visages Des Figures’ from being a tense and masterful recording that completely engulfs the listener in a rather unique sense of melodic anxiety, punctuated with moments of true beauty. DM

14) Robyn – Body Talk

(Sweden – 2010)

“I’ve got some news for you. Fembots have feelings too.” Oh Robyn, tell us about it. When ‘Body Talk’ came out in 2010 it changed pop music forever and gave us all of the feels. The Swedish star’s seventh studio album catapulted her to international stardom and left a lasting impact on global pop culture. Robyn released ‘Body Talk’ independently as a trilogy over the course of 2010. This groundbreaking new way of releasing music in the digital age influenced pop stars from Rihanna to Charli XCX to Ariana Grande. But it wasn’t just forward-thinking; it also gave us some of Robyn’s biggest hits, like ‘Dancing On My Own’, ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ and ‘Hang With Me’. A shining testament to an artist who has insisted on doing things on her own terms, ‘Body Talk’ has aged like fine wine and will forever be remembered as one of the finest moments in 21st century pop history. AU

13) 2ManyDJs – As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2

(Belgium) (2002)

‘As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ was the first album to be released by Soulwax members David and Stephen Dewaele, also known as 2ManyDJs. It’s a delirious and impressively cohesive mash-up of 45 remixed and collaged tracks by a series of diverse artists, including The Stooges, Basement Jaxx, Salt-N-Pepa, Sly & The Family Stone and Destiny’s Child. On paper, it looks like a migraine-inducing hodgepodge; however, there’s genuine care in how the tracks were mixed and blended together, showing that the Dewaeles have mad skills. (We’re down with the kids!) Who could have predicted that Peaches’ ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ could nuzzle up so brilliantly with The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, that Destiny’s Child and 10cc made ideal bedfellows, or that Dolly Parton and Röyksopp were a match made in sonic heaven? It may sound like a novelty record, but it is in many ways the perfect album to encapsulate the early 2000s. It’s certainly an enduring testimony to the craft of DJing and how making tracks collide can better rejuvenate them or make you listen to them in ways you’d never expected. The whole process, as well as its reflection on popular culture and bootleg culture at the time, could be intellectualised to death; at the end of the day, this all-killer-no-filler album is a pure joy to listen to – a pop / disco / rock electroclash that sold more than half a million copies worldwide and remains a crafty hodgepodge worth treasuring. DM

12) Kraftwerk – Tour de France

(Germany – 2003)

When it comes to the most influential and innovative bands of all time, Kraftwerk are among the kings. The electronic band from Düsseldorf, Germany, has been on the scene since the late 60s, releasing their first album in 1970. In the decades since, their sounds have continued to evolve, pushing the boundaries of musical expression and inspiring other artists with their tech-infused techno. Kraftwerk’s eleventh studio album, ‘Tour de France’ is a remastering of the band’s 1983 album ‘Tour de France Soundtracks’, released for the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France bicycle race. It also marked the first new material from the band in 17 years – and the last album to feature Kraftwerk’s co-founder Florian Schneider-Esleben. Full of stimulating synths and vibrating beats, most striking are its tracks like ‘Elektro Kardiogramm’, layered with a thumping heartbeat, heavy breathing and machine-like vocals, mirroring the rhythm, motions and sensations of cycling. It’s this unique use of sampling, re-interpreting music to the mechanics of a bicycle, that makes the album a must-listen, transporting you to another dimension – or, indeed, a very vibey Tour de France. AB

11) Andrea Laszlo De Simone – Uomo Donna

(Italy – 2017)

Italian singer and musician Andrea Laszlo de Simone followed up his homemade debut album, ‘Ecce Homo’ (2012), with ‘Uomo Donna’, a complex sonic beast which blends classic and modern sensitivities of Italian songs with a solid burst of psychedelia. It was named one of the best albums of 2017 by several music magazines, and for good reason – with Rolling Stone describing the record as the second best Italian prog solo album of the past 20 years. Not too shabby. It’s hard to adequately describe his ambitious lyricism and how he harks back to the golden age of Italian pop (Franco Battiato and Edoardo Bennato spring to mind), resurrecting it and adding a prog sensitivity that is truly rapturous. Italy’s answer to Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’? Not quite, but the ambition is there in spades. If we were including EPs in this list, another unmissable release from de Simone is his 2019 release (and so far final output, as the musician has taken a hiatus to focus on his family), ‘Immensità’, a truly magnificent crossover between pop and classical music. It’s a symphonic and compulsively listenable gem bursting with the kind of unbridled creative drive that recalls what Thom Yorke and his merry band achieved with 2000’s ‘Kid A’. Maybe those Radiohead comparisons aren’t so far fetched after all. Speaking of which… DM

10) Radiohead – In Rainbows

(UK – 2007)

Radiohead have a clever knack for reinvention. Most UK bands producing populist grunge like their debut have faded into blessed obscurity since. Not Radiohead. Instead, they’ve built a discography of albums at the apex of their respective genres. Alternative rock’s finest album is arguably 1997’s ‘OK Computer’. Their millennial electronic pivot for 2000’s ‘Kid A’ predicted a trend in popular music so ingeniously, other rock artists are still scrambling to reach its height. In 2009 they did it again with ‘In Rainbows’. ‘In Rainbows’ is a masterpiece. Each song oozes with a sexy confidence of experienced musicians at their glorious peak. Sumptuous ballads ‘Nude’, ‘All I Need’ and ‘Reckoner’ are more ethereal howls than alternative rock songs, while opener ‘15 Step’ still sounds like nothing else ever. Even the way Radiohead sold the album was unique, opting for a pay-what-you-want model as other artists fought against the wave of downloads. Unique, beautiful and peerless. JW

9) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

(Albania / UK – 2020)

Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’, released in 2020, is undoubtedly one of the greatest pop albums, not just of this decade or century, but of all time. Every single track on this record is a smash hit. From the infectious beat of ‘Don’t Start Now’ to the incredibly catchy ‘Levitating’, the album practically serves as a party playlist with not a single skip in its 39 minute runtime. While the British-Albanian singer was already a big name in the world of pop, with her self-titled debut 2017 album, ‘Future Nostalgia’ made her one of the biggest stars on the planet and Britain’s biggest female star. Who could have imagined that an album released during a global lockdown, when clubs were shut, would get people dancing more than ever? The record served as a welcome source of relief, exuding a vibrant energy with its timeless themes of heartbreak, love, and resilience. And in a remarkably brief span of time, this album has significantly influenced contemporary music and reignited the popularity of the 80s-inspired pop dance sound that runs through every song. TF

8) David Bowie – Blackstar

(UK – 2016)

On 8 January 2016, David Bowie released his 26th album ‘Blackstar’ to coincide with his birthday. Two days later, Bowie died of liver cancer. Immediately, ‘Blackstar’ became an album imbued with the prophetic weight of a musical legend looking back over a lifetime. Accompanying music videos for the album made it clear Bowie was aware he was nearing death. Much like his career, the album spends little time looking backwards. Astoundingly for a 26th album, it is energetic with innovation. The 10-minute title track opener shifts through contorted electronic beats into a mutilated reference to his 70s style. Elsewhere, Bowie brazenly throws big band instruments into dissonant battles with themselves. Even at his most experimental, Bowie always retained the fundamental skill of making songs that are demandingly enjoyable. Typical to the chameleonic artist, Bowie doesn’t expunge his unknowable persona for his farewell piece. Instead, he presents a final magnificent mystery. JW

7) Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass

(Denmark – 2016)

Reportedly inspired by an article the Danish singer-songwriter read about the “Gläserner Bürger” phenomenon – the “glass citizen”, which refers to people’s fragility due to diminishing levels of privacy in the age of social media and heightened state surveillance – Agnes Obel crafted one of the century’s most sonically immersive records. Her third album is a textured reverie which showcases the ethereal vocals and cello / piano-lead songs which listeners treasured from her previous albums ‘Philharmonics’ (2010) and ‘Aventine’ (2013). However, ‘Citizen of Glass’ was a moment of sonic and conceptual experimentation for Obel. The best example of this happens to be one of the album’s most addictive songs, ‘Familiar’, in which the ghostly electronics are layered with male voices, which are actually Obel’s pitched down vocals. It’s the sound of the artist behind the looking glass, duetting with herself. The subtle percussions, elegant orchestrations and the use of rare instruments like vintage celestas and spinets all contribute to a transportive dirge. Most impressive is the use of the Trautonium, a synthesizer from the late 1920s of which only two models still exist. Atmospherically consistent and at times sounding like you’ve been transported to the woods surrounding Twin Peaks (‘It’s Happening Again’, ‘Red Virgin Soil’), ‘Citizen of Glass’ is a captivating album from start to finish and more than earns its place in our Top 10. DM

6) Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

(UK – 2006)

In 2006, Amy Winehouse released ‘Back to Black’ – an album which changed music forever. Building on the positive reception of her debut album ‘Frank’ in 2003, the Camden-born singer teamed up with the then-unknown Mark Ronson and exceptionally talented Salaam Remi to create her magnum opus. ‘Back to Black’ became an instant phenomenon, propelling Winehouse to global stardom and earning her the coveted accolade of Best Pop Vocal Album at the Grammys. Boasting global hits like ‘Rehab’ and ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’, the album defined an era. With unflinching honesty, it serves as a reflection of Winehouse’s tumultuous existence, delving into the depths of heartbreak and her struggles with substance abuse. Drawing inspiration from legends like Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday, Winehouse’s sassy and unparalleled vocal prowess shines through a brilliantly crafted blend of contemporary R&B, jazz, neo soul and reggae. The album’s influence is ever present to this day, igniting the torch of success for a new generation of female vocalists, including Adele, Lily Allen, Florence and the Machine, and more recently Joy Crookes and Raye. It stands as an everlasting testament to the profound impact of an artist who fearlessly laid bare the depths of her soul to the world. TF

5) Björk – Vespertine

(Iceland – 2001)

Nothing sounds like Björk. She burst onto the international music scene with a succession of weird and wonderful albums in the 90s. With her fourth album, 2001’s ‘Vespertine’, everything is taken up to 11. Trying to describe the sound of the album requires a couple of leaps in sonic logic that would leave any potential listener with eardrums twisted into pretzel shapes. Everything comes with its diametric opposite with Björk. Her instrumentation is harsh, filled with electronic demonic rhythms. It also contains moments of orchestral bliss. Her voice is at once an angelic warble and a banshee cry. Her lyrics oscillate between innocent proclamations and pained psychological exegesis. Across ‘Vespertine’, Björk fully unleashes a musical vision to sound like herself and no one else ever. JW

4) Stromae – Racine Carrée

(Belgium – 2013)

What is it with Francophones and banging disco beats? First Daft Punk redefined the sound of electronic music with their take on French House in the 90s (more on them in a bit). Then came Justice with their assault on the senses style in the 2000s. It was Belgian singer and producer Stromae’s turn in the 2010s to dominate the arena. After surprise international hit ‘Alors on danse’ in 2009, Stromae returned with sophomore album ‘Racine carrée’ in 2013. Over some of the most danceable beats of the 2010s, Stromae imbues each track with thick personality. Listen without a command of French and you still hear narratives of love, loss and regret with absolute clarity. If you are lucky enough to understand the French, then the depth of Stromae’s themes come forward. There is the loss of his father to the Rwandan genocide in ‘Papaoutai’; he unpicks gender stereotypes in ‘Tous les mêmes’; and a break-up in ‘Formidable’. Heartbreak never sounded so good. JW

3) PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

(UK – 2000)

Since her 1992 debut ‘Dry’, Polly Jean Harvey has had an immeasurable influence on the musical world, and the last 23 years in particular have proven that she is not only the worthy heiress to Patti Smith, but one of the greatest recording artists of her generation. She ushered in the 21st century with one of its best records: ‘Stories from the city, Stories from the Sea’. Romantic, sultry, brooding and nothing short of beautiful, her fifth album was a valentine to pre-9/11 New York City, as well as a big and upbeat pop-rock album that broke with some of Harvey’s more angsty output. Indeed, compared to the grungier sounds of ‘Rid of Me’ (1993) and ‘To Bring You My Love’ (1995), ‘Stories…’ sounds positively lush. And while many have taken against it for being her most polished and commercially accessible album to date, there’s also no denying it’s her best. It won the British artist her first Mercury Prize (becoming the first female solo artist to do so) and it’s not hard to hear why, with tracks like the swaggering ‘Big Exit’, the pop perfection of ‘Good Fortune’ and ‘A Place Called Home’, the passionate ‘This Is Love’ and the achingly romantic ‘This Mess We’re In’, her duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke which doubles as a snapshot of Y2K malaise. By the time the album closed with the swoon-worthy ‘We Float’, it was clear that ‘Stories…’ was something uniquely special. And since the year 2000, it’s an album which has continued to leave an indelible mark on pop-rock music. DM

2) Daft Punk – Discovery

(France – 2001)

‘Discovery’ is a landmark of French house music and a celebration of disco, funk, and electro-pop. It features some of Daft Punk’s most iconic and recognizable tracks, including ‘One More Time’, ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ and ‘Digital Love’, many of which have been sampled countless times since their release. Hardly surprising, as they all showcase the duo’s unique blend of retro and contemporary sounds. ‘Discovery’ crosses so many genre boundaries that it can be difficult to classify it under one style. It has been described as French house, electro-pop, funk, and disco, among other sounds. Daft Punk’s ability to fuse these genres and their extensive use of sampling, undertaken in a way that is not only innovative, but also respectful to the source material, is what sets them apart from their peers. Listening to ‘Discovery’ is like taking a trip through music history, guided by two musical masters at the very top of their game. The importance of this album in European music can’t be understated; it profoundly influenced the music world and created a new standard for electronic music. Daft Punk split in 2021 after 30 years together and the musical world is poorer without them – ‘Discovery’ is nothing if not testament to that. SO’D

1) Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks

(Germany / UK – 2004)

German-born British composer and pianist Max Richter is one of the most important musicians of our time. Over these past 23 years, you’ve heard his music in concert halls, art installations, as well as on the big screen (Waltz With Bashir, Ad Astra) and smaller ones (The Leftovers, Black Mirror). The post-minimalist and neoclassical composer tops not only our list, but also the register of new wave post-classical composers which have thrived this century, as a great many of them owe a debt to Richter’s uniquely enrapturing compositions. On paper, his sophomore album ‘The Blue Notebooks’ reads as pretty damn pretentious: an album protesting the Iraq War, featuring orchestral and electronic numbers that serve as a backdrop for readings of Franz Kafka and Czesław Miłosz, recited by British actress Tilda Swinton. But don’t let that fool you. The concept is not as contrived as it may sound; listeners with no prior knowledge of ‘The Blue Notebooks’’ heady themes surrounding death and the impermanence of things are met with a singularly arresting dreamscape unlike any other. Standout tracks like the unsettlingly synthy ‘Shadow Journal’, the grandiose ‘The Trees’ and the gorgeous ‘Vladimir’s Blues’, are all a testament to how seamlessly Richter interweaves strings and piano with electronic textures. And then there’s ‘On the Nature of Daylight’, a mournful piece which is easily one of the most beautiful songs you’re likely to listen to – this century or otherwise. It has featured in several films and TV series (most notably in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival, and most recently in HBO’s hit series The Last of Us) and to call it – and the whole of ‘The Blue Notebooks’ – cinematic borders on cliché at this point. But the description fits. ‘The Blue Notebooks’ is the perfect entry point into the composer’s œuvre, an ambitious yet accessible concept album that never ceases to be poignant proof that pop and electronic sensibilities can be perfectly merged with the complexities of contemporary classical music. DM