“stick the landing” albums- my 10 favourite high-concept albums of the 21st century
most people in the realm of pop culture critique (which i am tangentially related to) have their favourite albums- but i find this to be too wide a berth to write an article about; indeed, it is norman fucking rockwell by lana del rey, but the rest are quite murky in their order and i feel like having a favourite album list being unordered and not having anything to categorise them would be odd and a pain in the neck to revisit. so instead, here are my “stick the landing albums”- albums that are explicitly themed around a concept, and pull off the concept, and the songs, with aplomb. there are some of my favourite albums missing from here. for example, ultraviolence by lana del rey- an excellent collection of alt-rock lana del rey at her finest, but lacking any cohesive concept to be put on the list, and i didnt want 2lana del rey albums on here (still a 9/10 album however.) another example would be sling by clairo- a nice piece about the effects of time on us all, but devolves into eclectic mush aside from the standout tracks (amoeba & zinnias). again, i would recommend listening to this, but as a thoughtpiece rather than an album. with the preamble out of the way, let us begin.
links are included (click on the images!)
kate bush- hounds of love
kate bush’s 5th album reached a new height- the first true auteur album. the ultimate stick the landing album, with 2 extremely high-brow concepts, and pulling it off in excellent style. she positioned herself as the queen of music as an art form, and back in the middle of contemporary music.
favourite track: cloudbusting
norman fucking rockwell- lana del rey
lana del rey’s 5th album is my favourite album of all time, and many critics’ favourite album of the decade. a loving obituary to the 2010s, lana del rey’s incandescently nostalgic ode to the death of culture is both a revelation (being released only a few months before the pandemic), and an affirmation of the typical person’s weariness of the 21st century western world.
favourite track (of all time actually): mariners apartment complex
bury me at makeout creek- mitski
bury me at makeout creek is a pitch-perfect meditation on the heartbreak of existing by the artist known for generation-crossing devestating, biting songs about life that you can both cry and sing your heart out to. while not her most popular, the short runtime- with not a second wasted, and the replayability of the tracks, make this one of the most accessible albums for the single-adoring generation.
favourite track: drunk walk home
lorde’s sophomore album is one that hits all the right notes- a departure from her (similarly excellent) debut album, melodrama is a recollection of a relationship gone wrong, and all the heartache that comes with it.
favourite track: supercut
house of balloons- the weeknd
the weeknd’s debut mixtape (long enough for me to consider it an album in and of itself) is one that changed the landscape of music forever. along with the other pallbearers of the post-recession anti-EDM movement (2 of which have already been listed), abel tesfaye’s debut was near unmatched in its sound, and even today, few have ever come close to it. although the weeknd’s musical influences have changed for his current albums, his knack for flawlessly encapsulating the state of melancholia is still present. the other mixtapes released after this (thursday & echoes of silence) are also well worth a listen.
favourite track: house of balloons/glass table girls
currents- tame impala
praise and critique of kevin parker’s magnum opus have been and gone, and are quite overdone. the concept of the album- getting over a breakup and accepting yourself changing- is done so effortlessly, that it is perhaps better than any other on the list. the sound is psychedelic, and oddly familiar- tame impala’s trademark niche. this record is more poppier than their previous efforts, however, to its benefit. kevin parker said that he wanted this album to be played in clubs and other communal settings, and he achieved his goal.
favourite track: let it happen
a brief inquiry into online relationships- the 1975
the 1975 are the modern testament to maximalism- with all their albums being (justifiably) bombastic in their release and songs. this album, paired with notes on a conditional form under the “music for cars” moniker does exactly what it says on the tin: delving into codependent relationships one can’t get out of (it’s not living if its not with you), the feeling of chronic desolation (i always wanna die (sometimes)), or a love letter to our horrible twisted interactions to the content (love it if we made it). the 1975 capture their oeuvre superbly in a 15 track, 1 hour meditation on the modern internet.
daddy’s home- st vincent
st vincent’s niche is exactly high-concept albums done to an outstanding quality. catch me on another day, and i could put actor or strange mercy on here (indeed, i originally put her self titled album here before deciding against it). but her 6th studio album is so out of her wheelhouse, and such a perfect recreation of 70s lounge-pop, that i couldn’t not put it here.
favourite track: pay your way in pain
electra heart- marina
marina’s 2012 album, was not genre defining, or a groundbreaking piece of music, at first look. however, over the years, marina’s effect on online culture has finally been noticed outside of hermetic tumblr/twitter communities- perfectly inhabiting a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of mid 20th century stereotypes, updated for a modern age- with wailings about love, idenity, and being an ironically suicidal teenager.
favourite track: teen idle
jubilee- japanese breakfast
japanese breakfast was known for her gut-wrenching, magnificently opulent descriptions of grief and heartache on her first 2 albums. yet, on this third album, michelle zauner pivots slightly to capturing the breadth of human emotion in deservedly decadent fashion. the divide between the more slow tracks, and the happier ones, is never jarring. the eclectic instrumentation and the emotionally rich voice of zauner only add to a perfect depiction of psyche.