End of year list season always feels so overwhelming for even the most ardent music fan like myself and that feeling was even worse this year with the stream of ‘end of the decade’ lists adding to the the deluge.
Yet as a nerdy fan I was intrigued to assess the last decade and what new music has resonated with me, how my music listening has changed over time and how the decade has shaped my current tastes. I didn’t want to just write a list and thanks to my use of Last Fm I was able to look back and reflect on my decade year by year. I am mainly writing this for myself, to try and understand how I ended up here writing this blog but if this post resonates with you then let me know your own thoughts about how the decade has shaped you as a music fan in the comments or on social media.
First things first, this year by year discussion of my music listening will include men but does not include Ryan Adams for obvious reasons. I deleted him from Last FM listening statistics and am doing my best as a previously die hard fan to distance myself from his music. None of his albums over the last decade were personal favourites anyway, which makes things easier. Still I would be lying if I said he wasn’t one of the biggest influences on my current music taste. Through Ryan’s introduction I started listening to many of my favourites from this decade: Jason Isbell, Natalie Prass and La Sera in particular. Before that he turned me on to Jesse Malin, Gillian Welch, Leona Naess, Lucinda Williams and so many more. Those are simple facts and nothing he has personally done can ever make me deny the good that his music has brought into my life. I thank him and hope one day I can hear his songs again without wanting to punch him in the face.
With that out of the way let’s begin at the start of the decade in 2010. Back then I was still illegally downloading music all the time, mainly from Live Journal indie music exchange pages (oh those sweet, simple days!). My most listened to album of the year was ‘Volume 2’ by She and Him as I really love that sunny, twee indie pop style. My other most listened to was the Jenny and Johnny album, which still sounds incredible and has some of Jenny’s best lyrics. I also loved Best Coast’s ‘Crazy for You’ as I’m a sucker for indie girls with twangy guitars. In this year The National and Arcade Fire also released my two favourite records of their discography High Violet and The Suburbs respectively.
Into 2011 and you can see how in the past my listening usually focused on a few indie artists that I would become obsessed with. In this year it was Laura Marling, who easily became one of my artists of the decade. Every album she released across the 2010s was significant to me in one way or another. 2011’s A Creature You Don’t Know might be my overall least favourite of hers but included Sophia which is a song I think is a masterpiece. Beyond that I fell hard for The King is Dead by the Decemberists and don’t think they’ve bettered that album since. My personal favourite album of the year was Only in Dreams by Dum Dum Girls. It’s about love and death and grief and was as real raw and catchy as anything I heard in the last ten years. Weirdly I didn’t like their previous or subsequent albums but this one will stay with me (and their fashion style is eternal inspo too).
You can see that even long before I started writing this blog my most listened to artists were usually women (seven out of the last ten years). In 2012 Band of Horses were one of the exceptions to the rule with Mirage Rock. Lots of critics didn’t like it but I always find their albums essential. Others I adored were Metals by Feist, and ‘Graveyard’ in particular appealed to my goth heart. This year is where some more ‘americana’ sounding albums began to really resonate with me – firstly Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes and also ‘The Lion’s Roar’ by First Aid Kit. I would say ‘Emmylou’ is definitely in my top five songs of the decade but there were so many other brilliant songs on this album too.
2013 followed a similar pattern to before with She & Him being my most listened to, although Volume 3 was not such a strong album overall now looking back. Laura Marling’s release that year ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ was a classic and remains one of my all time favourite albums. I was also privileged to hear her play this at the Secret Cinema event in London, which is the coolest live music experience I’ve ever been a part of. Beyond that I tried to get into trendy indie synth music like Daughter and the XX but I just couldn’t connect with any of it. This was the year I found myself enjoying the soundtrack to the Nashville TV show and researching the songwriters, which started me on my journey towards becoming a proper country music fan.
But 2013/4 will forever be known to me as the time I became a fan of Jason Isbell. I heard him play live supporting Ryan in 2012 and liked his music but with Southeastern I was blown away. Cover Me Up is my favourite song of the decade, coming in close to my favourite of all time. No other song has gutted me the same way or given me so much hope. And even though I write this blog to promote women in music I think it’s important I’m honest about that. Because of him I found Americana – a musical home that was just a dream until he came along.
2014 was probably the biggest game changer for me as a music fan in this decade. It was the year I went to Glastonbury and saw Dolly Parton and Sturgill Simpson, both of whom I started to listen to religiously that year and still do. I also loved the Caitlin Rose album ‘The Stand In’ and think she’s one of the most important influences on my current music taste, and the Americana artists who I love. I’m always hoping for a new album from her so fingers crossed 2020 is the year.
Again in 2015 Isbell was my most listened to album artist, followed by Laura Marling with her underrated Short Movie album (ok yes I think all of her albums are underrated). I’m a loyal listener – once I like an artist I tend to stick with them for life. Beyond that I adored the Natalie Prass album and she also got me back listening to some of my favourite old soul records, ones that I’d long neglected in favour of indie music. And this was the year I started listening to Kacey Musgraves and Pageant Material – an album of utter perfection from start to finish.
From there I also discovered Ashley Monroe after seeing her sing on a documentary about Nashville. She was playing Country to Country in 2016 so I got tickets, even though I hadn’t listened to anyone else on the bill. Afterwards I made a playlist of the headliner Miranda Lambert and it’s safe to say I was instantly obsessed. Also that year I found Margo Price and Midwest Farmer’s Daughter which was my favourite album of the year, alongside The Weight of These Wings. Both of these albums just spoke straight to my heart. I was now an unashamed country music fan. At the end of the year I made an all woman mix CD for a few people and that gave me inspiration to share my favourite music with others.
Highway Queens was born in March 2017 because I wanted to write about all the great music I was hearing. I also wanted to dive deeper, rather than just obsessively listening to a handful of albums a year and streaming services gave me that opportunity. I still think I have a long way to go to be a really inclusive listener but the blog is helping. I have even got into traditional folk and world music which I would never have thought possible. Now thanks to streaming I listen to way more artists than I used to and have found so much amazing music I can barely keep up.
The 2010s changed my musical life for the better. I found my Americana misfit island and I plan on staying here forever. I started a blog and connected with so many other fans and artists across the world which was beyond a dream. Here’s to the 2020s and I just can’t wait to find out what new music it will bring.
See below for a playlist of some of my favourites of the decade below, and I even let some men in there for once.