The Ten Best Produced Modern Albums

All too frequently, lists of ‘best albums ever’ or even ’the best produced albums ever’ tend to write themselves. Those familiar epoch-making heavyweights from the 60s and 70s are guaranteed to crop up in the top ten almost by default, making it trickier for sparklingly produced modern albums to get the attention they deserve.

To counteract that myopic approach, we’ve decided to limit our scope here – and chose what we believe to be the best produced records from the last ten years. Of course, you may disagree with our picks – or be enraged by an omission – and that’s fine and part of the fun. But, if you haven’t already, we solidly recommend that you don a meaty set of cans, or fire up your home speakers, and lose yourself in the magical mixes of the following stunning records:

10: St Vincent – Masseduction (2017)

A fiery crucible of delirious guitar, wonky synth and pulse-setting rhythms frame one of the 2010’s greatest songwriters reaching the peak of her seemingly superhuman powers. Masseduction is a vivid feast for the ears. Working with Jack Antonoff at New York’s Electric Lady Studios primarily, the pair took a clutch of robust new songs, and used them as a foundation on which they built some of the weirdest – and most exhilarating – future-pointed pop. From the fuzzy, mechanical riffs of the title track, the genre-flitting vibrancy of Pills, the yearning pulse of the heartbroken New York and the floor-filling euphoria of Young Lover, every second of St Vincent’s fifth record is riveting.

9: The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta (2022)

The unexpected recent comeback album from The Mars Volta delivered pop-aligned hooks in spades. As with previous MV albums, arrangements were intricately concocted, yet a far greater diversity of instrumental flavours made this a particularly special listen. Produced over an intense ten-day span at the home studio of guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López, the new songs ejected the occasionally long-winded flights of fancy of previous works, yet maintained the expressivity of vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s soaring voice as a central fixture. This glowing batch of 14 songs rarely exceed the four-minute mark, yet the indomitable hooks, fluid Caribbean-infused rhythms and delicately balanced mixes make for an energising new go-to when showing off our hi-fi.

8: Robyn – Honey (2018)

Following a spate of personal upheavals, Robyn threw herself deep into the production of her eighth studio album, concocting a fascinating brew of darkly-tinged electronic pop, bristling with melody and buzzing with synth and DIY beats. Displaying a genius-level understanding of dynamics, Robyn’s production ethos on Honey underscored her importance as the hidden instigator of much we now recognise as modern EDM-tinged pop. Pushing a crew of additional producers (including Metronomy’s Joseph Mount, Mr Tophat and long-time collaboration Klas Åhlund), Honey is stacked with sumptuous mixes and emotive pop. From the desperation of Missing U to the euphoria of Ever Again, it’s a record that takes you on a journey. Not just a cathartic listen but a lavishly produced statement.

7: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

Lamar’s 2015 opus re-moulded the language of hip-hop and crafted a genre-juggling feat. Recorded at a range of studios, including Chalice Studios in Hollywood and New York’s Downtown studios, Kendrick worked with an array of figures, as well as a tight live band, to build out an album that would shape the decade like few others. Kendrick draws on hip-hop, jazz and funk tradition as foundational touchpoints, honing a sound that was perfect for charting the climate of mid-2010s. Surprises abound, from the guest appearance of one George Clinton on opener Wesley’s Theory, to the spine tingling resurrection of the late Tupac on the 12-minute Mortal Man, Among the troupe of top tier producers, the likes of Pharrell Williams took the reins on the irresistible Alright and the acclaimed Rahki brought jazzy vigour to the life-affirming single i. It’s one for the ages.

6: Beyonce – Lemonade (2016)

A potent celebration of music in all its forms, the style-shifting Lemonade found Beyonce justify her global icon status, with some of the finest music of her entire career. Harnessing the talents of some of the music world’s most celebrated production minds (including Diplo, Jack White and Mike Dean), Beyonce’s profound sixth album was nothing short of a masterstroke. Dealing with a range of complex themes, the record’s smile-inducing array of beats, irresistible melodies and astounding vocal prowess implored you to give it your full attention. And it’s a listen that never lets up, from the slick reggae horns of //All Night// to the ethereal synth of the Kendrick Lamar-guesting Freedom via the savage rock/soul hybrid Don’t Hurt Yourself, Lemonade bubbles with aural delights.

5: David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)

It wasn’t supposed to be the end. When Bowie’s second album since his 2013 comeback was announced, fans were already clamouring to get their hands on a record that seemed to hint at a return to the unearthly experimentalism of his late seventies purple patch. After just one weekend bathing in the warm soup of sound that shaped the unnerving, teetering jazz of the title track, Lazarus’s yearning sense of loss, and the emotive musical maelstrom of Sue, David Bowie passed away – and the new album suddenly made a great deal more sense. With his loss came the realisation that Bowie had likely made the album, knowing it’d be his very last. Fitting for such a towering artist, then, that this ultimate statement should be so sonically compelling. Incorporating the jazz quartet of Donny McCaslin, and with contributions from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Bowie and long-time producer Tony Visconti not only produced a tear-inducing farewell, but another outright Bowie gem, likely to be pored over for decades to come.

 4: The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You (2020)

Released at the culmination of a year of extreme global turbulence and depressing isolation following the COVID pandemic, The Avalanches’ third album was the sonic balm we all needed. Though famously taking a long time to make their follow-up to the era-defining Since I Left You, the third record saw the light of day after a brisk four years. Swelling with instant classics, expert sample-wrangling and a joyous spirit. The record soon became hailed as the Melbourne duo’s strongest to date. Though sample-meshing led the way, Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi used a far greater array of real instrumentation and guest vocalists than ever before, with the Leon Bridges-starring Interstellar Love and Johnny Marr guitar-infused sparkle of The Divine Chord highpoints on an album that celebrated the collective, unifying spirit of music. It also looked skyward, in awe at the infinite unknowability of the universe.

3: LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (2017)

Startling all with their surprise reformation, half a decade since their split. LCD Soundsystem’s magnificent fourth album marked an astounding rebirth, and one which sealed James Murphy’s troupe of synth punks as one of the 21st century’s most important acts. Harking back to the recently departed David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, Murphy and co concocted a dense and delirious album. Building atop the vibrant beats and synth bass that the ‘Soundsystem are known for, cuts such as the smile-inducing Tonite, evolving arpeggiated opener Oh Baby and the snarling Call the Police are chock full of sonic surprises, with lavish, well-balanced mixes and bounteous hooks. It’s an album that beckons you to lean in that bit closer.

2: Billie Eilish – When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019)

As the 2010s came to its end, a new pop superstar arose. But Billie Eilish wasn’t just disposable chart-fodder. Her debut album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was both hook-stuffed and aurally wondrous to boot. Produced by her adroit brother, Finneas in his humble bedroom studio, the intricately mixed tracks juggled intense synth beds, absolutely HUGE sub bass and Billie’s unique (and heavily processed) vocals to stunning effect, making something that sounded both progressive and fitting as a precarious new century loomed. Spanning the atmospheric subtleties of Listen Before I Go to the pounding monster hit Bad Guy. It’s an album that bursts with energy, and, in tandem with Eilish’s magnetic personality and emotive voice, makes it one to frequently revisit.

1: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)

“Check out Daft Punk’s new single “Get Lucky” if you get the chance. Sound of the summer”. It’s a familiar, regular tweet from Scottish comedian Limmy, jibing at just how overplayed the Nile Rodgers-guesting lead single from Thomas and Guy-Manuel’s fourth – and ultimately final – album became. Its ubiquity was arguably built on the funk-pop track’s adherence to a near-perfect, lab-tested formula for success. The rest of the album was just as astounding. Part-tribute to the pioneers of the past (see Giorgio by Moroder) and part demonstration of Daft Punk’s absolute mastery of the studio, Random Access Memories was packed with ideas, instruments, guest musicians and the sense of musical joie de vivre that made each listen infectious. The pair’s production ethos delivers shining synths, ebullient guitars, characteristically robotic vocals and fluorescent melodies. The album of the decade? – in production terms, we certainly think so.