10 Underrated Albums Turning 10 in 2020

Can you believe it’s been a full decade since 2010? The years are flying fast — 10 years ago, Twenty One Pilots was unheard of, “Call Me Maybe” didn’t exist, and Taylor Swift was fresh off her first Grammy wins. We certainly remember the most timeless records from that year, notably Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (thanks for this masterpiece, Yeezy). But some of the lesser-known acts that released music in 2010 shouldn’t be forgotten just because they’re not always top-of-mind. They were impactful and impressive in their own ways, whether it helped the artists behind the tunes make it onto festival lineups, grow into stronger versions of themselves, or signify a peak in careers that ended shortly thereafter. Here are 10 underrated albums turning 10 this year.

Affiance – No Secret Revealed

Any record that begins with Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech is sure to be a good one (as overused and generationally relevant as it is). Affiance’s introduction to the heavy music world, No Secret Revealed is bolstered by squeaky-clean production from Joey Sturgis. The acclaimed metalcore producer flaunted some of his best work with the Cleveland natives, who combine Iron Maiden-influenced metal and every -core subgenre you could name. But the LP wasn’t simply musicians noodling on their instruments, as their prowess is complemented by Dennis Tvrdik’s impeccable range and power — even more impressive that he stands in front of double-bass drumming and crunchy guitars with cleans alone. The album was the first of a trio of albums from this talented (and underrated) bunch, who unfortunately called it quits in 2017.

Fair – Disappearing World

When Aaron Sprinkle wasn’t producing some of the best albums of the 2000s (Anberlin’s Cities, Emery’s …In Shallow Seas We Sail, and Thousand Foot Krutch’s Welcome to the Masquerade, to name a few), he was playing in several projects of his own. One of these is Fair, whose 2010 sophomore LP Disappearing World became one of the high points of his already commendable career in the music world. The album brings to mind a variety of the bands he produced himself, a seamless combination of alternative and indie rock that’s an absolute joy to listen to at all times. Sprinkle’s bluesy vocals are the perfect match for the piano taps on “Walking in My Sleep,” while they make the title track one of the most addictive cuts from the indie scene heard all year. It’s too bad that we haven’t gotten another Fair album since Disappearing World, but with how busy its frontman is, it’s understandable. We can still dream, though.

The Felix Culpa – Sever Your Roots

The Felix Culpa takes the cake as one of the most underrated bands to sprout up throughout the 21st century. Part of that stemmed from the group’s underground status as self-sustainers, since their second album was completely self-funded and self-produced. Sever Your Roots, released to a live crowd in Chicago’s Metro venue, is a testament to the power of the individual, as well as a grand thank-you to the fans who acted as their biggest source of promotion. The album received plenty of acclaim (notably by Alternative Press), but it still falls under the radar, as the band hasn’t put out any music since. What they’ve left us to chew on in the decade since is Roots’ hefty compositions and raw rock textures, which verge on post-hardcore at times. The mystique of The Felix Culpa remains past their time of inactivity — a sign that the best music comes from an organic place when it’s truly needed by its listener.

Hail the Villain – Population: Declining

By 2010, hard rock had reached a point of stagnation in the mainstream, challenging bands to stand out or die. In a time when every Breaking Benjamin imitation after another saturated the genre, there were only a handful of groups with the ingenuity of Chevelle and 10 Years, and Hail the Villain began their surge to those heights with Population: Declining. Perhaps they would’ve gotten to that level if they hadn’t broken up two years later. But they left us with an impressive debut full of driving guitars and raspy grunge vocals. In addition to its place in WWE soundtracks (“Runaway” and “Take Back the Fear” both made imprints in the wrestling world), the set of songs also showed some artistic intent and alternative leanings. The Gorillaz-esque cartoon music video for “Take Back the Fear” made a good first impression, assuring the band wouldn’t be just another generic addition to the mainstream rock realm.

Ivoryline – Vessels

If Ivoryline had made it to album three, they could possibly have turned in an arc similar to Anberlin, who went three masterful LPs on the same label (Tooth & Nail Records) to begin their discography. But we were only left with Vessels, a record that boldly moves on from the sneaky success of There Came a Lion with greater spiritual themes and thicker production. Not all of the songs land in the same memorable way as the ones on their predecessor, but even with a drop of inconsistency, the standouts are by far the best material they ever wrote. “Search Me Out” flourishes with the biggest chorus of their career, while “The Healing” and “Vessels” verified the band’s reign as alternative rock masters with huge chord progressions and a ton of energy. While we never got to see the outfit’s own iteration of Cities, Ivoryline provided plenty of bang on the back end of their two-album run as Tooth & Nail’s rock darlings.

Listener – Wooden Heart

Listener has been going strong for the past decade-plus, unlike many of the other artists in this list. Wooden Heart was the record that signified the talk music group’s progression from Dan Smith’s straight-spoken word focus toward a full-band sound surrounding his delivery. It’s their record that best balances the poetic and the instrumental — all of the songs can still be recognized as poems on the outside. Some of Smith’s finest material is present across Wooden Heart, with his uplifting and thought-provoking ruminations resonating better on this release than either of the LPs since. “You Have Never Lived Because You Have Never Died” and “Failing Is Not Just for Failures” hit home from the second you read their titles, and they prove that adding a bit of guitar, bass, and drums only enhances the impact of the words Smith is speaking. Wooden Heart is a spoken word masterpiece if there ever is one.

Middle Class Rut – No Name No Color

Alternative radio sure loved “New Low.” As soon as it hit airwaves, it became a mainstay all across stations in 2010. But to fully understand Middle Class Rut’s run with this top single from No Name No Color, it’s important to recognize that Sacramento radio made it big first — an entire three years prior to the release of their debut. Natives of California’s capital city, the duo saw their song become a hit locally, as it was highly requested throughout 2007. Once their first album hit shelves, it was clear that the group had struck gold in the alternative rock world. While playing to the stadium rock success of Jane’s Addiction and the fury of ‘90s icons like Rage Against the Machine, Middle Class Rut was not simply a nice tribute to their influences. They were also a bottle of anger and discontentment itself: “USA” and “Lifelong Dayshift” raged with screams and a massive guitar sound to offset the smooth, hook-filled “New Low.”

New Medicine – Race You to the Bottom

It would be lazy to compare New Medicine to Halestorm or Buckcherry (especially the latter), but the fact that they toured alongside these popular hard rock acts proved they were onto something in the early 2010s. They didn’t simply rely on hooks and energy, but they emphasized the oomph of personality packed into their sound — first evident on Race You to the Bottom. With its hip-hop-influenced vocal style and lyrics picking on the “rich kid” stereotype, “Rich Kids” is a fine introduction to the band’s rock template. But the hooks come in strong, too, proving that their temperament isn’t a gimmick — “End of the World” and the title track are other songs that stick in that regard. Sadly, past their debut came several member changes and a lackluster follow-up LP. But Race You to the Bottom remains a bright spot in the hard rock world that brought a whole lot of fun and vigor to the genre.

Write This Down – Write This Down

Write This Down’s anthemic rock sound is far from that of Blink-182, so it may come as a surprise that the pop-punk legends are vocalist Johnny Collier’s biggest inspiration. But on their self-titled album on Tooth & Nail records, you can sense it in the group’s overarching bluntness and melodicism. They pull no punches throughout the record, which merges post-hardcore, alternative rock, and even bits of 2000s screamo. You feel every twist and turn, with booming instrumentation and catchy choruses lifting songs like “Alarm the Alarm” and “Despite Your Valor.” One of the most engaging hard rock offerings of the year (and a top-notch pump-up that should’ve hit stadium speakers), “Renegade” also deserves a shoutout. Collier delivers a firestorm of a performance on his band’s first record, too, which makes it ever the more disappointing that the Blink superfan departed a few years later.

You, Me, and Everyone We Know – Some Things Don’t Wash Out

Someone once told me that You, Me, and Everyone We Know was the best Say Anything imitation he’s ever heard, and Some Things Don’t Wash Out makes this description ring true. It’s no surprise that they’re on this list, since they constantly get overlooked in favor of Mayday Parade, Every Avenue, and other more popular acts from this specific wave of pop-punk. Their spirited vocal delivery hints at Brendon Urie, and their cheeky lyricism hints at Max Bemis, but they’re more than a lovechild of the two musicians. “I’m Losing Weight for You” is a short and sarcastic pop-rock sing-along, offering a preview of the fun that the band’s debut full-length has to offer. “Livin Th’ Dream” is perhaps the biggest standout, however, with a more honest look at the tribulations of being in a band. If there’s anything better than Some Things Don’t Wash Out, it’s the fact that YM&EWK (ugh, that acronym is exhausting to type) is touring again. 

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