Of course everyone wanted another f***ing Bulletproof, even my parents wanted another Bulletproof, says La Rouxs Elly Jackson, feet up on the radiator, her stool tilted so far back that shes about three degrees away from a nasty accident. But it was obviously not gonna happen. A lot of people were like, You should have stuck with Ben [Langmaid] you could have had commercial, formulaic pop hit after commercial, formulaic pop hit. Did I want that? Did I f***. 
Jackson, back after a rocky, six-year hiatus, is a surprising interviewee. Dressed in a hoody and tracksuit bottoms, preferring to look out of her rehearsal studios window rather than make eye contact, the 31-year-old has the body language of a surly teenager but not the reticence of one. She is almost uncomfortably forthright, sounding off about her former label, the clashes shes had with the gay community (despite being gay herself) and her issues with gender identity. Although shes generous company, when she tells me she once sacked her entire team in a fit of pique, Im not entirely surprised. 
Before things went wrong, La Roux were a duo. Jackson met her former co-writer and producer, Ben Langmaid, through a mutual friend. After dabbling in acoustic folk, the pair found their sound a futuristic, falsetto take on Eighties synth music. If the punchy, piercing In for the Kill put La Roux on the map, its follow-up, Bulletproof, scrawled their name on it in neon pen. 
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Soon, nearly every singer around was trying to emulate La Roux. Kanye West declared himself a fan, recruiting Jackson for his 2010 track All of the Lights and remixing In for the Kill, and the charts became saturated with a sound carved in Jacksons image. But just a year after the release of her 2009 self-titled debut album, which went on to win a Grammy, she declared the genre so over. Synth music was my thing, she said, and Im bored with it.  
By the time La Roux came to make a second record, the cracks were starting to show. Jackson felt shed outgrown the sound that had made her famous, but everyone else including Langmaid and the bands label, Polydor disagreed. In a surprisingly husky tone, given her famously high-pitched singing voice, she remembers the kinds of things they would say to her. If it sounds like it can be popular, why would you not be making it? You could make a million pounds. Who cares if you like it or not? Who gives a f***, Elly? Itll sell all over the world. She scoffs. Well I do care. 
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1/50 50) Nils Frahm Spaces (2013)
Nils Frahms music feels most alive when youre witnessing it in concert, so it makes sense that Spaces, a collection of field recordings made over two years, is his most immersive and dynamic. The shifting energy is due to how no single performance is ever the same; the one constant is the German composers joy in creating sound, and the spaces in between. (RO)
2/50 49) Bill Callahan Dream River (2013)
I have learnt, when things are beautiful, to just keep on, confides Callahan on the most laconic and nuanced album of his career. Warm grains of flute and fiddle run through the rich country soul. Masterful, minimalist storytelling guides us through summers spent painting boats and long nights in hotel bars. (HB)
3/50 48) Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Twelve years after Arctic Monkeys released a debut album that shook the British rock scene out of its doldrums, the Sheffield boy wonders came up with this: a concept album about a luxury lunar resort that surgically removed the blues influences on AM and replaced them with lounge jazz and absurdist lyrics. It upset fans who wanted more of the same, and yet, frontman Alex Turners musical and lyrical meanderings mark one of the boldest moves by any rock band in recent memory. (RO)
4/50 47) Richard Dawson Nothing Important (2014)
Richard Dawson was once a heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter, but by 2014, the Geordies outré folk had made him Britains leading avant-bard. On his breakthrough LP, malevolent instrumentals bookend a pair of 16-minute epics, bending from the ambitiously autobiographical title track to The Vile Stuff, a delirious tale of a boozy school trip gone awry. (JM)
5/50 46) Julia Holter Have You in My Wilderness (2015)
Refreshing as summer rain, the avant-garde and occasionally difficult Californian artists fourth album sees melodies splashing merrily from her keyboard. Her pretty, literate vocals spin playful mysteries of faceless lovers in raincoats and strange women on remote shores. Its lucidity! Holter teased. So clear! A ludic, lucid dream of a record. (HB)
6/50 45) Sky Ferreira Night Time, My Time 2013
Sky Ferreira did it her way. After years of label disputes about image and musical direction, the Californian finally decided to put her own modelling money towards financing her debut record, 2013s Night Time, My Time. And what a record it is: melding Eighties pop with alternative rock, it brims with a wild vivacity, as squelching synths come up against gnashing guitars, vulnerable lyrics and often distorted vocals. Everything is Embarrassing, produced by Dev Hynes, is one of the songs of the decade. (PS)
7/50 44) Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls (2012)
Combining rumbustious soul-rock with swampy blues grit, this four-piece from Athens, Alabama, were one of the most exciting sounds of 2012 thanks to their humdinger of a debut album. Gutsy and unrefined, Boys & Girls is indebted to a bygone era but somehow feels fresh. Its underpinned by powerhouse frontwoman Brittany Howards astonishing voice capable of both a piercing falsetto or a guttural roar. Barack Obama would subsequently invite the band to play at the White House. (PS)
8/50 43) Stormzy Gang Signs & Prayer (2017)
When the documentarians of the future make films about the UK in the 2010s, you can bet theyll put Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr on the soundtrack. The charismatic grime MC is bursting with all the self-aware anger, humour, confusion, vulnerability and creativity of his generation in multicultural urban Britain. (HB)
9/50 42) Todd Terje It’s Album Time (2014)
After a run of spellbinding singles, the Norse disco maverick released this synthesis of the frivolous and cinematic: an album so casually virtuosic it seemed to have dropped out of an alien supercomputer. From crate digger space-funk to dance floor ecstasy (and a Bryan Ferry feature), Its Album Time is endlessly replayable: a perfectly formed confection that requires no sequel. (JM)
10/50 41) Big Thief Two Hands (2019)
Theres a kind of telepathy that develops when a band spends as much time together as Big Thief. The indie-rock bands second album in the space of five months (the first being UFOF), was described as the earth twin and, indeed, they sound utterly grounded to each other, and to their surroundings in the arid Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, near the Mexico border. In contrast to her fragile performance on UFOF, here Adrianne Lenker sings in lusty whoops and calls on Forgotten Eyes, while Not, the records dark, brooding soul, caterwauls with feedback screeches and a merciless, two-minute guitar solo that leaves you simultaneously devastated and enthralled. (RO)
11/50 40) Christine and the Queens Chaleur Humaine (2014)
On her electropop-laden debut the UK release of which meanders between French and English Heloise Letissier explores the lonelinesses and triumphs of being queer. On Saint Claude, she steals glimpses of a feminine boy being mocked on a Paris bus, too ashamed to step in. On Tilted, she is newly defiant. I am actually good, cant help it if were tilted. (AP)
12/50 39) James Blake James Blake (2011)
Inspired by the icy altitudes of Joni Mitchells open-tuned confessionals, the dubstep producer took singer-songwriting into a compelling new landscape of minimalist clicks and autotuned emotion. He sang of testing sounds/ For the deaf and the forest cold and now describes his sparse, graceful debut as a fractured diary reflecting a lack of something. (HB)
13/50 38) Skepta Konnichiwa (2016)
In 2016, the UK was in chaos. The EU referendum produced a shock result, David Cameron resigned as prime minister, and the arguing began, as a new harder-right politics emerged. The future felt bleak. In the midst of all this, Skepta always wary of institutions poured gasoline over the whole mess and lit a match. Konnichiwa is an album heavy with contempt for authority; a sizzling brew of jungle, UK garage and dancehall into which he pours all of his anger, frustration, fear and suspicion. (RO)
14/50 37) Bon Iver Bon Iver (2011)
Where 2008s For Emma, Forever Ago was an exercise in sparse, solipsistic introspection, Justin Vernons follow-up is the sound of a man setting himself free and fully embracing the depths of his imagination. Less hermetically sealed than his debut, it’s exquisite in every way, with Vernons soulful falsetto woven into a gorgeous patchwork of jazz, folk, ambient and electronica. He would add more autotune to his voice on later albums; here its just perfect. (PS)
15/50 36) Ane Brun When I’m Free (2015)
Theres a glorious elasticity of both sound and spirit to the Norwegian singer-songwriters seventh album. Gone is the feathery folk of her early releases as she flings open the doors to big timpani, hip hop rhythms and liquid Eighties bass lines. Lyrically, she celebrated the suffragettes and her own possibilities in the face of chronic illness. (HB)
16/50 35) Jamie xx In Colour (2015)
A solo album from The xxs most elusive member was the subject of rumour for a good few years; the reality was better than fans could have hoped for. In Colour is a lovingly crafted tribute to the rave; a kaleidoscope of beats and pulsing synths that stitch together the many moods you can find on the dancefloor, from the ecstasy of a drop to the melancholy of knowing the night must, at some point, come to an end. (RO)
17/50 34) Mitski Be the Cowboy (2018)
Upon the release of Be the Cowboy, Mitski described how she had f***ed with the form, almost in ways that make me uncomfortable hardly surprising for an artist whose songs pivot between lullaby-like calm and reckless, scuzzy urgency. Her fifth album sits to the left of just about every box you might try to put it in, those signature distorted guitars joined by bright, bold synths, organs and show-tune pianos. Lead single Nobody, with its almost aggressive vulnerability, is a masterpiece. (AP)
18/50 33) Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour (2018)
Three albums in, Kacey Musgraves worried that falling in love with her husband would affect her music. I was a little wary, she told The Independent last year. I was like, Man, I wonder if Im gonna be able to write. She neednt have worried. With synths and Daft Punk guitar licks added into the mix, her fourth album, which she dubbed cosmic country, is rich and ambitious with a subtle, psychedelic gloss, winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. (AP)
19/50 32) Björk Vulnicura (2015)
For three decades, Björk has weathered professional belittlement, abuse and tragedy, always reiterating herself in song, as if it were normal to absorb so much. On Vulnicura, recorded amid a scrappy breakup, the Icelandic virtuoso snapped. Monstrous ballads meet shattered beats and siren strings, a cyclone propelled by the wisdom of age. When the dust settles, she sounds reborn. (JM)
20/50 31) Marianne Faithfull Negative Capability (2018)
A breathtakingly brave and graceful testament from the ultimate survivor of patriarchal rock. Romance and realism, love and fear are held in perfect tension as the 71-year-old conjures shimmering myths of ye olde England, then tells a friend: I do understand why you want no more f***ing treatment. (HB)
21/50 30) These New Puritans Field of Reeds (2013)
With 2010s Hidden, These New Puritans fashioned dancehall and medieval heraldry into pop overtures. They re-emerged with something improbably subtle: a dreamscape shorn of excess pomp, beats and even consonants, with Jack Barnetts voice remade as an instrument. Amid ineffable neoclassical, his shy croak elevates the record, the sound of a doomed romantic awash in the music of the heavens. (JM)
22/50 29) Anohni Hopelessness (2016)
Released before Trumps election and the Brexit vote, there was a dark prescience to this gleefully disruptive blast of electronica. Anohni jettisoned the gorgeous chamber pop which had brought her critical acclaim to make a radical ecofeminist wake-up call about the horrors of the violent patriarchy, drone warfare and global warming. (HB)
23/50 28) Joanna Newsom Have One on Me (2010)
Newsoms third album an elaborate, six-sided odyssey whose musical palette blends harp, tambura and kaval with drums and electric guitars heralded a noticeable change in her voice. The removal of vocal cord nodules had shaved the edges off its trill, and its new deeper, fuller sound suited an album as intricate and aching as this. I found a little plot of land/ In the Garden of Eden, she sings on one of its best tracks, 81, seemingly poised on the edge of religious reverence. It was dirt, and dirt is all the same. (AP)
24/50 27) Fatoumata Diawara Fatou (2011)
Why did you cut the flower that makes me a woman? sings the Malian artist on Boloko, the first African song to address female genital mutilation. Immigration and forced adoption are also challenged on a culture-shifting debut that brings a rare sweetness to the protest genre. The sensual power of Diawaras lullsome voice and her shimmering guitar patterns remain hypnotic. (HB)
25/50 26) Arca Arca (2017)
As deconstructed club music became a buzzword, electronic artists considered how to reassemble the pieces. One pitch for how that might sound somehow futuristic yet familiar came from Venezuelan producer Arca. The Björk and FKA twigs collaborators third album relaunched her zero-gravity sound world with a secret weapon: the bruised, disarmingly operatic voice of an angel in hell. (JM)
26/50 25) David Bowie Blackstar (2016)
On his 69th birthday, two days before his death, David Bowie released perhaps the most extreme album of his career. Blackstar is more alien than Ziggy; as inscrutable as the deepest corners of the universe. He refuses to go quietly, whether making a joyous racket on Tis a Pity She Was a Whore or adding eerie buzzes and whines to album closer I Cant Give Everything Away where, faced with the nearness of his own death, Bowie engages in a final tussle with his own myth. (RO)
27/50 24) Adele 21 (2011)
Earlier this year, Adele announced that she had split from her husband Simon Konecki. While some sympathised, others rejoiced at the brilliant break-up album that was surely on the cards. Bunch of f***ing savages, she joked in response to those gleeful fans. 30 will be a drum n bass record to spite you. Cruel though it was, there was a reason for the gleeful reaction Adele sings of heartbreak like nobody else. And never better than on 21, a sad, soulful masterpiece which on these shores is the best-selling album of the century. (AP)
28/50 23) Daft Punk Random Access Memories (2013)
The French electronic pioneers brought funk back for the summer of 2013 with an album drawing heavily on the sounds of the Seventies and Eighties. Pretty much everything you need to know is in the opening salvo Give Life Back to Music; Daft Punk tend to pop up at times where other artists are grasping frantically for something new. Random Access Memories restarted the party with good old-fashioned craftmanship and Le Dafts undiluted love for what they do. (RO)
29/50 22) Lana Del Rey Norman F***ing Rockwell! (2019)
It is striking that Lana Del Rey the greatest artist of her generation creates art full of meaningful observations about men and women that are deeply unfashionable outside of an Esther Perel podcast. Del Rey desires to be desired; she likes it when her man makes her feel like a child; she “wants to die”. The longing for unconsciousness is still present in NFR (“Im the void,” she sings on “Mariners Apartment Complex”) but her most playful record to date is as close to a celebration of her world-conquering status as you are ever likely to hear. (PS)
30/50 21) Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Tiptoeing to the bleeding heart of Stevens relationship with his schizophrenic, alcoholic mother, this is an album that faces difficult truths with hushed grace. The featherlight folk acquires a remarkable bioluminescence, as the artist finds hope in signs and wonders, sea lion caves in the dark. (HB)
31/50 20) Rihanna ANTI (2016)
ANTIs botched rollout Rihanna was teasing the record for years before a leak prompted a hasty free release seems strangely fitting for an album as joyfully scattershot and unrefined as this. Dark dancehall sounds flirt with hip hop and R&B, as the Bajan singer embraces her roots and slyly rebels against the pop tropes du jour. (AP)
32/50 19) Arcade Fire The Suburbs (2010)
Having released arguably the Noughties defining rock album in Funeral, the Montreal six-piece began this decade with a record bathed in nostalgia. Loosely inspired by frontman Win Butler and his brother Wills childhood on the outskirts of Houston, The Suburbs has much in common with Bruce Springsteens Born in the USA, with its themes of familial responsibility and personal crises. The sound is expansive; there are lyrical and musical motifs throughout. If 2007s Neon Bible was a little portentous and po-faced, this album offers moments of levity in tracks such as the shimmering synth-pop masterpiece “Sprawl II”. Nothing theyve done since has been as good.
33/50 18) St Vincent Strange Mercy (2011)
St Vincent, AKA Annie Clark, has a tagline for each of her albums. This one, her third, was housewives on pills, though that does little justice to a record that marries uncomfortable intimacy with a cool detachment, its obtuse stories of grief, loss and lust told through angular art-rock, frenzied guitar solos and bold melodies. (AP)
34/50 17) Nick Cave Ghosteen (2019)
When his 15-year-old son died in 2015, Cave thought public grieving would be impossible. But he found unexpected relief in sharing his feelings with his fans. This ambient double album plays like a warm cloud of solace: direct about the agony and inevitability of loss, in awe of the love that helps us survive it. (HB)
35/50 16) Taylor Swift Red (2012)
Red is the last album Swift released before it became impossible to discuss her work without mentioning the narrative around her as a person, not just an artist. Her turn of phrase already impressive for an artist so young improves immeasurably from opener State of Grace and leads the listener to the greatest song of her career to date: All Too Well. The analogies and references are less spelt out, too. Then theres the song structure, the way these songs unfurl as she dissects with scientific scrutiny the most intimate details of a relationship, in order to find out where it all went wrong. Red shows Swift with a newfound confidence and at times, weariness that can only come with experience. (RO)
36/50 15) Frank Ocean Blond (2016)
Brilliantly confounding, Blond keeps the spotlight fixed firmly on its creators voice. Tracks are stripped of any unnecessary embellishment, anything that might distract from Oceans hypnotic musings on love, sex and death. Every day counts like crazy, he sings on Skyline To few lyrics capture quite so well the suffocating feeling of being dragged through life at breakneck speed. Blond is far less cohesive than its predecessor, Channel Orange, but does that really matter? Life is messy and confusing; Ocean makes all of it sound beautiful. (RO)
37/50 14) Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker (2016)
A passing comment in a New Yorker profile about being ready to die forced Leonard Cohen to tell fans that reports of his imminent death had been hugely exaggerated. Yet the album he was promoting, You Want It Darker, is as powerful a last testament as any artist could hope to release; Cohens weary utterances Im ready, my Lord are delivered in that fathomless baritone, and his meditations on mortality are bleak, even for him. The fact that Cohen did in fact die just three weeks after its release makes those themes, although it didnt seem possible at the time, even more poignant. (RO)
38/50 13) Solange When I Get Home (2019)
The decades second great Solange album churns several deformed, jazzy aesthetics including Brainfeeders gloopy electro-funk and the concoctions of DJ Screw into a lustrous cloud of R&B. The result hints at Seventies soul voyagers like Stevie Wonder yet retains its future-shock, celebrating Houston futurism without pandering to fans of its explicitly political predecessor. (JM)
39/50 12) PJ Harvey Let England Shake (2011)
The spooky piano and PJ Harveys keening howls on the opening, title track of her eighth studio album are enough to signal this album isnt a barrel of laughs. Yet her finely wrought arrangements echoing guitars, beautiful melodies and samples that wrongfoot the listener with their cheerfulness form a superb kind of juxtaposition with the albums themes. Across 12 brisk tracks, she casts a despairing eye over everything from the conflict in Afghanistan to the mass casualties of the First World War; she sings in a kind of pleading tone, all the while knowing that humans are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. (RO)
40/50 11) Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
West has always been a complicated, divisive, frustrating sort of genius. Never is that more on display than on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a maximalist, genre-crushing album that looks both outwards and inwards self-aware even in its most crowing moments it breaks apart the myth of the American Dream. The system broken, the school is closed, the prisons open, he sings on Power, one of the best protest songs of the century. Later, he adds, They say I was the abomination of Obamas nation/ Well thats a pretty bad way to start a conversation. So far, West has yet to write anything half as sharp about Trumps nation. (AP)
41/50 10) Robyn Body Talk (2010)
Robyns magnum opus barely even charted when it was first released at the dawn of the decade. Its almost a compilation album of the three great EPs she released in one year, Body Talk Pt 1, Pt 2 and Pt 3. But, nearly 10 years on, it is rightly one of the most influential pop albums of the 21st century. Every popstar tries (and mostly fails) to emulate the silky dance-and-cry beauty of songs such as Dancing on My Own and Call Your Girlfriend. (AP)
42/50 9) A Tribe Called Quest We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
After an 18-year break and within months of co-founder Phife Dawgs death there were mixed expectations for ATCQs return. It arrived in the hubbub of election week, but the group rode into the melee like angry gods on horseback, firing out thunderous rebukes. The hip-hop odyssey delivers Americas existential reckoning, one equally suited to street protests or a recuperative headphone voyage. (JM)
43/50 8) Lorde Melodrama (2017)
When you experience your first heartbreak, you feel as though youre the only person to have ever felt pain like it. On Melodrama, written when New Zealand musician Lorde was 19 and on the cusp of adulthood, she indulges her heartache, grief, and self-pity with both tenderness and reckless abandon. This is pop music at its most precise every synth and drumbeat fired off like a bullet from a sniper but at its most unbound, too, finding brutal, beautiful new ways to sing about the most saturated of subjects: breaking up. (AP)
44/50 7) Kendrick Lamar DAMN (2017)
Kendrick has always been a superb storyteller, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN is his odyssey, an album where he presents evidence of his greatness via a series of challenges: tests of loyalty, will, faith and perseverance. Its an epic punctuated by schizophrenic changes in pace and track structure; all the while Kendrick raps as though he doesnt need oxygen, and you realise his greatest battle has never been with his fans, or another rapper hes competing against himself. (RO)
45/50 6) D’Angelo Black Messiah (2014)
After hit album Voodoo, DAngelo almost died by various means, including addiction and a car crash. Fifteen years on, its follow-up arrived suddenly one Christmas: a grungy, deathly reanimation of the sexy, Soulquarian R&B he helped pioneer. Its #BlackLivesMatter-referencing lyrics reveal a man renewed yet still fluttering in the crosswinds of passion and vulnerability. (JM)
46/50 5) Beyoncé Lemonade (2016)
When footage leaked of Solange Knowles hitting and kicking Jay Z in an elevator at the 2014 Met Gala, word was that the rapper had cheated on his wife, and was receiving the full force of her sisters wrath. Two years later, Beyoncé seemed to confirm the affair as only she could: not with a statement, but with an astonishing concept album and accompanying 65-minute film. Dipping into genres as though theyre a dressing-up box, the singer traverses the whole spectrum of emotions as she grapples with the betrayal: My lonely ear pressed against the walls of your world, she sings on opener Pray You Catch Me. Suck on my balls/ Ive had enough, she sings on Sorry. (AP)
47/50 4) Frank Ocean Channel Orange (2012)
A few days before this albums release, Frank Ocean released a Tumblr post where he spoke about how, aged 19, he fell in love with his friend, a boy. At the time, many interpreted the letter to mean Ocean was coming out as bisexual, when in fact he has never felt a need to put a label on his sexuality. Channel Oranges ever-shifting nature the lolloping bass and his meanderings between that exquisite falsetto and richer timbres is a beautiful statement about the paradoxes we can find in our own identity. (RO)
48/50 3) Lana Del Rey Born to Die (2012)
Its easy to forget that before Lana Del Rey came along back when Billie Eilish was barely in double figures lo-tempo sad-pop was not the chart-hogging phenomenon it is today. Born to Die, a minimalist masterpiece, languid and lachrymose, changed that. The month of its release, a shaky performance on SNL prompted naysayers to write the singer off as a flash-in-the-pan, but the album full of beauty, gloom and strange subservience had staying power. As did Del Rey. (AP)
49/50 2) Solange A Seat at the Table (2016)
Solanges third album is so meticulous, so modernist in its approach to space and structure, that early listens could feel like walking admiringly around an exhibition. Then the lights go out, and a distant scream draws you into the shadows. Anguish is the true pitch of this quiet masterpiece, yet its impossibly graceful: an R&B battle cry of black art against white supremacy. (JM)
50/50 1) Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
By 2015, Kendrick Lamar was already a grandmaster stylist. But with To Pimp a Butterfly, the Compton rapper became a cultural institution, as if summoned by the decades converging flash points. There was the murmur of creeping fascism, the roar of a re-energised black rights movement, and its roots in racist police shootings broadcast and protested across an infernal social media landscape.
This all collided with a resurgent jazz sensibility in rap brass, blue notes, manic freedom, melancholy primarily via LA beat scene luminaries Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. Each contributes to this modern classic, as despairing and murky as it is lucid and fireball bright. Centrepiece Alright is now a civil rights anthem, but To Pimp a Butterfly plays less like a statement than a bad dream: conflicted introspection, vexed empathy and political irreverence meet pitch-black humour that jolts you awake, with the sense that without this music, wed be lost. (JM)
1/50 50) Nils Frahm Spaces (2013)
Nils Frahms music feels most alive when youre witnessing it in concert, so it makes sense that Spaces, a collection of field recordings made over two years, is his most immersive and dynamic. The shifting energy is due to how no single performance is ever the same; the one constant is the German composers joy in creating sound, and the spaces in between. (RO)
2/50 49) Bill Callahan Dream River (2013)
I have learnt, when things are beautiful, to just keep on, confides Callahan on the most laconic and nuanced album of his career. Warm grains of flute and fiddle run through the rich country soul. Masterful, minimalist storytelling guides us through summers spent painting boats and long nights in hotel bars. (HB)
3/50 48) Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Twelve years after Arctic Monkeys released a debut album that shook the British rock scene out of its doldrums, the Sheffield boy wonders came up with this: a concept album about a luxury lunar resort that surgically removed the blues influences on AM and replaced them with lounge jazz and absurdist lyrics. It upset fans who wanted more of the same, and yet, frontman Alex Turners musical and lyrical meanderings mark one of the boldest moves by any rock band in recent memory. (RO)
4/50 47) Richard Dawson Nothing Important (2014)
Richard Dawson was once a heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter, but by 2014, the Geordies outré folk had made him Britains leading avant-bard. On his breakthrough LP, malevolent instrumentals bookend a pair of 16-minute epics, bending from the ambitiously autobiographical title track to The Vile Stuff, a delirious tale of a boozy school trip gone awry. (JM)
5/50 46) Julia Holter Have You in My Wilderness (2015)
Refreshing as summer rain, the avant-garde and occasionally difficult Californian artists fourth album sees melodies splashing merrily from her keyboard. Her pretty, literate vocals spin playful mysteries of faceless lovers in raincoats and strange women on remote shores. Its lucidity! Holter teased. So clear! A ludic, lucid dream of a record. (HB)
6/50 45) Sky Ferreira Night Time, My Time 2013
Sky Ferreira did it her way. After years of label disputes about image and musical direction, the Californian finally decided to put her own modelling money towards financing her debut record, 2013s Night Time, My Time. And what a record it is: melding Eighties pop with alternative rock, it brims with a wild vivacity, as squelching synths come up against gnashing guitars, vulnerable lyrics and often distorted vocals. Everything is Embarrassing, produced by Dev Hynes, is one of the songs of the decade. (PS)
7/50 44) Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls (2012)
Combining rumbustious soul-rock with swampy blues grit, this four-piece from Athens, Alabama, were one of the most exciting sounds of 2012 thanks to their humdinger of a debut album. Gutsy and unrefined, Boys & Girls is indebted to a bygone era but somehow feels fresh. Its underpinned by powerhouse frontwoman Brittany Howards astonishing voice capable of both a piercing falsetto or a guttural roar. Barack Obama would subsequently invite the band to play at the White House. (PS)
8/50 43) Stormzy Gang Signs & Prayer (2017)
When the documentarians of the future make films about the UK in the 2010s, you can bet theyll put Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr on the soundtrack. The charismatic grime MC is bursting with all the self-aware anger, humour, confusion, vulnerability and creativity of his generation in multicultural urban Britain. (HB)
9/50 42) Todd Terje It’s Album Time (2014)
After a run of spellbinding singles, the Norse disco maverick released this synthesis of the frivolous and cinematic: an album so casually virtuosic it seemed to have dropped out of an alien supercomputer. From crate digger space-funk to dance floor ecstasy (and a Bryan Ferry feature), Its Album Time is endlessly replayable: a perfectly formed confection that requires no sequel. (JM)
10/50 41) Big Thief Two Hands (2019)
Theres a kind of telepathy that develops when a band spends as much time together as Big Thief. The indie-rock bands second album in the space of five months (the first being UFOF), was described as the earth twin and, indeed, they sound utterly grounded to each other, and to their surroundings in the arid Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, near the Mexico border. In contrast to her fragile performance on UFOF, here Adrianne Lenker sings in lusty whoops and calls on Forgotten Eyes, while Not, the records dark, brooding soul, caterwauls with feedback screeches and a merciless, two-minute guitar solo that leaves you simultaneously devastated and enthralled. (RO)
11/50 40) Christine and the Queens Chaleur Humaine (2014)
On her electropop-laden debut the UK release of which meanders between French and English Heloise Letissier explores the lonelinesses and triumphs of being queer. On Saint Claude, she steals glimpses of a feminine boy being mocked on a Paris bus, too ashamed to step in. On Tilted, she is newly defiant. I am actually good, cant help it if were tilted. (AP)
12/50 39) James Blake James Blake (2011)
Inspired by the icy altitudes of Joni Mitchells open-tuned confessionals, the dubstep producer took singer-songwriting into a compelling new landscape of minimalist clicks and autotuned emotion. He sang of testing sounds/ For the deaf and the forest cold and now describes his sparse, graceful debut as a fractured diary reflecting a lack of something. (HB)
13/50 38) Skepta Konnichiwa (2016)
In 2016, the UK was in chaos. The EU referendum produced a shock result, David Cameron resigned as prime minister, and the arguing began, as a new harder-right politics emerged. The future felt bleak. In the midst of all this, Skepta always wary of institutions poured gasoline over the whole mess and lit a match. Konnichiwa is an album heavy with contempt for authority; a sizzling brew of jungle, UK garage and dancehall into which he pours all of his anger, frustration, fear and suspicion. (RO)
14/50 37) Bon Iver Bon Iver (2011)
Where 2008s For Emma, Forever Ago was an exercise in sparse, solipsistic introspection, Justin Vernons follow-up is the sound of a man setting himself free and fully embracing the depths of his imagination. Less hermetically sealed than his debut, it’s exquisite in every way, with Vernons soulful falsetto woven into a gorgeous patchwork of jazz, folk, ambient and electronica. He would add more autotune to his voice on later albums; here its just perfect. (PS)
15/50 36) Ane Brun When I’m Free (2015)
Theres a glorious elasticity of both sound and spirit to the Norwegian singer-songwriters seventh album. Gone is the feathery folk of her early releases as she flings open the doors to big timpani, hip hop rhythms and liquid Eighties bass lines. Lyrically, she celebrated the suffragettes and her own possibilities in the face of chronic illness. (HB)
16/50 35) Jamie xx In Colour (2015)
A solo album from The xxs most elusive member was the subject of rumour for a good few years; the reality was better than fans could have hoped for. In Colour is a lovingly crafted tribute to the rave; a kaleidoscope of beats and pulsing synths that stitch together the many moods you can find on the dancefloor, from the ecstasy of a drop to the melancholy of knowing the night must, at some point, come to an end. (RO)
17/50 34) Mitski Be the Cowboy (2018)
Upon the release of Be the Cowboy, Mitski described how she had f***ed with the form, almost in ways that make me uncomfortable hardly surprising for an artist whose songs pivot between lullaby-like calm and reckless, scuzzy urgency. Her fifth album sits to the left of just about every box you might try to put it in, those signature distorted guitars joined by bright, bold synths, organs and show-tune pianos. Lead single Nobody, with its almost aggressive vulnerability, is a masterpiece. (AP)
18/50 33) Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour (2018)
Three albums in, Kacey Musgraves worried that falling in love with her husband would affect her music. I was a little wary, she told The Independent last year. I was like, Man, I wonder if Im gonna be able to write. She neednt have worried. With synths and Daft Punk guitar licks added into the mix, her fourth album, which she dubbed cosmic country, is rich and ambitious with a subtle, psychedelic gloss, winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. (AP)
19/50 32) Björk Vulnicura (2015)
For three decades, Björk has weathered professional belittlement, abuse and tragedy, always reiterating herself in song, as if it were normal to absorb so much. On Vulnicura, recorded amid a scrappy breakup, the Icelandic virtuoso snapped. Monstrous ballads meet shattered beats and siren strings, a cyclone propelled by the wisdom of age. When the dust settles, she sounds reborn. (JM)
20/50 31) Marianne Faithfull Negative Capability (2018)
A breathtakingly brave and graceful testament from the ultimate survivor of patriarchal rock. Romance and realism, love and fear are held in perfect tension as the 71-year-old conjures shimmering myths of ye olde England, then tells a friend: I do understand why you want no more f***ing treatment. (HB)
21/50 30) These New Puritans Field of Reeds (2013)
With 2010s Hidden, These New Puritans fashioned dancehall and medieval heraldry into pop overtures. They re-emerged with something improbably subtle: a dreamscape shorn of excess pomp, beats and even consonants, with Jack Barnetts voice remade as an instrument. Amid ineffable neoclassical, his shy croak elevates the record, the sound of a doomed romantic awash in the music of the heavens. (JM)
22/50 29) Anohni Hopelessness (2016)
Released before Trumps election and the Brexit vote, there was a dark prescience to this gleefully disruptive blast of electronica. Anohni jettisoned the gorgeous chamber pop which had brought her critical acclaim to make a radical ecofeminist wake-up call about the horrors of the violent patriarchy, drone warfare and global warming. (HB)
23/50 28) Joanna Newsom Have One on Me (2010)
Newsoms third album an elaborate, six-sided odyssey whose musical palette blends harp, tambura and kaval with drums and electric guitars heralded a noticeable change in her voice. The removal of vocal cord nodules had shaved the edges off its trill, and its new deeper, fuller sound suited an album as intricate and aching as this. I found a little plot of land/ In the Garden of Eden, she sings on one of its best tracks, 81, seemingly poised on the edge of religious reverence. It was dirt, and dirt is all the same. (AP)
24/50 27) Fatoumata Diawara Fatou (2011)
Why did you cut the flower that makes me a woman? sings the Malian artist on Boloko, the first African song to address female genital mutilation. Immigration and forced adoption are also challenged on a culture-shifting debut that brings a rare sweetness to the protest genre. The sensual power of Diawaras lullsome voice and her shimmering guitar patterns remain hypnotic. (HB)
25/50 26) Arca Arca (2017)
As deconstructed club music became a buzzword, electronic artists considered how to reassemble the pieces. One pitch for how that might sound somehow futuristic yet familiar came from Venezuelan producer Arca. The Björk and FKA twigs collaborators third album relaunched her zero-gravity sound world with a secret weapon: the bruised, disarmingly operatic voice of an angel in hell. (JM)
26/50 25) David Bowie Blackstar (2016)
On his 69th birthday, two days before his death, David Bowie released perhaps the most extreme album of his career. Blackstar is more alien than Ziggy; as inscrutable as the deepest corners of the universe. He refuses to go quietly, whether making a joyous racket on Tis a Pity She Was a Whore or adding eerie buzzes and whines to album closer I Cant Give Everything Away where, faced with the nearness of his own death, Bowie engages in a final tussle with his own myth. (RO)
27/50 24) Adele 21 (2011)
Earlier this year, Adele announced that she had split from her husband Simon Konecki. While some sympathised, others rejoiced at the brilliant break-up album that was surely on the cards. Bunch of f***ing savages, she joked in response to those gleeful fans. 30 will be a drum n bass record to spite you. Cruel though it was, there was a reason for the gleeful reaction Adele sings of heartbreak like nobody else. And never better than on 21, a sad, soulful masterpiece which on these shores is the best-selling album of the century. (AP)
28/50 23) Daft Punk Random Access Memories (2013)
The French electronic pioneers brought funk back for the summer of 2013 with an album drawing heavily on the sounds of the Seventies and Eighties. Pretty much everything you need to know is in the opening salvo Give Life Back to Music; Daft Punk tend to pop up at times where other artists are grasping frantically for something new. Random Access Memories restarted the party with good old-fashioned craftmanship and Le Dafts undiluted love for what they do. (RO)
29/50 22) Lana Del Rey Norman F***ing Rockwell! (2019)
It is striking that Lana Del Rey the greatest artist of her generation creates art full of meaningful observations about men and women that are deeply unfashionable outside of an Esther Perel podcast. Del Rey desires to be desired; she likes it when her man makes her feel like a child; she “wants to die”. The longing for unconsciousness is still present in NFR (“Im the void,” she sings on “Mariners Apartment Complex”) but her most playful record to date is as close to a celebration of her world-conquering status as you are ever likely to hear. (PS)
30/50 21) Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Tiptoeing to the bleeding heart of Stevens relationship with his schizophrenic, alcoholic mother, this is an album that faces difficult truths with hushed grace. The featherlight folk acquires a remarkable bioluminescence, as the artist finds hope in signs and wonders, sea lion caves in the dark. (HB)
31/50 20) Rihanna ANTI (2016)
ANTIs botched rollout Rihanna was teasing the record for years before a leak prompted a hasty free release seems strangely fitting for an album as joyfully scattershot and unrefined as this. Dark dancehall sounds flirt with hip hop and R&B, as the Bajan singer embraces her roots and slyly rebels against the pop tropes du jour. (AP)
32/50 19) Arcade Fire The Suburbs (2010)
Having released arguably the Noughties defining rock album in Funeral, the Montreal six-piece began this decade with a record bathed in nostalgia. Loosely inspired by frontman Win Butler and his brother Wills childhood on the outskirts of Houston, The Suburbs has much in common with Bruce Springsteens Born in the USA, with its themes of familial responsibility and personal crises. The sound is expansive; there are lyrical and musical motifs throughout. If 2007s Neon Bible was a little portentous and po-faced, this album offers moments of levity in tracks such as the shimmering synth-pop masterpiece “Sprawl II”. Nothing theyve done since has been as good.
33/50 18) St Vincent Strange Mercy (2011)
St Vincent, AKA Annie Clark, has a tagline for each of her albums. This one, her third, was housewives on pills, though that does little justice to a record that marries uncomfortable intimacy with a cool detachment, its obtuse stories of grief, loss and lust told through angular art-rock, frenzied guitar solos and bold melodies. (AP)
34/50 17) Nick Cave Ghosteen (2019)
When his 15-year-old son died in 2015, Cave thought public grieving would be impossible. But he found unexpected relief in sharing his feelings with his fans. This ambient double album plays like a warm cloud of solace: direct about the agony and inevitability of loss, in awe of the love that helps us survive it. (HB)
35/50 16) Taylor Swift Red (2012)
Red is the last album Swift released before it became impossible to discuss her work without mentioning the narrative around her as a person, not just an artist. Her turn of phrase already impressive for an artist so young improves immeasurably from opener State of Grace and leads the listener to the greatest song of her career to date: All Too Well. The analogies and references are less spelt out, too. Then theres the song structure, the way these songs unfurl as she dissects with scientific scrutiny the most intimate details of a relationship, in order to find out where it all went wrong. Red shows Swift with a newfound confidence and at times, weariness that can only come with experience. (RO)
36/50 15) Frank Ocean Blond (2016)
Brilliantly confounding, Blond keeps the spotlight fixed firmly on its creators voice. Tracks are stripped of any unnecessary embellishment, anything that might distract from Oceans hypnotic musings on love, sex and death. Every day counts like crazy, he sings on Skyline To few lyrics capture quite so well the suffocating feeling of being dragged through life at breakneck speed. Blond is far less cohesive than its predecessor, Channel Orange, but does that really matter? Life is messy and confusing; Ocean makes all of it sound beautiful. (RO)
37/50 14) Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker (2016)
A passing comment in a New Yorker profile about being ready to die forced Leonard Cohen to tell fans that reports of his imminent death had been hugely exaggerated. Yet the album he was promoting, You Want It Darker, is as powerful a last testament as any artist could hope to release; Cohens weary utterances Im ready, my Lord are delivered in that fathomless baritone, and his meditations on mortality are bleak, even for him. The fact that Cohen did in fact die just three weeks after its release makes those themes, although it didnt seem possible at the time, even more poignant. (RO)
38/50 13) Solange When I Get Home (2019)
The decades second great Solange album churns several deformed, jazzy aesthetics including Brainfeeders gloopy electro-funk and the concoctions of DJ Screw into a lustrous cloud of R&B. The result hints at Seventies soul voyagers like Stevie Wonder yet retains its future-shock, celebrating Houston futurism without pandering to fans of its explicitly political predecessor. (JM)
39/50 12) PJ Harvey Let England Shake (2011)
The spooky piano and PJ Harveys keening howls on the opening, title track of her eighth studio album are enough to signal this album isnt a barrel of laughs. Yet her finely wrought arrangements echoing guitars, beautiful melodies and samples that wrongfoot the listener with their cheerfulness form a superb kind of juxtaposition with the albums themes. Across 12 brisk tracks, she casts a despairing eye over everything from the conflict in Afghanistan to the mass casualties of the First World War; she sings in a kind of pleading tone, all the while knowing that humans are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. (RO)
40/50 11) Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
West has always been a complicated, divisive, frustrating sort of genius. Never is that more on display than on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a maximalist, genre-crushing album that looks both outwards and inwards self-aware even in its most crowing moments it breaks apart the myth of the American Dream. The system broken, the school is closed, the prisons open, he sings on Power, one of the best protest songs of the century. Later, he adds, They say I was the abomination of Obamas nation/ Well thats a pretty bad way to start a conversation. So far, West has yet to write anything half as sharp about Trumps nation. (AP)
41/50 10) Robyn Body Talk (2010)
Robyns magnum opus barely even charted when it was first released at the dawn of the decade. Its almost a compilation album of the three great EPs she released in one year, Body Talk Pt 1, Pt 2 and Pt 3. But, nearly 10 years on, it is rightly one of the most influential pop albums of the 21st century. Every popstar tries (and mostly fails) to emulate the silky dance-and-cry beauty of songs such as Dancing on My Own and Call Your Girlfriend. (AP)
42/50 9) A Tribe Called Quest We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
After an 18-year break and within months of co-founder Phife Dawgs death there were mixed expectations for ATCQs return. It arrived in the hubbub of election week, but the group rode into the melee like angry gods on horseback, firing out thunderous rebukes. The hip-hop odyssey delivers Americas existential reckoning, one equally suited to street protests or a recuperative headphone voyage. (JM)
43/50 8) Lorde Melodrama (2017)
When you experience your first heartbreak, you feel as though youre the only person to have ever felt pain like it. On Melodrama, written when New Zealand musician Lorde was 19 and on the cusp of adulthood, she indulges her heartache, grief, and self-pity with both tenderness and reckless abandon. This is pop music at its most precise every synth and drumbeat fired off like a bullet from a sniper but at its most unbound, too, finding brutal, beautiful new ways to sing about the most saturated of subjects: breaking up. (AP)
44/50 7) Kendrick Lamar DAMN (2017)
Kendrick has always been a superb storyteller, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN is his odyssey, an album where he presents evidence of his greatness via a series of challenges: tests of loyalty, will, faith and perseverance. Its an epic punctuated by schizophrenic changes in pace and track structure; all the while Kendrick raps as though he doesnt need oxygen, and you realise his greatest battle has never been with his fans, or another rapper hes competing against himself. (RO)
45/50 6) D’Angelo Black Messiah (2014)
After hit album Voodoo, DAngelo almost died by various means, including addiction and a car crash. Fifteen years on, its follow-up arrived suddenly one Christmas: a grungy, deathly reanimation of the sexy, Soulquarian R&B he helped pioneer. Its #BlackLivesMatter-referencing lyrics reveal a man renewed yet still fluttering in the crosswinds of passion and vulnerability. (JM)
46/50 5) Beyoncé Lemonade (2016)
When footage leaked of Solange Knowles hitting and kicking Jay Z in an elevator at the 2014 Met Gala, word was that the rapper had cheated on his wife, and was receiving the full force of her sisters wrath. Two years later, Beyoncé seemed to confirm the affair as only she could: not with a statement, but with an astonishing concept album and accompanying 65-minute film. Dipping into genres as though theyre a dressing-up box, the singer traverses the whole spectrum of emotions as she grapples with the betrayal: My lonely ear pressed against the walls of your world, she sings on opener Pray You Catch Me. Suck on my balls/ Ive had enough, she sings on Sorry. (AP)
47/50 4) Frank Ocean Channel Orange (2012)
A few days before this albums release, Frank Ocean released a Tumblr post where he spoke about how, aged 19, he fell in love with his friend, a boy. At the time, many interpreted the letter to mean Ocean was coming out as bisexual, when in fact he has never felt a need to put a label on his sexuality. Channel Oranges ever-shifting nature the lolloping bass and his meanderings between that exquisite falsetto and richer timbres is a beautiful statement about the paradoxes we can find in our own identity. (RO)
48/50 3) Lana Del Rey Born to Die (2012)
Its easy to forget that before Lana Del Rey came along back when Billie Eilish was barely in double figures lo-tempo sad-pop was not the chart-hogging phenomenon it is today. Born to Die, a minimalist masterpiece, languid and lachrymose, changed that. The month of its release, a shaky performance on SNL prompted naysayers to write the singer off as a flash-in-the-pan, but the album full of beauty, gloom and strange subservience had staying power. As did Del Rey. (AP)
49/50 2) Solange A Seat at the Table (2016)
Solanges third album is so meticulous, so modernist in its approach to space and structure, that early listens could feel like walking admiringly around an exhibition. Then the lights go out, and a distant scream draws you into the shadows. Anguish is the true pitch of this quiet masterpiece, yet its impossibly graceful: an R&B battle cry of black art against white supremacy. (JM)
50/50 1) Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
By 2015, Kendrick Lamar was already a grandmaster stylist. But with To Pimp a Butterfly, the Compton rapper became a cultural institution, as if summoned by the decades converging flash points. There was the murmur of creeping fascism, the roar of a re-energised black rights movement, and its roots in racist police shootings broadcast and protested across an infernal social media landscape.
This all collided with a resurgent jazz sensibility in rap brass, blue notes, manic freedom, melancholy primarily via LA beat scene luminaries Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. Each contributes to this modern classic, as despairing and murky as it is lucid and fireball bright. Centrepiece Alright is now a civil rights anthem, but To Pimp a Butterfly plays less like a statement than a bad dream: conflicted introspection, vexed empathy and political irreverence meet pitch-black humour that jolts you awake, with the sense that without this music, wed be lost. (JM)
Langmaid left the band acrimoniously in 2012. La Rouxs second album, the aptly named Trouble in Paradise, came out two years later. The record was an eloquent, elegant piece of work, but it didnt exactly make a dent in the charts, and the trouble wasnt over. Jackson started making a third album, but once again, I just found myself in situations where I felt slightly manipulated. A panic attack mid-holiday was the final straw; she realised she needed to change everything. She left her label, ditched the record, broke up with her girlfriend of 10 years and started over. 
The result is Supervision, which shes releasing under her own label, Supercolour Records. Its a slinky, soulful record with distinct George Michael vibes and a more organic sound than anything shes done before. Writing it was a breeze, says Jackson, because there was nothing standing in my way. She made most of it at her kitchen table, with only a guitar, a bass and an old computer, and found the constrictions strangely liberating. That lack of choice was a great thing. One of them would always fill the gap I wanted it to fill.
She decided to stop overthinking the lyrics, too, and some of what she came out with surprised her. On the languid yet jittery Do You Feel, the first song she wrote for the record, she sings, Do you feel like a man in the morning/ but you feel like a woman at night? Dont you realise its all just nothing? 
Jackson has always had a Bowie-esque androgyny about her, all quiffs and patterned trouser suits, and says she believes there are at least four or five genders. But she doesnt really care which one people use to describe her. I couldnt give a f*** if somebody mistakes my gender, she says, because Im not that petty. I dont care if somebody calls me giraffe, sir, madam, boy, child, binary, non-binary. I couldnt give a f***. Im not gonna get offended, because I know what I am. And I feel like thats the place that we need to work to. Not this place of, I can only be OK with myself if a stranger labels me correctly. Im confused by that. But maybe its because Ive never been through certain things that other people have been through.
Ive never been misgendered, so I havent been through those things either, I say. Ive been misgendered. I dont care. I got called sir three days ago by a delivery guy. And then they look at me for more than two and a half seconds and theyre like, Oh, sorry, I thought it was a bloke then. Im like, Its fine, I didnt cut my hair and dress like this so everyone could think I was Gwyneth Paltrow. I am making some choices here. I take responsibility for it.
Those choices, as Jackson puts it, led to speculation about her sexuality from the word go. Look back at old interviews and you will see her toiling with how open to be. Everyone just thinks Im a raging lesbian and I want to see everyones boobs, she said in 2009. Sorry, Im not. A year later, she said, I can appreciate other women. Beyoncé is beautiful. But I find men or women sexy. Im not saying Im bisexual, Im just sexual. When an interviewer asked her if she had swung both ways, she said, Not necessarily in practice, in theory, before adding, I wouldnt say even if I had.
Throughout this time, she had a girlfriend. When I suggest that the repeated, fading refrain on Automatic Driver After Id waited so long to find you/ Why did I let myself run and hide you? might be an allusion to that, she doesnt disagree. But shes still irked by the obsession people had with her sexuality. 
I was 21, she says, and I was like, Ive only just realised Im in love with my best mate, can you f***ing chill out? Can you leave me alone? I wasnt ready to be on a pedestal of like, I represent all gay people. I just wasnt ready to say that.  
I didnt cut my hair and dress like this so everyone could think I was Gwyneth Paltrow: Jackson says she does not care that shes been misgendered (Andrew Whitton)
She struggled, too, with the idea that she should put herself in a box. People made out like I was really backwards about it, but if we have to state it, its almost like having to state that youve got a disease or something. I swear to God, labelling yourself creates segregation. It drives me mad. The gay community are dying for you to label yourself, and Im so confused as to how they think thats helpful. Its where Ill always have friction with some part of the gay community, even though Im a f***ing gay person. How does that make any sense?
I understand her point. Nobody should feel pressured to label themselves if they dont want to. But as someone who grew up poring through interviews, looking for someone to identify as queer so I would feel less alone, I also understand why people looked to her for hope. 
Yeah, thats totally valid, she says. I guess, it took me so long to identify as gay, but it wasnt a hard transition for me. It was like, Oh, Im in love and they love me back. So I was never looking for somebody else that was talking about being gay. But I can properly understand, especially if you knew you were gay from the age of 12 or 13, that by the time you were 16 youd be like, I need to f***ing read about some gay people. But everybody knows what I am. Its not like its hidden. Its not like everybody thinks Im your average straight girl. I just dont see the point of a label. Im called Elly. My name is fine. Thank you. 
A few minutes later, though, she circles back to the topic and concedes that it wasnt just that. She had seen other musicians be open about their sexuality from a very early stage, and it had affected their careers. When her straight friends would go to shows by gay artists, theyd report back that they had felt unwelcome because they were so in the minority (which is probably how the queer people at those shows felt just about everywhere else). I was really overly paranoid that my whole show would just be full of gay women, she says. And that it would just become a gay scene thing. I dont mind if theres 50 per cent this, 50 per cent that, but I just didnt want it to be lent totally straight and I didnt want it to be lent totally gay. I think thats what drove me to not talk about this stuff for a long time.
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Obviously now Ive realised, God you were a bit weird about it, she adds. You definitely were a bit weird about it. Its not a f***ing big deal. And maybe its easier to talk about now because it is 10 years later. You cant take that for granted. Why do I feel so much more comfortable talking about this now? Well, youve been through s*** loads and everythings moved on in a really big way. 
In every way, Jacksons ready to move on. As the release of her first album free from the constraints of a major label approaches, she is equal parts anxious and upbeat. Doing everything herself from fiddly production tweaks to ordering neon paint for music videos has taken its toll. But its not as stressful as being pushed into things because somebody else owns your record and they own your time. 
The other day, someone messaged her on Instagram to ask why she wasnt selling her first two albums on her website. Think about it, she says. I dont own them. I dont own the rights to them. Theyre not mine. They might as well not have my name on them. Polydor could sell them, but they wont, because theyd rather that just went in the bin. The less well I do the better, for them. I laugh. No, seriously.
Now shes a free agent, Jackson can just be herself. Its like, shackles are off, she says. I feel so much more relaxed about being La Roux. I just feel like I can be me now, and Im not bothered about anything else. I just couldnt give a f***. 
Supervision is released on Friday 7 February