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30 Best Albums of 2010

Kanye’s ‘Fantasy’ conquered reality; the Black Keys locked into a groove; Arcade Fire burned down the suburbs

In 2010, Kanye's Fantasy conquered reality, the Black Keys locked into a groove and Arcade Fire burned down the suburbs. Read on for our obsessively curated list of the very best albums of the year.

Written by Jon Dolan, David Fricke, Will Hermes, Melissa Maerz, Jody Rosen, Rob Sheffield and Jonah Weiner.

21

Big Boi, ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’

Def Jam

The OutKast rapper's solo debut is a nasty, future-funk odyssey, done the way George Clinton used to do it: stretched-out grooves, cavernous bass boom, gutbucket guitar and thick electro thump, all held together by Big Boi's whiplash rhymes and pimper-than-thou style.

Jody Rosen's Original Review

20

Neil Young, ‘Le Noise’

Reprise

Turbulent, distorted — and one of the most intimate albums Young has ever made. Most of Le Noise is jagged, solo electric guitar, but even when Young goes acoustic on "Love and War," his lifelong determination — "There've been songs about love/I sang songs about war/Since the back streets of Toronto" — is plenty loud.

David Fricke's Original Review
Gallery: Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield and More at the Bridge School Benefit
Rolling Stone's Best of 2010: Albums, Singles, Movies and more

17

Beach House, ‘Teen Dream’

Sub Pop

Victoria Legrand's sexy vocals are hazy and androgynous, like a stoned late-night heart-to-heart in which no one's sure who is sleeping where. Beach House sharpened their sound and hooks on their third album — what's surprising is that it only made their music more mysterious, more magical.

15

The National, ‘High Violet’

4AD

These moody Brooklyn rockers could have coasted with a repeat of their 2007 breakthrough, Boxer, but Violet is riskier and craftier, opening up their poetic guitar reveries with a late-Beatles sense of experimentation. Matt Berninger sings "Bloodbuzz Ohio" like a barfly who thinks you can't tell how terrified he is.

Will Hermes' Original Review
Video: The National Live at Bonnaroo 2010
Rolling Stone's Best of 2010: Albums, Singles, Movies and more

14

Robyn, ‘Body Talk’

Cherrytree/Interscope

Body Talk began as two sugar- shot EPs; by the time the full-length dropped, it felt like a greatest-hits package. The Swedish diva's beats and tunes smoke her American competition. So does her wit: See "Fembot" and the secretly poignant "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do."

Christian Hoard's Original Review

11

The Dead Weather, ‘Sea of Cowards’

Warner Bros./Third Man

This isn't so much an LP as it is a rush of metallic-blues spasms — and the best excessive-rock fun of the year. Jack White is the back-seat guy here — a singing drummer — but he leads by example: His Bonham-like force propels the zigzagging guitars and Alison Mosshart's Gothic-siren incantations.

David Fricke's Original Review

10

LCD Soundsystem, ‘This Is Happening’

DFA/Virgin

James Murphy convenes his team of New York punk-funk troopers for a heavy-duty breakup album, tunneling out of the emotional wreckage with the help of Nancy Whang's keyboard glimmers and Pat Mahoney's monster drums. Murphy testifies about adult love gone bad ("I Can Change") over a host of electronic dance styles, while the goofball anthem "Drunk Girls" offers a motto for casual lovers everywhere: "I believe in waking up together."

Jody Rosen's Original Review
Rolling Stone's Best of 2010

9

Eminem, ‘Recovery’

Aftermath/Interscope

"Let's be honest, that last Relapse CD was ehhh," Eminem rapped on Recovery, which turned out to be the post-rehab victory lap that the schlocky Relapse wasn't. Dominating radio, Eminem was back on top in 2010, but he was also older and wiser: a scared dad who'd been to drug-addict hell and made it back with his rhyme skills intact. When he pledges to stay sober on the hit "Not Afraid," you know the man is hellbent serious.

Jody Rosen's Original Review
Gallery: Eminem: A History in Photos

8

Robert Plant, ‘Band of Joy’

Rounder

Keep waiting, Jimmy Page — he's not coming back. Plant followed up his dreamy roots-romp Raising Sand (2007) with an album that was edgier and rootsier: Plant and his bandleader, guitarist Buddy Miller, pursue ancient songs and modern tangents with a black-light glow on this psychedelic exploration of blues and country, covering Los Lobos, Townes Van Zandt, the slow-core band Low and public-domain gospel as if they are all stops on the true road to nirvana.

Will Hermes' Original Review

7

Drake, ‘Thank Me Later’

Cash Money/Universal

Arriving after three years of mixtapes, guest spots and merciless hype, the debut LP from the Canadian actor- turned-rapper delivered the goods with sumptuous beats, airtight rhymes and nuanced introspection. Drake's sleepy, soulful flow gave his morning-after reflections on the high life an undercurrent of irony. He's the definitive star of hip-hop's tortured post-Kanye era: a guy who can't quite decide if "I've been up for four days gettin' money" is a brag or a burden.

Jody Rosen's Original Review

6

Vampire Weekend, ‘Contra’

XL

Contra was the album where Vampire Weekend discovered they could do just about anything: dubby, slo-mo gorgeousness, clattering pseudo-punk, African guitar riffs, choral swells, songs that rhyme "horchata" with "Aranciata" and "Masada." Ezra Koenig wrote dense lyrics about young love and Third World strife, but no matter how meditative he got, his melodic skills never failed him: Rarely do songs this lushly produced feel so buoyant or seem to zip by so quickly. By the time you marvel at the spacy ballad "I Think UR a Contra" or get "Your sword's grown old and rusty/Burnt beneath the rising sun" (from "Giving Up the Gun") stuck in your head, you realize these guys are as much about pure pleasure as anything else.

Video: Vampire Weekend Talk Contra

5

Jamey Johnson, ‘The Guitar Song’

Mercury

What does Jamey Johnson keep under all of that hair? Songs. Nashville's gruffest and grittiest star turns out to be its most reliable traditionalist, a Music Row pro who can write a song for every emotional season. Johnson pulled out a whole slew of them — 25, clocki