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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.

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Elton John and Leon Russell, The Union

Decca

Two rock giants, one largely forgotten, rekindle a friendship and make music that ranks with their best. Producer T Bone Burnett delivers his most spectacular production in memory, filled with shining steel guitar, chortling brass and gospel-time choirs. Ultimately, it's Russell's voice that shines brightest, drawing on the entire history of American popular music in its canny, vulnerable, knowing croon.

David Fricke's Original Review
Feature: Leon Russell: The Master of Space & Time Returns

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The Black Keys, ‘Brothers’

Nonesuch

The duo boil it down on their best record yet: vivid tunes stripped bare and rubbed raw, with hot splashes of color and hooks popping through like compound fractures. "Howlin' for You" smears gnarly blues over a glam beat cribbed from Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2," while a cover of Jerry Butler's broken-hearted hit "Never Give You Up" takes Dan Auerbach's falsetto-flashing soulman persona to the next level. It's rock minimalism pushed to the max.

David Fricke's Original Review

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Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’

Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West made music as sprawlingly messy as his life. When he wasn't feuding with Matt Lauer or bugging out on Twitter, Kanye was building hip-hop epics, songs full of the kind of grandiose gestures that only the foolish attempt and only the wildly talented pull off. The more he piled on — string sections, Elton John piano solos, vocoder freakouts, Bon Iver cameos, King Crimson and Rick James samples — the better the music got. Never has Kanye rhymed so hilariously ("Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh?/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus") or been so insightful about his relationship-torpedoing faults. From the bracing prog-rock of "Power" to the spooky grandeur of "Runaway" to the shape-shifting "Hell of a Life," he made all other music seem dimmer and duller. Is the album dark? Sure. Twisted? Of course. But above all, it's beautiful.

Rob Sheffield's Original Review
Gallery: Kanye West's Career Highs and Lows

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