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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.

27

Peter Wolf, ‘Midnight Souvenirs’

Verve

The first album in eight years from the J. Geils Band singer proves nothing can kill Wolf's charm, musicality and youthfulness. Wolf is the passionate impresario of his own musical world, sharing his love of classic country, soul and R&B with anyone who cares to listen. His enthusiasm is contagious on a series of duets: "The Green Fields of Summer" is a striking acoustic song where Wolf and Neko Case exude stark, autumnal beauty, and "It's Too Late for Me," is a lighthearted country lullaby about growing old that could have been written in 1955, with Wolf and Merle Haggard sounding like old running buddies quietly congratulating themselves for outracing the sunrise yet again.

Anthony DeCurtis' Original Review
Feature: Peter Wolf Picks the Best Live R&B Songs

26

Yeasayer, ‘Odd Blood’

Secretly Canadian

The second album from these Brooklyn synth wizards overflows with art-pop nuggets ("Ambling Alp"), Afro-beat updates ("Mondegreen"), and tropical party jams ("O.N.E.") There's nothing Yeasayer touch that isn't transformed by their mix of sweetness, swirling psychedelia and sturdy pop hooks.

Video: Yeasayer's "O.N.E." Video

25

Superchunk, ‘Majesty Shredding’

Merge

The Chapel Hill punk lifers helped jumpstart the indie revolution of the Nineties, but unlike most of their peers, they didn't burn out or get cynical — they just waited until they had a great album's worth of songs. Their first album in nine years matches their 1994 classic Foolish, full of frantic pogo-along energy and Mac McCaughan's Fogerty-style wiseass wisdom. It's a lesson in musical and emotional commitment — knowing what you do, knowing the people you do it for, and then doing it to death. Long may they 'chunk.

 

Jon Dolan's Original Review
Rolling Stone's Best of 2010: Albums, Singles, Movies and more

24

Maximum Balloon, ‘Maximum Balloon’

DGC/Interscope

TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek is indie-rock's most visionary producer — the Phil Spector of 21st century Brooklyn. His solo project is a great headphone record that's also staggeringly groovy, with soulful guest vocals from TVOTR's Tunde Adebimpe, Karen O, and David Byrne, and a blend of gothic synths and sleek beats. It's the sound of a studio rat loosening up and basking in the discotheque's glitterball glare.

Will Hermes' Original Review
Feature: TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek on His Poppy New Disc

23

Elizabeth Cook, ‘Welder’

31 Tigers

The Florida singer-songwriter writes rhymes as witty and cutting as Kanye's ("If I wake up married, I'll have to annul it/Right now my hands are in his mullet"). "Yes to Booty" (chorus: "When you say yes to beer/you say no to booty") is a honky-tonk anthem about not wanting to sleep with drunk dudes, but country's 21st-century answer to Roger Miller also gets dead serious: see the moving "Heroin Addict Sister."

22

Spoon, ‘Transference’

Merge

Britt Daniel is the best kind of minimalist: the kind with endless hooks in his pocket and endless tricks up his sleeve. On Transference he builds elliptical, indelible songs from off-kilter drum patterns, cheap organ squeals, vocal harmony shards, and zipgun-taut guitar riffs. There's a new-ish infatuation with trippy, dubby studio effects, and Daniel tosses them around like a high-strung Lee Perry. This is head music for folks who get bored quick.

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