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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.

29

The Roots, ‘How I Got Over’

Def Jam

In 2010, the Roots kicked ass five nights a week as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and teamed up with John Legend for the Seventies-soul tribute Wake Up! But their most impressive accomplishment this year was How I Got Over, the best album of their two-decade-long career. It's an expansive and thrillingly funky album about hard times that tosses in street reportage and gospel uplift — as well as dashes of indie rock from guests including Joanna Newsom, Monsters of Folk and members of the Dirty Projectors.

Nathan Brackett's Original Review
Video: Up Past Midnight With The Roots: Hanging With Jimmy Fallon’s New House Band

28

My Chemical Romance, ‘Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys’

Reprise

Emo's reluctant princes follow The Black Parade with a magnificent album about vampires, rock stars, and rock-star vampires. It's a blazing, pissed-off record — but it's also MCR's poppiest disc yet. Amid synth bursts, Gerard Way slings glam-punk raps ("Planetary (Go!)" and mighty singalong hooks ("Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)"), sounding like Lady Gaga's goth-punk brother.

Melissa Maerz's Original Review
Video: My Chemical Romance Perform Tracks From Their New Album

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

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, clocking in north of 105 minutes — for his double-disc fourth album: acoustic confessions and rugged boogie blues, big weepers and grim reapers, cover tunes and novelty ditties, not to mention "California Riots" and "Playing the Part," a pair of fiercely funny, unrepentantly redneck swipes at the frou-frou blue states.

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

4

Arcade Fire, ‘The Suburbs’

Merge

Arcade Fire don't do anything small — so leave it to the Montreal collective to make an album of vast, orchestral rock that locates the battle for the human soul amid big houses and manicured lawns. The Suburbs is the band's most adventurous album yet: See the psychotic speed strings on "Empty Room," the Crazy Horse rush of "Month of May," the synth-pop disco of "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." Win Butler and his wife, Régine Chassagne, sing about suburban boredom, fear of change and wanting to have a kid of their own — always scaling their intimate confessions to arena-rock levels and finding beauty wherever they look.

Rob Sheffield's Original Review
Photos: Arcade Fire Rock Madison Square Garden

3

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

2

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

1

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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