The best (and worst) of 2010

Kanye West bum-rushed everyone's list this year.

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The best albums

Corban Goble

, Music writer

1

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) The culmination of an uncanny creative period, this was the year's most visceral, unhinged, funny and stimulating pop record. Every superhero needs his theme music! Buy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on iTunes

2

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Before Today (4AD) A lo-fi cult hero went hi-fi, with greater returns than ever. "Round and Round" is a timeless song in an era defined by evanescence. Buy Before Today on iTunes

3

The-Dream, Love King (Def Jam) The-Dream, a.k.a. Terius Nash, hoarded hooks on his third LP, while delivering one of the year's most memorable couplets: "What rhymes with asshole?/Asshole." Buy Love King on iTunes

4

Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me (Drag City) Joanna Newsom's almost-indigestible mega-album is undeniably chill-inducing in spades; "On a Good Day" is a heartbreaker. Buy Have One on Me on iTunes

5

Janelle Mone, The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy) Has there ever been a weirder, stronger, braver debut from a major-label-groomed rising star? Mone channeled Bowie, Michael Jackson, James Brown and more on this epic, sci-fi-tinged triumph. Buy The ArchAndroid on iTunes

6

Das Racist, Sit Down, Man (Mad Decent/Greedhead/Mishka) Call it hashtag rap, joke rap, weed rap or whatever; I'm going to call it how I saw it: the most inventive and clever rap LP of the year.

7

Toro Y Moi, Causers of This (Carpark) Chillwave, on evidence one of music's least-durable genres, at least brought forth Chaz Bundick, whose Causers of This was the first of many good things to come. Buy Causers of This on iTunes

8

Wavves, King of the Beach (Fat Possum) Nathan Williams made his Nevermind, crafting the best pop-punk anthems since Dude Ranch. Buy King of the Beach on iTunes

9

El Guincho, Pop Negro (Young Turks) Perhaps not the follow-up people expected after the more schizophrenic Alegranza, this sterling, stripped-down affair offered blissful Spanish pop augmented with interesting textures. Buy Pop Negro on iTunes

10

Harlem, Hippies (Matador) An infectious rock debut born in a Texas garage. Buy Hippies on iTunes

Sophie Harris

, Music writer

1

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) The best hooks, the most melody, rhymes so snappy you could sing along after one listen and a weird-ass comedy outro from Chris Rock? Yeah, there was a reason this was everyone's favorite album. Including Kanye's. Buy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on iTunes

2

Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL) Taxi cabs, balaclavas, tights draped over the sink: This record sounded like a New York winter—and makes the prospect of a New York winter approximately one hundred times better. Buy Contra on iTunes

3

Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me (Drag City) The singing harpist joked to TONY that she doesn't deliberately try to blow minds when she records. Still, that's what she always does, and this three-CD set contained her most direct and affecting songs yet. Buy Have One on Me on iTunes

4

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge) Of course they weren't gonna let the kids down: Arcade Fire delivers first-pumping anthems and eerie melancholy with its third album, a wildly ambitious opus on urban sprawl. Buy The Suburbs on iTunes

5

Drake, Thank Me Later (Young Money/Universal Motown) The verging-on-obnoxious title was deserved: Drake's debut album dazzles at every turn with its curious, seductive mix of vulnerability and swagger. Buy Thank Me Later on iTunes

6

Phosphorescent, Here's to Taking It Easy (Dead Oceans) Matthew Houck completed his transformation from Alabama troubadour to proper rock star with this country-rockin' groover. Buy Here's to Taking It Easy on iTunes

7

Hot Chip, One Life Stand (EMI) The British electropop outfit gave us its finest record yet, a triumph of sweet beats and hand-on-heart lyrics. Also, a video in which a bald yogi electrocutes a boy band with lightning bolts from his eyes. Buy One Life Stand on iTunes

8

LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening (DFA Records) James Murphy told us he tried to be "less chicken" on this album—accordingly, you got some of his most unguarded singing and intimate lyrics, plus grooves scientifically proved to be irresistible to hips. Buy This is Happening on iTunes

9

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty) Those curious about where Stevens had been these past five years got an answer: having a physical-emotional breakdown of sorts, processing heartbreak, obsessing over an outsider artist named Royal Robertson and writing his most complex, weird and personal album yet. (Let's not even start on the amazingness of the live show.) Buy The Age of Adz on iTunes

10

The Black Keys, Brothers (Nonesuch) The Keys' Blakroc rap-blues collaboration album was great, but it was on Brothers that the Ohio duo really cut loose. Falsetto vocals, swoony organ hooks and shuffling drums made its sixth album a slow grower. Buy Brothers on iTunes

Jay Ruttenberg

, Music writer

1

Home Blitz, Out of Phase (Richie) Resplendently bratty and ramshackle, this tiny Jersey record seemed genuinely inscrutable in a rock era largely drained of mystery. Buy Out of Phase on iTunes

2

Bobby Bare Jr., A Storm, a Tree, My Mother's Head (Naked Albino/Thirsty Tiger) The Nashville scion's LP, elegantly recorded with My Morning Jacket, boasted doleful songs, funny songs and songs in those little-traveled cracks between. Buy A Storm, a Tree, My Mother's Head on iTunes

3

Adam Green, Minor Love (Fat Possum) Melodies poured from this New Yorker, one of the few working artists to fully grasp a central tenet of Leonard Cohen: Sometimes, the smartest songs shouldn't make any sense. Buy Minor Love on iTunes

4

Javelin, No Ms (Luaka Bop) The local duo's debut LP beamed transmissions from some bizarro world's radio waves, where hip-hop retains the cartoonish innocence of 1983. Buy No Ms on iTunes

5

Drake, Thank Me Later (Young Money/Universal Motown) A rapper you can take home to Mom, Drake seemed tailor-made for Obama's America—his feet planted comfortably in several worlds, musically and culturally. Buy Thank Me Later on iTunes

6

Chilly Gonzales, Ivory Tower (Arts & Crafts) A seemingly slight album created to soundtrack a film of the same name, Ivory Tower was secretly sophisticated and occasionally hilarious. "I'm a shrugging moustache wearing a Speedo tuxedo," Gonzales proclaimed in one song's spoken interlude. "Who am I? I am Europe!" Buy Ivory Tower on iTunes

7

Antony and the Johnsons, Swanlights (Secretly Canadian) One of Manhattan's preeminent soul divas unleashed a chilling environmental manifesto. Buy Swanlights on iTunes

8

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) MC Nudnik is nearly as engaging on wax as he is annoying in public. Really, what kind of a man sympathizes with George W. Bush? Buy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on iTunes

9

Mose Allison, The Way of the World (Anti-) The octogenarian pianist had to be coaxed into the studio after a decade away. By all recorded evidence, he had a blast, croaking out songs with mischievous glee. Buy The Way of the World on iTunes

10

The Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards (Third Man/Warner Bros.) Jack White and Alison Mosshart breathed fire on this roaring classic-rock disc—the former's sharpest album recorded without Meg White. Buy Sea of Cowards on iTunes

Hank Shteamer

, associate Music editor

1

Francis and the Lights, It'll Be Better (Cantora) A local piano man opened for the megastars—Drake, MGMT, Ke$ha—and topped them all with this elliptical modern-soul set. Buy It'll Be Better on iTunes

2

Drake, Thank Me Later (Young Money/Universal Motown) Precocious world-weariness mingled with stoned bluster on the year's sturdiest pop-radio warhorse. Buy Thank Me Later on iTunes

3

The Bad Plus, Never Stop (E1) The maverick trio celebrated ten years, proving in the process that you can broaden jazz without watering it down. Buy Never Stop on iTunes

4

Buke and Gass, Riposte (Brassland) Two crafty locals redefined progressive rock as a medium of DIY ingenuity. Buy Riposte on iTunes

5

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) The omnimedia fire-starter deployed his bulging Rolodex in the service of epic psychodrama. Buy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on iTunes

6

Graham Smith, Accept the Mystery (Reesonable) An indie-pop visionary tightened and brightened his game, letting his inimitable wordplay shine.

7

Ludicra, The Tenant (Profound Lore) A coed San Francisco horde issued a withering retort to the increasingly self-important black-metal scene. Buy The Tenant on iTunes

8

Sia, We Are Born (Monkey Puzzle) Robyn may have enthralled the critics, but no one did bubblegum with brains this year better than this Aussie misfit. Buy We Are Born on iTunes

9

Charred Walls of the Damned, Charred Walls of the Damned (Metal Blade) Moonlighting from his Howard Stern day gig, drummer Richard Christy stewarded a subgenre-spanning metal triumph. Buy Charred Walls of the Damned on iTunes

10

Dan Weiss Trio, Timshel (Sunnyside) An outside-the-box drummer located beautiful enigmas within the well-worn piano trio. Buy Timshel on iTunes

Steve Smith

, Music editor

1

Janelle Mone, The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy) The eclectic young nerd-diva's debut album included two of the year's hottest tracks ("Cold War," "Tightrope"), but it was the album's all-conquering sweep that impressed most. Buy The ArchAndroid on iTunes

2

Robyn, Body Talk (Konichiwa) Sweden's pop renegade was hardly the first to advise dancing away the heartache; still, synth-pop and heartbreak have rarely sounded more compatible—or more transcendent. Buy Body Talk on iTunes

3

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL Recordings) A red-blooded concept disc bound by a Civil War theme, this punk epic had a ragged glory like no other rock album issued this year. Buy The Monitor on iTunes

4

Chris Lightcap, Deluxe (Clean Feed) Bassist-composer Lightcap jacked his jazz with rock crunch, funk groove and African lilt on a disc that was sophisticated and satisfying but never merely showy. Buy Deluxe on iTunes

5

Clogs, The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton (Brassland) A beguiling instrumental combo found its voice—actually, voices, including those of Shara Worden and Matt Berninger—for a song cycle steeped in pastoral whimsy. Buy The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton on iTunes

6

James Holden, DJ-KiCKS (!K7) A cop-out to include a DJ mix on a year-end list? Not when it's as inventive, seamless and blissful as this mesmerizing set assembled by experimental-techno producer James Holden. Buy DJ-KiCKS on iTunes

7

Jos James, Blackmagic (Brownswood) A velvet-toned young jazz singer, Jos James notched multiple milestones in 2010, including the release of this slinky, seductive collaboration with hot producers like Flying Lotus and Moodymann. Buy Blackmagic on iTunes

8

Punch Brothers, Antifogmatic (Nonesuch) The sophomore set by prog-grass polymath Chris Thile and his jaw-dropping band was undeniably less ambitious than their debut—which paradoxically made it more immediate and relatable. Buy Antifogmatic on iTunes

9

Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) Rarely has a title seemed more appropriate than the one applied to this bombastic conflation of excess, ego and—somewhere, under it all—human frailty. Buy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on iTunes

10

Buke and Gass Riposte (Brassland) Having upstaged the big bands at the Bang on a Can Marathon in June, this exuberantly creative duo followed with the year's friskiest debut CD. Buy Riposte on iTunes

Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret | The worst everything | Report card

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