Five Albums You Should Be Listening to Right Now: Best of 2010 Edition

32 critics, 147 recommendations, all condensed into one amazing list.

Every week, we ask a titan of the mediasphere to recommend five albums to our readers. This week, we asked them all to vote for their five favorite albums of 2010. Using one very secret formula, a lot of recounts, and the power of democracy, we bring you The Top Five Albums of 2010: 

 Kanye West, My Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West, My Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West lives his life as one large act of performance art. Awards shows, Twitter feeds, appearances on benefits and late-night comedy shows: all become fodder for the decades-long conceptual art project that is the life and times of Kanye West. But My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy, West's return to rapping after the emo-meets-electro-pop of 808s & Heartbreaks, reaffirmed that of all West's gifts, his truest talent lies in making music. West is unique in that he makes albums that angrily demand to be listened to in one piece; here, West takes listeners on a harrowing and exhilarating journey through the triumph and tragedy of fame. "Fantasy" posits West as a rock star for the age of Obama, a hedonist who alternates between self-deprecation and self-aggrandizement. Love him, hate him, in 2010 we couldn't stop listening.
Nathan Rabin, The AV Club

Listen: "Monster"

Kanye West

 

The National, High Violet

The National, High Violet

It can't be fun to make a National record. When I interviewed guitarists (and twin brothers) Aaron and Bryce Dessner about the recording of High Violet, they described the process as a neurotic "tug of war" among the various members (with Aaron and singer Matt Berninger as the primary antagonists) that usually involves one or two "near-relationship-ending fights." Per Bryce, "Every time we make a record, we feel like it's the last record we'll make."  It may suck for them, but you can't argue with the results, especially this time. Here, Berninger pushes the limitations of his chocolate baritone further than he ever has before while the band surrounds him with lush, gorgeous music, adrenalized by Bryan Devendorf's extraordinary, propulsive drumming. There is no single record I listened to more frequently this year than this one.
— Dan Harris, ABC News

Listen: "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

The National

 

LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening

LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening

James Murphy might not have known it at the time, but getting his heart broken would lead to his creating what just might be one of the greatest break-up albums of all time. Here, goofy rave-ups (“Drunk Girls,” “Pow Pow”) rub elbows with tearjerking epics (“All I Want,” “Change”) and the whole thing is as great as any group of recorded songs will be this decade. Hopefully you saw Murphy and Co. on their recent tour, as it sounds like LCD won't be hitting the road again for a long time, if ever. Thankfully, Murphy hasn't firmly refused to make more music. Fingers crossed, people.
— Austin L. Ray, music writer, former editor of Paste Magazine

Listen: "Dance Yrself Clean"

LCD Soundsystem

 

 Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monáe has created a boundary-breaking alternative universe of creativity with her Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society collective. She is one of the most charismatic performers I've encountered — so polished and professional, it makes me question my proclivities towards the ragged, unwashed, and shambolic. Her mesmerizing video for "Tightrope" has two mirror-faced figures reminiscent of the illusive form pursued by Maya Deren in her classic "Meshes of the Afternoon." The connection between these two artists is deep, as Maya Deren's work also created its own alternative universe referencing past artistic movements. In Deren's film Divine Horsemen, she describes a goddess of love who "moves in an atmosphere of infinite luxury, a perfume of refinement. Her arrival pervades the very air." She may as well have been describing Janelle Monáe.
Wendy Fonarow, The Guardian

Listen: "Tightrope"

Janelle Monae

 

The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

We're in one of those rare moments when music obsessives have the same new songs playing in their cars as the soccer moms in the SUVs next to them. It seems like everyone bought this record. I remember the first time I booked Arcade Fire — opening for Unicorns in the small room at Emo's. 250 kids were seeing them for the first time. The crowd exploded — it was like Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. They became one of the most popular bands in the country while on an independent label, with an independent booking agency and manager backing them. All this, while still riding that tightrope between edgy/progressive. It's amazing the same way all three of their records sound new and different, which is a tough thing to pull off when you're under a microscope. Everyone is waiting for them to fuck up... but they never do.
Graham Williams, Fun Fun Fun Fest

Listen: "The Suburbs"

Arcade Fire

Runners up:
Band of Horses, Infinite Arms
The Black Keys, Brothers
Beach House, Teen Dream
Best Coast, Crazy for You 
Broken Bells, The Ghost Inside
Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer
Jónsi, Go
Sleigh Bells, Treats
Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
Yeasayer, Odd Blood
 

Commentarium (21 Comments)

Dec 15 10 - 1:22am
er

should have had sleigh bells and titus andronicus. i think kanye and arcade fire are well enough overexposed at this point.

Dec 15 10 - 9:18am
Blah

Arcade Fire?? Blah.

Dec 15 10 - 12:10pm
LAP

All good albums. @er: both awesome albums, but keep in mind that best-of lists end up being utilitarian; the albums that make the top 5 are the ones that the largest cross section of people will find enjoyable.

Dec 15 10 - 12:29pm
BenReininga

I added in our runners-up. There were lots of albums that many critics loved that just barely missed making the top five. The ten runners-up were tied for sixth and seventh place. (And Titus Andronicus definitely came up)

Dec 15 10 - 1:07pm
alex

@er: Sleigh Bells suck, nuff said.

Janelle Monae ain't that great either. Mediocre list at best.

Dec 15 10 - 1:42pm
Vinegar Bend

I'm now convinced there's some kind of bizarre critical conspiracy to try and convince us Kanye has talent. There's no other explanation for the reviews he's getting.

Dec 15 10 - 6:49pm
Lawrence

Hmm.. I own 3 of the top 5 albums on vinyl, and have 2 signed posters by runner up artists..
Just bought the LCD Soundsystem vinyl last night and listening to it now =P

Dec 15 10 - 8:50pm
JJ87

Where the hell are the Deftones?

Dec 15 10 - 8:56pm
TomAZ

I've seen this done better before, but --
This list sux cause it isn't the same as my list. Anything I don't agree with is wrong and shouldn't be written or published.

Dec 15 10 - 9:28pm
JeezNor

The Gaslight Anthem, you idiots.

Dec 15 10 - 9:36pm
Jen

Wilderness Survival- On Belay Belay On

Dec 16 10 - 10:23am
Bill

LCD Soundsystem was not just best album of the year, but best live show of the year. See them now!

Dec 16 10 - 8:13pm
my opinon

Gayngs-"Related"

Dec 16 10 - 11:12pm
Hank

Um, isn't the common phrase "alternate universe"? Not ALTERNATIVE? But otherwise, it's a nice Maya Deren review.

Dec 17 10 - 12:15am
(((((>;<)))))

Big Boi done it up real big this year - outkast who?

Dec 17 10 - 11:33am
Lawrence

Saw LCD live 3x this year. Absolutely wonderful performance.
James Murphy is amazing live.

Dec 17 10 - 6:45pm
krod

So glad Janelle Monae got a nod. The album is a little overripe in spots but absolutely genius in others.

Dec 19 10 - 1:30pm
supersuper

Bonobo- Black Sands. Bet you haven't even heard it.

Dec 19 10 - 4:49pm
emilylouisee

Mumford and Sons.

Dec 20 10 - 2:21am
Matt

Mumford and Sons and Gaslight Anthems were both good albums, but they certainly weren't great. They will be forgotten pretty quickly. They just weren't that interesting.

Other than that, great list. I would have Titus Andronicus instead of Janelle Monae (which I love, but is very uneven), and I would consider adding The Walkmen. Other albums that shouldn't make the list but should definitely be listened to: Eluvium, Joanna Newsom, No Age.

Dec 22 10 - 2:25am
Angelo Mateo

I would've liked to see some more Canadian spirit up on that list other than Arcade Fire, via Broken Social Scene. Their "Forgiveness Rock Record" album I think shouldve been at least in the top 10.