The Best Albums of 2010

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  • Publish Date: January 11, 2011

Kanye West has the best-reviewed album of 2010

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High Scoring Albums by Year
(Minimum 7 Reviews)
2010 93 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
by Kanye West
2009 89 Merriweather Post Pavilion
by Animal Collective
2008 90 London Zoo by The Bug
2007 90 From Here We Go Sublime by The Field
2006 94 Savane by Ali Farka Toure

We have known for several months now which album would be crowned Metacritic's best of 2010, but we may as well make it official: Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 93 is the first rap album to top our year-end chart since 2000's OutKast gem Stankonia (or The Streets' Original Pirate Material in 2002, which is arguably of a similar genre). It is also the highest-scoring album on Metacritic since 2006, and, for good measure, it's the runaway consensus pick of music critics for the best album of 2010 in our compilation of year-end top 10 lists.

On Metacritic, we consider "great" albums -- those we label as having "universal acclaim" from critics -- to be those with a Metascore of 81 or greater. In 2010, a total of 82 out of 657 qualifying albums (new studio recordings with seven or more reviews), or 12.5%, could be considered "great" in this way. That's an improvement over a disappointing 2009, when only 9.4% of albums had such great acclaim. How were these highest-scoring albums distributed throughout the year? September, May, and April were the best months for great music, as we can see below.

Great Albums (Metascore ≥ 81) by Month of Release, 2010

Here are the best albums of the year (in Metacritic's database) as determined by their Metascores -- an average of all reviews given by professional critics at the time of each album's original release. Note that live albums, reissues, compilations, and the like are excluded from this chart.

The 40 Best-Reviewed Albums of 2010
  Album Label Metascore Users
1 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
by Kanye West
Def Jam 93 8.3
The rapper's previous high score was an 88 for his 2004 debut album, College Dropout.
2 The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
by Janelle Monae
Atlantic 91 8.9
Her first EP earned Monáe a Grammy nomination; this wildly eclectic debut LP -- and it's ultra-catchy lead single "Tightrope" -- resulted in two more.
3 The Guitar Song
by Jamey Johnson
Mercury 91 8.1
The Alabama-born country artist's 25-track double-LP is divided into a darker "Black Album" and more uplifting "White Album."
4 Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
by Big Boi
Def Jam 90 8.9
The much-delayed solo debut for OutKast's Big Boi proved to be worth the wait, impressing critics even more than Speakerboxxx.
5 Ali & Toumani
by Ali Farka Toure And Toumani Diabate
World Circuit 89 9.2
Recorded in 2005, the second posthumous release for legendary Malian guitarist Touré was one of several collaborations with kora player Diabaté.
6 Airtight's Revenge
by Bilal
Plug Research 87 9.3
The soul singer's first release since 2001 comes four years after Interscope shelved his intended sophomore set, Love For Sale.
7 Silent Movies
by Marc Ribot
Pi Recordings 87 n/a
The contemporary jazz guitarist's latest album is inspired by film scores, though it wasn't actually composed to soundtrack any one movie.
8 Body Talk
by Robyn
Interscope 87 8.9
The Swedish pop artist's fifth album shares some tracks with her 2010 mini-albums Body Talk Pt. 1 and Body Talk Pt. 2.
9 The Suburbs
by Arcade Fire
Merge 87 8.8
The Montreal band is turning out to be as consistently great as Radiohead; three albums in, their Metascores are 90 - 87 - 87.
10 Apollo Kids
by Ghostface Killah
Def Jam 86 7.8
One of the final albums released in 2010, this ninth solo LP for the Wu-Tang member is his best-reviewed album since 2006's Fishscale.
11 I See The Sign
by Sam Amidon
Bedroom Community 86 8.6
The American folk singer's third albums features reworkings of both traditional tunes and more contemporary songs by the likes of R. Kelly.
12 Halcyon Digest
by Deerhunter
4AD 86 8.2
A slightly poppier sound emerges from the beautiful haze on the Atlanta indie band's fourth album, resulting in their best reviews to date.
13 Cosmogramma
by Flying Lotus
Warp 85 8.6
The year's best-reviewed electronica album is a challenging, inventive, and highly rewarding example of the genre.
14 Spiral Shadow
by Kylesa
Season of Mist 85 7.5
The Georgia band's fifth LP is the highest-scoring metal album on our 2010 list.
15 How I Got Over
by The Roots
Def Jam 85 8.3
Just another in a long string of high-scoring releases for The Roots, HIGO features collabs with Joanna Newsom and My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
16 Assume Crash Position
by Konono No. 1
Crammed Disc 85 7.5
If you buy only one album of likembé-heavy Congolese electronica this year, make it Assume Crash Position.
17 Have One On Me
by Joanna Newsom
Drag City 85 7.9
The harpist's ambitious third release spans three discs and 18 tracks, and managed to match the acclaim for her previous album, Ys.
18 High Violet
by The National
4AD 85 8.7
Debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200, High Violet is the biggest commercial breakthrough yet for a band that has been firing on all cylinders for years.
19 Before Today
by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
4AD 85 8.0
This latest collection of oddball pop songs from the Los Angeles-based Pink is reminiscent of 1980s (and earlier) pop in production and instrumentation.
20 This Is Happening
by LCD Soundsystem
DFA/Virgin 84 8.2
Technically LCD's worst-reviewed LP to date (by two points), This Is Happening continues one of indie rock's most impressive success streaks.
21 Treats
by Sleigh Bells
Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T. 84 8.2
Signed to M.I.A.'s label, the Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells split the difference between aggressive noise and catchy electro-rock on this debut album.
22 Love Me Back
by Jazmine Sullivan
RCA 84 9.4
This is the second solo album for the R&B songwriter who has penned tracks for the likes of Christina Milian and Jennifer Hudson.
23 Ten
by Jason Moran
Blue Note 84 n/a
Jazz pianist and composer Moran -- the recipient of a 2010 "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation -- celebrated 10 years of recording with Ten.
24 Forget
by Twin Shadow
4AD 84 8.5
This New Wave-y debut album from George Lewis Jr. (recording under the name Twin Shadow) was produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear.
25 Wake Up The Nation
by Paul Weller
Yep Roc 84 7.6
Nation is one of the best-reviewed solo releases for the former frontman of The Jam and Style Council.
26 New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
by Erykah Badu
Motown 83 8.4
The R&B artist's warmer, more personal sequel to 2008's New Amerykah Part One scored equally big with critics.
27 Grinderman 2
by Grinderman
Epitaph 83 8.0
Nick Cave's garage-blues side-project is turning into an increasingly viable stand-alone outfit; both of Grinderman's releases have scored an 83.
28 My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
by Swans
Young God 83 8.0
Singer/guitarist Michael Gira's return to his noise-rock roots -- his first Swans album in 14 years -- was a critical success.
29 Lisbon
by The Walkmen
Fat Possum 83 8.7
Though a bit mellower than previous outings, Lisbon might just be the best expression yet of the New York indie band's distinctive and atmospheric rock.
30 Hidden
by These New Puritans
Domino 83 9.5
This expansive sophomore set from the British art-rock four-piece added a full orchestra, a choir, sound effects, and more electronics to the mix.
31 Blackjazz
by Shining
The End 83 6.1
If you buy only one album of Norwegian industrial prog metal this year, make it Blackjazz.
32 Swim
by Caribou
Merge 83 8.8
Swim might be Dan Snaith's least immediate and most sophisticated outing of pastoral electronica yet; it's also heavier on techno than prior recordings.
33 Harlem River Blues
by Justin Townes Earle
Bloodshot 83 n/a
The Americana artist (and son of Steve Earle) scored his best reviews to date with this fourth album.
34 Black Noise
by Pantha du Prince
Rough Trade 83 6.8
The third album of minimal techno from Germany's Hendrick Weber includes a guest appearance from Animal Collective's Noah Lennox.
35 Eyes & Nines
by Trash Talk
Trash Talk Collective 83 6.5
Certainly one of the most aggressive albums on this list, Nines is the third release from the Sacramento sludgecore outfit.
36 Blue Sky Noise
by Circa Survive
Atlantic 83 8.6
The Philly prog-rock band's third and best album marks their major label debut.
37 Luck In The Valley
by Jack Rose
Thrill Jockey 83 5.6
This all-instrumental effort for acoustic guitarist Rose (also known as Dr. Ragtime) was recorded shortly before his death last December.
38 The Budos Band III
by The Budos Band
Daptone 83 8.8
Recorded in just two days, the New York group's third album features 11 tracks of instrumental "Afro-soul."
39 Royal Toast
by The Claudia Quintet
Cuneiform 83 n/a
Royal Toast is the fifth album for the experimental post-jazz ensemble led by drummer John Hollenbeck.
40 Teen Dream
by Beach House
Sub Pop 82 7.2
One of the first great albums of 2010, Teen Dream found the Baltimore dream-pop duo far surpassing their two previous records.

Albums released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010 with 7 or more reviews in Metacritic's database were eligible for inclusion. Reissues and other older material (including albums like The Promise that are technically new issues of archival material), EPs, live albums, holiday albums, greatest hits albums, multi-artist soundtracks, and other compilations are excluded. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores are from January 10, 2011.

More bests and worsts

Keeping in mind that it's not entirely fair to compare the Metascore performance of various record labels (since we don't have every title released by every major label in our database), there is still a clear winner for 2010. Hip-hop label Def Jam released three of the 10 highest-scoring albums of the year, and averaged a Metascore of 80 for its 10 major releases in 2010. Here are more of the top-scoring labels from the past year:

Best-Reviewed Record Labels of 2010 (Min. 5 Releases)
Label # in Top 40 * Avg. Metascore
1 Def Jam 4 80.2
2 Rough Trade 1 77.9
3 Anti 0 77.0
4 Merge 2 76.7
5 Rounder 0 76.6

* Number of albums in Metacritic's chart of highest-scoring albums of 2010, above.

If you read the small print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues and other album types were excluded from our Top 40 chart (which is intended to include only new albums with new material). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of 2010:

Best-Reviewed Reissues and Compilations of 2010
Album Label Metascore Users
1 Pinkerton [Deluxe Edition] by Weezer Geffen 100 8.2
2 Exile On Main Street [Reissue] by The Rolling Stones Universal 100 7.2
3 Raw Power [Reissue] by Iggy & The Stooges Sony Legacy 94 8.7
4 The Promise by Bruce Springsteen Columbia 94 6.9
5 The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 by Bob Dylan Columbia 88 9.2

Next, we have a few more of the year's best albums, listed by category and genre. As always, note that when it comes to genres, some (e.g., indie/alternative) are covered on Metacritic with much greater frequency than others (e.g., jazz).

High-Scoring 2010 Releases by Category
Category Top Album Metascore
Country Album The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson 91
Debut Album (Group) Treats by Sleigh Bells 84
Debut Album (Solo) Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi 90
Electronic/Dance Album Body Talk by Robyn 87
Indie/Alternative Album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire 87
Jazz Album Silent Movies by Marc Ribot 87
Live Album Under Great White Northern Lights by The White Stripes 78
Metal Album Spiral Shadow by Kylesa 85
Pop/R&B Album The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) by Janelle Monae 91
Rap Album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West 93
Soundtrack Album Crazy Heart Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Various Artists 79
World Music Album Ali & Toumani by Ali Farka Toure And Toumani Diabate 89
January Release Teen Dream by Beach House 82
February Release Ali & Toumani by Ali Farka Toure And Toumani Diabate 89
March Release New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh by Erykah Badu 83
April Release I See The Sign by Sam Amidon 86
May Release The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) by Janelle Monae 91
June Release How I Got Over by The Roots 85
July Release Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi 90
August Release The Suburbs by Arcade Fire 87
September Release The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson 91
October Release Spiral Shadow by Kylesa 85
November Release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West 93
December Release Apollo Kids by Ghostface Killah 86

Finally, though thousands of truly terrible albums each year never find their way onto Metacritic (because they aren't reviewed in the publications we track), there are always a handful of major releases that leave critics unimpressed. Here are the lowest-scoring 2010 albums in our database.

The Lowest-Scoring Albums of 2010
Album Label Metascore Users
1 Rebirth by Lil' Wayne Cash Money Records 37 3.6
2 United Nations of Sound by RPA & the United Nations of Sound Emi UK/Zoom 37 n/a
3 Memphis Blues by Cyndi Lauper Downtown 45 8.5
4 Eureka by Rooney California Dreamin' 47 n/a
5 Everybody Wants To Be On TV by Scouting For Girls Epic 47 1.4
6 The Beginning by Black Eyed Peas Interscope 48 5.4
7 Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans by Uffie Elektra 48 7.3
8 Streets Of Gold by 3OH!3 Atlantic 48 3.5
9 Can't Be Tamed by Miley Cyrus Hollywood 48 4.4
10 Cardiology by Good Charlotte Capitol 50 7.1

What are your favorites?

What are your picks for the best or worst albums of 2010? Let us know in the comments section below. And don't forget to check out the results of our users poll, in which your fellow Metacritic readers voted Arcade Fire's The Suburbs the year's best album.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (21)

  • Dylan Coughlin  

    Im sorry, but this list is missing one of my favorite albums of the year, a lil ditty I like to call Business Casual. Chromeo at their best, and I dont think anyone really listened to it, because in all honesty I hated the new Kanye Album. It was just normal Kanye, but not auto tuned, and I never really liked Kanye after he stole from Daft Punk. But Business Casual was amazing, and not one song was horrible. Even the worst song on the album, J'ai claquer la porte, is listenable. And the songs even have more meaning then most songs nowadays. This album was the pinnacle of 2010

  • Davide  

    Sorry but... ¡¡¡17 out of 20 are north american bands!!!. A horrible data which totally ruins the fiability of the list.

  • Doug  

    Kanye didn't steal from Daft Punk, he sampled them. They received songwriting credits and, I assume, were paid for the rights to their song.

  • Psychedelic Soul Foo  

    Congrats, Kanye. But I wish he had released it earlier, like before October, so then he would get Grammy nominations for the 2011 awards. Oh well, can't wait for next year...

  • Guestowel  

    Bit of a useless list. I prefer when they publish the top 10s by publication, it gives you a clearer idea of what the best of albums of the year are according to your taste, also weeds out North American bias by including British mags like the Guardian.

  • jayjayjj50  

    "Bit of a useless list. I prefer when they publish the top 10s by publication"

    I assume you know metacritic provides a more detail listing under the " Music critic top ten list". This list is mostly for the people who just want a quick summary and doesnt want see what every publications top ten is.

  • Joonas  

    Authenticity by The Foreign Exchange should be on that list. I guess it hasn't been reviewed enough times on the site.

  • Xavier  

    Weezer deserve that 100

  • The Bat  

    Where is the the Lady Killer or F***k you by Cee lo Green those were both awesome

  • Ryuk  

    Lol at the comment about Weezer. You mean the band who has released the same album for 10 years?

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