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The best (and worst) albums of 2010

OW’s music critics pick the best from a banner year in sound

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Justin Strout

The best:

1) Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy  A masterpiece of personal importance and sonic beauty, Kanye West’s fifth album bounces right back from the depths of his 808s snake pit of despair, this time with West as the ultimate aural auteur. Sure, “Power” is a helluva single. Yes, Nicki Minaj destroys with her Slick Rick-channeling appearance on the intimidatingly loaded “Monster” and West’s partners in crime (Bon Iver, mostly, along with a bizarre lineup of random voices from Elton John to poet Gil Scott-Heron) elevate Fantasy to more of an experience than an album. But it’s West alone – always alone, even when surrounded by people – who has earned the right to control his environment entirely. The result is a rhapsodic trip of attrition and defiance.

2) Tim Kasher: The Game of Monogamy A member of Saddle Creek’s Cursive and the Good Life, Kasher exceeded 
expectations with his debut solo album. Monogamy is a sweeping yet accessible 
requiem for soured relationships and no-madic romanticism. Set apart from Cursive’s impenetrable musicianship and the Good Life’s ironic pop, Kasher introduces soul-searching simplicity without compromising his notorious affection for slippery rhythms and skyscraping melodies.

3) Hurts: Happiness Appearing out of nowhere in slick suits and slicker hair, U.K. synth duo Hurts seem as though Tom Ford’s A Single Man underwent some kind of musical mitosis and plopped out this remarkable album of respectfully contained, emotional inner explosions. Standout tracks like “Silver Lining” and “Blood, Tears & Gold” pull off the seemingly impossible: They dance coldly, calculatingly around the Euro-disco sand trap of drama queenhood, picking their moments to taunt their bombast until it comes out and plays. When it does, well, this is what it sounds like when men in Prada gloves cry.

4) S.K.I.P: Until the Very End  With all the apocalyptic imagery surrounding its release (and contained within its accompanying comic books), I expected some fiery doom and gloom from S.K.I.P’s years-in-the-making outing. Far from it, Until the Very End is a smile-inducing venture, a top-to-bottom feel-good album, even when the MC’s message – “Everything’s going to hell,” essentially – is just the opposite. Conjuring sensibilities and sounds from genres such as ragtime, blues, acid jazz and dusty soul, it’s an endlessly danceable soundtrack for the world’s farewell party. Raise a toast to going out in style.

5) Bruno Mars: Doo Wops and Hooligans  His hooks are annoying, his lyrics are mostly excruciating and he somehow crammed in a coke bust in between owning the Billboard charts and killing it on SNL, but somewhere in there, Hawaiian singer-songwriter Bruno Mars recorded a pretty durable pop album. In addition to writing and singing on smashes like his own single, “Just the Way You Are,” B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You,” Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” and Cee-Lo Green’s ubiquitous “Fuck You,” Hooligans added an element to pop culture this year that was even stranger than Big Boi’s talkbox or Wavves’ Funicello punk: nouveau-Ritchie Valens earnestness. From “Grenade” to the hilariously impulsive and chiming “Marry You” and the thrillingly double-time, Cee-Lo-assisted “The Other Side,” Mars proves himself the Lionel Richie of now – someone whose songs we’ll chuckle at years from now, even as we sing every word.

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