Our 55 favorite musical releases of 2010

At the end of each year, after everyone's weighed in on their favorite releases, the overall critical consensus is always interesting. Invariably, a number of titles consistently crop up on countless lists (ahem, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). But while you'll find many of those acclaimed albums represented in our year-end wrap-up, they're interspersed with a slew of others we found compelling. And those picks are often the most intriguing, the very reason that lists such as this are ultimately worth perusing. For better or worse, here's what we loved in 2010.

Agalloch, Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore). In the mythical hinterland where black metal, post-rock and experimental prog intersect, Agalloch's Marrow of the Spirit employs everything from searing blastbeats to ghostlike strings in its quest to harness nature's own inner rhythm. Sylvan, symphonic, and simply epic. Jason Heller

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge). This band had it all this year: number-one album, sold-out Madison Square Garden, the love of bloggers and soccer moms. Once the shining prodigy of indie rock, the Arcade Fire did arenas better than the Boss or U2 in 2010. No excuses. And what did the group choose to write this coronation album about? Ambivalence, of course. — Kiernan Maletsky

The Bad Plus, Never Stop (E1 Entertainment). After playing together for a decade, the Bad Plus has clearly mastered its craft. Never Stop — the trio's first album of all original compositions — finds the players in exceptional shape, with brilliant performances throughout. Here's hoping that the Bad Plus never stops making music like this. Jon Solomon

Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part Two — Return of the Ankh (Motown). Erykah Badu, she of the head-wrap constituency, is surprisingly subtle on the second installment of her New Amerykah series. With inward glances and evaluation of life and society, Badu offers up a poignant account of her evolution as a woman. "Umm Humm" is the low-key hidden gem on the joint. Ru Johnson

The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar). A brilliant synthesis of classic rock, dream pop and psychedelia, Roaring Night captures a confident sense of hope in the face of danger. With perhaps the most descriptively appropriate album title of the year, the Besnard Lakes take a creative leap forward by writing songs that are stirring, moving and electrifying. Tom Murphy

Best Coast, Crazy for You (Mexican Summer). Part Nirvana, part Lesley Gore, Bethany Cosentino's Best Coast came out on the top of the lo-fi pop heap. While Crazy for You's diary lessons merely danced around the trenches dug by Liz Phair seventeen years ago, Cosentino's stoner self-deprecation filled a need. Plus, she can sing: The record is light on reverb, bereft of vocoder and, most important, empty of bullshit. Bree Davies

Pat Bianchi, Back Home (Doodlin Records). After sharpening his chops in Denver for years, jazz organist Pat Bianchi is back in his home state of New York and playing with jazz heavies like Lou Donaldson and George Coleman. On Back Home, Bianchi more than proves that he's got the skills to play with legends, especially on the fiercely burning take on Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation." — Solomon

Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam). With features from Too $hort, Cee-Lo and George Clinton, this album is excellent, and best played in its entirety. Chock-full of great lyrics, catchy hooks and bass-heavy production — Andre 3000 makes a producing cameo on "You Ain't No DJ" — Sir Lucious proves that Big Boi is one of the greatest. — Johnson

Brian Jonestown Massacre, Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? (A. Records). Not content to repeat their past musical glories, Anton Newcombe and company made the kind of record that alienated many of their died-in-the-wool fans and confirmed the worst suspicions of their critics. Fortunately, this playful hodgepodge of drone, hypnotic Eastern rhythms, post-punk and stark synth rock is as strong as any previous Jonestown effort. — Murphy

Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer (Radiculture/Elektra). On The Lady Killer, which features the most captivating single of the year ("Fuck You"), Cee-Lo Green sings the paint off the very walls over a decidedly retro backdrop. The ATLien has turned in one of the most soulful albums of the year. Letting his mellifluous tones lead the way, Cee-Lo gives his best performance on "I Want You." — Johnson

J. Cole, Friday Night Lights. For a rapper without a full-length album, J. Cole sure knows how to churn out the hits. The Roc Nation signee uses his raspy voice to rock over progressive and futuristic beats with thoughtful lyrics, such as those heard on tracks like "See World," and he keeps the party going with the Drake-assisted "In the Morning." — Johnson

Coliseum, House With a Curse (Temporary Residence). After helping inspire a new wave of raw, jagged hardcore/metal crossover, Coliseum veers left on its latest full-length. Enlisting members of Jawbox and Rachel's — not to mention old friend and fellow Kentucky native Will Oldham — the band infuses House With a Curse with a haunted mansion full of noise. — Heller

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