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Originally published January 1, 2011 at 7:05 PM | Page modified January 3, 2011 at 11:00 AM

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Top 10 pop-music albums of 2010

Popular-music critic Jonathan Zwickel picks his top 10 albums for 2010, which range from Flying Lotus' "Cosmogramma" (No. 1) to Four Tet's "There Is Love In You" (No. 10).

Special to The Seattle Times

Playlist | Top 10 pop-music albums of 2010

Four Tet: "Love Cry"

Vampire Weekend: "White Sky"

Big Boi: "Shutterbugg"

The Head and the Heart: "Down in the Valley"

Arcade Fire: "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains"

Yeasayer: "Madder Red"

Truckasauras: "Dom P on Your Backneck"

Caribou: "Odessa"

Kanye West: "Runaway"

Flying Lotus: "Computer Face / Pure Being"

A superbly written song pushes music forward as much as the most cutting-edge sound experiment. This year's 10 best albums balanced craftsmanship with innovation. Each answers a question: Either "what's good for music?" or "what's good for me?" And you too, maybe. Here they are, in descending order.

Four Tet, "There Is Love in You" (Domino): Warm and enveloping, Four Tet's organic electronica is romantic dance music for late nights and/or an introspective soundtrack to early mornings. For music as "auteured" as this (Four Tet is really just one Kieren Hebden, bedroom musician), versatility is a virtue.

Vampire Weekend, "Contra" (XL): The NYC quartet remains both accessible and (metaphorically) offbeat. Their sophomore album furthers their oblique take on pop music and offers several unforgettable cuts.

Big Boi, "Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty" (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam): Authority counts for a lot in hip-hop, especially when paired with a sharp sense of humor and a keen eye for detail. Big Boi's got all three, not to mention well-placed cameos by hard-hitting newcomers.

The Head and the Heart, "The Head and the Heart" (self-released): The most promising debut from Seattle since Fleet Foxes' in 2007. Pop chops bound by folksy harmonies and foot-stomping passion make for cross-generational, cross-genre appeal. Unsubstantiated rumor of the moment: They're signing to Sub Pop.

The Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs" (Merge): The biggest indie band on the planet has something to say (about consumerism, spirituality, war and alienation; nothing trivial in Arcade Fire's world), and they say it loudest on their third record. Sinks in slowly, sticks around forever.

Yeasayer, "Odd Blood" (Secretly Canadian): Future-retro electro-pop panoramics scuzzed up by bubbling, unyielding weirdness, all in service to deft, deliberate song writing. Powerful, inspired, fun as hell.

Truckasauras, "Quarters," (Journal of Popular Noise/Fourthcity): Kirkland's favorite sons come bigger and deffer with their sophomore record, a dizzying, often hilarious spin on hip-hop, rock, techno and pop. Best song title of 2010: "Dom P on Your Backneck."

Caribou "Swim," (Merge): Like Four Tet, Caribou's take on electronic dance music is all soft curves and warm-blooded melodies. Caribou's jams are more succinct and song-oriented but still utterly unpredictable, like the one with harp and Tibetan singing bowls providing the beat.

Kanye West, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam): Ignore the fact that Kanye is the most intriguing figure in popular culture; he's at the pinnacle of his creative life. "Fantasy" isn't perfect but it's damn close: wildly ambitious, deeply personal, startlingly universal. And it bangs.

Flying Lotus, "Cosmogramma" (Warp): Nobody makes music like Flying Lotus. The musician born Steven Ellison conducts cosmic-beat symphonies so idealized, so glamorous, so stimulating they're like auditory porn. His is a post-genre genre all its own, informed by the spiritual jazz of his late aunt Alice Coltrane, the left-field hip-hop of Timbaland, the laboratory electronica of Aphex Twin and Ellison's own visionary artistry. "Cosmogramma" is a masterpiece, the height of creativity in 2010.

Jonathan Zwickel:

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