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James Reed's top 10 CDs of 2010

Who rocked the music world this year? Globe critics choose their favorite 10 albums -- and highlight some noteworthy surprises

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By James Reed
Globe Staff / December 19, 2010

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BEACH HOUSE “Teen Dream’’ “Fever Dream’’ might have been a more fitting title for this hypnotic album by the Baltimore duo of singer-pianist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally. On Beach House’s third release, all their early promise blossomed into one of the year’s most luminous listens, at once terrestrial and transcendent.

JANELLE MONÁE “The ArchAndroid’’ After a few false starts, a star was born this year when Monáe released her fearless debut that thumbed its nose at everything from intergalactic funk and 1960s soul to Tin Pan Alley pop and classical chamber music. The ears hardly knew what was hitting them, but it was always intoxicating.

ARCADE FIRE “The Suburbs’’ Never ones to shy away from making a grand statement, these Montreal rockers shed their indie status with a bold album that commented on our notion of home. Even the Grammys took notice, nominating “The Suburbs’’ for best album of the year at the forthcoming ceremony.

KANYE WEST “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’’ Love him or leave him, West rebounded from a year of personal strife (don’t mess with Taylor Swift, y’all) to make an album so unflinching, it utterly rewrote the rules for modern hip-hop records. His secret? Nothing — not genre, not outsize ambition, not heart-on-sleeve emotion — is off limits.

MR. SISTER “O, Sinister Force’’ It’s a shame few people, outside a small circle of family and friends, heard this bewitching debut from local singer-songwriter Amelia Emmet. With a voice you’d expect to hear on a front porch in Appalachia, Emmet couched her dark night of the soul in the analog vestiges of American folk music.

THE BLACK KEYS “Brothers’’ No matter how cranked the guitars were, “Brothers’’ wasn’t so much a rock record as a modern blues lament. With singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach channeling Howlin’ Wolf, this Ohio duo finally cracked wide open into the mainstream with an album that felt like both a throwback and a contemporary classic.

FRAZEY FORD “Obadiah’’ With songs as slippery as mercury and a voice to match, this former member of the Be Good Tanyas struck out with a solo debut that suggested an unlikely hybrid: an acoustic R&B folk and country album. A glimmer of Lucinda Williams here, a touch of Al Green there.

PHOSPHORESCENT “Here’s to Taking It Easy’’ Making a tribute album to Willie Nelson last year obviously rubbed off on this Brooklyn band of heartbreakers led by Matthew Houck. “Here’s to Taking It Easy’’ sounded like one of Nelson’s seminal ’70s country records, right down to the bourbon-and-barbiturates haze.

BEST COAST “Crazy for You’’ Hey, remember that summer in California when you were 17 and broke up with your boyfriend and took refuge at the beach listening to Connie Francis and the Ronettes on your iPod all day? Yeah, well, Best Coast made a soundtrack for you.

TWIN SHADOW “Forget’’ As Twin Shadow, onetime Boston resident George Lewis Jr. found his calling as an otherworldly troubadour. The spirit of Arthur Russell hovered over these cinematic songs, which didn’t know if they wanted to break your heart or drag you onto the dance floor.

BIGGEST SURPRISE DIDDY-DIRTY MONEY “Last Train to Paris’’ In a year where Eminem and Kanye West were hip-hop’s heavy hitters, Sean “Puffy’’ Combs took a U-turn and released a sly and slinky R&B album inspired by European dance pop.