This time of year, the arts pages are full of "best of" lists highlighting individual music critics' picks. Helpful, yes, but also overwhelming. In the interests of saving you a little time, here's an aggregated list ranking the year's best-reviewed albums — according to New York, NPR, Paste, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Time — using a weighted scoring system:
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
Influential music website Pitchfork gave Kanye's fifth album the top spot on its best of 2010 list, and the superlatives flowed in from other critics, too. It's the "musical equivalent of a one-handed back handspring," says Claire Suddath at Time, while Paste's M.T. Richards declares Twisted Fantasy no less than "this century's definitive portrait of torment, vanity, self delusion, and pathos." Most importantly, it's "magnificent pop music."
2. This is Happening, LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem's third, and likely final, album was heavy with the influence of 1970s-era Brian Eno and David Bowie, but shot through with the band's scrappy dance-rock sound. The "New York punk-funk troopers" have honed their sound into a "heavy-duty breakup album" with a "host of electronic dance styles," says Rolling Stone. In all respects, says Paste's Rachel Maddux, This is Happening is "LCD's best album." It's a real shame it might be their last — but then, "the coolest kids always ditch the party early."
3. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
The Canadian group says it based this album loosely on the concept of life in the American suburbs, and the "adventurous" result is "vast, orchestral rock that locates the battle for the human soul amid big houses and manicured lawns," says Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield. Agreed, says Andy Beta at Paste. This is "Arcade Fire's most ambitious and concept-driven effort to date."
4. Contra, Vampire Weekend
The New York-based foursome's sophomore effort was "the album where Vampire Weekend discovered they could do just about anything," says Claire Suddath at Time. What they did was essentially more of the same, says Nitsuh Abebe at New York, but that's no bad thing. "The record's New Wave-y pop is so easy to like that you can miss how inventive it is."
5. Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dust, Big Boi
The man better known as one half of rap duo OutKast released a "solo effort as forward-thinking as it was charming," says Nitsuh Abebe at New York. It wasn't what audiences might have been expecting, says Nate Patrin at Pitchfork, nor what Big Boi's record company wanted — in fact, it sat on the shelf for over a year before release. As if to spite the suits, the record sounds "like something lesser artists are going to keep catching up to half a decade from now."