2010's Best Rock Albums

The Greatest Rock Records of the Year

Rock is not one genre but many, and this year's best records demonstrated the music's sonic dexterity. Skim through this list and you'll hear the finest in alt-country, indie-rock, ornate pop, and alt-metal.

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Brandon Flowers - 'Flamingo'

brandon flowers flamingo
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

On his first solo album, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers has made a record that’s both reminiscent of and very different than the work of his regular band. Flamingo has the New Wave energy and pop moves of his Killers records, but it’s an altogether more sonically mature effort. His fans may be disappointed that it doesn’t contain the out-of-the-gate hits they’re accustomed to from him, but your patience will be rewarded with some of his richest songs.

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Stone Temple Pilots - 'Stone Temple Pilots'

Photo courtesy Atlantic.

It seemed pretty much impossible that Stone Temple Pilots would reunite after years of acrimony. But not only did they reunite, they put out a pretty solid comeback album. Stone Temple Pilots heightens the band’s interest in yummy ’70s-style pop-rock, and with the insanely catchy “Between the Lines” leading the way, the new record demonstrated just how much we missed these glam-rockin’ hedonists.

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10 Years - 'Feeding the Wolves'

10 years feeding the wolves
Photo courtesy Total Assault.

On their best album, 10 Years shoot out the expected hard-rock tunes and melodic mid-tempo numbers. But with a major assist from producer Howard Benson, this long-running quartet also figure out how to maximize their songs’ emotional punch. “Don’t Fight It” is an impassioned cry for a departed lover, while “Dead in the Water” is an angry diatribe against religious hypocrisy. What holds Feeding the Wolves all together is a steady, confident skill for accessible, propulsive songwriting.

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Eels – 'End Times'

eels end times
Photo courtesy Vagrant.

Eels frontman E has spent his last two albums exploring the difficulties of making love last. But unlike 2009’s Hombre Lobo, End Times is a starker, more despairing affair, filled with melancholy songs backed with only the sparest of instrumentation. As a result, End Times is a record for dark nights of the soul when it’s just you alone in bed talking to the wall.

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Toadies - 'Feeler'

toadies feeler
Photo courtesy Kirtland.

Toadies worked on the songs for Feeler back in the mid-’90s, but their label wasn’t impressed, and so the record was shelved. This year, the band revisited those tracks, adding some new material along the way. Miraculously, the album doesn’t feel dated, instead pulsing with the anger and vitality we’ve come to expect from this Texas trio.

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Anberlin -'Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place'

anberlin dark is the way light is a place
Photo courtesy Universal Republic.

On Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place, Anberlin very consciously aspire to be a big, sweeping arena rock band in the tradition of U2. That's no easy feat, but the Florida quintet have polished their sound and focused on powerful, accessible guitar hooks. Consequently, the fury of “To the Wolves,” the yearning beauty of “Depraved,” and the towering romantic spirit of “You Belong Here” all work together to capture a band that have mastered the art of blending sonic ambition with sincere, human-sized emotion.

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Band of Horses - 'Infinite Arms'

Photo courtesy Brown/Fat Possum/Columbia Records.

On their third album, Band of Horses fine-tune their formula for woodsy folk-rock jams and back-porch ballads. As warm and inviting as its title suggests, Infinite Arms is the perfect record for quiet mornings spent reflecting on past loves and nagging regrets, but frontman Ben Bridwell’s powerful melodies are there to pick you up so you don’t get too down.

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Hole – 'Nobody's Daughter'

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images.

On the charts, Courtney Love’s comeback album may have been a bit of a flop, but on Nobody’s Daughter the Queen of Hole gets back to the blunt-force honesty and crunchy alt-rock purity of her ‘90s masterwork, Live Through This. Older but not especially wiser, Love realizes she still lives in a world dominated by men, and even if she doesn’t have any answers, she’s bound and determined to make some noise about it.

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The Dead Weather - 'Sea of Cowards'

Photo courtesy Third Man/Press Here.

Sea of Cowards continues in the same vein as the Dead Weather’s first album, Horehound, reveling in its skill at crafting weird, hypnotic little tunes. Jack White and Alison Mosshart do not spend one single second of their sophomore release worrying about hits. Rather, they want to create an album full of the dark sounds that suggest the anxiety and voodoo that make modern life so mysterious and frightening.

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Stone Sour - 'Audio Secrecy'

stone sour audio secrecy
Photo courtesy Roadrunner.

On their third album, Stone Sour strike an excellent balance between accessibility and aggression. Audio Secrecy documents the dissolution of one love story and the beginning of a new one: Lead singer Corey Taylor got divorced and remarried in the last few years, and the agony and ecstasy of those relationships are all over the record.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – 'Beat the Devil's Tattoo'

black rebel motorcycle club beat the devils tattoo
Photo courtesy Ink Tank.

This San Francisco trio have gone through a sonic evolution over their career, deemphasizing their early albums’ shoegazer rock for a more earthy Americana approach of late. On Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club decided to throw together all their influences, producing a record that’s eerie and urgent when it isn’t stark and vicious.

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The Hold Steady – 'Heaven Is Whenever'

hold steady heaven is whenever
Photo courtesy Vagrant.

On the Hold Steady’s fifth studio record, frontman Craig Finn is up to his usual tricks, but with a few new wrinkles. As always, his bar-band rock is exuberant and his short-story lyrics are pitch-perfect, but the Brooklyn sextet’s sound has become both more romantic and more hard-hitting.

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Kings of Leon - 'Come Around Sundown'

kings of leon come around sundown
Photo courtesy RCA.

Southern rock heads to the beach: That's a rough approximation of what Kings of Leon achieved on Come Around Sundown, a confident, polished follow-up to the band's breakthrough album, Only by the Night. While not trying to duplicate their last album's success, the quartet both evolve their sound and stick to their moody alt-rock roots for a relaxed, breezy affair.

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Kid Rock - 'Born Free'

kid rock born free
Photo courtesy Atlantic.

As the album cover of his latest record suggests, Kid Rock is taking it easy and not letting things bother him too much on Born Free, his most melodic and laid-back effort. With guests ranging from Sheryl Crow to T.I., Born Free finds Rock looking for signs of hope amidst the bad news in the world today. His answer to war and recession is good songs, and while that may not cure society's ills, it does make for an engaging record.

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Drive-By Truckers – 'The Big To-Do'

drive by truckers the big to do
Photo courtesy ATO.

Smart, tough, touching and raw, Drive-By Truckers’ The Big To-Do­ is the perfect album for our Great Recession times. This Georgia sextet merge arena-rock, alt-country, and indie-rock into a heady brew for songs about strip-club encounters, bad jobs, murder and the casual heartbreaks that make up too much of everyday life.

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Deftones – 'Diamond Eyes'

deftones diamond eyes
Photo courtesy Reprise.

Can an alt-metal band be thunderously loud, poignantly emotional and ferociously original all at once? If that band is Deftones, absolutely. Inspired by longtime bassist Chi Cheng’s 2008 car accident, which left him in a coma, the California quintet have produced their most articulate and muscular record, one that channels all the highs and lows of life itself. Diamond Eyes came about because of tragedy, but Deftones figured out how to make triumphant music out of their pain.