1. Jenny & Johnny, "I'm Having Fun Now" -- When two musicians in a relationship make an album together, it rarely results in good music; at least that's the stereotype. We think of John and Yoko or the church couple from those "Saturday Night Live" skits.
But Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice blow that stereotype out of the water with these hooky beach tunes that gain lyrical depth upon closer inspection. Lewis' voice -- always a strong suit -- has never sounded more beautiful, her songs have never been better (yes, I'm including her Rilo Kiley albums) and Rice adds a nice vocal counterpart.
"My Pet Snakes" looks back on 2009 as "a bastard of a year," "Big Wave" examines the collapse of the U.S. economy and "Just Like Zeus" -- my favorite song of 2010 -- is pure pop bliss.
2. Brandon Flowers, "Flamingo" -- Fans of The Killers will want to check out this first solo effort from the band's frontman, because frankly it sounds like a new Killers album, starting with the epic opening track "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas."
Marking this as a side project, though, Flowers wanders around more within each song. He's not always aiming for a tight pop hit, and he tries out different song styles, including the folk-rocky "Hard Enough" and "Swallow It." Despite the digressions, the album as a whole calls to mind his hometown of Vegas.
3. Butch Walker and the Black Widows, "I Liked You Better When You Had No Heart" -- In almost show-offy fashion, the talented but under-the-radar Atlanta power popper cranked out his latest disc in just five days. The collection feels effortless, but it also has depth.
The standout is "Pretty Melody," which makes nice use of a bass drum beat to separate the lines. Even with less than a week to work with, Walker delivers lyrics to mull over on "Trash Day," where he tells vignettes about what's going on in the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Nashville and Atlanta on the day in question.
4. Belle & Sebastian, "Write About Love" -- It's not as good as the band's last two albums, although every track could've fit on one of those. Even more so than usual, frontman Stuart Murdoch invites a bunch of guest musicians into the recording studio, and it results in interesting songs, if not an obvious hit.
The closest to a lead single is the title track, where actress Carey Mulligan sings about hating her desk job, which is highlighted by taking her lunch up on the roof at 1 o'clock. Not only does she fit in on the album, she stands out, although I'm certainly glad that Norah Jones and band veteran Sarah Martin are on board too.
5. "She & Him, "Volume Two" -- As she proved on those cotton commercials, Zooey Deschanel can make anything sound beautiful, and that allows She & Him -- which includes strong guitar work by M. Ward and strategic accompanying vocals -- to make its songs sound better than they look on the page.
The decision to cover "Ridin' in My Car" is spot-on; it's a tight update of the NRBQ original. She & Him delivers tasty originals, too, notably the wistful "Thieves" and the summery "In the Sun."
What were your top five (or 10) albums of 2010? Share your lists and comments below.