10. Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can
The precocious 20-year-old Brit, like her boyfriend and sometime collaborator Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, brings a ferocious poetry and candor to her spare, lyrical laments.
9. Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
The L.A. quintet lay spiraling, surprisingly propulsive riffs over three-part harmonies that burst open and expand into gorgeous choruses.
8. Janelle Monáe, The Archandroid
A cosmic genre spelunk courtesy of one of pop music’s most elastic and genuinely eccentric new talents. ArchAndroid? skitters blithely from moon-booted space funk and finger-snap R&B to galloping rockabilly and melodious mod orchestrals.
7. Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer
Come for the inescapable summer anthem ”F— You”; stay for the crafty, cinematic soul boogaloos that follow — secret-agent capers, retro-funk rumbles, and some wonderfully swooning ballads, all dipped in the warm elixir of Cee Lo’s expressive, endlessly groovy croon.
6. Sleigh Bells, Treats
Treats‘ ear-annihilating pop-thrash blitz, built almost entirely on sweat, 808s, and sandblasted guitar riffs by Brooklyn duo Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller, is both ridiculous and fantastic.
5. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Lucious, with its swooping cadences, dizzyingly nimble rhymes, and funky, fat-bottomed Dirty South beats, isn’t made ?for cheap takeaway singles (though ”Shutterbugg” and ”Tangerine” are why God — or Steve Jobs — invented the iPod repeat button). This is surround-sound hip-hop for grown fans with attention spans.
4. The Black Keys, Brothers
The swampy blues-rock stomp that the Akron, Ohio, duo built — or rather, gleefully dismantled — over the course of five albums wasn’t broken, but on their sixth, they made it bigger and better. The stylistically rich Brothers choogles on in a woolly, loose-limbed style that’s part Howlin’ Wolf, part Manfred Mann, and as insidiously hooky as anything they’ve ever done.
3. Robyn, Body Talk
This 31-year-old Stockholm native’s Body Talk, with its fiercely autonomous dance-floor anthems and shimmering, strobe-lit confessions, has everything necessary to blow our lacquered prefab-pop dollies right off the radio.
2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
On their third album, the ardent Canadian collective confront adulthood head-on, in songs both shambolic and subtly masterful — 16 rickety, slow-burn beauties that artfully explore the aimlessness and alienation of off-the-turnpike youth, while investing real (if cautious) hope in what’s to come.
1. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
West’s fifth studio album’s volcanic lead single, ”Power,” rides in on the proggy wallop of King Crimson’s ”21st Century Schizoid Man.” And what follows is nothing if not a 21st-century schizoid ride, on which our mercurial captain is by turns furious and contrite, swaggering and painfully unguarded. But nearly always, he is brilliant and Fantasy remains a dense, dazzling rap masterpiece — and a thrown gauntlet to all those who forgot, in the wild media rumpus, just how singular his talent is.