Aftermath (November 14)
Kicked out of G-Unit, dropped from Aftermath, revealed as a dating-show loser: Was there any doubt Doctor’s Advocate would be as good as it was? Only a starving emcee, the underdog of rap, would have the drive to put together this many bangers, this many perfect singles, and this dark of a record that still managed to get you moving. Though it hasn’t had the kind of response it deserves, even with a number-one Billboard debut, this is one commercial record built to last. Expect to be hearing about this at the end of the decade. ~Matt Gasteier
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Anti (March 7)
She’s got the kind of rare voice that makes you cry but also dries your tears at the same time. Couple that with her cryptic lyrics and stomping and swooning guitars and even a cello at times, and get your box of tissues ready. ~Lee Fullington
Sony (August 29)
It’s well-known that aging icons will often receive a free pass, from fans and critics alike, for indiscretions in the twilight of their careers. It’s a phenomena that’s present in all facets of popular culture: Ali is still "The Greatest" after being humbled by Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, and most people choose to remember Marlon Brando as motorcycle rebel Johnny Strabler instead of, say, Jor-El. Thankfully, there’s no need (yet) to look the other way where Bob Dylan’s concerned. Modern Times completes a trilogy of latter-day albums that showcase Dylan in fine form: a timeless songwriter who still lives up to his marquee. ~Justin Sheppard
"Workingman’s Blues #2"
Stones Throw (February 7)
Released mere weeks before Jay Dee’s death early this year, Donuts may not be the best work associated with the Detroit legend (Jaylib and Fantastic Vol. 2 come to mind), but it is a perfect encapsulation of his talents. Unlike many beat tapes, it’s easy to listen to all the way through, and even "One for Ghost," which would eventually become "Whip You With a Strap" on Ghostface’s Fishscale, is rich enough that it loses nothing without the Wu-Tang emcee. But what comes through the most on Donuts is the care and attention put into every beat. It’s easy to see why Jay was the producer’s producer, balancing technique and skill with heart and love. Though The Shining may have had stronger individual songs, Donuts is the real swan song of one of the best producers ever, and one of the biggest losses this decade. ~Matt Gasteier
"Two Can Win"
Anti (November 21)
Any Tom Waits album will make my Top Ten on principle. It was really nice of Waits to include Orphan‘s fifty-six tracks (thirty of them brand new) in a single package. Otherwise I’d have to use up spots eight, nine and ten for each of its three discs. ~Etan Rosenbloom
"You Can Never Hold Back Spring"
Drag City (November 14)
Folk meets classical in this second album from harpist extraordinaire Joanna Newsom, who in addition to her own colossal talents recruits a number of valuable collaborators, including a full orchestra arranged by Van Dyke Parks on four of five tracks and production from Steve Albini. Newsom’s harp playing perfectly complements her lyrics, which travel in allegory and mythology while remaining both poetic and full of whimsy, and offbeat vocal style, which is both childlike and mature beyond its years. Without knowing anything in advance, it would have been impossible to tell what time period this album came from, a tribute to its rejection of current trends and a guarantee of its timelessness. ~Chris Sahl
Drum’s Not Dead
Mute (March 21)
The members of Liars arguably deliver the year’s most bizarre concept album with Drum’s Not Dead, a free-form abstract project that never reveals its purposes or conceits. The album is at the same time ritualistically primal and futuristically obscure, its secrets vague but appealing enough to hypnotize the curious ear. Its droning atmosphere creates a delightfully tribal head-trip that never loses its purpose despite its narrative purposelessness. Even after critics howled when Liars gave up the well-received trendy dance-punk of their debut, their perseverance in seeking the new and the unique has come to fruition on Drum’s Not Dead, a triumphant testament to chasing the muse rather than conventional expectations. ~Chris Sahl
"It Fit When I Was a Kid"
!K7 (May 30)
Herbert’s masterpiece snuck up on me. Thrown on my car speakers, Scale sounded like any other record in his ten-year career. But I listened to it more, on headphones, on my computer, and on a great stereo, where its complex and layered production belongs. And in those subsequent listens, I realized something: It doesn’t matter whether these songs are about war, politics, love, death, fear, or joy. They are portraits of the human condition, and they transcend genre and time, building on music from the past four decades at once to explain that we are all each other’s concern. If that sounds pretentious or cloying, don’t blame Matthew Herbert. All he did was make music — beautiful, hypnotic, innovative music — that inadvertently brought me to that simple conclusion. ~Matthew Gasteier
"The Movers and the Shakers"
TV on the Radio
Return to Cookie Mountain
Interscope (September 12)
TV on the Radio’s sound can only be described with sketchy, made-up terms like doo-wopacolypse. This time, instead of coasting on that shock of the new, the members of TV on the Radio used their sonics to craft sharp songs: sleepy neo-trip-hop, buzzing shoegaze, industrial clamor and blistering dance rock all held together by huge vocal talent. When you bring Bowie in to sing and completely blow him out of the studio, you’ve got some to spare. ~Jeff Klingman
"Wolf Like Me"
Hell Hath No Fury
Re-Up Gang/Star Trak (November 28)
Even record-industry incompetence of the highest order couldn’t hold Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury for much longer. After its Jive-sponsored shelving, the release of two remarkable mixtapes and a long-delayed birth, Hell Hath No Fury emerged with a compellingly tailored brand of vengeance that seems capable of blocking out the sun. Step right up and help pin the town-carnival freak-show ribbon on emcees Pusha T and Malice, for Hell Hath No Fury is a repulsive progeny, seething with the Neptunes’ ice-pick-tipped production and vicious crack-worshipping confessionals that don’t merely hit the mark, they shank it with murderous precision. ~Dominic Umile
"Hello New World"