No Joy, Ghost Blonde (Mexican Summer). If you mixed minimalist garage rock with dream pop, you might get something like No Joy's Ghost Blonde. This is expansive, ethereal music with an incandescent grittiness that could have come out two decades ago or yesterday. Its timeless, sunny melodies evoke images of an endless string of late-spring mornings. — Murphy

The Ocean, Anthropocentric (Metal Blade). Heavy on anti-Christian philosophy — not to mention sheer sound — the Ocean's latest opus, Anthropocentric, is the German collective's most stunning work yet. Deep ambience, prog sprawl and galloping metal: It's all there, and it's all arranged to evoke maximum, jaw-dropping awe. Atheism never sounded so godlike. — Heller

OFF!, First Four EPs (Vice). Keith Morris made his mark as the leader of the Circle Jerks and original mouthpiece of Black Flag. That was thirty-odd years ago. Through sheer spit and grit, though — not to mention help from members of Redd Kross, Burning Brides and Hot Snakes — Morris turned his new project OFF! into a snarling ball of fury that falls almost exactly between his two better-known bands. — Heller

Rhymefest, El Che (dN|Be Entertainment). Rhymefest, who is known for his politically driven rhymes, does not disappoint with El Che. From offering a searing account of conspiracy to taking on airport security to tackling rape and deep-rooted issues of race, Rhymefest is consistently compelling and diverse in his delivery and lyrically versatile and confident. The track to check for here is "Prosperity." — Johnson

Rick Ross, Teflon Don (Def Jam). Amid controversy, Miami-bred rapper Rick Ross put out Teflon Don, a work that shows growth in both his flow and his ability to choose beats. "Aston Martin Music" is the best show of mainstream ability, while "Tears of Joy," featuring Cee-Lo, is a soul-stirring account of success. — Johnson

Robyn, Body Talk (Konichiwa/Interscope). For all the clinical synthesizer and chilly delivery, Robyn sure expressed a lot of emotion this year. Sweden has always been a good place for pop music, and Robyn is a particularly kick-ass ambassador. This was by far 2010's best album for simultaneously dancing and not feeling like an idiot. — Maletsky

The Roots, How I Got Over (Def Jam). The Roots' eleventh studio album makes a compelling case for a few notions: Black Thought is one of the greatest rappers of all time, and How I Got Over is one of the best albums of the year. From the reworked "Dear God" to the title track, each song captured a piece of society with awesome description. — Johnson

The Saddest Landscape, You Will Not Survive (Panic). The '00s gutted the genres of emo and screamo by mainstreaming them into self-parody. But for the past few years, the Saddest Landscape has kept the fires burning by releasing raw, dynamic, emotive post-hardcore albums — the latest and best to date being You Will Not Survive — that prove there's still plenty of life left in the scene. — Heller

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone). Sure, Sharon Jones is essentially taking cues from '60s soul and R&B, but the woman is so damn good at it, it doesn't matter. And I Learned the Hard Way is the band's best effort in the past decade. While listening to Jones's superb pipes over horns, strings and backup vocals, it seems that her vintage revival might even be better than the real thing. — Solomon

Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars). There is a jaw-dropping amount of technical work here, but that was always true of Marnie Stern's music. What makes this album so great is its overflowing emotional core. This is honest stuff, made all the more powerful by Stern's ability to convey the juicy parts with her guitar. "I'm not enough," she sings, and it's heartbreaking. — Maletsky

Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge). While everyone was bringing back '90s indie rock, Superchunk was just doing what it had always done. It's not the band's best album, and it might not have been a standout in another year, but context works, and this sounded perfect. Which is not to say the album isn't good by itself: It's a joyful 41 minutes of guitar rock. — Maletsky

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL). We may be going down, but we're going down screaming and kicking. There's plenty of fire for the fight on this album, plenty of chances to shout along in your speeding car, to run until your lungs ache. The Civil War has come to suburban New Jersey in a concept record. — Maletsky

Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL). Don't you hate it when the smirking smartass with the big-name degree is right? But, man, there was no denying this album. And amazingly, it's not because these guys backed out on the boat shoe and Graceland-aping; it's because they doubled down. They rhyme "horchata" with "balaclava" in the first line on the album, for Pete's sake! — Maletsky

The Walkmen, Lisbon (Fat Possum/Bella Union). Once again, we find ourselves on the street corner after a long day working and a long night drinking with the Walkmen. They have always been good company, and they're better now: wise and tough and willing to laugh. May we all age with such vitality. — Maletsky

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