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Drake, Take Care (Cash Money). Drake's long-awaited sophomore album, Take Care is chock-full of progressive beats, honest lyrics and a solid "I don't give a fuck" attitude from the Toronto MC, all of which combine to give the Young Money star an effective leg up on the competition. Ru Johnson

Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials (Universal Republic). Inhabiting an artistic space once occupied by the likes of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, Florence Welch shows considerable range and sings with such genuine conviction that you believe her when she delivers lines like "And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't/So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope/And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope." — Herrera

Bill Frisell, Sign of Life (Savoy). This past year was a busy one for Bill Frisell, who released two albums under his own name and collaborated on discs with Vinicius Cantuaria and Buddy Miller. While all of those albums vary musically, Sign of Life finds the guitarist working in a chamber-group setting and is the most stunning of the bunch. — Solomon

Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador). When Damian Abraham pinpointed the Who as an influence in Spin earlier this year, it may have seemed odd at first, but it makes total sense when you hear David Comes to Life — and not just because it's a concept album. Listen closely to Abraham's vociferous vocals and you'll hear shades of Daltrey in the delivery, as well as Townshend's touch in the arrangements. — Herrera

Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey Records). Going with a more organic sound for this followup to In Evening Air, Future Islands further integrates its soul influences. The raw emotional honesty of Samuel Herring's lyrics imparts a greater array of subtle colorings to his usual exuberant delivery this time around. A measured, smoky introspection informs every song. — Murphy

Noel Gallagher, Noel Gallagher's High-Flying Birds (Sour Mash Records). If we continued to judge Noel Gallagher's success based on his rivalry with brother Liam, he'd clearly be winning. In the same year that brought us the mediocre Beady Eye debut, Noel's strong solo arrangements and intimate vocals suggest he needs the full Oasis approximately as much as Liam needs another drink. — Whipple

Garrincha & the Stolen Elk, Void (Weird Forest Records). Void is an intersection of collage, found sound, noise and ambient music using rock instruments for purposes outside the context of a normal song. Reminiscent of Selected Ambient Works Vol. II-era Aphex Twin at points, these songs seem to have been created organically in a future world envisioned by Stanislaw Lem. — Murphy

Ellie Goulding, Lights (Interscope). Lights offered one of the most exhilarating listening experiences of the year. Built upon on a bed of light synths, jaunty electro beats and the sanguine vocals of Ellie Goulding, the dainty songs on this album glisten like raindrops falling on a heated hood in the midst of a springtime rain under bright-blue skies. — Herrera

Gramatik, Beatz and Pieces Vol. 1 (Pretty Lights Music). Bursting on the scene with a number-one remix on the Beatport charts, Gramatik (aka Denis Jaravesic) dropped Vol. 1 of his Beatz and Pieces mixtape series this year. Sampling Ray Charles on "While I Was Playin Fair" reveals his affinity and respect for jazz in addition to the hip-hop roots that ultimately inspired his production style. — Chester

The High Llamas, Talahomi Way (Drag City). No doubt inspired by Pet Sounds and Smile-era Beach Boys, Sean O'Hagan and the High Llamas have been quietly crafting gorgeous chamber-pop albums for the past two decades. While the Llamas don't really break any new ground on Talahomi Way, it's one of the group's strongest releases in the last decade. — Solomon

Van Hunt, What Were You Hoping For? (Godless-Hotspot). The title of this record seems a bit preemptive and defiantly rhetorical on Van Hunt's part, as if he knew the music he was presenting here had the inherent potential to alienate. Those who bravely come along for the ride, though, are rewarded with a primal brand of R&B that's as lustful as it is cerebral. Paste mentioned Prince and Peter Gabriel. That sounds about right. — Herrera

Iceage, New Brigade (Abeano Music). Not unlike the Cramps repurposing rockabilly and making it their own warped thing, Iceage took strands of post-punk and hardcore to forge a sound so jaggedly energizing it couldn't help but leave an impact on anyone who witnessed it live. This record perfectly captures twelve shards of that burning inspiration. — Murphy

J.Cole, Cole World: The Sideline Story (Roc Nation/Columbia). After churning out mixtape after mixtape, J.Cole finally gave the people what they wanted with Sideline Story. Cole's production ear proved sophisticated in his choice of rhymes and features. The playful and flirty "Can't Get Enough," featuring Trey Songz, is for the young and sexy, while Cole gets grown alongside Jay-Z, his mentor, on "Mr. Nice Watch." — Johnson

Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain't Over (Nonesuch). While Jack White's production almost seems a bit over the top at times, he gave the Queen of Rockabilly a more than sturdy springboard to launch from here as he introduced her to a new legion of fans. The 74-year-old Jackson sounds great with her trademark growl, and no, the party ain't over for her by any means; in fact, it feels like it's just beginning. — Solomon

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