1. Earthless, Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky
The best metal album of the year? The best rock music of the year. A criminally underheard San Diego doom outfit delivers three songs of absolutely stunning raw rock 'n' roll power and never lets up.
2. UGK, UGK (Underground Kingz)
Proving conventional wisdom wrong, the Texas-based duo makes a barn-burner of a comeback with a rap double album that doesn't fall apart. Sadly, with Pimp C's death, probably the last UGK record.
3. M.I.A., Kala
With the Hater Brigade salivating to see her fall, M.I.A. bucks the sophomore slump with a whirling postmodern blend of sounds, styles and beats, bringing fun back to pop music along with smarts.
4. The Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams
Years in the making, almost impossible to complete, and probably the final effort from them as a group, 8 Diagrams is a woozy, zooted triumph with fierce rhymes and insane production.
5. The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works
A doomstruck outfit with a hardcore D.I.Y. approach, the Dillinger Escape Plan are close to being the Minutemen of metal, and the spastic, complex, dense Ire Works is their masterpiece.
6. Battles, Mirrored
In a year of ridiculously overhyped bands (Justice, anyone?), Battles are one of the few that really come through, with a terrifically unique amalgam of prog and electronica that constantly surprises.
7. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Nearly lost in all the talk of how Radiohead released and distributed this without the aid of a label is the fact that it's a remarkably strong album, their best in years, with road-polished material.
8. Antibalas, Security
It took just the right producer to transform the multicultural NYC outfit from a chop-heavy but sometimes excessive world-party jam band into a finely honed, deadly squad of Afro-funk killers.
9. Kanye West, Graduation
Kanye practically begs people to hate him, and he needs to get back to producing other peoples' records, but this is a swell conclusion to the prep school trilogy and features the year's best single.
10. Andrew Bird, Abandoned Apocrypha
Almost unnoticed in the hinterlands of Illinois, Andrew Bird continues to put out great records, re-inventing himself yet again with a smooth, smart record of perfectly crafted songs.