1. Sufjan Stevens
Illinoise (Asthmatic Kitty)
Illinoise, the follow-up to Sufjan Stevens' first album, Michigan, is easy to deem the best album of the year due to its inclusiveness, incorporating acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, horns, string arrangements, piano and sophisticated storytelling which evokes a tone of fantastical Americana. Stevens supposedly plans to make an album about each state, so let's all hold our breath for New Mexico.
The Sri Lankan Londoner with her dancy, techno and uzi beats (like the gun, get it) and tough and occasionally dirty lyrics makes you want to grind.
3. Mighty Sparrow
First Flight (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
Lo-fi '50s recordings of one of the Caribbean's most prominent musicians are less steel drum and more post-bop. With parties as well as island politics in mind, this is probably the coolest release of this year despite the fact that the music was actually made decades ago.
4. Gogol Bordello
Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike (Side One Dummy)
Slavophiles everywhere rejoiced in 2005, as the insane combination of Slavic folk, Ukrainian Gypsy and punk rock known as Gogol Bordello made themselves known in America, amidst rumors of underground Eastern European "cultural centers" in New York City.
5. Animal Collective
Feels (Fat Cat)
In terms of genre and style, this album, disjointed and devoid of strict pop, was probably the most unique and new this year.
6. Kanye West
Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella)
Don't hate, Simon. (See “Top 10 Worst Albums of the Year,” below.) Yeah, he's mainstream, loves to tell us about Jesus and is perhaps not the best rapper ever, but he's funny and makes tip-top hip-hop beats, which is what sets him apart from all the schmoes trying to pass their wanker crap off as legitimate.
7. New Pornographers
Twin Cinema (Matador)
Far superior to the Vancouver band's prior album, Mass Romantic, Twin Cinema worked on that unfortunate conundrum where the album is not automatically fantastic, but instead becomes more fantastic the more you listen to it, far surpassing the automatically fantastic.
8. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Vice)
Synthesizers and a weird, distinct feeling of movement makes for a sweet pop album.
9. The Clientèle
Strange Geometry (Merge)
This ghostly and elegant ode to '60s pop was one of the numerous spectacular releases this year from a label synonymous with “quality.”
10. Iron & Wine/Calexico
In the Reins (Overcoat)
What do you get when you combine Florida singer/songwriter Sam Beam with Tuscon's best mariachi-esque indie band? Folkarachi. Or indie rockhano. Or Florizona.