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20. Apostle of Hustle—Folkoric Feel (Arts & Crafts)
Cuba and Canada are talking, and leaving the US out of it. I’m happy.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


19. Wovenhand—Consider the Birds (Sounds Familyre)
Gothic religious poetry set to dark music. Could be a disaster, but it’s fantastic.
   :. original PopMatters review


18. Dizzee Rascal—Boy in da Corner (Matador)
I luv it. Dizzee’s the only artists with two albums in my list, thanks to the slow distribution of this UK act across the pond.
   :. original PopMatters review


17. Nels Cline Singers—The Gian Pin (Cryptogramophone)
Remarkable jazz/blues/noise act. And you thought he was just a Wilco touring member.



16. The Fiery Furnaces—Blueberry Boat (Sanctuary)
This is the one I didn’t want to like. Too much going on, and too many inaccurate Who comparisons. Then I kept listening. And listening. Great stories, smart transitions within tracks. Mostly irresistible.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


15. Max Richter—The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat)
The album that launched 1000 hipsters toward classical minimalism. Absolutely gorgeous stuff.
   :. original PopMatters review


14. David Kilgour—Frozen Orange (Merge)
New Zealand’s greatest songwriter teams up with Nashville’s weirdest musicians. It doesn’t sound like either the Clean or Lambchop, yet somehow it’s a great starting point for both.
   :. original PopMatters review


13. Ghostface—The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
Run out now to get it, it’s one of the classic Wu solo albums, complete with perfect soul samples and Ghostface’s talented rhyming. | buy in the PopShop



12. Devotchka—How It Ends (Cicero Recordings)
1. Take a whole bunch of styles. 2. Add a dose of melancholy and a double-dose of beauty. 3. Shake well. 4. Enjoy.
   :. original PopMatters review


11. Sufjan Stevens—Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre)
Stevens dropped his second great album in as many years by dropping most of the instrumentation. We’re left with a gorgeous folk album that reaches from the deep south of O’Connor through the midwest and then turns skyward.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


10. Nick Cave— Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-)
If he wasn’t already there, Cave’s secured his place in the pantheon of brilliant songwriters. The murder-balladeer has released all his forces and taken on the big topics. I’m surprised even the double album can contain it all.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


9. The Mountain Goats—We Shall All Be Healed (4AD)
John Darnielle makes the stories of a bunch of speed freaks interesting, meaningful, and—most of all—entertaining. The guy can’t miss, even when he barely sticks his head above ground.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


8. Jim White—Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See (Luaka Bop)
White hasn’t gotten nearly the respect he deserves, but Drill a Hole should change that. Even with some standout tracks, this album’s a bit of a grower, but once it takes root, it stays.
   :. original PopMatters review


7. Madvillain—Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
Beats so butter, thick tongue never stutter, words flung draw masses from outta poetry classes; flow so slick, nothing can stick, if it was crime, wouldn’t be time—it’s all safe with Doom (just on nom de plume).
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop



6. Dizzee Rascal—Showtime (XL/Beggars Group)
You people are gonna respect him if it kills you. But it won’t—unless you’re deathly afraid of unusual beats and rhymes to die for. So to speak. | buy in the PopShop
   :. original PopMatters review


5. Iron and Wine—Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop)
One of the year’s softest albums hits the hardest. Literate folk music about death, loss, family, and death (and hanging). Yet it’s as lovely as they come.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


4. John Vanderslice—Cellar Door (Barsuk)
His characters are twisted, his vision’s unique, and his production’s perfect. I think I have a boy-crush.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


3. The Streets—A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice)
Mike Skinner’s created an album that almost falls into the spoken-word category. He’s got no flow and his beats are ridiculous, yet he A Grand Don’t Come for Free is as captivating as anything released this year.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop


2. The Arcade Fire—Funeral (Merge)
It’s easy to get caught up in the discourse, the new releases, the bonus tracks, the hot b-sides, the boots, the scenes, and everything else. Then you hear something like Funeral and you remember why you need music.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop



1. Kanye West—The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
Guns, sex, humor, drugs, faith, death, sped-up Chaka Khan. In short, play without ceasing.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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