6. Emiliana Torrini, Tookah — Iceland breeds up EASILY the highest number of interesting, icy electronic pop artists per capita. (That’s a real statistic, right?) Emiliana Torrini relies on a wide variety of synths from across the decades, but this album never feels academic. It’s easy and organic and breathing in the best traditions of Scandinavian music.
7. Sigur Ros, Kveikur — And hey, speaking of Scandinavia! Look, I love post-rock generally and Sigur Ros’s () blew me away when it came out. Their more recent work has been good, but admittedly a bit samey-samey. Here’s the very soft introduction, the quiet escalation, the rising tension to bombastic loudness, and drift into the ether. This album is different: insistent drums, grooves that work toward something, and most importantly a heavier overall sound, often firmly in the territory of experimental metal. I wouldn’t quite call it accessible, but it feels much more like an album of interesting songs than an exercise in loud ambience.
8. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady — Artists like Monae have been sadly lacking from the R&B scene from decades. She’s a skilled singer, a brilliant dancer, a beautiful woman–all right, there’s always been plenty of those. But Monae brings a fantastic imagination, visual sense, and ambition to soul music, creating concept albums that stand with the best work of Stevie Wonder, Parliament, and Prince.
9. Kanye West, Yeezus — Kanye made some of the most successful commercial hip hop of the 2000s, spouts off whatever fool thing comes into his head, lives in atmosphere of rockstar privilege and easy money, and recently married an unholy avatar of all that is wrong with celebrity culture. Then he made Yeezus, one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. It’s uncompromising, lyrically knotty, challenging, and redefines the genre. If you’re interested in where American popular music is going you need to listen to this.
10. Man Man, On Oni Pond — Man Man are heirs to the freak music tradition of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. This album is their most accessible, which is to say it sounds like it was at least made by blissed out surfers playing Gypsy blues at a psychedelic carnival in this universe.