Because fuck a Top 20, that’s why.
21. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
An album that speaks to our times, with unsettlingly delicate orchestration and vocals illustrating lyrics that speak to the blood-soaked reality behind the bucolic image of English history.
Essentials: The Words That Maketh Murder
20.Kanye West/Jay-Z – Watch The Throne
Could it ever have lived up to the hype? Probably not. But in among the filler are a decent amount of straight bangers.
Essentials: No Church In The Wild, Gotta Have It, Murder To Excellence
19. Big K.R.I.T. – The Return of 4Eva
Up-and-coming Southern rapper Big K.R.I.T. delivers a mixtape with the tightness and cohesion of an official album, varying from bass-heavy trunk anthems to perceptive trips down memory lane.
Essentials: Rise And Shine, Dreamin’, American Rapstar
18. Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
Classic girl-group garage-pop that rises above pastiche.
Essentials: Bedroom Eyes, Just A Creep
17. Danny Brown – XXX
This year Danny Brown gave us hilariously filthy lyrics, woozy drugged-up beats, grim tales from post-industrial Detroit, and a compelling portrayal of a post-twentysomething afraid they’ve missed the chance to make something of themselves. All on one mixtape. One FREE mixtape.
Essentials: XXX, Pac Blood, DNA
16. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness
The riotous chroniclers of youthful indiscretions age (dis)gracefully into an indie band heavy on the heartbreak.
Essential: By Your Hand, Songs About Your Girlfriend, To Tundra
15. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Expansive, glittering dance-pop magic that sprawls but never bores.
Essentials: Midnight City, Reunion
14. British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall
The deliberately archaic British Sea Power turn their attention to modern times with an album of squalling guitars and lyrics that form a perfect soundtrack to this year of protest.
Essentials: Who’s In Control, Mongk II, Living Is So Easy
13. The Roots – Undun
The Roots expand their scope further on this concept album, taking cues from jazz and classical orchestration to tell the story of one man’s life and death.
Essentials: Make My, Kool On, Lighthouse
12. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
The mad genius returns with an album that feels like a showcase of all his greatest successes, from gravel-voiced barroom stomp to eerie fairground tunes.
Essentials: Chicago, Hell Broke Luce
11. Doomtree – No Kings
A furious blast of insurrectionary punk-tinged hip-hop, railing against the established order.
Essentials: No Way, Beacon, Gimme The Go
10. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Expansive, anthemic rock incorporating everything from electronica to country.
Essentials: Victory Dance, The Day Is Coming, Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
9. Random Axe – Random Axe
Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Sean Price trade their differing but equally versatile mic skills over classic boom-bap producation.
Essentials: Random Call, The Hex
8. Girl Talk – All Day
Mixtape king Gregg Gillis mashes up another disco-friendly masterclass in pop.
Essentials: The whole thing.
7. Gang Of Four – Content
Just when we need them, Gang of Four deliver more spiky, bass-heavy tunes that dissect the rot within our consumerist cargo cult.
Essentials: She Said “You Made A Thing Of Me”, I Party All The Time, A Fruitfly In The Beehive
6. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
Billy Bragg-style singalong acoustic ballads with a progressive-yet-traditional concept of identity, community and remembering where you’re from.
Essentials: Peggy Sang The Blues, I Am Disappeared, Wessex Boy
5. TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light
Rich, textured songs that frantically race from contemplative noodling to get-down funk jams.
Essentials: Keep Your Heart, Will Do, Caffeinated Consciousness
4. Drive- By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
The quieter cousin to last year’s raucous The Big To-Do, this album indulges the Truckers’ storytelling side, from Southern Gothic to Modern Americana.
Essentials: I Do Believe, Used To Be A Cop, The Thanksgiving Filter
3. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
Alex Turner and co continue their journey to songwriting geniuses with this impeccable collection of British pop soon-to-be-classics.
Essentials: She’s Thunderstorms, Black Treacle, Suck It And See
2. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
US fem-rock supergroup delivers blasting guitar-heavy love letters to the transforming power of music.
Essentials: Romance, Boom, Glass Tambourine
1. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
Impeccable songwriting and musicianship combined with country/Americana roots give this album a timeless quality.
Essentials: Don’t Carry It All, Down By The Water, This Is Why We Fight