5. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs: I keep thinking this album seems overrated, until I listen again and realize just how great it is. While perhaps only “Rococo” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” sit among the band’s greatest tracks, the consistently compelling material in a story arc critiquing our modern suburban life stands up to the hype.
4. Tracey Thorn, Love and Its Opposite: “Who’s next?” the voice of Everything But the Girl sings in opener “Oh, the Divorces”: “It’s always the ones that you least expect.” And who would expect Thorn to reappear with a masterpiece of an album about growing older? But with tracks such as “Long White Dress,” “Hormones” and “Singles Bar,” she imbues wisdom and memorable songs galore.
3. Rocky Votolato, True Devotion: Not quite as phenomenal as his previous effort, “Makers,” but still full of beautifully painted tales of lost love, lovable losers and lovingly lost causes. The well-turned depth he pours into simple refrains like “The less likely you survive” (from “Fragments”) or “Sparklers only burn for so long” (from “Sparklers”) is simply stunning.
2. Dust Poets, World At Large: There’s nothing flashy about this unassuming Canadian foursome: They merely created the best album this year almost no one’s heard. They often tackle issues such as greed (“Deceived by Gasoline”), homelessness (“Big World”), online privacy (“Skeletons in Your Inbox”) and xenophobia (“Border Town”) but always with folksy charm, wit and skill.
1. Girl Talk, All Day: Sometimes you just have to ask: “Was there an album I simply couldn’t stop listening to for weeks?” That would be this record, which drops hook after hook, beat after beat in sensational succession. While I could ponder how Gregg Gillis pushes the envelope of this (controversial) genre or the brilliance of “Jump on Stage” samples running from Portishead to Radiohead, it’s much easier to just dance — anytime, anywhere — to the excessively catchy music.