1) Janelle Monae, ArchAndroid: Pure dreamland that wove in Walt Disney influences, Fela and James Brown-inspired beats, Outkast-style rhymes and Beatle-esque melodies for a heavenly, spectacular debut that envelops you completely in her fantasy world.
2) Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: It's typical for artists who feel persecuted in the press to spill out their anger, frustration and pity in song; thankfully, West's stunning fifth album doesn't go down that road.Kanye can get away with being a jerk, as long as he makes music this amazing.
3) Eminem, Recovery: There are elements of Slim Shady but what makes Recovery so commanding is hearing Marshall Mathers confront his demons with brutal honesty — and, of course, warped wit — on an album that restored his much-deserved reputation as one of rap's all-time greats.
4) Sia, We Are Born: When word came that Sia was going to put out a dance album, there was every reason to fear that the serious songbird was taking an ill-advised jump on the Lady Gaga bandwagon. But Sia charts her own path with We Are Born.
5) R. Kelly, Love Letter: No midgets, no booty calls, no sex in the kitchen. R. Kelly trades perversion for perfection on the old-school throwback Love Letter — classy and classic.
6) Taylor Swift, Speak Now: Swift gets a lot of attention for her read-between-the-lines tomes, but after the guessing game stops (Is this one about John Mayer? Is that one about Taylor Lautner?), what remains are terrific, compelling songs with rich plot lines that will stay with you long after the gossip fades.
7) Sade, Soldier of Love: Sade's music is so reliable in its greatness that sometimes people — say, Grammy voters — forget how much work it takes to be so good. Always alluring, always enchanting, always sensuous, Sade — with her first album in 10 years — returns with an exquisite collection of entrancing songs.
8) Corinne Bailey Rae, The Sea: Rae channeled her grief over the untimely death of her husband into The Sea but what developed is an album that's wistful and peppered with optimism in the face of despair.
9) Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise: LaMontagne has been known for his masterful songwriting for some time but on God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise — a sometimes morose, heartbreaking collection of despairing tracks — his lyrical gifts are perhaps at their best.
10) Gorillaz, Plastic Beach: The cartoon gimmick may have lost its edge but the Gorillaz haven't: Plastic Beach blends hip-hop, funk, rock and electronica for spacey party grooves.