1) Beyonce – 4
Most of us Beyonce stans assumed that she would come in and dominate a large part of the year…but I don’t think any of us expected what was to come. 2 flop singles, 3 week early album leaks, and an album of lower tempo, non-commercial song choices. The most unexpected part, however, is how perfectly it works. After I personally nixed a couple of the ballads after adding in the spectacular deluxe tracks, 4 has become the sleeper album of the year so far, encompassing a whole range of emotions and sounds while Beyonce shows off vocals better than she has in her entire illustrious career. All hail, King B.
2) Adele – 21
What else is there to say about the most successful album of this year? Adele not only avoided the sophomore slump coming off of her Grammy winning debut album, she emerged from the neo-soul British revolution from a few years ago as the leader. On 21, Adele took her first life-changing relationship’s end and channeled it into one of the most poignant, heartbreaking, and relatable break-up album we have seen for some time. Hearts across the world have connected to this near perfect album, and trust me when I say that Adele is just getting started.
3) Wynter Gordon - With the Music I Die
Having just finished my review for this album, I don’t want to retread too much. I will just point out that this is the best dance album to come out this year, absolutely perfect in its compact tracklist. Wynter’s debut shows an abundance of intelligence, spunk, and soul all while keeping us moving on the dancefloor. A rare accomplishment by any pop artist, much less a newcomer like Ms Gordon…but impeccably done regardless.
4) Lady GaGa - Born This Way
The most talked about, most hyped album of the year with the biggest promo campaign by the biggest popstar on the planet right now. Born This Way was always going to be an event from the moment GaGa began foolishly bragging about it over a year ago. Does it live up to its reputation? No. It is a scattered, schizophrenic collection of songs more than it is a cohesive album, and much of the 17 tracks are either filler or simply don’t belong with the other tracks. However, there are enough brilliant moments that either harken back to the GaGa we used to love or show a glimmer of the GaGa that this album COULD have introduced to make it still one of the year’s best releases.
5) Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
My favorite folk artist is finally back on track! With 2 flawlessly haunting, Appalachian roots albums to start her career, her albums since then have come up a little flat. Harrow & the Harvest is the one that can measure up to her earlier work, and even has the potential to best them. Written with the usual talent of conjuring the dustbowls of America to the listener’s mind, Gillian serenades us with a series of songs that any folk listener can appreciate over and over.
6) Nicole Scherzinger - Killer Love
Maybe I am biased. Maybe I was rooting for Nicole so hard for so long that this album isn’t as good as I think it is. But her success in the UK show that maybe it is not the case. Nicole picks a roster of mostly Red One tracks to serve as her first official debut album post Pussycat Dolls. It is a loud, boisterous dancefloor-filler type of album, with smart lyrics and absolutely killer vocal delivery. Nicole has one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in pop, and boy can she wail on a big dance track. And yet it is on the softer songs like the gorgeous Amenjena that the listener is able to hear exactly what Nicole is capable of, and it is those moments that snagged her this spot on my Top 10.
7) Britney Spears - Femme Fatale
A Britney fan, I AIN’T. I maintain that she has always been one of the most overhyped, over produced, and overrated pop females of all time. Sure I love a lot of her music, but not only does that have very little to do with her, but it is often in SPITE of her that I like it. This set of songs is no different. Certain songs such as Hold It Against Me, How I Roll, and Gasoline are brilliant, others like Inside Out and Big Fat Bass make for the most derivative and boring dance songs this side of LMFAO. However, enough moments shine to make this album a Top 10 Album contender and even if she has been delegated to not much more than a Singles Artist at this point, there are enough singles to keep this album afloat for quite a few months to come.
8) Explosions in the Sky - Take Care Take Care Take Care
The world’s most successful post-rock band presented their first album since they hit it big with the Friday Night Lights theme song and really being one of the only bands of the genre to break out. Accordingly, it is their most mainstream album with more heart in it than their usual shadow casting and dark sounding sounds. Of course, even at their most mainstream they remain a relatively niche band. No vocals, 8-10 min long songs…but one listen to the stand-out “Human Qualities” should leave any doubters wondering if perhaps EITS are on to something. And that thing is that no singer is needed to make one of the most humanizing albums of the year.
9) Chris Brown – FAME
It’s been a long road for my man Breezy. We all know it happened. We all know it is not to be forgiven or forgotten. But perhaps it is time to let him get on with his life…he has done his time and has worked ceaselessly with mixtapes and features to get back in the public’s good graces. All of it leading up to FAME…possibly his most urban outing yet. This time around, Chris is rapping. Chris is singing. Chris is clubbing. It is a bit all over the place for me, and yet still manages to stay low energy for the most part. He is reported to be following this up with his Fortune LP later this year…if it can fix the problems with FAME, this just might be Breezy’s biggest year yet.
10)Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane
The lady with the most Grammy’s in history has left her solo outings behind and returned to her band, Union Station. While I maintain that her male counterpart should let Alison take care of the singing on all of the songs because her voice is LITERALLY that of an angel’s, this is a mostly delicate, fragile, and masterful folk album that breaks your heart over and over again. It may not have the full heft or heart of the other heartbreak queen of the year, but it certainly has more poise. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if this album snatched Grammy for Album of the Year in 2012, even if it only makes #10 on this list.