The Hold Steady, Stay Positive: It's one thing to follow up a classic album (Boys and Girls in America) with one that is arguably better than its predecessor. It's another to include three bonus tracks that rank with the best songs the band has written.
2. Amadou and Mariam, Welcome to Mali: The duo's first album in three years hasn't yet North American shores, but the hype it has generated on the other side of the pond is well-deserved. World music that is accessible, enthralling, and enlightening at the same time. Sheer genius.
3. Southside Johnny. Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits: It's all about the horns. Southside Johnny Lyons' interpretations of classic Tom Waits tracks benefits from LaBamba and the Hubcaps rich horn section. The disc crackles with an energy nearly unmatched by any band recording this year.
4. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend: One of the most-hyped new bands of the year lived up to expectations on their thrilling debut, which channeled mid-1980s, Graceland-era sounds with erudite, but not impenetrable, lyrics.
5. Kaiser Chiefs, Off With Their Heads: On their third album, Kaiser Chiefs return with an edgy, tight, 11-track collection, which expertly produced, and chock full of potential radio hits. Or else they would be if you could find a radio station that still played music.
6. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cardinology: The prolific Adams has had some hit or miss releases over the past few years, but his latest, Cardinology is a masterpiece. It's country beats flow like a cool river and bathe you in a haunting pool of spirituality.
7. Hot Chip, Made In the Dark: The band's third album is, quite simply, a dance classic – one that you'll hear at parties for the next decade. It's that rare combination that makes you want to move as much as it makes you want to think.
8. Al Green, Lay It Down: With some artists, it's just enough that they get into the studio and sing, because you know that whatever they do...