1. PJ Harvey: "Let England Shake"
This concept album about war, which loosely invokes the Gallipoli campaign, is raw and literate and shattering. Not just the year's best, but the most quietly remarkable album in ages.
2. Wye Oak: "Civilian"
The Baltimore-based male/female duo releases its best disc yet, thanks in no small part to vocalist Jenn Wasner, one of rock's best guitarists.
3. M83: "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming"
Shimmery and eclectic, childlike and French, this is an alternate universe soundtrack to "Where the Wild Things Are."
4. Black Keys, "El Camino"
They've never made a bad album before, and they're not about to start now.
5. Charles Bradley: "No Time For Dreaming"
Bradley didn't release this swinging retro-soul disc (his official debut) until he was 62. Think of him as a male, slightly funkier version of Sharon Jones.
6. The Decemberists, "The King is Dead"
A welcome return to roots-rock form after years of overly-ornate experimentation. It would sound like an amazing, long-lost R.E.M. album even without its Peter Buck cameo.
7. Frank Ocean, "Nostalgia, ULTRA"
The least objectionable member of Odd Future is a crooner at heart. His (eventual) debut will blow the doors off. Until then, this will do nicely.
8. Adele, "21"
Adele could have gone the way of Kelly Clarkson. Both are once-in-a-generation voices who, lacking singular visions of their own, have turned themselves over to Ryan Tedder types. "21" shows that, one time in a 100, the use of superstar producers and rent-a-writers can actually produce a great album.
9. Girls: "Father, Son, Holy Ghost"
More great retro-rock from the world's least-Googleable band.
10. Childish Gambino, "Camp"
It hasn't escaped my notice that I may be the only critic in the world to put this on their year-end list. Don't care. Still love it. This was the least self-serious hip-hop album of 2011, and in the year that brought us "Watch the Throne," that has to be good for something.