In our second pandemic year, our collective sense of frozen time began to thaw in drips and dribbles. Sometimes music helped get things gushing again: Bells were ringing, people were falling in and out of love, and the clock seemed to be ticking ahead. Other times, we were reminded that music is a temporal medium that can suspend our sense of forward motion — which means some of the year’s best music felt as if it had reached us from inside a bizarre dream, or a magic smog, or a fit of ecstatic repetition.

As ever, this best-of list isn’t a declaration of hierarchy so much as a time management tool to help you prioritize your listening. Our time is valuable no matter how it moves.

10. Kacey Musgraves, 'Star-Crossed'

The Texas-born country star appears to have spent the past three years mastering her whole still-waters-run-deep thing. She’s never sounded deeper or stiller than she does on this tidy parcel of separation songs, singing about disappointment and heartbreak with mysterious composure and anodyne sweetness. Adele made the year’s biggest divorce album but Musgraves made the better one.

9. Yeat, 'Up 2 Me'

The fourth wall is already a highly permeable thing in rap music, but it still felt like a massive thrill when Yeat, a Novocaine-mouthed rapper from Oregon by way of California, punctuated his viral hit “Get Busy,” by warning his audience of a big tintibulation in their immediate future: “This song already was turnt, but here’s a bell.” DING! This album followed soon after, filled with artfully smeared rhymes and a surplus of ring-a-ding-ding-ding-dong.

8. Yasmin Williams, 'Urban Driftwood'

How many different ways can this acoustic guitarist get those six strings to vibrate — and how many different ideas can those vibrations contain? Williams unveils her answers throughout these 10 instrumentals in an unorthodox style, banging and plucking melodies from her guitar in gestures that ultimately signal empathy, humility, patience and other virtues that shouldn’t feel so strange.

7. Lana Del Rey, 'Chemtrails Over the Country Club'

Sixty-one seconds into her seventh studio album, our weird hero whispers something about that trip she took “to the Men in Music Business Conference down in Orlando,” and the moment immediately applies for permanent residence inside our heads in two different ways. First as music, as a hook, as a melodized lyric that qualifies as catchy despite its peculiarity. And second as an image, or a place, or, in her words, “a scene.” What does this conference look like? Who’s there? What are they doing? What are they wearing? What happens next? And then there’s a broader metaphysical question about listening itself: When you’re still wondering about the social dynamics of the MMBC in silence as you try to drift to sleep at night, are you still listening to a Lana Del Rey song?

6. Natural Information Society, Evan Parker, 'Descension (Out of Our Constrictions)'

The propulsive jazz that bassist and guimbri player Joshua Abrams makes in this awesome Chicago ensemble continues to feel like a living, breathing, growing thing. This time around, though, the emphasis is on the breathing. Legendary British saxophonist Evan Parker sits in with the group, using his signature circular breathing techniques to help elevate the groove to an even more ecstatic place.

5. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, the London Symphony Orchestra, 'Promises'

At John Coltrane’s side in the 1960s and in his shadow ever after, Pharoah Sanders has shown us how human breath — even when channeled into music through a saxophone — can serve as a shout, a scream, a cry, or a warning. Now, as Sanders enters his 80s, he’s reminding us that the breath can be fragile, too. Flanked by the British producer Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra, he’s reorganizing his turbulent sound into something delicate, wise and completely unashamed of its own beauty.

4. Turnstile, 'Glow On'

Disciplined and imaginative, this Baltimore quintet approaches hardcore punk as a tradition to uphold and a borderless realm of possibilities to explore. Can hardcore be this colorful and plush? Can it have dreamy synth interludes? Can it make references to Baltimore club music and D.C. go-go and the Delfonics? Can it sometimes sound like Jane’s Addiction? Can it do all of these things without sacrificing its intensity, its moshability, or its sense of purpose? It can.

3. Caetano Veloso, 'Meu Coco'

This gentle colossus of Brazilian song made a vivid and vital quarantine album that follows an astonishing array of rhythms in all kinds of directions, but the most interesting paths seem to be leading the 79-year-old Veloso toward the youngest people alive. “Meu Coco” contains a lullaby dedicated to a grandson who had already learned to sing himself to sleep, and another one that, according to an interview with the songwriter, essentially asks a generation of newborns, “What will be your role in the salvation of the world?”

2. Grouper, 'Shade'

As Grouper, Liz Harris records her magnetic folk songs in a way that makes them sound like they’re coming through a thin wall or a thick fog. You’ll wish you could walk right up to them and inspect the details, but you can’t. Seems like a mean trick, but if you keep listening, her evasiveness becomes her generosity. In a chaotic world, this music holds you in place.

1. Playboi Carti, 'Whole Lotta Red'

This great Georgia rapper appears to form his favorite lyrics in spontaneous blurts of ecstasy, then commits to them completely, drilling them into our psyche with relentless repetition, daring us to feel inured. “Whole Lotta Red” dropped on Christmas Day last year, a deluxe edition failed to materialize in the new year, and Carti’s promised follow-up, “Narcissist,” still hasn’t landed. No problem. This album sounds like nothing else on our melting planet, and wrapping our ears around its vastness takes time. Here’s how it starts: “Never too much. Never too much. Never too much. Never too much. Never too much. Never too much. Never too much. Never too much.”