1. Paul Simon — So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music).
Simon’s first album in five years is lyrically impressive and a delicious concoction of blues, gospel and bluegrass.
2. Bush — Sea of Memories (Entertainment One Music).
A triumphant return to form by the British rock/grunge act that dominated the ’90s music scene.
3. TV on the Radio — Nine Types of Light (Interscope Records).
This Brooklyn, N.Y.-based band’s infusion of styles and willingness to risk has made them one of the more original groups in the past 10 years, and the beats and tape loop constructions are contagious without being narcissistic.
4. Robbie Robertson — How to Become Clairvoyant (429 Records).
A mystical and elegiac meditation on six decades of making music, Robertson’s tales on Clairvoyant are ones of wonderment and mystery, as he wanders old corridors of memories with guest musicians the caliber of Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton.
5. Radiohead — The King of Limbs (TBD Records).
Not forgetting its root sound, this heady rock group is content to go a step or two (or 15) outside its comfort zone in order to reach new ground.
6. The Smithereens — 2011 (Entertainment One Music).
A Beatles-esque brew of catchy pop songs anchors this veteran New Jersey rock band’s first album of new material of this millennium.
7. Tori Amos — Night of Hunters (Deutsche Grammophon).
For her ambitious debut on this well-known classical music label, Amos compiled songs from myriad sources covering the past several hundred years and infused them with her own unique sensibility.
8. The Feelies — Here Before (Bar None Records).
The signature kings of subliminal rhythms have returned with a low-key vengeance, as this influential ’80s band offers some of the most distinct and infectious bridges in recent memory.
9. Death Cab for Cutie — Codes and Keys (Atlantic).
Vertiginous music and lyrics by a band that pulls you in and dares you to let go. This time around, the quartet stretches its sound by concentrating less on guitars and more on percussion, keyboards and synth effects.
10. Nikki Kummerow — Firecracker (self-released).
The Australian-born, Nashville, Tenn.-based singer/songwriter’s debut has yet to be picked up by a major label, and after listening to these sparkling little alt-rock gems, you have to wonder what’s wrong with the music industry.
1. R.E.M. — Collapse into Now (Warner Bros.)
2. The Decemberists — The King Is Dead (Capitol)
3. The Droves — Out of Herself (Eastern Spurs)
4. Matthew Sweet — Modern Art (EMI Music)