Globe writers sound off
Listen as each of the reviewers talk about one album that stood out.
1. Andrew Bird, "The Mysterious Production of Eggs" Righteous Babe. A conservatory-trained violinist and world-class whistler who composes riddled verse about the laws of physics, Bird has fashioned that most freakishly elusive of sonic marvels: a pop album that resonates with history and sounds exhilaratingly original all at once.
2. Sufjan Stevens, "Illinois" Asthmatic Kitty. Tottering grooves, painterly words, and the weirdest-ever history of the Prairie state collide in this sprawling and radiant indie-pop gem. Don't let the obscure, clause-heavy song titles scare you off. Theres enchanted chamber-folk around every twisted linguistic bend, lush and lo-fi and endlessly lovely.
3. Neil Diamond, "12 Songs" Columbia. After decades of slavish devotion to sequins and saccharine, Diamond returned to songwriting form with this earthy, stripped-down collection. Special shout-out to producer Rick Rubin, who worked similar late-career magic with Johnny Cash.
4. The Mountain Goats, "The Sunset Tree" 4AD. John Darnelle's skewed, cerebral take on the human condition isn't for the faint-hearted: the indie-pop auteur's maiden voyage into autobiography -- the disc is dedicated to his abusive step-father -- is as emotionally devastating as it is sonically sublime.
5. Beck, "Geuro" Interscope. He's no longer rock's zany whiz-kid, but Beck is still cobbling brilliantly kaleidoscopic pastiches: this year's model is dark and devilish, a patchwork of bossa nova, rap, country-blues, and classic pop stitched with vintage wit and growing despair.
6. Aqueduct, "I Sold Gold" Interscope. Brian Wilson meets the Flaming Lips. Enough said.
7. M.I.A., "Arular" XL. The young Sri Lankan MC lived up to her pre-release hype with a clanking, delirous debut that mashes Indian ragga, Jamaican dancehall, crunk and electro-pop, nursery rhymes and rap. A party record with a serious political agenda and a brilliantly uncategorizable sound.
8. Franz Ferdinand, "You Could Have It So Much Better" Sony. The Scottish rockers bucked the sophomore slump with this wickedly stylish collection of killer hooks, nervous energy, and dark humor plus a pair of ballads that suggest theres more to Franz Ferdinand than cheap synthesizers and manic beats.
9. Paul McCartney, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" Capitol. Honestly, I didn't think he had it in him anymore. But these complicated ballads, ruminative rock songs, and ingenious arrangements are the work of a vital, still-inspired musician.
10. Madonna, "Confessions on a Dance Floor" Warner Bros. For being savvy enough to know when its time to stop trying, quit thinking, and act naturally. For surrendering to the power of the pink leotard. For not rapping.