Happy holidays! It's the time of year when we look back and that's what we're doing for the next two weeks. This week, we'll look at the 25 best albums and next week, we'll review the 25 best songs.
5. Rihanna, “Talk That Talk” (Island Def Jam): What makes RiRi's state-of-the-art dance pop better than the rest is her ability to soak in musical trends and cultural trends and sweat it out as her own thudding angst (“Where Have You Been?”) and aching triumph (“We Found Love.”)
4. Bon Iver, “Bon Iver” (Jagjaguwar): Justin Vernon writes songs with the meticulous mastery of a painter, knowing exactly what words would make his angelic voice sound even better and what instrumentation makes his point even stronger. And yes, “Holocene” does deserve its song of the year Grammy nomination.
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3. Joseph Arthur, “The Graduation Ceremony” (Lonely Astronaut): He may not get the hype, but Joseph Arthur builds acoustic atmospherics as beautiful as Bon Iver and melodies as memorable as a slew of next-Dylan singer-songwriters. Add the lovely “Out on a Limb” and the poignant “Face in the Crowd,” as well as his ode to our shared homeland “Midwest,” to his impressive catalog.
2. Twilight Singers, “Dynamite Steps” (Sub Pop): Greg Dulli drops another stunning soundtrack to the dark, art-house thriller playing in his mind. “She Was Stolen” is a sweet-sounding lover's lament/revenge fantasy. “On the Corner” conjures all sorts of seductive danger, while “Waves” is a return to his harder-edged, grungier days with the Afghan Whigs. It's the most compelling rock album of the year.