December 30, 2013 12:00 PM

1. Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience

The first – and finest – half of JT’s comeback opus is the challenging vision of an artist who, seeing new dimensions in sound and song structure, brought the album back.

2. Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg

Bloody special at just 19, this Brit inhabits his smashing debut with an old soul possessed by Buddy Holly, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. His haunting presence gives you the chills.

3. Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady

Whether channeling Stevie Wonder and a young Michael Jackson or feeling the funk with Prince, this avant-R&B queen was music’s most electrifying woman in 2013.

4. The National

Trouble Will Find Me

After 2010’s High Violet, the mope-rockers make it back-to-back peaks, discovering heartbreaking beauty and catharsis in the darkness.

5. J. Cole

Born Sinner

With his second album, Jay Z’s protégé won the 2013 battle against his mentor – and every other rapper – on the strength of his soulful beats and soul-baring lyrics.

6. Kanye West


After my initial review from a couple of spins, it’s a miracle this made my Top 10. But brilliance eventually shone through all the gloom and doom.

7. Laura Mvula

Sing to the Moon

Nothing else sounded like this Englishwoman’s debut in 2013. Conjuring up Nina Simone, Jill Scott and Björk, she makes magic of her own.

8. The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow

Taking the alt-folk movement to the heartland, digging into country and gospel along the way, this new Brooklyn trio hits rootsy pay dirt.

9. Pearl Jam

Lightning Bolt

Striking hard and fast at times (“Mind Your Manners”), softly and slowly at others (“Future Days”), the ’90s rock gods capture lightning.

10. Brandy Clark

12 Stories

Behind the vivid, wicked storytelling of her debut, this sought-after song-writer edges client Kacey Musgraves for the year’s best country album.

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