Picks and Pans Main: Music
Not as immediate as 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind or 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, this album didn't get the love that it should have gotten from fans. But with Bono and the boys in experimental mode, it expands their sonic horizons to include the kind of moody atmospherics that you might have expected more from Radiohead.
Florence + the Machine, Lungs
On her debut, London's Florence Welch alternately conjures up Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde and Sinéad O'Connor, while displaying a flair for the macabre that can be both sinister ("Girl with One Eye") and sweet ("My Boy Builds Coffins").
Band of Skulls, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey
These scary-good indie rockers—with boy-girl lead vocals—proved to be the best new British band since Arctic Monkeys.
Rihanna, Rated R
After the Chris Brown drama, the 21-year-old diva emerged triumphant. Her gritty fourth album is her coming-of-age manifesto, her Control. It's deeper and darker, harder and heavier than anything you would have expected from the girl who gave us "Umbrella."
Mariah Carey, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
In addition to winning raves for her deglammed turn in Precious, MC, in full vocal flight, delivered one of the best start-to-finish discs of her career—right up there with 1995's Daydream and 2005's The Emancipation of Mimi.
Sorry, Whitney, but Maxwell, with his first CD since 2001, made the comeback of the year thanks to his long-running hit "Pretty Wings." With silky vocals (that lovely falsetto intact) and sumptuous arrangements (cue the horns), the neo-soul star shows that his sensual sounds had been sorely missed.
Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown
After 2004's rock opera American Idiot, these punks produce another socially conscious concept album, ambitiously setting out to make a record that will still be played in the 22nd century. And with anthemic tracks like the epic title tune and the Beatles-on-steroids ballad "21 Guns," they just may have succeeded.
Ida Maria, Fortress 'round My Heart
One of the baddest rock chicks to come around in a long time, this Norwegian newcomer is a quirky cross between Courtney Love, Karen O and Avril Lavigne, with a touch of Björk. She brings a grungy rawness and punk-pop hookiness to cuts like the killer single "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," while revealing her soft side on ballads like the wistful closer, "In the End."
Holly Williams, Here with Me
Her grandfather is Hank Williams and her dad is Hank Williams Jr. It's a family legacy that this singer-songwriter does mighty proud on the year's finest country album. On songs like the spare ballad "Three Days in Bed," she makes the ache hurt so good.
Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day
Singing and rapping over atmospheric electronica soundscapes, the cerebral Cudi makes one of the best hip-hop debuts since mentor Kanye West's The College Dropout. A fantastic voyage, indeed.