Albums of the year, 2010 (and five disappointments)

I seem to publish my albums of the year every other year. Here's the 2006 list and here's 2008. I didn't publish a list last year because I was doing my albums of the decade instead. First of all, here are the new albums that says I've listened to most, based on the number of tracks played by each artist:

1. The Roots - How I Got Over* 2. Field Music - Field Music (Measure) 3. Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers 4. Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu Steps Ahead* 5. These New Puritans - Hidden

*There are probably some older tracks being counted in there too.

That might be a more honest measure of my favourites but it might not. Albums with more tracks naturally have an advantage.

No album has really blown me away this year but here are my 20 favourites with links to Spotify where available:

1. Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers The dubstep genre has provided some of my favourite albums of recent years. File this alongside Burial and King Midas Sound.

2. These New Puritans - Hidden This is a little self-conciously 'arty' but there's something very compelling about it. Great percussion and strings add to the depth of sound.

3. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me I didn't really get Ys, her previous album, but this is wonderful. Beautiful, fragile piano-driven songs that sound great on snowy evenings, as I've recently discovered.

4. The Books - The Way Out This year's Broadcast & The Focus Group, this is a collection of menacing, atmospheric, sample-driven electronica.

5. Field Music - Field Music (Measure) Seventy minutes of precise, sinuous tunes that will appeal to anyone with a taste for XTC.

6. Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise The latest from German techno producer Hendrik Weber. Highly recommended.

7. Wildbirds & Peacedrums - Rivers This minimalist, percussion-driven album by Swedish husband and wife team Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin was originally two EPs. Putting them together creates an old-fashioned album of two halves.

8. The Knife, Mt Sims and Planningtorock - Tomorrow, in a Year Another Swedish duo, siblings this time. The Knife got together with a host of collaborators to produce this electronica-meets-opera concept album about Charles Darwin. It's heavy going in places but stunning in others.

9. Actress - Splazsh An eccentric - and eclectic - collection of "R&B concrete" that is The Wire's album of the year, which should be all the recommendation you need.

10. Beach House - Teen Dream Taking their 60s and 70s rock influences and pairing them with an almost 80s sound, this is a compelling album that bears repeated listening.

11. Bonobo - Black Sands The fourth album of downtempo electronica from Simon Green is more of the same - but that's no bad thing at all.

12. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today I've heard bits of Ariel Pink over the last 10 years or so but this is the first album that's really impressed me. It's psychedelic rock that reminds me of Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna... album.

13. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz Sufjan Stevens really will have to get a move on if he's going to complete his series of albums about every US state. In the meantime, however, this is a pretty good stopgap.

14. The Roots - How I Got Over Not the best of The Roots, by any means, but the quality - and the consistency - is still higher than most hip hop records of 2010.

15. Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer This is a strange album and something of an acquired taste but it rewards persistence. It reminds me a lot of a hip hop Cody ChesnuTT.

16. Caribou - Swim Another case of more of the same being no bad thing, the latest outing from Daniel Snaith is every bit as good as his previous albums.

17. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks I've got a bit of a soft spot for this Scottish indie outfit after seeing them play at SXSW this year. At root they are quite conventional but some neat production tricks and some anthemic songs make this worth a listen.

18. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare Monster stands so far above everything else on this album that the rest can feel like a bit of a disappointment but this is still a very good album.

19. Broken Bells - Broken Bells That bloke from The Shins and producer Danger Mouse get together for an album of song-based electronica. Recommended for fans of The Postal Service.

20. Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here Gil Scott-Heron has been given the Johnny Cash treatment - wheeled out by a producer/record label owner and dusted-up for a new generation. It's flawed - Scott-Heron's lyrics are sometimes weak and the production doesn't always work - but there are enough moments of brilliance to make it worth a listen.

And here are five disappointments:

Eels - End Times I like Eels a lot and this has had good reviews but I just haven't been able to get into it.

Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Pt 2: Return of the Ankh New Amerykah part one was fantastic but this is mediocre. A missed opportunity.

The National - High Violet I've tried and tried but I can't see what the fuss is about with The National. It all just merges into one mid-tempo, Ian Curtis-voiced, sub-Wilco drone. I like the drummer though.

Belle & Sebastian - Write About Love It's now more than a decade since Belle & Sebastian released an album that I loved. Still, the ones since then have usually had a handful of excellent songs. This doesn't, as far as I can tell. They've always been twee, of course, but this time they've dialled the tweeness all the way back to bland.

Of Montreal - False Priest This isn't a bad album. It's worth listening to, certainly, but I'm listing it as a disappointment because I'm still waiting for them to produce another record that matches Hissing Fauna... This isn't in that class.

Radiohead's hidden '01 and 10' album

How did I not know about this? It was only through reading Cracked's post 10 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Albums that tipped me off to the supposed hidden Radiohead album that can be made by mixing together OK Computer and In Rainbows. It seems like this theory originated on the Puddlegum blog shortly after In Rainbows came out in 2007. Noting that OK Computer had been released 10 years earlier, Puddlegum discovered a whole sequence of occurences of the number 10 that apparently connected the two albums. Then, and it's not clear why, they came up with the idea to merge them:

"To create the 01 and 10 playlist, begin with OK Computer’s track one, Airbag, and follow this with In Rainbow’s track one, 15 Step. Alternate the albums, track by track, until you reach Karma Police on OK Computer, making All I Need the tenth track on the 01 and 10 playlist. Follow Karma Police with Fitter Happier from OK Computer, for tracks eleven and twelve. These two tracks act as a bridge between the first ten and the following ten tracks on the 01 and 10 playlist. Then continue to alternate the albums again, picking up with Faust Arp on In Rainbows, with Electioneering on OK Computer as the following track."

It does work surprisingly well - if In Rainbows was on Spotify I would have created a playlist to demonstrate. The guitars at the end of Paranoid Android seem to continue into Bodysnatchers, for example, and Nude seems to float back down from the same dark spot of night sky that Subterranean Homesick Alien vanished into seconds earlier.

It's almost certainly not deliberate, of course. From what I've heard about Radiohead's working methods, I doubt that they could be disciplined enough to carry the idea through even if they had thought of it. This is a band whose songs often go through numerous variations before making it to record and who chop and change the running order of their albums right until the very last.

Puddlegum notes that ideas "in one song" on the 01 and 10 album are "picked up by the next". Indeed ideas like alienation, technology, social collapse, death and so on do recur throughout this playlist, just as they do on pretty much everything Thom Yorke writes.

Still, this is a fascinating way to listen to these two albums. Radiohead followed OK Computer with Kid A - a wilful attempt to avoid ending up in the middle of the road. As I wrote this time last year (see number 17 on this list), In Rainbows is the band's most successful attempt since that moment to reconcile their experimental and traditional sides. This playlist makes that clear.

An album for each year of my life

I spent some time today drawing up a list of favourite albums - one for each year of my life so far. It's something I've been meaning to post since I read about the idea on Phil Edwards' blog - almost two years ago. Still, I got there in the end.

I added a couple of rules for myself. First, I decided not to use any artist more than once. Second, I've restricted myself to albums that I own - so no records that I remember fondly from my youth but no longer have a copy of. It's very much written from my present perspective; I wasn't that big a fan of Kraftwerk when I was four, for example.

Here's the list. Where available, I've linked to the album on Spotify.

1974: Stevie Wonder, Fulfillingness' First Finale
1975: Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
1976: David Bowie, Station to Station
1977: Brian Eno, Before and After Science
1978: Kraftwerk, Die Mensch-Maschine
1979: Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps
1980: Elvis Costello, Get Happy!
1981: Soft Cell, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
1982: Sun Ra, Nuclear War
1983: Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes
1984: The Fall, The Wonderful and Frightening World of
1985: Tom Waits, Rain Dogs
1986: REM, Lifes Rich Pageant
1987: Prince, Sign O The Times
1988: Pixies, Surfer Rosa
1989: The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
1990: A Tribe Called Quest, People's Instinctive Travels...
1991: Massive Attack, Blue Lines
1992: Sugar, Copper Blue
1993: Morphine, Cure For Pain
1994: Pulp, His 'n' Hers
1995: Bjork, Post
1996: Belle & Sebastian, If You're Feeling Sinister
1997: Radiohead, OK Computer
1998: Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
1999: Mos Def, Black on Both Sides
2000: Outkast, Stankonia
2001: Matthew Herbert, Bodily Functions
2002: The Roots, Phrenology
2003: The Postal Service, Give Up
2004: Republic of Loose, This is the Tomb of the Juice
2005: Roots Manuva, Awfully Deep
2006: TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
2007: Hanne Hukkelberg, Rykestrasse 68
2008: Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
2009: The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love

The list itself surprises me in how mainstream it is. It's not easy to choose just one album for a given year and I think I'm a sucker for the idea of 'the classic' album. Perhaps I'll do this again another time and pick my second favourite for each year.

Yes it's anoraky to make lists (and I did say this blog was turning entirely into a blog of lists) but I'd recommend that you try it yourself. It's an englightening way to chart your life.

My favourite albums of the decade, 1-25

1. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
More than just a great album, this was the moment when Radiohead made the conscious decision to keep striving for challenging, experimental music, rather than setting down for a cosy life as, say, U2. Radiohead have grown into this sound very well, merging it over recent albums with their more traditional instrumentation so successfully that this record doesn't sound as startling as it did at the time.

Though their use of electronics sounds unsophisticated to anyone familiar with the Warp Records catalogue, Radiohead brought their gift for songwriting to their new approach. There are at least six songs on here that stand comparison with anything in Radiohead's catalogue and there's not a weak track on the album. Is it as instantly likeable as The Bends or OK Computer? Possibly not, but I'm still hearing new things in Kid A a decade after its release.

2. The White Stripes - Elephant (2003)
Until the last minute I was going to put White Blood Cells here, however, for the opening track alone this deserves second place. That song, Seven Nation Army, is, for me, the song of the decade. But the album is packed with other great songs too - Black Math and The Hardest Button to Button being two other examples. Overall it's darker and more challenging than its predecessor, with a stronger selection of songs than the two albums that followed it. It's hard to imagine Jack White ever bettering this.

3. Outkast - Stankonia (2000)
If Seven Nation Army is the song of the decade, Outkast's Ms Jackson runs it a close second. It's a mini-masterpiece and one that encapsulates the diverse influences and sprawling vision of the album as a whole. Bombs Over Baghdad is a ridiculously fast - almost too fast - drum n bass workout, while So Fresh, So Clean brings elements of neo-soul into the usual hip hop mix. Elsewhere the influence of Prince and P-Funk are prominent but the overall sound is Outkast's own.

4. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)
A hard band to describe, TV on the Radio play alternative rock influenced by jazz and experimental music. All three of their albums are excellent - and distinct in their approach. This is the rockier of the three, particularly in the second half, but it's still remarkably versatile. The production is better than on their debut but the band uses it to deepen the murkiness of their sound, rather than to move towards the mainstream. Most of the songs here are challenging and reward repeated listens.

5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)
There was a trend at the turn of the decade for bands playing punk-influenced funk and electronica. While !!! and The Rapture both made great individual tracks, LCD Soundsystem made by far the best album. Sound of Silver has wit and energy, for example on Get Innocuous and North American Scum, but also surprising depth and, on Someone Great, genuine poignancy.

6. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner (2003)
It astonishes me that some critics have placed The Streets' debut above this in their end-of-decade lists. Boy in Da Corner is perhaps the first British hip hop album to stand alongside the best of the genre from America. Mixing in elements of dancehall and garage, it sounds at times like it's landed from another planet. Dizzee Rascal is far from the best rapper - his flow is somewhat nasal and whiney - but he more than makes up for that in his energy, attitude and wit. Sonically, too, the album is extraordinary. Fix Up, Look Sharp sounds like it could knock down buildings, while I Luv U, Round We Go and Jezebel are all head-spinning, twitching pop tunes. An exceptional record.

7. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)
This is a beautiful, fragile and folky record that was last year's coffee table album of choice. You shouldn't hold that against it though. It's unthreatening and conventional but so perfectly realised that it doesn't matter. The lofi recording, the connecting theme of many of the songs and Justin Vernon's plaintive vocals all work together to create an absorbing listen.

8. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love (2009)
Well, this gives away my pick for album of the year. I've been unimpressed by The Decemberists before now, rating them as a mildly entertaining Neutral Milk Hotel tribute band. However, this is a revelation. Yes, it's very silly - a concept album about a woman who falls in love with a man who shape-shifts into a fawn every night and is kept prisoner in the forest by his adopted mother, the queen. But that's beside the point. This is the most ambitious thing The Decemberists have attempted and they're equal to the task. Melodies recur and re-emerge throughout the album, guest vocalists Becky Stark and Shara Worden make excellent contributions for their characters and the band moves impressively away from twee folk at times to deliver some thumping heavy rock. Very few of the songs work outside the context of the whole album, which will put off many listeners, but the complete work is well worth hearing.

9. K'Naan - The Dusty Foot Philosopher (2005)
He sounds a little like Eminem but K'Naan is a Somalian rapper who learned American rap songs phonetically before he even learned English. Having escaped the Somali civil war in 1991, K'Naan spent his teens in New York and Canada. His lyrics are informed by having grown up in the kind of ghettos that would terrify the most posturing of American rappers. As he explains on What's Hardcore: "If I rhymed about home and got descriptive, I'd make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit."

10. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (2001)
This was the album that brought The White Stripes to mainstream attention and it's not hard to see why. Taking garage rock on a Kinks-inspired pop detour, Jack and Meg White deliver a punchy selection of songs that show just how much can be achieved with only guitar, drums and occasional piano.

11. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (2006)
This list is pretty light on R'n'B, which is a genre in which I have little interest. So it's possible I'm guilty of over-rating the headline-grabbing white girl at the expense of those who've been doing the real work in the genre over the years. Still, Winehouse is no Joss Stone. There's a real individual vision here and a talent for writing the kind of soulful pop that a seemingly endless procession of wannabes have been trying to replicate over the last few years.

12. The Streets - Original Pirate Material (2002)
This is a far more conservative album than critics would have you believe, which is why you'll find it on more iPods than Dizzee Rascal's debut, above. Mike Skinner takes UK garage and a dash of hip hop - but just a dash, Skinner can't actually rap - and fuses it with elements of The Specials by way of Parklife-era Blur. That still leaves him in pretty good company and he delivers a collection of funny and sharp pop tracks. Occasionally his reach exceeds his grasp, such as when he throws in the word 'perchant' when he clearly means 'penchant'. Sadly, misfires of that nature have dominated his subsequent work and he hasn't been able to match the quality of Original Pirate Material.

13. Battles - Mirrored (2007)
Putting the 'mental' into experimental music, this New York outfit have created an album that sounds thoroughly alien. With odd, clipped rhythms piled onto meandering guitar lines and distorted nonsense vocals, it would be easy to expect an unlistenable mess. However, it all holds together very well and the songs develop into a series of mesmerising journeys.

14. Fever Ray - Fever Ray (2009)
Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half of The Knife, wrote this album following the birth of her second child. It brings all the magic of childbirth home. "Eyes are open and mouth cries; haven't slept since summer," she croons at one point, in a voice that sounds like someone who hasn't been troubled by sanity in quite some time. Sleep deprivation haunts the album, from the sound of Andersson's vocals to the creepy electronic tones that accompany her. It's an exhausting album but it's a breathtaking one too.

15. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Merriweather Post Pavilion sounds like the Beach Boys played on a fairground organ - demented but peculiarly entertaining. It's probably the Collective's most accessible outing, focusing their energies into recognisable songs. My Girls and Summertime Clothes are the obvious stand-outs but there isn't really a weak song on the album.

16. Lambchop - Nixon (2000)
Alt-country has never been a broad enough genre to contain Lambchop. Kurt Wagner's loose collective takes classic country, adds in a dash of Philadelphia Soul and - most of all - the spirit of Curtis Mayfield. Nixon was the first of a string of superb albums released by Lambchop over the last decade. From the moment Wagner sings the first words of The Old Gold Shoe, the album has a warm, comforting feel to it. The highlight is the sarcastically jaunty Up With People but - and I seem to have been saying this in relation to a lot of the albums on this list - every song is a great one.

17. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)
Neil Young, one of Thom Yorke's heroes, once wrote that the success of Heart of Gold put him "in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there". Radiohead, faced with a similar prospect in the late Nineties, took their own turn for the ditch in 2000 with Kid A. Their music ever since can be seen as an attempt to fuse the two sides of their split personality - to travel somehow in the ditch and the middle of the road at the same time. That impression is furthered by the age of some of the songs - Reckoner dates from 2001, while Nude was written in 1998. With In Rainbows, which opens with 15 Step's electronic beats slowly merging with Phil Selway's real ones, the finally seem to have managed it. The result is Radiohead's best album since Kid A and, encouragingly, one that hints at better to come.

18. Mclusky - Mclusky Do Dallas (2002)
Though not quite as melodically gifted as the Pixies, Mclusky were their nearest successors in the late Nineties and in the early part of the 2000s. Mclusky Do Dallas is their best album (though some of their best tracks were released as non-album singles between this album and its follow-up, The Difference Between Me and You Is I'm Not On Fire). The songs here are frequently hilarious slivers of hammering punk. The pace starts fast with the rattling cymbal intro to Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues and, apart from a brief lull for Fuck This Band, doesn't let up. It's an invigorating album.

19. Matthew Herbert - Goodbye Swingtime (2003)
Yet another appearance by Matthew Herbert, this time producing a swing album backed by a big band. Of course, in Matthew Herbert's case, things are rarely that simple. The big band are frequently constructed from samples and he makes his usual bizarre choices, such as creating percussion by recording the band tearing up copies of the Daily Mail. It doesn't matter whether you know any of this or not, of course, what matters are the songs and the ones hear a well put together to create an album that sounds both contemporary and like a relic from the past.

20. Kanye West - College Dropout (2004)
Before he disappeared up his own ego and before his distinctive production techniques became ubiquitous, Kanye West was actually making good records. This, his debut, is packed with mainstream-friendly tunes, sharp lyrics and a mischievous sense of humour.

21. Feist - Let It Die (2004)
Though her debut had been an underground success, Feist didn't begin to win mainstream attention until this follow-up (and even then she didn't truly reach the masses until Apple used her single 1-2-3-4 in an iPod advert). This album is half made up of cover versions and half original. All of it is mellow, easy listening fare. That's no bad thing because Feist's voice and the strength of the material make the whole record a delight.

22. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (2007)
This is another album you're unlikely to find on many best-of-the-decade lists but I love it. It starts out as a straight-ahead indie-glam romp and the highlight of the first half is one of the most upbeat songs about depression you're ever likely to hear as Kevin Barnes exhorts the chemicals in his brain to help him out. Halfway through Barnes is transformed into "Georgie Fruit" and the record turns into a lo-fi Prince album. All very odd but hugely enjoyable.

23. Matthew Herbert - Bodily Functions (2001)
With typical obsessiveness, Matthew Herbert has built this album about the human body on a foundation of samples created by the human body. He says there's some laser-eye surgery sampled in there somewhere. However, as always, the finished product is satisfying whether or not you know how it was made. Working once again with Dani Siciliano, Herbert creates a superb jazz-influenced house record.

24. Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)
This collaboration between rapper MF Doom and producer Madlib is almost perversely uncommercial. The tracks here are so short that many of them are gone before they've really begun but over a few listens they get under your skin. It's artsy, jazzy hip hop and it's excellent.

25. The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
This collaboration between Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and electronic music producer Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel was put together by the duo mailing tapes to one another, hence the name of the project. The result is an excellent collection of electronic pop songs, a little reminiscent of The Human League and Yazoo, among others.. The highlight is Such Great Heights, a wistful love song later reinterpreted by Iron & Wine, but there is plenty more to enjoy. Gibbard's dry humour works well on Nothing Better, an end of the relationship duet inspired by Don't You Want Me Baby, and on We Will Become Silhouettes. However, he does occasionally come unstuck, particularly on the cringeworthy Sleeping In. Nevertheless, even when Gibbard's lyrics lose their way, Tamborello's music keeps things moving along nicely.

My favourite albums of the decade, 26-50

Part three - one more to go. I know you're excited. As before, links go to Spotify, where available, images link to Amazon.

26. Akron/Family - Set Em Wild/Set Em Free (2009)
Pastoral folk, rock freak-outs and experimentation are all, by turns, scattered through this album. It's a recent discovery for me, and one I like a lot, but I don't know how it will fare as I spend more time with it.

27. Danger Doom - The Mouse and the Mask (2005)
Danger Mouse has been one of the key musical figures of the decade as far as I'm concerned. While The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley and his work with Gorillaz don't feature on this list (though all of it easily could) some of his quirkier releases do. This one, with rapper MF Doom, is based on cartoons from Adult Swim. It's very funny and very catchy.

28. The Coup - Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006)
More funny, catchy hip hop, this time with strong element of funk. The Coup sound like a politically-charged Outkast. Get That Monkey Off Your Back and I Love Boosters are the highlights.

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29. Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett (2005)
I'm not a huge drum n bass fan but this album, which adds elements of Bartok, Stravinsky and Mahler to an electronic background, is fantastic. Hajnal is the stand-out track.

30. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (2008)
A strange mix of US college indie and Afropop, Vampire Weekend's debut is a success primarily because the songs are so catchy. The best tracks are the first three, which can leave the rest of the album feeling like a letdown but it remains a very good record.

31. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005)
It looked like Conor Oberst was going to crossover to the mainstream with this album, which refines his typical folk-tinged, social commentary college rock. The lyrics are frequently heavy-handed and Oberst is at his best when he lays off the politics, as on Lua and The First Day of My Life. However, the songs here are so well constructed that he even gets away with a cheeky re-write of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

32. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
The Soft Bulletin, released in 1999, was a hard act to follow but The Flaming Lips arguably bettered it with Yoshimi. It mixes everything that's best about the band - experimental flights of fancy, quirky pop and lyrics that are idealistic without being trite or patronising. These songs somehow embed themselves inside you.

33. Missy Elliott - Under Construction (2002)
The second of three albums released in just 31 months between 2001 and 2003. All three are great but this one, which contains both Gossip Folks and Work It, is the best. Had Elliott combined the best of the tracks from Miss E..., Under Construction and This Is Not A Test into one album, it would easily have been among the very best of the decade. Nevertheless, you should still listen to all three.

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34. Sigur Ros - Takk (2005)
By the time this came out, Sigur Ros had lost the element of surprise. Their haunting, unearthly sweeping songs had become relatively familiar. In a way that makes Takk more of an achievement. Unable to get by on the fact that nobody had heard anything like them before, this record shows they're perfectly able to make it on the strength of their songs, a strength exemplified by the fact that even your granny has heard Hoppipolla, though she may not know it.

35. Roots Manuva - Awfully Deep (2005)
The best album from the man with one of the best voices in rap. This is his darkest album, product of a breakdown of sorts. Thankfully he seems to have come out the other side, if the chirpiness of last year's Slime and Reason is any indication but as is so often the case, a little torment makes for a great album.

36. Danger Mouse and Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life (2003)
This was how I first heard Danger Mouse. There's nothing challenging about this album but it remains one of my favourite hip hop records. It has a great sense of humour - a choir singing "I'm giving bitches good dick" on the title track, for example, or the ironic Don't Do Drugs with its "Whitney's chillin', Bobby's chillin', let's get high cos we love the feelin'" refrain. However, it's DM's production that lifts it out of the ordinary, particularly on Medieval.

37. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha (2007)
I wasn't sure how high to put Andrew Bird or whether to choose this album over its more experimental predecessor, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. If even I can't agree with myself, what hope do you have? Still, I'm going for this because it was the album that introduced me to Bird. It's his most accessible record but still displays plenty of his quirks, not least the distinctive violin loops that underpin most songs. Oh, and there's whistling but that shouldn't put you off.

38. The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale (2008)
It's impossible not to fall in love with an album that opens with a spoken beat - "tick, tick, clap, tick, tickticktick, clap". This is technically an EP but it runs to more than half an hour and if you like hip hop from the late Eighties and early Nineties then you'll love this.

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39. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (2005)
Sufjan Stevens is going to have to get a move on if he's to complete his project of making an album about every state in the USA. This is only his second and he still hasn't got round to a third. This feels more upbeat than the first in the series, Michigan, with big coils of brass springing their way through many of the songs. The subject matter is often dark, as on the mesmerising John Wayne Gacy, Jr, but Stevens usually brings in a burst of silliness to dispel the gloom.

40. Bole 2 Harlem - Bole 2 Harlem Vol. 1 (2006)
Mixing New York hip hop with traditional Ethiopian music, this album feels at once familiar and strange. It's an exuberant album, filled with great hooks. Sadly, there's unlikely to be a second volume - singer Tigist Shibabaw died early last year.

41. The Roots - Game Theory (2006)
The Roots are one of the best bands working today and they've developed their sound impressively over the course of the four albums they've released this decade. This is the strongest - a dark, complex record that samples Sly and the Family Stone, Public Enemy and Radiohead.

42. Four Tet - Rounds (2003)
Kieren Hebden's second appearance on this list (Fridge was at 91), this is a very listenable collection of lo-fi, melodic electronica.

43. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (2006)
Given Ghostface's work rate over the last decade, the quality of his output has been amazing. Drawing influences from experimental hip hop - both Dilla and Doom worked on this record - Ghostface adds his own idiosyncratic world view and a complete disregard for the mainstream.

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44. Hanne Hukkelberg - Rykestrasse 68 (2006)
An extraordinary album. Norwegian songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg has a quirky sound with jazz and folk influences and the occasional burst of weird instrumentation - a typewriter, for example. It's a strange mix but it suits the songs perfectly, particularly on her flawless cover of the Pixies' Break My Body.

45. Mos Def - The Ecstatic (2009)
After his excellent 1999 debut, Black on Both Sides, Mos Def spent most of the decade floundering. He was seemingly more interested in his acting career than his music. After two mediocre efforts, this year saw a return to form with The Ecstatic. It's not as good as his debut but it shows that Mos Def can still make great records when he puts his mind to it.

46. DeVotchKa - A Mad and Faithful Telling (2008)
Despite the central European touches, DeVotchKa are actually from Denver. The fusion works seemlessly and the songs here are amazingly catchy.

47. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (2008)
This is a world away from the neo-soul with which Badu made her name. It's experimental and often downright weird, adding elements of hip hop and electronica to Badu's brilliant vocals.

48. Dirty Projectors - Rise Above (2007)
A cover of Black Flag's album Damaged, recorded largely from memory after Dave Longstreth found an empty Black Flag cassette box in his attic, or so the story goes. The result is weird but fascinating, whether you know the Black Flag original or not.

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49. Lyrics Born - Later That Day (2003)
Japanese-American rapper Lyrics Born has an excellent voice and is part of the west coast scene that also includes DJ Shadow and Blackalicious. This album is full of wry humour, catchy songs and great beats.

50. Hazmat Modine - Bahamut (2007)
Hazmat Modine are known as a blues band but that's only because they're so hard to classify. The band uses instruments that you wouldn't expect in blues music, including the tuba and the saxophone, and brings in musical influences from all over the world. The result is sublime.