It was a shockingly underwhelming year for hip-hop unfortunately. Common however released "Finding Forever," The king of "consciousness rap" schools us on body image and materialism on "Drivin' Me Wild," racial inequality and injustice in the hood on "U, Black Maybe," and just about everything else on "Forever Begins." He throws in an old-school battle-rap on "The Game," and a nice dose of smooth-loving on "I Want You." Ultimately it seems like Common wants to be hip-hop's answer to Marvin Gaye circa "What's Going On?" and he is pretty close. Upset with what he sees, he's the dude standing in the back rushing toward the front, ready to grab the mic and tell us about all the social ills. It can get occasionally heavy handed, and he falls off his mark once or twice, but ultimately, "Finding Forever" is a dynamic, jazzy ride.
"The Game" (with DJ Premier)
"Drivin' Me Wild" (with Lily Allen)
"So Far To Go" (with D'Angelo)
15. K.T. TUNSTALL — "Drastic Fantastic"
The Scottish singer's second studio album is just as appealing as her first, showcasing her strong talent as a songwriter and a musician. See the blog archives for a complete, in depth review.
"Saving My Face"
"Beauty and Uncertainty"
"I Don't Want You Now"
16. MAXIMO PARK — "Our Earthly Pleasures"
You should know Maximo Park. Odds are that you don't. They are a highly successful band from the UK (in the vein of the Kaiser Chiefs, the Futureheads or Franz Ferdinand) but here they are only a little blip. "Our Earthly Pleasures" is less flinch-happy and jumpy than its predecessor, "A Certain Trigger," but no less intense. Highlights include "Our Velocity," a Devo-like rocker compounded with a powerful guitar wall, and "Books From Boxes," one of the most sensitive and intelligent breakup songs recorded in recent years. These songs both should be hits here.
"Books From Boxes"
"Girls Who Play Guitars"
17. RILO KILEY — "Under The Blacklight"
This album is as seedy as its title would have you believe. It is one of the most sexually-charged (yet never really filthy) records of the year, full of unglamorous looks at club-life and the pitfalls of Hollywood. The sultry bounce of "The Moneymaker" sounds so skeezy, but Jenny Lewis works with care to make sure these stories of depressive down-and-out protagonists are vivid and enjoyable. It's a smart, surprisingly dark record that holds up from listen to listen. Lewis' voice keeps getting stronger, whether she's singing a funky dance tune, or dishing out a slice of alt-country.
"Under The Blacklight"
"The Angels Hung Around"
18. ALBERT HAMMOND JR. — "Yours to Keep"
This is another January release which hit Europe last year. The Strokes' guitarist goes out on his own and delivers an album just as enjoyable as "Is This It." He proves he can sing as well if not better than Julian Casablancas, and that he's a strong songwriter in his own right. Of course, songwriting is in his genes. His father, Albert Hammond, was known for his hit song "It Never Rains In Southern California."
"Bright Young Thing"
"Everyone Gets a Star"
19. AMY WINEHOUSE — "Back to Black"