Unlike a lot of magazines and music blogs, we decided to wait until we at least got within Michael Cuddyer-throwing distance of the end of the year before spewing our year-end lists on you. And good thing we did: The two non-local records we agree on -- by the Roots and Black Keys -- came out in early December.


1. Adele, "21." Heartbreak never sounded so liberating as the British soul siren purged the pain with deeply soulful aches and penetrating restraint. That boy was a fool.

2. Lucinda Williams, "Blessed." The queen of Americana's most emotionally balanced album sears, soothes and satisfies -- with help from Elvis Costello's emotive guitar.

3. The Roots, "Undun." This concept album tells a disquieting inner-city story with razor-sharp truths and remarkably ambitious musicality.

4. Paul Simon, "So Beautiful or So What." His lyrics are a little too egghead-y, but it's the alluring blend of pretty melodies, resourceful rhythms and relaxed singing that makes this his best solo album in two decades.

5. Tom Waits, "Bad as Me." The great eccentric one shows more voices and range than usual on another must-have album. His voice may be an acquired taste, but his concise songwriting here is unimpeachably outstanding.

6. Hayes Carll, "KMAG YOYO." The alt-country hero delivers honky-tonking rockers and wistful ballads with a boozy voice that sounds two shots short of detox.

7. Eric Church, "Chief." He makes radio-ready country music with the kind of rock 'n' roll swagger and skillful balladeering that would make Kid Rock envious.

8. Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues." This 1960s/1970s-influenced folk-rock collection achieves the kind of gorgeous pop majesty that falsetto-obsessed Bon Iver dreams of.

9. Davina and the Vagabonds, "Black Cloud." With her piano-pounding Southern soul and New Orleans-flavored horn band, powerhouse Davina Sowers is the most soulful force in today's Minneapolis Sound.

10. The Black Keys, "El Camino." The amped-up blues-punk power duo is more accessible and ready for arenas.



1. Bon Iver, "Bon Iver." I'm putting it at No. 1 if only to curb the inevitable backlash already setting in for Wisconsin's most famous purveyor of venison and falsetto.

2. Spank Rock, "Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a [Expletive] Liar." The nerdy, sex-fantasy lyrics take hip-hop back to more juvenile and (dare it be said) innocent days, while the static-booming, techno-spiked beats and madcap production move it ahead more than most other rap records of late.

3. Wilco, "The Whole Love." A polished sonic masterpiece in the classic Beatles/Beach Boys vein, it also features some of the Chicago rockers' sweetest and most playful songs.

4. The Roots, "Undun." The Philly hip-hop legends' concept album is as confused as their pal Jimmy Fallon's movie career, but the arrangements are crazy/brilliant, and the hard-times theme makes it the perfect antithesis to Kanye and Jay-Z's overrated, out-of-touch "Watch the Throne."

5. Deer Tick, "Divine Providence." The rowdy Rhode Island yahoos answer the "Where is Paul Westerberg?" question with a resounding "Who needs him?"

6. The Black Keys, "El Camino." Heavier, louder and, yes, not quite as stellar as last year's breakthrough album, "Brothers." But neither are most records.

7. White Denim, "D." The baking 'n' boogieing Texas quartet's first widely released album gets an A in a freshman mix of studies: jam bands, psychedelic garage-rock and indie experimentation.

8. Mastodon, "The Hunter." Metal's best of 2011, and the Georgian prog-thrashers' best of all time.

9. Dum Dum Girls, "Only in Dreams." Fuzz-rocking, she-bopping, all-female Los Angeles quartet at once made one of the most fun and touching rock discs of the year.

10. R.E.M., "Collapse Into Now." Even before the breakup, this one deserved more love.



1. "Someone Like You," Adele

2. "Super Bass," Nicki Minaj

3. "Rolling in the Deep," Adele

4. "Money Grabber," Fitz & the Tantrums

5. "Lost in My Mind," The Head and the Heart

6. "You and I," Lady Gaga

7. "Till the World Ends," Britney Spears

8. "Pumped Up Kicks," Foster the People

9. "Lonely Boy," Black Keys

10. "Rumour Has It," Adele



1. "Hard Times," Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

2. "The Art of Almost," Wilco

3. "Nasty," Nas

4. "Dear Rosemary," Foo Fighters (with Bob Mould)

5. "Blessed," Lucinda Williams

6. "Little Bit of Everything," Dawes

7. "Country S***," Big K.R.I.T. (with Ludacris and Sun B)

8. "Santa Fe," Beirut

9. "Romance," Wild Flag

10. "Someone Like You," Adele