I've done some calculating, and I've listened to around 150 albums this year. Here's the top 20%, and three EPs I couldn't leave out.
30. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream [RCA]
What a curious album by this big-sunglassiod crooner-- at times so retro as to be classic, at times clearly indebted to the usually laudable trends pervading the new wave of r&b right now. Find yourself some decent technology to consume this heap of ear candy, clearly the work of a studio maven with an eclectic love of hodgepodge. "Adorn" is a sure-fire single, and "Use Me" contains subtlety and intelligence worthy of Frank Ocean himself.
29.The Coup: Sorry to Bother You [ANTI-]
Not only is Boots Riley an unapologetic Communist, he's funny-- check out "500 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O." from 2006's brilliant Party Music, a song which has gained great popularity as it became an anthem for the Occupy movement. A veteran purveyor of conscious-rap that's both danceable and actually fun, Boots is a rare leftist musician who continues to put in his hours as an activist. Full of funk beats and clever rhymes, Sorry to Bother You rarely gets preachy. From a caustic drubbing of trust-fund hipsters to a call for educational reform in which Algebra is not the unique occasion "in which a school can say that there should be a balanced equation," Sorry to Bother You is the kind of revolution you can dance with.
28. Skrillex: Bangarang EP [Atlantic]
I can't tell you how many times I've been told, "but every ACTUAL fan of dubstep, every REAL member of the electronica community can't stand Skrillex." To which I reply, "exactly." While critics and dedicated dubsteppers detest this well-crafted album, normal people love it for the shameless and undeniable fun that it is. Unique? Hell no, Skrillex steals every trick in the dance-pop book, which he clearly knows far better than his revilers assume. Michael Tatum wins the best comment award, which claims that no one who digs Sleigh Bells has any reason to dislike this album.
27. Ab-Soul: Control System [Top Dawg Entertainment]
Like action films, hip-hop albums have needlessly grown longer and longer and longer. Like most of these albums, Control System would benefit from some prudent retrenchment, but what really struck me about this 75-minute behemoth is how often I did listen to it throughout. Sophisticated rhymes backed by skillful Top Dawg beats, Control System is somewhat scattershot and all the more engaging because of it. 8/10
26. Taylor Swift: Red [Big Machine]
I was surprised by how many of my friends dismissed this album, not only indie snobs but people who otherwise have no reservation expressing their love for Lady Gaga, or P!nk, or Kesha. Now, T. Swift is far from Gaga and likely always will be. A talented songwriter and smart lyricist in her own right, T. Swift knows how to make a love album which, unlike those of so many indie and r&b chanteuses, doesn't reiterate the same themes and emotions in each song. A year older than Taylor myself, I'd be lying if I claimed I couldn't relate to some of this album. Having recently split up with my girlfriend, I'd be lying if I said my most played jam for several weeks was not "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." Which is not to say it wouldn't be my most played jam regardless.