1. RADIOHEAD: ‘IN RAINBOWS’ (ATO). While Radiohead’s discontinued pay-what-you-want proposition for downloading its new album made a great music-business story, the more lasting news is that “In Rainbows” — in either its one-disc or two-disc configurations — needs no gimmicks. The songs sound tuneful and modest, often pared down to just a handful of instruments. But they work up knotty structures and plunge into a troubled mind-set where nothing is secure: not relationships, businesses, identities or song forms.
2. FEIST: ‘THE REMINDER’ (Cherry Tree/Interscope). Immediately appealing melodies, thoughts of love and Leslie Feist’s gracious voice make “The Reminder” a pop album, but never a shallow one. Enigmatic lyrics and complex emotions come through the transparency of the arrangements, and the album is filled not only with immediate feelings but also with memories and what-ifs, hints and conundrums.
3. AMY WINEHOUSE: ‘BACK TO BLACK’ (MCA Universal). As 2007 began, Amy Winehouse’s second album announced the international arrival of a sly, tart-voiced, jazz-and-soul-loving songwriter from London who twisted vintage sounds for modern predicaments. In her songs she already knew too much about alcohol, drugs, succumbing to temptations and spurning rehab, and she neatly balanced self-consciousness and self-destruction. What followed, of course, has not been neat at all.
4. IRON AND WINE: ‘THE SHEPHERD’S DOG’ (Sub Pop). Intricate, hypnotic, fingerpicking vamps carry Sam Beam’s gentle voice and visionary songs on “The Shepherd’s Dog.” The 1960s of quiet psychedelia and East-West, Indo-Appalachian fusions suffuse the album, but so do West African rock, the deconstructions of dub reggae, and contemporary thoughts of war, faith and disquiet.
5. CALLE 13: ‘RESIDENTE O VISITANTE’ (Norte). The Puerto Rican duo Calle 13 — the rapper Residente and the producer Visitante — cackles its way across the Americas in multileveled songs about culture, assimilation, immigration and sex. Calle 13 started in reggaetón but has grown exponentially more adventurous while staying raunchy. “Residente o Visitante” dips into tango, cumbia and bossa nova, and even listeners who don’t understand Spanish lyrics should detect Calle 13’s humor and the ambition behind it.
6. ROBERT PLANT AND ALISON KRAUSS: ‘RAISING SAND’ (Rounder). Robert Plant brings blues and rockabilly while Alison Krauss brings high-mountain purity to their album of duets. She taps his Celtic side; he nudges her toward swing and sass. And the producer T Bone Burnett, manipulating groove and ambience and playing twangy Texas guitar, pushes them into some swampy, haunted, timeless netherworld, filled with loss and longing.
7. LUPE FIASCO: ‘THE COOL’ (Atlantic). The rapper Lupe Fiasco weighs what has become of hip-hop and what might become of the world: from deluded stereotypes and ghetto poverty to child soldiers, plague and apocalypse. Minor-key tracks and solemn strings underline his seriousness, but his quick tongue and ear for hooks make “The Cool” more than a manifesto.
8. BATTLES: ‘MIRRORED’ (Warp). One aspect of Battles’ music boils down to numbers; the patterns and propulsion of interlocking lines and odd meters. But that would just be progressive rock revived and renamed math rock. Battles’ 21st-century extrapolation is to trade the high seriousness of prog rock for something more loose-limbed and less controlled — maybe even a little nutty.
9. PANDA BEAR: ‘PERSON PITCH’ (Paw Tracks). Noah Lennox, also known as the drummer Panda Bear in the New York band Animal Collective, made a solo album to get lost in: evolving, dizzying tracks built from loops and samples and topped with vocal harmonies that evoke the Beach Boys. It’s music as a hall of mirrors, an illusion of endless expanse.
10. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: ‘ERA VULGARIS’ (Interscope). Sure, there was a Led Zeppelin reunion this year. Meanwhile, for new songs that couple vertiginously heaving riffs with overarching melodies, there was the architectonic hard-rock of “Era Vulgaris.” It’s full of guitars that mesh and wrangle, buzz and soar, while the singer and songwriter Josh Homme veers among snideness, bitterness and an ache that not even the band’s attack can hide.
M.I.A. “Paper Planes” (XL)
SHAKIRA “Hay Amores” (New Line)
JONI MITCHELL “Hana” (Hear Music)
KANYE WEST “Stronger” (Roc-A-Fella)
NEIL YOUNG “No Hidden Path” (Reprise)