Spin's 40 Best Albums of the Year

WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

A zany woodsprite to Björk's possessed tree goddess. With her pint-size voice and full-size harp, Newsom baffled and charmed indie-folk fans this year, mainly because you'd expect someone who sings about love and loss as sweetly and surreally as she does to sound older than 12. Mendermight be off-putting on first listen, but it's totally addictive thereafter. And yes, she's a distant cousin of gay-marriage-performing San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, a detail which somehow brings her down to earth.JOE GROSS

39 GHOSTFACE
The Pretty Toney Album
(Def Jam)

Staten Island's most tempestuous Wu-banger argues with his own racing brain, demands some banana Nutrament, knocks boots with Missy in a '75 Cordoba, elbows his way into the Delfonics, and hyperventilates through one of the best cop-fleeing desperation scenarios in hip-hop history, all overnicotine-stained, Vietnam-era soul. Ghost starts contentious-gun-clap seethers like "Biscuits" and "Metal Lungies" turn vintage R&B all Scorsese-sinister-but by the end, he's begging for his girl ("Tooken Back"), sprinting for his life ("Run"), and taking stock of everything worth living for ("Love").NATE PATRIN

38 WILCO
A Ghost Is Born
(Nonesuch)

Released in the wake of Jeff Tweedy's rehab stint (and built on a sonic mulch clearly inspired by migraines, panic attacks, and prescription painkillers), A Ghost Is Bornis more ambient,less structured, and way weirder than its high-profile predecessor, thesupposedly too-weird-for-public-consumption Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yet this is Wilco at their most organic and instinctual; it's experimental classic rock that questions God, love, and whether or not an unplayed guitar still makes a sound (and whether or not that matters). CHUCK KLOSTERMAN

37 RJD2
Since We Last Spoke
(Def Jux)

In a year lousy with emo guys who were obsessed with feeling what their feelings felt like and '80s-pop revivalists who were obsessed with how the Cars got that rhythm guitar sound on "Just What I Needed," one lonely DJ beat everybody else. Largely foregoing the head-nod in favor of the long sigh, Philly-based RJD2 mixed trouble-man funk, troubled-man folk, synth-soaked rock, and tear-stained psychedelia into a song cycle about what it's like to be the sad man behind the turntables.ALEXPAPPADEMAS

36 RILO KILEY
More Adventurous
(Brute/Beaute)

Not since Alanis Morissette tore through the firmament has a former child actress- turned-California folk-rock princess made falling into uncool situations with married older men seem so brutally universal. They should give out some sort of Daytime Emmy for this; it's no easy sell, and yet the tony pedigree might be what makes Rilo Kiley's elegantly self-lacerating odes to Hollywood and broken dreams seem so-oh, what's the term?-lived. She oughta know. But in music this rough, forgetting seems to be the only victory. JON DOLAN

35 AIR
Talkie Walkie
(Astralwerks)

The artwork for Talkie Walkie is littered with mathematical scribblings that imply the French duo have logged many hours in a cold synthesizer laboratory rejiggering their formula to include 37 percent more bells. In truth, Air's fourth album is as warm as it is clever, marked by a smooth, lulling atmosphere, cascading pianos, and beats that pulse like fingers lightly tapping on your eardrum. Aided by Radiohead's producer/guru Nigel Godrich, Air fashioned a soundscape that's paradoxically simple and dense, and way too sexy to have been born in a test tube. CARYN GANZ

34 MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
(Reprise)

These goth-chic New Jersey dudes, products of the same tortured hotbed that produced Thursday, take emo to its logical comic-book conclusion on an album with a plot that's like Dante for the Hot Topic crowd: Frontman Gerard Way must bring the souls of 1,000 evil men to Satan in order to be reunited with his dead lover. More satisfying: the way the band lay waste to their genre's fear of triumphant arena-rock bombast. If the last half of self-help single "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" doesn't give you chills, you're either dead or over the age of 19.MIKAEL WOOD

33 COMETS ON FIRE
Blue Cathedral
(Sub Pop)

A blast of freeform, in-the-red, gut-punchingly primal psychedelic-country-noise rock, made by Santa Cruz stoners who might actually have the space-pilot chops to land on real comets and set up camp. Drunken guitars smash into each other and tumble down the stairs, the drummer wears boxing gloves, and some dude with an Echoplex beams the whole thing back to a time when sonic revolution meant an army of guitars. Through the haze, Cathedral proved that it's not a freak-out if you never let up-it's a way of life.JOE GROSS

32 THE FAINT
Wet From Birth
(Saddle Creek)

The miracle of life, as explained by five new-wave-addled Nebraskans-a creeptastic voyage through the birth canal and beyond, from Jell-O shots to ankle stirrups. This group used to sound painfully self-conscious about their retro instrumentation, but on their fourth record, they ditched the quote marks and made their moldy old synthesizers rock in ways Nine Inch Nails only dreamed. "Erection" is not only a natural choice for Spike TV promos and ironic strip clubs, it's also the best song about getting wood since AC/DC's "Stiff Upper Lip." And who hasn't been waiting for that?ANDREW BEAUJON

31 PJ HARVEY
Uh Huh Her
(Island)

Forget the Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Captain Beefheart comparisons-Polly Jean is really her generation's Neil Young, willfully flipping from lush to throat-clenchingly raw with every record, and sounding just as convincing either way. Which isn't to say Uh Huh Her was necessarily autobiographical, though dedicating "The End" to former paramour Vincent Gallo didn't exactly dispel any rumors. Gossip aside, though, Harvey's parched howl and scorched-earth guitar on cuts like "Who the Fuck?" still took every New York rock band to school-not bad for an album that's basically a self-recorded demo. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

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