The comparison to the sui generis British–Sri Lankan artist M.I.A. is misleading. Yes, this Brooklyn adoptee makes supremely catchy Technicolor future-pop. But aside from “Creator” and “L.E.S. Artistes,” her debut was packed with solid songs inspired by the mashed-up post-punk era.
7. Fleet Foxes
Seattle’s Fleet Foxes especially value traditional craft, owing more to Crosby, Stills & Nash than any indie-rock band; Robin Pecknold leads ecstatic four-part harmonies over the group’s mostly acoustic instrumentation.
8. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War
Badu’s first album in five years is as massively entertaining as it is unfailingly weird. Cooked up in her Fort Greene laboratory, it bubbles with hip-hop beats, Funkadelic-style jams, free-jazz excursions, slinky soul singing, and even a cappella scat, a kitchen-sink mix that ought to be unworkable but through Badu’s madness-as-method somehow works.
9. Beck, Modern Guilt
Maybe expectations were just too high for this album, a collaboration with the amazing Danger Mouse, because it barely made a dent. But this collection of rueful, melancholic songs—just a bit peppier than Sea Change— is one of Beck’s strongest.
10. Vampire Weekend
Four white Columbia grads singing about Cape Cod over appropriated Afro-pop to the acclaim of (white) bloggers invites a certain amount of cynicism. Vampire Weekend risked sounding entitled or worse. But their winning little songs, bubbling with good-natured stabs at literary lyrics and West African sounds, made their debut a model for indie rockers in need of a little loosening up.