For the first year in recent memory, songs took precedence over style on the vast majority of 2005's most hyped albums. In fact, it would be very hard to pin down the definitive trend of the year, which hopefully suggests that musicians are learning to spend less time reading the critics and more time crafting their tunes.
1 ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS I Am A Bird Now (Secretly Canadian) We warned you in 2004 that Antony would be one to watch this year, and sure enough, the androgynous NYC torch singer delivered a heavyweight album. Antony's unique warbling voice easily outshines the high-profile celebrity talent on hand here, including Lou Reed , Boy George , Rufus Wainwright and Devendra Banhart .
2 MIA Arular (XL) For a debut album by a previously unknown artist, Arular represents an incredibly strong mission statement. MIA's one-woman niche of Sri Lankan British art school dancehall crashed parties all over the world for good reason. Rarely has a record this political been this much fun to dance to.
3 KELLEY POLAR Love Songs Of The Hanging Gardens (Environ) This one barely came out in time for the year-end lists; its ethereal, otherworldly approach to orchestral disco pop muscled its way in at the last minute. The string arranger for Metro Area, accomplished classical player and younger brother of Blevin Blectum turned in a brilliant idiot-savant take on dance music, beautiful in its obliviousness to the conventions it transgresses.
4 ISOLEE We Are Monster (Playhouse) We Are Monster gathered up all the major trends in dance music into something substantial enough to be a real album. You've got your synth-disco bits, your occasional chiming guitar, some moody techno chords, but most importantly some actual songs rather than just a collection of the current hip references.
5 PANICO Subliminal Kill (Tiger Sushi) This Chilean dance-punk band's first release outside of South America mostly slipped under the radar up here, but those who did hear it were impressed by their rowdy and decidedly punk rawk take on disco beats and loud guitars. They're a lot louder, noisier and also funkier than most of their northern competition.
6 LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (DFA) In some circles this is a controversial pick; many were disappointed that this was what all the massive hype from the singles had built to. Whether it met your expectations or not, you can't deny that this project has had a huge influence on current trends and will likely continue to affect the way people conceptualize dance-punk for some time to come.
7 SUFJAN STEVENS Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty) The "new folk" tag almost allowed this to slip under my radar, but curiosity got the better of me. If you've been resisting as well, do yourself a favour and give in now. Yes, the song titles are ridiculous, and, yes, this is a strange, sprawling album, but it's undeniably strong.
8 BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE (Arts & Crafts) If this is cutting-edge Canadian rock, then I'm pretty happy to be Canadian right now. We were all kind of scared that BSS might descend into insufferable self-indulgence, but they came out of the bunker with an album we can all be proud of.
9 M83 Before The Dawn Heals Us (Mute) M83 took the shimmering space rock drone formula and wrapped it around big, dramatic songs, coming up with a heavily layered and orchestrated wash that refused to retreat into aural wallpaper. It was all tempered by a vaguely menacing quality that prevents the lushness from lulling you to sleep.
10 MATTHEW HERBERT Plat Du Jour (Accidental) Herbert can always be depended on for a top-10-worthy disc, and this newest investigation into food-derived sounds and politics is no exception. It's not his most accessible work, since much of the house influence has retreated to the background, while the pop and jazz references are also played down, leaving Herbert to experiment playfully with unorthodox samples and methods.