4. Future, "Pluto"
While Drake and his imitators continue to preen on the fault line between singing and rapping, this Atlanta sensation rhymes in Auto-Tuned grumbles. Future doesn't sound like a breakout hip-hop star so much as a Delta bluesman's android descendant.
5. Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, "En Yay Sah"
Nabay electrifies traditional bubu music from his native Sierra Leone with a hand from some Brooklyn rock musicians — but leaping oceans and centuries is this album's secondary achievement. The real triumph is how Nabay makes his jittery dance music race across our ears without dropping any of its sweet, high-def sensuality.
6. Fresh and Onlys, "Long Slow Dance"
What exactly do we expect rock-and-roll to do in the 21st century? It can't rule the world. It probably can't change it, either. But it can still shimmer and glow and jingle and jangle, and make your heart ache in 4/4 time. These San Franciscans prove it.
7. Kellie Pickler, "100 Proof"
On her third album, this "American Idol" survivor finally uses that big voice to sing big songs about no-good men, absentee parents, the ghost of Tammy Wynette and her own backbone, which suddenly sounds as if it were made of aerospace-grade titanium.
8. A Tribe Called Red, "A Tribe Called Red"
Dance music is obviously designed to make our groove things shake, but the best stuff can be paralyzing. Try not to freeze when you hear this Canadian DJ trio mesh Native American music with crushing electronic dance rhythms.
9. Dierks Bentley, "Home"
Seems like every man in Nashville wants to be the Nashville Everyman. Here, Bentley actually pulls it off, singing from various vantages with smarts and charm. Bonus points for the patriotic title track, which still sounds sensible after an election season that left America covered in red-and-blue bruises.