1. [h=2]'21'[/h]Adele Adele killed it in 2011 -- or so think the 13 million people worldwide who bought her sophomore set, "21." With its universal theme of all-consuming heartbreak (and the emotional wound-licking that inevitably must follow said heartbreak), the polished album transcended the pop world and touched just about everyone who gave it a shot. 2. [h=2]'Bon Iver'[/h]Bon Iver Just as summer 2011 was heating up, Wisconsin folk outfit Bon Iver returned with a sophomore album perfect for those chillier autumnal nights. Fans connected with Justin Vernon -- the man, the myth, the legend behind Bon Iver -- in a way even unmatched by "For Emma, Forever Ago," Bon Iver's buzz-fueled debut. 3. [h=2]'Watch The Throne'[/h]Jay-Z & Kanye West The pairing of the biggest rapper alive with the most creative rapper alive could have been a train wreck, but this full-length collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West -- in which the pair showcased their insurmountable wealth while at times lamenting the trappings of superstardom -- soared above expectations. "N***as in Paris" was 2011's unstoppable banger, "Otis" returned Mr. Redding to the Hot 100, and "New Day" let our heroes wax poetic about their unborn sons (we and the RZA connect, too). 4. [h=2]'Nostalgia, Ultra.'[/h]Frank Ocean A mixtape that plays out like an actual mix tape (the interludes feature the start-stop sounds of now-ancient cassettes), "Nostalgia, Ultra" is a reinterpretation of recognizable hits by Coldplay, MGMT and the Eagles, with a slightly crazy, crazily talented emerging R&B star as our tour host. Ocean's off-kilter self-portraits are sometimes funny ("Songs For Women"), sometimes sad ("There Will Be Tears"), and always masterfully executed, making his self-released first effort the year's most pleasant surprise. 5. [h=2]'Take Care'[/h]Drake If Drake's 2010 debut "Thank Me Later" was the sound of a man decisively snatching fame and whole lot of money from a mountain of hype, his luxurious sophomore album, "Take Care," finds Drake holding his new fortune in his hand, unsure of what to do with it and where to go from here ("She says they miss the old Drake/Girl, don't tempt me," he croons on the first single, "Headlines"). "Take Care" is a long, contemplative album, but its combination of heady street-rap, dimly lit pop and pristine R&B makes the trip into the Toronto rapper's fragile psyche worth every penny. 6. [h=2]'David Comes To Life'[/h]****ed Up 2008's "The Chemistry of Common Life" established this hardcore punk sextet as critical darlings, but ****ed Up's third full-length -- and it sure is a full length, at 18 songs and 77 minutes -- channeled their fiery guitar blasts and Damian Abraham's tireless snarling into a cohesive story about a factory worker and the death of the woman he loves. "David" is an impressive, carefully constructed journey, and for those who find its length too impenetrable, check out immediately hummable tracks like "Queen of Hearts" and "Turn the Season." 7. [h=2]'House of Balloons'[/h]The Weeknd The Weeknd, the mysterious alter ego of Abel Tesfaye, came out of nowhere in March with a hypnotic, fully formed sound that surrounds traditional R&B in a drug-fueled haze. His "House of Balloons" mixtape focuses on reckless nights and hedonistic fantasies, but Tesfaye's sterling vocals and pin-point production work were strong enough to net a Drake co-sign and a fitting synch in the final season of "Entourage." But who, exactly, is Tesfaye, who seldom conducts interviews or makes public appearances? Maybe we'll find out in 2012. 8. [h=2]'Ceremonials'[/h]Florence + The Machine In 2010, Florence + the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over" lit a spark that quickly spread to wildfire -- momentum that the British chamber-pop group followed up with this fall's "Ceremonials." Frontwoman Florence Welch honed her vision for the sophomore set, walking the fine line between Christian spirituality and otherworldly voodoo. Yet at its core, "Ceremonials" is a relatable album about love, brought to life through tribal drums, harps, piano, choral singsongs, and of course, Ms. Welch's bewitching pipes. Singles "Shake It Out" and "What the Water Gave Me" possess an anthemic quality, but they're far from the only epic moments on the rock-tinged record, which finds Welch channeling avant-pop luminaries like Annie Lennox and Kate Bush. 9. [h=2]'James Blake'[/h]James Blake After generating some buzz through a series of experimental EPs in 2010, British producer James Blake issued a full-length gem that explored the boundaries between dissonant dubstep music and hushed, intensely personal songwriting. Tracks like "The Wilhelm Scream" and "Limit To Your Love" offer woozy electronica, while Blake's soulful vocals add a human touch. 10. [h=2]'The Big Roar'[/h]The Joy Formidable The Joy Formidable may have released rollicking tracks like "Austere," "Whirring" and "Cradle" over the past few years, but in 2011, the songs found a proper home on the Welsh indie rockers' aptly-titled debut, "The Big Roar." Dave Grohl, who would later take the band on tour, called "Whirring" the song of the year-- but "The Big Roar" stands on its own, thanks to frontwoman Ritzy Bryan's breathy vocals and the juxtaposition of shoegaze-style guitars with pop harmonies.