While 2005 hasn't (yet) seen the usual universally-blown records of recent years (see Outkast, the Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand), it has actually proven to be a consistently better year for great new albums than either 2003 or 2004. Some hyped artists have finally reached their potential, others have refused to give up after several strong records while many seem poised to be the next pop sensation. 2005 has birthed instant classics in alt-country, dance, hip hop, indie, lit-rock, reggae, prog, and Zep-throwback. All have worn the trademark of cutting-edge music in the new millennium ? slicing and dicing styles, throwing in dabs of the avant-garde and honing it all down into a unique, fresh sound. Here are some of the best.

Songwriter Colin Meloy brings his rich arsenal into the 21st century, and his band sounds tighter than ever. Fortunately, it somehow sounds like they haven't peaked yet.

Standout Track: "On the Bus Mall"

This was a shock. I'm Wide Awake is an incredible (and surprising) coming-out party for Conor Oberst, featuring 10 gorgeous songs ruminating youth, moving to the Big Apple and finding confidence in the face of almost overwhelming pressure.

Standout Track: "Another Travelin' Song"

On their seventh album, the Northwest "riot grrl" trio turn the noise way into the red, all the while keeping faithful to the three-part interplay that's made them so popular over the years.

Standout Track: "Rollercoaster"

A party record to die for. While containing elements of rock, this is mostly a club record, and perhaps the best since the heyday of Daft Punk, who the group references quite shamelessly.

Standout Track: "Daft Punk is Playing at My House" and "On Repeat." It's too hard to choose.

The Sri Lanka-cum-London sensation's debut was hyped months before its release and surprisingly lived up to the lofty reputation. At best, Arular will be remembered as the breakthrough record for global hip hop; at worst, it'll make you get up and work it.

Standout Track: "Sunshowers"

Honorable Mention (and yes, in this order):

Edan ? Beauty and the Beat

Spoon ? Gimme Fiction

The Hold Steady ? Separation Sunday

Beck ? Guero

Caribou ? The Milk of Human Kindness

Fiery Furnaces ? EP


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