Billboard Artists of the Year

Now that you've examined our list of 2009's best-selling albums, take a look at what the Billboard staff subjectively chose as the year's best albums. Indie music came on strong, while R&B and straight-ahead rock 'n' roll are represented -- but it's hip-hop that takes the crown this year. Don't agree with our picks? Tell us your favorite album of 2009 in the comments below.

How was the Critics' list formulated? Billboard's editors, reviewers and reporters each turned in a ranked list of their personal top 10 albums released between mid-November 2008 and mid-November 2009 (which approximately matches the Billboard chart cycle). Points were awarded inversely to the position each record was ranked. So, if a writer listed an album as a No. 1 choice, it earned 10 points toward the total; at No. 2 it earned nine points, and so on. See the list of writers who voted.

Critics' 20 Best Albums of the Decade | Readers' Poll: Decade and 2009's Best Albums

Hova's 11th release put to rest any lingering questions about whether or not the 40-year-old rapper should remain in the game. Jay-Z is in fighting form throughout the album: denouncing the use of auto-tune, calling out former foes like Damon Dash and Jim Jones, taking on up-and-comers Drake and Kid Cudi, and collaborating with powerhouses Kanye West, Rihanna and Alicia Keys. As if that weren't enough, the Brooklyn native gave his hometown "Empire State of Mind," its finest anthem since Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," proving that 40 is indeed the new 20.

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What happens when Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner loses his axe for much of the group's third studio album? He makes his synths sound like six-strings and the YYYs offer its most danceable and accessible record yet. "Blitz" is electro-fueled and futuristic, with Karen O's subdued warbles and passionate screeches sounding as exciting and poignant as ever.

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Animal Collective's psychedelic rock is moody and adventurous, with layers of overlapping synthesizers, manipulated vocals and dizzying polyrhythmic grooves. On "Merriweather Post Pavilion," the trio cleans up its harmonies, tightens its framework and takes its sound to a level that's warm and approachable, while remaining utterly idiosyncratic and otherworldly.

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On its fourth studio album, French band Phoenix turns up the heat after three underappreciated albums and boils over into the mainstream with slick, shimmering, feel-good pop-rock. With lead singer Thomas Mars' effortlessly smooth tenor front and center, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" lives up to its ambitious name, especially on the synth-driven dance-rock anthems "1901" and "Armistice."

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On her fifth full-length, singer-songwriter Neko Case crafts soulful songs that recertify her reign as alt-country queen. With guests including fellow members of the New Pornographers and guitarist M. Ward, Case's "Cyclone" cycles around her swooping alto backed by lush orchestrations of acoustic guitars, banjos, music boxes and chirping birds.

Chart History | Album News

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On its seventh album, Chicago's Wilco wakes up from the sleepiness of 2007's "Sky Blue Sky" and turns in one of their finest works to date. The album is lighthearted on the tongue-in-cheek "Wilco (The Song)," inventive on the experimental rocker "Bull Black Nova" and just plain ol', tried-and-true Wilco on the sunny, piano-filled "You Never Know."

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Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors, the brainchild of guitarist/ songwriter Dave Longstreth, mixes math with melody via Longstreth's jarring falsetto and wonky time signatures backed by a tight-knit trio of women. On "Bitte Orca," the group thrives on glitchy guitars and mind-bogglingly complex female vocal arrangements that alternate between brassy and angelic.

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Pearl Jam's ninth studio album earned the nearly 20-year-old Seattle band its first No. 1 in 13 years. Led by the irresistibly sunny lead single, "The Fixer," the 11-song, sub-37-minute album's key is the particular brew of rockers (including the opening one-two combo of "Gonna See My Friend," a furious Stooges-style garage blast, and the propulsive, Police-y "Got Some") and vulnerable ballads (the gorgeous "Just Breathe," and aching gut-punch finale "The End").

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On "BLACKsummers'night," neo-soul pioneer Maxwell proves he's still got it after an eight-year hiatus, most righteously on the gorgeous break-up single "Pretty Wings." Maxwell's return marks a natural progression from his early work, an evolution made clear through his mature, provocative lyrics and the addition of live horns and strings.

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Brooklyn-based quartet Grizzly Bear has a well-earned reputation for dense sonic build-ups and gorgeous harmonies. The group's third album, "Veckatimest," highlights both aspects of the indie darling's infectious sound. Welcome additions to the band's lo-fi sonic palate include a girls choir and some hard-rocking guitar riffs.

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On his sophomore album "Troubadour," K'Naan has plenty of superstar guest appearances, but some of his best tracks -- among them "T.I.A." and "Take A Minute" -- come from the Somalia-born poet/singer/rapper himself. K'Naan mixes socially aware verses with a worldly fusion of hip-hop, folk and rock that's often built upon melodic, choir-like choruses.

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Text by Laura Leebove

These Billboard editors and writers voted: Mike Ayers, Lars Brandle, Diane Coetzer, Jonathan Cohen, M. Tye Comer, Mariel Concepcion, Ann Donahue, Thom Duffy, Gary Graff, Cortney Harding, Ron Hart, Louis Hau, Monica Herrera, Laura Leebove, Jessica Letkemann, Jason Lipshutz, Michael Menachem, Jill Menze, Gail Mitchell, Evie Nagy, Andre Paine, Mitchell Peters, Paul Sexton, Richard Smirke, Wolfgang Spahr, Mark Sutherland, Christa Titus, Gary Trust, Kristina Tunzi, Alex Vitoulis, Jeff Vrabel, Ray Waddell, Chris M. Walsh, Chris Williams, Jennifer Wilson, Lavinia Wright.

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