The-Dream is a terrible singer, an overrated songwriter, and generally comes off as kind of a douchebag. But I'll be damned if he doesn't make good albums, and I'd be reaching to give all the credit to his producers, Tricky Stewart and LOS Da Mystro, brilliant as they are. "Take U Home 2 My Mama" and "Mr. Yeah" are hysterical, invigorating pop, and the two-part title track is dark and epic and over-the-top in a way he shouldn't be able to get away with, but totally does.
2. UGK - UGK 4 Life
As sad as the end of UGK was, as bittersweet as it was that Pimp C died months after their first #1 album, it made a nice tidy little storyline, and it was a great album to go out on, about as perfect as a rap double album in this decade could ever be. That narrative has no real need for a posthumous UGK album, there's not really any loose end to wrap up here. But the moment you hear Pimp's voice say "Back from the dead, it's still UGK for life" on the intro to UGK 4 Life, none of that matters, you're just overjoyed to hear another great album from them. Holy shit "Steal Your Mind" is crazy.
3. Prince / Bria Valente - LOtUSFLOW3r / MPLSoUND / Elixer
Last Saturday, my wife had some errands to run and wanted to go to Target, and I was instantly all "b-b-but Prince is releasing his new triple album in Target on Sunday! We need to go tomorrow instead!" So I ended up going to Target twice in one weekend. LOtUSFLOW3r is the kind of limp and only occasionally catchy rock album he's made too many times in recent years, but MPLSoUND is such a return to form it almost feels too calculated; it's like he finally listened to all the clamoring for his old '80s sound and brought back the Linn Drum and the Camille voice just to silence the haters. The thing is, though, it works. It sounds great and has some of his most infectious and fun music in a long time, even if it's nowhere near the level of his work from the era it resembles. Bria Valente's Elixer doesn't rise above any of the low expectations placed on Prince's female proteges, but her album isn't as worthless as you might assumed; "Another Boy" is a fucking jam, possibly my favorite song on the whole set and I wish it got played on the radio.
4. The Mean - Meet Us Here
A couple summers back I caught this really intriguing band from Philly with multiple singers, inventive song structures and time signatures, and a really laid back, unpretentious mix of rock and soul and country. I talked to a member of the band at the show and picked up a kind of rough-sounding CD of studio recordings they were selling, and was disappointed that it didn't live up to how good they are live. But I heard from them recently that they released a new album (which is streaming on their site) and was really glad to hear some better studio stuff. It's still not quite up to the standard of their shows, but they're getting there.
5. U2 - No Line On The Horizon
Say what you will about U2, but Achtung Baby remains one of the most successful left-field reinventions in pop music history, so when Bono made noises like "whatever it is, it's not gonna stay where it is" in advance of this album, I actually half-believed him. But this album is, more or less, the same mish-mash of '80s U2 and '90s U2 that their other two albums this decade were, and ultimately that doesn't bother me. I'm not a huge U2 fan but I'll be the first to admit they've got some cheap tricks that work really well, and when Eno and Lanois put in their best it ends not feeling like a cheap trick at all. And "Breathe" and "Magnificent" are the big grandiose jams I'm always happy to hear from them.