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AP music writers' top 10 albums of the year

Thursday - 12/19/2013, 6:41pm  ET

FILE - This CD cover image released by Epic Records shows "The Blessed Unrest," by Sara Bareilles. The Grammys got it right; Bareilles’ third release, “The Blessed Unrest,” is one of the year’s best thanks to its mix of upbeat and classic-sounding piano tunes, all anchored by the performer’s sweet and powerful tone. (AP Photo/Epic Records, File)

CHRIS TALBOTT
AP Music Writers

Associated Press Music Writers Mesfin Fekadu and Chris Talbott pick their top 10 albums of the year.

Mesfin Fekadu's picks (twitter.com/MusicMesfin):

1. Ariana Grande, "Yours Truly": Executed perfectly (or close to it), there are a few elements to creating a perfect pop album: great songwriting, groovy melodies and vocals that capture and reel you in. With the help of Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, 20-year-old Ariana Grande crafted an album that harks on '90s R&B and highlights her gorgeous, rich tone that mirrors Mariah Carey and, at times, Toni Braxton. From the hip-hop flavored jam "Right There" to the honeyed ballads "Daydreamin'" and "Tattooed Heart," Grande's debut is proof that a true star is on the rise. "Yours Truly" is truly a gift.

2. Dawn Richard, "Goldenheart": While Danity Kane's reunion was somewhat exciting, Dawn Richard's solo project was electrifying. The singer, who was also part of the Diddy-Dirty Money trio, is in perfect form on "Goldenheart," where she explores various R&B and pop sounds, including beats that are electronic, smooth and down-tempo. The album tells stories of Richard's struggles in music, the good and bad times in love and more -- making for a rousing, breathtaking listen. Each of the 16 tracks flow magically as Richard's voice blends in, sounding raspy at times and soft at others. Let's hope Danity Kane doesn't hold this talent back.

3. Sara Bareilles, "The Blessed Unrest": The Grammys got it right -- Sara Bareilles' third release, "The Blessed Unrest," is one of the year's best, thanks to its mix of upbeat and classic-sounding piano tunes, all anchored by the performer's sweet and powerful tone. Bareilles is an exceptional songwriter who puts on a live show that brightens your day -- and week. With songs like the emotional "1000 Times" and the inspirational "Brave," Bareilles hits all the right notes. Even Katy Perry was impressed.

4. J. Cole, "Born Sinner": This year featured anticipated albums from Jay Z, Kanye West and Drake, but J. Cole has the rap album of the year. "Born Sinner," his sophomore release, is full of smart rhymes that forces the listener to think. He's a born winner.

5. Beyonce, "Beyonce": Yes, Beyonce's new album was just released this month, but it's still one of the best offerings this year. The R&B queen gets major props for literally slapping the world in the face with an album full of progressive R&B tunes that feel fresh and appealing. The impressive batch of tracks -- from the addictive numbers "Drunk in Love" and "Blow" to the beautiful and soft "Heaven" -- showcase the singer's growth and easily puts her ahead of the competition. "Beyonce" is larger than life.

6. Justin Timberlake, "The 20/20 Experience -- 1 of 2": Mr. SexyBack is also Mr. ComeBack. Justin Timberlake returned to music after seven years with a 10-track album that didn't follow trends in pop, but still became 2013's most successful album. Along with Timbaland, the prince of pop has mastered the falsetto and maintains a smooth, mid-tempo sound throughout the 70-minute adventure. The songs feature the traditional Timberlake transition -- how could you not adore "Strawberry Bubblegum" -- and these are tunes that only he could sing. Listening to the album's sequel, released months after, lets us know Timberlake isn't superhuman. He makes mistakes, too.

7. Fitz and the Tantrums, "More Than Just a Dream": Fitz and the Tantrums' second album, "More Than Just a Dream," is a wonderful mesh soul and pop sounds that is upbeat and irresistible -- and leaves you wanting more. Fronted by singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, this group is one to look out for. They have a rock hit with the funky mellow outtake, "More Than Just a Dream," and other songs follow suit: "Fools Gold" is pleasing, "Break the Walls" is anthemic and the hook on "6am" is oh-so appealing.

8. Janelle Monae, "The Electric Lady": Janelle Monae's latest album shows that the already masterful singer has grown in the three years since she released her full-length debut, "The ArchAndroid." ''The Electric Lady" is almost as great as that work of art and features must-listen songs like "Primetime," a duet with Miguel that is arguably the year's best R&B song, and the Prince-assisted "Give Em What They Love," where Monae holds her own. The title track is just as addictive. All hail this queen.

9. Miley Cyrus, "Bangerz": It's sad that Miley Cyrus literally acts like a wrecking ball when her album is actually a gem. "Bangerz" is simply that -- banging. Instead of singing expected radio pop tunes, Cyrus takes risks on what's become her official music breakthrough, and it shows that there's more than meets the eye for this wild child. "Wrecking Ball" is one of the year's best pop songs, "FU" and "Do My Thang" are full of swag and the Britney Spears-featured "SMS (Bangerz)" is ridiculously catchy. If only Cyrus could just focus on singing, instead of sinking.

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