Mesfin Fekadu's picks:

1. Nas, "Life is Good": "I am a graphic classic song composer," Nas raps on the intro to his latest album. And he's right. You may disagree, but Nas is the best rapper alive, and with "Life is Good," he's got the year's top album, regardless of genre. On "Life," he's spitting rhymes about his ex-wife, Kelis – like the soulful "Bye Baby" – his daughter on "Daughters" and his childhood on "A Queens Story." He's a top-notch lyricist with a knack for storytelling, and it all makes for impeccable music. He knows life is good, and so is this album.

2. Of Monsters and Men, "My Head Is an Animal": The Icelandic fivesome have melodies that are eerie, jamming, groovy and overall epic. The voices of the male and female lead singers blend so beautifully that it sounds like magic.

3. Elle Varner, "Perfectly Imperfect": Her raspy and powerful voice, over crisp production, easily gives Elle Varner R&B's best offering of 2012. The 12-track set has an amazing flow that will have you hitting the replay button again, again and again!

4. Lianne La Havas, "Is Your Love Big Enough?": Lianne La Havas' honesty pierces on the tracks on her debut album, and it makes the collection of songs both heavy and beautiful. She's got an acoustic folk-rock-soul sound that is unique, and what's best is that heavy voice of hers: This London singer sounds like she's singing straight to your soul. Well, actually, she is.

5. Frank Ocean, "channel ORANGE": Frank is fresh. Enough said.

6. Miguel, "Kaleidoscope Dream": It's a bit shocking – though more exciting – to see the Grammys acknowledge Miguel's multi-talents with five nominations. They got it right – he's helping change R&B without dismissing the genre's more traditional sound from acts like Faith Evans and Tamia. From "Do You..." to "Candles In the Sun," he hits all the right notes on his sophomore disc.

7. Emeli Sande, "Our Version of Events": The debut album from this Scottish import commands your attention, thanks to Emeli Sande's strong pipes jelled with R&B and pop sounds. Her voice helps her songs easily come to life – just check out "Suitcase" if you're not convinced.

8. Kendrick Lamar, "good kid m.A.A.d city": The major label debut from Dr. Dre's protege is dope for its clever rhymes and soulful skits. He's going places.

9. Mumford & Sons, "Babel": Mumford & Sons continue to hark on love and life on "Babel," and it sounds masterful with its rock harmonies that are both rugged and calming.

10. Shiny Toy Guns, "III": The year's best dance and electronic-based album isn't on Top 40 radio. Shiny Toy Guns returned in 2012 with a third album and its lead singer, Carah Faye. The foursome sounds better than ever over beats that are addictive and vibes that are dreamy. Now dance.

Nekesa Mumbi Moody's picks:

1. Emeli Sande, "Our Version of Events": Sande's forceful, soulful voice is enough of a lure, but coupled with the most poetic, beautiful lyrics and melodies of the year, Sande's debut album was a brilliant work that was shamefully overlooked by the Recording Academy for Grammy contention in 2013. Don't make the same mistake if you haven't already listened – this one is a stunner.

2. Taylor Swift, "Red": Last time, we had John Mayer to thank. This time around, Jake Gyllenhaal is most likely the reason for Swift's ire in songs like the wickedly vengeful "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," as well as poignant, heartbreaking songs like "I Almost Do" or "All Too Well." At 22, the former teen ingénue also flirts with sensuality on songs like "Treacherous" and "Everything Has Changed." She may still have a cutesy image, but Swift has grown up, and continues to mature into a singer-songwriter with musical gravitas.

3. Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange": Ocean's grand statement about his sexuality seemed to overshadow the real reason why he was one of music's most important figures – his impressive talent. "Thinkin' Bout You" gave just a taste of Ocean's allure: With the help of others, he crafted a collection of musically and lyrically daring songs that stand out starkly from the status quo of pop and R&B worlds.

4. Esperanza Spalding, "Radio Music Society": The 2011 Best New Artist winner delivered her most accessible album to date, melding her jazz roots with R&B for an enchanting album.

5. Alabama Shakes, "Boys & Girls": Brittany Howard's vocals slay on every track – though her voice has been described as Joplin-esque, she's quickly proving that she's a force all her own. From hard-rocking guitar-based tracks to slower grooves, "Boys & Girls" simply smolders.

6. Various Artists, "The Hunger Games Soundtrack: Songs from District 12 and Beyond": From Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars to Miranda Lambert's Pistol Annies, this collection of songs made for the blockbuster film captured the bleakness of the novel better than the movie. In an album of highlight after highlight, the Secret Sisters' simple and beautiful "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder" was at the apex.

7. Killer Mike, "R.A.P. Music": Killer Mike has been under the radar in the rap world for years – and it's too bad this great didn't elevate his profile in the mainstream, because it's better than 82.4 percent of what's out there today (and yes, that's my scientific survey). He mixes rap braggadocio with biting, thought-provoking social commentary.

8. Elle Varner, "Perfectly Imperfect": Can we get a "Refill" of Varner for 2013? Besides her seductive hit, Varner's album showed that she's one of music's bright new talents with songs that ranged sensuous bedroom workouts to dramatic love ballads.

9. The Robert Glasper Experiment, "Black Radio": They say you can't really criticize something if you don't have a solution to fix it. Well, with "Black Radio," the jazz pianist offered his take on how the often stagnant medium could be improved – and it was dreamy.

10. Nas, "Life Is Good": Actually, Mesfin, it's been a while since Nas released an album that lived up to his arguable title as rap's greatest MC. But he delivered this year with an album that was a throwback to the beats that dominated hip-hop when New York was king of the rap game, and of course, Nas' rhymes.

Chris Talbott's picks:

1. Cloud Nothings, "Attack on Memory": Blame most of the entries on this list on a conversation I had last year with Jeff Tweedy, who said one of the ways to stay in love with music was to seek out new, young acts. Ohio's Cloud Nothings punched me in the solar plexus with this unrepentant blast of rock that tackles BIG THEMES while musically careening down a steep, car-lined street on an out-of-control skateboard.

2. Natural Child, "For The Love of The Game" and "Hard in Heaven": Mining an era that seems to have been purposely forgotten by today's young rockers, this bluesy rock trio from Nashville was on a groove so tight this year that it released two albums. It's a tossup which one's better, so we're not choosing. Both show they could be Nashville's next breakthrough band.

3. Kendrick Lamar, "good kid, m.A.A.d. city": Displaying the limitless ambition of a young RZA or Kanye West, this much-anticipated, Dr. Dre-sanctified release is a cinematic concept album stuffed full of examples of the Los Angeles rapper's versatility, creativity and willingness to take chances most other rappers would blanche at.

4. Jack White, "Blunderbuss": We've been waiting a long time to hear what White would sound like without the filter of his many, many bandmates. "Blunderbuss," a little bit whimsical, a little bit menacing, offered all the things we'd hoped we'd find, plus a few surprises.

5. Alabama Shakes, "Boys & Girls": This debut album from the Alabama rock quartet heralds the arrival of a major talent in singer Brittany Howard, but she's not the only star here. Her bandmates craft simple but compelling, soulful music that combines with Howard's voice to make some of the most uplifting rock we've heard in years.

6. Frank Ocean, "channel ORANGE": The Tweedy Effect really kicked in last year when I heard Ocean's mix tape "nostalgia/ULTRA," probably the best album of 2011. While "channel ORANGE" is disappointingly restrained musically, like "nostalgia/Ultra" it is a triumphant example as a social document that's both fearless and insightful yet still entertaining enough to reach popular audiences.

7. Turbo Fruits, "Butter": Sometimes you just want to bob your head along to mindless songs about parties and girls and fighting and motorcycles, and the third album from these rising rockers on Kings of Leon's record label helps prove EDM hasn't killed off rock `n' roll. Far from it.

8. King Tuff, "King Tuff": Twenty-five years after its start, Sub Pop is still unearthing bands you need to hear. This time it's Vermont's King Tuff, purveyors of weirdly irresistible sugar-coated psychedelic pop songs that refuse to leave your brain.

9. Japandroids, "Celebration Rock": Beginning and ending with the sound of fireworks, this Vancouver, British Columbia, two-piece's album is exactly what its title describes – grand, anthemic songs about the great moments in life.

10. Trampled By Turtles, "Stars and Satellites": The awesomely named Minnesota string band has been on the rise for years and its gentle, introspective sixth album adds a layer of artistry and emotion only hinted at in previous work.

Related on HuffPost:

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  • 'State of Grace'

    "State of Grace" is like if Mates of State and Temper Trap had a baby, and that baby sounded like Taylor Swift and was amazing. -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-rosen/">Christopher Rosen</a></strong>

  • 'Red'

    "Red" is easily one of the catchiest songs on the record and its a journey through the color scale of Taylor Swift's emotions. But if Swift was hoping listeners would relate to her songs, lyrics like "Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street," probably aren't going to resonate, since many of her fans aren't old enough to drive -- or able to afford a Maserati for that matter. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-marcus/"><strong>Stephanie Marcus</strong></a>

  • 'Treacherous'

    Can a 22-year-old have a vintage sound? When that 22-year-old is Taylor Swift and that sound is the driving, pulsing, triumphant guitar swells on songs like "Treacherous" -- which sounds like "Long Live," off "Speak Now" (never forget "Speak Now"), but without dragons and stuff -- then the answer is yes. -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-rosen/">Christopher Rosen</a></strong>

  • 'I Knew You Were Trouble.'

    It's dubstep plus T. Swift. What more can one ask for? "Trouble" touches on multiple genres -- that's basically what Taylor is about. Plus, lyrically, it's finally a departure from the "guy-broke-up-with-me" tracks or "you're-my-knight-in-shining-armor" ballads. I like it more every time I listen to it. -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaimie-etkin/">Jaimie Etkin</a></strong> <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> "I Knew You Were Trouble." is one of my favorite songs on "Red." Not only does Swift stray from her typical bubble-gum melody (which we all can't get enough of, come on), but she throws in a super-cool bass drop in the chorus. Does this mean she's getting edgier? I don't think Swift will give up her cute dresses, cupcakes and cats anytime soon, but thanks, John Mayer, for inspiring this tune. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leigh-blickley/"><strong>Leigh Blickley</strong></a> <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> This is not a dubstep song, and that is a lame bass drop. -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kia-makarechi/">Kia Makarechi</a></strong>

  • 'All Too Well'

    Ugh, this song is a heartbreaker. You can almost smell the maple lattes in the air, right? It's like going back to your hometown over Thanksgiving and running into your high school sweetheart and then going back to your parent's house, downing some wine, and looking through old photos while remembering all those butterfly-inducing, heart-racing moments from the beginning of your relationship from almost a decade ago. (Or so I hear.) If 17-year-old me had heard this song, she would have been destroyed. And by "destroyed," I obviously mean it would have been my EVERYTHING. <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> <strong>Side note</strong>: How awesome would this have been with John Mayer singing the backup male vocals? #justsaying #toosoon? -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-fisher/">Kelly Butler</a></strong>

  • '22'

    I have to admit, "22" cuts me deep. Sure, it is catchy as all hell, but let's be real -- I'm the ripe old age of 22 and I gotta pay my bills. This whole eating breakfast at midnight and not sleeping thing? Not super conducive to having a job. Also, Taylor, you're about to sell a million albums. I don't think any "cool kids" are hanging out at a party saying, "Who's Taylor Swift anyway ... eww." But the worst part? The more I listen to it, like every T. Swift jam, I'm getting sucked into it, falling in love, and marveling at her ability to read my soul. Now I'm gonna have to go out this weekend and dance like I'm 22. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/madeline-boardman/"><strong>Madeline Boardman</strong></a> <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> There's no denying that the "22" has a catchy chorus. We're all a little happy free confused and lonely at the same time. But what about when she wants to dress up like a hipster and make fun of her exes? Somewhere Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Mayer and maybe even Conor Kennedy are a little pissed off. And that line where she says, "Who's Taylor Swift anyway?" is obnoxious. We all know who you are by now, TaySway. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leigh-weingus/"><strong>Leigh Weingus</strong></a>

  • 'I Almost Do'

    "I Almost Do" is kind of like "Enchanted" in that it's about Swift being unable to connect with a guy who she loves/loved out of fear. Relatable! "I Almost Do" is also one of the most country songs on the album. -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-rosen/">Christopher Rosen</a></strong>

  • 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together'

    Taylor Swift <em>basically</em> writes all her own music, but not this time. For the first single off "Red," she teamed up with Swedish hitmaker Max Martin, whose influence bleeds all over the track. It's a pretty brilliant piece of pop theater, with hints of rap-style skits and instrumentation that falls off a cliff to reveal a simple, pulsing kick drum that lets Swift go all in on the vocals. Plus, there's the added benefit of Swift, perhaps the most humorless of all pop stars, winking at the fact that her music is now 100 percent radio-ready (did we talk about Max Martin yet?) by mentioning that her ex would "hide away" and "find peace of mind with some indie record that's much cooler than mine." -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kia-makarechi/">Kia Makarechi</a></strong>

  • 'Stay Stay Stay'

    "Stay Stay Stay" is arguably the happiest song on this album. Finally, she's singing about a guy who treats her well! And he has a football helmet and likes talking about her problems! It's also a little bit country, a much-needed throwback to Taylor's pre-pop days. -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leigh-weingus/">Leigh Weingus</a></strong>

  • 'The Last Time' (ft. Gary Lightbody)

    Though I appreciate the fact that this song taught me that the last name of Snow Patrol's frontman is Lightbody, her interjections in the chorus remind me of the children's chorus at my synagogue. Not a fan. But I imagine it'll be featured on "Grey's Anatomy" soon, which is probably Taylor's goal in working with Lightbody anyway -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaimie-etkin/">Jaimie Etkin</a></strong>

  • 'Holy Ground'

    I like just about every song on "Red," but "Holy Ground" is the song I have on repeat. It's a ballad disguised as an upbeat track about looking back on what was once a really special relationship. Favorite line? "Tonight I'm gonna dance for all that we've been through / But I don't wanna dance if I'm not dancing with you." -- <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-fisher/">Kelly Butler</a></strong> <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> Whether it's the mention of New York or the image of Carrie Bradshaw she conjures up with "spinning like a girl in a brand new dress," the fast pace "Holy Ground" encompasses everything I love about living in a big city and Taylor Swift. I just hope she isn't secretly singing about Nashville. (<em>Ed. Note -- Unless it's "Nashville"?</em>) -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leigh-weingus/"><strong>Leigh Weingus</strong></a>

  • 'Sad Beautiful Tragic'

    "Sad Beautiful Tragic" is a great way to describe this waste of a song. Swift prides herself on interesting lyrics, yet this might be the most boring tune she's ever written. The repetitive lyrics "We had a beautiful magic love there/What a sad beautiful tragic love affair" highlight Swift's romantic delusions of grandeur and habit of turning a very brief relationship into a torrid love affair. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-marcus/"><strong>Stephanie Marcus</strong></a>

  • 'The Lucky One'

    I don't really have a problem with the actual musical arrangement of this soft-rock track, but there's basically nothing I dislike in a song more than when a pop singer bitches about his/her hard life as a superstar. "Lucky" is my least favorite Britney Spears single (sorry, Brit) and Taylor's even using a <em>very</em> similar title. Plus, she croons, "All the young things lined up to take your place." Really? Girl, you're 22. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaimie-etkin/"><strong>Jaimie Etkin</strong></a>

  • 'Everything Has Changed' (ft. Ed Sheeran)

    Picture it: You're in the elevator with this adorable guy/girl who is just your type, you share a quick chat full of jokes and smiles and laughs and before the elevator ride is over, you've planned out your entire relationship, in your head, in just 5 short floors. The next day you follow that same path to see if the adorable stranger will be on the elevator again to see if serendipity can strike twice. That is this song. You don't know this person -- and 99 percent of the time, you're not going to -- but in a world where your life is an actual romantic comedy, you'd strike up a conversation and the rest would be history. <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> Add the sweet voice of Ed Sheeran and you've got a song that is perfect to mend the almost-broken heart you almost got from that guy you almost talked to in the elevator. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katelyn-mullen/"><strong>Katelyn Mullen</strong></a>

  • 'Starlight'

    The more I listen to this song, the catchier it gets. (5th repeat in a row and counting...) I am now even finding myself bobbing my head, which is progress. My real issue with this song, however, is that I'm sort of creeped out by it. I get it, Tay, you're super in love with your new man and is family is just the best. They are the Kennedys for heaven's sake, but it's a little aggressive that you're writing a song for/about his grandmother, Ethel. Take it down a notch, play it cool. I'd imagine they are a tough bunch to crack, and laying it on too thick might not be the best avenue to travel. I feel like a nice sweater or tea pot would have been a sufficient gift. I know she's probably a cool lady, and may or may not have had a hand in your budding romance, but it's still a little weird. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katelyn-mullen/"><strong>Katelyn Mullen</strong></a> <br clear="all"> <br clear="all"> The beginning of this song reminds me of Cobra Starship and Leighton Meester's "Good Girls Go Bad" for some reason -- and that's a good thing. When have you heard a pop song reference a yacht party? Exactly. I expect to be dancing (or "dancin', dancin'") to "Starlight" alone in the bedroom shortly. There's even a part to play faux electric guitar -- "Risky Business"-style. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaimie-etkin/"><strong>Jaimie Etkin</strong></a>

  • 'Begin Again'

    "Begin Again" is a classic Swifty country tune. Not only does she reminisce about one of her past crappy relationships (as usual), but she sings about a new guy in her life who gives her hope for the future. P.S. This song is totally about Jake Gyllenhaal and Parachute singer Will Anderson, who she dated eight months after the actor broke up with her. Hints? Swift not only mentions her eight-month heartache, but she throws in a line about James Taylor, who is allegedly one of Anderson's favorite singers. Love. Love. Love. -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leigh-blickley/"><strong>Leigh Blickley</strong></a>