One of the best things about this year's slate of AOTY nominees is that they are all winners--I recommend all of them, an improvement over the last 2 years' slates, which each contained only two albums I gave at least 4 stars to.
Bruno Mars - Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Reviewed October 10, 2010). "At just 10 tracks, Doo-Wops and Hooligans feels lean and mean. As I always say, I'd rather have a tight album of high points than a longer one with filler. With his debut, Mars firmly solidifies his pop music cred and raises expectations as one to watch in the coming years." (4/5)
Rihanna - Loud (Reviewed November 24, 2010). "Fittingly titled Loud is an assertive pop record from its high-octane production to its leading lady's vocal. Rihanna sounds different these days--there's definitely more heft in her voice, evident from the get-go on first track 'S&M,' a brassy dance pop number over which Rihanna sings that 'sticks and stones may break my bones by chains and whips excite me.'" (4/5)
Adele - 21 (Reviewed February 5, 2011). "In a way, 21 is a concept album like 19 was, documenting a year in the life of a young singer. This time around she's famous of course, but that doesn't mean the heartbreak stings any less. Still, the ability to transform a dead relationship into top 40 gold has to provide some level of consolation. It's certainly given us 2011's first fine pop album." (4.5/5)
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Reviewed April 17, 2011). "I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Wasting Light, the group's seventh studio album. Dave Grohl and company excel at muscular guitar rock that doesn't need to result to trends and tricks to be enjoyable." (4/5)
Lady Gaga - Born This Way (Reviewed May 29, 2011). "Frankly, it's not the best pop album ever, or even the best pop album released so far this year. But compared to her prior work, it definitely exceeds expectations. Against any meaningful measure, Born This Way is a triumph, continuing to push the boundaries of pop music (as well as a few buttons)." (4.5/5)