We do this every year ’round this time—looking back at the 20 albums that mattered most over the past 12 months. So before the big ball drops this weekend, let the countdown begin.

20. BLACK LIPS—‘Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art’ (May)
The Georgia psyche-rockers forgo high-profile producers this time in favor of working with Sean Lennon and end up creating a noisy, freaky pile of swamp rock. It’s ugly and enticing at the same time.

19. SAINT ETIENNE—‘Home Counties’ (June)
The British synth-rock/Britpop legends take us on a trip through suburban London. A concept focusing on the mundane, “Home Counties” is anything but. Retro dance grooves and charming melodies rule the neighborhood.

18. DAN AUERBACH—‘Waiting on a Song’ (June)
Singer/songwriter/Black Key Dan Auerbach gets together with a bunch of legendary friends while ditching the blues in favor of direct and polished pop/rock. The end results make us smile.

17. THE SHINS—‘Heartworms’ (March)
Are the Shins still a proper band, or is that name now simply a front for singer/songwriter/producer James Mercer? Does it matter? “Heartworms” proves the compelling songs remain intact regardless of lineup. Glad they’re (he’s?) back after a half-decade of distractions.

16. OLD 97’S—‘Graveyard Whistling’ (February)
You have to respect experience and authenticity. Even after a quarter-century together, Old 97’s remain the best damn southern bar band in the country. Toss some sawdust on the floor and embrace these alt-country anthems brimming with blood, sweat and beers.

15. TENNIS—‘Yours Conditionally’ (March)
Colorado husband-and-wife indie rock duo Tennis goes back to its breezy beginnings, creating something simple yet exquisite. Not since 2010’s “Cape Dory” have the couple felt this relaxed while still delivering divine melodies and caustic wit.

14. JAY-Z—‘4:44’ (June)
When he keeps things close to home, Jay-Z shines. After the glossy misfire “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” the rapper proves he can hold his own within an ever-changing hip-hop landscape by delivering music that stays true to the genre. “4:44” is lean and mean, as it should be.

13. NEW PORNOGRAPHERS—‘White Out Conditions’ (April)
The Canadian indie rock supergroup never fails to deliver BIG guitar-pop hooks. Add the one-two punch of A.C. Newman and Neko Case out front, and the tracks pack vocal charisma too. One could accuse “Conditions” of
being predictable, but why tamper with a formula that works so well?

12. FUTURE ISLANDS— ‘The Far Field’ (April)
The Baltimore outfit gains momentum on its fifth, a tight study in post-punk and new wave that rivals the modern
masters of both genres. “Far Field” contains more well-executed gems than most albums. Not an ounce of energy or second of time is wasted.

11. SYLVAN ESSO—‘What Now’ (April)
Artists within the modern folk world aren’t supposed to make underground dance records that are actually GOOD. Sylvan Esso didn’t get that memo. “What Now” smashes all boundaries and expectations.

Next week, we cover this past year’s best ten.