Passing around some records!

At the year’s halfway point, with summer just about to flip the calendar over to side B, it’s a challenge to get a satisfying picture of the year in music, even if you’re just looking at a single genre. Consider the voices of the couple dozen obsessive listeners from NPR Music and our public radio partners who made this list, and the only thing that remains undeniably true is that great albums come out of every genre, from every corner of the world.

What links them together? 2014 has, in its first six months, been a wonderful year for musicians who go deep. The 25 albums on this list (presented alphabetically) all start with a sound, a vibe, a concept or crucial idea. After that, they flower in different ways. One might display the range of sounds a band leader can pull out of a few fellow musicians or the depth of emotion a singer can plumb while mapping the course of desire and heartbreak. Others offer history lessons, looking back over 20 years in the life of an American city or 200 years in the life of an instrument.

All pull you in with both hands. All of them connect us as listeners to the work done by musicians who ask for more than three minutes of our time. These ones deserve it. These are our favorite albums of the year so far.