Kanye West - Yeezus
A lot of ink has been spilled over this album, and rightly so, from Lou Reed's surprising support to withering take-downs from known Kanye fans. But talk is cheap. This album is a bracing slap in the face to what we expect, wonky synths, odd breakdowns, thudding drums and rapping so visceral and brutal and funny and honest and weird that you really don't want it to stop. Bonus points to Mr. West for pointing out his own arrogance and debauchery with a wink and a smile.
Wavves - Afraid of Heights
It's awesome when a band really out-does themselves and makes you a believer. I wasn't the biggest Wavves fan, I'll admit, and yeah, there were some cool tunes on "King of the Beach" and the "Life Suxxx" EP, but it wasn't until I heard "Demon to Lean On" from this their third full-length that I really understood the fuzzed-out grandeur of Wavves. Contemporaries like Mikal Cronin and Ty Segall have similar bliss-out noises on their records, but this one still takes the cake.
Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana
They take their name from the comic Love and Rockets and they take their sound from the best of Pavement, Liz Phair, Sonic Youth and a touch of Fugazi. Northampton, Mich.'s Speedy Ortiz' debut LP is a dizzying grab-bag of '90s-era alternative straight from an unreleased Sub Pop/Merge compilation that never existed. Sadee Dupuis' voice is what gives the resulting melange a nice finish, setting up lyrical bon mots so clever and quickly delivered they don't always hit until later.
Superchunk - I Hate Music
Yes, the title is ironic. The second comeback album from a band who until recently believed their best years were behind them. Then they went and perfectly captured the generation gap in one tune - "My Gap Feels Weird" from 2010's "Majesty Shredding." Could they follow up something that excellent again? Yep. A wall-to-wall head-nodding power pop-laden indie rock album full of hummable melodies and jump-around-in-your-living-room-while-the-kids-are-asleep moments.
Los Campesinos! - No Blues
It seems like every time LC! put out an album it ends up on my best-of and there's good reason for that. Los Campesinos put out some of the most intriguing music out of the UK, packed with loopy, delirious indie pop that builds and crashes and croons and moans and lyrically is just a shade darker than the darkest of Morrissey songs. Even the title of lead single "Cemetery Gaits" is a winking nod in the great Mozzer's direction.
Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals
There's trainwrecks and then there's Sleigh Bells records, which, since "Treats" have been moving closer towards a head-on collision of pure Detroit Bass electro and arena-ready rock n roll. They almost perfected it on "Reign of Terror" but on this new slab of bruising tunes, they take a slight left turn and veer more into the beat-heavy electronic side. Allison Krauss' cheerleader vocal assault and the punishing Atari Teenage Riot-ish instrumentation are damn near perfect.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Few Daft Punk albums have been this funky, this chilled-out, this willing to try new things and that's what makes this one really special. A true-blue disco album in a year full of electro bangers, it stands out because of its aggressiveness in sticking to its central thesis, expressed in leadoff track "Give Life Back To Music." There's a simmering funk to it all, ethereal pads and burbling guitar clicks abound, not a one of them sampled. The 9 minute tribute to Giorgio Moroder is worth every single minute. A forward-looking history lesson.
GRMLN - Empire
Yoodoo Park isn't a household name, not yet, but on this second album from his alter-ego GRMLN, it might be closer to happening than ever. There's something thrilling in the pop-punk by way of alt-rock vibe that makes this slim collection of rockers, a kind of easy breezy loose-but-tight tossed-off feeling that maybe these songs were recorded in a weekend and played with a reckless abandon as fast as they were written. Maybe that's not the case, but it sure feels that way. The album feels urgent, relentless and like it's grasping for a feeling to hold on to.
Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady
Kansas City's Janelle Monae needs to be famous, like right now. She's producing her best work -- including a gem "Givin' Em What They Want" which features Prince -- and that needs to be rewarded with as many awards and Top 40 spins as humanly possible. Effortlessly funky and frisky and less genre-happy than "Archandroid", this record still manages to squeeze in popular guests - Solange Knowles, Miguel, Erykah Badu and, y'know, PRINCE -- while still making time for doo-wop breaks and the like.
The Thermals - Desperate Ground
Yes, it's the same bleary blasted punk howlings from a Northwestern trio of bedheaded noisemakers, but y'know what? I'm ok with that. More of the same never sounded as good as this, which takes cues from their breakthrough album "The Body The Blood The Machine" and does bigger things better with the same sonic palette. Part of knowing good art is knowing that your limitations become your style, to paraphrase Billy Joel, and here firebrand lead singer Hutch Harris lets his own freak flag fly, reminding us of why we listen in the first place.