I've been doing these top annual lists for years, yet they continue to torture me. To exclude anything I believe truly worthy of excitement feels like sin, and there are many excellent releases that didn't make this year's cut (some of which I at least allude to). But if any of the albums below give you the tingle and fulfillment they gave me, then my agony was worth it.
Crocodiles – Endless Flowers
On their third LP, the San Diego new-gazers finally have their formula pitched perfectly between the pop and the fuzz. This album pairs their biggest sound with their best songs to date. With its full-bloom romance and swooning texture, this is some of the year's sweetest candy.
Die Antwoord – Ten$ion
"Fear" and "pop music" aren't everyday bedmates. But I've personally heard several completely unattached people employ the word "scared" to characterize their reaction to this deliciously lurid South African act. A little shock to the popular music system is something I can get down with, and this album fucking bangs.
How to Dress Well – Total Loss
What a great year it was for R&B, one heralded by a bright emerging class that's rescuing the genre not by simply rolling it back to before things went to shit but by forwarding the language in fresh, cogent ways. And the minimal, pants-dropping essence of How to Dress Well's latest is like an impossibly sexy tryst between Frank Ocean (whose album Channel Orange could've easily taken this spot) and the XX.
Indian Handcrafts – Civil Disobedience for Losers
This sophomore album by the Toronto two-piece riff beast is like a horny, black-leather, rock & roll imagining of Big Business. It's got big kick and big dick. And, goddamn, does it rock.
Junior Bruce – The Headless King
The area's heavy-music cognoscenti are united on this Central Florida stoner-sludge band's brilliance, yet they remain one of the country's most underrated groups. But blast the blood-red roars and bludgeoning riffs of this long-awaited debut album and only one truth remains: This is some of the grisliest Southern metal around.
Metz – Metz
That seriously sick return album by Unsane (Wreck) almost nabbed this spot,but these young Canadians deserve it with this hair-raising Sub Pop debut. It's searing, relentless noise-rock that's in constant, thrilling freefall.
Poliça – Give You the Ghost
Besides proving that Auto-Tune can actually be synonymous with artistry rather than the end of civilization, the debut of this Gayngs spin-off project is an absolutely dazzling work of futuristic, moody and dynamic electro-soul-pop.
Stagnant Pools – Temporary Room
This year's A Place to Bury Strangers album (Worship) is an impressive widening of their Psychocandy lens, but these two young Midwest brothers are even more melody-minded and beautiful in their gauzy white sprays of guitars. Gorgeously straddling Adorable and My Bloody Valentine, their music is as driving as it is majestic.