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Aesop Rock, Skelethon 

The old-school indie MC breaks a five-year silence with a characteristic torrent of impassioned poetry over rock-influenced beats. JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG.


Ava Luna, Ice Level

The son of a soul DJ finds his voice in the Brooklyn avant-garde, then makes what sounds like a '90s R&B record being drowned out by the anxious clatter of big-city life. MATTHEW P. SINGER.


Cat Power, Sun 

The famously troubled songstress's first non-covers release in six years is a wonderful surprise of a record, pop-influenced and life-affirming. (JF)


Delicate Steve, Positive Force

A purist's Ratatat, strengthened by fierce, unflinching guitar wizardry and a sonic sophistication normally reserved for classical composers. MARK A. STOCK.


El-P, Cancer4Cure 

The latest dispatch from the veteran underground rapper comes from a visionary, chillingly affecting apocalyptic soundscape. (JF)


Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel...

Sometimes it sounds like a circus, other times a busy kitchen. I don't know if Apple is a genius or a maniac, and that's what keeps me coming back. CASEY JARMAN.


Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Frank Ocean uses his brilliant songwriting to present his idea of love: a boundless, static-filled journey full of both surreal beauty and eternal heartache. REED JACKSON.


Fun., Some Nights

Bending melodic '70s avant-pop bombast to the digitized dictates of Kanye-styled production, New York trio Fun. struck gold. JAY HORTON.


Gentleman Jesse and His Men, Leaving Atlanta

Every song on Gentleman Jesse Smith's second full-length is a power-pop hit issuing from a better universe, a realm where peerless craft is god and goose bumps are all that matter. CHRIS STAMM.


Grizzly Bear, Shields

Devising ambitious guitar-driven conversations between musical styles and implementing masterful push-pull dynamics, Shields is among the most stimulating listens of the year. EMILEE BOOHER.


Here We Go Magic, A Different Ship

The gorgeous, trippy, Nigel Godrich-produced A Different Ship proves Luke Temple has a legitimate shot at becoming not just a leading voice of his generation, but a leading sound of it, too. (CJ)


Ides of Gemini, Constantinople 

Gorgeous female-fronted hypnotic goth metal from Los Angeles, providing laid-back blackened spirituals for those opium-pipe nights by the fire. NATHAN CARSON.


Japandroids, Celebration Rock

Beginning and ending with fireworks, the Vancouver, B.C., pop-punk two-piece's sophomore LP is what jubilation sounds like. (JF)


Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

The rapper’s second album is one of the more personal hip-hop albums in recent memory, essentially acting as a memoir to his chaotic but loved-filled childhood in Compton, Calif. (RJ)


Ke$ha, Warrior

Beneath her swag-steeped persona, Ke$ha avoids Britney club-girl trappings to carefully assemble a sui generis sugar-wall of sound cut and pasted together from the past half-century’s hits. (JH)


The Men, Open Your Heart

In which these NYC body snatchers climb into the skin of basically every vital group of the ’80s indie underground and rip open not just their hearts but their throats and fretting hands as well. (MPS)


Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream

Maybe Channel Orange is more idiosyncratic, but this glowing moon rock of an R&B record has cosmic grooves, lunar textures and weightless vocals that stay just inside the radio-pop orbit. (MPS) 


Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It

Evoking emotionally raw imagery through simple piano-based compositions and intimate lyrics, Seattle’s Mike Hadreas tops off his music with an arrestingly soulful and tear-inducing voice. (EB)


Rush, Clockwork Angels 

Not only the best 66-minute steampunk concept album of 2012, but also a vital, fresh and heavy release from the only old-timers who still got it. (NC)


Thee Satisfaction, Awe Naturale

A pair of young black women from Seattle brings together a devilishly sexy bravado and strong feminist agenda into one soulful R&B/hip-hop whole. ROBERT HAM.


Swans, The Seer

No record provoked a more physical response from listeners than this exhausting, brutal classic. Two discs of muscular epics and shuddering moments of quiet. (RH)


White Lung, Sorry 

Sorry marshals a force of punk’s misshapen offspring to demolish the scene in 20 riveting minutes of raw power. (CS)


Wild Nothing, Nocturne

Jack Tatum’s debut was a soundtrack to summer flings and hazy afternoons. Nocturne is built for a cold winter night, with airy tunes that reflect on forgotten love and missed opportunities. (JF)


Woods, Bend Beyond

The Brooklyn band’s seventh record epitomizes 21st-century Americana, with a fullness and lingering melancholy reminiscent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. (MAS)