Pure, unadulterated, feel-good, sexy, heavy, singable, headbangable stoner-rock bliss. An absolutely perfect debut album from a band with no sign of slowing down. CAT JONES.
Arcade Fire, Reflektor
A continued exploration of the postmodern dichotomy of loneliness and chaos, but this time with more persistence (not to mention percussion) than ever, due to the group’s Caribbean musical inspiration and James Murphy’s production. GRACE STAINBACK.
Big Sean, Hall of Fame
The rapper has always been criticized for being stylistically crude, but Hall of Fame shut those critics up. “MILF,” “Mona Lisa” and “Toyota Music”—to say nothing of the album’s singles—hit hard, fast and crass all the way through. MITCH LILLIE.
Black Sabbath, 13
Despite having the wrong drummer, Black Sabbath returned after 35 years of stumbling with its first No. 1 album. Great songs, heavy vibe and no Auto-Tune—it’s a triumph in doom. NATHAN CARSON.
Bonobo, The North Borders
The notable downtempo producer taps into trip-hop roots with soulful female guest vocals and multilayered instrumental-electronic blends. GRACE STAINBACK.
Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap
Chicago’s Chance the Rapper captured hip-hop’s heart on his second mixtape via his croaky sing-song voice and taste in playfully soulful instrumentals. REED JACKSON.
Chelsea Wolfe, Pain Is Beauty
Not quite scaling the heights of her acoustic record, Pain Is Beauty nonetheless continues Wolfe’s impressive young career. More electronics inhabit the space, along with her chilling voice and minimal arrangements. NATHAN CARSON.
Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe
Despite its bright, sickly sweet synth-pop surface, the Swedish trio’s lyrics, combined with singer Lauren Mayberry’s vocals, reveal a dark, don’t-fuck-with-me underside that is at once surprising and scary yet oh-so-catchy. KAITIE TODD.
Danny Brown, Old
On the follow-up to 2011’s XXX, Brown shows off a variety of influences, from trap to soul, with rhymes more organized and clearer than ever, especially on tracks like “25 Bucks,” where his bars mesh perfectly with supernatural production from Purity Ring. GEOFF NUDELMAN.
Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Enlisting a murderer’s row of collaborators and boasting a multimillion-dollar budget, our Gallic robot lords of the dance turned against their EDM programming to forge an ambitious, ecstatic, deeply eccentric ’70s-styled prog-disco fantasia. JAY HORTON.
Dawes, Stories Don’t End
The outfit’s third bout of rangy, Laurel Canyon-gazing Americana ensures CSNY-esque harmonies, twangy distortion and songs about window seats in coach that are still as relevant as they were in 1972. BRANDON WIDDER.
As far as metal records go, Sunbather is a lot like a caramel frappuccino: dense, saccharine, universally despised by the purists, but it’s still got the goods to bang heads, with relentless blast-beats, anguished yowling and shimmering layers of tremolo-picked guitars. File this in the extreme end of post-rock and turn it up. PETE COTTELL.
Bradford Cox has always been an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an, um, dress, but Deerhunter’s singular vision on Monomania is astounding: No pretense, no ridiculous origin story, just a set of rousing garage-pop tunes that burn brighter than the neon-pink sign on the cover. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
The-Dream, IV Play (Deluxe Version)
There is no voice in hip-hop or R&B like The-Dream’s, and no album even remotely like IV Play. Jaded with the music industry and both overtly sexual and sexy, The-Dream will croon his way into your heart via your panties. MITCH LILLIE.
Drake, Nothing Was the Same
On his third album, Drizzy Drake returned to his proven pop formula of mixing clever one-liners and heartfelt coos with minimalist production. But he took it all to the next level with “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which will be played at bar mitzvahs and weddings for years to come. REED JACKSON.
Haim, Days Are Gone
Pop music has never lacked safe ports of entry. And yet we still wonder: How does one welcome an elitist back to the pedestrian world of polished, hook-laden soft-rock gold? The answer lies within Days Are Gone, a record so clean and shiny you mustn’t give in to the urge to shout along while operating a vehicle, lest you’re prepared to drive headfirst into a telephone pole. PETE COTTELL.
Kanye West, Yeezus
In which Chicago’s prodigal dropout trades his engorged ego for a rampaging id, going #nofilter and sharing thoughts better kept to himself over scathing electro-industrial production that’s nearly as brazen. How much does Yeezy not give a fuck? This much. MATTHEW SINGER.
Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Arguably the most complete album in years, armed with rich and resonating classic rock touches, panoramic 10-minute tracks and the proper amount of psychedelics. MARK STOCK.
Neko Case, The Worse Things Get…
Swelling indie-country bliss with buzzing guitar, balls-out choruses and brash questions of identity. The phrase “get the fuck away from me” never sounded so tender or sweet. BRANDON WIDDER.
Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
You’d think dudes with a jam called “Stoned and Starving” would be chill bros, but nah: The weed’s just made the vocals nervier, the slacker-punk guitars more on-edge and everyday life more epically confounding. In these guys’ sticky hands, the search for the one munchie to rule them all is rendered with Tolkien-esque gravitas. MATTHEW SINGER.
Pusha T, My Name Is My Name
In a year when most rap records opted for pillowy opulence, King Push and a sea of collaborators (Kanye, Kendrick, Hudson Mohawke, old buddy Pharrell) simply went hard for 40 minutes. The beat for “Numbers on the Boards” alone is enough to place it in my top 10. Radio coke-rap at its finest. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork
Rock’s sleaziest choirboy swings his, uh, tail around, slithering, swaggering and sledgehammering through the most salacious grooves his mercurial group has ground out in years. MATTHEW SINGER.
Snakadaktal, Sleep in the Water
Eerie guitars and soft background beats are only the tip of this Australian iceberg. “Fall Underneath” showcases the band’s fusion of XX-style instrumentation coupled with haunting, Phantogram-esque vocals. The best album you didn’t hear this year. GEOFF NUDELMAN.
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
They might have traded the African-inspired guitar hooks that made them famous, but they’ve replaced them with cleverer lyrics and eccentric instrumental flourishes that make it simultaneously fun and more mature. KAITIE TODD.
Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
On this second volume of bedsit recordings collected under the Waxahatchee imprimatur, buzz-band casualty Katie Crutchfield pumps up both feedback and candor whilst lashing her finely wrought reminiscences to a succession of slow-burning riffs. JAY HORTON.
MORE: Yeah, we know. “Yadda yadda, hipster hipster.” So what were you listening to this year? Let us know at wweek.com.