Micachu & the Shapes
Rough Trade

UK singer-songwriter Mica Levi and her Shapes, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell, generated a lot of buzz with their debut album, Jewellery, one of the most creative records of the year (if not decade). Almost androgynous, sweetly sung vocals are backed by refashioned pop created with Mica’s own modified guitar (played with a hammer action called a “chu”) and, in part, unconventional instruments, including a repurposed CD rack and a vacuum. The result is uncontrived brilliance. JR

Blank Dogs
Under and Under
In the Red

After a flurry of releases veiled in secrecy, this one-man Brooklyn band was finally revealed to be Mike Sniper of the DC Snipers. Comparisons to Joy Division and the Cure are inevitable. Is it coincidence that the Blank Dogs’ “Setting Fire to Your House” is eerily similar to Seventeen Seconds’ “In Your House?” Probably, but it’s still uncanny and haunting. On Under and Under, Sniper re-imagines those influences into an insular world all his own, one shrouded in lo-fi subterfuge—and all the better for it. JR

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

On Bitte Orca, the Dirty Projectors by no means temper the musical indulgences of their past work. But by avoiding the high-concept pitfalls of earlier releases (like an opera about Don Henley and remaking a Black Flag album), the band is free to roam whatever artistic landscape they choose instead of forcing the content to fit some predetermined form. The result is a thrilling synthesis of the band’s greatest strengths (African polyrhythms, head-spinning vocal melodies, and shameless guitar riffage) into a loose, yet intricate, record that’s as groovy as it is cerebral. DH

The Electric Bunnies
Through the Magical Door
Florida’s Dying

Miami, Florida’s underground has spawned a litter of psychedelic rats—Electric Bunnies, TeePee and Jacuzzi Boys, to name a few—many wreaking havoc with debut full-lengths in 2009. Through the Magical Door is the best of the bunch because it takes the most risks. The trio laces garage, bubblegum and blasts of hardcore with buzzing effects and a lofty cosmic bent, culminating in unpredictable results. The best moments transcend their excellent 7-inches, proving that the Bunnies will never be confined to any single format. DE

Zola Jesus
The Spoils
Sacred Bones

The first proper full-length from Madison, Wisconsin’s Zola Jesus packs one hell of a punch. The Spoils showcases the truly unique sound Nika Roza Danilova has developed, her impeccable vocals soaring high above a Midwestern Gothic electronic wall of sound. Whether it’s more traditional pop songs like “Clay Bodies” or tonal soundscapes like “In Hiding From The Crow,” there’s a definite, lasting vitality here. RW

The Antlers

After several records made on his lonesome, Peter Silberman recruited drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci to help him realize Hospice. Self-released in March before being picked up by Frenchkiss in August, the album still remains within the almost claustrophobically close quarters of Silberman’s headspace. Now, however, the recondite realm in which he operates, which for Hospice focuses on the central theme of a damaging relationship between a hospice worker and her patient, has been magnified. As such, little sonic gestures are lent grandeur and Silberman’s toothsome, folky pop is made majestic, coalescing into an album of unparalleled nuance that transcends even its ambitious conceptual premise. SS

Eat Skull
Wild and Inside

After hearing the mp3 of “Stick to the Formula,” probably the most exciting lead track of the year, I went straight out and bought the album. Were this 10 years ago, I would’ve been attracted by the cover photo of four blurry dudes who might be dressed hip or just a bunch of scruffy bums. This way Wild and Inside is “what you see is what you get.” Eat Skull might be in the late-00s lo-fi sprint to the bottom of the production quality ladder with Times New Viking, the Fresh & Onlys, et al, but they might just also be punks with static- and saccharine-laced melodies crackling out of their fingers like burnt sugar. I’ll say both are true, seeing as the record (much like those of TNV and the Fresh & Onlys) is actually highly faithful to their live sound. So chalk it up as another wholesome contender in the race to reclaim pop music from the popular. MPO

Times New Viking
Born Again Revisited

While Times New Viking’s 2009 entry might lack some of the immediately anthemic quality of 2008’s Rip It Off, Born Again Revisited more than makes up for it with loads of noisily melodic hooks, more mature songwriting and further mastery of the band’s DIY production techniques. Here’s an album that demands repeated listens, as songs like “Half Day In Hell” and “Move To California” encapsulate the band’s aesthetic and philosophical bent, as well as cement the band’s status as one of the most consistently challenging and rewarding units in action today. RW

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The proudly-worn ’80s college-rock influences of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart initially make the band seem like little more than lucky upstarts who happened to pick a tragically hip genre to imitate. But underneath the album’s stylistic underpinnings is some of the best songwriting you were likely to hear all year. They sing about sex and relationships with the energy that befits their youth, but also with a sense of longing and sadness far beyond their years. DH

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

Considering this album arrived the first week of January and still blasts forth with ecstatic color and aural fireworks, what we proclaimed way back when is more than apt. “I’ll go ahead and drink the kool-aid: Merriweather Post Pavilion is a landmark album, an event, and asserts without much doubt that Animal Collective have set the bar pretty high for their peers to follow.” Before this album, it was still possible to debate whether or not Animal Collective was the band of the ’00s. But with this decade cap, it’s easy to see the long line of inferior imitators they have spawned. In retrospect, even within 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion created a new template for experimentalists and pop purveyors alike. And through a year full of revelatory live shows and improvisational riffs on their own catalog—not to mention the just released Be Fall Kind EP—the band continues to stretch those parameters even further. KJE