Does It Look Like I’m Here?
Editions Mego

Cleveland’s always elusive Emeralds collective have been soaring through the underground for years now, but on those limited cassette and CDR releases, they usually hurled their work towards opposite ends of a spectrum veering between minimalist electronics and destructive noise. Does It Look Like I’m Here? is a mammoth convergence of the two. With the record still bubbling with cosmic synths and layered with subversive guitar lines that run like linear equations, the hypnagogic intelligentsia shouldn’t have to over-think this one as it transcends pocket genres into its own being of psychedelic music. By crystallizing and bolstering their sonic force as an instrumental band, Emeralds seemingly play in three-dimensions, creating landscapes that bulldoze those artists who mine similar territory. Does It Look Like I’m Here? is as face-melting an experience as it is a landmark in predicting the future of psychedelia. KJE

The National
High Violet

No one’s got a voice like the National’s Matt Berninger, and I’m not just talking about his otherworldly baritone. Berninger’s narratives are at once absurd and heartbreaking, alternating between childlike innocence and crushing regret. His mind works like that of a true outsider, selling bizarre like, “I was afraid I would eat your brains,” with total sincerity. Oh, and the music is no slouch either; the National crafts densely layered epics without ever veering into the bombastic territory of some of their orchestra-happy peers. High Violet is the National’s darkest and most captivating record yet, and like all their albums, it’s best enjoyed after midnight and one too many drinks. DH

The Unholy Two
$$kum of the Earth
Columbus Discount

The long-rumored debut LP from Columbus’s noise-punk tastemakers fittingly arrived near the end of a tumultuous election season. While the voting public was swinging conservatively, the Unholy Two launched a brutal sonic offensive against the increasingly bland state of modern rock & roll. While it certainly wasn’t for the easily offended, $$kum of the Earth rewarded the strong-stomached with a potent Molotov cocktail of dirty riffage, feedback and white noise. This record proved that there are still frontiers left to explore in the world of loud, abrasive rock, and it effectively raised the bar for all the wannabes. RW

Dum Dum Girls
I Will Be
Sub Pop/Hozac

Dum Dum Girls aren’t from the girl-group school of matching outfits and synchronized dance moves, but rather a garage where you’d find Pinky and Leather Tuscadero. The band’s full-length debut, which was recorded as a solo project by vocalist and guitarist Dee Dee with help from Richard Gottehrer (who wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy” and whose producing credits include Blondie and the Raveonettes), hypnotically merges moody lo-fi and ’60s pop. With catchy melodies and echoed vocals mixing with dark, fuzzy reverb, I Will Be is a flawless mixture of sweet and sour, yin and yang. JR

Halcyon Digest

Truth is, Deerhunter was a much more interesting band when its music was rambunctious and its persona less forgiving and more confrontational. Bradford Cox has reigned in the band’s sound on Halcyon Digest, and the whole record sounds muffled and blanketed. But it would be remiss to say that with fewer antics, and perhaps a full spin in the blogospheric cycle, Deerhunter is any less intriguing. Instead, Cox now deals in sensory manipulation through the use of colorful tiny explosions of aural ephemera. When those bursts are immediate, as on the deja vu melody in “Revival,” it becomes goosebump-inducing. Halcyon Digest is the band’s most determined, fulfilling, and most importantly, grounded album to date. KJE

Surfer Blood
Astro Coast

Having been born in late 1987, I spent all of the early- to mid-90s transitioning from potty training to elementary school (with a few developmental steps in between), and thusly, remained unaware of the musical shift that was taking place around me. Grunge, alt-rock, lo-fi, etc. were the least of my worries. Yet this year, I found reprieve in Surfer Blood—rightfully winning accolades across the board. The West Palm Beach band debuted the frenetic, hook-filled Astro Coast, which included the single “Swim” in all its punchy, reverb-drenched, in-your-face glory. Slowly, I’m starting to feel a little less bummed about filling my room with posters of Joey McIntyre instead of Kurt Cobain. JF

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Before Today

Equate Haunted Graffiti to the Spiders from Mars and you can theorize that Before Today was a Ziggy Stardust–like transformation for Ariel Pink. Stridently bedroom-bred, Pink made the leap of faith into a studio to embellish idiosyncrasies that were formerly obscured in tape hiss and muddy layers. With an endless palette with which to work, he’s made all of those would-be hits imagined on past recordings reality. Pink’s strange and wonderful world now shines in neon and is given clarity upon the widescreen. As a result, nothing sounds off-limits. From the creamy ballads bathed in golden soft-rock affectations (“Round and Round”) to classic garage psych-fuzz (“Bright Lit, Blue Skies”) and onward to ’70s-prog excesses (“Fright Night”), there are no lack of surprises on Before Today. To be fair, most of Ariel Pink’s recordings have been flooded with enigmatic pop moments, it’s just those hallucinations have never been this vivid. KJE

The Fresh & Onlys
Play It Strange
In the Red

The Fresh & Onlys, along with the rest of the pizza punkers cabal in San Fran, must have some sort of secret manual from the future that they consult when it’s time to write a new album. Maybe there’s a magic herb that only grows in California—I can’t figure it out and I prefer willful ignorance. These dudes just keep nailing it; every album of hazy, pop-tinged psych (or is it psych-tinged pop?) is all-killer no-filler, and I hope that never stops. I almost skipped this one entirely because I still have last year’s Fresh & Onlys songs stuck in my head half the time anyway. If that’s cheesy, I don’t care. Maybe I’m the one that ends up writing that hitmaking manual in the future. MPO

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

Mr. West presents a fantasia on the abundant themes of young America: fame, desultory acquisition, glorious sex, and the nihilistic weaknesses that Yeezy has dedicated his career to exemplifying. As Gil Scott-Heron, the problemed poet laureate of black America puts it, sampled in the closing moments of Kayne’s extravagant opus, it’s “now blood and tears instead of milk and honey.” No more auto-tune, no more electro, no more Alpha Phi Alpha antics. He’s finally probing the abyss, and the result is bleak, righteous and raw. MS

Beach House
Teen Dream
Sub Pop

The first two records by Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House were soaked in nostalgia, thanks to the submerged production qualities that perfectly captured the hazy, half-formed nature of childhood memories. On Teen Dream, however, the band emerges into the sunlight, and what the album lacks in nostalgia, it more than makes up for with the duo’s strongest songwriting and most beautiful arrangements to date. Beach House bet the house by embracing a more hi-fi sound and came up with their greatest record yet. DH