The Heart of the Nightlife
This Is Music

I always appreciate a band that can change my outlook on a particular genre. Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of dance music, due in part to its repetitive nature, but also the fact that so much of it lends itself to easy recycling. This year, though, I was jolted out of any preconceived notions by LA twosome Kisses. Their album, the aptly titled The Heart of the Nightlife, pays homage to both disco and synth-pop, with elementary beats and breezy melodies comprising standouts like “Kisses” and “Bermuda.” JF

LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening

The evolution of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy has been a shockingly human one—a slow maturation from bratty dance snob to a beautifully damaged philosophizer on his last hurrah. This is Happening might not even be his best record, but it certainly sums up his mythos. Born, as usual, from aged synth, chintzy drum machines and a punk sneer, the record’s nine tracks swell into an hour of chugging, elliptical seamlessness. As in the past the songs veer wildly from deeply emotive ponderings to irreverent as hell bangers, but the turns are more solid, more lucid, than before. In order, we’ve got a rat-tat club-crusher, the post-punk bombshell, the robot-precise anthem, the dejected lover’s spotlight, the bemused electro-pop ballad, the impudent dance punk, the ranting commentary, the kraut-referencing experimentalism, and—finally—the deep sigh of relief. That covers all of Murphy’s bases, and makes for a perfect album on which to go out. LW

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Young God

Describing Swans to a young goth relative, I described them as “like Sword Heaven but more song-based.” He knew what I meant right away. Long have Swans been a relevant point of reference for those producing ultra-tragedy pain sludge, though Michael Gira and his gang haven’t had a current entry in the catalogue since he pronounced them dead in ’97. Gira asked for alms from fans in a reverse funding plan to produce My Father and they got their money’s worth. This is everything Swans was—elegant, mean, cold, and humongous—plus this is brand new. It gives me a smug feeling, the way a preacher would feel just before Armageddon. MPO

Beach Fossils
Beach Fossils
Captured Tracks

The dreamy vocals and laidback melodies, along with the band’s name and song titles such as “Vacation” and “Lazy Day” on Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut conjure up a sunny coast, so it’s a bit surprising that the band hails from Brooklyn. The group is one of a variety of bands evoking ’60s pop, but Beach Fossils make their mark with Dustin Payseur’s unassuming vocals, the songs’ leisurely pace and guitars that echo a less frenetic New Order. This record is an aural vacation and way more fulfilling than holding a seashell up to your ear. JR

Titus Andronicus
The Monitor

The Monitor was hardly the most original record of 2010, but that’s why it ended up being one of the most vital. A blunderbuss blast to the face of Civil War fables through the gauzy eyeglass of Springsteen and Strummer, this was American folklore in the 21st century, deeply meditated and cautiously patriotic. Proud to be an American, but not proud of the definition, Titus Andronicus deconstructed what the U.S. meant for a generation of kids growing up in the dichotomous country of Obama versus the Tea Party by paging through the rich American history of world-smashing pop and fringe scenes. It resulted in one of the truest and greatest works of pure rock music in recent memory. LW

Ty Segall

In a year when San Francisco seemed to re-assert itself as one of the country’s bountiful music scenes, Ty Segall’s latest stood out as one of the must-listen longplayers from the Golden Gate City. Melted represents a major step forward for the prolific Segall, whose fuzzy garage rock has been seasoned with loads of infectious melodies and a hint of psychedelia. RW

How to Dress Well
Love Remains

Where did this mystery come from? The shadow of the truth is even more compelling than the real story of Brooklyn philosophy student Tom Krell. The album sounds like it was made with an old, metallic tape recorder, like the one you had when you were 13, and then the resultant tapes were left out in the rain. You can swim through these murky waters for weeks, but the answer is unreachable. Luckily, like the best works of art that make something known into something unfathomable, you don't have to understand it to be changed by it. MS

Big Boi
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Legend of Chico Dusty
Def Jam

At this point, waiting on an Outkast record is like waiting for a new Fugazi record. Sure it could happen, but don’t hold your breath. So in the meantime and in-between time the faithful can bang the long-delayed solo debut by Big Boi. Since Speakerboxx/The Love Below, Big Boi has been unfairly overshadowed by his partner Andre 3000. But a revisitation of Speakerboxx and a spin of Sir Luscious shows that Outkast is an equal partnership of everyman concerns anchored by leftfield rhyme schemes and slinky music sophistication. DSH

Total Life Forever
Sub Pop

One’s tempted to call Foals’ sophomore effort an expansion of the terse, jagged terrain found on the band’s debut, Antidotes. The problem with that analogy, though, is there are very few remnants of that record in Total Life Forever’s inflated pop. The group has created a new universe, one where Mr. Roboto and paranoid androids have retired along a coast of crystalline tones and majestic gestures. With singer Yannis Philippakis tapping into a psychic unease that’s at times both celebratory (“Miami,” “This Orient”) and harrowing (“Black Gold,” “Spanish Sahara”), the album is a coalescing of post-millennial anxiety and 21st century pop eclecticism that’s absolutely breathtaking. SS

Odd Blood
Secretly Canadian

While All Hour Cymbals, Yeasayer’s first opus of worldly pop tunes was met, like so many other Johnny-come-latelies, by the endless jawing of the blogosphere, with Odd Blood, Yeasayer separated themselves from the pack. Thanks to its memorable lyrics and actually hummable tunes, the album occupies a rare stratum of post-indie post. It’s got poppy chops for days, as evidenced by “Ambling Alp” and “Madder Rose,” and more hooks than most of their peers ever will create, while Yeasayer remains unafraid to be confounding. MS