Set Forth, Set Forth EP (Self-released). Set Forth's debut is four songs of pristinely crafted pop — each a hit-in-waiting thanks to the always-dependable Midas touch of Christopher Jak and Andrew Berlin. Led by Steve Melton, whose vocals so closely resemble Adam Levine's that an ID check wouldn't be out of the question, Set Forth is poised to break. — Herrera

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Cipher (Alternative Tentacles). Slim Cessna's Auto Club really outdid itself on Cipher. Everything there is to love about this band — the ferocious interplay of Slim and Munly and the way the two imbue their stirring backwoods spirituals with such a fiery, inimitable conviction — is deftly captured on this record, the act's most arresting to date. — Herrera

The Still City, Light and Machines (Self-released). The Still City's EP is a combination of ethereal emotion and rousing rock, featuring Ryan Murphy's punctuated synth lines, Brandon Roth's explosive drum fills and Brendan Gann's driving bass — all of which help ground lead singer Brian Knab's emotive, pleading vocals. It all makes for a novel combination, one that blends the dreamy and the straightforward in perfect amounts. — Goldstein

The Swayback, Long Gone Lads (Self-released). Guitarist Bill Murphy swears that the material he and his mates have been recording with Andy Johns cast a giant shadow on Long Gone Lads. It's hard to imagine another batch of tunes hanging together as nicely as these do. Sexed up and gritty, this is easily one of the best albums of the year. — Herrera

Taun Taun, For Us to Destroy (Self-released). Former Gamits helmsman Chris Fogal has always been a secret shredder, and here he finally indulges his inner Hessian. With the help of a superstar lineup, Fogal has taken local metal to breathtaking new heights, with mountain-crumbling rhythms, Guitar Hero-worthy leads and searing, monolithic vocals. — Herrera

teamAWESOME!, The Burnt Sienna Album (Self-released). A childlike innocence and abandon marks every element of this band, from its energetic live performances to its bright cover art. While Sienna, with its basic chords and surreal lyrics, fully captures that infantile allure, it also spotlights the group's impressive development and growth. — Goldstein

3OH!3, Want (Photo Finish Records). There's no way the exuberance Nathaniel Motte and Sean Foreman exhibit in a sweaty club can be pressed into plastic. Still, Want manages to translate their early Caucasian crunk effectively while simultaneously upping their radio-friendliness (exemplified by the irresistible "Don't Trust Me") in ways that should seem fatally compromised but somehow don't. Even Helen Keller would approve. — Roberts

Three Squared, Let's Play Ping Pong (P/X Music). Each of Three Squared's four musicians have either studied or performed with Ron Miles, and it's clear the trumpeter's influence rubbed off on these young cats, who are well versed in the way of the swing, especially on the angular Thelonious Monk-esque "Dunno" or locked in tight grooves. Whatever they do, it's usually unpredictable. — Solomon

Tickle Me Pink, Madeline (Wind-Up Records). The tragic death of bassist Johnny Schou in July served as a grim precursor and an inevitable anecdote attached to the band's freshman album. But the record boasts more than a macabre association. With a solid set of tunes rooted in '70s rock contours, the album boasts an impressive amount of skill and musical maturity. — Goldstein

Time, The Fantastic Reality (Self-released). To a song, this is one of the most innovative and lyrically brilliant hip-hop albums of the past several years. Borrowing imagery from Salvador Dalí and James Cameron, plus sounds and modified samples from a dizzying array of sources, Time has crafted an inspired masterpiece of poetry, flow and imagination. — Murphy

To Be Eaten, In the Clearing (Ash From Sweat Records). This band managed to distill the sub-logical exhilaration of black metal, the catharsis of hardcore and the razor-sharp precision of heavy prog into this mind-shattering collection of songs. The record embodies the word "ferocious"; most heavy music seems laughable by comparison. Keen intelligence and brutal intensity burn throughout. — Murphy

Under the Drone, Wasteland (Ace High Records). "Robot Red," Wasteland's opener, is four minutes of post-punk paranoia, with vocalist/guitarist Ben Gun squalling about how "they will control everything!" over a frantic bass-drums-guitar blitz courtesy of Mike Harper, Dave Harper and Justin Delz. The track sets the stage for an EP that's as eccentric as it is aggressive. That's a killer combination. — Roberts

Vitamins, Calliope (Self-released). One listen to Calliope makes it obvious that Vitamins has the chops to complement the spirit of playfulness and joyful exuberance that make this fusion of country, indie rock and jazz so charming and compelling. There is an innocence to this music, like a brilliant combination of the Feelies and Sesame Street. — Murphy

Wentworth Kersey, Wentworth Kersey (Plastic Sound Supply). George & Caplin's Jeffrey Stevens turns the so-called Denver sound on its ear by painstakingly building it from scratch with a tackle box full of electronic gadgetry. The austere and honest songs of acclaimed songwriter Joe Sampson provide the beautiful beating heart for this unexpectedly poignant and successful collaboration. — Eyl

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