Backbeat writers weigh in on the year's best national releases

Even with the staggering amount of outstanding local music released this past year (our annual Moovers and Shakers compendium is available online at Backbeatblog.com), Backbeat writers somehow managed to make room on our playlists for an impressive number of imports. And although it shouldn't be a surprise by now, it's still eye-opening to examine these end-of-the-year lists and see just how varied our individual sensibilities are: Some of the more adventurous among us naturally gravitate to the noisier, more experimental end of the spectrum, while others are decidedly more poptimistic. Think of the following list as Heavy Rotation, the deluxe edition.

And for those of you who can't get enough of this sort of thing, you'll find many more year-end picks online, as well as end-of-the-decade lists and other music-related goodness. Dave Herrera

A Place to Bury Strangers, Exploding Head (Mute U.S.). Splicing together the musical DNA of My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Big Black with driving industrial rhythms, this album is tidily summed up by its title. Dark vortices of razory sound crash into driving, tidal rhythms that guide but never quite contain the music's volcanic aesthetic. — Tom Murphy

Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino). Even amid all of the drum loops, electronic samples and synth lines that mark Merriweather Post Pavilion, the record offers an undeniably organic and human feel. The effect comes largely from Animal Collective's stirring vocal harmonies, an element the band weaves over a frenetic set of studio effects. The resulting mix incorporates the best elements of the human and the mechanical. A.H. Goldstein

The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You (Sony). Scott and Seth Avett have made the winding journey from North Carolina to the big time. With a winsome blend of folk, alt-country, bluegrass and pop, the brothers' latest is that rare effort that strikes the balance between studio polish and dusty authenticity. It won't be long before the yearning title track finds itself on a Levi's advert. — Nick Hutchinson

Bat for Lashes, Two Suns (Astralwerks). Undercurrents of emotional urgency lend each of these songs an immediacy and intensity to match the dreamlike air of the songwriting. Clearly tapping into the unconscious mind, Natasha Khan has crafted powerful songs of reconciliation between people and between the heart and mind. Poetic pop music for skeptical romantics. — Murphy

Bibio, Ambivalence Avenue (Warp). Ambivalence Avenue isn't an easy record to pinpoint — and that's what makes it interesting. Hopping from indie to funk to hip-hop, Bibio manages to maintain consistency and variation at the same time, a difficult task for any electronic producer. Thorin Klosowski

Andrew Bird, Noble Beast (Fat Possum). Andrew Bird has come a long way since his first forays into neo-jazz and swing, and his experimentation with highbrow classical textures and emotive indie structures continues on Noble Beast. The album layers simplistic song constructions on top of Bird's impressive skills as a vocalist, a multi-instrumentalist and an expert whistler. — Goldstein

Black Moth Super Rainbow, Eating Us (Graveface). Few bands these days can combine the feel of '70s psych, '60s MIT experimentation and vocoder vocals into a cohesive, listenable whole, yet Black Moth Super Rainbow manage to do just that on Eating Us. Slightly more hi-fi than previous records, it's still warm and welcoming. — Klosowski

Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career (4AD). My Maudlin Career's Spector-via-Stockholm strings and bits of lachrymal twang provide the appropriate melodrama for Tracyanne Campbell at her most powerful and poignant. Campbell's never-better voice, droll-yet-vulnerable lyrics and crack band gave us one of the best songs of the year ("French Navy"), and solidified these Glaswegians as heirs to the Motown/Spector legacy. Kyle Smith

Chinese Stars, Heaven on Speed Dial (Anchor Brain). Manic, demented and informed by a wicked sense of humor, this album sounds like it was influenced as much by funhouse mirrors and Cesar Romero's Joker persona as it was by anything strictly musical — except maybe a Devo song covered by the VSS. — Murphy

Nels Cline, Coward (Cryptogramophone). One of the most multi-faceted guitarists today, Nels Cline has shown that he can successfully keep one foot in the rock world (by playing with Wilco) and the other in the avant-garde. On this solo outing, he does some gorgeous stuff on acoustic, but he also freaks out a little during the six-song "Onan Suite." Jon Solomon

Converge, Axe to Fall (Epitaph). Having established itself as arguably the most aggressive hardcore band ever with 2001's seminal Jane Doe, Converge scaled back the abrasion somewhat with its two followups. Nevertheless, while it's probably the most melodic of the band's efforts to date, Axe to Fall is still the aural equivalent of moisturizing with Drano. — Otte

Dan Deacon, Bromst (Carpark Records). Dan Deacon's MySpace page lists him as "Americana," and while the electronic beeps and boops of his music are far from the twangy warmth that term implies, there is something quintessentially American about his willy-nilly pastiche of influences. Bromst showcases Deacon at his weird best, which, despite its spastic quirkiness, occasionally reaches surprisingly soaring heights. — Otte

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