Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (Fiction). Like a bleak, blown-out continuation of the first record, this album is even more excellently fucked up. Alice Glass's shriek has been refined, but it's still as feral and terrifying as ever, especially through the digital rainstorm of Ethan Kath on songs like "Baptism," in which Glass sounds like a victim of Stockholm syndrome, fully aligned with her captors. — Davies

Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD). Favoring delicate, dreamy dynamics this time out, Deerhunter hasn't mellowed so much as entered an even more introspective mode than on previous releases. The result is an album with impressive emotional and sonic range and depth. Lyrically, Bradford Cox evokes the melancholy hopefulness of a generation. — Murphy

Depreciation Guild, Spirit Youth (Kanine Records). Kurt Feldman managed to craft the perfect amalgam of synth pop and experimental guitar rock on the Depreciation Guild's second album. Recalling more ambitious '80s pop bands like Talk Talk and Cocteau Twins, Feldman's songwriting and guitar work on this record display a similar regard for strong musicianship. — Murphy

Drake, Thank Me Later (Cash Money Records/Young Money Ent./Universal Rec.). Drake is the love child of the marriage of rap and R&B. This effort is made up of songs for and about girls. Thankfully, he manages to continue his hilarious rap pattern, which changes even if the subject matter doesn't. "Find Your Love" is the serious party track here. — Johnson

Efterklang, Magic Chairs (4AD). Aside from being insanely great live, these Danish indie rockers have released some wonderfully adventurous music over the last decade. While it might be more accessible and not quite as audacious as previous efforts, Magic Chairs has enough captivating moments — some of which are magnificent — to say that it borders on greatness. — Solomon

Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Warp). Ambient progenitor Brian Eno teams up with Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins on this purely instrumental effort, which might be Eno's best of the last decade. Roughly half of the album is made up of serene atmospheric cuts, while the other half pulses with beat-heavy electronica. A stunning disc throughout. — Solomon

Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy). Guitarist Bill Frisell has played in a multitude of formats over the past three decades, but he seems especially comfortable in the trio setting. Here he's teamed up with violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston, and the three players wonderfully interpret a batch of new Frisell compositions while brilliantly reworking a few old ballads, some of which date back to the Civil War. — Solomon

Future Islands, In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey). Using music's rhythmic elements in the same way that many bands use melody and harmony, Future Islands has made electronic pop that sounds more like futuristic soul music. That's partly due to Sam Herring's commandingly husky croon and the sheer conviction that lies behind each performance. — Murphy

Gorillaz, Plastic Beach (Parlophone/Virgin). Funny it took a pop star who started in the '80s to perfect the bleeps and bloops of the 21st century. Damon Albarn reached his creative peak this year with the cartoon band he co-created; collaborators include everyone from Snoop Dogg to Mark E. Smith. Who wouldn't want a piece of this stuff? — Maletsky

Grinderman, Grinderman 2 (Anti-). Nick Cave only learned how to play guitar a few years ago, but once he learned, he started to rock out, and Grinderman became his primal, piano-less alter ego. He and three members of the Bad Seeds ratchet up the grit and raunchiness on their second release, which represents some of the heaviest shit Cave has ever released. — Solomon

HEALTH, Disco2 (Lovepump United). Much like R. Kelly, HEALTH loves the remix. On this year's album of outsider second looks, reworkings by beat-finding labelmates Crystal Castles and Pictureplane ride nicely alongside the slow clap of Disco2's only original, the poppy "USA Boys." Stripped of its elemental Big Black harshness, the focus shifted to the beauty in Jake Duszik's reverberating whispers and HEALTH's pure tribal tom thrusts. — Davies

High on Fire, Snakes for the Divine (Koch). High on Fire leader Matt Pike toured with his old band, the stoner-rock legend Sleep, earlier this year. As if to counterbalance all that slow-motion sludge, he used Snakes for the Divine to introduce some of the most cutthroat, breakneck songs in High on Fire's long tenure as contemporary metal's purest, truest voice. — Heller

High Places, High Places Vs. Mankind (Thrill Jockey). Expanding its sonic palette to include guitars, High Places builds upon the tropical pop it helped pioneer a few years back. Decidedly darker than those offered on previous releases, these entrancing dance songs nonetheless retain the band's ability to conjure images of a better reality. — Murphy

Indian Jewelry, Totaled (We Are Free). While many bands have cultivated a kind of psychedelia based in '60s rock, Indian Jewelry has forged its own. Melding bits of dub, non-Western pop, dark electronica and edgy post-punk, Totaled is both seductively entrancing and mysteriously forbidding, the sonic equivalent of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film. — Murphy

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