Integrity, The Blackest Curse (Deathwish Inc.). The most satanic band ever loved by straight-edge kids, Integrity has always gone its own way. More than twenty years into its existence, though, Dwid Hellion and his eternally misunderstood outfit dumped an unexpected gift at the door: a maniacally brutal, Slayer-esque new album, The Blackest Curse, that more than lives up to its name. — Heller

Intronaut, Valley of Smoke (Century Media). In this modern era of tech-metal and mathcore, it takes both balls and brains to make an album like Intronaut's Valley of Smoke. Mixing ultra-precision and virtuosic prowess with fat riffs and bloodcurdling harmony, the disc does it all — at the same time using technical flash to augment the songs' surplus of muscle tissue. — Heller

Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville). Jamey Johnson took his sudden widespread media attention with a gratifying wary apathy this year. He owes nothing to the many country novelty-seekers who found The Guitar Song, and not by accident: This is everything country should be. Proud, downtrodden, personal and twangy. — Maletsky

Katy Perry, Teenage Dream (Capitol). Simply put, this album's title track is the best pop song of this year, if not of the last decade. Void of the faux shiny club sheen haphazardly sprayed all over Perry's contemporaries, "Teenage Dream" is exactly that: part wet dream, part anthemic pep-squad album, a pubescent, pre-coital head trip that is rad without being totally raunchy. Perry made inappropriate lyrics fun to sing along to again. — Davies

Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager (Universal Motown). Emo rap's president and leader of the new school, Kid Cudi returned in the fourth quarter to further define his master plan of abstract and pop-infused beats with Man on the Moon 2. Showcasing admirable vocal chops as he reflects on obviously bizarre experiences, Cudi is no joke on tracks like the Kanye-assisted "Erase Me." — Johnson

Kneebody, You Can Have Your Moment (Winter & Winter). While the five guys in Kneebody use jazz and grooves as a backbone, their music still defies classification — and over the past five years, they've truly created their own language. This disc is not only proof of that, but it also shows how much their scope has widened and just how insanely skilled they each are. — Solomon

Kylesa, Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist). Prone to being overlooked or just taken for granted, veteran band Kylesa is finally ready to be bumped to the forefront, thanks to Spiral Shadow. Paradoxically a distillation and a dirtying-up of everything the band has done previously, the album squeezes Southern sludge through a doomy, atmospheric sphincter. — Heller

The Legendary Pink Dots, Seconds Late for the Brighton Line (ROIR). A meditation on eternity and hope in a time of confusion, the latest from the Pink Dots is among the band's most cohesive and consistently rewarding. Operating on an almost subconscious level, the intense emotionalism amid hypnotic, overlapping atmospherics transports you outside a mundane frame of reference.

— Murphy

Lil Wayne, I Am Not a Human Being (Young Money). Even if I Am Not a Human Being was just made as a pacifier until Tha Carter IV, no one in the radio-rap game stepped near Wayne's lyrical universe. (Who else could reign supreme with a song called "Gonorrhea"?) Plenty of Young Money reps make appearances, but as usual, all ears are on Weezy's captivating growl. — Davies

Maxwell, BLACKsummers'night (Columbia). Ah, Maxwell — with his caramel-sweet voice and charisma for days — single-handedly saved R&B this year with this release. Maxwell proves himself at the top of his game with songs like "Bad Habits" and "Pretty Wings," which goes well beyond the typical story of love while blending the perfect mix of rhythm and blues. — Johnson

Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy Records). What happens when you start with a bright-eyed Broadway hopeful and have her decide music has the power to change the world? You get this, a firework of an album you can't contain with any umbrella smaller than "music." It's a bit of an enigma at times, but you don't get easy with boundary-pushers. — Maletsky

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More (Island/Glassnote). A little fey, maybe, but just a little: If this came out two years ago, we'd have laughed Fleet Foxes back to the woods. It sounded like the mountains of West Virginia to the Brits and like the misty rolling Scottish countryside to us, but either way, it was an encouraging entrant in the shit-your-mom-digs category. — Maletsky

Nels Cline Singers, Initiate (Cryptogramophone). Easily the finest and most adventurous album the Nels Cline Singers have released, the two-disc Initiate also shows just how wide Cline's scope is in the variety of styles he tackles, be it '70s-era Miles Davis jazz rock, Afrobeat, ballads, guitar freakouts or pretty much everything in between. Seriously, this is a guitar tour de force of the highest order. — Solomon

No Age, Everything in Between (Sub Pop). Often lyrically melancholy, this album is filled with an invigorating and inspiring musical exuberance. No Age has never been short on enthusiastic performances on any of its releases, but there is such a palpable headlong feel to this album, you can't help but get swept up in its frenetic twists and turns. — Murphy

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