The Roots, Undun (Def Jam). A masterpiece of audio cinema, Undun finds the Roots giving their all. The single from this fourth-quarter release, "Make My," featuring Big KRIT, is a grand display of storytelling and instrumentation — a description that would fit the whole album. Dice Raw is as impressive as ever on joints like "Tip the Scale," and Black Thought never loses his luster. — Johnson

Saigon, The Greatest Story Never Told (Suburban Noize). Saigon's much-chronicled woes with the music industry finally came to a close with the long-awaited release of The Greatest Story Never Told. The MC chose his beats well, matched his flow with his experiences, and still managed to churn out a record relevant enough to compete alongside the singsong rap that ruled the charts in 2011. — Johnson

SBTRKT, SBTRKT (XL). Although the dubstep designation is often assigned to SBTRKT, it's a bit misleading, particularly if you're expecting the ostentatious squelches of Skrillex. The bottom end is definitely here, but it's more subdued, and the synth squeals are tasteful and used more as accents and texture to color the songs rather than as the focal point. The lush R&B-inflected vocals are the main draw. — Herrera

Shannon and the Clams, Sleep Talk (1-2-3-4 Go! Records). Many bands go for some retro vibe, but Shannon Shaw and her band sound like they were transported to the present from the Brill Building and a session with Phil Spector — except that the unbridled power of Shaw's voice has an electrifying immediacy that grounds it firmly in the present. — Murphy

The Soft Moon, Total Decay (Captured Tracks). Rarely has a collision of post-punk, shoegaze, krautrock, noise, tribal rhythms, minimalism and experimental electronic soundscaping sounded so visceral and exciting. You can definitely detect the DNA of Chrome, the Cure, Swell Maps and Cabaret Voltaire inside each of these four songs. Menacing but entrancing, driving yet dreamy, Total Decay is never boring. — Murphy

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Tape Club (Polyvinyl). It's not really a stand-alone album as much as it is a compilation of 26 B-sides and demos, but the latest release from Missouri's finest proves the band's pop is equally as powerful with age. Recorded between 2002 and 2009, the tracks are a testament to the band's emotional development and well-adjusted lives spent contentedly in Springfield. — Whipple

Tech N9ne, All 6's and 7's (Strange Music). Tech N9ne could release an album of himself talking about releasing an album and his rabid fan base would skyrocket that album to number one. All 6's and 7's is nothing but rowdy, and it feeds that rabidity. N9ne spits fast as fuck, as usual, and continues to feature a slew of big names in the current rap game. — Chester

Tinariwen, Tassili (Anti-). Taking cues from the trance blues of Ali Farka Toure, this collective of musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali has created an album that's as captivating and hypnotic as its live shows. There are also contributions from TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, Wilco's Nels Cline and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. — Solomon

Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (XL). Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All's frontman Tyler, the Creator outdid himself and scared half of America with the vile production and filthy lyrics of Goblin. The album spawned a classic with "Yonkers," the video that depicts the MC hanging himself. On all hip-hop fronts, the entire project is a stroke of repulsive genius that can't be denied. — Johnson

tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD). Any frustration resulting from one of the world's most ungodly abuses of capitalization dissipates immediately upon listening to the layered sounds of Merrill Garbus's 2011 release. The lyrics are framed by themes of violence and power inequality, with both fleshed out in rock, folk, R&B, funk and free jazz across an album that even includes the year's most popular toy instrument: the ukulele. — Whipple

Various Artists, Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Lakeshore Records). From the second the first song, Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx's eerie "Nightcall," hits the screen, Drive's soundtrack is as damaged and overwhelming as its plot. The nineteen songs here lend a retro feel to brutal scenes of corruption and guilt for an overall effect that is simultaneously comforting and unsettling. — Whipple

Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador). Kurt Vile's fourth album is so endearingly otherworldly, it's as if the singer-songwriter created it in a time warp. The 31-year-old reflects on his life and experiences with a delicacy and an internal sorrow that propel the lyrics painfully through self-aware territory while maintaining the comfort of an old jukebox classic. — Whipple

Tom Waits, Bad As Me (Anti-). Sure, Tom Waits might have salvaged a few things from his older works for songs on Bad As Me, but he's also been forging new ground with some help from Keith Richards, who was on 1985's Rain Dogs, and longtime collaborator Marc Ribot. Waits's first studio album of all-new music in seven years, Bad As Me might be his finest work since 1999's Mule Variations. — Solomon

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