Die Antwoord, Ten$ion (Downtown). You probably know someone who hates South African rap-rave duo Die Antwoord. Or really loves them. There's often no in-between with these polarizing weirdos, whose incendiary lyrics and exotic Zef style (think a Kanye West video directed by Harmony Korine) has resonated with those who love to dance but are sick of dubstep, or who love hip-hop but are tired of gold-mouthed meatheads throwing currency at bouncing bottoms. — Hesse

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge Records). Like power pop without an aversion to electronic music, the Divine Fits debut shows a clear stylistic nod to Kraftwerk and offspring like Trans Am. But soulfulness and an urgent energy inform the songwriting and buoy each track, like a long-lost, great Tom Petty album. — Murphy

Dragonette, Body Parts (Dragonette Inc.). With warm synths, chugging guitars and drum work that falls somewhere between that of the Scissor Sisters and No Doubt, Body Parts perfectly summarizes Dragonette as a band: seriously fun. Dancing to "My Legs" or singing "Live in This City" is the most fun you'll have with a pop album all year. — Lamz

E-40, The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 1,2 & 3 (Heavy on the Grind Ent.). E-40 always seems to be ahead of the industry, leading the streets with new anthems every year. The albums in this three-LP set were released on the same day and charted individually on the Billboard 100. The records, which maintain a bass-heavy, hyphy sound, are powered by several singles, including, most notably, "Function," featuring Iamsu, Yg and Problem. — Valenzuela

Example, The Evolution of Man (Ministry of Sound UK). Example plays hopscotch with electro, house, hip-hop, hard rock and pop — sometimes within the same song — to exhilarating effect on Evolution. "Say Nothing" was the perfect song for a warm Colorado November, while "Come Taste the Rainbow" proves that Example has a song up his sleeve for every other season, too. — Lamz

Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Part 1 (Atlantic). This is Lupe Fiasco unleashed, free of all label woes and restrictions. Fiasco has become more vocal about the world's ills as he gains more popularity. He magnificently ventures into genre blending and employs trendy vocals without losing the potency of his message. — Valenzuela

Firewater, International Orange (Bloodshot). Recorded in Istanbul during the Arab Spring, while bombs were going off around the city, International Orange harnesses that energy of change, as well a bit of fiery punk vigor. The songs are injected with worldly flavors, from bhangra and Turkish rhythms to ska, dub and mambo. Frontman Tod A outdid himself on this one. — Jon Solomon

Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes (Warp). While his previous innovations and aesthetics have been emulated plenty, FlyLo raises the bar yet again with a dynamic album that disregards tempo and genre in the name of expression. From fat-bottomed-bass minimalism to sultry reimaginings of lounge jazz for the digital age, he touches 'em all. — Rodgers

Ellie Goulding, Halcyon (Interscope). Riding the success of her debut album, Lights, Ellie Goulding returned on her sophomore album with an enlightened musical maturity. Finding acceptance within the EDM community with remixes by the likes of Bassnectar, Jakwob and others, Goulding showcases a strong vocal range with an equally strong EDM undercurrent. — Chester

Colleen Green, Milo Goes to Compton (Art Fag Recordings). It's easy to dismiss Colleen Green as another lo-fi garage/bedroom-style product of the last decade. But her work is deceivingly complex — dark, smart and lyrically challenging. As bold as it was for Green to open the record with a cover (Descendents' "Good Good Things"), the song sounds like it was made for her. Plus, a pining love song to end all love songs, Green's original "Nice Boy (I Want A)," might be the best track of 2012. — Davies

Grimes, Visions (4AD Records). Like the shy skater girl in high school who was always doodling in her notebook, Grimes served as the ultimate celebrity crush of 2012 for socially awkward artisans. Her third full-length album, Visions is the perfect makeout record for twee electro-geeks unsure about whether to go all the way. — Hesse

Calvin Harris, 18 Months (Sony). Harris's best album is also a producer's album: The songs sound great because Harris lets his synthesizers (those drops!) do all the talking. When they're not at the forefront, though, lead vocals belong to welcome guests like Ellie Goulding, Example, Ne-Yo and Florence Welch. — Lamz

Happy New Year, Happy New Year (Crikey!). Eleanor Logan has a voice like one of the great pop divas of the '60s — but only if one of them had written captivating psychedelic pop informed by the aesthetics of noise. Hazy, hypnotic atmospheres and an entrancingly deep sense of introspection make this a repeatedly rewarding listen. — Murphy

Tom Harrell, Number Five (HighNote). While the legendary trumpeter Tom Harrell weaves some intricate lines on the opener, "Blue 'n' Boogie," a fiery duo with drummer Johnathan Blake, there aren't a whole lot of fireworks here, except for the title cut and "Melody in B-flat." But Harrell's rich tone works exceptionally well on the ballads and more relaxed cuts, and tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is in top form. — Solomon

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