Death Rattle Boogie
THE DATSUNS
(Hellsquad)

The fifth entry in the New Zealand garage rock band's catalogue brings back all the thumping bass riffs, lo-fi vocals, and wah-driven solos that the Datsuns have perfected. With the tracks “Axethrower” and “Gold Halo,” the band finds themselves rattling along to stoner rock guitar groans. The album concludes with “Wander in the Night,” a reverberating slow-burner with an electric outro more in-line with the Datsuns' oeuvre. Although they don't enjoy a lot of airtime in the States, the Datsuns stay true to the genre like few others. From the dirty slide line of “Brain Tonic” to the unshakable chorus of “Fools Gold,” they're definitely worth a listen. » TL

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Red
TAYLOR SWIFT
(Big Machine)

Another pop album making the list this year is Taylor Swift's newest offering, Red, featuring some of her most modern-sounding (i.e. least country) tracks to-date; the single “I Knew You Were Trouble” being chief amongst them. Despite her young age of twenty-two, Swift's lyrical perceptiveness is deep enough to move the heartbroken twice her age (see “All Too Well” and “Begin Again”), and the fact that every song was actually written by the starlet herself (instead of a production team) can really be felt in every track, lending a sort of directness and relevance often lacking in other pop albums these days. » RB

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Sunken Condos
DONALD FAGEN
(Reprise)

The singing half of Steely Dan is a gifted nonconformist that plays to his own tune. Sunken Condos, the ultimate capstone to the Nightfly trilogy, is Fagen's coolest set yet. The Nightfly storytelling is still there, but flirts with more funky templates and plenty good blues-soul reincarnations. He plainly writes from the perspective of the middle-age love crisis once demonstrated on Steely Dan's “Hey Nineteen.” Just listen to the playfully sexy narratives inside “Miss Marlene” and the funkdafied “Slinky Thing.” Yeah, Fagen's still got it. » JMC

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good kid, m.A.A.d city
KENDRICK LAMAR
(Top Dawg/Interscope)

Rick Ross held the hip-hop reins until 25-year old emcee Kendrick Lamar delivered one of the year's most notable albums. Against the grain, Lamar creates a tight creative concept album depicting his teen years in rough and tumble Compton, California whether it be involvement with a bad girl ("Sherane AKA Master Splinter's Daughter"), thinking he's "Mister Big Stuff" ("Backseat Freestyle"), or collaborating with Drake over a brilliant chosen romantic Janet Jackson sample ("Poetic Justice"). Good Kid, M.A.A.d City is a debut album that will be remembered for many years to come. » BF

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Tempest
BOB DYLAN
(Reprise)

Bob Dylan continued to allure the music world at the young age of seventy-one with his brilliant Tempest. While his vocal ability has always long been considered at best second to his esteemed pen, Dylan possesses the appropriate tone, style, and fire to successfully execute these songs. Songwriting gems are ubiquitous, whether it be rollicking single “Duquesne Whistle,” the overt rocker “Pay In Blood,” or the blues-drenched “Early Roman Kings” in which Dylan snarlingly states “I ain't dead yet, my bell still rings,” Tempest shines bright cementing its place amongst the year's best. » BF

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Some Nights
FUN.
(Fueled By Ramen)

NYC indie band fun. takes the greatness of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and thrusts it into Some Nights. The end result: Pure art pop. On this their second album, the productions are gloriously tweaked with crisp clear handiwork from Jeff Bhasker (yep, Kanye's producer) and are lavished with Broadway-like harmonics – a major improvement over Aim and Ignite. Song after song, from the spirited “We Are Young” (which sounds like “We Are the Champions” for this generation) to the Billy Joel-ish songsmanship of “Carry On,” Some Nights hardly feels rushed or quickly assembled. » JMC

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Something
CHAIRLIFT
(Columbia)

The recently stripped-down, Brooklyn-based Chairlift is at it again with a break-up album of the highest caliber, combining their quirky-yet-accessible indie sensibilities with some of the freshest synth work in ages and the ever-mesmerizing vocals of lead singer Caroline Polachek. Though the lead single “Amanaemonesia,” with its upbeat tempo, unique synth work, and creative lyrics, certainly gives off the correct first impression of this album's sound and direction, it's often the heavy-hearted tracks that have the most impact, such as “Wrong Opinion”'s moody minor/major shifts and “Ghost Tonight,” bearing the kind of sexy swagger that bands like Goldfrapp would kill for. Ultimately, as the most sonically-innovative (and somehow under-appreciated) indie record of the year, fans of the genre owe it to themselves to give Something a spin. » RB

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Wrecking Ball
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
(Columbia)

Sometimes aggravation brings out the best in a poet. In an environment fueled with shaky politics, economic deprivation and enough sorrow to bring on the end times, Brucey designs a folk-rock opera that addresses the malpractice of Wall Street (“Jack of All Trades”), Katrina blues (“We Take Care Of Our Own”) and the need for effective activism (“Wrecking Ball”). Not all is gloom and doom here: The album's second half turns spiritual with “Rocky Ground” and “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” which unites him with the E Street Band saxman Clarence Clemons in spirit. It's hard not to listen to Springsteen's 2012 album without feeling some need to do better. » JMC

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Channel Orange
FRANK OCEAN
(Def Jam)

In a year where R&B had an identity crisis, Frank Ocean ushered in the new alternative-R&B movement. Combining facets of soul and pop, Channel Orange is stacked with unrelenting creativity and is far different from mainstream cliches. The finished product from Ocean, one of the year's finest, cultivates a new direction that is equally cerebral, eclectic and accessible. » BF

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Blunderbuss
JACK WHITE
(Third Man/XL Recordings/Columbia)

This year saw the release of Jack White's first solo effort, a cool blue collection of introspective reflections and upbeat foot-stompers. The album features tracks written without the influence of other musicians, unlike his previous endeavors, but fans of White's blues-based sensibilities weren't disappointed. His signature fuzzy guitar licks are right at home here, balanced with healthy doses of piano. He can still do wonders with a catchy riff (“Freedom at 21,” “Sixteen Saltines”), and his vocal melodies recall the rock acts that came before him, notably Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. White takes it slow when he needs to. The title track is far less explosive as the name would suggest, but still burns with sincerity. » TL

Jack White proved wholeheartedly that he could pull off an album without his trusty sidekick. Blunderbuss, his solo debut, cranks out a trove of garage-rock blasts that feverously showcases what happens when love goes wrong; only the heartbreak of the White Stripes's Get Behind Me Satan comes close to matching this. But this album is more than just a WS parting gift, it comes with a bad-ass Little Willie John cover (“I'm Shakin'”), unforgettable ear-popping rock (“Sixteen Saltines”), a brute duet with Ruby Amanfu (“Love Interruption”), brilliant Beatles-esque acoustic experiments (“On and On and On”) , even a proud display of rock-jazz (“Take Me With You When You Go”). White's not alone on this ride; a list of Nashville buddies congregate together to help create the masterful sounds. » JMC

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