25. Twin ShadowConfess (4AD)

George Lewis Jr.’s New Wave throwback is all leather jacket Lothario: He takes it upon himself to fill the void of the hyper-masculine pop star in a painfully endless sea of doe-eyed ingénues. And this self-produced collection of sinister synth-pop dreams—inspired by a near-fatal motorcycle accident—is sleekly produced, with lyrics sexy and raw. It’s not surprising that Lewis brings cardboard cut-outs to his shows. What’s shocking is how his carefully crafted Easy Rider-meets-Flashdance aesthetic goes full-Pinocchio on stage and on record, reveling in harsh truths under the equally harsh fluorescent lights. -LH

24. Father John MistyFear Fun (Sub Pop)

This isn’t the first solo album from Fleet Foxes‘ Josh Tillman, but it is his first as Father John Misty. And maybe that’s the mask he needed to wear in order to express a less precious, more honest sound. On Fear Fun, Tillman fills out his folk tunes with hearty drums, choral singing and electric guitar. His melodies are memorable, his lyrics bleakly humorous (“Pour me a drink/And punch me in the face/You can call me Nancy”) and his protagonist a perpetually drunk and stoned man weaned on the sounds of Gram Parsons, Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson. -CW

23. Georgia Anne MuldrowSeeds (SomeOthaShip Connect)

Enlisting the brilliance of sample-master Madlib’s exquisite beatmaking (Muldrow is the first woman he’s produced), Georgia Anne Muldrow flexes her lyrical swagger and eschews trite soul clichés. Yet even in her element, Muldrow remains humbly progressive: Seeds is spiritual and forward-thinking, humbling with elegiac and earthy jazz vocals. -LH

22. Perfume GeniusPut Your Back N 2 It (Matador)

The piano line that starts Mike Hadreas’s second LP as Perfume Genius makes me picture him plunking it out on a dusty, wooden upright in an abandoned Victorian home. He probably just played it on his red Nord keyboard, but it’s to his credit that he is able to set that scene. His soft voice emerges with a nervous shiver, as if it’s startled by its own honesty and bravery every time it comes out to paint these thoughtful little vignettes that deal with the tough stuff: abuse, desperation, addiction. Hadreas’s music gently takes your hand, but before you know it, his grip has tightened and he’s led you into the center of a very dark, disturbing place and won’t let you leave. -CW

21. R. KellyWrite Me Back (RCA)

On this tender companion piece to 2010′s joyous and opulent Love Letter, R. Kelly does what R. Kelly does best: everything. While other sectors of the ever-expanding R&B universe were busy trying to figure out what Siouxsie And The Banshees song the Weeknd was sampling, Chicago’s elder-statesman of the genre kept his head down, his eyes on his girl(s) and his ears firmly pointed at his record collection. Instead of chasing trends or kowtowing to tastemakers, Write Me Back strikes a perfect balance between Quincy Jones classicism, sepia-toned ’50s throwbacks, sweeping disco flourishes and Kelly’s own over-documented idiosyncrasies, perhaps no better than on the wrenching prison narrative “Believe In Me.” -DJ

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