10. Julia HolterEkstasis (Rvng Intl.)

Some mysteries are a pleasure to solve, but others are just a pain in the ass. Ekstasis is neither. On her second full-length, L.A. solo artist Julia Holter leans harder on the pop portion of her art-pop genre tag, writing moving, celestial songs that often begin as a series of delicate whispers, build to a type of ruminative catharsis, then unravel into puffs of fog. Drawing from poetry, literature, ’70s art-rock and, perhaps most importantly, from herself, Holter invests elliptical, suggestive lines like “Do I know you? I can’t recall this face, but I want to” with a sense of penetrating curiosity and yearning romanticism. On enchanting songs like “In The Same Room,” “F” and “Goddess Eyes,” she shares memories, hints and allusions. Let’s call them clues. Yet they never point to any resolution. It’s a whodunit with no who, nothing done and no it in sight. The pleasure of this record comes not from solving it but from diving back into its mysteries. -DJ
 


09. ItalHive Mind (Planet Mu)

Having made noise in the D.C. hardcore scene before transitioning to glammy punk, Daniel Martin-McCormick has found another niche laying down beats as Ital. His production work is top-notch, as he juggles spacey beats and frenzied vocal samples (although it is more B-movie slasher flick than poptastic radio jam, the key sample from “Doesn’t Matter (If You Love Him)” is Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”). But you can’t take the punk out of Ital: Each track is wildly chaotic, sharp with uncompromising beats too abrasive to ever fade into the background, a macabre swinging disco. -LH
 


08. GrimesVisions (4AD/Arbutus)

A crust-punk electro pixie and fashion darling from Montreal’s arty loft scene, sci-fi sojourner Grimes (née Claire Boucher) was originally touted as a nebulous “post-internet” artist (Please, stop.), but her 4AD debut holds its own: The trademark lilting cadence of her lightly lisped vocals is gentle against lolling dance beats. Visions hosts two glittering standouts, “Oblivion” and “Genesis,” that have garnered a combined 10 million views on YouTube, but even the deeper cuts like “Circumambient” and “Nightmusic” are cleverly crafted dance hymns. -LH
 


07. BaronessYellow And Green (Relapse)

In a surprisingly resilient year for the double and triple album format (Swans, E-40, ummm…Green Day?) Georgia metal-fan antagonizers Baroness unleashed a heart-eating, bed-pissing, genre-defying, infinite-headed hydra of a record. With the stylistic scope of a hard-rock encyclopedia and the harsh precision of a Cormac McCarthy novel, Yellow And Green examines some heavy themes—death, decay, guilt, escape—but it does so with a skilled technician’s glee and a stoned teenager’s petulance. Besides producing three instant classic pseudo-singles (“Take My Bones Away,” “March To The Sea” and “Board Up The House”), the album also contains enough odd detours (“Psalms Alive”), underwater voyages (“Sea Lungs”), meditative rest-stops (“Stretchmarker”) and weird Peyote tents (“Cocainium”) to satisfy both seasoned travelers and dabbling metal dilettantes. Bigger isn’t always better, but when a group is as wild-eyed and ambitious as Baroness, it’s the best. -DJ
 


06. MetzMetz (Sub Pop)

Rocketing from the noisy underground to a Sub Pop debut full album, Metz’s finely tuned, over-as-quickly-as-it-began punk grows hastily more abrasive with each track. Tried-and-true guitar rock, as defined by the rockist media of old, has been steadily relegated to the outskirts of radio domination that was once its crowning glory, but the Canadian trio is kicking down the doors of those who are lamenting for screaming guitars and a frontman drenched in sweat from the sheer force of the bands’ brackish, rip-roaring passion. It’s noisy, it’s loud, it’s sweaty, and it’s the best straight-up rock album of the year. -LH
 

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