05. Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory (Carpark)

Beyond the Albini-fetishism, beyond the Jade Tree histrionics, beyond the “Punk is back!” theorizing, Attack On Memory represents something far more specific: an argument for the present. While Japandroids were yearning for “Younger Us,” Cleveland’s Dylan Baldi and his band—very much a band on this record—were giving very explicit instructions on how to survive in the Interpol-canonizing, Boy Meets World-reviving, “25 Ways To Tell You’re A Kid Of The ’90s” hell dimension we’re currently living in. First: “No Future/No Past. ” Second: “Separation.” Third: “No Sentiment.” And if those don’t work, remember: “Stay Useless.” Sure, it’s a little ironic that Baldi lays out this how-to guide over visceral, frantic guitar playing, pounding drums and sternum-shaking basslines that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wipers album or a Touch And Go comp, but irony is not the enemy here. You are. -DJ
 


04. Kendrick Lamargood kid, m.A.A.d city (Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg)

Compton is one of the oldest cities in L.A. County, and its tagline could be something like “Compton: Scarring Young Men Since The 1980s.” The gang-riddled, notoriously violent, economically depressed place has likely been at it for far longer than that, but N.W.A. spread its painful legend far and wide with the release of the groundbreaking Straight Outta Compton in 1988. Kendrick Lamar carries that torch with his suspenseful, dark and dense second studio album, and his perspective comes as a frame-by-frame tale befitting of the album’s subtitle: “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar.” The songs follow our gravelly voiced hero as he chases girls, ducks gangs and misses calls from his increasingly concerned parents. It’s far from a love letter to his city, never glorifying his life there, but Lamar sounds too old and exhausted to write hate mail. He’s beyond the blinding anger stage and already arriving at his look-back-on-life, reflective moment at the age of 25. -CW
 


03. Frank OceanChannel Orange (Def Jam)

Frank Ocean had me at “tornado.” “Thinkin Bout You” dragged me down into his R&B vision so completely that I listened to it about three times before I moved into the rest of the album. And I did this hesitantly, because if the first proper track on your album is so captivating, where could it go from there? Ocean’s answer? Into a funny piano-stomp with Earl Sweatshirt (“Super Rich Kids”), a loose, drum-backed story of an addict (“Crack Rock”) and a clap-tracked, string-swathed cab ride (“Bad Religion”). Then there’s the nearly 10-minute “Pyramids,” where Ocean mixes R&B singing, trap rhythms and even a soulfully meandering rock guitar. That’s the beauty of this album: Ocean is all over the damn place, refusing to pick a single genre and color in the lines, which is why his picture is so vibrant. -CW
 


02. SwansThe Seer (Young God)

A six-sided LP or double-disc (whichever is your bag) with a median song length of over nine minutes, Swan’s 11-song opus treads in the same boundary-breaking path as 1996 masterpiece Soundtracks For The Blind. As proven throughout a mercurial catalog of unadulterated emotion, Gira’s mastery of calculated dissonance needs no assistance. Still, the stars have aligned on The Seer: Gira invites Low’s Mimi Parker, Karen O, Akron/Family, Alan Sparhawk and on-again-off-again-Swan Jarboe to the discordant gala. The enigmatic chants of “Lunacy” are washed in a dirty reverb of goose-prickles, and the violent drum rolls mid-“Apostate” ring of deliberate rage. The title track and album centerpiece is a sweeping 32-minute opus that might as well be its own miniature album, complete with a wickedly climactic cacophony and echoing dénouement. With an overpowering sense of human savagery and fragility, The Seer is an aural catharsis. -LH
 


01. Killer MikeR.A.P. Music (Williams Street)

“Hardcore G shit, homie, I don’t play around.” Killer Mike issues you this warning right at the start of R.A.P. Music, his sixth studio album, and he is not messing with you: Mike has some things to get off his chest. And though he’s down to slaughter the U.S. government, cops and Ronald Reagan in his articulate rhymes, Mike also takes time to praise Jesus and call out to the women in his life—a tough guy with a good heart. All of this comes at you in a voice that is, as he says on “Untitled,” “elegance/In the form of a black elephant,” a hulking presence that’s surprisingly agile. Mike leads the show here, yet let’s not forget that this album was not a one-man operation: Jaime Meline, aka El-P, surrounds Mike’s raps in bombastic, dense but playful production. “This album was created entirely by Jaime and Mike,” Mike says with a laugh on “JoJo’s Chillin.” I hope these guys have friendship bracelets. -CW