15. The White StripesIcky Thump [Warner Bros]


Icky Thump is the sound of Jack White remembering how to have fun again. Get Behind Me Satan was cool and all but let's get real, no one really wanted to hear melancholy piano ballads and acoustic love-lorn laments that may or may not have been about Renee Zellweger marrying the most closeted man in music not nicknamed Weezy Fitzgerald Baby. On Icky Thump White thankfully sheds the marimbas and mustaches of his last record, picks up his axe and rocks the fuck out. If this were hip-hop, you'd say that he's got his swag back.

Indeed, the heartbroken spite that lurked underneath Get Behind Me Satan is gone, replaced with a smirk, the occasional bag pipe (shades of Flintheart Glomgold) and a snarling hissing guitar that White can make squawk better than anyone in contemporary music. On “Rag and Bone,” Meg and Jack escape cast themselves as junk-collecting scavengers. “Conquest” features White covering Patti Page like Robert Plant had he grown up a toreador. Icky Thump marks the longest the White Stripes have ever taken to make a record: three weeks. And it shows in its fully-fleshed out arrangements and White's best lyrics since White Blood Cells. Once more, Jack White has tunneled his way out of the traps he's set for himself, proving himself worthy of being called the last great rock star.

14. DalekAbandoned Language [Ipecac]


Free jazz, that's how I'm gonna write it, pure inspiration out of the blob in the brain. So, Dalek. One word: ether. The ether of sound, choirs filling cathedrals to the rafters with ghastly, pristine wails. Boom bap, for serious, better than even Jigga or Kanye, and more assured to, not needing to satisfy anybody but themselves. The ether of language, i.e., language BEING ethered, cultures being erased with time and shifts in tonality and idioms. Complex shit.

Then there's you being ethered. Incinerated by dense yet vulnerable wordplay that isn't preaching, really, not the way it did through the guitar pulpit of Absence. Erased like the language it describes. Entangled in ten-minute yarns of Boards of Canadian bliss. Stuck in a horror show that would give Scott Walker nightmares and cushion Stanley Kubrick's dreams. There's a song called “Lynch” where eagle claws cut cello strings. It's a double meaning, “lynchian” in two ways.

Some may say that rap albums this challenging are trying too hard. The real problem is that you're not trying hard enough —Tal Rosenberg

MP3: Dalek-“Bricks Crumble” (Left-Click)

13. Okkervil RiverThe Stage Names [Jagjaguwar]


When a band hails from some place like New Hampshire, I'm to assume they're either academics or hayseeds in the Days Of The New mold. Maybe it's the glasses and beard and the band name's that probably all lit 'n' shit, but with Will Sheff, I'm inclined to think it's the former. I imagine it's no accident that he spends the opening track of The Stage Names complaining how life can't compare to what we see on film and then proceeds to make his most epic record to date.

Though you wouldn't know it from the countless “Counting Crows meets Arcade Fire!” comparisons (I mean, it's a little accurate), this is one of the riskier records I've heard this year because not only is it lyrically-driven (never an indie rock strong point), but it flirts with clichés to a degree where one slip-up could make Sheff seem overly precious at best and an asshole at worst. Songs about porn stars, American Idol, other rock songs, being in a band and VH1 intervention shows- 99.5% of anything inspired by these subjects tends to blow total moose cock, but in trying to reveal the inner workings of Okkervil River, Sheff pulled cards on just about everything outside himself. Bombastic but humane, heartbreaking and hilarious and altogether a phenomenal and literary rock record; you know, sort of what everyone's pretending Neon Bible actually was. —Ian Cohen

MP3: Okkervil River-“Our Life is Not a Movie, Or Maybe”

12. BurialUntrue [Hyperdub]


Untrue isn't not the sort of record that makes much sense in supine, sun-stunned Los Angeles. It’s a bleak record, ideal for wintertime New York or London, a druggy drunken stagger through black drizzle and an incinerating 5:00 a.m freeze. It’s as asphyxiating and claustrophobic as it is austere and beautiful, a mess of of gurgling vaporous soul samples and popping, crackling, two-step drums. Tal Rosenberg called it the sound of the world eating you alive and that’s as accurate a description as I’ve read. It's a melancholy, monolithic masterpiece, a water-damaged, grimy mindfuck destined to worm its way into your head and infect your nightmares.

MP3: Burial-“Archangel”

11. Aesop RockNone Shall Pass [Def Jux]


Underground pariah Aesop Rock turned down the iron-on gusto petroleum paranoia rhymes and industrial freaker speaker beats to have some coffee with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats on his latest album None Shall Pass, his most introspective and cohesive album since 2001's awesome Labor Days. Thankfully, the days of Bazooka Tooth and trucker hats are gone.

On this album, Ace Rock wasn't telling us 20 ways to shut the fuck up (nineteen of them are 24 bars long, you know). Instead, he spun stories of filling Super Soakers with piss and rolling through the suburbs in an '85 Dodge Aries. He warned of get money-money pigs and bullets that shoot shit. He scolded Davey Jones, who had clearly outstayed his welcome. He proclaimed his love for MCing, the acoustic bass, fuzzy guitars, Blockhead beats, and the inevitable fall from grace. He wore a wolf for a jacket, an alligator for a top hat, and clinked drinks with Dick Fishburg all the while hugging a spider monkey on MTV. Just another year in the life of indie hip hop's most prolific and poetically astounding MC.-Zilla

MP3: Aesop Rock-“None Shall Pass”

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