23. Superchunk, I Hate Music
Superchunk are indie rock lifers who have actually improved with age, and have resisted the temptation to just coast on their celebrated run of albums from the ’90s. I Hate Music, their tenth studio album and second since returning from a long hiatus through much of the ’00s, reflects on the idea of growing older as a rock musician but doesn’t settle into any kind of melancholy or resentment. “FOH” is a straightforward celebration of the simple joy of playing gigs, and though Mac McCaughan claims that he “hates music” on “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo,” it’s only because he’s frustrated that it can’t solve every problem in life. –Matthew Perpetua
22. Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin
San Francisco psychedelic rockers Thee Oh Sees put out so much music every year that it can be hard to keep track, but Floating Coffin is well worth going out of your way to hear. The record is both heavier and catchier than their previous work, and the epic “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” may be the single best song they’ve ever set to tape. –M.P.
21. Cults, Static
Cults’ second record is a revelation. While the band’s debut album had a twee, child-like quality that lent itself well to ads for just about everything, the duo’s second set of songs has an urgency and aggression that brings out a whole new character to singer Madeline Follin’s girlish voice. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” is particularly great — it’s basically a Venn diagram where Motown pop, ’60s garage, and ’90s female-fronted alt-rock meet. –M.P.
20. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth album may be their first for an indie label, but they’re still making huge and bombastic music that sounds like it was built for arenas. Though some of …Like Clockwork has a somber tone, the most exciting tracks embrace a sleazy, strutting vibe that somehow manage to be both knowingly ironic and totally sincere. –M.P.
19. Diarrhea Planet, I’m Rich Beyond Your WIldest Dreams
If it’s not clear enough from the name Diarrhea Planet, they don’t exactly take themselves too seriously. But that complete lack of ego and total devotion to “fun” is exactly what makes them such a wonderful breath of fresh air. In a post-Mumford world of rock music, it’s nice to remember that a bunch of scuzzy weirdos can scream about butts and cigarettes and just be really, really catchy. Their song “Ghost With A Boner” is one of the most inexplicably strange and great rock songs of the last few years. Live shows are particularly important for a band like this and man do they deliver. Basically, tell everyone you know about Diarrhea Planet and don’t just do it because it’s funny to say their name. –Ryan Broderick
18. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
The vocals are what make this record. Katie Crutchfield’s voice rests on minimal instrumentation, the gentle hoarseness of a friend who’s been up all night. Each song builds up another story of being young and alive in these confusing times. The stories are sad. Really, really sad. But coaxed along by Crutchfield and her guitar strings, the sadness always seems bearable. –Aaron Calvin
17. Of Montreal, Lousy with Sylvianbriar
Lousy with Sylvianbriar is the beginning of a new phase for Kevin Barnes’ long-running Of Montreal project — a new band, simplified song structures, and a shift away from Prince-like funk in favor of Dylan/Stones-ish rock. But for everything that’s changed, the essence of the band remains the same, and Barnes’ odd blend of obscure, grad school verbosity and extreme psycho-sexual anguish is still at the center of the music. This album is particularly bitter and catty, and you’re just not going to find a weirder, more specific slam on an ex this year than “you post naked GIFs of your epileptic fits and keep track of your hits and your friends don’t give a shit and view your fugues with amusement.” –M.P.
16. Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium
Will Sheff and company have never been the kind of band to shy away from theatricality, but only when they can use it as a platform for exploring complex emotions. The Silver Gymnasium knows where it wants to go and takes the listener there, through the ricocheting guitars and warbling synths that haunt these childhood tales of romance and friendship. It’s the classic coming of age story with more sincerity and less sentimentality — and a larger horn section. –A.C.
15. Phoenix, Bankrupt!
Phoenix’s follow up to their commercial breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix didn’t yield any hits on the level of “1901” or “Lisztomania,” but it did reconnect the French band with their roots in keyboard-heavy pop after two records focused more on Strokes-like rock. While there’s nothing wrong with the singles “Entertainment” and “Trying to be Cool,” it’s sorta heartbreaking that they didn’t promote cuts like “S.O.S. in Bel Air” and “Chloroform” instead — it’s not hard to imagine the record having performed better if they’d put their best foot forward. –M.P.
14. David Bowie, The Next Day
David Bowie’s first album in a decade came as a surprise to fans who had started to believe that the rock icon had simply retired without fanfare after some health issues in the mid-’00s. The Next Day was even more surprising in that it may be his best album since Let’s Dance in 1983. The version of Bowie you get on this record is nostalgic and concerned with mortality, but also defiant of the impulse to rest on his laurels or give in to morbidity. The title track is more about survival than death, and tips from gallows humor to hysteria, with Bowie kind of losing it on the first verse before going back into a defiant, proud chorus where the most triumphant thing he can say is that he’s “not quite dying.” It’s grim, but he sounds determined to live “the next day, and the next, and another day,” if just to spite the reaper. –M.P.
13. Fall Out Boy, Save Rock and Roll
Naming your album Save Rock and Roll is an insanely arrogant thing to do. And announcing an end to your hiatus after not being on hiatus for any considerable amount of time is also an arrogant thing to do. But here we are, with a reunited Fall Out Boy and an album which either implies that they are going to Save Rock and Roll or at the very least suggests that someone should. Save Rock and Roll is a spectacular mess in the best way. And while it doesn’t do something as audacious as save an entire genre of music, it does offer a pretty interesting idea of where to go with it in the future. Fall Out Boy mix every kind of guitar music you can think of into an anthemic and really great new start for a band that never really fit into the constraints of pop-punk and hardcore in the first place. –R.B.
12. The Julie Ruin, Run Fast
The Julie Ruin’s debut album may be the best top-to-bottom record of punk legend Kathleen Hanna’s career. The quality is incredibly consistent, and the songs take all the strengths of Hanna’s old bands and merge them into something that is both familiar and fresh. It’s also extremely fun — like, party rock B-52s fun. Not that fun would be a new thing for her: Hanna is famous for being a politically active feminist, but her songs over the past two decades have mostly avoided strident didacticism in favor of up-tempo music that makes being a smart, empathetic, socially engaged person seem like a good time, and that you’re invited to the party. — M.P.
11. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
It’s hard to follow up an album like Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone, a bold and articulate album founded in mythology and pain. The Worse Things Get… is nothing but a bolder, more articulate effort, fueled by personal losses and the depression Case experienced in her time between these two albums. What emerges is a collection of compelling narratives written by a clear-eyed songwriter examining her life with steady hands. –A.C.
10. Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Arcade Fire switched things up a bit on their fourth album — they’ve done their best to seem a bit more fun and danceable, and teamed up with producer James Murphy to emulate the blend of heavy emotions and deep grooves of his band LCD Soundsystem. The songs that push them the furthest outside of their comfort zone, like “Reflektor” and “Here Comes the Night Time,” are fantastic, but mainly because they have such a strong sense of style and identity that they can’t help but sound exactly like Arcade Fire. And of course, that’s not a bad thing, since no one does over-stuffed, hyper-earnest arena rock better than them. –M.P.
9. Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
The onslaught of treble in Marnie Stern’s music can signal extreme anxiety or an adrenaline rush, and in her best work, it’s both at once, like finding the strength to lift a car up over your head in the middle of a panic attack. The Chronicles of Marnia, her fourth album, is her most accessible yet, with the guitarist paring down her often busy song structures to more blunt and urgent riffs. Stern was already great at writing songs that sounded exciting and triumphant, but this simplified approach only amps up that quality, so standout cuts like “Noonan” and “You Don’t Turn Down” sound like finding a way to win at life despite an unending stream of neuroses, insecurities, and fears. —M.P.
8. Tricot, THE
As a high concept, Tricot seem almost too good to be true — a mostly-female Japanese math rock band! But the reality of the band is even better than any music nerd could ever imagine, with their knotty guitar parts and ever-shifting rhythms supporting gorgeous harmonies and hooks that wouldn’t be out of place in the most sugary Asian pop music. Their album THE is, without a doubt, one of the most welcome surprises of the year. –M.P.
7. Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
The members of Foxygen are barely into their twenties, but they’ve internalized the sounds of the ’60s to such an extent that their dizzying mishmash of early Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Motown, and The Kinks comes out sounding incredibly natural and nuanced rather than forced and stuffy. They’re in love with the past, but the album is firmly rooted in the present day, both in terms of its lyrical concerns (“There’s no need to be an asshole / you’re not in Brooklyn anymore”) and its sound, which benefits from producer Richard Swift’s crisp style and emphasis on a warm, deep bass sound. –M.P.
6. Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks
Hesitation Marks, Trent Reznor’s eighth major work under the name Nine Inch Nails and the first to be released since 2008, is basically an entire album about the nagging fear that you will ruin everything good in your life by falling back into old habits, or worrying that the new people in your life will discover the horrible parts of yourself that you’ve tried to bury. So, in other words, it’s about as intense as you’d expect a NIN album to be. But while previous NIN records were focused on aggression, this one is mostly about tension and dread, and the result is essentially an inverted version of a Nine Inch Nails album. Whereas Reznor once raged against betrayers and oppressors in the outside world, Hesitation Marks is the sound of him stuck inside his own mind, and lashing out entirely against himself. —M.P.
5. Haim, Days Are Gone
The trio of sisters in Haim are all in their twenties, but write and perform slick rock tunes like old veterans. Days Are Gone, their debut, is a throwback to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when artists like Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benetar, and The Pretenders ruled the airwaves with songs that were both super-polished and rocking. But despite that, Haim is very much rooted in the present, and gems like “The Wire,” “Don’t Save Me,” and “Honey & I” still feel fresh and contemporary. –M.P.
4. Deerhunter, Monomania
Deerhunter are the kind of band that are so prolific and consistently great that it can be easy to take them for granted. But that would be a huge mistake, especially since the band somehow keeps improving all the time. Monomania, their fifth full-length album, consolidates a lot of the band’s strengths — anguished vocals, gorgeously harmonized guitars, creepy ambience, earworm melodies — while pushing the band into a more glammy, late ’70s direction. “Dream Captain,” “Back to the Middle,” and “T.H.M.” are among the best and most confident songs of band leader Bradford Cox’s career to date, while the final track, “Punk (La Vie Antérieure),” is extremely candid and heartbreaking, even by Cox’s high standards. –M.P.
3. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
Sky Ferreira has spent the past several years casting about for a musical identity while her label rescheduled her first album over and over, to the point that it seemed like things were never going to fall into place for her. Though she was groomed to be a pop starlet, Ferreira’s debut is a full-on rock record that dresses up big hooks that wouldn’t be out of place in teen pop hits with a moody, abrasive guitars and pounding drums. It’s the perfect synthesis of bubblegum and noise, and a reminder that those musical extremes never need to be mutually exclusive. –M.P.
2. My Bloody Valentine, m b v
My Bloody Valentine made their fans wait 22 years for the follow up to their genre-defining classic Loveless, but m b v was worth the wait. The album is sequenced like a journey, starting off right around where Shields left off in the early ’90s, and ending with his most far-out experiments. Many fans assumed that Loveless was a creative dead end, but m b v is an entire album of songs in which Shields applies the soft-focus aesthetics of that record to different forms and moods — the icy keyboard drones of “If This and Yes,” the Steve Reich-gone-hardcore stomp of “Nothing Is,” the abstracted chart pop of “New You.” It may never be quite as legendary or influential as Loveless, but it’s a masterpiece in its own right. –M.P.
1. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City