1. Grinderman
Grinderman 2

(You can) Think of Grinderman as a superman in the philosophical sense; A man who lives beyond religion and morals; A man whose existence is beyond that of a common man. The grinderman also has an insatiable lust, and an animal-like thirst for blood, both of which arise during times of agitation. This is where he gets his many kicks. And, when the Grinderman gets his kicks, it’s for all our benefit. Witness the mad jazz-like spasms of guitar, bass, drums and electric bazouki all going off during, “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” with Cave’s unhinged, wolfman howl providing the punctuation mark. Or, take in the mix of sex, passion and the ominous banging of “Worm Tamer,” and the sinister, almost sadistic groove of “Heathen Child,” then, the bastardized and brutalized, bluesman’s wail of “Evil,” and this Grinderman earns his status above every man.

Still, as thrilling as Nick Cave Grinderman can be when they’re at their fearsome, primal best, it’s those moments of vulnerability which make Grinderman 2, the album, stand clearly above Grinderman’s first outing. More comfortable in this pared down band, Cave, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casesy, and Jim Sclavunos do more than soundtrack the instincts of a godless man with crazed Rock ‘N’ Roll recordings. “What I Know,” uses but the barest of spectral noises, a gently played acoustic guitar, and a solitary drum beat to back Cave’s laments, “Thank God we don’t get all our hurts at once…Thank God we don’t get all our olds at one time.” Later, piano, a bouncy bass rhythm, Cave’s touching croon, and a surplus of smooth ooh-oohs provide the setting for “Palaces of Montezuma,” a love song which all but obscures the narrator’s devilish intentions. Without the lyrics sheet, a line as gruesome as, “The spinal cord or JFK/Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee/I Give to you,” gets lost amongst promises of sweeter sounding things.

At this point it would be easier to characterize Nick Cave’s Grinderman as a godless man, wolfman, or a sex-obsessed superman. These songs go deeper. Cave and his band are reawakened, both spiritually and musically. To say Grinderman is but one of these things is to miss the point that Grinderman 2 is everything a rock album should be: Thought both provoking and scurrilous, ravaging and delicate, an intelligent mix drawing from diverse cultural and musical backgrounds, and sex. We can’t forget the sex. Full Review

VIDEO: Grinderman – Heathen Child
VIDEO: Grinderman – Worm Tamer

2. The National
High Violet

The National’s High Violet is a patient album requiring a patient listener. The pay-offs don’t occur as they did in the past when vocalist Matt Beringer is at his most agitated. Rather, they happen when he and the band are at their most somber and most subdued; When the horns build to a smooth crescendo during the introduction of “Bloodbuzz, Ohio;” As unsderstated strings occupy the fringe of the mix in “Lemonworld;” Where intricate guitar picking and deliberately struck keys meet on “Runaway;” As the combination of bass clarinet and ghostly, fluttering keys up the broken man ante on “Conversation 16.” Practically every track on this collection of baroque pop has a similar moment, one where mood, melody, and the perfectionsist’s quest for the ultimate expression in both, arrive in unison. Perhaps, this attitude is best summed up in “Runaway’s” recurring phrase, “I won’t run away ’cause I won’t run,” for five albums in, this is a man and a band confident in who they have become. This is a group who no longer needs a genuine burst of energy to break away from these consistently stately tones, but can communicate the same emotional fracture with a slight smattering of static. Similarly, Beringer doesn’t need to howl do drive a point home, when a slight variation in the pitch or volume of his baritone voice can have the same effect. Consequently, they now posess the verve to include a litany of guest players on instruments like clarient, trumpet, french horn, and violin and employ them expertly, never falling into a hole of over-produced, over-obsessed, and overwrought pop. Quite the contrary, The National’s ornate craftmanship has produced a nearly flawless album, content in its moodiness and brilliant in its vision. Full Review

VIDEO: The National – Bloodbuzz, Ohio
VIDEO: The National – Terrible Love (Alt. Version)

3. Black Keys

While Auerbach and Carney maintain they were never close to retiring The Black Keys brand, their time apart, and their subsequent reunion under the Blakroc banner, accomplished something a big-name producer like Danger Mouse couldn’t do on Attack and Release — Free the Akron duo from their self-imposed constraints. Auerbach’s voice is more confident and more dynamic. He even shows off a striking falsetto on Brothers’ lead track “Everlasting Light” and again on “The Only One,” and the Jerry Butler cover, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Carney, meanwhile, has become more than just a heavy hitter behind the drum kit, rarely relying on standard rock rhythms, instead taking cues from his work with Blakroc, playing sharply accented, urban influenced beats. Then, there’s the music itself. In pre-release press, Carney explained how many of the songs which ended up on Brothers started with keyboard or bass, and not a big, blasting guitar riff. Consequently, with Auerbach and Carney pulling double duty in the studio (Nicole Wray is the only other musician appearing here, contributing back-up vocals on a few numbers), Brothers is both the fullest sounding, and the most nuanced work the duo have produced to date. Classic soul and R&B contribute as much to their sound as do their past standards — Old-time blues and ’70s riff-rock.

More times than not, this re-configuration of The Black Keys from a stripped-down, guitar and drums duo, into a full-blown, Rock ‘n’ Rhythm ‘n’ Blues band, pays off quite well. Lead single, “Tighten Up,” charms with a thumpin’ bass drum beat, whimsical whistling, and short, staggered bits of guitar. While “Howlin’ For You,” provides a remixed version of The Black Keys you’ve grown to love, one where the low-end of Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Pt. 2″ is boosted, re-purposed and paired with cutting and squelching, filtered guitar. Later, Auerbach and Carney create a vibe which is positively Wu-like on “Too Afraid to Love,” then show off their diversity by diving into Spaghetti Western soundtracks on ‘Ten-Cent Pistol,” and ’70s soul and funk with “Sinister Kid,” none of which could have been done convincingly with just drums and guitar. Surprisingly, Brothers only lags when the Akron duo retreat too far into their comfort zone of big, hearty Rock ‘N’ Roll, as they do on “Next Girl,” and “She’s Long Gone.” Some of the old-style may have been necessary to placate the die-hards, but when the big riffs hit, they feel strangely out of place. For it’s not the big riffs that fuel Brothers, or The Black Keys in 2010 for that matter, but a deep, sustained groove; A groove which not only encompasses rock, but also hip-hop, soul, and rhythm and blues; A groove largely responsible for Brothers being The Black Keys’ bravest, if not their best, work to date. Full Review

VIDEO: The Black Keys – Tighten Up
VIDEO: The Black Keys – Next Girl
VIDEO: The Black Keys – Too Afraid to Love You

4. Titus Andronicus
The Monitor

I’m a record executive and a young, spunky band comes in my office and they tell me about their new album — It’s a concept album using the American Civil War as an extended metaphor for a young man’s journey away from his ancestral home in New Jersey to his new home in Boston — and you know what I tell them? I would say, “You’re not Sufjan Stevens. You’re not Green Day. If you were Sufjan Stevens I would have never given you a record contract. If you were Green Day I would tell them, ‘Fantastic, guys. Now go home and write some three-minute songs about women, booze, rockin’ out, and throwin’ up in your best friends bath tub.’ You know what I’m going to tell you? Go home and write some three-minute songs about women, booze, rockin’ out and throwing up in your best friends bath tub and don’t come back here ’til you do.”

Three months pass and the young, spunky, punk-ish band returns with a completed album. It’s called the Monitor and from the first minute it’s apparent they didn’t pay attention to one single word I had previously said. It has rambling, mind to mouth narratives like an over-eager Bright Eyes, sections of workingman punk recalling The Dropkick Murphys and bleary eyed pub ballads worthy to be mentioned along side The Pogues. There’s screaming guitar solos, triumphant horns and marching band beats. The lyrics borrow from Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, and old battle hymns, sometimes it’s done subtlely other times more overtly. It screams, shreds, ramble-tambles, rollicks and rocks for sixty-five minutes. And oh yeah, there’s lots of civil war imagery.

I look at the young, spunky, young, punk-ish band in my office, Titus Andronicus, and admit I was wrong, this time, and I tell them, “Next time, guys, how ’bout some three-minute songs about women, booze, rockin’ out and throwing up in your best friends bath tub — Not a whole album, mind you, but maybe just a couple tracks to break up all the six and seven minute stuff.” Full Review

MP3: Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union
MP3: Titus Andronicus – Four Score and Seven (Pt 1)
MP3: Titus Andronicus – Four Score and Seven (Pt 2)

5. Weekend

First, there’s lead single, “Coma Summer,” a strong opening statement, comprised of a stirring combination of ambient drones, piercing shrieks, and a deceptively strong melody. Then there’s the sequencing, which is impeccable. Notice how the slight ambiance of “Monday Morning” morphs into the throbbing post-punk of “Monongah, WV.” Later, the band does the reverse, as the up-tempo, dream pop of “End Times” winds itself down into the slight soundscape, “Afterimage.” It’s a pattern repeated throughout Sports, as verse-chorus-verse, gear set to shatter, pop alternates with more thoughtful, textured movements. Lastly, whether the band invokes a rowdier Stone Roses, a more melodic Sonic Youth, or a livelier Interpol, their vision and methodology for recreating art-rock, noise, and pop remains consistent. The bass is clean and agile, and routinely doubles the notes per measure played by the drums. The drums, meanwhile, routinely outhit those cascading guitars which themselves, outpace the vocals, which are sung in elongated, cloistered tones. As a result, there is a fluidity found in theses songs absent from many of their contemporaries, making Sports more than an exercise in UK Shoegaze revisited, but an album fit for any era. Full Review

MP3: Weekend – Coma Summer
MP3: Weekend – End Times
VIDEO: Weekend – Monday Morning/Monogah, WV

6. Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest

Like most of Bradford Cox’s output, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digesst, is part sonic experiment set to song and part unforgettable songs. On this, the fourth album from the Atlanta musician and his band, however, it’s become harder to separate the two. Moments of melodic, garage pop like “Don’t Cry,” “Memory Boy,” and “Revival,” no longer stick out as “A-Ha!” moments. Instead, they effortlessly slide into the larger work of an album flush with warm, ambient tones, hushed, dream-like narratives, and meticulously developed textures. And when both sound and song are perfectly aligned, as on “Desire Lines,” “Helicopter,” and “He Would Have Laughed,” the results are staggering, as if someone had taken the output of troubled, songwriter Elliott Smith and set them to the melodies of electronic music pioneer, Brian Eno. That someone, of course, is Bradford Cox, and his work, in its singularity and its vision, is now worthy of such lofty comparisons. Full Review

VIDEO: Deerhunter – Helicopter

7. Torche
Songs for Singles

From its delicate packaging to the vinyl inside, with its lipstick-kissed labels, the Miami, Florida band, Torche, want you to think of Songs for Singles as a carefully worded love letter. Yet, once you familiarize yourself with Torche, the band, and their brand of fast, fierce, and heavy Rock ‘N’ Roll, you realize they’re talking about a different type of single — The radio single. This Miami four-piece is radio-ready in the truest sense of the phrase. Think back ten, no, maybe more like fifteen, years ago, and any number of bands featured a similar attack of relentless tempos, bludgeoning low-ends, agile and aggressive guitars, and keen pop-smarts. Today, however, the concept of a heavy, melodic band is as foreign to music fans as indoor plumbing is to Amazonians. These things simply do not, or rather, did not exist.

Torche, however, very much does exist, and key to their blossoming appeal is their ability to get in and out of heavy grooves like no other. Starting with 2005′s self-titled release, through 2008′s critically-acclaimed, Meanderthahl, and now with Songs for Singles, Torche exhibit an almost zen-like ability to know when to end one song and when to hit the next big riff. Lead track, The two-minute, fist-pumping anthem, “U.F.O,” wastes no time and fewer notes. It’s followed by “Lay Low,” a number which finds its heavy groove and disposes of it in less than a minute. And rather than being filler, “Lay Low” and tracks like it in Torche’s catalog, serve a very real purpose by bridging the gaps between singles and providing a sense of continuity throughout the album. For while other bands may meander through solos or twiddle through an extended outtro in order to prove their musical chops, Torche prefer to kick out more jams – Jams like “Arrowhead,” a pummeling hunk of metallic, post-punk, and “Cast Into Unknown,” a number which would be a power-pop anthem in a lighter band’s hands, and, the hypnotically, heavy static-chargeed, album-closer, “Out Again,” all jams which would make your corporate rock radio station 100% more viable, not to mention 100% more rad, overnight. Full Review

VIDEO: Torche – U.F.O

8. LCD Soundsystem
This is Happening

Don’t count me amongst the group of music critics who will forever fail to find fault with anything and everything James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem does. Murphy is not infallible. No one is infallible (Hell, Benedict XVI, is doing his best to disprove the notion that the pope is infallible, but that’s a different discussion for a different website). Believe it or not, it is possible to have the ears of every hipster in Williamsburg, and own the pens of every critic on Pitchfork, and still record a sh*t song. Thankfully, Murphy still owns one of the highest hit to sh*t ratios in music today. “Drunk Girls” is surprisingly short and surprisingly pop, and nearly as much fun as Blur’s “Boys and Girls.” While “One Touch” expertly fuses early NYC new wave with krautrock in such a manner that it sounds as if Murphy made the genres himself, and isn’t merely the work of someone re-imagining those movements some 20 or 30 years later. The album’s unquestioned highlight, however, has to be, “All I Want,” a track which may be Murphy’s greatest work to date. Here, he sings elegant and grand over a stately, slightly skronky guitar riff paired with sometimes jubilant, other times uncontrollably piercing keys. It recalls the romantic era of British pop, but it’s sung with such conviction that lines like “All I want is your pain/ All I want are your bitter tears,” don’t come off like red-eyed, sad-sackery. It’s sincere, yet confident, damn near epic, and best of all, you don’t have to be a B-burg boy, a hipster girl, or be in on some inside joke to enjoy it. As a result, when you do encounter the sh*t parts of the record (“Pow-Pow, ” A lazy re-work of “I’m Losing my Edge,” with half the snark and half the cleverness, and the Oingo Boingo like “I Can Change,” a little too close to “She Blinded Me With Science” for comfort) they don’t seem so bad. Come to think of it, LCD Soundsystem isn’t so bad. LCD Soundsystem rules. Full Review

VIDEO: LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
VIDEO: LCD Soundsystem – Home

9. Phosphorescent
Here’s to Taking It Easy
Dead Oceans

One look at Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent and his four-man backing band, and in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and on through today they would instantly be identifiable as a Rock ‘N’ Roll band. Each had a healthy road beard and well-worn shoes. Their hair was long and unwashed and their shirts had that not-exactly-fresh from the laundry look. Bottled domestic beers dotted the stage. And as they gathered for their first number — Taking to guitars, drums, keyboards and pedal steel, their posture communicated a mix of weariness and confidence. Yes, life on the road is rarely as glamorous as it seems, but look at us, we could never be bankers or lawyers, office workers, or on the factory line. We can, however, play these instruments and we can play them damn well, thank you.

Then, with one near, nine-minute song, all that emotion was given a sound — Houck and his slightly worn, yet still smooth voice, showing a hint of honky-tonk; His band, deliberate, clear and precise, but not without feeling. It was a sound and a song, “Los Angeles,” whose hints of southern-rock, country, and folk filled the Grog Shop with longing and loss.

The six-strings of Houck and his second guitarist would stay solemn through “It’s Hard to be Humble (When Your From Alabama),” and “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” both from the band’s most recent release, Here’s to Taking it Easy. The pedal steel and the keyboards, meanwhile, wept at their side. A shout from the crowd implored, “Play something happy!” A sheepish Houck plainly replied, “I’m sorry. We don’t have many of those.” When the same voice, a couple songs later would demand, “Play something fast,” one could see the eyes of the band light up, and Houck, again with his slight drawl, jokingly addressed the boys, “Settle down, Phosphorescent.”

No, Phosphorescent didn’t have happy. Nor, did they have fast in their repertoire. They did have a couple Willie Nelson tracks (“I Gotta Get Drunk” and “Turn Out the Lights”), however, and they did have that amazingly full sound which reappeared on “Wolves” and “A Death, A Proclamation.” The latter swirled gloriously about the room with the force of a full psychedelic rock band. It was sad, but oh, was it the most wonderful kind of sad one could have. It was like a moment of release after a long, tough week, like a sunset at the end of a Western movie, or, that one glimpse of a hopeful rest while knowing tomorrow will be another long ride and another night on the road. Full Review

MP3: Phosphorescent – It’s Hard to be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)
MP3: Phosphorescent – The Mermaid Parade

10. Herzog

every moment of ragged, jagged slop-rock goodness (See “Silence,” and “Paul Blart and the Death of Art”) is countered with something decidedly less frenetic, like “West Blvd,” Tolar’s minimally adorned, quiet and plaintive ode to the neighborhood of his youth. There’s the scorching, static-ravaged anthem, “Town to Town,” finely balanced by “Abandon Love,” a cleanly picked, folk-song, written in the style of Dylan and sung with smooth clarity. Then, you have a song like, “Living Alone,” a track which could have very well come from The Flaming Lips’ quirky, cranking psychedelic rock phase, and its counterweight in the glimmering and reflective, country rock of “Slowest Romance.”

Now, it’s awfully hard to label Herzog as a slacker rock band. There’s simply too much else going on here and too much talent. Similarly, Tolar’s own description of “Just rock,” is a disservice, too. Your neighborhood, just-a-rock band, can’t turn on and off the ampage and display the type of grace Tolar displays on Search’s quieter moments. Instead, let’s forego all genre specific labels, and acknowledge Search for what it is: A sometimes rockin’, other times downtrodden, but always engaging album not only worth your money and your time, but also an album worthy of high praise. Full Review

MP3: Herzog – Paul Blart and the Death of Art
MP3: Herzog – Living Alone

11. Super Wild Horses

True to their name, Super Wild Horses are a free and instinctive, rock and pop duo from Melbourne, Australia, who by luck, grace, or more likely, an incorruptible feeling for melody, happen to find themselves in possession of one of the year’s best records to date.

Throughout their first full length, Fifteen, Amy Franz and Hayley McKee harmonize like sisters and trade instruments like best friends forever. They both sing play guitar, keyboards, and drums, switching positions from behind the kit to out in front frequently between songs. While this method may prevent both Franz and McKee from ever becoming technically skilled musicians, it does feed the primitive interpretation of The Breeders, Bikini Kill, and Dischord post-punk heard throughout the record. It’s a quality only accentuated by Mikey Young’s production. The Eddy Current Suppression Ring man takes his cues from Steve Albini, letting the songs and the instruments do the bulk of the work, assuring a spacious and minimal mix while still retaining a noticeable amount grit. Full Review

MP3: Super Wild Horses – Golden Town
VIDEO: Super Wild Horses – Golden Town

12. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks

Like Hearts of Oak, Leo’s latest is a diverse album. In addition to the standard Pharmacists sound — A mix of new wave with Thin Lizzy styled shots of rock — there are funky elements (“One Polaroid a Day,”) dub and drum ‘n’ bass (“Mourning in America,”) a garage rock stomper (“Where Was My Brain,”) and a surprisingly soulful Leo exercising a forceful vocal range on “Woke Up New Chelsea.” Still, the unquestioned highlight of the set, “Bottled Up in Cork,” is a number which doesn’t expand on the band’s repertoire, but instead recalls one of their earlier successes. As a traveling song, it’s easy to draw parallels between “Bottled Up in Cork” and Hearts of Oak’s “Ballad of the Sin Eater.” Both recall Leo’s experiences as an American on foreign continents, albeit with two striking differences. First, in the place of “Sin Eater’s” rough, rumbling bass line is a sweetly strummed acoustic guitar. Second, and more importantly, Leo no longer faces ridicule and derision at every stop. Instead of puzzling over his reception with the chorus, “You didn’t think they could hate you now, did ya?” as he did on “Sin Eater,” he now revels in hospitality with lines like, “A little good will goes a mightly long way,” and “Tell the bartender, I think I’m falling in love.” It’s a striking recovery in mood and melody for a man and a band who managed to break a string of average albums (By their own high standards) on the strength of one joyful chorus and a rediscovered lust for life. Full Review

MP3: Ted Leo and The Pharmacists – Even Heroes Have to Die
MP3: Ted Leo and The Pharmacists – The Mighty Sparrow
VIDEO: Ted Leo and The Pharmacists – Bottled in Cork

13. Eddy Current Suppression Ring
Rush to Relax

As the story goes, Australia’s Eddy Current Suppression Ring spent more money on the cover of their latest release, Rush to Relax, than they did on recording the actual album. When you consider the cost of having an airplane fly a banner over a beach versus the cost to book six hours of studio time (Which was the full extent of Rush to Relax’s recording), it’s certainly a plausible story, too.

There’s a plug-in and rock-out aesthetic present throughout this set where both ballads and blazing rock numbers are attacked in the same headlong fashion. Quirky, off-beat, almost in-key, numbers about vocalist Brendan Suppression’s quest to be a better man like “Gentleman” and “I Can Be a Jerk”, have the same vitality as lead track, “Anxiety,” a raved-up and roughed-up garage rocker featuring Mr. Suppression at his accented, manic best (or worst, as the case may be). Plus, Eddy Current’s guitar solos, whether they’re brisk, aggressive stabs at the strings yielding sharp static, or more protracted melodies in the ramble-tamble vein (Check the extended jams “Turning Out” and “Second Guessing” for examples of both), are of the making-it-up-on-the-spot variety, relying on feeling, instinct and aggression to add an extra frantic layer to an already jagged set. Full Review

VIDEO: Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush to Relax

14. Gaslight Anthem
American Slang
Side One Dummy

There’s something going on in Jersey, away from the city and the trend chasing hipsters, away from the shore and the camera mugging guidos and guidettes, away from the back rooms and the made men. Young bands like Titus Andronicus and The Gaslight Anthem are embracing the tradition of The Boss and Jon Bon and are leading a new generation of working class, Rock ‘N’ Roll heroes.

The songs collected here on The Gaslight Anthem’s American Slang, in particular, are punch-in/punch-out, meet up with the boys for beers on a Friday night, Rock ‘N’ Roll at its best. The band never met a member of the underclass who didn’t deserve their three minutes of fame, and they never look past an opportunity to deliver a rousing chorus. If they can tell a tale of struggle and accompany it with some uplifting, “Whoa, whoa, whoa’s,” well, then, that’s all the better.

Numbers like the tough-edged, title track, “American Slang,” and “Stay Lucky,” feature terse, pointed stabs of guitars and verses of mid-tempo punk always hinting at the big moment, the moment when Brian Fallon frees that rough, scruffy, powerful voice of his. “Diamond Church Street Choir,” meanwhile, with its swinging, finger snapping rhythm, hard-hat ethos, and vibrant sing-along, is one saxophone solo away from being a Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band classic. As it stands, it’s one of the Gaslight Anthem’s finest, with Fallon exhibiting surprising range and clarity, proudly carrying on the mantle of blue-eyed, soul. Full Review

VIDEO: Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

15. Prisoners
Back in the USSA
Smog Veil

Back in the USSA, the debut album by Cleveland upstarts, Prisoners, is classic rock, but not classic rock in the sense of Two-fer Tuesdays, No-Repeat Wednesdays, or Drive Time Traffic Jams. Rather, it’s classic in the sense that its influences — The Stones, The Faces, The Who, The Replacements — are all bands any rocker worth his ripped jeans and Salvation Army shirts should know and love. It’s classic in its indifference to trends. It’s neither hi-fi nor lo-fi. It isn’t fussed and mussed over, mucked up or dumbed down. It sounds like a rock record, perhaps the best rock record the Replacements never made. The one-two kick of “Evangeline” and “You’re Goin’ Down” establishes the band’s three guitar, bar rock attack which is punctuated by vocalist Jason Look’s pained, withering delivery. At any moment, he could be on his last breath, or ready to bounce back with a broken beer bottle and a fearsome sneer. Later, the band ratchet things up with proto-punk (“Teenage Shatner,”) and a beat-down, but not beat up country-flavored jam (“Little Old Me,”) and bring the listener back down with some drunken doo-wop (“Tied Up in Shadows,”) and the electric ballad, “Loser,” a number reminiscent of ‘Mats standards like “Answering Machine.” When the needle reaches the end of the title track, Back in the USSA, reveals itself to be a classic in another sense — Like the best records in your collection, you’ll want to flip this one back over to Side A for a second spin. Full Review

MP3: Prisoners – Little Old Me

16. This Moment in Black History
Public Square
Smog Veil

If you’re looking for a ripping, shredding, and rocking good time in 2010, then look no further than This Moment in Black History’s Public Square. More diverse, more melodic, and way more listenable than their previous releases, Public Square showcases keyboardist/vocalist Chris Kulcsar, guitarist Buddy Akita, bassist Lawrence Daniel Caswell, and drummer Lamont “Bim” Thomas at the top of their games.

“Forest Whitaker,” “About Last Night,” and “MFA” have that old school Ohio garage punk feel, much like Columbus’ much beloved New Bomb Turks. While “Pollen Count” and “90 % Done” showcase a sort of punk/doom hybrid — One with the riffs the longhairs love, but lacking the bong-headed energy, or lackthereof, that dooms most stoner metal to the fringes. Partly this combination works because of Kulcsar’s vocals — The dude only knows one speed and that speed is manic, but not to be overlooked is the band’s wise decision to cap the sticky riffs at a reasonable time limit. They’re not out to recreate Sleep’s Dopesmoker. Rather, they pull from it, then get back to rocking the f*ck out. Here, Caswell and Thomas show great control — Steering the band smoothly between two extreme tempos. Akita, meanwhile, is never at loss for a riff, whether that riff is quick and nimble or low and brutal. All of this leads to a new found sense of restraint in the This Moment in Black History camp. The volume and frequency of Kulcsar’s squawk box which once hogged the high end of the mix, have both been lowered. This frees spaces to hear the thing which us Cleveland Rockers have known for a long time — This Moment in Black History lay down one mean, soulful, and banging rhythm after another. Full Review

MP3: This Moment in Black History – Pollen Count

17. Dum Dum Girls
I Will Be

The Dum Dum Girls’ debut LP, I Will Be, answers another one of those questions which only a music obsessive would bother to ponder: What if Kim Deal of the Breeders had cut her teeth playing bass in the Ramones and not The Pixies? Like Deal, The Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee possesses a sweetly fluttering voice which can communicate both innocence and cunning in the same breath. Additionally, like some of the The Breeders’ best work, there’s a slight layer of fuzz obscuring but never intruding upon light, upbeat pop numbers like “Bhang Bhang I’m a Burnout” and “Jail La La.” Later on, numbers like “Rest of Our Lives,” and “Blank Girl” channel dream pop and ’60s girl group sounds, respectively, providing rare diversions from the Dum Dums standard beat. For like the Ramones, The Dum Dum Girls have but a limited number of basic rhythms to fill out an album. There’s the old 1-2-3-4 and a variation or two on the old 1-2-3-4, played just as Dee Dee’s name-sake used to shout them out for The Ramones. Full Review

MP3: Dum Dum Girls – Jail La La
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout

18. Lower Dens
Twin-Hand Movement

Once a card carrying member of the freak-folk movement, Jana Hunter has found both a new group in Baltimore’s Lower Dens and a comfortable new sound on her band’s debut album, Twin Hand Movement. And while that new sound, the mid-point between shoegazer rock and dream pop, may not seem like a logical progression for an artist who valued freedom from structure, Hunter carries a sense of exploration not only in the phrasing and control of her husky voice but also in the way her band obsessively controls the tone and texture of their guitars.

For example, consider the slow and careful, cracking scales of “Tea Lights, ” and the exquisite dynamics of “A Dog’s Dick,” where ragged guitars blasted front and center, a smooth bass line, intricately picked chords, and raw feedback all have their own place. Or, check out “I Get Nervous,” a track which can mesmerize and usher with its pulsating and wavering guitars in strict concert with Hunter’s silk-smooth voice. Hunter herself, shines on “Truss Me,” a sultry, seductive ballad perfectly set for a dark and smoky jazz bar as glittery bits of guitar and a slight tap from the drums serve as her only accompaniment. Full Review

MP3: Lower Dens – Tea Lights
MP3: Lower Dens – Hospice Gates

19. Kylesa
Spiral Shadow
Season of Mist

The heavy, but not necessarily metal band, Kylesa are like Canada’s post-hardcore kings, Fucked Up, or Japan’s do-it-all metal masters, Boris, in that they’re seemingly capable of whatever they set their minds upon. Throaty and propulsive, post-hardcore anthems? Check “Don’t Look Back.” Sludgy and bludgeoning psychedelic rock? Check “To Forget.” Wavering soundscapes, radio anthems, beefy blues riffs, precise guitar picking, thrashing, shredding, and strong melodies? Check ’em all. They can also be reminiscent of Torche, another heavy band from the American South making a bigger name for themselves, in that they maintain a sense of conciseness throughout Spiral Shadow. Why spend five minutes swimming in ambiance when five or ten seconds can do the same trick? Why drop everything to showcase extended guitar solos when the same power can be gleamed from briefer bursts of strength? Why make a four minute song eight minutes long when there’s so much more ripping to do? Full Review

MP3: Kyelsa – Tired Climb
VIDEO: Kylesa – Tired Climb

20. Megachurch

In an interview published on Ithaca Underground, Michael Baranick, aka Mikey Machine, described the intensely throbbing, bass and drum sound of his new band Megachurch as Christian stoner-metal made by people who are neither Christians nor stoners. It’s such a departure from speedy, sanguine pop of his former band, Machine Go Boom, that it renders his previous output hardly worth a mention.  Instead, if you’re looking for references, one should consider bands like the influential, instru-metal band Pelican, on Southern Lord, or the bass-heavy chaos of Lightning Bolt, for whom Megachurch opened on a recent Cleveland date, or even the early Nineties  industrial output of Ministry. This is heavy, heady stuff, with song titles and imagery meant to provoke (“More Mormon Than Mormon,” “The Gay Agenda,” and “The Second Coming”) and riffs that will rattle you straight to your immortal soul.  Or, it might just save your immortal soul, as is the case with “Exorcism.”  If any riff could lift a demon out of a human host, it’s somewhere in this cut’s four minutes of fury.

MP3: Megachurch – Exorcism

Honorable Mention: Ceremony – Rocketfire (Killer Pimp), Black Angels – Phosphene Dreams (Blue Horizon), No Age – Everything in Between (Subpop), Ty Segall – Melted (Goner), Mount Carmel – Mount Carmel (Siltbreeze), Idle Times – Idle Times (Hozac), Woven Bones – In and Out and Back Again (Hozac), Disappears – Lux (Kranky), Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge), Fucked Up – Year of the Ox (Merge).