1. The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)
Swedish folk firebrand Kristian Matsson plays as if the mainstream rock music of the past 50 years never existed. His songs are organic, elemental and timeless, and whether or not he intends the effect, those songs seem to have sprouted straight from the ground. Perhaps the best description of The Wild Hunt is in "Burden of Tomorrow," as Matsson mythologizes his own origin: "Rumor has it that I wasn't born, I just walked in one frosty morn, into the vision of some vacant mind."
2. The National, High Violet (4AD)
The National's lush darkness takes on a new elegance on High Violet, a record of distilled passion that conveys the sense of coming undone, walking an anxious line toward anything that can serve as catharsis. Singer Matt Berninger is convincing in every pang of sorrow, loneliness and self-doubt that blankets High Violet with a slow-burning intensity.
3. Dr. Dog, Shame, Shame (ANTI-)
The band improved on its idiosyncratic charms with a taut, live-sounding record of endlessly catchy songs. "Shadow People" and "Jackie Wants a Black Eye" have an off-kilter joy despite the songs' exploration of life's rougher times. It's certainly true that keeping the wrong company is a way out of loneliness.
4. Delta Spirit, History From Below (Rounder)
Matt Vasquez sings with an earthy passion that ties together the band's garage and soul elements, but it's his songwriting that distinguishes Delta Spirit's second album. "Vivian" is a love letter from the grave; "Bushwick Blues" captures the propulsive yearning of a romance that's pulling apart; and "Ballad of Vitaly" is pensive storytelling at its best, touching on war, tragedy and redemption.
5. The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)
The Montreal band's third record bathes in a sense of apocalyptic doom and still manages to flash moments of beauty. Post-rock and proggy at their edges, the songs awaken slowly but leave in fits of noise, with wild guitar slashes that complement the nightmarish cannonball haze of the album cover.
DOWNLOAD: The Besnard Lakes - Albatross
6. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge)
More of a conventional rock album than its predecessors, The Suburbs is nonetheless evidence that the band is still improving. It's a start-to-finish powerhouse, with songs like "Ready to Start" reaching arena-rock grandeur.
7. Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (Elektra/Asylum)
The brash and eccentric Green can sing with both a demented enthusiasm and a Motown sweetness, and has all of the right instincts on The Lady Killer, a funky, catchy and dance-y neo-soul triumph. What's more, Green turns in the year's best single with the infectious "Fuck You."
8. The Walkmen, Lisbon (Fat Possum)
The band's least-hurried or vigorous album is also its most cohesive and relatable. While not exactly minimalist, Lisbon manages to draw forth more power from a smaller foundation.
9. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat)
Singer Scott Hutchison plays the part of a restless journeyman, enthusiastically embracing the dark corners of life, tempered by an unrelenting confidence that matches the band's effortlessly buoyant sound.
10. The Canon Logic, FM Arcade (Lights Camera Wolfgang)
Full of bright harmonies and "oh, oh" choruses, the piano-driven Brooklyn quintet's self-released debut album is the type of rewarding new arrival that reaffirms the joy of seeking out new music year after year.