10. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

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Wolf Alice is cool. Everything about the four-piece makes them likable, from their name to their ability to kick it up several notches any moment. But what may be the most noticeable on their debut is how effortlessly they switch up their style from one track to the next. Going from the serene Turn to Dust to the highway rock of Bros to the heavy reverb-laden riffs of Your Loves Whore shouldn’t work at all. But Wolf Alice expresses such grace and confidence that you’re willing to follow them down any musical paths they’re willing to take. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with songs like the face-melting, anthem-ready Moaning Lisa Smile. And that’s just the first four songs. It doesn’t let up from there. Say hello to this year’s best new band.

Highlights: Moaning Lisa Smile, Fluffy, Bros

9. Laura Marling – Short Movie

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When you record an album as beloved as Once I Was An Eagle, it looms like a mountain over whatever you do next. For a follow-up, you can either try to replicate that previous record’s success or you can do something new. Laura Marling, not one for sequels, went for the latter, crafting an expressive addition to her body of work with Short Movie. To do so, she stepped outside the traditional musical language of folk music, bringing in electric guitars for the first time. It doesn’t seem like a huge step, but for the reinvigorated Marling, she had a new set of songwriting tools. The results are songs like the electrifying False Hope, about Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York, the door slam of Don’t Let Me Bring You Down and the dusty Howl. Five albums in, and she’s as brilliant as ever.

Highlights: False Hope, I Feel Your Love, Strange

8. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – After

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Like her debut, Ripely Pine, Lady Lamb’s gift for melody, her odd and sticky lyrics and her conversational voice are intriguing throughout nearly every song. Her homemade, casual approach, combined with her off-kilter way with words and melodies, make her one of the most original voices to come out of this decade. After isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly an album that sounds as strong and mysterious the first time and 10th time you listen to it.

Highlights: Billions of Eyes, Heretic, Milk Duds

7. Torres – Sprinter

Sprinter

Mackenzie Scott doesn’t know what to do with her demons. Over the course of the beautifully raw, wrenching Sprinter, the woman known as Torres screams her lungs out on Strange Hellos, smirks her way through Cowboy Guilt and embraces denial on Ferris Wheel. “I am a tired woman/In January I will just be 23,” Scott sings mournfully on New Skin, her fingers picking away at the fretboard. While Scott turns the mirror to herself for her sophomore effort, everyone is shaped by their environment. No one leaves here unscathed. Over the title track’s guitar crunch, she blames the flaws in her church as a reason to leave her life in Georgia behind, both running away and running towards something. This introspection reaches a devastating peak on Son, You Are No Island, a harrowing maelstrom of betrayal from God’s perspective, and on The Exchange, detailing an adoptive parent and slowly diving into the topic of suicide. “I’m underwater,” Scott breathes, barely managing to get the words out. It’s a captivating end to an album that mixes the personal and the spiritual, where Scott pours out her secrets, loathing and love. When it’s all said and done though, there’s one word that fits Sprinter best: revelation.

Highlights: Strange Hellos, Son You Are No Island, Sprinter

6. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

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I’m not a huge Decemberists fan. I often feel their cleverness can too often slide into pretentiousness, with unrelatable characters and needlessly complex vocabulary. I liked The Hazards of Love, but I think the simplicity of this year’s release makes it a true standout. While Colin Meloy’s lyrical tendencies are still here, they come with a sly wink and are closer to real emotions than any work they’ve done before. I can empathize and identify with what he’s saying for the first time. Combine that with some of the most melodic work the band’s ever done and you have a winner.

Highlights: Cavalry Captain, Make You Better, Better Not Wake The Baby