Why don’t they call it roundtine?

20. YelawolfTrunk Muzik 0-60 – [Interscope/Ghetovision]

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Yelawolf is an inked-up, part-Cherokee rapper from Alabama with a haircut that the erstwhile members of Japan and Duran Duran would kill for. The guy has more personality than 99% of all rappers solely based on appearance. But he also outdoes 99% of all rappers in nearly everything else. Lil’ Wayne claims he’s a goblin, and Kanye West claims he’s a monster, but Yelawolf is more goblin-like than Weezy and more monstrous than Yeezy. His voice sounds like Gozer’s from Ghostbusters, and he attacks his goth-crunk beats with a nearly peerless intensity, his machine-gun paced flow recalling Twista, with a rhythmic zigzagging that even Jigga would envy. But what makes him so noteworthy among a newly competitive field of upstart MCs is his approach to his subject matter. He has arguably the most energetic and angry weed song ever. He raps about his dad shooting people for trespassing on his property over depressing piano lines. He and Gucci Mane make the most affectless party song ever, accurately conveying the hollowness of partying itself. He raps vividly about crystal meth. And he somehow makes the saddest and the most energetic song about his car possible. Yelawolf is the Drive-By Truckers of rap: A brilliant storyteller and songwriter, with a contemporary approach to a distinctly rootsy sound, and a cult following itching to blow up to a wider audience. –Tal Rosenberg

MP3: Yelawolf ft. Gucci Mane- “I Just Wanna Party”

19. Flying Lotus-Cosmogramma – [Warp]

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Cosmogramma, the third full-length from Flying Lotus contains 17 songs that total slightly over 42 minutes. Should you listen to it in its entirety, you might mistake its run time for 42 light years. Each song consists of a dozen different parts, as though they were birthed by 12 different parents. This is an album worthy of Madeleine L’ Engle: time wrinkles and jackknifes, harps quiver, string sections offer votives, ping pong balls act as percussion, hospital machines and coughs are stolen in midnight heists to transmit the feeling of failing mitochondria. No less than Thom Yorke appears and opts to wail wraith-like in the background, content to be a colorful smear in Flying Lotus’s laser-limned map of the universe.

Steve Ellison derives his inspirations from the same nebular whirl that attracted his afro-futurist predecessors, George Clinton, Sun Ra, and his great-aunt Alice Coltrane. Whereas, his lineage to the Queen of Satchidananda had been previously invoked as a divine birthmark, Cosmogramma is the first time he has successfully demonstrated her stereoptic vision —  atomizing hip-hop, IDM, jazz, classical, dubstep, house, and recombining them into a world of its own. Midway through the creation of this record, Lotus posted a Myspace blog detailing an experience with DMT and a “vision of a crazy cartoon world that was just so vibrant and wacky, colors swirling, inkblot world, crazy color pattern world, bright color dot world….the ceiling started to reveal the ‘ancient language’. Cosmogramma is his reinterpretation of this ancient alphabet, projected several centuries into the future, composed by someone living entirely in the present. — Jeff Weiss

MP3:  Flying Lotus-“Do the Astral Plane” (128 k/bps)

18. Wolf ParadeExpo 86 – [Sub Pop]

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Spencer Krug’s tangled mutterings were never this evocative and catchy. Dan Boeckner’s anthemic numbers were never  as driving. On the verge of a break-up, Wolf Parade ironically never sounded more cohesive than on Expo 8 –, from the galloping drums on “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain” to those brilliant pulsing keyboards on album highlight “Ghost Pressure.” The Springsteen yearn of “Yulia” is the best song ever written about a lady astronaut, while “Pobody’s Nerfect” pushes forward on the rallying chant “I don’t know how to stop it all” as surging keyboards swell around Boeckner’s wail. Closer “Cave-O-Sapien” has Krug’s yelp bounding off intertwined guitars and synths as he reflects on love in the garden, appreciating the present while it’s here. If this really is Wolf Parade’s swan song, it’s a black and beautiful dance. –Aaron Matthews

MP3: Wolf Parade-“What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way)”
MP3: Wolf Parade-“Ghost Pressure”

17. TeebsArdour – [Brainfeeder]

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Returning to Ardour almost two months after its release, the album’s closer “Autumn Antique” tells you everything you need to know about Teebs in under two minutes. Stuttering drums, shakers, and a warm immersive string loop that could come off an educational record, sound which embraces you as you listen to it. Ardour is pure emotion, finding that temperate liminal zone between ambient music, electronic and hip-hop. Though Teebs is affiliated with the Low End Theory crew, this is music designed for quiet absorption, not for dancing your face off. With its circular piano loop and distant hand claps, tracks like “Lakeshore Ave” can possess a multitude of meanings – to me, it sounds like touching down in Japan on a red eye. But the beauty is, Ardour can be anything you want to it to be. Just sit down and give it some time to sink in. — Aaron Matthews

MP3: Teebs-”Arthur’s Birds”
MP3: Teebs-”Double Fifths”

16. GonjasufiA Sufi And A Killer – [Warp]

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This is the place where I’m supposed to pretend that I haven’t written about A Sufi and a Killer many times over and conceive clever synonyms for identical thoughts. But that’s stupid.  The appeal of Gonjasufi seems pretty obvious. A biblically bearded yogi with a “bent banshee wail,  a protean and haunting voice resembling  a Tom Waits weaned on boom-bap, the cracked falsetto of late-period George Clinton and the gruff rasp of Captain Beefheart singing over beat music.” He howls over platters from Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, and Mainframe: a “lost world of Turkish psych-samples, Arabic chants and a surreptitious slinking groove, crossed with the Dilla and dubstep-inflected Low End theory aesthetic. The sort of album that jars you on first listen, but eventually wears itself into the grooves of your synapses: bizarre, baleful, beautiful. ”

Sufi used to rap in the San Diego crew, Masters of the Universe, and everything he does is spied through a hip-hop prism. Think of him as the post-millennial Tricky, a psychotic prophet with dreads and dread but no dresses. If you like the artists enumerating above, you’ll like Gonjasufi’s music. If you smoke the right strains, you’ll love it. But to understand his mentality, you’d have to read his Twitter (or maybe this interview).

These are a few thoughts that he’s unleashed over the last month (in between re-tweeting Prodigy, Ghostface, Chuck D, BlameOne, Sonic Youth, and Bun B): there’s a secret society of artists in this music industry who continue to suck each other off in hopes that their careers will last longer; If Jimi [&] Miles were still in the flesh, I’d be Rollin with them!! Fuk [sic] this “neo soul” sell out shit!! I’m 2 black for this black movement!l; next time you send a CHIHUAHUA to tour manage me and my pack of WOLVES… we will skin him alive feed him to the ducks !!!!; @kanyewest @jayelectronica <—- these guys pretend like they don’t know I’m the shit!!!; In 2011- i will drop the hardest shit!!! Mark my word!!!” Consider the prophecy revealed. You don’t want to fuck with the Sufi. --Jeff Weiss

MP3: Gonjasufi-“Ancestors”

15. Dungen - Skit I Allt – [Mexican Summer]

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What might to some feel like a minor release from Gustav Ejstes’s pet project (hell, the title basically means “Fuck It All”) instead threatens to establish Dungen-as-kickass-pop-fusion-group (emphasis on “group”) as the next stage of its existence. From the Swedish group’s inception (first revealed to an international audience with 2004’s Ta Det Lungt), Dungen presented itself as a larger-than-life anachronism: hip-hugging bell-bottoms, indecipherable Swedish lyrics, presumably reddened eyes hidden behind Zeppelin hairdos, the rest of the band similarly obscured as hired guns serving Ejstes’s compositional vision. But just as 2008’s collaborative 4 hinted at, Dungen’s nearing the culmination of an extended process of streamlining.

Obviously so much more than a psych-rock freakout record, Skit I Allt still rings with the familiarity of Ejstes’s double-tracked AM vocals, with codas of guitar exposition occasionally clubbing the shit out of his dreamy piano-pop refrains. The heavy psych stuff remains in e.g. “Högdalstoppen,” which in four-and-a-half minutes figuratively levels the shallow Stockholm hills the title name-checks. But Ejstes subdues himself to great effect, letting his band’s talents elaborate his melodic sensibility. The dominant mood is set in flower-power bachelor pad cuts like “Soda” and “Marken Låg Stilla,” a masterfully-spun closing ballad that brings all instrumental and melodic hands on deck. What comes out isn’t so much a dirge record or a freakout session or even a bunch of sunny uptempo rockers, but a bona-fide band that can do all of the above, or just about anything else, at their leisure. –Mike Orme

MP3: Dungen-“Marken Låg Stilla”

14. Curren$y -Pilot Talk 1 & Pilot Talk 2 – [DD172/Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella]

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Take your pick, Spitta wouldn’t want us to argue over which installment of Pilot Talk is better. Faced with that choice, he’d probably go with whichever of the two was closest to his bong at the time. Overseen by Ski Beats of Reasonable Doubt and Uptown Saturday Night fame, Curren$y’s Pilot Talk series rocketed the New Orleans emcee past the mixtape pack, catching the attention of rap fans of all stripes thanks to their sumptuous production and laid-back vibe. Released under Dame Dash’s DD172 imprint, the albums epitomized the label’s DIY ethos.

Recorded in-house and mostly eschewing expensive samples and guests in favor of interpolations and close friends, the Pilot Talks stand as the rare rap album that draws equally on Dungeon Fam-era southern musicianship and raw New York boom-bap. Standout tracks, “King Kong” and “Michael Knight” updated classic rap vibes without sounding old-school, merging a carefree atmosphere to Spitta’s low-key southern drawl — the results form hip-hop’s consensus pick in a year where everyone seemed to be heading in their own direction. Beyond the beats and rhymes, Shante Franklin wins on sheer mood. Whereas most contemporary rappers are essentially huge douchebags, Curren$y goofily and amiably comes off as the people’s champ, the guy you’d want to share a blunt with. Whether it was naming his first single after a David Hasselhoff character or having Amanda Diva impersonate a stewardess on “Flight Briefing,” Spitta managed the rare of feat of making rap music sound FUN again, capturing that Native Tongues “crackin’ jokes in the studio” magic without ever relying on oldschool clichés. With Pilot Talk III already on the way, expect plenty more Curren$y here this time next year. –Sach 0

MP3: Curren$y-”King Kong”
MP3: Curren$y-”Michael Knight”

13. Pantha Du PrinceBlack Noise – [Rough Trade]

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Following two cornerstone classics for Hamburg mainstay Dial Records—Diamond Daze and the dazier, laudanum-laced This Bliss—Hendrik Weber made the leap to indie monolith Rough Trade for his third record under the Pantha du Prince moniker. The move made sense. This Bliss was one of the the mid-aughts most instantly enjoyable crossover records, a winter reverie set to bell tones that pealed like copper struck by sticks of ice, all underpinned by Weber’s prodding bass and small melodic tones adrift in all this twinkle. Add a guest spot from fellow vagabond and longtime pal Panda Bear and the path seemed cleared for a record that might dazzle both the beatzheads and the couchbound potheads.

But whether you were even familiar with this little narrative—whether you’d heard a note of Weber’s music before—the record that resulted from this three year wait, Black Noise, was instant enchantment, negotiating the kind of aural dreamscapes Weber had long trademarked. It wasn’t a reorganization of his aesthetic certainly—one always located somewhere in that blurry nexus between deep house, starry-eyed electronica, post-punk minimalism, ambient music, and the cooler neo-classical textures former label-mate John Roberts mastered this year– but an enhancement of his stately spiritualism. With Black Noise, he’s still marking your hours with his brand of electronic Buddhism. But his ability to numb you with these little bell-rung nocturnes seems cleaner now, and the results are utterly transfixing.–Derek Miller

MP3: Pantha Du Prince – “The Splendour” 

12. Shabazz Palaces - Shabazz Palaces/In Light - [Sub Pop]

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With apologies to Craig Finn and Holly, this is how a resurrection really feels. Ishmael, one-third of one-time jazz-rap royalty Digable Planets, was last seen in a rap-fusion  group called Cherrywine rapping under the name Butterfly. The only person potentially more unlikely to become a Pitchfork and blog darling was Sir Mix-A-Lot, if he re-emerged with a permanent scowl and the demand that everyone call him Sir Beauregard McMuffin. But that’s exactly what happened this spring when Shabazz Palaces slunk out of the Seattle regional rap abyss (Jake One and uh, Blue Scholars and….) with “1055 32 Leaves Dipped in Blackness,” two and half minutes of homicide drums and X-Files synths, set to paranoid IWW-worthy invective about rappers selling out and killing rich people. Dubstep by way of Def Jux.  Live shows featuring African dancers, hand percussionists, and the occasional Wire reference.  Finally, Seattle got the rap it deserved: rainy-day rants and dystopian doom delivered by the guy who wrote “Cool Like Dat.”It was like an anti-WTO rally come to life.

Treat Shabazz Palace as Butler’s MF Doom homage — his own attempt at revolution. Renaming himself Palaceer Lazaro, he offered few interviews or information about the project, no Myspace page, no Twitter feed, and cryptic McSweeney’s song titles.  He’s seen the misguided marketing of the major label system — what happens when you fail to fit an obvious archetype. It was a last-ditch effort to let the music speak for itself. He’d gotten tired of saying nothing, so he responded with as much fury as any rapper this year. In hindsight, the writing was always on the coffee shop bathroom wall — Blowout Comb, Digable’s first-clenched and radical alchemy of Public Enemy, Roy Ayers and Stokely Carmichael, harpooned their promising career in 95. How would you feel if you dropped a classic that went aluminum, then spent the next decade and a half free-falling through a blacklist hell of college shows and exhausted nostalgia? You’d probably also want to take dead aim at pop rappers in whiteboy suits with no imagination. This is the wisdom acquired being strung out but experienced.–Jeff Weiss

MP3: Shabazz Palaces – “blastit at the homie rayzer‚s charm lake plateau bbq july at outpalace pk”

11. No AgeEverything in Between[Sub Pop]

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Over the course of the past three years, the duo of Randy Randall and Dean Spunt have taken the often rigid and sometimes even dogmatic template of punk music and slightly expanded its borders. On the heels of their too-far-ahead-of-its-time singles compilation Weirdo Rippers, No Age released Nouns– their debut proper, a righteous blend of fried-and-fricasseed shoegaze guitars, punk brevity and pacing, ear-drum-severing noise, and celestial ambient soundscapes– to near-universal acclaim, giving a glimmer of hope to those of us indie-rock fans who thought we lost the loud, scrappy, adventurous heart of the genre to Ra Ra Riot and Wes Anderson movies.

Everything in Between finds Spunt and Randall expanding even farther across the musical landscape, ushering in an even richer pop sensibility to be split apart by guitars that sound like power tools and dying car parts, while taking a more refined and varied approach to lyricism. “Common Heat” evokes a sense of quiet desperation the band has never tried before, while the door-pounding intro to “Life Prowler” makes way for the type of freedom that is only born out of necessity: “I don’t got time/I don’t got nothing left for you.”

In an era where any half-decent musician with an astounding record collection can be pawned off to the masses as a visionary, No Age are the restless creatives bound by their unfailing dedication to craft, striving to create an even sturdier bridge between the visceral and the ethereal, and creating new sounds for writers like myself to struggle to describe accurately. No Age have become more than just a punk band; hell, they’ve become more than just an indie band. With Everything in Between, No Age have become one of the most imaginative, fearless, and vital young groups around, providing a very inspirational lesson. That lesson? If two people make enough noise, the whole world will listen.–Douglas Martin

MP3: No Age-”Glitter”