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On a Friday night in October, there were 3,000 people huddled together in a former sheet metal factory in Bushwick, wearing costumes and formal wear, at a show no one knew much about. It was the culmination of a meticulous marketing campaign for one of the biggest bands in the world the week before their new album dropped, but it felt like a guerilla raid. In hindsight, it made a lot of sense. The massive, two-disc Reflektor shatters dance-punk into a million pieces, its dark and lean title-track giving way to Thriller-era Michael Jackson beats, group-chorused happy-sadness, a “Train in Vain” stomp, Caribbean-influenced euphoria, and more, pinwheeling out of control. This James Murphy version of Arcade Fire is darker, harder, sharper, more chaotic, more punk, and no longer all that pretty. Reflektor is the sound of letting go and embracing life and art—which, as Win Butler argues throughout, may be one in the same—even when they get messy. Key Track: “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”
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In a year rife with worthy new talent, the best debut record came from a Detroit band that's more or less still hanging out in relative obscurity. The album opens with frontman Ryan Spencer deadpanning, "You took my heart, and I just sat there drinking water." This kind of detachment is all over Wormfood. Tracks spill out like @sosadtoday’s Twitter feed—smirk-on-top-of sincerity, sex-obsessed, guilt-ridden and, occasionally, with lines like, “I’m sorry about the earth around you caving in,” painfully beautiful. Providing the backdrop is producer Adam Pressley, who distills decades of pop influences into consistent, clipped beats—as if Brian Eno and Danny Brown got around to making a record. Or maybe if early-aughts goofballs The Unicorns had kept up with Th’ Corn Gangg. Everything about the album is good: the instant melodies, the lyrics, the production, and the insistence that a new band actually sounds new. Key Track: “Water"