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#20 Beach House
Three-letter title difference aside, Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand were right to be annoyed when Katy Perry swooped in, overshadowing their third and best record with her stupid adolescent mewling. But Beach House's Teen Dream is an exquisitely haunted achievement that's more grown-up than its title would suggest. It's the regretful adult's pained, imperfect recollection of being young rather than the inarticulate, sticky dreams of a currently teenage hormone factory—a crucial distinction in their favor. Key Track: "Lover of Mine"
#19 Charlotte Gainsbourg
Beck's been so aggressively eclectic—forever—that it's become hard to imagine how his career's third act could ever surprise. A turn writing, arranging, and producing for a mysterious chanteuse isn't itself a shocker. That IRM so completely outperforms his last three records kind of is. Of course, Charlotte Gainsbourg is a working actress, and cult-pop royalty to boot. She naturalistically handled every dark tonal shift, imbuing sincerity to more than just the folk-ballads. Key Track: "Heaven Can Wait"
#18 Surfer Blood
In The L's review of Astro Coast from January, there's talk of Surfer Blood being "harmless fun—too inconsequential just 10 songs into their career to have any considerable impact on things."Truth is, 11 months later, and nothing has them beat in the realm of power-pop. From Wavves to Matt & Kim, there were other albums this year that rivaled their full-throttle energy, but in comparison to the way Surfer Blood frontman JP Pitts gallops through some songs, then lands softly on others, the other records come across as sloppy and clumsy. Also: damn, can these kids write a hook. Key Track: "Swim"
#17 Sleigh Bells
It's not just tricks, folks. Though Sleigh Bells' reckless loudness and thoroughly modern digital crunch were the talking points, the Brooklyn duo earned their debut's title by delivering hook after visceral hook. Not since a young Karen O has a female singer been as unfazeable as Alexis Krauss, breezing over perpetual detonations. M.I.A. realized this was the sound of the minute, and then whiffed so hard trying to equal it that you wanted to look away—and then did. Key Track: "Rill Rill"
Sports is a force. From its first seconds of pounding drums to its final punishing guitar strum, it goes in for the kill, engulfing subtle melodies in metallic squall and apocalyptic feedback. Along the way, there are hairpin turns through a labyrinth of influences: Joy Division, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, No Age. One of the best noise-pop records we've heard in a long while comes from a band that's been together just a year. This is what people in the biz call "promising." Key Track: "Coma Summer"