1. Kidz in the Hall - In the Crowd
Fine, call it "hipster rap." It doesn't take away from the fact that it's still good. The label, though, is rather inappropriate simply because they don't play at kind of blank nostalgia that so many hipsters go for. Their employment of Afrobeat, for example, isn't some attempt to revive or pay homage so much as it is to use it in a present context for present demands. That's a distinction worth pointing out in debates about the future of hip-hop.
2. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
Black Kids' rise has been rather meteoric. A year and a half ago very few knew of them, and now they're essentially the leading edge of the indie scene. There are a lot of groups seeking to resurrect that mutant disco/dance pop sound (many with very laughable results), but the Kids have a very original take on it. By theirselves, the angular guitar and bass and shimmering keys are rather unremarkable. The key, however, is how they work as a whole, which is quite effective.
3. Dangerdoom - The Mouse and the Mask
An incredibly skilled MC and creative DJ save this album from becoming mere novelty. The samples of Adult Swim characters end up adding a lot rather than distracting from the great tracks. Perhaps that's because Doom is using his ability as a lyricist to weave weird stories loosely based on the characters instead of just lifing from the cartoons. He's essentially just taking the absurd nature of the characters on Adult Swim and creating even weirder stories that are at once entertaining and yet somehow can be taken seriously at the same time.
4. Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman - The Fabled City
Morello's guitar parts can easily get stuck in your head with this album. For someone just playing on a cheap acoustic, the raw power is surprisingly vivid--then again, this is Tom Morello we're talking about here. After all, this is someone who has spent the better part of two decades exploring how radical lyrics can best be suited by the music. Between the raw confrontation of "Whatever it Takes" and the driving, almost Irish-folk of "Saint Isabelle," it's rather obvious that Morello has a much underrated sense of songwriting.
5. Santogold - Santogold
Santo is the leading edge of the revival that the Black Kids are also part of. Critics keep trying to lump her into R&B (y'know, because she's black?), but ultimately that's because they have this lazy need to categorize everything. What do you call an artist who effectively mixes influences as far-reaching as Aretha Franklin, Blondie and Fela Kuti? How about "the future"? It's been a long time since most people have been able to take pop seriously. Artists like Santo are making that possible again.