1. ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER
“Replica’’ Layered with shimmering synthetic textures and flecked with fragments of long-shelved commercials, the latest effort from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Sudbury native Daniel Lopatin manages to be touching without sentiment, wry without irony, and arresting without gimmickry. The brilliance of “Replica’’ comes from its effortless transformation of the banal into the sublime; it’s a whole new way to understand “ambient.’’
2. TORO Y MOI
“Underneath the Pine’’ Chaz Bundick’s second full-length as Toro Y Moi showcases the same facility with gauzy uptempo pop that was made apparent on his critic-tickling debut, 2010’s “Causers of This.’’ But where “Causers’’ became chillwave’s unwitting Exhibit A, “Underneath the Pine’’ finds Bundick putting down the laptop and picking up every instrument he can lay hands on, creating a near-perfect pop record in the process. File under: Skillwave.
3. PANDA BEAR
“Tomboy’’ For those who find Noah Lennox’s primary project (the amorphous psych-pop gang Animal Collective) too wild, woolly, and wailing, his solo material as Panda Bear offers a far more composed vehicle for his harmonic prowess. Like a hall of mirrors, Lennox’s voice reflects, refracts, and splits into luminous multiples. “Tomboy’’ is as tender as it is dizzying.
4. JAMES BLAKE
“James Blake’’ Don’t call UK dubstepper-turned-crooner James Blake’s debut solo album “minimalist.’’ Though barely sewn together with Blake’s threadbare vocals and glitchy stitches of rhythm, “James Blake’’ packs some serious emotional density; and his ear for microsonic details make each track uncannily rich. Is it a kinder, gentler dubstep? An elegant new template for slow jams? James Blake has only just started surprising us.
5. JOHN MAUS
“We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves’’ Lifting its title from Alain Badiou’s “Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art,’’ the heady underpinning of John Maus’s third proper full-length never weighs down its effervescent synth-pop. “Believer’’ is as uplifting an anthem as 2011 is likely to bestow upon pop history, as Maus aims his nostalgic gaze skyward, sending his voice scattering through the cosmos in a wash of cathartic echoes.
“By the Hedge’’ Sparkling new-wave meets burly ’90s guitar rock on this Brooklyn band’s debut, and the result isn’t nearly as formulaic as that setup. Fans of the Drums may appreciate MINKS’s slightly cloudier day at the beach, but anyone with a soft spot for lilting boy-girl vocals (“Cemetary Rain’’), slack psychedelics (“Out of Tune’’), or pure indie-pop perfection (“Kusmi’’) has something to look forward to on “By the Hedge.’’
7. DIRTY BEACHES
“Badlands’’ Transient Taiwan native Alex Zhang Hungtai conjured the eight songs of “Badlands’’ as a way to reconnect with his father through the sounds he loved as a young man. And while the spirits of Elvis and Orbison loom over songs like “Sweet 17,’’ there’s enough David Lynch and Suicide lurking in the corners to ensure this doesn’t come off as hammy homage. “Badlands’’ is singularly weird, and difficult to let go of.
“Mind Bokeh’’ British producer Stephen Wilkinson skillfully avoided the riptide of chillwave by tempering his time-warped tones and frayed electronics with syrupy lo-fi funk, glimmering embellishments, and one gnarly vintage synth cameo after another. More than a gear dork’s dream come true, “Mind Bokeh’’ is a fabulous cross-section of 2011’s indie sensibilities, thrown beautifully out of focus.
9. CRAFT SPELLS
“Idle Labor’’ With “Party Talk,’’ Californian whippersnapper Justin Vallesteros had the sunshiny stoner pop hit of the summer locked down in April; it was just an added bonus that his entire debut showcased the same rosy-cheeked bedroom-pop smarts. With its parade of addictive melodies, “Idle Labor’’ catches a promising young talent at an endearingly modest moment.
10. BALAM ACAB
“Wonder/Wander’’ Young producer Alec Koone may still live with his folks in Pennsylvania, but his debut as Balam Acab sounds transmitted from some distant (and watery) planet. Stark yet immersive, “Wonder/Wander’’ is like a divining rod pointed toward a post-dubstep future that still only exists as a dream.
“Far Side Virtual’’ Originally conceived as a suite of ringtones, shape-shifting experimentalist James Ferraro’s hypercommercial jingle-scapes are polished to an almost blinding gloss. Each meta-melodic track revels in its disposability, and the whole album conjures a vibe of catatonic consumer bliss. It’s unsettlingly familiar.