Though I wouldn't rank Edgar Wright's flashy adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World among the best movies of the year, it was still plenty of fun and it had a good sense of humor. It also went full-bore into its hipster pretensions, making some of the more insufferable aspects of modern pop culture endearing through the force of ironic distance. Its strong soundtrack did a lot to help that process along. Beck handled the duty of capturing the sounds of fictional bands that only ever existed in comic books before, making the likes of Sex Bob-omb and Clash at Demonhead seem like bands that would actually have a shot at popularity these days. The rest of the soundtrack is rounded out by indie masters like Frank Black and Broken Social Scene, mixing classic street cred with an appreciation for indie music, ya know, before it was cool.
Sure, Lady Gaga made the world safe for well constructed dance pop once more, but Swedish party girl Robyn has been fighting the good fight for over a decade now. Her epic, three-part album Body Talk came out as a steady stream of top-notch club tracks throughout the year, proving with each disc that peppy doesn't need to mean bubblegum and dancey doesn't need to be brainless.
Weird, challenging and full of beauty, Sufjan Stevens's The Age of Adz is an album that's more rewarding with each listen. Those who have the patience to find the undefinable arrangements inside the experimental noise will find something unforgettable. A true album for our age, it's at once hopeful and confused, overbearing and gorgeous, electronic but lush. Age of Adz isn't perfect, but then who wants an experiment that has no dead ends?
What is Hooray For Earth's sound supposed to be? Is it electronic? Is it freak folk? Post punk? Indie? The more apt question is, who cares? Their stunning 6-track EP Momo is a unique experience in layered, varied orchestration that is no less accessible for its computer-generated sounds. The closing track "Rolling/Nectarine" is especially stunning, a thesis on the sound the band is trying to achieve. More subdued singalongs like "Surrounded By Your Friends" are just as endearing. Keep an eye on this band.
By far the strongest hip hop release of the year, How I Got Over is a thoughtful, funky collection of rhymes and beats from some of the genre's best. The Roots have been making music for a long time now, earning their place as elder statesmen of hip hop. How I Got Over sounds like a reflection on how they started, where they've been and what they learned in the process. For neophyte hip hop listeners it's a good point of entry for its sheer musicality and for dedicated fans it's practically modern gospel.