1 THE ARCADE FIRE Funeral (Merge) Part rallying cry for sleepy suburban malcontents, part elegiac recherché du temps perdu, the magnificent debut LP from this year's underdog success story resonates with shimmering streetlight waltzes and mercurial hymns of hope. Children, wake up.
2 JEAN GRAE This Week (Babygrande) Woefully underrated NYC femcee follows up last year's Bootleg Of The Bootleg EP with a Roots cameo and her own dizzying hiphop roller-coaster ride. Buoyed by beatmaking pals like 9th Wonder, Grae spits paranoid self-analyses and feminist popcult indictments with lightning speed, searing precision and wicked dark humour. Devastatingly dope.
3 THE GO! TEAM Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Memphis Industries) Campy spy-noir riffs + Bollywood themes + squealing garage guitars + propulsive beats + sunshiny soul = pure gold. Brit bedroom electronic savants throw a gleeful shindig where the Shangri-Las face off against Hot Wheels drag racers and Big Bird drinks electric Kool-Aid in the corner. Their name says it all.
4 FEIST Let It Die (Arts & Crafts) From the hushed heartbreak of the title track to the brassy bounce of Mushaboom, Feist's remarkable vocal restraint has a deep emotional subtext you wish she'd spill over gallons of red wine. The Broken belter decamps for the land of Brie and baguettes and emerges a nouveau yé-yé siren, cut with a little Sade and a little Carly Simon, but hotter than either (or both) in their prime.
5 JIM WHITE Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See (Luaka Bop) Steeped in Spanish moss and moonshine and held together with patchy bits of Alabama chrome (er, duct tape), alt-country's mad metaphysician wanders into the badlands of the human psyche, a pomo Appalachia where Jesus hangs out in a double-wide and folks find God to get laid. A divine tragicomedy.
6 ELLIOTT SMITH From A Basement On The Hill (Anti) Even if you can overlook the spectre of death lurking in the shadows, Smith's ragged, defeated vocals echoing off the walls of Rob Schnapf's layered production charge this posthumous release with an exquisite, relentless pathos.
7 XIU XIU Fabulous Muscles (5RC) Framed by bloopy electronics, tentative guitars and a gothy underbelly, Jamie Stewart's gut-churning howls eviscerate Valley Boy culture and military murderers one minute and find whispery redemption with a lover the next. Tiny, stunning islands of calm in a storm of unapologetically confrontational experimental rock.
8 Q AND NOT U Power (Dischord) Sure, a certain crew of Scottish art-schoolers named after a slain archduke scored most of the post-punk buzz this year, but my heart belongs to the Power players, who worked killer recorder solos (!) into their delirious funk-punk freakout. DC hardcore kids ditch patron saint Ian MacKaye and come out with synths ablaze, tight as hell.
9 SUFJAN Stevens Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre) The stripped-down companion to last year's intricate Michigan opus, Seven Swans finds the mystic knitter holding fast to his faith in spacious expanses of simple banjo and spare acoustic picking. Elegant and beautifully understated.
10 STARS Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts) Montreal soft revolutionaries melt the ice and gingerly come out of hibernation with sweeping strings, Bush-bashing poetry and shivering boy-girl duets. Rawer and more sophisticated than last year's Heart; a small gem with the ethos of an epic romance.