There are a lot of reasons to listen to good tunes, but admit it: Sometimes you just want to impress somebody. Whether it’s a special lady or your younger brother who’s away at college, the following records have that special combination of being a bit under-the-radar while exhibiting massive talent. Sure, many year-end lists will include Arcade Fire or Kanye West. This list delves a little deeper for one reason and one reason alone: To make you look cool.
10. Eleanor Friedberger, "Personal Record" One-half of the Fiery Furnaces comes correct on a song collection that’s just as cerebral and odd as her main gig. It can be damn poppy, too: Try not to grin when listening to “Stare at the Sun.”
9. Fuzz, "Fuzz" The hyper-prolific Ty Segall pops up in this group with a record that culls from metal’s heyday, nodding to gods like Black Sabbath. The intensity is tempered, though—here’s one for which you might want to spark a joint and pretend it’s the 1970s.
8. Blood Orange, "Cupid Deluxe" There usually aren’t a ton of solid albums released near the end of the year: This is an exception. Devonté Hynes, who records as Blood Orange, has put out a collection of R&B-inflected pop. It runs the gamut from dance-heavy to somber—it’s all a welcome surprise.
7. Diarrhea Planet, "I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams" Yeah, yeah: The name. Get over it. This fist-pounding, beer-chugging riot is just what you need to get a year-end party going in a hurry. It’s the kind of care-free rock & roll that everybody can use in this age of hipster posturing.
6. Fuck Buttons, "Slow Focus" If anybody questions the hipness of this selection, simply point them to the band’s ribald moniker. Well, that and its industrial-infused production, which begs for you to bob your head along with it.
5. Danny Brown, "Old" One of the best hip-hop albums of the year came straight from the missing-toothed mouth of this Detroit native. Brown harnesses maniacal tendencies to communicate astute observations and hilarious premises. No wonder Bob Dylan put him in his latest video.
4. Darkside, "Psychic" One of the most unexpected team-ups of the year brought Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington together as this duo. Their murky and experimental electronics often give way to propulsive beats, as on “Freak, Go Home.”
3. Majical Cloudz, "Impersonator" Devon Welsh’s intense, melancholic singing could be the profound thing to happen in music this year. Throw in Matthew Otto’s chugging beats and you’ve got a recipe for something sui generis.
2. Mikal Cronin, "MCII" This California youngster deftly navigates the territory between garage rock and sensitive crooner on his second album. Introduce your less-adventurous friends to “Weight” before switching gears to “Shout It Out.” (Sidenote: With only a few exceptions, Cronin played all of the instruments on the album.)
1. Jon Hopkins, "Immunity" The ruminative yet jumpy electro on the London-based producer’s album is the best thing produced on a computer this year besides Sandra Bullock’s legs in Gravity.