Someone who compiles these things (Metacritic, apparently) averaged all the reviews for all the records released last year, and Deafheaven's Sunbather came in at number one. In fact, the album with the starkly pink cover is the seventh-highest-scoring record in Metacritic's entire database, dating back to 1999. That means it beat Kanye West's Yeezus and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories.
That's a feat in and of itself, given how heavily most albums are marketed compared to this -- what's more weird about a relatively unknown upstart taking such accolades is how the band is labeled post-metal, black metal, and shoegaze all in one.
In reality, Sunbather transcends genre in an era when it means less and less to associate yourself with a particular category, anyway. The best descriptor for Deafheaven might be "texture-heavy," as nothing remains static: moments of intense, hand-wringing beauty amid pop and shoegaze influences are accented by engulfing tones of violence, despair, and a "sober restlessness," on songs that routinely last more than 10 minutes. --Troy Farah
Phoenix band Destruction Unit's 2013 album Deep Trip was among the finest of the year, a scary mess of nightmarish psych-punk that played out as body music, because each of the band's members share two roles: making noise and conjuring rhythms.
The band was formed 14 years ago by Ryan Rousseau and the late Jay Reatard, but in the last few years now features Rousseau (vocals/guitar), N. Nappa and J. Aurelius (guitars), Rousseau's brother Rusty (bass), and A. Flores (drums), though additional noisemakers do tend appear often. --Joshua Levine
There are two particularly striking elements about the Madison, Wisconsin-based PHOX. Musically, the band combines a disparate group of styles and genre that comes across with a seemingly simple complexity. Layered instrumentation generates heady soundscapes that float past in airy delight. Fronted by chanteuse Monica Martin, whose voice rises and falls across the octaves in a kind of mixture of Billie Holiday and Madeline Peyroux, PHOX casually slides though vintage French cafe explorations and Appalachian folk, lush atmospheric pop, and gritty indie underground, classical wanderings, and New Orleans jazz. Magically, the six members keep the music from feeling cluttered -- even as banjo and horn blasts compete for space. This unselfish interplay allows a blissful feeling and flow on every track off their self-titled debut. Visually, all eyes turn to Martin, hailed as "drop-dead gorgeous" by the band's own bio. Lush lips, sharp cheekbones, and devilishly piercing eyes belie the fact that, despite the sometimes deeply personal lyrics, she's actually shy and reserved. Yet there's no denying who's the focus of every video. Does that make the music better? Actually, close one's eyes and the music's just as good -- and, with a little imagination, perhaps even better. --Glenn BurnSilver