1. Explosions in the Sky, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever (Temporary Residence): This young Austin quartet finally cracked the code. They managed to inject so much life and melody into the epic instrumental drama of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor! that the music cries on your shoulder, screams in your ear and bleeds before your very eyes. Perfect music for the perfect storm.
2. The New Year, Newness Ends (Touch and Go): There wasn't a more welcome comeback than the return of Bedhead's Kadane brothers. Nobody else quite nails the unpretentious awe of life's stolen moments, and this time there's a little firewater in their cocktail.
3. Lift to Experience, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (Bella Union): "These are the days, marching toward us with vengeance in their eyes." There couldn't have been a more powerful soundtrack to 9/11 and its aftermath than this epic double album about the fall of man, or at least the ultimate test of human spirit, filtered through a Lone Star lens. Josh T. Pearson's voice is the fallen angel; his guitar's amps-to-11 caterwaul is both the light of heaven and the fire of hell.
4. The Clean, Getaway (Merge): For all its wonderfully eccentric music, art and intrigue, New Zealand might as well be Middle-earth. Complementing the emergence of Lord of the Rings director and Kiwi Peter Jackson, NZ psyche-pop legends The Clean re-formed for one of 2001's finest, a beautifully fresh pastiche of quirky pop perfection and laid-back pastoral psychedelia.
5. Techno Animal, Brotherhood of the Bomb (Matador): The Bill Laswell-like death dub duo from God, Godflesh and Ice go hip-hop, enlisting a bevy of NYC's freshest rappers. The result breathes life into the genre like Anthrax/P.E.'s "Bring the Noise" did. Audiophiles dig: The bass grooves are so overloaded they'll fry your synapses and wreck your innards.
6. Creeper Lagoon, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday (DreamWorks): Thick, hook-laden and nuanced, this is what the kids should be listening to while driving around making memories. The cool ones definitely are.
7. Pilot Ships, The Limits of Painting and Poetry (BlueSanct): Members of Stars of the Lid and Austin's Monroe Mustang wrap slow, beautiful three-minute songs in a floaty warmth so human you can't call it ambient. A cinematic album in the most complimentary way possible, Limits closes with the awe-inspiring centerpiece to 2000's underground buzz film George Washington.
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8. Labradford, fixed::context (Kranky): Easily the most consistently striking post-rock/ambient artists of the past decade, Labradford re-emerged in the spring with fixed::context, a patiently unfolding tapestry of forgotten memories and the subconscious pleasure of a mind set adrift.
9. Mercury Rev, All Is Dream (V2): The long-awaited Deserter's Songs follow-up was all anyone could have expected, with Jonathan Donahue leading a sweet immersion into a fairy tale land of dryads and nymphs via the fluttering singing saw and a rediscovered big-rock beat.
10. Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol): "I'm a reasonable man/Get off my case." This year's new economic belligerence wasn't quite "Everything in Its Right Place" like it was during Kid A's boom 2000, but the even-more-paranoid Amnesiac channels claustrophobic defiance into a worthy sequel.
11. New Order, Get Ready (Reprise): It's definitely autumn for Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Co., but that suits them just fine. Hook's trademark bass line (see "Primitive Notion") is back, wrapped in atmospheric guitarwork and Sumner-isms that hearken back to their mid-'80s peak.