1. SF garage rock goes pop This year saw Bay Area garage rock go pop in style and impact without losing its soul. I'm thinking of the Fresh and Onlys, and of Ty Segall's second solo effort Lemons (Goner), a lovely one. I'm thinking of Girls' Album (True Panther/Matador), which threw down the crossover-move gauntlet with no shame in its game: Christopher Owens' interviews were as entertaining as his music and brasher — his real talk about sex and drugs made good headline fodder for the excitable British press, but contained the kind of truth that honors life over rules or boring definitions. The secret keeper, though, was the Mantles' self-titled debut on Siltbreeze. Drew Cramer's lead guitar and Michael Oliveras' vocals were even better live, the mark of a band in bloom.
2. The AfroSurreal In May, D. Scot Miller helped put together a special AfroSurreal issue of the Guardian, a collection of words and visions journeying beyond the potential of Barack Obama's presidency. The Kehinde Wiley piece on the cover wasn't the only AfroSurreal image on this paper's front pages — just last week, Conrad Ruiz's Godzilla-size Yes We Can stomped around the city. Musically, AfroSurrealism manifested in the mind- and mirror-bending quality Dam-Funk's Toeachizown (Stones Throw) and the rehab hallucinations and Dante-like funeral marches of Chelonis R. Jones's Chatterton (Systematic). It floated in through cracks in the time warp as well: the ghetto opera of 24 Carat Black's Gone: The Promises of Yesterday (Numero Group); the proto-punk of Death's For the World to See (Drag City), especially "Politicians in My Eyes"; and weirdest of all, the gothic funk and skronk of Wicked Witch's Chaos: 1978-1986 (E.M.).
3. 21st century goth From blackness to deathly whiteface — something gothic this way came in 2009, thanks to Cold Cave's Cremations (Hospital Productions) and Love Comes Close (Matador). Both staked a claim that the genre is as applicable as death metal to a post-Bush presidency globe. But while those albums notched acclaim and attention, the similar yet more audacious Cure and Cabaret Volatire moves of Jones' months-earlier Chatterton went ignored and unappreciated. Evidence of racism, proof that German techno only gets appreciated years after the fact, or both?
4. Hauntological mutations In 2009's sonic mansion, ghosts haunted the hallways leading to and from the gothic banquet hall, and hauntology — a Derrida term applied to music by the critic Simon Reynolds — continued to morph, just as any self-respecting specter should, well beyond dubstep. The maze-like passages of Rooj's The Transactional Dharma of Rooj (Ghost Box) and Broadcast and the Focus Group's Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) both suggested that spirits have short attention spans, while Demdike Stare's Symbiosis (Modern Love) traded seances on wet afternoons for retro-futurist meetings with medieval wicked witches.