With so much music coming out during 2012, it can be difficult to work through it all. Luckily for you, Epitonic is on the job! We have worked our way through the year's releases, re-examining, re-listening, and re-falling in love, and will be presenting our top picks to you here all week. Today's list features the Epitonic staff's choices for Top 10 Pop/Rock releases. Happy listening!

1. Grizzly Bear: Shields [Warp]
Is there a band right now more perfect than Grizzly Bear? Their potential was instantly identifiable upon the release of their 2004 debut Horn of Plenty, but with every release they've clearly eclipsed each previous effort. Their fourth album Shields has it all. It is epic, it is complex, it is simple, it is pop, it is avant-garde. The vocals and accompanying harmonies are more beautiful and engaging than ever. The production and instrumentation marry the adventurous with the sparse as always. Shields builds upon a sound solidified by their previous album Veckatimest, now with even bolder and more realized songwriting. A more diverse and prominent palette of instruments only enhances this quartet's confidence and accomplishments in Shields. It is hard to imagine how Grizzly Bear can ever top this year's triumph, but history has proven that they always progress.
--Justin Sinkovich

2. Tame Impala: Lonerism [Modular]
Tame Impala set the bar high with their debut album InnerSpeaker. Distinctly retro and psychedelic, the songs on InnerSpeaker remained interesting while maintaining a consistent reverb-soaked sound. Our first taste of their sophomore effort, Lonerism, was the shuffling "Elephant," which boasted much clearer and powerful recording quality in addition to clever vocal rhythms and heavier psychedelia than we were used to from the band.

After getting excited about the heaviness and clarity of “Elephant,” I felt kind of let down the first time I listened to Lonerism all the way through. It seemed as if it was just a more polished version of InnerSpeaker, but with worse songs. Upon another listen, I realized that Lonerism is a strange trip with a much wider variety of tones than InnerSpeaker, which can requiring repeat listens to accurately judge. In the end, this album is much richer in tone and soulful in mood, and helps the band step out of their association with the 60s thanks to bubbly synthesizers. My exploration of Lonerism was encouraged by the beautifully animated video for "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” which has garnered at least ten views from me alone (a small chunk of the 600,000+ on Youtube).
--Parker Langvardt

3. Sharon Van Etten: Tramp [Jagjaguwar]
Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten has been a favorite of mine for a few years now, but she has really raised the bar this year with the release of Tramp, a deal with indie-haven Jagjaguwar Records, and a new backing band. Sharon has always been the confessional type on her past efforts, and Tramp is no different. The album's second track, "Give Out," features the line, "In my way, I say, you're the reason why I'll move to the city or why I'll need to leave." She does a great job of discussing her own life without alienating her audience, a constant struggle for many songwriters.

Van Etten has also never been more confident and tenacious. For example, during the hook in "Leonard," she takes the simple word "well" and douses it in an elongated vocal arrangement, all to lead listeners to the refrain, "I am bad at loving you." Tramp features guest appearances from Beirut frontman Zach Condon on "We Are Fine" and The National's brooding singer Matt Behringer on "Magic Chords." The album finishes off with a pair of excellent songs, "I'm Wrong" and "Joke or a Lie," both starting with sparse instrumentation and evolving into sweeping melodies. If you're a fan of heart-on-the-sleeve songwriting and magnificent voices, Sharon's your girl and Tramp is where it's at.
--Zach Pollack

4. Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls [ATO]
After filling Athens dive bars with their garage-soul sound, frontwoman Brittany Howard and the rest of Alabama Shakes quickly moved their way to the top of the rock scene. Following a headlining slot at NPR’s big SXSW showcase in March, the band then found themselves opening up for Jack White’s solo tour all before their first official album release. While the anticipation for this release was killing us, it was well worth the wait.

Boys & Girls boasts a robust old-school sound while creating something completely unique. The blues-inspired female vocals were something we hadn't heard in awhile and listeners everywhere rejoiced with the release of such a raw live studio album. From the opening riffs of “Hold On” to Howard’s howling vocals on “I Ain’t the Same,” the album rang true to the long-awaited hype. With a tour looming in 2013, Alabama Shakes is here to stay. And with this powerhouse of a leading lady, we’re more than ready to take the ride with them.
--Cristina Mendoza

5. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel... [Epic]
It’s been several long years since we last heard Fiona Apple’s sharp-as-knives lyrics -- yet the return was even better than we could have hoped. Filled with jarring and powerful moments, her all-acoustic fourth album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do demands attention from its first verse.

Giving us a window into the workings of her mind, the album showcases the inner struggle of love and hate while adding as much distilled vocal power as possible to every track. Album highlights such as “Werewolf,” “Left Alone,” and “Regret” prove that the 34-year old singer-songwriter has come a long way since 1996’s Tidal; yet pays homage to the journey she took to get to this point in her career. The Idler Wheel... is Fiona Apple at her most blunt and fierce and we wouldn't want her any other way.
--Cristina Mendoza

6. Deerhoof: Breakup Song [Polyvinyl]
Deerhoof regained their sense of fun with Breakup Song, the band’s most consistently enjoyable album since 2007’s Friend Opportunity. Intentions were made clear on the cover, with a sticker claiming the music as being "noise jingles for parties!," and it was hard to argue with songs like "Bad Kids To The Front" and "There's That Grin" which prove even Deerhoof’s fractious ditties could spark an urge to get up and bust a groove.

The album’s title was there to be taken literally; the band is at its insane best when screwing with structure, and Breakup Song consisted of eleven riotous patchwork miniatures in just thirty minutes. As the title of the skronky, synth-zapped "Zero Seconds Pause" suggests, chances to catch your breath were rare, but on "Mothball The Fleet" and the lilting "Fête d'Adieu" it seemed as though the band had finally worked out a way to meld their frantic experimentalism with their romantic tendencies. It made Breakup Song the most satisfying Deerhoof album in years.
--Steve Dewhurst

7. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory [Carpark]
I had never heard of Cloud Nothings prior to Attack on Memory, but I was all ears from the first time I heard Dylan Baldi groan over "No Future, No Past"'s ominous backing vocals. Its lyrics are simple, yet dense; its odd structure features a three-and-a-half-minute verse and a one-minute chorus. Its bleak repetition drives the thesis of the album home, setting the mood for a half-hour discussion of angst, regret, and apathy. I was so intrigued I went out and bought the record as soon as possible.

Attack on Memory is quite a nostalgia trip, but it has almost nothing to do with Cloud Nothings' previous music. It’s impossible not to notice the 90s punk and emo influence on nearly every single song, but it is also very clear that they aren’t some kind of “revival” band. Attack on Memory encompasses much of the anxiety and disillusionment of 21st century youth. If you don’t directly relate to it at the moment, chances are it reminds you of another time in your life. If neither of those are true, then you must have lost the war.
--Parker Langvardt

8. The xx: Coexist [Young Turks/XL]
Since the release of The xx's debut album xx in 2009, the band has experienced a whirlwind of popularity, riddled with major changes and musical growth. After some strenuous touring and the departure of long-time second guitarist Baria Qureshi, the group began to refocus and redefine its sound, evolving their minimalist ethereal-electro-pop into an even darker, beefier framework for Coexist, released in September. The remaining trio partied often, gaining inspiration from club music and incorporating thumping bass and melodious droning into sparse, intimate love songs. Lyrically, Coexist is a reluctant battle between two companions, wondering what became of their once-glorious love. The album feels like that 3am phone call on the lonely walk home from the club, fueled by exhausted contemplation and the lingering ringing of the ears.
--Bill Ross

9. Yellow Ostrich: Strange Land [Barsuk]
Following a stellar breakout year in 2011, which included signing to Barsuk Records and releasing their debut album The Mistress, Brooklyn lo-fi indie-rock outfit Yellow Ostrich continued its rise to notoriety back in May with their spectacular second full-length release, Strange Land. This record shows a major growth for the members of Yellow Ostrich. The group expands on past themes of companionship, loyalty and doubt, but with a more learned feel. Singer Alex Schaaf is something of a narrator throughout Strange Land, a voice calling out from inside the pages of classic 1950's literature, like a mid-twenties version of a kid from Lord of the Flies that had fallen in love with the reader.

And despite the band's ability to masterfully blend enormous walls of spirited harmony with raw and intricate instrumentation, it is the first album featuring the group's full current lineup, consisting of Schaaf on vocals and guitar, Michael Tapper on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez on bass, sax, and a slew of other things. The newly-solidified band certainly hit the ground running and has shown no sign of slowing down, releasing their latest six-song EP Ghost in October.
--Bill Ross

10. Menomena: Moms [Barsuk]
Portland, Oregon's Menomena has had a tough couple of years. One of its tough obstacles was the departure of multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf. He had assisted the band's songwriters and founding members Danny Seim and Justin Harris in creating lush arrangements and performing them live with the use of backing tracks for over ten years. With Knopf out of the picture, Seim and Harris set out to create their largest-sounding record yet, Moms. This album, which addresses both members' relationships with their mothers, is a bombastic recollection of the joys and dark sides of their upbringings.

Moms kicks off with the bouncy "Plumage," which features handclaps, piano, guitar swells, saxophone, and extremely catchy lines. "Capsule" features a crunchy guitar tone and tight, click-y percussion. "Pique" is a darker track stuck within an upbeat arrangement, the catchiest on the LP. Guitar heroics fill the latter half of the track, which is also dominated by sax. "Dark pop song" seems to be a running theme on Moms, with the inclusion of "Heavy Is As Heavy Does." Harris takes the lead on this melancholy number, which really showcases how great these two gentlemen are at switching between instruments. This album was quite an ambitious project, but one that Seim and Harris pulled off with extraordinary success.
--Zach Pollack

Honorable Mention
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave [Infectious]
Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light [Double Six]
Yeasayer: Fragrant World [Secretly Canadian]