• Horsehands, "Snipers on the Stack"
Something especially toxic was in the water this year, as we got knotty music that's weird from all angles and obsessively hyper-detailed thanks to bands like Battle House, Thief Thief, and Big Bear. Horsehands snuck this monster out last summer on the Internet as part of a self-released EP, and local brains haven't been the same since. The band mean-mug through the first third like a grouchy gang of Steve Albini clones before the impossibly wound-up guitars make like busted jack-in-the-boxes, lurching out on rusty springs. This is David Lynch's cameo at your house show.
• Drug Rug, "Hannah Please"
Drug Rug got the gimmicky stuff out of the way on their previous release, so this year brought a new one full of tambourine shakers and corduroy shufflers. "Hannah, Please" struts ahead of the psych-pop pack thanks to go-go organs and some Beach Boys back-ups from Tommy Allen. The spot-on brat appeal come from Sarah Cronin's lead, however — it's a gnarled whelp of Saturday-morning hallucination. Drug Rug traffic in warm '60s and '70s nostalgia, but when Cronin belts like this, they sound just out of bounds — which is where they're most at home.
• Thunderhole, "Black Person"
Thunderhole have always been tough to categorize. Heavy chunks of garage-surf grooves roll past horror-show vocals that could have tied them remotely to the Abbey Lounge scene had the Abbey not closed for good this year. Atari synth-lines waft in from faded prints of B-movie sci-fi while squiggly android effects on the guitar scare away the tasteful gearheads in the audience. Think Thunderhole care? Blast the bowel-churning intro to "Black Person" — your speakers will be flapping like the love handles on the subject of their last anti-social classic, "Fat Girl Smokin.' "
• Animal Hospital, "Memory"
No musician in Boston has shared the stage with as diverse a roster as Kevin Micka, the guy behind the glasses and the one-man band/endless-soldering project called Animal Hospital. There were gigs with local trumpet experimentalist Forbes Graham in an Allston basement and Chris Brokaw in Brooklyn, a couple of European tours, and — hey, why not? — a couple of shows with the Jesus Lizard. He put out two records early in the year, and the double-vinyl edition of Memory arrived just in time for the holidays. The title track swells over 15 minutes of ringing, droning guitars and cello, as intense tides of laser fog sweep across the whole thing. This is what the whale probe wanted to hear in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home — and it could very well save your planet.
• Taxpayer, "We Have Arrived"
Meanwhile, believe it or not, there's still something to be said for the town's indie-rock pedigree, whether it's the Anglophile strain (see the rise of Logan 5 and the Runners) or bombastic stand-bys like Dear Leader. Taxpayer made it a night to remember at the Paradise last spring when they released Don't Steal My Night Vision (Lunch). Leadoff "We Have Arrived" is a crash course in songwriting — the long-building chorus tease that shrugs off the home-run high note, the reality-show melodrama, the dovetailing vocals, and especially that two-note non-solo at the end. Pretty, and pretty perfect.