The Flaming Lips

Spontaneous combustion: The return of Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire's first album catapulted the unconventional Canadian outfit into the rock stratosphere, drawing eulogies from Springsteen, Bowie, Byrne and more. Six years later, their third album is awaited with bated breath. Andy Gill sets the scene for the release of the year

Album: Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse, Dark Night of the Soul

Some nights of the soul are obviously darker than others. During the year-long dispute with EMI that held up this album's release, two of the musicians involved have taken their own lives, the disabled songwriter Vic Chesnutt by an overdose of muscle-relaxant drugs last Christmas Day, while Mark "Sparklehorse" Linkous shot himself earlier this year.

Mark Linkous: Troubled singer and songwriter who recorded as

Hiding behind the name Sparklehorse, the American singer-songwriter Mark Linkous made affecting, beautiful, bewitching, fragile music, and was championed by Radiohead, with whom he toured, as well as P.J. Harvey and Tom Waits, who both guested on his 2001 album It's A Wonderful Life. The handful of haunting albums and EPs and the dozen singles he released between 1995 and 2009 only nudged the lower reaches of the charts, yet they established him as a cult artist in the vein of Mark Everett – aka Eels – and two other tragic figures of the US alternative scene, Vic Chesnutt and Elliott Smith, though his rockier, more visceral material like "Hammering The Cramps", "Someday I'll Treat You Good" and "Rainmaker" was reminiscent of Hüsker Dü or The Replacements.

Album: The Kissaway Trail, Sleep Mountain (Bella Union)

This Danish quintet don't wear their influences on their sleeves so much as tattoo them on to their foreheads. Emotive alt-rock remains their schtick on this second LP, concocted from two parts Arcade Fire to one part Flaming Lips, and with the co-frontmen's wistful, in one case Wayne Coyne-esque vocals pitched against driving, ever-swelling arrangements.

The return of concept album

Concept albums used to be the most hideous emblem of conceit in rock bands, so why are they now acceptable? By Fiona Sturges

Caught in the Net: Nu-folkers bare their teeth

You could call it the alt-folk answer to the 80s supergroup Traveling Wilburys. Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, M Ward and the much-in-demand producer Mike Mogis have teamed up to form a new band called (with collective tongue in cheek) Monsters of Folk (left). The quartet's self-titled debut album arrives in late September. In advance of that, their first roar has arrived. Called 'Say Please', it largely dispenses with the folk and goes for more of a mid-tempo country rock feel. They're giving it away for free at – all you have to do is say please, or more accurately, type "please". Granted, the Traveling Wilburys comparison is glib, but to compound it a little, consider this: for the group, Jim James is calling himself Yim Yames, for reasons unclear. It's a pseudonym he has also used for another recent project – 'Tribute To', a six-track EP of George Harrison covers, he of Traveling Wilburys among others. It gets a physical release on 4 August, but a digital version of it can be found at

Album: Iron And Wine, Around the Well (Sub Pop)

Sam Beam's output as Iron And Wine has been so scattered across various formats that he's the exception that proves the rule about mop-up compilations of outtakes and B-sides not being worth the bytes bitten off to burn them.

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Album: Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours (Modular)

Australia has been steadily emerging as a powerhouse of electronic pop, and Cut Copy are at the forefront with 'In Ghost Colours', a record which with every listen climbs higher up my Albums of the Year list.

Album: Boredoms, Super Roots 9 (Thrill Jockey)

For their first release on Thrill Jockey, the legendary "Japanoise" band Boredoms present the latest in their Super Roots series, a single 40-minute piece in their signature tribal-drone style, called "Livwe!", recorded at a Christmas Eve 2004 concert in Japan.

Album: MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)

MGMT are, along with Vampire Weekend, the most droppable name out of New York City right now, and have been heralded with the loudest buzz of advance hyperbole of any NYC band since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, if not the Strokes.