Alt-j – An Awesome Wave
A Mercury prize winner and rightfully so; a fresh, adventurous pop debut from this UK quartet. The album that made virtually everyone’s list this year.
Brownout – Oozy
When side projects stick around, they often become something much more than their original intent. This funked-up Austin outfit shares many of the members of Grupo Fantasma, and their music keeps getting sharper – and more fun.
Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth
The title says it all, a real triumph and return to form for the reggae superstar. A collaboration with Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who produced, and who totally gets the uneasy alliance of reggae and punk.
Amy Cook – Summer Skin
Austin’s Cook, a California transplant, has settled on a style midway between the glam-ish rock of her last recording and the pure folk of her earlier work, and she sounds more assured and at home than ever before. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are her best yet.
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Experimental, fascinating recording by one of the most ambitious groups in indie rock. Sounds like modern doo wop at times. At others, like not much you’ve ever heard before. Challenging, and immensely rewarding.
Heartless Bastards – Arrow
Erika Wennerstrom’s best so far, bolstered by her direct, impassioned vocals and her highly confessional material.
Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando
A flowing and unfolding study of human movement set to the pianist’s thrilling improvisations. Lots of left turns, yet listenable and dynamic.
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
The best soul music is usually about bravado, but not here. Brave, honest, vulnerable music feeling glitchy and modern with all the best elements of retro. Impressive.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
Second album of ripping, dense psychedelia from these Perth rockers delves into more subverise fare.
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Van Etten digs deep into her challenging material and delivers an emotional powerhouse of an album. Her voice is a sonic wonder.