Key Tracks: Djorelen, Angelina, Jesus is the Answer
Sounds Like: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Amou Sangare,
Skinny: Helping to remind us what we already know, that music is way bigger than any boundaries; Bela Fleck set out to Africa with his brother to traverse the massive continent, stopping in Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia and Mali with his banjo to collaborate with a colorful assortment of local musicians. The result, as Bela and these amazing musicians meshed so seamlessly, can only be described as heartwarming magic. Anyone who appreciates recording techniques and sound engineering will marvel at this work as these impromptu, often outdoor, jam sessions are captured magnificently.
Key Tracks: Holy, Holy, Holy Moses, South Philadelphia (Drug Days), When You’ve No Eyes
Sounds Like: part Beach House, part Phish’s “Maze”
Skinny: Producer Steve Berlin dreamt up one of the year’s novel ideas – pairing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah brainchild Alec Ounsworth with a group of funk royalty (George Porter Jr., Stanton Moore, Robert Walter, and Matt Sutton) in New Orleans to create a non-funk record. Ounsworth and friends earn the value of a thousand downloads with the last track alone and the album bounces enjoyably from the anxiety evoking opener Modern Girl (…With Scissors) to the New Orleans ode, Holy, Holy, Holy Moses, to the blithe horn cavalcade, South Philadelphia (Drug Days).
Key Tracks: Archaeopteryx, Po’o’uli, Little Bittern
Sounds Like: Mark Ribot, Eno, something Quentin Tarantino, and the Secret Machines
Skinny: Despite easily claiming the least accessible title in our top 25, eclectic composer and genre-defying sorcerer (often classified using some combination of the words surf, lounge, world, exotica and jazz) John Zorn, not only captivates, but hypnotizes with an instrumental masterwork. The time period between opening ominous track Archaeopteryx and the last of Miller’s Crake vanishes somewhere between the jungle of Po’u’li, the stylish lounge of Solitaire, and Napoleon Dynamite’s Idaho on Laughing Owl.
Key Tracks: Little White Lies, Smith Hill, Friday XIII
Sounds Like: ’50s rockabilly dowsed in a night chain smoking and hard drinking
Skinny: Deer Tick’s sophomore effort is anchored by lead singer John McCauley’s croaky, whiskey and cigarette-soaked vocals as he spins tales of woe that involve broken hearts and failed relationships. The Providence-based band music effortlessly combines country laments with the stark Nebraska-era Springsteen folk and 1950s rockabilly that would have made Buddy Holly proud.