Major SF players share their favorites
4. Zammuto: s/t (Temporary Residence) Former Books member Nick Zammuto's solo debut impresses with its vitality and strength of purpose. Despite the heightened emphasis on conventional songwriting this time around, Zammuto strikes that divine balance between bewildering sound-collage and pop approachability that made the Books such an endearing project in the first place.
5. Tame Impala: Lonerism (Modular) Kevin Parker's first LP as a lone, multitracking solo artist under the Tame Impala moniker, is a bubbly, golden pop album, despite its pervasive theme of existential dread. Its hooks achieve a weird form of transcendence, befitting the Beatles and Britney Spears in equal measure.
6. Laurel Halo: Quarantine (Hyperdub) Much like Oneohtrix Point Never's Replica (2011), Quarantine is ideal soundtrack material for those late-night, marathon web-surfing sessions that seem to transcend time and space. Halo's cold, glassy electronics are anchored by dry, straightforward vocals on an album that occupies a mysterious void between vocal pop and ambient electronica.
7. Field Music: Plumb (Memphis Industries) Less a song-cycle than a series of hooks, Field Music's latest is the work of a band with a hundred wonderful ideas up its sleeve, and only 35 minutes to communicate them. Channeling the impulsive energy of Abbey Road's second half with proggy dexterity, Plumb cements this vastly underrated British outfit as one of the most visionary songwriting duos around.
8. THEESatisfaction: awE naturalE (Sub Pop) Splitting the difference between progressive hip-hop and neo-soul, this Seattle duo's breakthrough record zips through its 30-minute run-time with remarkable tenacity and economy. Bearing the exhilarating energy of J Dilla's rip-roaring beat-tapes, and shrewd lyricism that effortlessly balances the political, the personal, and the cosmic, awE naturalE feels urgently, confrontationally NOW.
9. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (ECM) Not quite nu-jazz, math-rock, or classical minimalism, Swiss ensemble Nik Bärtsch's Ronin is as compelling, and innovative, as any live band around, tackling Reichian time signatures with the borderline robotic technical ability of Juilliard grads, and the undeniable groove of an airtight funk band.
10. d'Eon: LP (Hippos In Tanks) Approaching the tongue-in-cheek meta-pop of James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual with a twisted mythology of Christianity and Islam vs. iPhones and the Internet, and a bizarrely heavy dose of Phil Collins' influence, d'Eon's LP's totally dubious backstory is redeemed by solid songwriting, lush synths, killer keyboard solos, and a '70s big-time art-rock sensibility. The most convoluted release to date from the prankish Hippos In Tanks imprint.
Honorable mention: Farrah Abraham: My Teenage Dream Ended (self-released) You can't make this shit up: the year's weirdest, most haunted and terrifying album wasn't brought to us by Swans or Scott Walker, but the star of MTV's Teen Mom. Trapped between the real world, and a web-based alter-reality, it's the sound of an All American girl, brought up on The Notebook and Titanic, finding herself imprisoned in a Lynchian nightmare.