PontiakSun on Sun (Thrill Jockey)
Three brothers from Nowhere, Va., stir up stark, rustic jams that are wedged somewhere in between the work of drone specialists Wooden Shjips and Om, complete with Doors-like touches of organ and bluesy swagger. All the better for keeping a cool distance from suddenly fashionable neo-psych trends, Sun on Sun is dark with an extra layer of dark, like a swamp filled with tar and black coffee.
KoushikOut My Window (Stones Throw)
Canadian beat fiend Koushik Ghosh pieces together a collage of obscure samples and ethereal vocals, resulting in the best summer album of autumn. Layers of effervescent melodies float atop choppy drum breaks, referencing dreamy touchstones from The Beach Boys to The Free Design by way of electronic contemporaries Four Tet, Caribou and Caural. Out My Window is the album fans wished RJD2 would've made after Deadringer.
PivotO Soundtrack My Heart (Warp)
Like Battles without the insane time signatures or Trans Am without the irony, this Aussie trio makes its claim for sleeper album of the year by seamlessly melding the worlds of ambient, IDM and prog rock into a cohesive whole. More concerned with atmosphere than simply flexing its musical muscles (which are obviously bulging), O Soundtrack My Heart is positively cinematic, perfect for those who think of music in visual terms, or perhaps listeners obsessed with vintage John Carpenter movies. Both of which, not coincidentally, fit my profile.
GrowingAll the Way (Social Registry)
Having made the gradual move from epic major-chord drone to subtler, percussive experimentalism, Kevin Doria and Joe Denardo craft an entire album of shimmering, oscillating bliss from just two guitars and an arsenal of effects pedals. There are traces of Eno's ambient work, Oval, and Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons, but Growing are clearly sitting on their own cloud, one formed by evaporated bong water condensing to tiny shards of fractured whole notes.
Madlib the Beat KonductaWLIB AM: King of the Wigflip (BBE/Rapster)
Commissioned by record label BBE to complete its Beat Generation series, Madlib, the most progressive and musically intuitive producer in hip-hop, filters his vision through the nostalgic lens of '70s AM radio, inspired by Dilla's instant classic, Donuts. Practically a summation of his career up to this point, WLIB showcases the impressive breadth of his influences, from the muffled, bottom-heavy funk of “Gamble On Ya Boy” to the intergalactic electro of “Parklight.”
Pretty & NiceGet Young (Hardly Art/Sub Pop)
Plowing through power pop-punk with off-kilter melodies and electronic leanings, this Boston three-piece unleashes the best album of its kind since The Futureheads' self-titled 2003 debut. With at least two structural U-turns per song (see the synthesizer breakdown on “Tora Tora Tora” and the explosive segue halfway through “Nuts and Bolts” for examples), Pretty & Nice's manic fusion of early XTC, Brainiac and Elvis Costello makes it seem like they've been mainlining Pixy Stix.
GrailsDoomsdayer's Holiday (Temporary Residence)
From the distant, gargled screams that frame its first moments, enigmatic Portland, Ore.-based Grails' latest slab of apocalyptic hymns displays a legitimately unnerving blend of doom metal, Eastern music, free jazz and burnt-out '70s rock. Another cinematic (and vocal-free) effort, Doomsdayer's Holiday sounds like the crusty, tortured stepchild of soundtracks by Morricone and Popol Vuh, but the euphoric, Pink Floyd-influenced closer, “Acid Rain,” gives the proceedings an uncharacteristically happy ending.