1. Major Lazer
Guns Don't Kill People, Lazers Do
(Mad Decent). This reggae-dancehall record from Philadelphia DJ-producer Diplo and his Brit partner Switch comes with a cartoony made-up backstory, and guest spots from Amanda Blank and Santigold and a host of Jamaican vocalists. Kinetic, chaotic and crazy.
2. Melody Gardot, My One and Only Thrill (Verve). Jazzy, becalmed chanteuse adds strings to her Larry Klein-produced sophomore release. She commands attention with her sultry vocals and torch songs that at their best - "Who Will Comfort Me" and "Your Heart Is as Black as Night" - could be mistaken for lost Tin Pan Alley classics.
3. Alec Ounsworth, Mo Beauty (Anti-). I never understood the hoo-hah about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Alec Ounsworth's band that, back in 2005, rode a 9.0 on Pitchfork to a truckload of media attention. But Mo Beauty, Ounsworth's solo album produced in New Orleans by Los Lobos' (and Abington's) Steve Berlin, and featuring Meters bass player George Porter Jr., is something else entirely. Entirely more soulful, and less grating, that is.
4. Hoots & Hellmouth, The Holy Open Secret (Mad Dragon). Sean Hoots and Andrew "Hellmouth" Gray's band kicks up a foot-stomping, bass-slapping storm on its second H&H album on Drexel's Mad Dragon label. There's no drummer on board, but on the roughly harmonized, passionately played, gospel-inflected tunes like Hoots' call to arms "You and All of Us," you don't miss them. Those raucous enterprises contrast nicely with such contemplative Gray numbers as "Ne'er Do Well."
5. Amanda Blank, I Love You (Downtown). Spitfire rapper Amanda Blank proves herself to be more than just a potty-mouthed, mile-a-minute MC on her solo debut. It works blue on quick-tongued grooves like "Lemme Get Some," but also employs suave, '80s-informed strategies such as sampling Romeo Void's "Never Say Never" on "Might Like You Better," and covering the Prince-penned Vanity 6 obscurity "Make Up."