The Roots and the War on Drugs landed in the main Top Ten, so they're not included here, on a list of five standout local releases. This year, the scene also saw notable albums from Danielson, Hoots & Hellmouth, Work Drugs, and Marsha Ambrosius.
Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador). The hirsute Philadelphia rocker first made a national splash with his 2009 debut, Childish Prodigy, on the storied Matador label. Vile didn't really live up to his promise until this formidable production, however, which kicks up a bruising maelstrom worthy of Dinosaur Jr. or Neil Young when it wishes. It's never short on attitude, but also lightens up, most invitingly, on such folkie cuts as "Baby's Arms" and "Runner Ups." Download: "Society is My Friend."
John Wesley Harding, The Sound of His Own Voice (Yep Roc). The British songwriter and novelist born Wesley Stace is one of us now, and his first album to be released while residing in the 215 might be the best of his 20-plus-year career. A knockout band featuring members of the Decemberists, with Scott McCaughey of the Minus 5 and Peter Buck of R.E.M., helps. But it's Harding's sharp, witty, and narratively sophisticated songs that make Sound so good. Download: "There's a Starbucks (Where the Starbucks Used to Be)."
Nikki Jean, Pennies in a Jar (S-Curve). A Minnesota-born vocalist who sang the hook on Lupe Fiasco's hit "Hip-Hop Saved My Life" and who formerly fronted the Philadelphia rock band Nouveau Riche, Nikki Jean came around to her true calling on Pennies in a Jar, for which she paired off with a jaw-dropping list of legendary songwriters, including Burt Bacharach, Lamont Dozier, Bob Dylan, and Carol King. Download: "China."
Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun (Blues Babe). Jill from Philly, now residing in L.A., got her groove back on her first album in four years. She beams with positivity, as always. But there's a greater sense of fun (and funk) here than usual, as on "So in Love," a duet with Anthony Hamilton, as well as unflinching soul- searching, as on "Hear My Call." Download: "Shame."
Mister Heavenly, Out of Love (Sub Pop). Ryan Kattner, who's known as Honus Honus in his cacophonous main band, Man Man, teams up here with members of Islands and Modest Mouse in an indie supergroup of sorts. Half-jokingly, they call their chosen genre "doom wop," meaning to mix the carefree catchiness of '50s pop with their own considerably darker predilections. It's more effective than you might expect from a one-off side project. Download: "Your Girl."