1. Moby - Play: The B Sides
Moby no doubt cut these tracks because they aren't as "marketable" as those that showed up on the final version of Play. That doesn't make them any less painstakingly well-crafted or that the end result would have been any less impressive. B Side albums are always funny like that; you can almost match up each track with its A Side counterpart. The patient tranquility of "Whispering Wind" synchs with "Porcelain," the heavy blues vocal samplings and keyboards of "Flower" make up the alter-ego of "Honey," and so on. It's a fun listen if for no other reason than the fact that it gives the listener a handful of "what if" moments.
2. Papoose - A Bootlegger's Nightmare
Pap is a beast, no doubt about it! He's released well over twenty mixtapes over the past four years (two in 2009 already). When he finally gets around to making an actual album, it's guaranteed to be hot. A Bootlegger's Nightmare, one of his 2005 efforts, tends to be my favorite simply because it's where his versatility takes a front seat. He works with some dynamic producers here, and though the beats vary from bare bones simplicity to lush and intricate, Papoose's flow never fails to match the atmosphere being created for him.
3. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra - Who Is This America?
Herky-jerky instrumentation, vocals that veer between the strident and playful, and the infectious polyrhythms of Afrobeat. Antibalas bring it all together. It's worth stepping back and recognizing how hard Afrobeat is as a genre to play (which is probably why there are so few well known groups that can really pull it off. The bands are frequently big, and there needs to be a lot happening at exactly the right time every time in order for it to even grasp at believability. Fela may not be around to hear the evolution of the music he essentially birthed, but if he could hear Who Is This America? he would know it's in good hands.
4. Talib Kweli - Quality
It's not for nothing that this album became the iconic Talib Kweli release. When many said that Rap wouldn't survive the aftermath of 9/11, Kweli came out with a collection of songs that was outspoken and made no bones about it. Quality was, above all else, proud. Some forget that Kweli is a member of Native Tongues, but that's evident in his rhymes and beats here. At the same time, Quality was an attempt to break molds and make his sound modern and mainstream without sacrificing... well, quality. I'd say he succeeds, and that's why this album holds up even after the better part of a decade.
5. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
Precisely what happens when you breed Jersey Rock with Punk. It's almost as if--and I'm not the first writer to make this comparison--Springsteen had discovered the hard-driving sounds emanating from New York a lot earlier than he did. Brian Fallon's vocals take a big cue from the boss, and their lo-fi sound is unmistakably in the Punk-Indie vein. But there's a lot more originality than these kinds of glib (and admittedly lazy) comparisons denote. The anthemic uplift that this group brings to a rather cynical sub-genre is beyond refreshing. It's almost as if they take (gasp!) pride in their down-and-out status.