• Na Hawa Doumbia, 'La Grande Cantatrice 
Malienne Vol. 3' (Awesome Tapes from Africa)

    Awesome Tapes From Africa is a hip blog with a semi-touristy name that belies its high quality. This -- from Mali, circa 1982 -- is its first release as a label. Guitars and keyboards argue about key; drums have a fridge-box vibe. Together, they play solemn and hypnotic -- proper accompaniment for a frontwoman who chatters like she's having a conversation with someone offstage. Like everything on ATFA, it's a suggestive footnote: If this got lost, what else?

  • Various Artists, 'Phil Spector Presents the 
Philles Album Collection' (Phil Spector Records/Legacy)

    Legendary Wall of Sound producer Phil Spector only recorded one good full-length: A Christmas Gift for You. His other albums are collected here on seven discs. Maybe the hope is to trap young people nostalgic for what they imagine to be the originals' integrity. Maybe it's to trap boomers who forgot that 15 percent of the originals were foggy, ever-blossoming fantasias like "Be My Baby" and the other 85 percent were packing peanuts like the Ronettes' "Hot Pastrami."

  • Real Estate, 'Days' (Domino)

    Real Estate are a rock band that doesn't rock, because rocking would be too unchill. Instead, they lilt, shimmer, and drift. More reverb and they'd drown; more pep and they'd soundtrack commercials. They have a singer, but it's the guitars -- part garage-surf, part music box -- that tie the sound together. Oh, and they play with some precision now -- lame, but it makes them believable. Real Estate's gift is that they either don't overthink their melodies or they can't, and the simplicity contrasts with their steady, dreamy atmospherics: instant nostalgia for an angst-free generation.

  • John Fahey, 'Your Past Comes Back to 
Haunt You: The Fonotone 
Years 1958-1965' (Dust-to-Digital)

    For experimental-music fans too elevated for country blues and country-blues fans too down-home to reckon pretentious gibberish, there's John Fahey. An acoustic guitarist who mixed dissonance and drone into American roots music, Fahey formed an eerie, instrumental sound he explored for nearly 40 years. This set -- six meticulously documented hours recorded before his first proper album -- is a progress chart. In hour one, he bangs his guitar with a paintbrush; by hour six, he's making ragas backwards before the Beatles set foot in India.

  • Kool and Together, 'Kool and Together' (Heavy Light/Light in the Attic)

    A Texas family who played what it called "Black Rock": sludgy, mid-tempo funk vamps punctuated with noisy guitar solos. Shades of disco, carefree use of wah-wah. The songs aren't really there and don't need to be; they'd probably just get in the way of the grooves. Best, surprisingly, are the unreleased live and demo cuts -- recordings so blown-out it sounds like the players are ripping right through the tape.

  • Shin Joong Hyun, 'Beautiful Rivers and Mountains' (Light in the Attic)

    Shin's story is a hash of half-familiar myths: He started out entertaining at a U.S. Army base, dropped acid, introduced socially conservative South Korea to psych rock, suffered state censure. His music is also a hodgepodge: square sax-rock, Motown, bongo-heavy folk ballads, and sunshine pop, all tinted by Shin's guitar, which is alternately savage and buttoned-up. Interestingly, there's a purity of Western influence atypical of most non-Western comps -- fewer traces of folk tradition, fewer happy misunderstandings of the source material.

  • Van Dyke Parks, 'Arrangements, Vol. 1' (Bananastan)

    The arranger is music's comic-book colorist, choosing and combining instruments, part artist, part technician. Parks has played the role for 40 years, creating dreamy scenery for whoever's paying. On this early-works collection, it's a hodgepodge: Bonnie Raitt sings calypso, Dean Martin's son sings a psychedelic reggae ballad, Arlo Guthrie sings an Appalachian hymn as glam-country. Parks takes stodgy grandpa forms and makes them zing! again. When it's not campy, it's gorgeous; sometimes, it's both.

  • Shirley Brown, 'Woman to Woman' (Stax)

    Soul singers comfort themselves with misery, and in a way, Woman to Woman can't even be sad -- it's too contented in its beaten-down procession through ballads about wrongdoing men and the women who wait for them, as if in a dream. The title track's the heartbreaker: She ?calls a number stuffed in his ?pocket. Does she yell? No. She ?levels, she asks. She even tries?to sympathize.

  • Art of Noise, 'Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise - Deluxe Edition' (ZTT/Union Square)

    Art of Noise didn't make hip-hop so much as a high-concept imitation of it: more the idea of funky than funk. Well, you can read the manifesto (though it offers no answers). Interestingly, this was 1984, so hip-hop was already inspiring brainy English commentary just as it was starting to evolve. But '80s hip-hop flaunts and celebrates, while Who's Afraid doesn't -- it sneaks, shifts, and pranks, a jigsaw puzzle of a sound admired from afar.

  • The Raincoats, 'Odyshape' (We Three Records)

    The Raincoats were the most defiantly feminine post-punk band not because they were women, but because they were generous in spirit -- more a tribe than a jigsaw of egos, intelligent enough to realize that being personal doesn't mean you aren't smart. Odyshape is cleaner and lonelier than their debut, dominated by violin, thudding tom-toms, and African and Jamaican influences via the streets of London. It's the sound of a cold-water flat reimagined as a quiet clearing ?in the jungle.

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