HEALTH, Get Color (Lovepump United). Sounding like a weird hybrid of late-'80s Voivod, '90s house music and something the characters in the movie Tron might listen to, this latest offering from HEALTH takes the band's noise rock of old into far more sonically interesting realms. The album's menacing shimmer evokes futuristic visions. — Murphy

Levon Helm, Electric Dirt (Vanguard). Helm's plaintive, Arkansas-bred voice helped to define the legendary sound of the Band. Several decades after he stamped his vocals onto the psyche of the Woodstock generation, and after fighting and winning a bout with lung cancer in 2002, Helm continues to sing with the same immediacy that first took us in. Don't miss his take on the Dead's "Tennessee Jed" and his own "Growing Trade." — Hutchinson

Here We Go Magic, Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl). Clearly drawing on traditional African music, this debut album is a brilliantly conceived experiment, blending together disparate elements like drum machines with live percussion and Brazilian rhythms with synth pop and psychedelia. Hypnotic, consistently compelling and never short on creative soundscaping. — Murphy

Norah Jones, The Fall (Blue Note). On the fourth studio release since her 2002 smash debut, Come Away With Me, Jones is back with a soothing combination of heartache and redemption. Here she teams pleasingly with songwriters including Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff to what amounts to another winner. — Hutchinson

Mark Karan, Walk Through the Fire (Quacktone). This solo release from Mark Karan — a career sideman for acts as diverse as the Rembrandts, Jesse Colin Young and Bob Weir's Ratdog — was decades in the making. The pleasingly eclectic album, which features a vocal cut by the late Delaney Bramlett, takes in Karan's own material as well as classic covers and a vintage Grateful Dead interpretation. — Hutchinson

Kylesa, Static Tensions (Prosthetic). Overshadowed by sprawling releases from Mastodon and Baroness, this concise, punchy batch of precision-tooled sludge is the best metal album to come out of Georgia this year: refreshingly genre-agnostic, catchy enough to be a pop record, and heavy as anything else out there. — Smith

Manchester Orchestra, Mean Everything to Nothing (Sony). By bridging their earnest indie sound with slick rock production, howler Andy Hull and the boys steer the Orchestra toward success on this sophomore outing. From opening cut "The Only One" to the screamo-tinged contortions of "Shake It Out," the act reflects intriguingly on topics as diverse as religion, teen angst and friendship. — Hutchinson

The Mars Volta, Octahedron (Warner Bros.). With this album, the Mars Volta proves that it has plenty of nightmarish subject matter to fuel its darkly creative songs. From brooding instrumental interludes to masterful pacing and dynamics, the band has broken out in a new direction without losing its knack for imaginative musicianship and haunting lyrics. — Murphy

Matt Wilson Quartet, That's Gonna Leave a Mark (Palmetto). Matt Wilson is one of the finest drummers in jazz today, and on this disc, he shows off his supreme ability to swing like a madman as well as put a bit of a lilt on a ballad and lock into a groove. With his piano-less Quartet joined by a bassist and pair of saxophonists, Wilson really pops here. — Solomon

Mos Def, The Ecstatic (Downtown). Unlike his movie-star colleague Ice Cube, Mos Def has managed to stay surprisingly relevant, even a little menacing, in spite of the inevitable softening of his image on the silver screen. Even though The Ecstatic's excellent "Auditorium" wasn't the summer radio hit it should've been, Def's integrity will keep him a force in hip-hop as long as he wants to be. — Otte

Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come (4AD). Just when the well looked like it might have run dry, John Darnielle went and reminded everyone why the New Yorker called him the world's best non-hip-hop lyricist. His characters aren't mad anymore — maybe because now his characters are him and the people he loves. He needed an album or two to adjust to the new dynamic, but, oh, man, is he there now. — Maletsky

Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics, Inspiration, Information (Strut Records). Astatke and the Heliocentrics don't let their love for experimentation derail the sterling horn lines, dynamic Ethiopian rhythms and bluesy piano runs on Inspiration, Information. Instead, all of these disparate compositional elements find a clear role in the ambitious mix. As a result, the band finds a way to blaze new musical territory. — Goldstein

Mumiy Troll, Comrade Ambassador (Ryko). Despite the Russian-language lyrics, this American debut from popular Russian band Mumiy Troll proves that great music is universal. Often lively and celebratory, the core of the album is a melancholy introspection that reveals emotional depths easily forgotten in the sweep of the sheer catchiness of its songs. — Murphy

New Riders of the Purple Sage, Where I Come From (Woodstock). It's been more than three decades since the New Riders first fused psychedelia and country (with a little help from Jerry Garcia), and on Where I Come From, the band still proves plenty capable of digging into a good jam and letting it all hang out. — Hutchinson

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