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Joshua Novak, Dead Letters (Self-released). Over the last few years, Joshua Novak has been trying to escape the singer-songwriter stigma. With Dead Letters, he steers clear of all that with a lush and sparkly pop album, dropping bits of glam and Brit pop into the mix as well. Five years in the making, Dead Letters is a testament to how strong Novak's vocals and songwriting chops have gotten. — Solomon

ManeRok, The Ugly Truth (Self-released). Brutally honest both on and off the mike, ManeRok didn't disappoint on his debut solo album. Filled with commentary on the community and the social climate of the world at large, as well as his own existence, the album gives us a firsthand look into the life and times of this often-closed MC. — Cormier

Oblio's Arrow, Plain Old American Mess (Self-released). If psychedelia is meant to tune the nervous system to some higher cosmic frequency, Plain Old American Mess ought to be distributed in blotter form. The latest release from the band formerly known as Oblio Duo + the Archers, Mess is a hallucinatory yet patriotic traipse through twangy Americana that taps into the rumbling, unreal undercurrent of our great continent. — Heller

Overcasters, The Whole Sea Is Raging (Self-released). Produced by Rick Parker (BRMC, Von Bondies), The Whole Sea Is Raging displays a stirring sense of vitality and boasts an immediacy of fidelity: The drums absolutely explode in tandem with Matt Regan's hulking bass lines, providing a brawny low end that sharply contrasts with Kurt Ottaway's careening guitar work without diluting the clarity of his vocals, which glide assuredly on top. — Herrera

The Pirate Signal, No Weak Heart Shall Prosper (Self-released). The throbbing electro passages, synth interludes and warped beats here stand in sharp contrast to the soul-sampling-dependent sounds of much of today's hip-hop. And when woven together, the dense backdrops effectively bolster Yonnas Abraham's forceful and always compelling flow, which manages to be more dynamic and multi-dimensional than on past efforts. No Weak Heart Shall Prosper is a giant leap forward artistically for The Pirate Signal. — Herrera

Nathaniel Rateliff, In Memory of Loss (Rounder). Nathaniel Rateliff has always had a striking tenor range, but on his own, away from Born in the Flood, he's able to stretch and showcase his robust, expressive baritone. In Memory of Loss, his Rounder Records debut, contains some of his most memorable and affecting material to date. — Herrera

The Raven and the Writing Desk, The Recidivist (Self-released). Literate and soulful, this ambitious debut is a bracing alloy of baroque pop and romantic sensibilities. Soaring melodies and interweaving layers of rhythm make this a sonically consistent yet eclectic affair. At turns dreamily introspective, jaunty and delicately poignant, these songs are like thematically linked short stories of passion and peril. — Murphy

Reverend Deadeye, The Trials and Tribulations of Reverend Deadeye (Hazelwood Vinyl Plastics). During his one-man band-live shows, Brent Burkhart, aka Reverend Deadeye, can seem like a man possessed. But the dude's actually drunk on Jesus, trying to chase ol' Satan away. On record, he captures a lot of his frenetic stage energy with sweaty backwoods revival blues. It's the ideal soundtrack for flicking devils off your shoulder. — Solomon

Roger, Roll, Polaroid in Reverse (Self-released). Eric Peterson's last recording for now is, fittingly, about how things fade — memories, conceptually, and this poignant music, literally, as the vinyl was lathe-cut rather than pressed and will therefore deteriorate with each listen. Entropy is not something Peterson sees as worth fighting. It is, after all, the natural direction. — Maletsky

David Rynhart, By the Hollow Tree (Self-released). Drawing on a diverse pool of influences, from classical and Eastern European to blues and folk, singer-songwriter David Rynhart's debut exhibits his incredibly sharp songwriting and storytelling skills. At times dark and melancholic, at others filled with hope, By the Hollow Tree is a truly fine effort. — Solomon

Safe Boating Is No Accident, Isn't it Fun? (Self-released). Genuinely clever, scathing wit is in short supply most of the time, but this album is full of it. The music is lovely, melancholic Americana, but the lyrics are an incisive commentary on the foibles of the human condition, wrapped in a disarmingly rustic vocal delivery. — Murphy

Selko, UltraMundane (Self-released). An all-beat debut from a mysterious artist who is in no way a novice, UltraMundane is the kind of album that will get repeat spins for years. With layered (but not overly so) production and interesting samples, Selko's recorded introduction to the scene is a momentous one. — Cormier

The Silver Cord, Hate (Self-released). Perfectly fusing its talents for the brutally dark and the ethereally beautiful, the Silver Cord has hit its stride on Hate. Unafraid to address harrowing topics in a deeply personal manner, the album aims to unveil the darkest depths of the human psyche with an unflinching honesty and accuracy. — Murphy

Solar Bear, Captains of Industry (Self-released). Time signatures switch suddenly and unexpectedly throughout this six-song EP, creating oceans of frenzied, finger-stretching chaos before melting into beautiful and sprawling half-tempo breakdowns. Coupled with the musical know-how is grit and backbone, making Captains not only musically impressive, but also inspiring on many other levels. — Thomas

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