Strand of Oaks

'Dark Shores'

This project helmed by singer-songwriter Timothy Showalter recorded its newest album with indie-rock hero John Vanderslice. It's somewhat of a sci-fi concept album about being lost, lonely and unloved in outer-space, but the electro-futuristic zips and pings are kept to a minimum so as not to conceal the strong folk and country roots. There are plenty of rocking moments to accompany the spaceships and sadness, too.


Various Artists

'Imaginational Anthems Volume 5'

OK, this compilation spotlighting the work of 13 acoustic guitarists only features two local pickers, and one of them recently moved away. But it still counts. It's a must-have for guitar lovers.

Sounds of Liberation

'Sounds of Liberation'

Philly jazz musician Byard Lancaster died from cancer in August. The saxophonist, who played with jazz greats like Sunny Murray and Sun Ra, left behind several spectacular recordings. Among them is this album, which was reissued in 2010. Not new, but essential.

Hop Along

'Get Disowned'

The debut album by these rockers has been a long time in the making. The current lineup has been together for almost three years, but frontwoman Frances Quinlan has been making music as Hop Along for much longer. Her singing is just as jagged and gorgeous as her guitar playing, and both come alive on the standout track "Tibetan Pop Stars."

Meek Mill

“Dreams & Nightmares”

After years of hustling on the free mix-tape circuit, the North Philly rapper finally released his official debut this year. With guest spots by Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Drake, Mill is clearly making a pop push, but it seems to be working for him. His barking style isn’t as enraged as on his early tapes, but an honest roughness that’s rare nowadays for major label rap remains. With his seemingly limitless creativity and technical prowess, next year could be even bigger.