31) My Brightest Diamond Bring Me the Workhorse (Asthmatic Kitty) I would’ve never guessed that a back-up singer for Sufjan Stevens could be such a force of nature on her own, but New Yorker Shara Worden struck gold, setting her studied, elegant singing against churning rock grooves and producing one of the most emotionally potent and sophisticated rock albums of the year.
32) Jazzkammer Metal Music Machine (Smalltown Superjazz) The Norwegian noise duo of Lasse Marhaug and John Hegre have markedly moved away from brutality in recent years, but here they jump face first into the gaping maw of black metal, working with members of Enslaved and Manngard to reduce the genre to its most elemental building blocks.
33) Tyft Meg Nem Sa (Skirl) This trio led by the Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson eagerly blurs lines between noise rock, prog, and jazz with intricately arranged miniatures packed with abrasive melodies and dynamic arrangements that play with scale, texture, and rhythm.
34) Scott Walker The Drift (4AD) The most difficult album I heard all year, but one of the most rewarding, too. Walker has a very dark view of the world and his ominous compositions reflect it: clashing harmonies, ultra-thick arrangements, and his trademark lugubrious croon.
35) Donny McCaslin Soar (Sunnyside) This has been a great year for saxophonist Donny McCaslin. He’s become a key presence in the Dave Douglas Quintet and he released his best album as a leader, forging a bracing intersection of post-bop improvisation and masterfully integrated Latin American rhythmic material.
36) Jason Collett Idols of Exile (Arts & Crafts) The guitarist for Toronto’s much ballyhooed Broken Social Scene makes a solo record that lives up to the fuss; ultra-hooky, funny, and oddly tender.
37) Bunky Green Another Place (Label Bleu) The veteran alto saxophonist sounds as hungry as a man half his age, prodded by a superb rhythm section that includes the wonderful pianist Jason Moran.
38) The Source The Source (ECM) This Norwegian quartet situates gorgeously lyric solos within austere compositions—most by the fantastic trombonist Øyvind Brække—to an almost insidious effect. You can miss the beauty of these slow-moving gems if you don’t listen carefully.
39) Juana Molina Son (Domino) On her best album yet the gentle Argentinean singer gives her music a deeply appealing homemade quality, as spare acoustic guitar patterns, eerie analog synth, and inventively manipulated samples of her own whistling, beatboxing, and scatting all coalesce together in the most natural way.
40) Omer Avital The Ancient Art of Giving (Smalls) Gorgeous tunes, a killer band—including tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Ali Jackson, and trumpeter Avishai Cohen—and fierce arrangements make this new quintet album by the Israeli born bassist one of the most convincing post-bop outings in years.