K Ishibashi isn’t a new artist in the strictest sense. He was a founding member of a new wave indie band called Jupiter One, which started in 2003 and is still active today. However, in 2011, he split his name into Kishi Bashi and started taking his solo looping violin show on the road, landing gigs with Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche, and of Montreal. After successfully gaining funding via Kickstarter, he released his solo debut 151a on Joyful Noise, which landed him on NPR’s radar for a Tiny Desk Concert. 151a is lush, whimsical, and romantic, with a subtle undercurrent of debauchery. He’s been known to throw in some beat boxing and play a hip-hop fueled track called “Just the Tip” live, his processed looping positioning him as a less aggressive, higher fidelity version of tUnE-yArDs. Yet, for how far he could take his sound into crazy-town, as he is prone to do live, 151a shows a remarkable amount of restraint, particularly compared to his arguable hip-hop and orchestral pop contemporaries. Rather than clubbing you to death with weirdness, the album comes off ethereal, thoroughly ecstatic yet somewhat out of reach, like silk sheets caught in a breeze softly brushing against your fingertips. Alan Ranta
Gainesville, Florida’s Hundred Waters blur the boundaries between the organic and the electric with their ornate and unchained compositions. Languid guitars and rapturous strings merge with spiraling electronics, off-kilter beats and singer Nicole Miglis’s stately soprano. Over the course of the year, Hundred Waters has shared the stage with like-minded indie-classical chanteuse Julia Holter, as well as more electronically oriented noise-smiths such as Diplo, Skrillex and Grimes. And their self-titled debut is one of the most ambitious and technically accomplished pop records of the year. Robert Alford
That man Will Holland again! This time he has teamed up with Bogota band leader Mario Galeano of Frente Cumbiero fame to form Ondatrópica. Joining Holland and Galeano are the cream of Colombian musicians—Fruko, Anibal Velásquez, Michi Sarmiento, Alfredito Linares, Pedro Ramayá Beltran, Markitos Mikolta, and Wilson Viveros—this really is an equivalent to the fabled Buena Vista Social Club. Like them, Ondatrópica seek to bring to a wider audience the incredibly diverse and rich heritage of Colombian music but with a slight variation. Ondatrópica infuse the music with new interpretations merging old and modern styles.
Their debut release was recorded live in the legendary Discos Fuertes studio in Medellin using analogue recording techniques which ensures the startling mix of cumbia and traditional coastal sounds, salsa, bossa nova, jazz, funk, hip-hop, Afrobeat, electro and dub just oozes out of the speakers. The album received almost unanimous critical praise and was followed by a series of live events that further burnished their reputation. Allied to a smart online presence and campaign, 2013 will see Ondatrópica reaching bigger audiences bringing a surge of interest to the wonderful music of Colombia and pushing Ondatrópica to the forefront of this revival. Get on them before they go Buena Vista! Jez Collins
Photo: Shawn Brackbill
The backstory behind Debo Band makes the neo-Ethopian-pop collective one of the more fascinating acts around, new or otherwise. Second-generation Ethiopean emigrants, ethnomusicologist Danny Mekonnen and singer Bruck Tesfaye conceived of Debo Band to do more than relive the ‘60s-‘70s “Golden Age” of Ethiopian pop, but to forge new hybrid traditions of their own making—after all, the eponymous debut was produced by a member of Gogol Bordello at a studio where Battles recorded and released by Sub Pop. The 11-piece Boston collective conveys much more than a rote admiration of music from a bygone time and place, instead creating a niche all its own on an impressive and ingenious first effort. It’s like Debo Band is closing a transcultural feedback loop with its music, as free jazz, R&B, and funk that influenced Ethiopean pop in the first place are now brought back into the mix in their more contemporary incarnations, along with hints of klezmer and art music. Debo Band can’t help but be appreciated for its loving glance to the past, yet the real reason the group stands out here and now is for a lively, thoroughly current sound that promises even more for the future. Arnold Pan
Owen Ashworth enjoyed a decade of indie accolades as the driving force behind Casiotone for the Painfully, but his return to music under the name Advance Base has seriously upped the ante for lyrical storytelling and musical minimalism. Trading in his Casiotone for a Rhodes and bringing on a female vocalist, Ashworth treated us this year to A Shut-In’s Prayer, a series of unflinching portraits of that liminal space between youth and adulthood which is often ham handed by less talented artists. A Shut-In’s Prayer was one of the finest albums of 2012, and it sets the stage for Ashworth to have a long and successful run as Advance Base. Adam Finley