FINAL FANTASY He Poos Clouds (Blocks Recording Club)
Why fight for a concertmaster chair when you can be an entire freakin' orchestra? Through meticulously looped violin patterns, dramatic dynamics and arrangements as intricate as a Fabergé egg, solo virtuoso Owen Pallett's inverted concept album expands from geekcore gamer tropes into philosophical musings, resulting in something you feel drawn to listen to again and again, even when it's not typically pretty.
SUFJAN STEVENS The Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras From The Illinois Album (Asthmatic Kitty)
Sufjan Stevens's collection of cast-offs soars on the strength of rollicking, hand-clapping mini-symphonies that have all the exuberance and spiritual catharsis of a travelling revival show.
JOANNA NEWSOM Ys (Drag City)
As 20th-century pop arrangers go, you can't do much better than Van Dyke Parks. On Ys, the man who helped Brian Wilson find focus spins lush instrumental backdrops around baroque harpist Newsom's changeling vocals and fantastical lyrics. Though its epic track lengths and otherworldliness mean Ys isn't totally accessible, Parks's pop sensibilities ground and and broaden Newsom's vision.
FEUERMUSIK Goodbye, Lucille (independent)
Stark, hypnotic and eerie, teaming serpentine woodwinds with found-sound percussion, semi-T.O. duo Feuermusik's Goodbye, Lucille is hypnotic and layered, reminiscent of both wordless chants and experimental jazz. The sheer ambition and staggering instrumental talent on the album are mindblowing.
LAMBCHOP Damaged (Merge)
Trauma can be a good thing for a songwriter. For Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, confronting his own mortality cuz of a cancer scare inspired the haunting soundscapes of Damaged, which opens with chasms of strings and guitar that roll and heave like a sleeping giant. They may not be upbeat, but the cinematic sounds of Damaged are meant to wash over you and leave you floored.