Freestyle Fellowship

Sometimes awesome live bands also make magic in the studio

8. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, The Sameness of Difference (Hyena): This Tulsa trio is the sonic equivalent of Silly Putty, able to stretch into weird, warped experimentations or snap back into delicately pointed hooks. Difference finds acrobatic keysman Brian Haas sticking to his piano's pristine, acoustic tone, while Reed Mathis orbits on bass, tweaking the instrument until it sounds like a sitar pining for an oasis. On upright he nuzzles against Jason Smart's dynamic drumming, making Mingus's "Fables of Faubus" new again and turning the Flaming Lips' "The Spark That Bled" into a new jazz standard. (Check 'em out if you like Ornette Coleman, Frank Zappa, Sketches of Spain.)

9. Secret Machines, The Road Leads Where It's Led EP (Warner Brothers): While the fist-pumping bombast of Secret Machines is best served in a long-play format, the foursome of tunes that end this EP is one of the headiest of the year. Covers of "Astral Weeks," "Money" (the Berry Gordy version) and "Girl from the North Country" descend slowly with stunning, iceberg-heavy drama and enchanted psychedelia. Back to back to back, they take on a revisionist interpretation: lost love and the cost of getting it back. Finishing with a Krautrock cover, "De Lux (Immer Wieder)," this Dallas-by-way-of-NYC trio pulls back the curtain on its influences and gives its fans a glimpse at some of the cogs spinning within the machine. (Check 'em out if you like Zeppelin, Neu!, Mercury Rev.)

Dr. Dog will be next year's next big thing.
Dr. Dog will be next year's next big thing.
Hyim Ross: Sound-juggler.
Hyim Ross: Sound-juggler.

10. Dr. Dog, Easy Beat (National Parking): It's a loaded term, but let's spit it out and get it over with: "Beatlesque" is the easiest way to describe this Philly five-piece's rosy harmonies, baroque-pop arrangements and clever wink-and-nudge songplay. But even the B-word doesn't get at the scruffy, affable grandeur of the band's smartly titled third album, Easy Beat. After a pair of self-released, home-recorded CDs, Easy Beat was picked up by a minor indie label, the band got a nod from The New York Times, and it's been catching buzz like a college kid at Bonnaroo. Get on board now and you'll catch up in time for next year's breakout. (Check 'em out if you like the Beatles, Steely Dan, Built to Spill.)

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