New England native Merrill Garbus has been playing her unique breed of loopy experimental Eastern-hemisphere-inspired pop since 2006, but it was last’s year full-length album, w h o k i l l (released by the legendary 4AD label) that really pushed her onto the radar of the national pop-music world. With its looped and layered soulful vox, ukulele, and unique percussion, Garbus’s record was unlike anything before it — a rare feat in today’s world of recycled vintage sounds and endless nostalgia trips. The first single, “Bizness,” showcased her signature meld of unlikely reference points — R&B, funk, free jazz, Afrobeat — and presented them in a way that was not only digestible for indie-rock fans, but fun as hell to dance along to at festivals all summer. That is, if you weren’t totally paralyzed and transfixed by the epic spectacle that is a tUnE-yArDs live performance.
RUNNERS-UP: The Joy Formidable, Lana Del Rey, Young The Giant