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Siddhartha Mitter's top CD picks of 2008

December 14, 2008
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SANTOGOLD, "Santogold" (Downtown) Like M.I.A. before her, Santogold's clear response to the crushing staleness of indie rock and hip-hop is to discard genre in favor of something whip-smart, electric, and addictive. The year's triumphant pop statement.

HAALE, "No Ceiling" (Channel A) The Bronx-raised Iranian-American guitar-rocker charts previously undiscovered territory where Rumi, Hendrix, and maybe Grace Slick intersect in a pulsating psychedelic swirl. And she does it in both Farsi and English.

RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA, "Kinsmen" (Pi Recordings) The fiery, empathetic alto saxman is a force on the New York jazz scene; here, he reaches to India and connects with Carnatic sax master Kadri Gopinath for a meaty, complex set, sometimes difficult but exhilarating.

AL GREEN, "Lay It Down" (Blue Note) Give it up for the Rev: his first secular album in years is a classic. Green's voice and stage bravura are undiminished, and with current stars like ?uestlove and Anthony Hamilton onboard, the album is not so much a throwback as a modern soul statement.

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB, "Made in Dakar" (Nonesuch) Sweet guitars, deft harmonies, the midtempo assurance of rumba: In its 21st century incarnation, the classic Senegalese band of the 1970s has lost none of its elegance, only deepened it with the wisdom of middle age.

NIK BÄRTSCH'S RONIN, "Holon" (ECM) Beneath the cool surface of this Zurich quintet burns rhythmic heat stoked by pianist Bärtsch's equal fascination with Stravinsky and the Neville Brothers and his commitment to Zen practice and aesthetic. The amalgam is mesmerizing.

CHARLES LLOYD QUARTET, "Rabo de Nube" (ECM) Soulful mysticism and exacting precision-playing are at the heart of this superb concert by wise elder Lloyd, on assorted reeds, with youngbloods Jason Moran, Eric Harland, and Reuben Rogers to challenge and exalt him.

THE KOMINAS, "Wild Nights in Guantanamo Bay" (Self-released) Unruly Pakistani-American punk rockers skewer the orthodoxies of Islamic fundamentalism and Bush-era US policy in a righteous orgy of debauched lyrics and loud guitar. Crucial!

A FILIAL, "$1,99" (Verge Recordings) This conscious and funky hip-hop from the vibrant Rio de Janeiro scene has a voracious appetite for rhythm and a D.I.Y. skate-punk aesthetic. It's bilingual to boot, with American and Brazilian MCs.

DENGUE FEVER, "Venus on Earth" (M80) The Cambodia-meets-California band featuring charismatic singer Chhom Nimol - a onetime Phnom Penh star who landed in Long Beach - confirms with its third record that its trans-Pacific surf sound is here to stay.

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