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Catch up on the most overlooked musical gems of last year

 Check out the album 'Claroscuro,' by Israeli-born musician Anat Cohen (pictured above, on her tenor saxophone).
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Date published: 1/22/2013


While everyone was buzzing about big releases from Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Mumford & Sons and Taylor Swift, you might have missed some must-listens in 2012. Here's what you should know about, and why:

Grizzly Bear, "Shields" (Warp): Yes, iTunes named Grizzly Bear's "Shields" the best album of 2012. Yes, critics adored it. And yes, it debuted in the Top 10. But did it earn any Grammy nominations? No. Is it selling well? No. Have you heard it? Probably not. And that needs to change.

"Shields" is a semimasterpiece that feels both old and new--and in the best ways possible. Anchored by the voices of Edward Droste and Daniel Rossen, this Brooklyn, N.Y.-based foursome has created a disc that is genre-defying and consistent throughout.

The 10 tracks that make up "Shields" are drum-filled and smoky, and half the songs are more than five minutes long. That's a bit unusual, but it's also a break from mainstream pop music, and a needed one.--Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music Writer

Aaron Freeman, "Marvelous Clouds" (Partisan Records): Middle age and sobriety caused Aaron Freeman to split from Ween, the deliriously genre-defying cult duo he co-founded 25 years ago. To find his footing as a solo artist, the former Gene Ween's first tentative step was to release "Marvelous Clouds," a covers album featuring 13 songs by Rod McKuen, the 1960s poet and composer.

McKuen's a crooner often dismissed as schlocky, but Freeman finds the earnest heart--and crushing heartbreak--in gentle ballads like "A Man Alone," which could be the record's theme song. The production on "Jean" and the title track are by turns lush and spare. Every track is suffused with a melancholy that draws comparisons to some of the best of Ween's softer material.

Ween devotees felt betrayed when Freeman broke up the band, and were confused that the accomplished songwriter opted to record someone else's tunes. But "Marvelous Clouds" rewards multiple listens. --Christopher Weber, AP Writer

I/O, "Isolation" (Self-released): Oh, progressive R&B, how I enjoy your sound.

That trend in music--a movement that includes Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Miguel and Dawn Richard--will continue to blow up in 2013, and New York-based singer-songwriter-producer I/O should be among those to look out for.

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