1) Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics
For the second time this decade, the Lips have nailed it. While the first song (“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah“) annoys the hell out of me, the rest of the record is an honest-to-God masterpiece. “Vein of Stars” and “Pompeii AM Götterdämmerung” are my favorites with “Sound of Failure” and “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” not far behind. I don’t know what it is about these guys. It’s not like they are best musicians in the world and Wayne Coyne isn’t the best singer (seriously, sometimes he’s really out of key). It must be that they just write great songs and have mastered the studio process.
2) Built to Spill: You in Reverse
Music has given us a Neil Young and a J. Mascis but Doug Martch carries the torch when it comes to loud, garage-rocked guitar shredding. With no apologies, the album kicks off with the 8:42 guitar solo driven “Going Against Your Mind.” The best moment of the album comes later with “Conventional Wisdom” and it’s melodic guitar duals towards the end (although they were probably both played by Martsch). I wouldn’t want to take credit away from the rest of the band, they are certainly sound in top form and remain an indie-rock power house almost a decade later. At first listen this album disappointed me but it has really grown on me over the years. It contains some of the sound of their early work blended with a new energy and some different ideas.
3) Amy Winehouse: Back to Black
Those of you that know me, know that I don’t normally listen to this kind of music: Pop, R&B, Neo-soul, whatever you want to call it. But at the time I was reading a lot of dlisted.com as a guilty pleasure and Wino was featured everyday in some new humiliating picture or story. I guess any press is good press because I had to hear her music to find out what the big deal was. I’m not only attracted to the drama presented in her lyrics but I genuinely like the sound and structure of these songs. The title track and “You know that I’m no good” are my two favorite here. The record as a whole falls in place very nicely.
4) Sonic Youth : Rather Ripped
This is the album Sonic Youth should have made in 1995 coming off their Lollapollza headline spot instead of Washing Machines. In my opinsion, this is the most accessible set of songs they have ever put together. Gone are the ten minutes of feedback and in is some catchy indie rock that is “Reena“, “Incenerate” and Renaldo’s “Rats.” Even the quiet numbers, (“Do You Believe in Rapture?“, “Or“, “Turquoise Boy“) sound like something a person unfamiliar with their style would enjoy.
5) Ratatat : Classics
If you haven’t heard of these guy, go listen to “Wildcats.” This NYC duo creates music that is a fusion of metal sounds and dance beats with a signature fade-in guitar. I’d rate this as the instrumental album of the year. You won’t find any shredding solos here but you’ll find well arranged melodic compositions. It’s great background and foreground music.
6) Bob Dylan: Modern Times
I have said earlier that I don’t think this album is as great as most critics crack it up but I am a Dylan fan and I’d be lying if I said this album hasn’t spent some time in my rotation. His singing is still pretty raspy and irritating at times but His band sounds great and his lyrics are still poetic and profound. I’ll never understand why this album is called “Modern Times” when it sounds more like a shuffle, remincent of old American music. I like “Spirit On The Water” and “The Levee’s Gonna Break” best here. For the die-hard Dylan, be sure to read the wikipedia article about writing credit controversy
1) The Shins : Wincing the Night Away
This album represents a change of direction for the James Mercer and his little outfit from Portland. At first I didn’t like it. There’s still a pair of traditional catchy indie-pop songs that caught my attention, (“Australia” and “Phantom Limb“) and great pop songs they are. The rest of the album felt uneven but after a few listens, it occurred to me this unevenness is really bold experimentation: “Sea Legs” a Pink Floyd-ish funk song with a great instrumental break at the end, “Split Needle” displays something darker and “Red Rabbits” and “The Comet Appears” the sweet but oddly textured acoustic numbers. All around great music.
2) Pinback : Autumn of the Seraphs
San Diego based Pinback is one my favorite bands of the past decade. Even when they aren’t writing good songs (see “Devil You Know” and “I’m A Pretty Lady”), they sound awesome. The first 6 songs of this album blend together like Sgt. Pepper. While this isn’t the classic that Summer in Abaddon was, it’s proof that Pinback will continue to make great music.
3) José González : In Our Nature
It’s hard to create a unique sound with just an accoustic guitar but this guy has done it. His playing and singing are so very distinct, almost mesmerizing. “How Low”, “Down the Line”, “Cycling Trivialities” and the cover version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” are the stand out tracks here.
4) French Kicks: Two Thousand
This New York band adds more focus to their new wavish, retro-80s sound. This album is significant progression from “Trial of the Century” mainly because the songwriting and arrangements are better. Only “Hey I Wait” disappoints, the rest of the album is full of some great indie-pop (“So Far We Are”, “No Mean Time”). My favorite song on the album is “Knee High” which builds from drums and a synth to a wall of the classic Kicks sound.
5) Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
IMHO, there’s a room for Spoon in everyone’s catalog. Their music has so many hooks it’s almost ridiculous. With this 2007 release, they seem to be repeating themselves adding horns here and there but why change a formula that works so well.
6) Blonde Redhead: 23
From the opening chords of the title track to the soft intro of “Silently” this records seems to blend together. My only complaint is that it would have been a perfect record if they would have left off the last two songs. “Top Ranking” sounds more like something from an earlier period of the band and “My Impure Hair” just plain drags. Other than that, BR is at top form: “Spring And By Summer Fall” rocks, “Herione” is absolutely lovely and the sound of “Dr. Strangeluv” could only come from this band.
7) Thurston Moore: Trees Outside the Academy
To most people a Thurston Moore solo album will just sound like a Sonic Youth album without Kim and Renaldo singing. To some extents this is true. The basic SY elements of dark, subculture music are here but the songs have more accoustic guitar than you will ever encounter on an SY cut. “Honest James” shines as the best track: a lovely guitar dual. Of course there’s a few token noise songs here to blow your eardrums out but the rest is solid from a solid veteran indie-rocker.
8.) Panda Bear: Trees Outside the Academy
A solo album from one of the Animal Colletive guys and like that group, this album tries to one up Pet Sounds but it does a damn good job. The reverby effects and repetiveness make this album seem almost like an orchestral achievement. The melodies are very catchy and I found myself humming them quite regularly. Play “Bro” or “Take Pills” regularly and you will see what I mean.
1) R.E.M. : Accelerate
The 3 remaining veteran musicians of R.E.M. returned to the sound of Life Rich Paegent and Document to breath life back into a band that was one of the fore-bearers of alternative music in the 80s and 90s. At only 34 minutes, this record is perfectly paced. The majority of the songs are loud, distortion, garage rockers. “Man-sized Wreath” and “Supernatural Superserious” have that pop feel that could only be R.E.M. The title track and “Sing for the Submarine” explored darker territory while “Houston” and “Until the Day Is Done” show that they are still masters of acoustic rock. The highlight of the album for me is “Mr. Richards”, a poetic, political critique of the Bush Administration decorated in a great melodies and metaphors. Like “Exhuming McCarthy”, “Disturbance at the Heron House” and “Fall on Me”, that song will still sound good in 10-15 years.
2) Air France: No Way Down
I discovered this album on accident. This group from Sweden combines ambient sounds, dance beats and symphonic arrangements with just enough vocals to keep it out the instrumental category. Another short record, this one is only 22 minutes, the songs blend into one another. The best song is “No Excuses.”
3) Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs
A co-worker told me that PBS was making available a streaming version of this Dylan album when it was released. I listened to it online for about 2 weeks and fell in love. I’m not one of those who thinks that Love and Theft and Modern Times are the awesome masterpieces that critics and other fans declare. However, this release is a great sample of his last 15 years of material. It makes you wonder how some of the version of these songs never ended up on albums. “Born in Time” in particular memorizes the ears here whereas the original version is awful. Other stand outs in clude “Tel Ol’ Bill“, “Someday Baby” & “Dreamin’ of You.”
4) Torche: Meanderthal
This music isn’t for everyone. It’s pretty heavy but it’s the perfect combination of melodic and hard for me. “Grenades” feels like it could be the anthem of a new generation, “Sundown” a Jawboxish slow epic and the short instrumentals (“Triumph of Venus”, “Little Champion”) like every song on the album let the band showcase their technical chops. Only the last 3 songs are longer than 3:30 minutes. Watch out for the long octave solo in “Fat Waves.”
5) Cervantes: Making Friends and Enemies
Perhaps this decade’s most underrated act in San Francisco, Cervantes (formerly Dumbwaiter) has undergone a number of personnel changes over the years but the core members and songwriters remain to help the band reinvigorate and reinvent themselves each time. This album represent the pinnacle of their effort. The guitar work, the angst-driven vocals, the creative song structures and the hat-tips to their influences forge this record. This is one album that should be in your collection.
1) Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood seemed a little off and it didn’t warm up to me the way Blacklisted, and Furnace Room Lullaby did but this record was on rotation in my music player for countless weeks. Radio friendly tracks like “This Tornado Loves You”, “People Got A Lotta Nerve” and “Red Tide” have a sleek, polished feel that could some day make them Alt-Country classics but the real gems here are the acoustic, non-traditional songs like “Polar Nettles”, “Fever”, “Vengenance is Sleeping” and the title track. These numbers weave in lovely harmonies, melodies and lyrics that are nothing more than memorizing.
2) Islands: Vapours
This album actually surprised me. Islands, a montreal based band, followed their remarkable 2005 debut Return to the Sea with a disappointing, overproduced and swollen album Arm’s Way. Vapours doesn’t revert to the sound of Return to the Sea. It’s more like a new beginning. It pulls the best sounds from the 80s and lays them on top of some very cleverly crafted indie-synth-pop tunes. This is fun music and each time I listen to this record I marvel at how well these songs are arranged. “Tender Torture”, “Devout” and “Switched On” are my favorites.
3) U2: No Line on the Horizon
I was talking to a guy at a campout this summer who described U2 as the “Beatles of our generation.” This pisses music critics off. When at the beginning of Rattle & Hum Bona said, “This song Charles Mason stole from the Beatles and now we’re stealing it back” wasn’t he implying that U2 was good enough or better than the Beatles and thus claiming their spot as the top rock act of all time? Oh, the nerve. As clique as it sounds, U2 does know how to reinvent itself very well and on this record they did it again while maintaining their core unique elements: Edges infinite guitar notes, Larry Mullen Jr’s creative rock drumming and Bono’s soulful, rock vocals. Great songs: “Breathe”, “Magnificent”, “Fez”
4) Morrissey : Years of Refusal
It’s not that obsessed with my 7th grade heroes, it’s just that they are still putting out great music. Morrissey returns from the melodrama of Ringleader of the Tormentor with an album that has much heavier, rock influences. His new band is tight, full of punk/pop hooks, raw and energetic. Of course, the lyrics are great too. Only one voice can successfully belt out lines like “It’s not your birthday anymore, did you really think we meant all of those syrupy, sentimental things that we said yesterday”.
5) George Jones Musicor Recordings Box Sets (1965-1971)
While this isn’t “new” music, these two box sets were released this year and are must haves for any fan of old country. They are appropriately titled Walk Through This World with Me and A Good Year for the Roses after two of his biggest hits of the era, possibly of his career. You’ll find plenty of saloon jumping honky tonks and soothing “lost my wife” ballads (literally, one is called “When The Wife Runs Off”). All of these are decorated with beautiful piano parts, thick female background harmonies, whiny slide guitars and one of the greatest voices in country music. Due to pressure from his manager and a changing country scene, this was a very productive period for George. The sheer size of these 2 box sets is a tribute to that: 10 Discs, 320 songs and 12 hours and 38 minutes of music. Not every song is a gem but that’s why there’s a next button on your mp3 player. However, there are songs here that you can’t miss: “Love Bug”, “I Cried Myself Awake”, “No Blues is Good News”, and one my all time favorites, “You’re Still On My Mind.” Country gets a bad rap from a lot of folks these days but this box set is simple, American music at its finest.
Singing a classic with his more mature, less nasally voice…
Been rocking the new Morrissey. It’s much harder, more punk-pop style but still filled with all those wonderful Morrissey-isms:
Thank you Drop dead
Something is squeezing my skull
Something I just cannot describe
There is no hope in modern life
And here’s one of the classics. For heterosexuals only. Check out that shirt!
Don’t let the clown scare you:
Some classic Beatles…
A little afternoon Hank for ya.