An alphabetical listing of thirty CDs I listened to more than a little last year.
Noble Beast by Andrew Bird.
Andrew Bird is a guy that I listen to near religiously at this point. I've been in the tank for him since 2005's The Mysterious Production Of Eggs. Each succeeding release has polished and cleaned the edges of his unique blend of violin, samples, whistles and poetic lyrics. He might be a little pretentious at times - in fact he most certainly is - but that's part of the appeal. A peerless artist at the peak of his creative arc, Noble Beast is his most accomplished pop album to date.
Grrr... by Bishop Allen.
There's nothing on Bishop Allen's sophomore release that you didn't hear on the debut, but when a debut is near perfect pop song-craft, why fix what isn't broken? I tend to oscillate between syrupy twee-pop and darkly aggressive proto-prog (more on that later.) There's no better example of syrupy twee-pop than Grrr...
Gutter Tactics by Dalek.
Speaking of darkly aggressive proto-prog... Yes, Dalek is a hip-hop outfit. Yes, they are prog-hip-hop. Perhaps the worst possible selection when you're looking for something catchy, upbeat and chirpy to get you through the day, this is hip-hop for your very, very angry cousin. There's a reason these guys are currently touring Europe with Isis. Bitter, consuming, political at times and exactly what hip-hop should be.
Some Kind of Salvation by The Features.
Some Kind of Salvation is perhaps my favorite album of 2009. This is not a challenging album. This is not a band intent on discovering new means of writing rock songs. There is nothing "post-" about these guys. Straight 4/4 blues rock, reverb-drenched guitars, 70s and 80s throwback keys all mixed up into the best raucous mess you're ever likely to hear. Nothing like the "I see you trying so hard" aspects of the current popular bands - Animal Collective, I'm looking at you. Nothing of the smarmy self-referential "I'm so throwback you can't fathom my coolness" of various Jack White fronted outfits. Just the four guys banging out the world's greatest swamp rock at least since The Rock*a*Teens broke up.
Lungs by Florence & The Machine.
Wonky, percussive driven dance pop from the UK. Aggressive enough to keep you awake for the entire flight, catchy enough to warrant the occasional airplay.
Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made by Fol Chen.
Seriously, I'm trying to figure out how to describe the awesome here, but failing. It's good. Go get it.
Aim and Ignite by Fun.
Former Format frontman Nate Reuss's latest band sounds pretty much exactly like The Format. As it was the case that I loved The Format in all of their Queen riffing, hey-everybody-watch-me-sing-my-heart-out glory, so do I also love Fun. Just straight up perfect sing along pop songs from a guy whose voice was made for belting out standards to roomfuls of sweaty twenty-somethings.
Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South by Ha Ha Tonka.
It's funny how much you can hear the place of a band - literally hear the land from which they came - if you're listening. The Rock*a*Teens (obviously a touchstone for me) sound like the streets of Cabbagetown. The Features pipe some small bit of Tennessee through their every song. The Drive-by Truckers are what northern Alabama sounds like when it wails at night. Ha Ha Tonka are the voice of the Ozarks. This is their second release, a follow-up to 2007's reasonably successful Buckle In the Bible Belt. It's a bit cliche, but Novel Sounds... represents a much more mature sound. Gone are the somewhat jokey and formulaic singles of the debut, replaced by quieter and more reflective tunes. It's not perfect (they really should stick to one singer), but if you enjoy non-formulaic rock with a bit of southern influence you'd do yourself a favor to pick this one up.
Opiate Sun by Jesu.
Two weeks after this came out my Facebook status was "...has spent the last 10 days attempting to come to terms with Opiate Sun, and Jesu is still winning." Obviously part of the "darkly aggressive proto-prog" section of my soul. I would love black metal if more of them would stop growling and start doing this. See also Pelican.
Phrazes For The Young by Julian Casablancas.
Julian Plenti Is...Skyscraper by Julian Plenti.
It's probably not fair to either of them, but every time I listen to these records I think of it as "the battle of the Julian front-men." Casablancas is the guy from The Strokes. Plenti is the solo project for Paul Banks, the lead guy from Interpol. Casablancas turns out a high quality synth-pop product which I find I enjoy much more than The Strokes, which isn't saying a lot, but still. Plenti is a bit better I think, probably falling somewhere in my top ten albums for the year. Of course, I like Interpol a good deal more than The Strokes, so go figure.
It's Not Me, It's You by Lily Allen.
The most straight up pop record from my stacks this year. Also probably the most consistently played, as the wife and I both loved it. Catchy, sing-along British radio pop. What's not to love?
Grand by Matt & Kim.
My buddy Tarun turned me on to these guys. They remind me a lot of Tilly & The Wall with that sort of almost falling apart sound. Again, nothing here to change the way you listen to music or undercut your understanding of what art is about, just straight up pop music with a beat you could dance to, if you so chose.
Gather, Form & Fly by Megafaun.
Sort of a American Jesu. Yeah. You figure out what that means and you'll have a decent idea of what Megafaun can do for you.
Wind's Poem by Mount Eerie.
Back once more into the darkly aggressive proto-prog. This is not music for driving, but it's damned fine music for plugging in, turning up, clicking on the noise cancel and forgetting that you're on a three hour tour with screaming children two rows back.
The Life Of The World To Come by The Mountain Goats.
I used to think of John Darnielle as a guilty pleasure. Turns out I was wrong. Nothing to feel guilty about here. Album after album after album of brilliant material. The Life of the World To Come is self consciously religious in tone and execution. It is also totally friggin' brilliant. Darnielle has officially breached The Marty Donald Line, that demarcation beyond which the guy is just scary with his ability to turn out lyrical brilliance that shames pretty much any other comers.
Glimmer by Pelican.
I've had this album for months. I put it on and my response is still "Oh, wow." Take the deep, grinding power chords of black metal, remove all of the annoying growling "lyrics" and whammo! It sounds like golden era Hum to me, minus the singing. I can listen to this for hours on end. Particularly helpful immediately after your favorite <whatever> fails to <do something you wanted them to do>. I fall asleep listing to Pelican far too often.
Pins & Panzers by Plushgun.
This year's guilty pleasure. It's 80's synth pop, I think. Far by Regina Spector. Competed with Lily Allen for "most listened to" album this year. It's Regina Spector, so pop oriented piano with vocals.
Rhett Miller by Rhett Miller.
Rhett Miller could record himself burping the alphabet and I'd probably be into it. Nonetheless, this is the best solo effort he's ever released.
11:11 by Rodrigo y Gabriella.
Umm.... So, it's flamenco death metal, more or less.
Hometowns by The Rural Alberta Advantage.
Is it still Americana if it's from Alberta? Best thing out of Canada since The Weakerthans.
Oohs & Aahs by Say Hi. These guys are officially in the "will buy it without listening to it until they screw up three times in a row" pantheon. Synth driven goth pop of the highest quality.
Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away by Slaid Cleaves.
The best Americana record since Uncle Tupelo's debut. Really.
At War With Walls and Mazes by Son Lux.
This is actually a 2008 release, but I've been listening to it all year long. Can you call dark, glitchy electro-pop singer song-writer? Because that's how I think about it. Deeply personal material, but more sample-and-overdub than strum-and-wail.
From the Forest to The Sea by Southeast Engine.
Another Americana album. More to form than anything else so far. Elements of bluegrass and pop mixed together to near perfection. I'm beginning to realize I had a tripartite year, evenly splitting my time between pop, drone-core post-metal and Americana. I'm weird.
Now We Can See by The Thermals.
Smash your head on the power punk rock, kids!
Telekinesis! by Telekinesis.
I just stumbled on this one even though it was released in March, but damn. Just damn. A near perfect power pop record. From Merge? Who'd have guessed?
It's Frightening by White Rabbits.
Piano! Two drum kits! Rawk! I'm a big fan of this band.
Adult Nights by Wild Light.
Up until I heard Telekinesis this was my "best pop album of the year." Reminiscent of, if not quite as good as, Dear & The Headlights' Drunk Like Bible Times.