It's been an interesting year, made all the more rewarding by the amount of music I've been able to hear on the nifty headphones rubber-cemented to my head. I didn't even know my car was ready at the mechanic's. Now that I do, blogs must be sent in on a timely basis in order to pay back the man before he takes the Classic Pinto away for the last time.
Speaking of which, the last time I did a round-up like this was June, so you can see I've had two whole months to stockpile more hot new releases. Even crazier? There are 13 albums sitting here for the next list!
Had I applied these less-rigorous standards back in college, I might've had several more children I don't know about.
25) Kanye West -- Yeezus:
I resisted but then I took the Iman Lababedi Challenge and really dug into the thing. And while I can't print much of what I learned, I did decide that 'soundwise' this thing works. Because it refuses the slickness that hip-hop insists upon. Instead, it sounds like what you imagine a perverse punk rock programmer would do to the Atari 2600 to recode it to make music. The tones are Germanic Pong from a guy delusional enough to tell everyone he's a genius. At 26, you expect it. At 36? You need to listen to your wife more often.
24) The Pastels -- Slow Summits:
It's a shame Americans are so Ameri-centric, because those tiny islands on the other side of the blue stuff on the map are jammed with people who make music and they're not all English. Many are Scots, some are Welsh and the cool ones are, of course, Irish. Ever wonder where Scots like Belle & Sebastian get their coy tendencies? Ever wonder where stands the future of Flute-Rock? Check here first.
23) Whirr -- Around EP:
Not sure why but lots of bands have gone the shoegazer route recently. Odd, since My Bloody Valentine aside, was this ever a lucrative form? I heard enough Atom Heart Mother here to keep me interested. Two female singers helps, too. Though why they need six people is beyond me. Unless they're giving their effect boxes human names.
22) Big Deal -- June Gloom:
UK to US male-female duo hit upon that Vaselines-to-Heavenly vibe that almost nobody asks for at the bars I've visited. Maybe in LA, it's different. But I don't think it's likely anywhere. So, grab the album and dig what no one else yet knows about. It's more enjoyable than arguing with people over whether or not you think Hole are underrated!
21) The Olms -- The Olms:
Pete Yorn's one of the boring rock stars. I've heard this from people who've interviewed him and from people who went to see him in concert. So, it's probably a good idea he stays in the studio with his friend J.D. King and records an album that no one would think was his work, but rather a set of obscure recordings by contemporaries of the Beau Brummels and Peter and/or Gordon.
20) David Ford -- Charge:
Some of the 'Americana' here bugs me. But there's no stopping the toe-tapping during the full-on charge of "Pour A Little Poison" and I thought I heard a drop or two of Jackson Browne in "Moving On," so I'm willing to keep him on my radar to see where he goes.
19) GRMLN -- Empire:
This is the back-to-basics type recording that always interests me. Few moving parts, lots of air and a voice that's stuck right in the middle. Five day recording plan, so no one gets to indulge their stupid concepts. Could be a record by Agent Orange in 1981, but it's not.
18) Alison Moyet -- The Minutes:
I couldn't find Yaz in the telephone book. So when I say I enjoyed her album that either means, it's not what any Yaz fan would like, or I'm changing my ways as I take more calls from the reaper. I admit to wanting "Changeling" to be the Doors song, but I'll take the halting beats and demanding electronic stuff as being artsy enough. Maybe I don't like this at all.
17) Mick Harvey -- FOUR (Acts of Love):
Anytime someone covers Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do," I take notice. Jeff Buckley, Maria McKee, your mother, and Nick Cave's former right-hand-man knows enough about the dark stuff to do a number on the number. PJ Harvey (no relations, or he's not saying) visits and you figure at least half the tricks on a Nick Cave album came from Mick anyway. Why not get up close and see for yourself?
16) Surfer Blood -- Pythons:
You'll notice I'm a sucker for simple punk-pop that isn't slicked to the point where harmonies grate. If I can still hear the drums rumbling and the singer sounding unsure and unsteady then I'm OK with the formula and with producer Gil Norton restraining himself these little south Florida Weezer brats are better than most groups who work the genre. Only the obvious single "Demon Dance" sounds like Jeff Lynne got ahold of things, threw in a Roy Orbison hook and went emo. If that's what it takes to sell records, it's easy enough to bypass, since it's first.
15) Bill Frisell -- Big Sur:
One of the great expressionists with his gee-tar, Frisell is easily spotted on every record he plays on. That's him simulating a waterfall. That's him playing the blue notes. That's him classing the joint up. A commission from the Monterey Jazz Festival sent him packing to those same damn dusty old cabins that Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and the kid from Death Cab For Cutie all went for inspiration. Apparently, it works. But I bet they're air-conditioned now and the thread count is outstanding.
14) Stephen Kellogg -- Blunderstone Rookery:
On first listen, I worried Kellogg was too slick. Then I realized he was from New England and figured it could've been much worse. That part of the country has enough rustic old schoolers who resent the running water in their songs, though, the tweed professors will love the Dickens reference. Mainstream music fans will love the way he sounds like Tom Petty in the good spots. I'm not sure where I come in. But it sounded better on second listen.
13) Tunng -- Turbines:
Frontman Mike Lindsay relocated to Iceland and worked on his album with local musicians before calling up his band members to have them fill in the numbered spaces. Imagine folk musicians who keep getting tech gadgets for Xmas. Or a bunch of tech geeks who let a folkie in their band.
12) The Mantles -- Long Enough To Leave:
If you should know someone who was a huge alternative music head back in the 1980s, who maybe worked at their college radio station, put this album on for them and don't tell them who it is and wait and see how long it takes them to say The Verlaines or The Clean or The Chills or Flying Nun Records. Then blow their minds and tell them it's not from New Zealand but from San Francisco. And it's not from 1984 or 1987, for that matter. Confusion shall reign. Denial will set in.
11) Vacation -- Candy Waves:
The Ramones may be T-shirts and city street names now but their first album remains a blueprint for other bands to consult when building their own dreams. That I hear The Jam, The Replacements, Agent Orange and an incompetent record producer makes the effort admirable. Cincinnati not New York. Not LA. Please don't relocate to Brooklyn. You'll learn what everyone else learns there and if I wanted to listen a National album, I'd buy a National album.
10) Smith Westerns -- Soft Will:
Chicago's SWs might be regretting their name just a tad in these violent, polarizing days, but there's nothing on their albums to suggest they're blanking out in the rec room, peaking on testosterone, planning vigilante justice. Nope, those sound like flowers being put down those barrels. Or do the 1960s not mean what they used to mean? I mean, this is psychedelic pop and I'm feelin' groovy.
9) Maps -- Vicissitude:
I was never much for, say, Erasure, but when today's synth-pop kids go to work they don't spend their whole albums aping that stuff. Maps, whose album is called Vicissitude (difficult to know these days, I first thought Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover band), starts off too flashy but slowly turns into the most techy Trembling Blue Stars album I've ever heard. That's a good thing.
8) Alela Diane -- About Farewell:
Everyone should get divorced at least two or three times. At least songwriters should. It sharpens their pen and lends emotional gravitas to whatever they sing. Now, they might be thinking 'don't do my art any favors,' but if you wants to be a player, you gots be in the game. (It sounds more profound when somebody from [i]The Wire[/i] says something like this.)
7) Naam -- Vow:
The Black Sabbath comparisons inevitably come (everyone knows them), but they're among the least interesting influences at work here. Better are the nods to Ash Ra Tempel and Spacemen 3. That the band uses the organ so prominently is as key as the rhythmic interplay between drummer and bass player. If you ever wanted to be in a band with no beginning and no end, put your application in sometime yesterday.
6) Glen Campbell -- See You There:
I sure hope they didn't make poor Glen sing every song in his Greatest Hits catalog a dozen times before letting him out of the recording studio. Posterity has its limits. That he can't turn on a note as he once could is interesting in that Billie Holiday Vol. 8 kind of way, but I do like the sentimental new songs that are meant to make you miss him more than you did before you heard of his tragic situation. Nobody lives twice, after all. If it wasn't for FaceBook, I wouldn't know about half the people who die in a given year.
5) White Fence -- Cyclops Reap:
Since Tim Presley was once a member of the Fall, we know he's witnessed drunk, delirious genius at close range. That he wasn't tempted to imitate either Mark E. Smith nor Darker My Love, his other group, is a good side. Because a garage rock band needs to stay on point. Or, watch this trick, a garage band needs to fall off point. (See, same rock crit nonsense, same rock crit results!)
4) Weekend -- Jinx:
I hope the band is named after Jean Luc Godard's famous film and I hope the early 80s bands they ape -- Echo, New Order, Cure, DM -- always retain an element of outsider status, just because it hurt deeply when "Pictures Of You" sold me something. Having moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn isn't the kind of "outsider" thinking I was talking about, but I hope by the time their songwriting peaks that the most lucrative offers are off the table.
3) Andrew Cedermark -- Home Life:
Once a guitarist in Titus Andronicus, this New Jersey guy put together this solo album in upstate New York and I swear it sounds like it has no center. I've listened to it a half-dozen times and am still not sure where all the songs go, but I like the instrumental breakouts enough to sway along and to get dizzy on the implications. So, what is YOUR sign?
2) Valerie June -- Pushin' Against A Stone:
If I had to place money on one artist who's likely to break out in a commercial sense, I'd have to put Dave DiMartino's money on Valerie June, who has "stylistic breadth," as they say, that allows her to explore country and western, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, folk and music all with a natural conviction that doesn't sound like she spends all day in her basement hyphenating her sound.
1) Jackson Scott -- Melbourne:
Fat Possum Records has been going beyond their original comfort level to find some intriguing stuff. As a fan of four-track weirdnesses, I'm a sucker for anyone who can make something of the dirt that comes with the territory. Remember, the blues is a chair.