This was an odd year for music to me. Some CD’s that I really looked forward to turned out to be pretty awful (My Morning Jacket) to just ok (Gnarls Barkley). There were, however some pretty phenomenal bands that I discovered to make up for those disappointments. Here are the 10 best of those CD’s
10. The Cool Kids “The Bake Sale”
It seems that for hip hop, change is a bad thing. With very few notable exceptions, as hip hop grows older, it gets exponentially worse. Enter the Cool Kids. They take things back to 1986 and the results are awesome. The clap and bass beat that makes up the opening track is one of the most creative beats you will hear all year. It sets the tone for a great disc that is fun to listen to and gives hope that hip hop has some future
9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Dig! Lazarus, Dig!”
Nick Cave doesn’t really break any new ground here, but this CD is highly entertaining, with great songs. Cave’s lyrics and delivery are perfect for the loose chaos that backs him. As he rants about a new-age Lazarus lost in modern America, or demands someone to explain how we got to this point in humanity, Cave’s delivery perfectly accentuates the mood of these songs.
8. The Mars Volta “The Bedlam in Goliath”
One of the themes that a couple of bands on my list share this year is that they pared down the scope of what they put on record and really focus on song craft. The most frustrating thing about the Mars Volta is that they would be completely awesome if they just would play instead of giving you 3 amazing minutes of rock bookended by 10 minutes of babies screaming or something like that. Well, this is the disc where they find out how to remain arty and groundbreaking while keeping their songs lean and focused. This is the Mars Volta at their best, showing us the power they can produce when they really set their mind to the songs.
7. Sigur Ros “Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust”
This is another of the bands that refined and honed their formula for the most part this year. While I really had no complaints about the previous Sigur Ros albums, it is nice to hear what they would sound like if they attempted a more straight ahead song format. The results are mostly great. It is still nice to hear them do their old thing on the brooding to ecstatic “Festival”, but the more straightforward songs like “Gobbledigook” and “All Alright” are revelations. On a side note, one of the funniest things I read this year was in the Paste review of this album where the reviewer said he was glad that when Sigur Ros gives us and English language song, it doesn’t turn out that they’ve been singing about coke and strippers this whole time. Funny to think about.
6. Devotchka “A Mad and Faithful Telling”
There really is no one else like Devotchka out there. They were really thrust more into the limelight after “Little Miss Sunshine,” but they didn’t really let that success go to their heads, and instead turned in one of the best albums of their career. All the signature devices are there; the gypsy-esque arrangements and instrumentation, the yearning vocals, and the overall dramatic flair that doesn’t sound hokey at all.
5. Blitzen Trapper “Furr”
This is another band that took a step toward more focused songwriting than previous efforts, while maintaining some of their previous quirks. As much as I liked Wild Mountain Nation, none of these songs wouldn’t really fit on that album. There really is no Devil’s A Go Go, but that’s not really a bad thing the way these songs turned out. The highlights are actually the quieter, more intimate songs like Furr and Not Your Lover. A great disc from a band that has lots of promise to it.
4. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
More often than with other bands, when I get a Spiritualized CD, it is an event. I have to listen to it in it’s entirety uninterrupted to fully appreciate the scope of what Jason Pierce is trying to do. Their latest is no disappointment. This is a disc that brings all of the best things about Spiritualized together, the medicated full orchestration of Sweet Talk and Soul on Fire, the more straightforward rock of I Gotta Fire and You Lie, You Cheat, and the devastating sparseness of Death Take Your Fiddle. This album was worth the wait.
3. The Walkmen “You and Me”
My favorite moment on this CD comes in the third chorus of possible best song of the year “The New Year.” Hamilton Leithauser just decides he isn’t going to sing for most of the chorus. The band does it’s thing, but Hamilton just sits out. It’s a perfect example of the Walkmen at their drunk/too cool for school best. Sonically, this album doesn’t break much new ground for them, but it’s a nice return to form after the relative departure of their “Pussy Cats” cover. It’s always nice to have the Walkmen back doing what they do best.
2. Howlin’ Rain “Magnificient Fiend”
Howlin’ Rain is the side project of Comets on Fire’s Ethan Miller. I sometimes wish I was a teenager in the early seventies at a time when psychedelic rock was at it’s apex, and if there’s one thing Miller can do, it’s psychedelic blues rock. If an alien came down to earth and asked me what this whole rock and roll thing is, if I didn’t have any Stones Cd’s, there is a very good chance I would play Howlin’ Rain. From the frenetic amped up blues of “Dancers at the End of Time” to the Allman-esque twin guitar ecstacy of “Goodbye Ruby,” this album gives faith that there is bands out there keeping the old-school rock and roll flame alive without sounding like a rote thorwback.
1. Wolf Parade “At Mount Zoomer”
It was a very close call for me between #1 and #2 and if you ask me why I chose Wolf Parade over Howlin Rain, I don’t know if I can say why exactly. There is no doubt that this is a great album. I guess inside of me lives a prog rock fan, but not too big of one. I like the balance of straight up rock that Wolf Parade mixes with flair proggy keyboard flourishes, dramatic vocals and song arrangements that veer outside of the normal format just enough to add to the excitement. Highlight is the closer “Kissing the Beehive” which combines all of the elements that make Wolf Parade great. The song starts out inauspiciously enough before building to it’s climax that eventually ebbs into the devastating outro.
My Morning Jacket “Evil Urges”
Just when I thought I had heard the worst song of all time in “Highly Suspicious,” MMJ drops “Two Halves” on me. Ugh. Hopefully MMJ got all the stuff that made this album bad out of their system and can come back with a strong album next time out.
Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”
Flight of the Conchords “Flight of the Conchords”
Flogging Molly “Float”
North Mississippi Allstars “Hernando”
Okkervil River “The Stand Ins”