Band of Horses Everything All The Time
With ringing guitars and pedal steel, this impeccable debut builds upon the Northwest sound of bands like the Shins and Built To Spill, while borrowing a little twang and a heaping measure of reverb from My Morning Jacket. A record that you can flip from side to side over and over again.
Beirut Gulag Orkestar
Like picking up a balkan republic radio feed from past and present, simultaneously mixing traditional folk music, marching anthems, and casio arpeggios. Elegiac vocals slide over accordion, horns, ukulele, and shuffling percussion. This is the album most unlike anything else in your collection.
Camera Obscura Let’s Get Out Of This Country
Referencing polished songwriters like Lloyd Cole and Dory Previn, Let’s Get Out Of This Country shows a band flourishing from the folk-pop Belle & Sebastian homage of their last effort to an uptempo pop and white soul outfit. Their sound is rounded out too with plenty of strings, organ, and horns that never obscure the sweet and pretty songs.
Cat Power The Greatest
Out of all these albums I will probably still be listening to this in 50 years. Chan’s songwriting is elevated to a whole other plane here, channeling heartache and longing over Stax grooves and Steve Cropper riffs. She’s looking from the bottom of an empty bottle and singing like a darker, more bittersweet Dusty in Memphis but every bit as touching.
TV On The Radio Return To Cookie Mountain
Possibly beamed in from the same planet as Sun Ra though featuring a double-headed Peter Gabriel thrashing behind a fifty-foot drum kit and armed with guitars set for stun. A rock and roll monster both beautiful and frightening.
Joanna Newsom – Ys
Though we grew up in the same small town, there’s no bias here. Ys (‘Yeez’) is a five song suite of inimitable craft that captivated me more with every listen. Collaborating with Van Dyke Parks to weave a rich string orchestration lithely around her beguiling pixie voice and harp, Newsom also utilizes the talents of Jim O’Rourke and Steve Albini to push her sound far beyond the whisper of The Milk-Eyed Mender.
Neko Case Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
Less the fox confessor than the mystical harpy, Neko’s swooping down to spook you with eerie laments that rip the flesh from your neck. On this album she’s inventing her own idiom, moving away from anything countrypolitan and into the dark Appalachian forests.
Nicolai Dunger Here’s My Song…
Seemed to fall under the radar of most everyone, this american release features Mercury Rev using every inch of the studio to support Dunger’s lovelorn, plaintive odes concerning ‘how we live this life of love and hurt’. Feels like a great 60’s singer-songwriter confessional album, but sounds timeless.
Sonic Youth Rather Ripped
Rather Ripped burns with the focused energy and supple melodicism of classic Wire, yet is resolutely the work of the Youth. Inventive 3 minute pop songs, including the Keith Richards-meets-Tom Verlaine sendup on opener ‘Reena’, make this unlike any other SY album and a pleasure to listen to.
Yo La Tengo I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
The perfect answer to the question left behind by their last middling effort. Rocking, fun, exploratory, and melancholy – in all the right ways. Yo La spin their way through all the aisles of a record shop past doo wop, memphis horns, crackling guitar squall, Bacharach and the Kinks to create their most entertaining record since I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
Almost but not quite:
Hot Chip – The Warning
Bouncy and fun without sounding artificial. ‘And I Was A Boy From School’ was one of my favorite songs from the year
Tortoise & Bonnie Prince Billy – The Brave & The Bold
Seriously cool collaboration yields unique interpretations of eclectic covers ranging from Devo’s ‘That’s Pep’ to Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’.
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
Possibly sacrilege not to put Bob up there. It’s great, but not mind-alteringly so.
Brightblack Morning Light – s/t
Intoxicating slow-burning organ and guitar grooves for the early morning comedown
Calexico – Hits and misses while stretching out with a more straight-ahead sound
Grandaddy – Their last, sadly. Grew on me.
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
Stalwarts who fumbled
from fair to fairly awful (I’m looking at you, Wayne)
Belle & Sebastian
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
And one from 2004 that I missed
Feist – Let It Die
Lovely, outstanding. There’s a demo version of ‘Mushaboom’ out there that I love even better than the album version.