- The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine | buy it at insound! | The band’s label, Sub Pop, describes the band and the album perfectly. “With a wider, brighter, and wilder sound than anything The Thermals have done in the past, The Body, The Blood, The Machine adds walls of guitars, organs, and even a few 'ballads' (aka slightly pretty songs) to the mix, while still retaining the gritty post-pop-punk sound for which The Thermals are globally famous. The lyrics envision a United States governed by a fascist Christian state, and focus on the need (and means) to escape. While hardly a concept album, there is definitely a story in the songs: a story about getting the fuck OUT while you still can.” This album is energetic, captivating, and brilliant.
- Absentee – Schmotime | buy it at insound! | The songs on this album continually get stuck in my head. The lead singer has a deep voice with a timbre somewhere between Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. That low crooning cuts through the pop songs with guitar hooks, horn sections, and sultry female backing vocals (sometimes hovering multiple octaves above the lead). All of this mixes with songs like “We Should Never Have Children,” “There’s A Body In A Car Somewhere,” and “You Try Sober,” which tells a drunken lover and repeat hook up, “Why don’t you try sober if you’re so sure.”
- The Minor Leagues – The Pestilence Is Coming | The scale of this album is amazing. It’s full of grandeur – it tells a story of self-discovery and is layered with about 40 musicians. It’s like some lost great American novel, but this one is set with a sonic quality of a Beulah pop album. Set it Cincinnati, where people have “run away from the riots, the city, the fear.” And our narrator begins by thinking he has no control over his destiny, stuck in a city where “the superficial scene’s such a drag.” He needs out. And he begins to dream of more – of a Canadian dreamland. Through his dreams, he takes a new look at the place he lives and what he loves. He finds some solace in staying to himself. He fleshes out that love theme. And he realizes he has control of his destiny.
- The M’s – Future Women | buy it at insound! | This is an onslaught of power pop. This four piece has multiple lead singers and layers their vocals like only a great pop band can. They sound like a modern indie version of The Beatles on this album. Do I really need to say anything else?
- Tokyo Police Club – A Lesson In Crime | buy it at insound! | This band’s debut EP is only 7 songs and about 16 minutes long. It’s an assault of sharp hitting drums, attacking guitar riffs and cutting vocals. The songs are about a doomsday from robots, ways of the samurai, and global disasters. I can’t decide if I want this album to be longer or not. Part of me wants more from this band, but part of me loves the fact that this album is quick, fast, great, and then over. I played some of it for a friend the other day and he thought it reminded him of a more upbeat version of The Postal Service.
- The Elected – Sun, Sun, Sun | buy it at insound! | Jenny Lewis is the voice of Rilo Kiley. Blake Sennett is the other half of Rilo Kiley. Lewis released her own solo album this year. On the same day, The Elected, fronted by Blake Sennett, released this album. It showed a mixture of folk rock, catchy pop, and soul references. Jenny Lewis may have gotten more press for her album, but Sennett made a better album with better songs and a fuller sound. The Execution Of All Things has been Rilo Kiley’s best album. Sun, Sun, Sun is better than any other Rilo Kiley album (The Execution Of All Things excluded), but different in sound.
- M Ward – Post-War | buy it at insound! | I’ve been more a fan of the company M Ward has kept (Merge Records, Neko Case & Mike Mogis appear on this album, toured with Bright Eyes & Jim James) than of his music. But this record finally turned me into a fan. It’s mellow, full, and catchy. In the past I’ve been intrigued by M Ward’s music, but now I’m actually absorbed into repeat listens.
- Maritime – We, The Vehicles | buy it at insound! | As I started listening to this album, I was not immediately drawn into it. Each song was a little better than the one before it, but I wasn’t hooked. Then I hear the fourth track, “Parade Of Punk Rock T-Shirts.” After that track, the songs climb rungs of pop prowess to another great track, “Don’t Say You Don’t.” And “Twins” begins with the line “I find I’m humming the songs of Paul Simon in my cap and raincoat.” This album is consistently good, but it isn’t organized like a normal album – the best songs are not the first three tracks. Once I made it to the fourth track, I couldn’t turn off the music and I realized that it’s best tracks are scattered throughout.
- Band of Horses – Everything All The Time | buy it at insound! | If Built To Spill and The Shins had a love child it would be Band of Horses. Musically, this band sounds like BTS, but with the Shins’ style of experimenting with the three-minute pop song. The vocals sound like James Mercer singing with the phrasing and reverb associated with Doug Marsch. Whenever I think of this band, my mind shoots back to a book reading by Chuck Klosterman. He came to town shortly after Band of Horses played at Alchemize. After reading the introduction to his new book, he fielded questions. The last one came from the back of the room. I wouldn’t see who was asking the question, but I recognized the voice as that of my friend Sean. The question and answer went something like this (please remember this is very much paraphrased from my 4 month old memory):
Sean: I haven’t read any of your books, but I have a question that deals with the things you’ve been talking about.
Chuck (laughing): I can’t wait to hear this. I don’t really know anything about you, but I have a question that I would be perfect for you. Go ahead.
Sean: The other night I went and saw this band, Band of Horses, and I really like their album. And they played a great show. But afterwards I got a chance to talk to the singer. And he was an asshole. That’s been upsetting me because I really like the album, but it feels tainted because I met the guy and he’s an asshole. Should I let that affect the way I feel about the band? Or how should I just like the band after I know the guy’s an asshole?
Chuck: That’s a great question and it’s a lot of what I’ve been talking about. In all the interviews I’ve done, I rarely feel I’ve met the actual person. I’ve only interviewed the image the rock star or movie star has been trying to present. They’re just trying to sell a certain version of themselves. They might really be assholes, but they won’t show that to me because I’m there to write a story about them. So, what I guess I’m saying is just because someone is an asshole, they still might make great music. So just because the guy from Band of Horses is an asshole, don’t let that change the way you feel about the music. Because you went to that show because you liked the music and the music did something to you. Don’t let the music be changed because the guy’s an asshole.
- Jason Collett – Idols Of Exile | buy it at insound! | Jason Collett has the phrasing of Bob Dylan on this album. He mixes it with an overall mellow sound, but one that incorporates many different textures. “Hangover Days” has a drum machine beat behind the acoustic guitars and duet vocals with Emily Haines (the lead singer of Metric, and like Collett, she’s in Broken Social Scene and a solo artist). “I’ll Bring The Sun” is a pop song. There are some alt country songs. “Almost Summer” is an acoustic guitar with a little bit of upright bass and synth added. Throughout the album the music is damn good, but the lyrics are great, especially on “Pink Nights,” “Almost Summer,” and “Hangover Days.”
- The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America | buy it at insound! | This is a hard drinking band that makes music that goes well with drinking. A lot of the songs are about drinking. These songs are anthems of alcohol. When I first heard this album, I though the songs were good, but I could only imagine them live. When I saw the band perform at The Southgate House, these songs were scream-alongs. And this band might have had more to drink than Guided By Voices did when I saw them. The thing that made this album better was the comic book that came along with it when I bought it at Shake It Records. It graphically told the story of each song with the lyrics written as the dialogue to the story.
- Built To Spill – You In Reverse | buy it at insound! | The first track may be almost 9 nine minutes long, but the guitar riffs are addictive. Overall, that’s how the whole album feels. It’s really good and full of captivating guitar riffs, but sometimes the songs feel like they are too long. Marsch and band mates came up with some riffs that stick in my head, but with most of the songs clocking in at over 5 minutes I wish the songs were a little shorter.
- Rocky Votolato – Makers | buy it at insound! | This album is mostly a stripped down singer-songwriter lamenting over thoughts he’s missed either from childhood or from time missed with someone he loves. Most of songs don’t have drums backing them or the drums come in after a verse or two. Even with the minimal instrumentation, a lot of these songs still have an upbeat, rocking feeling.
- Rock Plaza Central – Are We Not Horses? | buy it at insound! | An interesting album based on an interesting premise. I could try to explain the story this album tells, but the band's myspace site does the best job. The record “is all about robotic horses. Robotic horses who think they are real horses. For real. And in the end, the robot horses are going to give up on trying to figure out what they are and what they should be doing, and instead they decided to just ride off toward some lights they see in the distance, hoping that the lights will have the answers for them. But the lights turn out to be nothing other than the stars, billions and billions of miles away. Fortunately the horses have no conception of time and thus experience no real sense of loss. In fact, because they were designed to run, they are elated to run forever.” It’s no surprise that the band leader, Chris Eaton has also written two novels (I try to find them at one of my favorite bookstores, but they have to order it and the store is about 2 hours away from my house). This album has a very extensive sound. There’s trumpets, trombones, mellophones, mandolins, banjos, violins, accordions, and glockenspiels mixed with the normal drums, bass and guitars. It’s a big tale with a big sound done wonderfully well.
- Heartless Bastards – All This Time | buy it at insound! | This record steadily rolls along. It seems to be in perpetual motion. It builds and swells showcasing incredible dynamics, powerful rock and roll, and a voice that sounds huge, jumps octaves, but always comes across as confident and captivating. This album is full of emotions and always seems to push my interest along with it so I can’t press stop.
- Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit | buy it at insound! | More layered pop from this band. They make great songs, but not great albums. I like a lot of their tracks, but no album of theirs stands out in my mind. This one is that way. “The Blues Are Still Blue” and “For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea” are two of my favorites.
- Oakley Hall – Gypsum Strings | buy it at insound! | A rock band from New York that plays with country roots. There’s a violin, but it’s played through a Marshall stack. There’s an electric guitar, but it’s strung like a banjo. The music sounds like Hendrix-influenced country. A lot of the vocals are doubled up with male and female harmonies. This album is rich and unique.
- Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That | buy it at insound! | The rhythms on this album are driven by hihat and electric guitar intertwining together. That gives it a retro sound while still pushing things in a pop punk category. The record’s pretty solid all the way through. This band is from France, but sounds like they are from New York and they have a “The” in their name.
- Robyn Hitchcock & Venus 3 – Ole! Tarantula | buy it at insound! | Hitchcock’s been around for years and released a damn good album this past year. This is garage rock with typical Hitchcock lyrics, in the vein of Dylan or Syd Barrett. Venus 3, the band backing him up for this project is Scott McCaughey (Minus 5), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), and Bill Rieflin.
Rhett Miller – The Believer | buy it at insound! | The Old 97’s front man dished out this pop charmer. His solo albums haven’t quite stood up to The Old 97’s albums, but this ones pretty good. The best tracks on this album (“Singular Girl” and “Question”) are rehashes of Old 97’s songs while some of the other songs (“My Valentine,” “Help Me, Suzanne,” and more) sound like they easily could be songs from that country influenced pop group. A few songs delve away from the stylistic molds Miller usually writes in and some of them, like “Fireflies,” actually work. Others don’t.
And a few other damn good albums:
Bonnie Prince Billy – The Letting Go
Califone – Roots & Crowns
Danielson – Ships
The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – The Rabbit Fur Coat
Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam
The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldier
Sparklehorse – Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain
Tall Firs – Tall Firs
Tapes 'N Tapes – The Loon
Two Gallants – When The Toll Tells
Submit this to: