Category Archives: music

The Music of 2011 Made For Whiny White Guys

10. Release the Sunbird – Come Back to Us

Release the Sunbird is a new project from Rogue Wave frontman Zach Rogue. It was kind of strange to hear he was putting out a “solo record” when Rogue Wave is pretty much just him and a bunch of hired musicians. He perhaps felt a change of pace was needed after the last two Rogue Wave albums faltered (Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, Permalight) in my, and pretty much the world’s, opinion. He diverted from the lo-fi folk of Out of the Shadows and Descended Like Vultures by oddly attempting to gain mainstream attention with arena anthems and dance tracks. Nothing seemed natural, every sound was forced and out of place. So, is Release the Sunbird a return to “form?” From the first listen, I’ve enjoyed every sunny note and harmony. Come Back to Us is a summer record that keeps you warm all year round. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I love it when my favorite musicians remind me why I followed their careers in the first place.


9. An Horse – Walls

An Horse is an unabashedly twee pop rock duo from Australia. Sometimes you just need power chords and “bummer, dude” lyrics. Kate Cooper’s longing comes through with needed charm and earnestness, escaping any sense of maudlin immaturity. Her apparent speech impediment is also borderline adorable/grating. Basically, this may not be everyone’s bag, but it hooks me immediately, mostly because I’m a 12-year old girl in a Pixies t-shirt.


8. Original Soundtrack – Drive

I don’t believe a soundtrack has ever made my prestigious* year-end list, but this needed to be included, based solely on the fact that it turns me into a psychopath when I listen to it. Wait, hear me out, that sounds weird. When that first song hits (“Nightcall”) and the synths kick in, you’re immediately reminded of the feel of the film — that 1980’s Skinemax look of neon colors and sexy bass. It’s not campy, though, it’s honest-to-god art at a high level. You enter the world of mute getaway drivers who fall in love with sad ingenues and crush skulls with their boots. You know, that world. The world of a psychopath. You understand that I’m not crazy now? Hope so, you guys.

*not true


7. Lisa Hannigan – Passenger

Passenger is Lisa Hannigan’s second album and it builds on the oh-so-delightful Sea Sew. I first discovered her (just like every other person alive) when she sang supportive vocals with Damien Rice. There was always this feeling that she was a hidden talent in plain sight, but I couldn’t have guessed she would surpass Rice in talent and relevance. Passenger is a complete work full of soaring melodies, quirky folk, and lovelorn ballads. She’s also the cutest human person alive, as seen in the below video. That helps a tad.


6. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

I made last year’s list about a week before I discovered Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I still regret this, a year later, because it would have been my number one choice, guaranteed. No offense, The National, but that record is amazing. Hell, it should be at the top this year by default, because it’s had the most cumulative listens by a wide margin. So it was an easy transition to switch over to Watch the Throne. It felt like a clean continuation, since Jay-Z guested on several tracks on Fantasy. It’s not as much of a game changer, but it’s grandiose and full of hooks that won’t leave your head for days. Plus, it boasts the track of the year:


5. The Elected – Bury Me In My Rings

This album caught me by surprise — not because of how great it is, but because there was talk that The Elected were no longer making music. Blake Sennett, formerly of Rilo Kiley, had started the band as a way to showcase the songwriting that had become increasingly rare on every new RK album. Jenny Lewis was dominating every track, despite the fact that Blake was showing himself to be a strong writer. Then she put out two great solo albums (and a real shitty one with her boyfriend) and Sennett had been cast into obscurity. Luckily, someone convinced him to keep writing and now we have Bury Me In My Rings, a fantastic work full of obvious allusions to past friends and lovers. From “Go For the Throat:”

“Now you’re doing all right, and you just left the rest behind.”

Sennett, as shown in the two previous Elected albums, is incredible at crafting sunny, California pop with dark undertones. I literally jumped out of my seat when I saw this album was coming out, and it did not let me down. Here’s to more incredible music.


4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

This album never had a fair shake. My love for For Emma, Forever Ago is irrational. It’s embarrassing, actually, how much I want to make that album my lovely wife. I need congress to pass legislation that allows idiot guys to marry sounds. Let’s work on that, Boehner. So, this sophomore effort, no matter how great, was always starting behind the 8-ball. On its own merit, it’s quite the accomplishment. Justin Vernon expanded on For Emma by adding new instruments while somehow maintaining the lo-fi, hushed sound. If this were his first effort, it might have been number one based solely on “Beth/Rest,” the song Steve Winwood dreamt about writing during old man naps. Too late, a-hole.


3. Wild Beasts – Smother

Wild Beasts are a difficult band to recommend, because it’s definitely an acquired taste. They’re sometimes bombastic, other times overtly sexual, and lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s voice is part-falsetto and part-growl. It’s theatrical and at moments ridiculous. But the melodies, the layers of guitars and sounds, are undeniable. After multiple listens, you reach a level of intimacy not found before. There’s a moment on “Loop the Loop,” when the sounds build up and crash together, that never fails to give me goosebumps. I can’t promise you’ll have the same sensation, but that’s why I enjoy Wild Beasts as much as I do; it feels like a personal relationship, something not everyone can experience. I guess I’m just a selfish dickhead. The aforementioned moment can be found at 2:14 below (sorry, couldn’t find a link to embed).

“Loop the Loop”


2. Wye Oak – Civilian

Another girl/boy rock duo on par with An Horse, but no offense intended toward the Australians, Wye Oak is the far superior group. With Jenn Wasner’s husky and soothing vocals, her sudden distorted bursts of expert guitar work, and Andy Stack’s drums and synths, Civilian is an ethereal work that sounds like an epic crafted by a dozen people. It makes me feel feelings, in between breaking and uplifting my heart. See the titled track:

“I still keep my baby teeth in the bedside table with my jewelry. You still sleep in the bed with me, my jewelry, and my baby teeth…..I wanted to love you like my mother’s mother’s mother did.”


1. The Antlers – Burst Apart

Speaking of feeling feelings that make you feel. This album, oh, this album. Non-stop heartbreak. Moments of loss, desperation, and insecurity abound in forty-one minutes of sonic catharsis. From the moment “I Don’t Want Love” begins and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” ends, you find yourself at a loss, not sure if this epic bummer is healthy or soul-crushing. It’s the entire reason I listen to music: to stir up emotions that were previously stagnant.

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Music in 2010: The Year of Ke$ha!

HONORABLE MENTIONS!

Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away
The first three tracks on the new album from my favorite verbose Idahoan – “Curtains,” “Change of Time,” “The Curse” – are so gut-wrenching, it took me several continuous listens before I could finish the rest of the album. Sadly, it couldn’t hold up as a whole, but that start is so strong it can’t be denied.

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
Like Weezer’s first self-titled album, if it had a little more testosterone and a little less “ooh wee oooh’s.” Fantastic use of distorted power chords and grit.

Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
A wonderful mish-mash of noise, falsettos and complex orchestration. The 8-hour long (ok, 25-minute long) “Impossible Soul” is a love it/hate it closing track – I lean toward the former.

Vampire Weekend – Contra
Yeah, gurl, I’m way into Paul Simon, too. Want to take this pill and see what transpires?

She & Him – Volume Two
Sure, I’m a little Zoeey-biased, but this was somehow an improvement on Volume One. When she “uh huhs” and “mm hmms” on “Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” a million boys/men freak the fuck out. Not that I would know.

 

TOP TEN!

10. Twin Shadow – Forget

It seems like every November I stumble on an album that just dominates my earholes for the remaining weeks of the year. George Lewis, Jr., aka Twin Shadow, put out Slow at the perfect time to take that coveted slot. His Morrissey-like vocals pair up wonderfully with sullen sadboy dance music. Yes, I know, that’s not exactly breaking the mold — it’s just quality synth pop that will remind you that your life isn’t a John Hughes movie. Sad trombone.

 

9. Sleigh Bells – Treats

Noise pop is one of my favorite genres, because it just seems like an oxymoron from the get-go. Noise is just noise, amirite? No, youarenotrite. Sleigh Bells brings heavy, distorted guitars that sound like they’re about to explode, and chanting, pep squad-like, feminine vocals — two things that would drown the other in a toilet — and makes it work, to a high level. These are bouncy sing-a-longs that just happen to be very, very loud.

 

8. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

An endearing mish-mash of psych-rock and dream pop. The album cover is my favorite of the year, and I feel like it sums up the album quite nicely — kind of charming, kind of freaky, totally awesome. “Helicopter” is a wonderfully lush experience, like swimming with a manatee that’s totally willing to cuddle with you (simile win!).

 

7. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I read a review a few months back that called this Arcade Fire’s “Automatic for the People” — completely accessible and totally brilliant. I feel like this is a spot-on assessment, although I don’t think it can match up with AFTP. That album is R.E.M’s best — it just so happens to be their most radio friendly. Now, The Suburbs is a fantastic album, but it is not Arcade Fire’s best work. I’d put it below both Funeral and Neon Bible. It’s still an incredible homage to growing up in cookie cutter subdivisions, something I can totally relate to as a middle-class white boy. The crowning achievement of the album is how easily “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” fits in with the rest of the tracks. It’s euro-disco (see: ABBA) surrounded by anthemic Springsteen rock.

 

6. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme

I’ve  already used up “dream pop” and “synth pop” in this list, so I guess I’ll have to describe this album as “shoegaze.” Basically, this was the year my ears lived in Partly Cloudy Drowsy Town. This album was in heavy rotation during a whole bunch of atmospheric nights spent riding on subways and walking through parks. It will put you to sleep and make you dream about girls with bangs. I should email their publicist and have that quote added to their website.

 

5. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

My love for The Tallest Man on Earth, or Kristian Matsson, has grown exponentially this year, thanks to this album and an EP that subsequently followed (Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird). Matsson’s debut Shallow Grave was an incredible example that sometimes a voice and a guitar is all you need (the opposite example would be Jack Johnson *hacky sack!*). No complex instrumentation, deep production, nothing. The Wild Hunt takes this model and mostly sticks to it — only occasionally does Matsson throw in a second guitar or a piano. Ain’t broke, don’t fix, you know? Yet, somehow, this sophomore album is an improvement. At this pace, his 4th album will cure cancer (hyperbole win!).

 

4. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue

This is a bittersweet choice for me. It is easily Ben Folds’ best album since Rocking the Suburbs — it may even be better — but it can’t be called a “Ben Folds album.” Nick Hornby wrote the words, Ben wrote the music. This was 100% a collobrative effort between the two. Does this mean he does his best work when he has a little help, a la Ben Folds Five? Ugh, probably, but let’s look past that for now. This album could have easily been a short story collection, which is not a shock, given Hornby’s profession. Each song has a character, or characters, and a story to tell. Combine that with some of Folds’ best melodies and orchestrations in a decade, and you have an instant classic. “Belinda” is the best song Barry Manilow never wrote (totally not a backhanded compliment).

 

3. Beach House – Teen Dream

DREAM POP! SHOEGAZE! ATMOSPHERE! Man, I’m starting to paint myself into a very specific musical corner, huh? But what sets Beach House apart from acts like Twin Shadow and The Radio Dept. is Victoria Legrand’s vocals. They are physically over-powering, like getting caught in a tornado. You find yourself stepping back during tracks like “10 Mile Stereo.” The driving rhythms paired with her husky voice — they just pick you up and carry you along.

 

2. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

Now I’m not one to dance in public — only on special occasions, like when I black out from too much boxed wine — but James Murphy’s latest puts a little spring in my footwork, no matter where I’m stepping. His lyrical combination of self-deprecation and eye-opening truisms speak to me, MAN. He gives you hope, while at the same time keeping you steeped in snarky reality. That’s hard to do. Thus, I am his disciple and I will white-boy shuffle in almost-but-not-quite perfect unison when he asks.

 

1. The National – High Violet

There’s just something about The National that — for the lack of a better term — speaks to me. When I listen to their albums, I feel involved, like these songs were my own creation. High Violet struck a very specific nerve: feeling isolated while surrounded by millions of people. Matt Berninger’s social anxiety, that lingering feeling that he could suffocate out in the open under the weight of his own thoughts, is at the forefront:

“You’d never believe the shitty thoughts I think. Meet our friends out for dinner. When I said what I said, I didn’t mean anything.” – Conversation 16

“This pricey stuff makes me dizzy, I guess I’ve always been a delicate man.” – Lemonworld

“I live in a city sorrow built. It’s in my honey, it’s in my milk.” – Sorrow

“You said I came close as anyone’s come to live underwater for more than a month.” – Anyone’s Ghost

This album is soaked in melancholy, despite it reaching new heights musically. Berninger pours his heart out with his almost mumbly baritone, while grand sounds rise and fall around him. No wonder he feels the crush of it all.

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The Albums of 2009; Or, Everything I Liked Other than “Party in the USA”

Honorable (death before dishonor!) Mentions (in alphabetical order!!):

Andrew Bird – Nobel Beast
Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light
Bat for Lashes  – Two Suns
Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Grand Archives – Keep in Mind Frankenstein
jj – jj n° 2
M. Ward – Hold Time
Passion Pit – Manners
Richard Swift – The Atlantic Ocean
The Swell Season – Strict Joy
Volcano Choir – Unmap
Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

10. Sea Wolf – White Water, White Bloom

Here is the annual winner of the Why the Hell Do I Like This? award. With lyrics full of imagery seemingly composed in a high school’s AP English class, vocals straight out of your least favorite Bright Eyes tune, and musical compositions thieved from the likes of Arcade Fire, this should be receiving my scorn, if anything at all. I suppose once you mash all of this together, it brings out the Team Edward in me (they’re even on the New Moon soundtrack!). I’ve fallen for this indie pop stew, even if it needs a little more of a kick.

listen!

9. Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – Know Better Learn Faster

“Have I been just a body in your bed? Won’t you reach for the body in your bed?”
“Bring your hips to me.”
“Everybody put your clothes back on.”
“We have sad sex, we move steady to forget.”

This is a more mature Thao Nguyen than we found on We Brave Bee Stings and All, which mostly brought us back to the days of running around as a kid. But now? Ms. Nguyen knows better and learns faster when it comes to sex and loss. The album concludes wonderfully with the track “Easy,” a bouncy song that begins with the spoken line, “Sad people dance, too.” Perfect.

listen!

8. The xxxx

This album, guaranteed, is responsible for hundreds of pregnant hipsters. This nonsense is straight up sex on vinyl. Hushed vocals, sung by a pair of 20-year old kids from London, set to driving bass lines, slow-strummed guitar, and subtle drum machines, that make the listener feel like they’re eavesdropping on an intimate moment not intended for them. Example: “I’ve been down on my knees, so don’t think that I’m pushing you away.” More like The xxx.

listen!

7. The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

Some have complained that this Rick Rubin produced effort was a little TOO polished and put together, totally rejecting the natural aesthetic that the boys from North Carolina had crafted over the years. I’m not one of these people. This is a fantastic record, one that has really struck a nerve in me. From the instant classic title track, which I listened to on mega-repeat my first month in Brooklyn, to the closer “Incomplete and Insecure,” whose opening line “I haven’t finished a thing since I started my life, don’t feel much like starting now,” reminds me of an inner dialogue I’ve had with myself for close to a decade. The earnestness is still there (see: “Kick Drum Heart”), so take a pill, naysayers.

listen!

6. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches

Here we have possibly the most well-known man in Christian indie rock (Pedro the Lion) openly questioning his faith, sometimes in the most blunt manner: “Wait just a minute, you expect me to believe that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?” This is an important record, simply because it shows how one man can struggle so deeply within himself. Alcoholism, wavering faith, depression, this is as personal as it gets. “When all this lethal drinking is to hopefully forget about you. I might as well admit it, like I even have a choice. The crew have killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice.” This shit is heartbreaking.

listen!

5. Girls – Album

Girls is a band with the same old back story you’ve heard over and over: Lead singer grows up in a cult, mother becomes a prostitute, homeless and drug addicted until he’s adopted by a millionaire, and then…..rock fame! You know, THAT rags to riches typical American success story. You would think, with that backdrop, that this debut album would be a lot more jacked up than it is. In actuality, it’s a sun-soaked throwback to summer, with jangly guitars and harmonies. Sure, there’s a few “why’d you rip out my heart and throw it into a vat of acid” downers (“Lauren Marie”), but what doesn’t have those these days?

listen!

4. Why? – Eskimo Snow

Lyrically my favorite album of the year. Every song contains at least one line that makes me laugh, not because they’re flat-out hysterical, but because they’re just so smart that it confounds me.

“I see the rain does not respect state lines, why should you?”
“A gift from the Maccabees to mom to me.”

Musically, Eskimo Snow is no slouch, either. Within you’ll find some rich compositions reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ intermingling pianos and bells. This is a layered album, one to be listened to with headphones and a strong grasp of irony.

listen!

3. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone likes this record. But can you blame them? It’s the best dance pop album in years. These are nine perfectly crafted pop songs, nary a miss or mistake among them. This was my summer album. Every memory of my first summer in New York will always be set to Phoenix.

listen!

2. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

All apologies to Ms. Case, for I wanted this album to be number one for the longest time. I’m quite torn up about lowering it down a spot, actually. I love this one. It’s full of pretty songs sung by a pretty lady with pretty words, like “It will end again in bullets” and “The next time you say forever, I will punch you in your face.” Ahhh, she’s such a sweetheart. Although, “This Tornado Loves You” is actually the sweetest song ever written about murderous twirling winds: “I miss how you’d sigh yourself to sleep.” I’m playing that ish at my wedding.

listen!

1. St. Vincent – Actor

My love for this lady and her latest album has already been documented here. I called it the best album back in June and I’m going maintain that thinking in December. Nothing came along to take its place. Annie Clark is an incredible guitar player with a beautiful voice that happens to like destructive sounds and piano ballads. I also am confident that she is walking Enzyte.

listen!

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Filed under david bazan, girls, music, neko case, phoenix, sea wolf, st. vincent, thao with the get down stay down, the avett brothers, the xx, why?

I Dig Music – V. 2008

Unlike years past, I had an oddly difficult time naming ten albums to list as personal favorites. Last year, I had to go with a top 15, something I wouldn’t normally do, but it would have stung me deep to my core to not give certain albums their due. It’s not that this was a bad year for music, per se, but maybe just a bad year for my tastes. I’ve seen lists from friends who I respect, and they are bountiful, like a Christmas day booty of meats and spices. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps I’m just more particular than I used to be. A grumpy old man who longs for the olden days when music was king. You know, like back in 1993 when Faith No More’s tasty bass grooves ruled my soul. That, my friends, was a good time.

It didn’t help that artists I enjoy and have listed as “best of’s” in the past, like Ray Lamontagne, Jenny Lewis, and Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So’s, put out albums I only casually enjoyed (Lamontagne, Lewis) or down-right hated (Margot). This has become a trend, though. The same thing happened last year. I found myself appreciating new artists more often, and shunning those I loved in the past. Out with the old, in with the new. That kind of thing. Let’s hope those at the top of this year’s list don’t disappoint with future releases, because the top 5 or so I genuinely loved. Don’t disregard 6-10, though. You yourself may find something worth falling for. And……….we’re off:

10. Horse Feathers – House With No Home

horse2

I have a hard time not lumping Horse Feathers in the “Sounds Just Like Iron & Wine” category, with the hushed vocals, minimal instrumentation, and haunting songs-as-short-story lyricism. It doesn’t help that Justin Ringle sports the same style o’ beard as Sam Beam. It’s all kind of similar: acoustic guitar, violin, cello, vocals from quiet looking white people, the country, the end. It’s a beautiful combination if done well. If a wrong turn is taken, this formula will bore you quicker than a Ingmar Bergman film marathon. House With No Home takes the first route. Perfect for late night drives with the windows down, but not if you’re susceptible to random bouts of narcolepsy.

Best Sad Bastard Track: “Albina”

9. Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

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Technically, this comes out in the U.S. in January. But I’m a tricky bastard, and I got a copy of the Ireland-only release, so it counts for ’08. Take it up with the authorities if you got beef. Ms. Lisa makes the list almost by default. This album could be 90 minutes of guttural yelps and flushing toilets and I’d still give it 5 stars. I have what we call in the biz a “raging crush” on this woman. Nothing big, really. Ever since she backed Damien Rice on his album O, I’ve been the smitten kitten with her voice. And when she was conspicuously absent from most of his sophomore effort, it was no coincidence that the album was mediocre. I was hopeful she’d eventually put out her own album, and wouldn’t you know it, here it is. When all you really know about Lisa is her hauntingly distraught vocals from the Damien Rice albums, you would expect her album to be on par with the “let’s all drink some cyanide” style. But that’s not what it is — it’s shockingly upbeat, even giddy at times. This might actually be who she is. We only knew her as the wispy looking brunette standing behind the dimunitive Irishman, but now? She’s optimistic, despite the distance between her and her love (“An Ocean and a Rock”) and despite the fact that she’s yet to even meet her love (the adorable “I Don’t Know”). Her songwriting comes across as coy, yet in control. This is not what I expected, and I’m hopeful it does well when it’s released across the sea.

Best Sad Bastard Track: “Pistachio”

8. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

wolf1

I was a musical fool in regards to Wolf Parade. I ignored the critical acclaim of Apologies to the Queen Mary, writing them off as just another Pitchfork band with an animal in the title, i.e. Deerhoof, Deerhunter, Sea Wolf, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band, et cetera, et cetera. Friends would tell me to give it a listen, but I held my ground, refusing to admit that I was wrong. But, for whatever reason, when At Mount Zoomer came out, I felt the pull of the thirty second sample on iTunes, and I immediately went, “You dumb bastard.” Wolf Parade is just an old fashioned rock band, with a twist of electronic bliss thrown in. The dual vocals of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner play off each other perfectly, with Krug’s keyboard spacey-ness and Boeckner’s guitar riff explosions going back and forth. Since I started this relationship with the second album, I tend to lean toward it as the superior record. I’m told this is incorrect thinking, but it is what it is. Perhaps people don’t enjoy the prog goodness of the 10-minute closer “Kissing the Beehive” as much as I do. It’s just jam packed with the rock, like Tim Raines’ back pockets (That’s my favorite reference ever). You know what else helps in loving this band? Boeckner’s uncanny resemblance to Nic Cage in Raising Arizona:

I'll be taking these Huggies, and whatever cash ya got

I'll be taking these Huggies, and whatever cash ya got

Best “Stop Crying, Pussy, and Rock” Track: “Language City”

7. Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away

juliana

Oh, Juliana Hatfield. How far we go back. How long it had been since you didn’t suck real bad. After 2000’s excellent Beautiful Creature, Juliana had a streak of awfulness that could only be topped by an 8-year meth binge, which may have actually been the reason for her troubles. She put out record after record, each more wretched than the last. She leaned toward heavy, dirt-filled guitars, and it just didn’t suit her. Her best work has always been straight up pop. Of the you broke my heart, now I’m going to break your face variety, but, you know, in a cute way. This album is the best example of how well that can work for her. Songs of heartbreak and scorn ran rampant, but you won’t find yourself depressed, or sad for her. Instead, you’re hopeful, if not positive, that she’ll be fine, because she don’t need that asshole anyway. Juliana can craft one hell of a pop song, and I’m glad she regained that ability after being lost for so long.

Best Sad Bastard Track: “My Baby…”

6. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend”

vampire

Another example of, “God damn it, I’m not supposed to like this over-hyped nonsense!” But it’s just so good, so much fun. With the references to Benetton and Peter Gabriel, mixed in with the playful afro-pop, I was immediately hooked. It took like 30 seconds for me to go, “Yeah, it’s good. It’s really stinking good,” as I held my head in shame. Will the record hold up over the years? Eh, maybe not. It’s not exactly Remain in Light, but I get the feeling I’ll still get all giddy when “Walcott” comes on in 2018.

Best Dance, White Boy, Dance Track: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

5. The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Grave

tallest

The Tallest Man on Earth is just a silly band name for dimunitive Swede Kristian Matsson. All that comprises this outfit is one 5’4″ dude with a knack for plucking a guitar and sounding like Bob Dylan. It would be misleading, and a disservice to Kristian, to simply call him a Dylan clone. Simply stating that Guy + Guitar + Poetry + Mumbling = Bob Dylan would be ignoring the little things that make artists unique. For example: if you said Guy + Piano + Homosexuality = Elton John, then what would we do with Rufus Wainwright? Elton and Rufus are light years different, as are The Tallest Man on Earth and Bob Dylan. Each song is unique on Shallow Grave; it’s like hopping from pad to pad, finding a new place to explore. Some songs sound like they were recorded in a panic room, but that just adds to the allure. And after seeing him perform earlier this month, I have a deeper respect for his talents. His fingers plucked that guitar like he wasn’t even aware they were moving; it was effortless. He was expressive, vocally and facially. The audience was part of the show. Without them, his songs served no purpose. It felt like grown-up storytime. What also helped was a tiny man singing the words, “So I could stay the tallest man in your eyes, babe.”

Best “Let’s Fall In Love Track: “The Gardener”

4. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

fleet

Here is the token entry that I’m sure most pretentious jackholes, you know, like me, will have on their pretentious jackhole end of year lists. Mostly because it’s just a really good album. From start to finish, it has a sound all it’s own. Sure, you could classify it as baroque pop, or even Beach Boys v. Renaissance Festival ’08, but whatevs, just sit back and take in the harmonies, maaaaaaan. Munch on that tasty groove. This album, as you can tell, makes me embrace my inner hippie I never knew existed. My cosmologist mother would be so proud. Now, if only I bought her some dope for Christmas. Only THEN would she truly love me. Anywho, I’ve heard from a few people that they just couldn’t get in to this album. To those people I say, “Hey, don’t harsh my mellow.”

Best Let’s Do Something That Rhymes With “Hit Guy” Track: “He Doesn’t Know Why”

3. The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead

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I bought this on a random visit to iTunes. They said I’d like it and who am I to disagree? I clicked that purchase button, downloaded it to my iPod, listened to it twice, and then disregarded it completely. It’s not that I thought it was awful, per se, just not something I wanted to like at that time. It wasn’t a melancholy folk album, and that’s really I needed to know re: The Helio Sequence. A few months later, a friend asked if I could make her a copy of the album, and by “maker her a copy,” I mean, “go to the store and buy her a copy.” She gave it a few listens, immediately declared it terrific, and I realized what a mistake I’d made. And boy did I. I have not stopped listening to this thing since October. It’s a straight-up electro-pop album of the indie variety. Driving guitars, banging percussion, sound effects from video games, you know, that variety. For a band with just two guys, they sure have created a lush sound. You have your electro-beats (“The Captive Mind”) and your debbie downers for us depressive types (“Shed Your Love”). For a bit of everything meshed into one song, sample “Hallelujah” below. It is, by far, the stand-out track on the record.

Best Anthemic Track: “Hallelujah”

2. She & Him – Volume One

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Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. Yes, I am a Zooey Deschanel fan. I enjoy her. And, yes, I was genuinely excited when I heard she was putting out an album with M. Ward. But did I ever expect to actually love the album? No. I really didn’t. I thought it would be another celebutante attempt at musical acceptance with maybe 2 or 3 decent songs I could hang my hat on. If anything, Ward would add his expertise in production, put on a few coats of professionalism, and make it shiny and awesome. What actually came out of the process was a work of flat-out brilliance. Sure, that’s a little hyperbole for your ass, due to my previous infatuation, but it really is a great album. It’s full of girl pop, country ballads, Motown, Beatles covers, indie jams, and everything under the sun, sans rap metal and Catholic chant. You can see the songwriting ability in this collection. It kind of makes me sick, one person being so talented and what not.

Best “Awwww, How Precious” Track: “Sweet Darlin'”

1. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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So, imagine your heart breaks. But while it’s happening, someone records the event and plays it back for you on a loop. This, my friends, is the only way I can describe the Bon Iver album. Oh my god, is it an experience. How it came to be is a similar story: some guy named Justin Vernon needed to escape the world for a while, due to something that hurt him deeply, so he holed himself up in a cabin in the woods for a few months. He spent that time chopping wood and recording music. The final result was For Emma, Forever Ago. It sounds exactly how you would imagine: sparse instrumentation, haunting vocals, words about loss and recovery, kind of like a winter alone. This is an emotional release, a cathartic expulsion of everything that holds us down, that keeps us from moving on with life as usual. I highly recommend this album to everyone and anyone. Put “re: Stacks” on repeat and call me in the morning.

Best Track of the Year: “re: Stacks”

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