I hate to call any of these “the best” because there are other great ones out there. These just made the deepest impressions on me. In no particular order.
1. ALBERT HAMMOND, JR.-Yours to Keep.
I’m gonna commit a blogger sin and admit that I’m not a fan of The Strokes. I like some of their singles, but none of their albums hold together for me. That said, Albert Hammond, Jr.’s solo release, “Yours To Keep,” is a really solid rock album. Ballads like “Back to the 101” could easily be transformed, live, into wave-the-lighter anthems, and toe-tappers like “Everyone Gets a Star” and standards like “It’s Hard to Live In the City” keep the record going without ever urging one to hit the skip button. Like his work with The Strokes, there’s nothing new here—it’s all stuff that’s been created before, but here it’s honed to a fine edge. Albert is a well-skilled songcrafter, and this is his best work yet. I love Arcade Fire, Amy Winehouse, Modest Mouse, and all the other great stuff that’s come out this year, and yet I find myself turning more often to Mr. Hammond. Here’s why:
A few live tracks, from June 3 of this year:
In Transit-Albert Hammond, Jr. (live)
Everyone Gets a Star-Albert Hammond, Jr. (live)
Back to the 101-Albert Hammond, Jr. (live)
And a couple more, since you’ve been such a swell audience…
Postal Blowfish-Albert Hammond, Jr. (live GBV cover)
Old Black Dawning (Frank Black)-Albert Hammond, Jr. (live)
2. PELA-Anytown Graffiti
The explosive cut, “Lost to the Lonesome” is the most catchy single on the record, but the entire LP holds together well. It sounds original and important, even if the mpassioned, sometimes straining vocals fall somewhere between Arcade Fire and Bloc Party, and music does about the same.
Lost to the Lonesome-Pela
Stream the album here.
Full review here.
3. THE FEATURES-Contrast.
If I hadn’t picked this album for this list, “I Will Wander” would definitely have made it on the best cuts of the year list. Phenomenally catchy, with it’s ELO vibe and ’80s vocal track, Wander is one of the best pop songs this year (or any year, perhaps). And the great news is there’s a bunch more to hear! I thought when they were dropped by their label, the band would fold, but instead they’re better than ever. You can buy it at e-music or at their own site. It’s just 6 bucks, and it’s well worth it.
P.S.: I know this is just an EP, but giving us five extremely excellent songs is more than most albums can muster, so it’s on this list. Deal with it.
Full review here.
4. ARCTIC MONKEYS-Favourite Worst Nightmare
The biggest act on Domino, and likely one of the biggest indie acts of this modern era, the first Arctic Monkeys sold truckloads, even after most of it was already available for free for download from the band’s own site and even after the rest of it had already leaked. If that’s not a refutation of the argument that it’s downloading that’s killing music, then…Well, then here’s another one: The Grateful Dead had special sections in their audience for tapers. They let tapers freely distribute their shows. Never hurt their sales. Ahem. Somehow this review became a political discourse. I’m known to ramble that way. Like the other day, when I was talking with-.
I’m rambling again.
Most of what I’ve read about the Arctic Monkeys’ second album, “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” was that the riffs were still good but the lyrics were not. I don’t know about that—I’m too busy bobbing my head and shaking my arms about wildly (that’s how geeky bloggers dance) to pay overmuch attention to the words. And most of the AM’s wit consists of funny one-liners, anyway. I think “Favourite Worst Nightmare” is as good—or better—than “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” How do ya like that? It’s much more experimental, allowing Alex Turner and Jamie Cook to duel not just on fast numbers but on some intricate midtempo ones as well. Lyrically, the content expands from gals and booze to more philosophical musings about the industry and media, as well as the struggle to be fulfilled as an artist. (And there’s still plenty about bad broads, too.) Plus, it clocks in at under 40 minutes. The boys know to hit once, hit hard, and get out while you still want more. How many other bands can say that these days?
Here’s cuts from a show from earlier this year.
This House is a Circus
D is for Dangerous
5. BRAD SWEITZER-“Stove and Taker”
“I don’t care, ’cause we burned our underwear in Canada.” Where else can you hear a lyric like that? Or like this: “When Frankie saw the photograph he knew just how fat he was, he said Drinking beer always made me think clear, now he’s doin’ sit ups on the floor.”
Wittiest album of the year. From the great Me and the Machine Records.
Full review here.
6. BROTHER ALI-The Undisputed Truth.
I just posted on this albino African American rapper last week, and just got the album a few days before that. I’ve already listened to it six times.
Best hip hop album of the year so far–indie or otherwise–and one of the greatest rap records in recent history. Believe that.
Go to my recent review for a few mp3s.
7. BLOC PARTY- Weekend in the City
Silent Alarm introduced a band who could do one type of song well. They did “Like Eating Glass” great as a rock song, great slowed down a little bit, and even remixed it well. Weekend in the City is clearly an attempt to break out a little, and take more risks, but where The Killers did that and failed miserably, Bloc Party is able to add a more serious, darker tone to their otherwise bouncy postpunk sound. Perhaps it’s because although they’ve clearly grown as a group, they don’t stray too far from their roots.
Silent Alarm’s political themes were clear, the music was so raw and powerful that heavy lyrics couldn’t slow the record down. You have to think more about this one. Kele Okereke especially seems willing to fail, stretching his voice in ways he hasn’t before (at least not on any of the band’s studio efforts). Check out “I Still Remember,” for example, where he dominates in a way he didn’t on the band’s last effort. But don’t worry, it’s also got plenty of the band’s signature hard drums, turn-on-a-dime changes, and muscular, stadium-rock riffs. And they can still do both romantic music and conscious music, sometimes at the same time.
8. MARNIE STERN-IN ADVANCE OF THE BROKEN ARM
Easily the best indie metal album of the year, and perhaps the only album this year to pay tribute to Rush, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, ACDC, and all the other cock rockers of yore. Dissonant, aggressive, fast, hard, and raw.
Full review here.
9. THE ARCADE FIRE-Neon Bible.
An anti-war album from the kings of modern indie rock. If you find it disappointing, it’s probably just because Funeral changed the landscape of rock so completely. This album in no way falls short.
10. THE BROKEN WEST- I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On
Broken West surprised me by taking a relatively tired genre (Americana/indie country) and reviving the standard formula with a new energy you just can’t find in the latest WilcoRyanAdamsSunVolt release.
Full review and a complete live show here!
Well, we’re done. Thanks to all of you who read this far down on the page. Please come by my blog and say hi!