of the cream-of-the-crop this year.
The Capitol Years - Dance Away The Terror
(Park The Van Records)
On The Capitol Years' fourth and latest full-length recording Dance Away The Terror the Philadelphia-based rock quintet actually use their head more than their feet to thwart away any impending terror. With well thought out compositions built on '60s pop sensibilities the band lightens up the heavier sounds of their last album Let Them Drink and delivers eleven insanely catchy, often upbeat, smile-inducing pop gems.
With songs that pull from '60s era artists such as The Who and The Kinks ("Long Time"), Meddle-era Pink Floyd ("Revolutions") and The Beatles ("It's Only Loveless" and "Mirage People") it might seem that The Capitol Years were content on simply rehashing the past. But instead of sounding like they're pining for better musical days, their approach is remarkable fresh and not unlike Guided By Voices' brain-trust Robert Pollard, whose '60s pop-cum-modern alternative rock has become the bedrock for much of today's indie rock sound.
If you're a pop-rock aficionado, a fan of mid-'60s Britpop or just love catchy, well-produced rock with hooks-a-plenty then Dance Away The Terror is definitely for you.
9) Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
It's pretty rare in this day and age - where music trends come and go so quickly - that a band can still be relevant over twenty years since their inception, but Sonic Youth are one of the few acts that continue to push the boundaries of what rock music can and should be with their own avant-garde, sonically-charged efforts.
Despite the New York-based band 's many releases, their latest full-length effort, Rather Ripped, is actually the closest thing to a pop record that they've ever put to disc. And while purists of Sonic Youth's experimental art noise may at first cry 'sellout,' this collection of twelve melodic, hook-filled numbers still embodies enough of the mayhem, cacophony and ambitious forays into new terrain to please the most discriminating fan of this unique genre.
With an emphasis on structure (even if it's still decidedly left-of-center, as on the song "Pink Steam" where a haunting guitar-line and hypnotic rhythm float ethereally along for over five minutes before Moore's satiny vocals drape over the remaining two minutes of more traditional alternative rock), the band has locked into one of their most cohesive albums to date. Songs such as the catchy Gordon sung numbers "Reena" and "What A Waste," along with the Moore fronted "Incinerate," where the guitars, bass and drums all skip merrily along as if auditioning for Dinosaur Jr.'s 1991 alt-rock template Green Mind, all point towards a band intent on taking their fan-base up from the underground without totally abandoning their edge. Even the maelstrom of noise that reverbs throughout the middle of "Turquoise Boy" is tamed by a sense of tranquil melancholy that bookends the song's short-lived mayhem.
Perhaps the closing dirge of "Or," however, with its droning, repetitive beat straight out of Moe Tucker's early Velvet Underground repertoire and hopeful guitar line that dapples light on this otherwise morose number, is their way of leaving older fans with a taste of their more unconventional leanings.
With sonics and experimentation still intact, although often taking a backseat to melody and song structure for a good majority of this effort, Sonic Youth have successfully created a work of modern pop art for the masses.
8) The Scourge of the Sea - Make Me Armored
On The Scourge of the Sea's full-length debut Make Me Armoredthe Lexington, KY-based trio delivers an irresistible array of pop songs that mixes both the sunny optimism of the mid '60s NYC singer/songwriter scene, along with a decidedly darker, more pensive split personality.
When the blinds are drawn open, as on the irresistible "My Sweet One," "Smitten Kitten" and "Goodbye, Darkness," frontman Andrew English's inviting vocals and brilliant pop melodies showcase him as one of the strongest singer/songwriters to emerge from the recent indie-rock movement. But, somewhat surprisingly, as great as these upbeat songs are, some of the more pensive numbers turn out to be even more engaging, which is probably why the album opens up with two of these more subdued gems. Amid a haunting melody and lilting harmonies "Out of the Trash" finds the love-scorned English rummaging through his loved one's garbage for memories of better days. The following track "Waterwings," as well as "Chasing Roses," the latter which is given a light, yet spirited alt-country treatment, are, likewise, more introspective numbers that are as deliciously sad as they are beautifully frail.
By name The Scourge of the Sea may sound like a plundering band of buccaneers, but musically - with indelible melodies and gentle arrangements - these bards are, in the words of Longfellow, "lovely as the day."
7) The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
Indie-rock's first supergroup, The Raconteurs, consists of four musicians that originally emerged from the Midwestern garage rock movement earlier this decade. While singer / guitarist Brendan Benson's resume is loaded with more straight-forward pop references, such as The Kinks, Lennon & McCartney, The Cars and Brian Wilson, the remaining three bandmembers have more direct ties to the gritty sounds that have reverbed out of The Motor City over the last seven years or so. The rhythm section of bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler comes courtesy of the Cincinnati-based band The Greenhornes, while Jack White (leader of The White Stripes and primary catalyst for the rebirth of garage rock) shares vocal, guitar and keyboard duties with Benson.
If an instant, easy-going camaraderie emits from the ten tracks on The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers debut it shouldn't come as a surprise; all of the members have performed with one another in some form over the years. Both Benson and White have swapped songs - with Benson performing White's tender "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" years before The White Stripes would put it to wax on their 2003 Elephant album, and The White Stripes releasing a version of Benson's "Good To Me" as a B-side a couple of years ago. In addition, both Keeler and Lawrence were in the Do-Whaters - a band led by White for Loretta Lynn's 2004 album Van Lear Rose, while Benson also helped produce The Greenhornes' 2005 East Grand Blues EP.
Broken Boy Soldiers eschews the raw Delta blues, which has influenced much of White's work with The White Stripes, in favor of a more direct brand of pop, complete with latent '70s hard-rock tendencies. Songs such as "Hands," with its pleasing Rubber Soul-era melody and punchy lead guitar, along with the nasally Lennon-esque harmonies that dance atop the otherwise dirgey "Call It A Day," puts White's philosophy of "never trust anyone who doesn't like The Beatles" successfully into motion.
As the album winds down, a bit of blues does manage to rear its head on the closing track,"Blue Veins." But instead of the early Mississippi blues that's held sway on much of White's previous work, this psychedelic-laced number comes off more like Big Brother and The Holding Company than Blind Willie McTell. And that ain't such a bad thing.
6) Yo La Tengo - I'm Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
Opening with an epic, near-eleven minute drone of hazy, psychedlic guitar-driven rock it's clear this Hoboken, NJ band - one that has released more than 15 albums over the last two decades - isn't about to rest on their laurels. In fact, this album which is filled with everything from jaunty pop ("Beanbag Chair"), haunting ambient soundscapes ("Daphia"), falsetto led tropicalia ("Mr. Tough"), elements of '60s pop ("I Should Have Known Better" and "Black Flowers"), Nuggets-era garage rock ("Point and Shoot") and frail balladry ("Song for Mahila"). It's not only one of the most challenging records of the year, but also one of the few that keeps getting a little bit better with each spin.
5) The Beatles - Love
Go ahead... cast your stones. I'm standing behind this one. While this soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas theatrical production of The Beatles Love may feature songs and excerpts previously released, The Beatles' longtime producer George Martin and his son Giles did such a magnificent job updating and remixing these classics into refreshing new takes that I'm convinced it's still some of the most inspiring and exciting music to come out this year - even if the masters that these songs were culled from are older than a good number of you reading this.
Love features twenty-six new takes on Beatles classics (the majority from their post-Revolver era), with snatches and samples of various other numbers snaking in and out of the mix. For "Strawberry Fields" Yoko Ono had delivered a wonderfully naked, early acoustic demo of John singing, which the Martins expertly morphed into the original 1967 recorded version with pronounced orchestration. "Hey Jude" ends with a delicious reggae-flavored bass-line that Paul originally recorded in 1968, while "I Want To Hold Your Hand" finds the producers once again perfectly marrying two different versions of the same song - the band's 1964 Hollywood Bowl performance along with the original studio recording, giving the number more exuberance and spark than any version before it.
While all of the original recordings of these songs are, without question, ingrained in our very fabric - hearing them hundreds, even thousands of times over the last four decades - this album makes it feel like you're experiencing them all over again for the first time.
4) Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
If the talented, yet extremely over-hyped, indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys can cause a fevered rush to checkout counters worldwide, then a band with an album as solid as The Loon certainly deserves to cause an equally rabid reaction among lovers of modern rock.
The Loon is an organic, challenging collection of eleven spastic, quirky songs that are as inventive as they are addictive. Combining the angular, guitar-driven new wave of early Talking Heads with the thespian tendencies of modern rock band The Arcade Fire, Tapes 'n Tapes deliver one delicious song after another on this spirited effort. From the jerky NYC post-punk of the opening track "Just Drums" to the deranged Caribbean breeze that floats through the odd, punchy pop of "The Illiad" to the near-epic wall of herky-jerky prog-rock on the closing "Jakov's Suit," this album is sure to delight those who delight in the unexpected. Tapes 'n Tapes' The Loon is some of the weirdest, most interesting and fun new music to emerge in quite some time. So whatever buzz you may hear on these four Midwestern boys, you can believe it... this time.
3) Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
With both newly recorded numbers and previously unreleased songs filling out this sprawling 54 track collection on 3 CDs, the ever-prolific Tom Waits has delivered one of his most pleasing collections of his career.
Many of these numbers were never originally released because they just didn't have the right home on any of Waits' proper releases - hence the Orphans title. But make no mistake; these musical waifs are anything but second-rate B-sides salvaged from the cutting room floor. Instead the raucous, hell-raising, often demented tracks that bully the aptly titled Brawlers disc, along with the more introspective, balladry of the Bawlers disc, which mixes gin-soaked standards with rough-hewn folk songs, and Bastards, which is filled with a broad collection of malformed, yet highly amusing ragtag reels, stark storytelling and ambling musical urchins, prove to be some of Waits' most ingenious material to date.
2) Bob Dylan - Modern Times
Musically speaking Dylan's first number-one selling album in thirty years, Modern Times, is anything but modern. But like the best of his expansive canon it's brimming with challenging and intelligent compositions that assimilate the best of American music throughout the entire twentieth century.
From the stinging guitar and chicken-pecking rhythm that shuffles through the plugged-in Delta blues of "Rollin' And Tumblin'" to the jazzed-up rock of "Someday Baby" and "Spirit On The Water," a number which sounds as if it was ripped straight from the Great American Songbook where Dylan's smoky vocal rasp soft-shoes over a handsome vaudevillian arrangement, these are songs that sound as if they've been around for decades. In response to last year's disaster in New Orleans, Dylan also digs deep into the subject matter from Memphis Minnie's 1929 original "When The Levee Breaks" for his own bluesy swing of "The Levee's Gonna Break."
Forget the myths surrounding this enigmatic artist, because the modern recordings Dylan has been creating over the last decade proves this is a man still at the top of his game - with his own mortality as the only thing about to slow him down.
1) Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
Not since the Atlanta-based hip-hop duo Outkast has there been an act that has successfully married hip-hop, soul and electro-eccentricities better than Gnarls Barkley, a dynamic duo consisting of producer / DJ Danger Mouse (best known for his notorious mash-up of The Beatles' White Album and rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album) and vocalist extraordinaire Cee-Lo Green (former member of Atlanta's Goodie Mob). But whereas Outkast's music is steeped more heavily in Southern rap, Gnarls Barkley utilizes rap and hip-hop as essential additives rather than the primary ingredient.
If there is one dominating force on their debut album, St. Elsewhere, it's the sexy soul of the '70s. With a set of buttery pipes, Cee-Lo manages to channel the soulful sounds of Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, while Danger Mouse works his magic with a colorful kaleidoscope of break-beats, strings, bubbling electronics and some of the strongest pop hooks in decades.
And while "Crazy" has already made this gangly, but lovable looking duo household names practically overnight, their entire album is one of those rare things in music that is able to transcend and defy genres and categorizations. From the creepy, blood-sucking soul of "The Boogie Monster" to the robotic, percolating hip-hop of "Feng Shui" to the Spanish guitar that flamenco dances atop the bass-drum heavy soul of "Just A Thought" and radio-ready danceable pop of "Smiley Faces," Gnarls Barkley has produced an album that is practically guaranteed to please lovers of any style of music - be it dance, pop, rap, soul or electronica. The two even manage to attract the alternative / indie rock crowd with an enduring version of the Violent Femmes' xylophone-driven college perennial "Gone Daddy Gone."
Crazy, colorful, highly textured and insanely infectious, St. Elsewhere turns out to be the strongest effort of the year from any genre.
|1) Bound Stems - Appreciation Night |
Virile darlings' debut is a thought-provoking, enticing album that may not knock you off your feet at first kiss, but stick with it and by the third date it'll be all over you.
| 2) Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood |
Much has written about Neko Case's voice, and rightfully so as it's always been her greatest asset. But on her fourth full-length solo album away from her band The New Pornographers, Case emerges as much of a songwriter as she does a songbird. While not a bona-fide masterpiece, Case is certainly showing signs that it may be just around the corner.
3) Eagles of Death Metal - Death by Sexy...|
Knuckleheaded, cliched hard rock that somehow manages to hit all the right buttons. Hysterical good fun.
| 4) The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Who'da thunk - indie-rock collides with prog-rock... and it works. Not their strongest effort to date, but definitely their most adventurous.
|5) Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Ole! Tarantula
Hook-filled collection of challenging pop from one of rock's finest.
|6) The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics|
Most Lips fans I know think this is one of their weakest efforts of the last decade. Me too... and it's still better than the majority of new releases this year. The heavy riff of "The W.A.N.D." is alone worth the price of admission.
|7) Cat Power - The Greatest
Where singer/songwriter Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) hires a gaggle of Southern soul session men to add even more authenticity to her already authentic and quite often harrowing and sparse ballads. Perhaps a bit over-hyped and definitely not "the greatest," but a strong album that seems to purr a little louder with age.
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