Best albums, huh? Well, after compiling a list of almost 50 I thought worthy of at least consideration, it was pretty apparent that I had really listened to too few, and had no idea what constituted ‘best.’ A much simpler question to answer was simply which CDs saw the most action on my stereo, and which ones drained the most life out of my iPod. In an effort generally avoid additional hard decisions, I also stripped out the local acts and put them into their own category. That may be a disservice to a couple of them, as it was a strong year for Columbus bands and certainly a few would have breached my general Top 10. So here’s what I came up with- a dirty dozen plus a few honorable mentions. The best? I doubt it, but it’s what’s been keeping me busy.
1. Band of Horses, “Everything all the time”
Because I’m pretty sure I won’t be alone in this, picking Band of Horses for my number one seems almost a cop out. It’s like voting Troy Smith for the Heisman. While perhaps not undeniable, the consensus surrounding this record does hint at the quality of the songs. I find myself being drawn back to it’s sweeping highs and lows.
MP3: The Funeral
2. Built to Spill, “You In Reverse”
I’m not above admitting that part of my attachment to this particular album is based on a long love affair with Built to Spill, but I think I have enough objectivity (maybe) to suggest that even a new listener might be enthralled with the weird paring of Doug Martsch’s nasal falsetto with the three-guitar rock attack. Rather than repeat myself, you can find my more complete thoughts here.
Video: Conventional Wisdom
3. Silversun Pickups, “Carnavas”
Considering that their debut EP topped my list last year, and that this years full length is generally more of the same, I’d be remiss not put this one towards the top. While sometimes accused of reworking the 90s era grunge sound, the band is far from a retro ripoff act. While comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins abound in the press (of which there’s been a plethora), to me these songs seemed as fresh and energetic as they did familiar. More of my thoughts here.
Video: Lazy Eye
4. Heartless Bastards, “All This Time”
With all the critical acclaim being generated by The Hold Steady this year, the term “best bar band in world” is being tossed about rather casually. Yeah they’re good, but they’re also from Brooklyn- so when I’m looking for something really blue collar, I’d be happy to put the good ol’ midwestern Heartless Bastards up against just about anyone as a soundtrack to my whiskey drinking. The HBs have really nailed it on this one, with a grit and muscle that implies their rock heritage, but also a quiet intelligence and sincerity that might make one think first of Cat Power. The pace and unpretentiousness of this album very much gives it a bluesy, American river-town feel.
MP3: Into the Open
5. Sonic Youth, “Rather Ripped”
I’m sure a lot of music fans have a long history with Sonic Youth, and while I’ve got a cassette of Daydream Nation somewhere, my interest is far from fanaticism. I think that’s in some part due to my feeling that the music they’ve made has always been interesting, smart, and has the air of importance about it, it hasn’t always been that easy for me to listen to. How many times have I sat down to pay my bills or eat dinner and just simply picked something a bit more pleasant to throw in the player? Perhaps the purists will consider me a dilettante for saying so, but this record combined all that is edgy and visceral about SY with a joyfulness and pop sense that actually made me want to listen to it. Over and over, in fact.
6. The Prids, “Until the World is Beautiful”
Here’s a little Portland, OR band that has made a couple of trips through Columbus this year (one opening for the Built to Spill tour), and gained at least one fan in the process. This is a rather veteran rock quartet pairing a wall of fuzzy, chorus-like guitars with some of the baddest rock and roll bass driving a girl ever did. Really great 80s-like keys hint at the New Order influence, but the overall impression is that there are equal parts My Bloody Valentine or Pixies (minus the pop). Male and female shared vocals add a quite edge to the wall of other sounds. More about my thoughts on the record here.
Stream: Album Stream
7. Centro-matic, “Fort Recovery”
Robert Duffy already told you how it is with this one, so believe it. Centro-matic has managed to provide a sincerity and beauty that has revitalized the genre of folk rock, or altcountry, or whatever you wanna call it. You know, that hole in your heart that Jay Farrar left behind a long, long time ago. Misra Records is doing it right these days.
MP3: Calling Thermatico
8. John Vanderslice, “Suddenly It All Went Dark: Pixel Revolt Live to 2-track”
I’d been as much casual Vanderslice listener as fan, noting them with pleasant regard when I happened upon his songs, but a mesmerizing performance in Columbus earlier this year really set the hook. On that tour, he was selling this stripped down version of his recent studio release, Pixel Revolt. It’s just Vanderslice and his guitar, sans band and weird electronics, leaving just his beautiful and haunting songs to stand on their own. They hold up well, by the way, and as much as I love Pixel Revolt, listening to this version of the songs recalls more vividly for me that magical performance in April. The MP3 linked below isn’t from the album, and is much cooler, but you’ll get the idea at least.
MP3: Angela (Live in-studio performance from Radio Brussel)
BUY:: Barsuk Records
9. Mogwai, “Mr. Beast”
The Scottish Guitar Army returns to full rock form with a big, heavy, noisy collection of songs. Their somewhat trademarked (and often imitated) soft-loud-soft patterns are still present in the form of a few piano and surprisingly good vocal interludes, but overall, this a booming record to be played at a high volume.
MP3: Folk Death 95
10. Viva Voce, “Get Yr Blood Sucked Out”
In a year that has seen the rise to prominence of the rock duo, this husband and wife pair are the pick of the litter. Black Keys, White Stripes and Mates of State (shudder…) be damned. Not much out there is more beautiful or badass than these two. To call it a strictly guitar and drums act would neglect the fact that Kevin Robinson is really more a multi-instrumentalist, often playing keyboard, acoustic guitar, and singing while he’s drumming. Songs range from funny to savage and in the indie-pop vein, and dabble between psychedelic and sweet.
MP3: We Do Not Fuck Around
11. The Black Angels, “Passover”
Yet another return from last years list, and considering how much I liked their inaugural release, and that the the Passover LP includes most of those songs, it makes sense to see it here now. I’ll have to admit some initial disappointment at the fact that there was so much overlap between the EP and LP, but I’m over it now. I get all the droney, drugged out 60s fuzz rock in one place.
MP3: The First Vietnamese War
12. Hot Chip, “The Warning”
My Hot Chip interest actually started with receiving last year’s Coming On Strong as a gift. After falling in love with the subtle and cool dance beats, I pretty quickly turned by attention to The Warning. It’s been referred to as ‘dance music for smart people’ and while I make no claims that that describes me, I will say that I do like their clever lyrics and sometimes understated songs. I’m not a huge electronic music aficionado, but the overall joyful demeanor and lack of pomp on this record is attractive, and their commitment to play actual instruments in lieu of loops and effects makes the whole thing tangible and believable.
Stream: Stream songs from The Warning (requires Flash player)
From here on are a few records that constitute a list of honorable mentions; albums that are worthy of merit but just didn’t shake me to the core like I’d hoped.
13. Neko Case, “Fox Confessor Brings