1. The Decemberists – “The Crane Wife”
The indie rock band that everyone loves to hate is in top form with their fourth full-length album, a sprawling prog-rock infused masterpiece that’s – gasp!- danceable! New label Capitol hasn’t exactly reeled them in – the album’s title track is based on a Japanese folk tale – but the band has produced a couple of radio-ready tracks. “O Valencia!” and “The Perfect Crime 2″ are simply delightful. If the band’s recent performance at the Lifestyles Communities Pavilion is any indication, The Decemberists are ready and willing to take on their new ‘indie rock star’ status.
2. Miranda Sound – “Western Reserve”
Columbus’ hardest working four-piece brings its A-Game to its third album. “Western Reserve” is much more autobiographical than Miranda Sound’s first two albums, a grown-up look at the disappointments, break-ups and acceptance of mortality that accompany turning 30. But don’t go thinking this is some depressing, shoe-gazer album; in fact, it rocks plenty hard thanks to producer J. Robbins’ able hand. I, luckily, was able to see “Western Reserve” during its creation, from one or two songs performed during shows to the beautiful album it now is, and I couldn’t be prouder of my boys.
Disclosure: Donewaiting.com’s record label, Sunken Treasure Records, released this album.
3. The Long Winters – “Putting the Days to Bed”
Sometimes, a band really just comes out of nowhere with an album that becomes your favorite. I’ve enjoyed The Long Winters since seeing them open for The Decemberists a few years ago, but this year the band really bowled me over with “Putting the Days to Bed.” John Roderick has an amazing way with lyrics, rocking phrases like “they got file folders and dry erase boards” and “you weighed your suitcase down, but it still wouldn’t sink”. This is an infinitely sing-alongable album, one of those just made for playing loudly on your car stereo in August with the windows down and the sun shining too brightly. “Honest” is the standout here, a tale of a mother warning her daughter not to fall in love with a singer.
4. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – “Rabbit Fur Coat”
It takes a unique and typically country-twinged voice to get me to listen to female vocalists, so it’s no surprise that I really love this album. Breaking free of the indie-rock constraints of Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis busts out an album of rootsy, alt-country songs that are heartbreaking and beautiful. “Rise Up With Fists” was the radio hit with good reason, and the Traveling Wilbury’s cover “Handle With Care” is a great little number featuring Ben Gibbard, M. Ward and Bright Eyes.
5. Bruce Springsteen – “We Shall Overcome”
I was a casual Bruce fan before this album. Seeing as how Mr. Duffy is from New Jersey, I am of course exposed to the Boss’ music. But during a late spring trip to New Jersey, I became a real fan. Mr. Duffy was able to score two tickets to see a rehearsal show for Bruce’s “We Shall Overcome” tour – in Asbury Park. It was a magical evening, with hiccups and bumps and this excellent folksy Pete Seeger music that you could just tell Bruce loved playing. The album itself was recorded on the fly, sort of a jam session
that took over Bruce’s house. It’s an undeniably American-sounding recording, and almost a political statement; “We can sound American without sounding xenophobic – take that Toby Keith.”
6. Gnarls Barkley – “St. Elsewhere”
This was definitely the summer of “Crazy”. That song has now been committed to karaoke catalogs and wedding DJ libraries around the world. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that “Crazy” was a damn good song – the kind of song that makes you sing along at the top of your lungs. JT might have brought “SexyBack”, but Gnarls Barkley brought back the funk/soul/pop classic.
7. The Flaming Lips – “At War With the Mystics”
This is the first Flaming Lips’ CD I’ve played straight through. I’ve skipped around on the others, looking for “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and such, but “At War With the Mystics” is full of great songs, so skipping over some is not required. “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” is the stand out, a wonderfully crafted political pop song.
8. TV on the Rado – “Return to Cookie Mountain”
Who are these guys?! I must have been asleep when the EP and full length came out, cuz I totally missed the boat on this band. One of my co-workers was all about them, but I neglected them until I heard this album. On first listen, it reminded me of sort of an urban church choir, and on subsequent listens, I think that comparison still holds up.
9. “Weird Al” Yankovic – “Straight Outta Lynwood”
I gotta hand it to “Weird Al”, dude can still turn out funny stuff. “White and Nerdy” is an incredibly catchy tune and the video was equally as funny. But some of the stuff buried a little farther in the album is good as well, especially the 12-minute “Trapped in the Drive Thru” (a parody of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”), that’s as wonderfully musically masturbatory as the original.
10. Chris Thile – “How to Grow a Woman From the Ground”
Nickel Creek’s mandolin player, a superstar since his teens, puts out his fifth album, a collection of experimental bluegrass that seems like it was made for me. I grew up in a house that played nothing but country music – the really bad brand of 80′s and early 90′s stuff that turned out the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus and Neal McCoy. But every once a while, some of that rootsier, bluegrassier stuff would get through and it spoke to me. Chris Thile combines that old school bluegrass sound with indie-rock sensibilities; we’re talking about a man who covers the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” on mandolin! A great album for indie-rockers
who are afraid they’ll lose their credibility if they own a bluegrass album.