BEST ROCK ALBUMS
He Me" (Ace Fu)
Audio: "Dry Clothes"
Annuals' lush indie rock sound blends swirling
orchestration -- a la the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin -- with the pumping
moodiness of the Arcade Fire, not to mention a little leftfield weirdness. And
when you take into account that this is their first album, you can't help but
be surprised by their seasoned musicianship. Out of all the baby bands blowing
up, Annuals may have the best shot at career longevity. With both originality
and accessibility to burn, I can almost guarantee that you will be hearing more
from them in 2007.
MINA "Have All! But Where?" (Mik.Musik.)
"Kiss Me Quick"
On her first
solo album, Asi Mina uses many of the key ingredients that K Record stalwarts
like Little Wings, Mirah and the Microphones have been toying around with for
years: nylon stringed guitars, communal sing-a-longs, kitchen-ware percussion,
completely ridiculous lyricism, and a general adherence to things which appear
naïve and childlike on their surface. But there's also this transfixing age-old
wisdom lurking below her music. Have All! But Where? is really one of the
sweeter, more emotional and personal records that we had the pleasure of enjoying
this past year.
ARCTIC MONKEYS "Whatever People Say I Am, That's
What I'm Not" (Domino)
of the hype behind the Arctic Monkeys, the band pretty much lived up to all creative
expectations. Whether or not that they achieved the same mainstream crossover
success in the US as in their native England is irrelevant. The Monkeys' album
was a great pop record and a great punk record, brimming with hooks, energy
and memorable lyrics. Singer/guitarist Alex Turner has a sharp eye for compelling
tales of pub life, street fights, chasing girls and pressure from the outside
world -- kind of like a Jarvis Cocker for 19-year-old kids from the wrong side
of the tracks.
BAND OF HORSES "Everything All the Time" (Sub Pop)
Band of Horses create beautiful reverb-drenched,
country-tinged pop songs that are a perfect combination of the Shins, My Morning
Jacket, and Flaming Lips. Produced by Phil Ek, who has worked with Modest Mouse,
Built to Spill, and the aforementioned Shins, Everything All the Time instantly
vaulted these newcomers into the same league with this indie royalty. Hands down,
one of the finest debuts of the year.
BEIRUT "Gulag Orkestar" (Ba Da Bing)
Though they might have been another of those instant-success
blog-bands, Beirut stood out from the rest of the pack with their unique style
and, more importantly, great songs. Nineteen-year-old multi-instrumentalist Zach
Condon filtered his passion for Eastern-bloc folk and Middle-Eastern sounds through
Neutral Milk Hotel's shambling indie-pop sound, and the results were often intoxicating.
BIRD SHOW "Lightning Ghost" (Kranky)
Though this home recorded album may draw from many of the
same motifs as This Heat's Deceit -- world musics, electronic manipulations,
tape collages, discordant vocals -- Bird Show (a/k/a Town and Country's Ben Vida)
assembled a record that is nothing like This Heat's classic album. With the absence
of almost all proper song structure, Lightning Ghost often goes in many
directions all at once. It's a heady set that will certainly appeal to fans of
boundary-pushing artists like Animal Collective, Jewelled Antler Collective and
even Black Dice, while sounding like none of the aforementioned.
JAMES BLACKSHAW "O True Believers" (Important)
"O True Believers"
James Blackshaw's 12-string guitar conjures
more vivid images than the words of most of today's songwriters. Devoid of almost
all effects and only a hint of reverb, the London native delivered an organic
and transcendental journey that has more in common with the renaissance-influenced
works of Sandy Bull than those of Grandmaster Fahey. With the addition of tambura,
harmonium and percussion, O True Believers, at its most effective, achieves
a dreamlike, Popol Vuh-esque meditative state.
BORIS "Pink" (Southern Lord)
How many other bands can sound like a tank racing up
Mt. Everest on one album (Absolutego), and then sound like a Japanese Blue
Cheer meets Motorhead on another (Akuma No Uta), and then collaborate with
Merzbow on a track filled with analog hiss and massive amplifier humming? And
then there was Pink. The thing about this record was its cohesive variety
and unfaltering energy. The album rewarded the faithful with heaping doses of
thick, rumbling balls-out ROCK, and also won over newcomers with its absolutely
pure, yet new rock spirit.
BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT "s/t" (Matador)
"All We Have Broken Shines"
Brightblack Morning Light's self-titled
album was the kind of record that stood up to countless sonic references and actually
succeeded in combining them so completely that it seemed simple and off-handed,
like people had been making music like this for years. And, in ways, they have:
early Royal Trux, Ry Cooder, Can, Opal, the Stones' quieter moments on Beggars
Banquet. This was the kind of record that had been threatening to drop for
years, but it took Brightblack to find the right threads and tie them together.
CALIFONE "Roots & Crowns" (Thrill Jockey)
After the somnambulant sprawl of King Heron Blues,
we wondered where Califone might go next. Plunge into the shadow world entirely,
drop off the edge of song-form into dark jams full-on? The story goes that what
saved the day and turned the band back towards writing songs was hearing Psychic
TV's "The Orchids." Califone covers it here, the centerpiece of their
most accessible and most-layered album yet. While there are contingents out there
who think that folk music and its acoustic instrumentation must be replicated
to a tee, Califone embody the form while embracing samplers and digital loops,
making what we would consider true Americana, the past and the future crunching
NEKO CASE "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" (Anti)
"A Widow's Toast"
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood would
prove to be Neko Case's finest album to date. Sidestepping the usual country music
tropes in favor of lyrical content that was more oblique and more intellectually
engaging than your standard alt-country fare, her high lonesome voice had never
sounded better. And her band killed; she had wonderful music support from Calexico,
Sadies, Howe Gelb, Kelly Hogan, and Garth Hudson of THE BAND!
DESTROYER "Destroyer's Rubies" (Merge)
Audio: "European Oils"
Dan Bejar has always approached each
Destroyer album without the typical preconceptions of what exactly Destroyer should
be, and as such, you can never be 100% sure of what you'll be getting. Destroyer's
Rubies brought together the best of all his experiments, rooted in his base
as a singer-songwriter, while incorporating groove and power and swagger and restraint.
A distinctly Canadian pop record that is nearly irresistible.
GRIZZLY BEAR "Yellow House" (Warp)
Soon after releasing their excellent, home-taper's
masterpiece, Horn of Plenty, the duo of Edward Droste and Christopher Bear
added two new members, thereby converting their bedroom project into a proper
band. Now, two years and countless shows later, comes Yellow House, Grizzly
Bear's first attempt at capturing their live sound as a quartet. The band's
evolution between the two records is remarkable. Start with Animal Collective's
Feels, add to it a broad acoustic dynamic that evokes someone like Van
Dyke Parks' earliest works, and also some of the sonic subterfuge that This Heat
was capable of (think of their slower, more dour moments), the results are thrilling.
THE HOLD STEADY "Boys & Girls in America" (Vagrant)
Easily one of the best rock albums this year,
Boys and Girls in America tells pathetic tales of alcoholic aimlessness
in the Midwestern malls of singer Craig Finn's youth. The record could have been
weighed down by its classic rock/bar band clichés or Finn's characters'
lack of redeeming qualities, but instead we got a triumphant, thrilling album
that has way more fun than most indie bands would even allow.
HOWLIN RAIN "s/t" (Birdman)
Audio: "In Sand and Dirt"
Featuring Ethan Miller of Comets on
Fire and John Moloney of Sunburned Hand of the Man, Howlin Rain draw heavily on
a much-vilified era of American rock, circa 1969-1974. The group reeks of early
Grateful Dead, Allman Bros, CCR and Crazy Horse, with Miller howling and lamenting
his way through the album like Rod Stewart possessed. The totally overdriven guitar
solos may distinguish Howlin Rain from their early-'70s counterparts, but they
are a joyous celebration of classic rock music, as life affirming and unabashed
as they come.
BERT JANSCH "The Black Swan" (Drag City)
Real Audio: "The
The Black Swan was trademark Bert Jansch -- brooding,
rootsy, and smart with his trademark weighty guitar playing and round, gauzy vocal
style. And even though it featured a who's who of the contemporary "freak
folk" scene, as well as Beth Orton, nobody stole the show from the man himself.
Next to Jackson C. Frank, no other folkie has mined the personal and made it universal
quite like Jansch.
JESU "Silver" (Hydra Head)
and viscerally powerful, Jesu's Silver improved upon the funeral march
of the debut, and in the process increased the impact of the material. Imagine
Codeine's cascading slowcore riffage pushed through the filter of post-Loveless
shoegaze and bolstered with suitably thick processing and effects, and you have
the most forceful and direct work Justin Broadrick's authored since Streetcleaner.
LAVENDER DIAMOND "Cavalry of Light" (LDR)
Real Audio: "You
Broke My Heart"
The premise was simple: have the lovely voice of
singer Becky Starck repeat the mantra "you broke my heart" for a full
two-thirds of a song over a steadily rising battery of bells, piano, and acoustic
guitars, and then have it break into a glorious crescendo followed by an emotionally
engaging text about things like light and love. It was about 10 times better than
we could've ever hoped and it practically restored our faith in the power of the
single. The other three tunes were quite lovely as well, and made us very glad
to be living in a Vashti Bunyan-influenced era.
CD-EP is unavailable
at this time
LOVE IS ALL "Nine Times That Same Song" (What's
Audio: "Used Goods"
Following a slew of seven-inch singles,
Sweden's Love Is All finally delivered their long-awaited album. Nine Times
That Same Song was a lo-fi barrage of chaotic, yet instantly catchy guitars,
funky bass and drums, and female yelps, with occasional bursts of sax and organ.
All the urgency of your favorite riot grrrl band, the swagger of Blondie, and
the perfect pop of those early Creation bands. Predictably, they went on to become
MAHOGANY "Connectivity!" (Darla)
Audio: "Tesselation, Formerly Plateau One"
Back in October,
Mahogany stepped out with Connectivity!, their second proper full-length
in five years' time. The album buzzes with strings, electronic pulses and crystalline
guitar lines, and is leavened by clear, angelic boy-girl vocals. The Brooklyn
octet's bracing, chilly, dream-pop is ethereal, motorik, and densely rhythmic.
It's not surprising that Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie would turn out to be a fan,
and he even contributes a few remixes and re-recordings on the second disc. Could
be a contender for pop record of the year.
JOANNA NEWSOM "Ys" (Drag City)
We all read the tale of the tape: 5 songs, 55
minutes, each suite between 7 and 17 minutes, as well as the A-list of folks involved
(Jim O'Rourke, Steve Albini, Van Dyke Parks). Even such names and numbers couldn't
prepare us for the truly unique listening experience that was Ys. It's
beyond what most everyday indie pop music listening entails and far beyond anyone's
expectations. Newsom's harp remains at the center, with Parks swirling orchestration
and dashes of Americana around her, but the songs themselves are immense in range
and scope. No cursory listen even begins to unlock its manifold nuances and tics.
OM "Conference of the Birds" (Holy Mountain)
Audio: "At Giza"
"At Giza," the first of the album's
two 15-plus minute tracks, is deeply rooted in psychedelia (and for some reason
Voivod covering "Astronomy Domine" comes to mind) as opposed to the
sludgy doom metal that Al Cisneros and Chris Haikus (both ex-Sleep) have come
to be associated with. All in all, not your average stoner fare but instead some
of the most intense minimal psychedelia we've heard in a long, long while.
PETER, BJORN & JOHN "Writer's Block" (Witchita)
This year, the Swedish pop revolution continued
in full force with Peter, Bjorn and John leading the way. Writer's Block
is a stylistically diverse record, not necessarily cohesive but all the better
for it. The common denominator is classic indie pop, and we hear lots of influences,
from the Soft Boys to Galaxie 500, but there are also traces of R&B, '60s,
power pop and, of course, a little Velvet Underground. The more we listened (to
the smash hit single "Young Folks" in particular), the more it didn't
SONIC YOUTH "Rather Ripped" (Geffen)
Rather Ripped was the most straightforward
Sonic Youth album since Goo. These 12 songs contained some of the band's
most memorable material since the dreamscapes of A Thousand Leaves, but
with the overall length cut down in half. Impeccably accomplished avant-pop frameworks
that injected reminders into everyone's skulls of exactly why and how they got
into Sonic Youth in the first place.
TAPE 'N TAPES "The Loon" (Ibid)
Tapes 'n Tapes debut album is brimming with
Pavement, Captain Beefheart, and Pixies influences, but the songs are so good
that they aren't overshadowed by the obvious touchstones. The group has mastered
the art of dynamics and the art of restraint, and both qualities abound in their
simple, hooky tunes. Try as you might to poke holes in their obvious formula,
it's undeniably a winning one.
ON THE RADIO "Return to Cookie Mountain" (4AD)
Audio: "I Was a Lover"
Return to Cookie Mountain is an
immediately recognizable collection of what's become TV on the Radio's trademark
sound (dual vocal interplay, shoegaze-inspired walls of guitar and the ability
to turn a melody into a frenzy in five minutes), and more in line with their debut
full-length as opposed to their first EP. Influences from Peter Gabriel, classic
soul and doo-wop are still in the mix, along with some nice studio tricks and
tribal percussion. Effortlessly solid.
VETIVER "To Find Me Gone" (DiCristina)
Audio: "I Know No Pardon"
To Find Me Gone is a luscious
paean to string instruments and broken hearts, to the road, and to time too. Where
the guitar and string arrangements on Vetiver's debut often felt tense and baroque,
To Find Me Gone is free to wander. No '70s influence is left unturned --
the Velvet's infectious minimalism, the earthiness of the Band, the poignancy
and playfulness of a Harry Nilsson. It's all there.
VOXTROT "Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives"
Audio: "Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives"
primed for a world takeover, or at least a Fader cover story. With only one previous
EP to their name, the Austin, TX pop band have managed to become one of the most
blogged about and debate-inspiring success stories of the year. And when you can
pen jangle-crazed, reverb-drenched X-chromosome rave-ups like these, you just
let them all talk, and turn it up.
SCOTT WALKER "The Drift" (4AD)
Audio: "Cossacks Are"
Scott Walker continued to challenge himself,
and the listener, with his sonic and lyrical explorations. The Drift is
a stunning epic, filled with swirls of electronics, vibrating strings, pounding
percussion, and of course, that voice
the music surges and then disappears
with a seeming randomness that only slowly reveals its logic. Despite the pain
that The Drift wallows in, it's hard not to be inspired by the joy of the
TK WEBB "Phantom Parade" (Social Registry)
Audio: "The Spade"
Only a chump could like a Williamsburg, Brooklyn
white-boy blues album circa 2006, right? Amazingly, this turns out to be dead
wrong, and TK Webb's excellent album on The Social Registry is the proof. With
a deep, swampy mid-'70s vibe, Phantom Parade draws on the likes of Dylan,
Neil Young, and the Stones, with a batch of strong songs and a stronger sense
of mood. Webb's tunes are built around his insidious, hypnotic guitar playing,
lazy and loose and full of dissonance and melody. Add to this his raw, emotive
late-night rasp and you have a surprisingly winning combination.
WHITE FLIGHT "s/t" (Range Life)
Audio: "Pastora Divine"
An ambitiously dense sonic song-collage
that bears comparison to a group of artists as diverse as Animal Collective, TV
on the Radio, Little Wings, and even Outkast (!), without really sounding like
any of them. Like those artists, the experimentation is generally in service to
the song, with layers of horns, old ethnic 78rpm samples, and outdoor field recordings
making a frame for the introduction of cyclical beats and multi-tracked vocals.
WHITE MAGIC "Dat Rosa Mel Apibus" (Drag City)
If you've come into the store even semi-regularly
over the past few months, you're sure to have caught us listening to White Magic's
momentous debut album on the store stereo -- again and again. At times, Dat
Rosa Mel Apibus trances out like an old Alice Coltrane record, while elsewhere
the group delves into sea chanties and even a touch of reggae. Throughout, exotic
percussion, stand-up bass, and sitar meld with Mira Billotte's piano playing,
submerging the listener into a weird, suspended state.
THOM YORKE "The Eraser" (XL)
Audio: "The Eraser"
Though not a giant leap, Thom Yorke, the
voice of Radiohead, took a forward step, and what was surprising here was the
crisp, clean electronic backing that he surrounded himself with. The Eraser
is a perfect representation of the current state of Euro-soul/electronica -- think
Massive Attack, Erlend Oye, or the Morr Music label -- filled with light click-and-pop
rhythms, synth washes, and only the subtlest traces of guitar.