2010: Artists of my year

I put the emphasis on my because these aren’t going to appear on anyone else’s run-down of 2010. Or two out of three anyway – the artists of my year actually have a lot in common, but release dates aren’t one of them.

Not that there wasn’t enough good music out in 2010. It’s been a long-ass time since I made one of those numbered lists – I used to love doing it, but I think I might have taken it a little too seriously and they would always end up taking me so long to compile, it wasn’t worth posting them anymore by the time I was finished. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to mention really great albums by Mark Ronson, Hot Chip, She & Him, Tunng, Son Of Dave, Frightened Rabbit (especially Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks really stuck with me), and The Black Keys (always, always The Black Keys) – all of which got a lot of airplay on my iPod.

I’m thinking as I type this that a badass mix tape (the old school kind) could be made of some of my favorite singles of the year. If I did that, the tracklist would probably look a little something like this:

“The Arsonist”, Our Lost Infantry (thanks to Saam at Faded Glamour for letting us know about this one)
“Superfast Jellyfish”, Gorillaz
“Bang Bang Bang”, Mark Ronson (probably my single of the year, if I had to pick one)
“New York Is Killing Me”, Gil Scott-Heron
“Taos”, Menomena
“Best Friend”, The Drums
“The Opposite Of Adults”, Chiddy Bang
“The Cities That You Burn”, Adam Haworth Stephens
“King Of The Beach”, Wavves
“Kentucky Pill”, Johnny Flynn
“Ghost Train”, Summer Camp
“O.N.E.”, Yeasayer

Among others. Hmm, maybe I should make that mix.

Anyway, the point is that, although I loved all of this music dearly, they aren’t the artists I’m going to forever associate with 2010. It wasn’t really my best year ever and, I suppose I really latched on to the way Tom Petty, Langhorne Slim, and Mark Oliver Everett AKA Eels approach music.

Tom Petty?! Yeah, I know, I’m at least 20 years late and it’s not like I didn’t love Tom Petty before last year. But I got to see that amazing Peter Bogdanovich documentary earlier this year and then couldn’t get enough. Same with Langhorne Slim, whose eponymous 2008 album had been wasting away in my iTunes library until I finally remembered to check it out this summer. I snatched up everything else he’s recorded within weeks and at least one of his albums has been on my iPod ever since, no exaggeration. As for Eels – yeah, I listened to a lot of Eels last year too, but again – Mark Oliver Everett’s voice and songwriting just took hold me of me this year even more than before. I loved Tomorrow Morning but listened to everything I have as much as I could; Eels music is, for me, definitely something I love even more the more I listen.

All three play and sing from the bottom of their hearts, reaching deep, deep down for a level of true emotion (both happy and sad) that most other artists can’t dream of – but they all three also infuse their music and lyrics with the kind of hope that just refuses to give up. And I guess that’s just what spoke – or sang – to me in 2010.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Even The Losers
Langhorne Slim – Worries
Eels – Oh So Lovely
Advertisements

In The Merry Merry Month of … January

Eels, End Times

Yeah, it’s been a while since we Merry Merry Month-ed, but January started off 2010 right with some fantastic releases. The obvious, the one everyone talked about, the one that had people gathered around their website waiting for a hint of what was to come is, of course, Vampire Weekend. Kicking of the new year, Contra didn’t quite knock my socks off on the first listen. Sure, “Horchata” was catchy-as-hell, but I wondered if perhaps their sound could really only sustain them for a short time. But it’s grown on me over the few weeks and, even without anything like the triple threat of “Oxford Comma”, “A Punk”, and “Mansford Roof”, I still feel it’s a worthy follow-up to their debut. No big surprises – it’s fun and insanely catchy in pretty much exactly the way I’d expected – but songs like “White Sky” easily remind us why we all liked them so much in the first place.

Laura VeirsJuly Flame is perhaps a little less spunky, but still a pleasure to listen to. Here’s where I should admit that I’ve never actually heard a full Laura Veirs album before. I’ve got one EP, and she’s high on that mental list of artists I keep meaning to finally check out properly, but, shamefully, I still haven’t gotten to it. So it is that July Flame is the first one and, as a result, I have nothing to compare this to. I can’t say if it lives up to past releases or if she’s changed her ways since the last; I can only say that “Summer Is The Champion” and “Wide-Eyed, Legless” (below) were my immediate favorites and I expect July Flame to soundtrack many thoughtful moods in the future.

Laura Veirs – Wide-Eyed, Legless

Now, there are a few artists, few enough that I could probably count them on one hand, that blow away the competition almost by default. Unless something tragic happens, other releases don’t stand a change against theirs. One of that few is the lovely Mark Oliver Everett and his Eels. Assuming he doesn’t totally go off the deep end and release, say, a gansta rap album*, his albums are probably always going to outshine the rest. Last year’s Hombre Lobo had bite; January’s End Times is all stunning heartache and loss. It bluntly describes, as Everett himself put it, “the state of the desperate times we live in. The bottom line-ness of it all. The end of common decency. The loss of caring about doing a good job. These are tough times. Who can you trust? Walter Cronkite is just a ghost.” Add to that a renewed sense of personal hurt and aloneness and you have the recipe for some truly depressing listening. So how is it that Eels albums never quite are? There always seems to be a tiny spark of hope, of defiance, underneath it all that keeps it from sinking into total despair. Everett’s talent lies in his ability to be almost painfully honest in his lyrics, while managing to find beauty in even the deepest sadness.

Eels – Mansions Of Los Feliz

*Though, honestly, I’d totally listen to a Eels gangsta rap album at least once. It would be interesting, if nothing else.

As for singles, it seems that January ’10 had some greatness to offer in that department as well.

These New Puritans – We Want War

This song gives me goosebumps. It starts with a slow drum and gradually turns into a dark force with a choir, middle eastern-inspired percussion and creepy-inspired creepiness. It has the same effect as The Imperial Death March. Seriously, if ever I decide to become a super villain I’d choose this song for my theme. It feels menacing, like the harbinger of evil. Blows my mind.

Lightspeed Champion – Marlene

I first heard this song in concert two years ago (which by the way, was freaking amazing) and I remember looking for it afterwards, because it made such an instant impact. Dev warned the crowd that it was a bit different from his usual stuff. The crowd went nuts, so then he said he wondered whether to be worried that his other songs didn’t get quite the same booming response. To be honest, I’ll listen to anything he dishes out, but “Marlene” truly is a remarkable single with an harder edge and even some psychedelic influences. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen and love, my friend.

Oh No Ono – Helplessly Young (mp3)

The nasal, high-pitched vocals sound like that guy from Empire Of The Sun. I mean, exactly like him! Wait, it’s not the same guy, is it? Uncanny. Anyway, this sounds like a wonderfully, sixties rock-inspired pop song. It’s really sunny and playful and for some reason it made me wish for the warm summer days that ended with a slushy that turned my tongue blue. But I think that might be a personal thing.

Plastiscines – Bitch

Les Plastiscines – following Meredith Brooks before them, aren’t trying to change the world with their earth shattering lyricism, they’re just announcing their superb B-I-T-C-H status with some rowdy Rawk ‘n Roll! “Bitch” has an uncomplicated message, if you can call it that, and mild shock value – well if you’re Amish and consider Avril’s musical endeavors “punk”, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

Stairs To Korea – All Of Your Friends (Dreamtrack Session)

Oh my goodness, I love this song – from the electronic bleeps to the sweeping guitar. Its lyrics tap into the essence of human emotions without getting sickeningly sentimental. It’s the work of one beardy man with an amazing understanding how to play with words and melody to create something that’ll make a lasting impression. I know it’s not fair to compare, but I’ve listened to them in succession and couldn’t help but note his lyrics make the Plastiscines seem very silly indeed, still fun but so very silly.

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass

So sweet. I forgot that despite the somewhat gimmicky feel of their quirky, memorable videos, OK Go make some really great pop songs as well. This one is ridiculously catchy, upsweeping and uplifting and features a whole dang marching band. It will turn your mood from Tim Burton to Roberto Begnini in a heartbeat. AND it has a quirky, memorable video.

Jay Z, Rihanna, Bono & The Edge – Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)

The proceeds of this single go to relief funds for Haiti. It’s a great cause, a great single and a wonderful way to spend 99 cents.

In The Merry Merry Month Of … September

Monsters Of Folk

So another month has passed us by, and it’s getting darker and colder out there. Let’s have a look at some of the new releases the end of summer ’09 brought us, shall we?

Girls‘ debut album, Album, was widely talked about – in fact, I only checked out the album because I’d seen their name all over the place – and is, as it turns out, quite good listening. They aren’t doing anything hugely new, but that’s ok sometimes – their brand of fuzzed-over surf-ish California pop is a lot of fun (when it isn’t sounding completely lovelorn, that is). Their sound doesn’t exactly pop, but would make some excellent heartbreak or late-at-night listening. Oh, except for “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” – that one rocks hard.

Girls – Big Bad Mean Motherfucker

The CribsIgnore The Ignorant, their fourth album, came out last month as well. Let me start by saying that I was a huge Cribs fan back when their debut came out. I was seriously in love with that album (and still am). I enjoyed the second as well, though maybe not quite as much, but was less impressed with the third. But at least it had some kind of catchy singles. So it pains me to be so bitterly disappointed in this new album. It’s just … boring. Blah. Blerg. I hear Johnny Marr in there and that should be cool, but honestly, I’m not sure what he adds in this context, especially when the songs just aren’t there to begin with. I’m not all that surprised really, what with how Men’s Needs … never fully caught my attention, but this is an even bigger let-down than I’d have thought possible. Bummer.

Before I get to my last album of September, I should mention here that I’m still trying to get my grubby hands on Kid Harpoon‘s full-length debut, Once. I’m a huge fan of his First and Second EPs, so I seriously cannot wait to hear this. Mr. Harpoon has tracks streaming on his website, so go have a listen here. It sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

My favorite – by so far I can’t even see the others in the distance – is, without a doubt, Monsters of Folk by the folk-supergroup of the same name. Oh my, this album is a serious winner – each song definitely sounds like the member it was written by, and each of their voices are as distinctive as ever, but this never feels like a compilation of Conor Oberst, Jim James (or, inexplicably, Yim Yames), M. Ward, and Mike Mogis songs. Their styles and voices blend so beautifully, so smoothly, it feels like this foursome always existed as one. It’s so hard to pick a single stand-out track – is it the Marvin Gaye-meets-folk “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)”, or the old-timey country-gospel ditty “Goodway”? I’ll go with the cowboy-tinged “Man Named Truth” for the moment, but I have a feeling it’ll change constantly as I keep listening to this wonderful album.

Monsters Of Folk – Man Named Truth

And now it’s time to look at our favorite singles. Some months I choose certain singles because they’re not great but not bad either, so to give the band the benefit of the doubt I include them in the Merry Merry list. This time, however, I didn’t have to use any filler songs! It doesn’t happen very often so I’m really excited about September’s releases. I am smitten with every single one of these singles.

Mumford And Sons – Little Lion Man

This is a sweeping bit of stomping folk. It starts off simple and urgent, but by the chorus you’re swept away by beautiful layers of fiddles and voices and a banjo, I think.

Girls – Lust For Life

The song and the video are both so very adorable. It’s upbeat and melancholy and over way, way too fast.

Fanfarlo – The Walls Are Coming Down

The second single of their debut album is a wonderfully warm song. Fanfarlo is an amazing multi-instrumental band and has a beautiful, rich sound that has one leg in tradition and one leg in a mystery bucket of beauty. Yeah, I suck at telling you what they sound like but don’t let that stop you checking them out. They’ve been compared to Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah but try to clean your musical palate before you listen to this band. Their music is strong enough to stand on its own without the heavy shadows of other great Indie bands luring over them.

Beth Jeans Houghton – I Will Return

This song is lovely – a melodic pop song with a bluegrass ‘tude. Her enchanting voice transports me to a soft summer day in a beautiful field, which is hard to do because it’s fricking freezing today.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – The Golden Age

Her voice is so bizarre but cute. For some reason the music reminds me of a trippy yet slick nineties commercial and I love it. This song also makes me wish for carefree picnics in a park – Sigh, I might just be projecting my sadness for the demise of summer on these songs…

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing

With this strange song The Drums rediscover the surfing theme without revisiting The Thrills. It vaguely echoes and pays homage to California surf pop, but with a wonderfully intricate contemporary feel. There’s also handclaps and whistling, I swear it’s like Bean dreamed up this band.

The Dodos – Fables

I mean it’s The Dodos. They rock. I was gonna leave it at that, but all the other ones got a wee descirption so it just wouldn’t be fair. “Fables” from their third album is catchy and swinging and a fun and flighty introduction to their fantastic new album. It’s almost poppy but with tremendous substance and depth.

Metronomy – Not Made For Love

A gentle number about lost love with electronic bleeps and a sad, sad voice. It’s sparse compared to the other singles in this list, but conveys as much, if not more emotion with so little.

In The Merry Merry Month Of … August

Julian Plenti Is ... Skyscraper

Well, it’s that time again (a little late, but nevermind), and I’ll just be honest here: I didn’t get many new albums in August and the ones I got didn’t exactly knock my socks off. I’ll start with the only ‘big’ release I’ve got to talk about: Julian Plenti (otherwise known as Paul Banks) is … Skyscraper. There are two totally unfair things against this album right from the start: 1.) It’s always going to be compared to Interpol, though it really shouldn’t because, in theory at least, they’re two separate things. But there’s no stopping it. 2.) Paul Banks’ voice is incredibly distinctive and everything he sings is going to sound like him – which, to most listeners, means like Interpol. Which takes us back to point #1. I don’t know if it’s because of one or both of those problems, but to me, … Skyscraper pretty much sounds like a less powerful Interpol. If more songs had at least something a little different going for them, like “Unwind” (below), which I like very much, this album might have been a lot more interesting. As it is, I’ll probably just stick with Interpol.

Julian Plenti – Unwind

As if August was the month for unexplained pseudonyms, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James has called himself Yim Yames on his “Tribute To [George Harrison]” EP. James hasn’t done anything drastic or unexpected with these songs, but that’s exactly what makes them so effective. He’s basically just let them speak for themselves, in his gentle, haunting voice. “My Sweet Lord” and “Love You To” are almost spooky, in the loveliest way possible.

There are a handful of albums I’ve only just sampled or listened to once, The Antlers’ Hospice among them. I went into it having no idea what to expect, and the truth is that it was so very mellow, I kind of forgot I had it on. It started to catch my attention a bit more in the second half, but Hospice is definitely an album I’m going to have to keep around for a while before I can really decide what I think of it. I only just this minute downloaded Cast Spells’ “Bright Works and Baton” EP from emusic – it sounds promising so far. And I was really looking forward to checking out The Drums‘ EP, “Summertime!”, when my emusic downloads refresh in a few days, but it is suddenly not available in my country although it was two days ago. Wha’ happen, emusic? It sounds like a lot of fun though – post-punk surf music – from the available samples, so I’ll keep my eye out for it to reappear.

And now it’s time to round up the singles! There were some exciting releases this month, but some songs that came highly recommended made me so impatient I started fast-forwarding to try to find “a point” to it all. Which is when I decided that the definition of a good song should be that it doesn’t need a point, it just is, and it is good. More and more, I find myself puzzled by songs that are supposed to be by an exciting new band. I’m scared that in a few years, all the ultra hip new music will make me quote my crazy uncle when he first heard Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Oh awful, that’s just noise and screaming, nooooise and screeeaming!” In spite of me prematurely turning into a Grumpy Old Woman, we have a good list of exquisite songs this month:

A fun, upbeat single, reminiscent of Hot Chip and early Police. But honestly, all I’m thinking is: how do you pronounce Miike, is it anything like Hawaii??

The XX – Basic Space (mp3)

You can’t get around this band, not unless you’re not connected to the intertubes and have no head. In this case, I fully embrace the hype, I love this hype, henceforth I will be part of the hype. This song is amazing. Sensually slow, it’ll creep right under your skin until you’re not only jumping on the bandwagon of accolades, but driving the damn wagon, whipping the horses up into a frenzy. (I always imagine the bandwagon’s drawn by horses and looks a lot like a Victorian coach…)

Big, rowdy MAN-rawk, yet surprisingly hard to sing along to. I think it celebrates us girls … or it’s about strippers? Meh, either way, what’s not to like.

The Molotovs – Come To Grief

A sweet, layered song that I love more the more I listen to it. If you wait long enough it might just become my favorite. Check out an acoustic version, which I think works even better than the original:

The lyrics in this particular song are a little too literal for my taste. Nonetheless, yet another great pop song by Lilly Allen.

Black Lips – Drugs

This one is so Rock ‘n Roll, it’s almost a parody of itself. That’s not a bad thing! This band just plays great, old skool, garage rock with updated lyrics. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

I still love Chaka Demus & Pliers and as far as we’re concerned, Jamie T can do no wrong. So there is no way this tune could be anything but superb and it is, yet again, a thing of beauty. It’s a bit more catchy, which is NOT code for “he sold out”. It just means that there are woohoos to sing along with even if you can’t follow the lyrics yet. The lyrics are more serious than the easy-breezy music might lead you to believe, but even at his most political, his straight-forward but sweetly melodic eloquence will still charm and disarm anyone.

Sigh. Apparently, this song was written “on the spot” because Davis Guggenheim, the director of a new guitar documentary, asked him to. The whole backstory makes it all the more obnoxious how freaking good this song is. I’m always blown away by how little time The White Stripes need to finish an album, and this is just a small demonstration why that is. If anyone went to that crossroads to sell his soul, surely it has to have been Jack White, right?

Dan Sartain – Bohemian Grove / Atheist Funeral

Speaking of Jack White, he also produced these songs by the wonderful Dan Sartain (put your hands together…). This is one of those magical collaborations that I thought could only happen in a more perfect world. Needless to say, they’re amazing. Oh, and if you’re looking for a spooky but swinging song for upcoming Halloween celebrations, look no further than “Atheist Funeral”. It creeps me out while I’m doing a little chair dance. Sadly, there’s no video (yet?) so if you want to hear it, you’re gonna have to go to Third Man Records and get it yourself.

In The Merry, Merry Month Of July

Horehound

Thanks to the crispy, crispy, credit crunch, I’ve had to drastically change the way I buy music. I – and I think it’s no different for my fellow 100b chums – pick and choose and whittle down, and I mean waaay down, the list of albums. So the ones I select for the Merry Month are the best ones I’ve heard, but aren’t necessarily the best of what came out. On the other hand, singles have become really important to me these days.

OK, so first up my pick for best album:

The Dead Weather, Horehound

Some of the best things happen when great things merge: Lennon & McCartney, ice cream & bananas, Asterix & Obelix (oh man, I used to love that comic), M&M…s, ebony & ivory etc. So too is the teaming of the two most prominent band members of The Dead Weather, especially, a thing of beauty. We are not shy of our love for both The White Stripes and The Kills, and when I first heard of the supergroup my brain could not comprehend that much awesome. Horehound has provoked praise and criticism in equal measures and, after listening to it, I can see why. On their own, the two bands make their own special kind of magic but have an equally dark, sensual power. Combined, they’ve created a seperate sound that may not be to your liking if you were expecting something resembling either band. Like the bands that bore its members, The Dead Weather are raw, oozing with sex, and play stripped-down and dirty rock, but nonetheless bring something new and exciting to the table.

July had some really amazing singles. I tried to make it a more aesthetically pleasing list of five, but I couldn’t bring myself to scrap one from the list.

Here are my six favorite singles of the month:

Ah Patrick Wolf, he is my style icon. Hm, that makes me sounds about fourteen. Oh well, I never said that my thoughts went any deeper than “I wonder if my pink nail polish clashes with my shoes?”. I just love that he is as fearless and creative in the way he dresses as in his music. The Bean has listened to his new album and loves it; I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but I’m already mighty impressed with what I’ve heard. This single is extravagant and gets the blood pumping with its nervy rhythms and string section and sweeping gospel choir. For full effect, check out the visually stunning video.

Hearts!Attack – Mariana

I was gonna save this band for a New Band Day post, but I don’t wanna. This song is a big old raucous mess with a poppy disposition and an infectious enthusiasm. The boy/girl vocals combine a catchy chorus with some high-energy story telling. It’s still unpolished, but they have an endearing quality that’s hard to resist. Learn more about the band at their MySpace.

Girls – Hellhole Ratrace

San Francisco’s Girls are ready for greatness with their debut single “Hellhole Ratrace”. It’s pretty and melancholy but doesn’t wallow in self-pity. The lead singer’s Elvis Costello-y voice, sweetly repeats that he wants someone to dance with. This is a mellow song that’ll stick in your brain for days. The lonely voice, bells and the lazily picked electric guitar turn into a beautiful wave of sound towards the end. I started out a bit indifferent, but by the time the hand claps began I was in.

This song is freaking brilliant, and perfect for summer. Those of you who have been following Voluntary Butler Scheme will probably know it. I even mentioned it in a fangirlie post about the band last year and really nothing’s changed. It’s still more fun than most new bands ever hope to be, but makes it seem so easy. It’s part Jackson Five, part I’m From Barcelona, and all kinds of fun.

Forest Fire – Fortune Teller

Short but sweet and slowly turning into my favorite single of the month. “Fortune Teller” has a strong rhythm and a singer who sounds strangely detached. It seems to stop in the middle of the song, which made me listen to it again and again, like there was a mystery to solve. It’s definitely intriguing and I like it more the more I listen to it. The New York band started making music only a year ago and their debut album came out a little over two weeks ago. Learn more here.

The Boy Least Likely To – When Life Gives Me Lemons, I Make Lemonade

If anything, you have to watch the video. It’s exactly as adorable as the song. It’s classic Boy Least Likely To. Cute, quirky and catchy, but never ever over the top. Their songs are like a puppy with antlers, you wanna hug them to death, but they have an edge and a weirdness that keep you fascinated and utterly delighted.

In The Merry Merry Month Of … March (better late than never?)

Peter Bjorn and John - Living Thing

Oopsy, I’m just just a teeny bit late with our run-down of March’s new releases, aren’t I? Nevermind, these albums are still worth mentioning even if it should’ve been, ahem, almost 2 weeks ago.

So let’s start with the new 1990’s release, Kicks. I’m afraid I’m not hearing any big anthem-y numbers like “You Made Me Like It” (one of the very best singles of whatever year that was), or any Modern Lovers-esque masterpieces like “Arcade Precinct”, but the 1990’s have still got that poppy thing that makes them so much fun. “59” and “Balthazar” especially got me humming along on the first listen. Oh, “Everybody Please Relax” has an excellent hair-band ending, which is worth the admission price alone.

Next up is The Rakes third LP, Klang. Now anyone who’s read any of this blog, or has ever listened to me talk about music at all, knows that I love The Rakes – crazy undying love (only without the potential stalker connotation, I’m not *that* kind of crazy). I’m not sure why, but ever since I heard the opening lines of “22 Grand Job”, my fandom has been unstoppable. So you should understand why it’s really hard for me to say that I really wasn’t that impressed with Klang on the first listen. I just didn’t hear those things that made me love The Rakes in the first place – the catchy-ness, the humor, the dance-ablity. It was with a heavy heart that I popped it in for a second listen to take notes for this here post. And, wait a minute, it started to grow on me. I started noticing more good stuff in there, specific songs stood out (“That’s The Reason”, “Bitchin’ In The Kitchen”). So I’m not yet completely convinced one way or another, but that second spin definitely gave me reason to investigate further.

The Decemberists’ The Hazards Of Love never gave me any reason to doubt their powers. I honestly can’t imagine a world where The Decemberists could disappoint me, if for no other reason than what they do will always be interesting. In this case, The Hazards Of Love is everything I want in a Decemberists album: captivating stories and beautiful music. A band using the phrase ‘rock opera’ would usually strike fear in the hearts of their fans, but The Decemberists definitely suit the format. I love how everything they do is always a little bit different, they try new things, but it always sounds like them. This album brings back some of the harder prog-ish sounds we heard on “The Tain” and The Crane Wife, which I adore – it gives them a sinister, more menacing aspect that suits them so well. The kids singing on “The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!)” are cheerful but totally creepy, and “The Rake’s Song” is just badass. I’ve loved everything The Decemberists have done and The Hazards Of Love is no exception.

Somewhat simpler, though no less excellent, is The Boy Least Likely To’s long-awaited second album, The Laws Of The Playground. It’s funny that two the bands I get extra-geeky about (The Boy Least Likely To and The Rakes) should both release albums in one month. Where The Rakes’ music confirms all my cynical feelings about the world, The Boy Least Likely To has the opposite effect. They remind me to be hopeful and playful sometimes, to daydream and take a walk in the sun. Not that it’s all fun and games – The Boy Least Likely To write children’s songs about grown-up things; there’s a lot of wisdom and commentary hidden underneath the playground singalongs. The Law Of The Playground is exactly what it should be: lovely, every single minute of it.

If I was going to pick an album of the month, which I’m not really, it would have to be Peter Bjorn and John’s Living Thing. I don’t know the specifics, but I have heard that not everyone loves this album. Those people are, well, wrong. No, there’s no “Young Folks” repeat, but why should there be? Did you not like the other 90% of Writer’s Block? If you actually like Peter Bjorn and John (and not just “Young Folks”), this album should definitely keep you happy. To be honest, my gut reaction is that Living Thing is actually better than Writer’s Block, though that’s still one of my favorite albums. They’ve ventured out into even more atypical beats for indie pop (especially on “It Don’t Move Me”, which sounds almost Michael Jackson-like in the verses), which contrasts so beautifully with their soothing vocals and poppy melodies, and brought in some of the experimental sounds they played with on Seaside Rock (steel drums, echo effects). The truth is that I love this album so much, I don’t even know what to say – don’t listen to the haters and grab yourself a copy, you won’t be sorry.

The Boy Least Likely To – I Keep Myself To Myself
Peter Bjorn and John – Living Thing

In The Merry Merry Month Of … February

Keep It Hid

This month, my favorite albums all happen to be by American bands, and they all seem to celebrate tradition and nostalgia. Americana at its finest. The bands I’ve picked as the cream of February’s crop seem to be rooted in the past, but they made the old familiar sounds their own in exciting new ways.

Most people have that one band that for some reason makes them cross the line from appreciative fan to mental like Mel from Flight Of The Conchords. I am a total Mel for The Black Keys and with that comes the absolute and unhealthy adoration of its members. Their frontman Dan Auerbach came out with his solo debut, Keep It Hid, last month. I cannot guarantee that I wouldn’t have chosen it as my favorite album of the month if it stank of moldy socks, but it is genuinely amazing. And that’s not just the Mel talking. There’s some of the dark, soul-stirring, sleaze we’re used from The Black Keys, but it’s more diverse and introspective. He goes from folk to psychedelic to vintage motown soul, but stays true to his blues roots.

Dan Auerbach – Trouble Weighs A Ton

Why am I not obsessively collecting every single Heartless Bastards album that ever was? I really loved their last release and their recent release The Mountain is equally wonderful. Their uncomplicated, stripped down sound is almost as wickedly addictive as their aforementioned label mates The Black Keys. Their frontwoman’s voice may not have a great range, but she puts as much emotion into one song as Mariah Carey puts notes into one syllable.

M. Ward has a knack of creating songs that were made to be played by Richie Tenenbaum as he pines over his forbidden love for his adoptive sister. I know that’s awefully detailed, but that’s exactly the feeling I get from this album, Hold Time. It’s beautifully contemplative, but also secretly joyful. We’re pulled into a very personal warm world by his oddly catchy, yet delicate folky country songs.

Then there’s one-man band Phosphorescent, who quite literally honors his musical predecessors. To Willie is a whole album filled with covers of Willie Nelson songs. If I were him, I’d be beaming with pride at the outcome. Every song is steeped with reverance and respect. It makes you appreciate Willie’s music in new ways, all the while admiring Matthew Houck’s interpretation of the songs. He makes them sound deeply personal, like he’s seen every hill and valley Willie’s traveled.

Phosphorescent – Too Sick To Pray