Scout Niblett: Kidnapped by Neptune
You know how Cat Power is supposed to be all "weird" and shit. Fuck her. If she was really weird she wouldn't be singing duets with Eddie Vedder. Scout's songs sound as weird as Chan's should, with none of the tedious melodrama. This album, with its sly mythological allusions, an invocation to the muse, and lyrics like this: "We drove across the Bridge/ And we missed the exit/ for Treasure Island/ But I was so excited/ Just to be in your car/ Oh fuck Treasure Island/ Oh Fuck Treasure Island/ My smile's as wide as the bay/ Did you see it didn't die/ For hours and hours and hours/ I was alive that day" was easily one of my favorites this year.
Spoon: Gimme Fiction
I knew this girl once who thought having a friend who was a stripper made her cool. Her friend was sick of stripping to 50 Cent and wanted to strip to some good rock songs. She asked us if we could think of any. My friend suggested the Afghan Whigs' 1965. It was genius. Donald Rumsfeld could do a pole dance in a g-string thong to 66 and it would still be sexy. That album dripped grimey stripper vampire sex, and so does this one. I just wish I still talked to that girl so I could recommend "I turn my camera on." Hell, I'd recommend the entire fucking album.
Edith Frost: It's a Game
Poor Edith. This album has none of the buoyant playfulness of her last one, no songs with the military march-like percussion of "Cars and Parties." But somehow these songs are more haunting, more beautiful. It is a quiet, reflective album dwelling on hard times. It's not as country as her first album, but it's got some of that old-school Loretta/Dolly spirit. Both Wood and I have really enjoyed it.
The Boy Least Likely To: The Best Party Ever
How could I not include the album with the best glockenspiel/banjo songs about the fear of death I've ever heard? It's not very rock-n-roll to sing about how afraid you are of flying/spiders/the countryside/Belgians/the falling sky, but who cares? And these songs are catchy. Hours after I've played this album, I catch Wood singing "I'm glad I hitched my apple wagon to your star" in some other part of the apartment.
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Matt Sweeney: Superwolf
I really like this album, even if Matt Sweeney was one of those guys who played in that short-lived band with the bald guy who despite all his rage was still just a rat in a cage. What was that band? Audioslave? Zwan? Anyway, don't listen to me. My all-time favorite Will Oldham album is Joya, for what that's worth. I do like Oldham's new incarnation as a saltybearded sea captain.
Brendan Benson: Alternative to Love
I know that at this point, Brendan has sold his songs for use in commercials by every car company out there except for Citroen, and that means I should probably think he's a sell out. And I tried not to like this album for months. But in the end, I had to acknowledge its greatness. A little trivia: my friend lived platonically in a Brooklyn Heights studio apartment for one year with Brendan Benson's guitar player's girlfriend. She made a movie about a competitive oyster eater named "Crazy Legs." Or maybe I'm confused and making this up as I go along.
Pinetop Seven: The Night's Bloom
This is just a set of 13 epic songs that make me wish I had a fireplace and the ability to drink Scotch without making a squishy face.
Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy
Not only does Will Sheff have great taste in film, music, and literature, but each album his band has released has been better than the last. I couldn't even listen to the Decemberists' new album without puking into my hat, probably because I had already heard Black Sheep Boy. It's that good. That said, my favorite Sheff song is still "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas." I'm listening to it right now. The second I heard it I forgave him for promoting his band endlessly on Audiogalaxy when he worked for them.
American Analog Set: Set Free
How has this band managed to maintain such a unique and characteristic sound with such simple elements: a lightly brushed snare, an overly-rhythmic guitar, a cranky, droning organ, all under Andrew Kenny's hushed, almost-whispered vocals? It works, and if anyone else tries it they should be sued. American Analog Set owns this sound, and each album shows the band innovating their characteristic style a little more, adding new time signatures, creating more dissonant melodies. But to say this is more of the same old thing is not at all to belittle its hushed beauty.
Reigns: We Lowered a Microphone into the Ground
This is an understated little album of layered piano/violin instrumentation and electronica, kind of like what The Books would be like if they were more like the rachels and less full of shit.
John Vanderslice: Pixel Revolt
I didn't like his last album, Cellar, so much that I walked out on Vanderslice's set at the Knitting Factory in New York last year after Sufjan Stevens and his Christian hipster harem marched over from Brooklyn to open for him. We left and went to some bar in the village called Chumley's. I felt guilty a few days later when I saw Vanderslice at SFO picking up his baggage. I felt even more guilty when I realized how good this new album was. If he could write 12 songs a year like "Dead Slate Pacific" he wouldn't have to pick up his own luggage. He'd have more money than Coldplay. Too bad about the song about the detective and the serial murderer, though. A word of advice, John: don't write songs after reading those true crime books, dude.
Mt. Eerie: No Flashlight
I had a friend in college who lived in our attic and didn't pay rent. I would hear him practicing making fires from two sticks rubbed together up there. If he got locked out of the house he would just go across the street and dig in the wet leaves and sleep on a hill there. Once he came to see Deepak Chopra in Ann Arbor and we missed his call so he slept by the traintracks. Now he lives in Washington, tagging endangered owls for a living. He catches them with his bare hands. When I first saw Phil Elvrum, the man behind Mt. Eerie, I recognized a bit of my friend there, I recognized a man who had a deep communion with nature. What I love about Phil is that there is something inside of him that drives him to share it all with us in the form of music. He's like some ancient Japanese monk who's been writing the same poem about the moon and the mountains and the darkness in a million different ways for decades. But Phil does it with a bass drum.
Stephen Malkmus: Face the Truth
I think I like Malkmus's songs even more now that he's a dad. And he carries his kid around in a sling. I could never get into that whole wearing a sling thing. They just feel so gay. So flowey. I like to think I'm comfortable with my sexuality and in touch with my feminine side and all that shit, but I've just never been able to rock the sling. Wood even bought one that was black with no African print or anything, and when I tried it on she told me I would almost look like a badass ninja, which sounded great. But I didn't feel like a badass ninja.
Various Artists: Radio Phnom Penh (Sublime Frequencies)
My wife once spent a couple months in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, riding around on little motor scooters past guys with AK-47s draped over their shoulders and shitloads of beggars who'd lost legs to mines. She was going around visiting Cambodian brothels with the idea of educating and empowering Cambodian sex workers. And yet somehow I doubt that experience was as crazy as listening to this album in its entirety. It's just that nuts. Even more nuts than Sublime Frequencies' equally fascinating Radio Pyongyang.
The Lucksmiths: Warmer Corners
I still believe this is almost a perfect album. I will probably someday put it alongside Aeroplane and Loveless and The Glow, Part Two as albums that fit perfectly into my life at the moment I first started listening to them (and couldn't stop listening to them). I've already written about it, and my feelings have hardly dimmed in the three months since As I said then, listening to this record makes me feel like I'm three gin martinis into the best wedding ever and the band is playing songs I've never heard but it doesn't matter because they're so fucking great I want to dance with every damn guest there including drunk uncles, praying the whole time that the music and the night will never end. Every song on this album is a gem.
Download all of these albums, for free, here.
Scout Niblett: Kidnapped by Neptune