Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Can it be? 2017 is quickly fading away...

It seems like the only thing our blog is good for these days is recommending our favorite albums of a specific period.  Now, is that such a bad thing?  We wish there were more time to interact with you all through this forum, and maybe one day we will get to, after we have troweled the depths of Facegram and Instabook (we haven't been tweeting as much as we'd like either, although we're leaving that to the professionals lately...hint hint).

In all seriousness (yeah, right, you say), it is time to announce our top albums of 2017.  "What's an album?" says anyone under the age of 13.  Tell them it's something a musician creates as a body of work that actually took some thought to construct and generally means something.  We love a good single as much as the next person, but albums are where it's at, so here ya go:

american dream

1)  LCD SOUNDSYSTEM--American Dream

James Murphy took some time off and came back with our favorite record of the year.  The break did him good, and while he's never been the greatest singer in the world, what he lacks vocally he makes up for in the delivery, and the musical palette.  There are so many touchstones on this record (Talking Heads and Bowie being the most obvious), but there is also a beating heart throughout the album's entirety, and there is nary a dull or wasted moment.  Even the final track, a ten minute pulse with Eno-esque piano flourishes is somehow captivating in its intimacy and lack of movement.  Welcome back LCD, and we hope it's not your last this time.  No idle threats now...


2)  BJORK--Utopia

Bjork is odd.  Always has been, always will be.  Accept it.  Her last album, 2015's Vulnicura, (our number eight record that year) was all about breaking up.  Utopia is all about finding love again.  While Bjork's appeal dipped a bit during the Volta and Biophilia era, these two most recent records find her plowing new paths and returning to more melodic territories, even if the music is rather beatless in the regular sense.  The expansive nature of Arca's soundscapes lends itself quite well to Bjork's flights of fancy as she knows where to reign him in to create something a bit more direct than his solo work, and while the album can meander a bit at 70 minutes, the lyrics are always intriguing, with the textures and melodies are some of the most intimate and beautiful she has ever created, including the delicate parts of Vespertine.  Think of it as that album part two, with more sounds of nature and loads of flute!

Pure Comedy

3)  FATHER JOHN MISTY--Pure Comedy

I'm not sure what I can say about this album that hasn't already been said, but Josh Tillman and friends created a meaningful treatise on the downtrodden average Joe in modern America that seems to mix a gift for melody akin to Elton John's more substantial work with lyrics that dig at the heart of the hopelessness felt across the heartland as big business sucks the country dry.  There may be no more poignant and timely album on this list.



Since their sophomore album, the Horrors have continued to shock and inspire with each passing album, showing a path of staggering growth and a willingness to try new things that still fit snugly within their aesthetic.  V, their fifth album, is full of hooky choruses, gothic tinged vocals, beats reminiscent of Screamadelica-era Primal Scream, brilliant production courtesy of Paul Epworth (Adele's 21) with sharp bursts of color at unexpected moments, and songs that can stand the test of time (closing track and single "Something to Remember me by" being a perfect illustration, and somewhat indebted to New Order).  They keep moving, and we keep following.


5)  SLOWDIVE--Slowdive

After 22 years away, the level of expectation had to be high.  Basically the band delivered with an album that brings out so many of the great elements that made the first three Slowdive albums classics decades ago.  This one was a reunion done right, and an album that takes its place among their previous work without being the least bit embarrassing.  Congratulations!

I See You

6)  THE XX--I See You

While the XX had been gone for a while, they did some growing and came back better than ever.  The obvious influence of Jamie XX's beatmaking from his recent solo album has translated nicely here to the band's songs without getting in the way.  In fact, his skills enhance them.  There are some truly touching songs here about dealing with loss, insecurity, and addiction, yet there is such an element of hope and optimism among the gloom, and with the added improvement of singing ability, the XX have a rather bright future ahead of them.

Low In High School

 7)  MORRISSEY--Low in High School

Moz returns with another great record, albeit one laden with references to the current political climate and sex sex sex.  Is this his sexiest record ever?  Probably.  It also features some of his best singing ever, and he is in fine form.  Some may be a little put off by detours into darker and slower territory, or tangos for that matter, but the band is incredibly tight and talented, and Morrissey never fails to put on a show (except when he fails to show up).  Don't be too quick to judge this record...It benefits from repeated plays, and one hopes Morrissey will continue to make albums regardless of how the press treat him.  His music is far and above most of the music being written today.



Dan Bejar's latest Destroyer project takes a turn toward the sound of the fantastic previous album Kaputt, albeit with less saxophone.  The difference is the brevity of many of the songs, and their construction being a bit less dreamy and more direct, as they were channelling early-80's Cure and New Order records sonically.  It makes for one of the most direct albums in Bejar's obtuse canon, and at 40 minutes, is fairly easy to listen to again and again.  What his lyrics actually mean, however, is anyone's guess, and that's part of the charm.

Forced Witness

9)  ALEX CAMERON--Forced Witness

The album where 80's Springsteen and Ween meet, Alex Cameron is a one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter who here mixes chest-beating Americana with some of the most offbeat self-depricating humor.  Previously, this Australian channeled a bit of Nick Cave and Tom Waits on his previous album debut, Jumping the Shark.  Here we are a few years later, and he's duetting with the Killers' Brandon Flowers and indie-darling Angel Olsen and playing alongside newcomers Kirin Callinan and Jack Ladder with an album full of some of the best lyrics you'll hear this year.  Case in point, his 70's lounge-track "The Chihuahua":  "Our love was like a fire, I pissed on it so I could sleep."


10)  FLEET FOXES--Crack-Up

This one was a real head-scratcher on first listen until leader Robin Pecknold told us he was trying to make a film through music, one that is disjointed and may flip around, telling things out of order until they come into focus (sort of like an episode of This is Us).  Proving the Harvard graduate deserves his recent title, this album has all the warmth of a Fleet Foxes record with added depth courtesy of these newly deployed storytelling techniques.  An album to remember.

Hot Thoughts

11)  SPOON--Hot Thoughts

The fact that a band can be together for twenty years and still come up with fresh and new ways to play music is astonishing.  Spoon continue their hot streak with this very uptempo record, probably the grooviest of their career.  That's not to say, however, that there's not a darker side brewing in its underbelly.  There's plenty of disembodied saxophone wailing just to remind you of that.

50 Song Memoir (5CD)

12)  MAGNETIC FIELDS--50 Song Memoir

Stephen Merritt took the challenge of writing a fifty song album seriously, and it actually holds together remarkably well.  The most riveting of these songs concern Stephen's young life, being tossed around by a loving but scattered mother and her terrible choices in men (along with a cat that apparently didn't like him), while the later songs about romantic relationships seem somehow a little less revealing.  Still, a massive undertaking with numerous highs.

Life Will See You Now

13)  JENS LEKMAN--Life Will See You Now

Oh Jens, when will you get some respect?  This Swedish singer-songwriter seems to keep plugging along without a lot of accolades, yet he writes some of the most humorously charming tunes, many based on real life experiences and feelings.  His somewhat broken English only adds to the charm, and this is actually his most upbeat and polished album to date.  Don't let the cover that looks like it was drawn by a nine year old fool you...There are some sweet and alternately haunting moments here.  Who else would write a song about a 3D printer representation of a tumor that was taken out of a good friend as a conversation piece?  Think about that for a minute.

Lust For Life

14)  LANA DEL REY--Lust for Life

Lana continues to plumb the depths of faded Hollywood glamour and lost innocence, yet Lust for Life is the first time we hear optimism in her music.  There is also sometimes a sense of happiness and less gloom.  Maybe a tad overlong and heavy on features (The Weeknd, Stevie Nicks, assorted rappers), this is her most endearing record since the first.  It begs the question as to what she'll do next time, as she's explored this character now about as much as one could.

Silver Eye

15)  GOLDFRAPP--Silver Eye

Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have been making music together as Goldfrapp for nearly twenty years now.  Silver Eye was a sort of amalgamation of all of their sounds on one record, with the glammy and biting electronica, the woozy and haunted film music, and a tinge of the psychedelic.  It's a heady brew that rewards on repeated listens, and features some stunning photography by Alison herself.  Like Beck, they're a band that you might not ever know what's coming musically, but it doesn't matter because their personalities are what come through every time.

Home Counties

16)  SAINT ETIENNE--Home Counties

Home Counties finds Saint Etienne moving in a more intimate and stripped back direction from their past two rather brilliant albums, Tales from Turnpike House and Words and Music.  Rather than being about a suburban towerblock or the art of writing music, this one deals with the suburban areas around London and the different types of characters who inhabit them.  Sarah Cracknell is in fine vocal form, and the music is generally rather light and airy, although there are moments of menace, such as the song "Heather".  The best UK pop group most Americans have never heard of with 25 years of music behind them already.

A Deeper Understanding

17)  WAR ON DRUGS--Deeper Understanding

What can one say about War on Drugs that has not been said already?  This is another fantastic record as they continue to grow and evolve into what might one day be a massively popular artist.  If you like Springsteen at his ballad-y best, this should foot the bill, although there are so many more influences than that.  Perfect for driving to as well.

Melodrama [Explicit]

18)  LORDE--Melodrama

Lorde took a big chance on her sophomore record, waiting years to release it, and having it met with the lack of a huge hit single like "Royals" (although "Green Light" and its video are amazing), radio seemed to lose interest.  And yet, her concerts were very well attended and successful.  There is still a chance for this album to find a wider audience, but its very personal nature and general stripped back vibe might make for an album that people respect but don't necessarily love.  In any event, it's quite good and deserves more attention.


19)  SPARKS--Hippopotamus

Fresh from their Franz Ferdinand collaboration FFS, Sparks go it alone once more with Hippopotamus, one of their best efforts ever.  Since their first album nearly 45 years ago, Ron and Russell Mael have been glam rockers, electro geeks, new wave nerds, and classical anarchists.  Hippopotamus attempts to bring all of that together in one stew, and for all intents and purposes, it works.  If you like catchy songs with a heavy dose of wry humor, this is your band.  If you're interested in them, this is actually a good place to start, as they have almost 20 albums to date, and it may be hard to know where to begin.

As You Were (Explicit)(Deluxe Edition)

20)  LIAM GALLAGHER--As You Were

It's hard to say exactly where to place this record, because while it is generally enjoyable and probably the best thing Liam Gallagher has done since Oasis' break-up, it is also VERY Oasis-y and self-referential.  Noel Gallagher (his brother) also released a very good album about a month later.  One can only imagine what their album would have sounded like together (You could always try mixing up the tracks from both to find out), but for us, Liam's album has a slight edge simply by the fact that the tunes are more easily planted in your head, but they are both quite good.  No reunion on the horizon though...

Masseduction [Explicit]

21)  ST VINCENT--Masseduction

Annie Clark continues to spread her wings as St Vincent, and while this album is a bit all over the place, it also contains some of her most direct and endearing moments on record.  It seems as though she's been through a lot emotionally and is channeling a lot of her influences through an ever-expanding electronic sonic palette, alternately using string sections, piano, or fuzzed out guitar textures for contrast.  Jack Antonoff (Bleachers) contributed to production duties, and you'll find his hand in many other 2017 albums (like Lorde and Katy Perry's latest).

Mental Illness

22)  AIMEE MANN--Mental Illness

Aimee Mann has been quietly making records for thirty years, with her biggest splashes being her debut as the lead singer of Til Tuesday with "Voices Carry" and the haunting songwriter who inspired Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia (1999).  Mental Illness is Aimee's best album in about a decade, full of some of her most introspective tunes and intimate arrangements from any of her recordings to date, and while some of the songs are pretty, they all have a sense of pain and unease within (hence the album title).  She's got melodies worthy of McCartney on display here.

Cigarettes After Sex

23)  CIGARETTES AFTER SEX--Cigarettes After Sex

Another great album and band you may never have heard of, Cigarettes After Sex released their album over the summer that was the perfect soundtrack to those quiet moments, playing like a retro soundtrack to a summer that saw the return of David Lynch's Twin Peaks TV show after a 25 year absence.  The show was known for its references to fifties icons, whether a James Dean-like character or patent leather shoes, and this El Paso by way of New York band nails that retro futurism with their sexually ambiguous lead vocals and lyrics that are more than suggestive.  There is a certain consistency here that makes one wonder what they'll do for an encore, but in the moment, this was about as perfect a romantic album we could get in an era of Tove Lo's "Disco Tits" (not gonna go there).

DAMN. [Explicit]


Kendrick does it again with DAMN, an album that may sound super different than his high water mark, To Pimp a Butterfly, but it's the messages that are important, and in an era of racial unrest and Trump, the message here was loud and clear.  There's a reason he is known as a voice of his generation, and DAMN was a good example of that.


25)  BECK--Colors

It was two years from the time Beck released the first single from this album ("Dreams") and a year from the second ("Wow"), almost as if he was afraid to release this album or wasn't sure what his audience would make of it.  Well, it's actually a rather enjoyable pop record.  Granted, you're not going to find anything profound here, but he does a very good job of making an album that can sit snugly next to other pop found on the charts now, yet still retaining enough of his personality to carry it forward.  Whether he's sending up Elliott Smith or the Police, Colors is an album that plays well and doesn't outstay its welcome.  What next, Mr. Hansen?

The Punishment of Luxury

26)  OMD--The Punishment of Luxury

The brilliant OMD return with their third album since reuniting about a decade ago, and this one goes all in on their love of electronic music.  Using their last album, English Electric (2013) as a launching pad, The Punishment of Luxury is even heavier on the synths and general homages to Kraftwerk, and features some very peppy tunes mixed with some rather experimental stuff as well.  It's so great to see these guys working together again and still being restlessly creative, even if the sales aren't massive these days.  An example for all of us not to give up.

Crooked Calypso

27)  PAUL HEATON & JACQUI ABBOTT--Crooked Calypso

Paul & Jacqui (of Beautiful South fame) got back together a few years ago and made an excellent comeback record worthy of their past work, and after a very good follow-up, they are back for a third time.  This record goes a little deeper into religion and politics than their other recent efforts, and while the effect may be a tad polarizing, it really doesn't seem to bother them, especially when Paul continues to write such great tunes and lyric material.  Heaton is another British national treasure who has gone a bit unsung next to artists such as Morrissey, and he deserves much higher praise (although they do sell a lot of records in their own country).

Hey Mr Ferryman

28)  MARK EITZEL--Hey Mr. Ferryman

Mark Eitzel continues to forge a superb body of solo work on the outside of his former band, American Music Club.  Hey Mr. Ferryman was actually produced by another legendary band member, Bernard Butler, the original guitarist from Suede, and he gives Mark a bit of a boost in production this time around, as well as some added guitar textures that never get in the way, but support Mark's artistry as a songwriter and singer.  One of the best albums this year by someone who has been working for decades that people are generally unaware of.  What does it take to get heard?


29)  ALISON MOYET--Other

Other follows on Alison's other production with Guy Sigsworth (Frou Frou, Bjork) from 2013, The Minutes.  Alison turned a big corner in partnering with Sigsworth, as he knows how to treat a big voice without letting it belt all the time.  There are some very dark and tender (and even spoken word) moments on Other, which show Alison as much more of an artist and writer than people tend to give her credit for.  These two recent albums will likely be viewed one day as her most impressive offers to date in a 36-year career which began as the singer of Yaz in 1981 ("Only You").

Hug Of Thunder

30)  BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE--Hug of Thunder

This Canadian collective hadn't made an album in years, and who knew what they were capable of anymore after a couple albums of somewhat diminishing returns.  Hug of Thunder is not only one of their best efforts to date, it returns them to the glory of being a musical act to be respected and revered.  There are some truly great moments here, and even when featuring artists who have gone on to big careers outside the group (Emily Haines of Metric, Feist), their features are enjoyable and appropriate for the setting.  A big win for this band.


31)  RYAN ADAMS--Prisoner
32)  BLONDIE--Pollinator
33)  HAIM--Something to Tell You
35)  DEPECHE MODE--Spirit
36)  FOXYGEN--Hang
37)  NEW PORNOGRAPHERS--Whiteout Conditions
38)  JESUS & MARY CHAIN--Damage & Joy
39)  SUFJAN STEVENS--Planetarium
40)  GORILLAZ--Humans
41)  MARK LANEGAN--Gargoyle
42)  BEACH FOSSILS--Somersault
44)  JAPANDROIDS--Near to the Wild
45)  ROGER WATERS--Is This the Life We Really Want?
46)  PHOENIX--Ti Amo
47)  CUT COPY--Haiku From Zero
48)  COUSTEAUX--Cousteaux
49)  KILLERS--Wonderful Wonderful
50)  AFGHAN WHIGS--In Spades

And still more:

PAUL WELLER--Kind Revolution
LUCKY SOUL--Hard Lines
IRON & WINE--Beast Epic
ERASURE--World be Gone
THE SHINS--Heartworms
DAN AUERBACH--Waiting on a Song
BRITISH SEA POWER--Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
MUNA--About U
RIDE--Weather Diaries
LAURA MARLING--Semper Femina
ELBOW--Little Fictions
MENZINGERS--After the Party
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD--Flying Microtonal Banana
NICK HEYWARD--Woodland Echoes
MARC ALMOND--Shadows & Reflections
CLIENTELE--Music for the Age of Miracles

Thanks for reading and for supporting indie stores like ours!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Our Favorites Halfway: A 2017 Edition

These lists seem to be getting harder and harder to do, especially when there's so much good new music being released in such a wide variety.  The first half of 2017 was particularly good, and with new offerings coming in the second half from LCD Soundsystem, Queens of the Stone Age, War on Drugs, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Oh Sees, Haim, Lana del Rey, Iron & Wine, Broken Social Scene, and more, there's far too much to assimilate into a mere list of "the best so far".  However, we will attempt to list our favorite offerings so far now that we are at the halfway point.  Maybe your favorite is here somewhere, or maybe you have one you'd like to check out, form a special bond with, and decide you need a hard copy to last for all time (don't put complete faith in streaming services...they can always take them away tomorrow...)

And so we begin...


Pure Comedy

Josh Tillman blew us away with his last album, I Love You, Honeybear, and he continues to blow us away here.  More thoughtful and broad in scope, Pure Comedy is like a modern protest album filtered through some great 70's Laurel Canyon-esque vibes, aided by producer and musician Jonathan Wilson (who also appears on the new Roger Waters album).  The ability for Tillman to speak his mind as such also reminds us of prime period Randy Newman.  In 20 years when someone asks what the best album of early 2017 was, Father John Misty will surely come to mind,  It's a modern classic.

2) SLOWDIVE--Slowdive


2017 seems to be the year of the ever expanding list of returning artists after decades away.  Who would have thought Slowdive would even be a proposition in 2017?  Not only did they make an album that does what Slowdive does best, it's also pretty great.  After releasing three albums in the mid-90's, this new effort manages to synthesize all three into one united sound without losing the best parts of all of them.  More please!

3) THE XX--I See You

I See You

Some people had a hard time with this new XX record, as they felt it amplified their commercial side a bit too much.  Personally, we thought it was fantastic.  Insecurity lurked in songs about parents who have died and fighting alcohol addiction, but it was all done with style and a sense of real depth.  The vocals improved, and Jamie XX has really stepped up his role as a sonic engineer, giving these tunes some added warmth and variety.  They are definitely on to something here.

4) FLEET FOXES--Crack-Up


Why anyone should be surprised that Fleet Foxes first album in seven years is rather impenetrable is beyond us.  Robin Pecknold, fresh out of Columbia University, packs these songs with dense concepts, flipping back and forth like the listener is hearing two or three albums at the same time. This was completely intentional.  It's probably a good thing Josh Tillman left so he could be Father John Misty, but this is pretty interesting and well written too...

5) SPOON--Hot Thoughts

Image result for spoon hot thoughts

Who says you can't teach an old band new tricks?  Moving on from the great They Want My Soul, the latest Spoon record finds them really branching out and taking some chances sonically, heading into new wave territory.  This was an unexpected turn of events for a band over twenty years old, and one that makes sense, unlike the craziness from the latest Linkin Park and Nickelback projects, who expect their fans to follow them into completely unrelated territories.  Spoon did it right!

6) MAGNETIC FIELDS--50 Song Memoir

50 Song Memoir (5LP)

Definitely the longest album on this list at 2 1/2 hours running time, Stephen Merritt certainly embraced the challenge of making an album representing the fifty years he has spent on this planet.  While not every song is perfect, it all coheres into a stunning story of a life in song, featuring several of his catchiest tunes.  Not for everyone, but it's basically his best album since 69 Love Songs came out nearly twenty years ago.

7) JENS LEKMAN--Life Will See You Now

Life Will See You Now

One of the greatest Swedish artists next to Robyn and the members of ABBA, Jens Lekman is like a more self-deprecating Stephen Merritt (is that possible?), and tells just as many tales, albeit in more digestible packages.  After a bit of a break and some time brainstorming lots of song ideas, Lekman came up with his most immediate collection of songs ever, featuring some engaging lyrics, tropicalia rhythms, and the most Swedish of male voices around.

8) SUFJAN STEVENS & CO--Planetarium


Another expansive project hits this list as Sufjan Stevens returns from his intimate Carrie & Lowell album about his relationship with parents to a concept harnessing the solar system to personality archetypes in present day.  It runs more along the lines with his Age of Adz album, yet features new sonic input from Bryce Dessner of The National, and particularly from string arranger Nico Muhly.  Surging orchestrations collide with folky guitar plucks and electronic meltdowns to create something entirely new and disarming.  One of the most fascinating pieces of music you'll hear this year.

9) GOLDFRAPP--Silver Eye

Silver Eye

Goldfrapp continue their run of brilliant albums with the dark and brooding Silver Eye.  This was quite a change after the previous Tales of Us album, which was also rather dark, but featured lots of strings, and seemed very personal in nature.  This record is more in line with Sufjan's Planetarium (albeit in smaller scope), as there is much talk of planets, the moon, and earthly elements like fire and water.  A certain primeval tone makes Silver Eye a compelling listen.

10) SAINT ETIENNE--Home Counties

Home Counties

How can this trio with 25 years behind them still manage to find new things to say about their home towns?  Home Counties finds them returning home (metaphorically) after years spent in London, and finding that some of the pleasantries have devolved into cold neighborhoods where Brexit has taken hold and people close their doors to the outside world.  The music has a different feel from their previous albums, even though it's a completely logical progression, incorporating elements of many of their past works.  Sarah Cracknell's voice is a beautiful and comforting thing too, having developed significantly through the years in depth and confidence.

11) ROGER WATERS--Is This the Life We Really Want?

Is This The Life We Really Want?

Well, it's Roger Waters alright.  It's also probably his best or second best solo album, and could have been a worthy successor to The Wall.  Produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck), it sounds like Roger is intact, and he ruminates on politics and the state of the world, continually asking the question posed in the album's title track.  Things were supposed to be getting better, but he's not so sure.  If you like The Wall, this is comfortably up your alley.

12) JESUS & MARY CHAIN--Damage & Joy

Damage And Joy

Another band who had virtually disappeared for almost twenty years, the Reid brothers patched things up and got back together for this really great reunion album.  It works in the same way the Slowdive and Saint Etienne records do, in that it references several past stages of the band, yet presents them in a fresh new way that is not off-putting.  Even when featuring duets with female guest stars (Sky Ferreira for one), they remain a fully JAMC proposition.  If only most returns were on this level.

13) GORILLAZ--Humanz

Humanz (Explicit)(2CD Limited Deluxe Edition)

Hard to believe it's been seven years since the last Gorillaz album too (although Damon Albarn made Blur and solo albums).  Supposedly there were over 100 tracks recorded for this record, and it sure feels like it.  Damon whittled it down to a group of tracks that worked together in a post-millenial tension sort of way, and while some griped about a general lack of Damon throughout parts of the album, there is plenty of him in there, and this may be the most fun-house sort of album this "group" could have released now.  Looking forward to their cartoon series!

14) CIGARETTES AFTER SEX--Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex (Limited Edition Grey Vinyl)

2017 is the year Twin Peaks returned after 25 years since the TV show (and storyline) supposedly ended.  In celebration, we now have the debut of the incredible Cigarettes After Sex.  Granted, these songs may sound rather similar throughout, They are, however, bolstered by the effortless and sweet vocals by lead singer Greg Gonzalez, and aside from some really dark and sometimes humorous lyrics, the mood created is that of a band dreamily vibing at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse.  This is what modern music from El Paso, Texas sounds like?  It's not all country music out there folks...  

15) PHOENIX--Ti Amo

Ti Amo

Phoenix return after a four year absence with their most playful and bright album yet.  Ti Amo is like a French love letter to Italy, and a romanticised version of it at that.  The breezy electro rhythms recall something like New Order on holiday (they even have a song called "Tutti Fruitti", the name of a New Order track on their last album), and while they may not reach their former level of popularity with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009), they sound like they're still having fun nearly two decades after beginning as Daft Punk's more rock-minded friends.

16) FOXYGEN--Hang


Well this was a shocker.  I guess we should just come to expect the unexpected from these guys.  Their last album was a bloated and unfocused mess, and here we have a succinct and detailed effort loaded with creativity and musicality.  What it all means is anyone's guess, but they sure make it sound like something important.  If you like mid-70's Queen and the tin pan alley side of Randy Newman, this is highly recommended.  Where do they go next?  Hopefully more of this now.

17) MARK EITZEL--Hey Mr. Ferryman

Hey Mr Ferryman

The American Music Club frontman continues making great music with this new album, produced by Bernard Butler of nineties British rockers Suede.  Butler's touch adds a thicker dimension to Eitzel's tunes while staying completely out of the way when it's appropriate on songs like "In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham".  Eitzel is an incredible artist still making it happen decades on.

18) DEPECHE MODE--Spirit


Depeche Mode are still around.  Oh yes, they are.  Spirit is their most fired-up album politically speaking in a long, long time, and man, are they angry.  Martin Gore keeps bringing the moody blues-tronica sound they've perfected over the last few albums, but there is a new sense of urgency in Gahan's delivery.  Maybe it seems disingenuous for millionaires to be singing the plight of the downtrodden, but it's also rather brave for those who do have wealth to sing for those who do not, instead of ignoring it completely.  U2 built an entire career on it.  Spirit remains a very good album.



On the other side, and coming from the same town Depeche came from, Alison Moyet (formerly the singing half of Yaz, featuring Vince Clarke, Depeche founder), continues to plough a very personal and creative artistic solo career.  Pairing up again with producer Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Madonna), this partnership has been Moyet's strongest since working with Pete Glenister in the 90's and Sigsworth's strongest since Imogen Heap.  Other shows Moyet honing her writing skills to a fine point, while Sigsworth provides the detailed bed of sound for her aching vocals.  A triumph of art and artist, Moyet continues growing 35 years after she started.  Will Adele eventually be this brave?

20) AFGHAN WHIGS--In Spades

In Spades ( Loser Edition )

The Whigs continue their excellent return trajectory with this second album since reforming a couple years ago.  The songs are short and to the point, and Greg Dulli's voice is just as cutting as ever.  If anything, it's even darker than its predecessor, and the band is on fire more often than not.  So glad to have them back.

21) AIMEE MANN--Mental Illness
Her best album since the Lost in Space era.  Fractured hymns for haunted souls.  It's all quite beautiful.

22) BLONDIE--Pollinator
Debbie Harry and co. may have found a bunch of collaborators for this album (Sia, Johnny Marr, etc.), but Pollinator is their best, most rocking album since Eat to the Beat (1979).

23) RYAN ADAMS--Prisoner
Ryan Adams delivers one powerful breakup album in Prisoner, his first original material in three years (his last, 1989, was a Taylor Swift cover album).

24) PAUL WELLER--Kind Revolution
What can't Weller do at this point?  One of his strongest solo records in a string of albums back to the late seventies as part of the Jam.

25) NEW PORNOGRAPHERS--Whiteout Conditions
This band just keep delivering time and time again, with catchy anthems that just light up the room everytime they're on the stereo.  Another winner.

Mike Hadreas continues to develop and grow, moving on from the glammy aspects of the last album to something even more transcendental here, also a tribute to his longtime partner.

27) MARK LANEGAN--Gargoyles
Lanegan makes great music, and Gargoyles feature some of the former Screaming Trees frontman's most immediate tunes ever.  Like his friend Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), they just keep improving.

28) JAPANDROIDS--Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Fantastic return for the indie duo as they sort of hit the big time with this catchy album after a bit of a break.  If this is where they continue to go, they're headed for big things.

29) BEACH FOSSILS--Somersault
For those who love The Shins or Real Estate, while both of those bands made great records this year, this album is generally along those lines, and even with a bit of spoken word, might actually be better than both of them.  Can't wait to see what comes next.

30) BNQT--Volume 1
Functioning as a sort of indie Traveling Wilburys, BNQT features Texas band Midlake fronted by a cast of guest singers (from Band of Horses, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, and Grandaddy).  "Real Love" is the best George Harrison song he never wrote.

And the rest:

ALGIERS--Underside of Power
BRITISH SEA POWER--Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
MUNA--About U
ERASURE--World Be Gone
OLD 97'S--Graveyard Whistling
RIDE--Weather Diaries
MENZINGERS--After the Party
LAURA MARLING--Semper Femina
ELBOW--Little Fictions
THE SHINS--Heartworms
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD--Flying Microtonal Banana

Bring on part 2!