Monroe — A Painting of a Painting on
Fire (RCM Records)
Monroe is a member of Band of Horses which, I must admit, I didn't know he was in the band until I read the press release that came with the album. Monroe created an album that was much better than the one his main band did this year. I also nominate Monroe for album title of the year.
9. Divine Fits — A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)
I was disappointed with Spoon's last album, Transference, as it seemed frontman Britt Daniel was just rehashing previous efforts. Perhaps Daniel felt that way himself, as this side project with Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner seems to have reinvigorated his knack for hooky songs presented in a minimalist way.
8. First Aid Kit — The Lion’s Roar (Wichita Recordings)
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg wrote interesting songs with great harmonies on their first album The Big Black and the Blue. This second album has all those elements are still in play, but producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) gives the duo's songs some well deserved production heft. The title track deserves to be played at an ear-shattering volume on top of a huge mountain because, well, it's that epic.
7. Delta Spirit — Delta Spirit (Rounder)
Delta Spirit strip out some of their American and alt-country influences on their third album, aiming for a sound that sounds a bit more contemporary. They don’t always hit the mark, but when they do on tracks like “Empty House” and “Tear It Up” it’s exciting and captures the energy of their phenomenal live shows.
6. Young Fresh Fellows — Tiempo de Lujo (Yep Roc)
Any year that has a new album from my favorite Seattle quartet can't be that badThere’s something that happens when Scott McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchinson get together. It’s a smart-yet-silly kind of fun music that is sorely lacking these days. Reportedly the 12 songs on this album were recorded in one 12 hour session at Bloch’s studio. If that is actually the case (they like to cloak the truth in some, at times bizarre, wordplay so I’m doubtful) that makes this album all that more impressive. And they wrote a song about Dr. Zizmor from those subway ads!
5. Shovels and Rope — O’ Be
A long-time music industry friend sent me this debut from the Charleston, South Carolina duo. He and I share a similar taste in music, yet I wonder if he knew exactly how much I would love this album when he dropped it in the mail. The first time I heard Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent sing together on the album opener “Birmingham” I knew that there was something special going on here. The gritty guitars, clanging old drums, and raw harmonies — it’s a stunning combination that produces some of the best rootsy music I’ve heard in ages.
4. Hospitality — Hospitality (Merge)
Hospitality singer-guitarist Amber Papini has one of the most distinctive voices I’ve heard in years (apparently she taught herself to sing via repeated listenings of the Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk, which is so crazy it has to be true) and the album is wisely built upon putting her voice front and center. Papini is also fascinated with doors, keys and locks, as half the songs on her use some combination of those words. Hospitality is probably too quirky for mainstream acceptance, but in a perfect world they’d be big stars.
3. Bob Mould — Silver Age (Merge)
When I interviewed Bob Mould about his book See a Little Light in 2011 he mentioned that when he started writing songs again he wanted to do something fun after digging through his past for two years. Who knew that he'd come up with his best album in two decades? Mould and his band of the past four years (bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk/Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster) are the closest he’s come to the power of Sugar and this album echoes Copper Blue in many aspects. Mostly because it fucking rocks.
2. The Figgs — The Day Gravity Stopped (Stomper)
How many acts can say they recorded one of their finest albums 25 years into their career? Neil Young? Bob Dylan? Van Morrison? Bob Mould? Whoever you believe should be on that list, it's a short one. The Figgs have done just that — and with a double album. Side one — “On the Grounds of Stately Homes,“ “Chased,” “The Lovely Miss Jean,” “Inspector R.T” and “Brain Be Gone” — is easily one of the Top 3 sides of an album the band has ever recorded. A fine example of a great band learning to age gracefully.
1. Nada Surf — The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
This may be the first Nada Surf album that captures the essence of their concerts — the heartbreak, the joy, the longing and most importantly, the rocking. The band really lets it rip from the opening track “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” and doesn’t let up throughout, taking advantage of their touring fourth member Doug Gillard. His stint with Guided By Voices produced some of that band’s best work and he’s seemingly done the same magic for the songs of frontman Matthew Caws. Gillard’s sharp solos aren’t that flashy, yet they’re perfectly constructed and improve each track.