11. New Multitudes
The latest attempt to turn Woody Guthrie songs into modern day standards did not come from Jeff Tweedy and Billy Bragg but this time from Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, and Yim Yames. It had been in the works longer than most can remember, and finally saw the light of day this year. Maybe it’s just the sheer amount of talent on the album, or the Guthrie magic working its way through the 23 songs, but it works. Of course the underrated sounds of Anders Parker really make this shine for me and should have you digging into your collection for some old Varnaline records as well.
10. Delta Spirit
There is just something about lead singer Matthew Vasquez urgent vocal that drew me into this album right away. “How can one little speck, make a difference to the rest….well it doesn’t no one cared, except me..” The urgency and energy continues throughout their self-titled album and also translates incredibly well to their live show. Delta Spirit have turned into the band we all thought Cold War Kids were destined to be some day.
9. The Calm Blue Sea – Arrivals and Departures
TCBS never really left, but almost did and I wasn’t sure if the perfect storm that seemed to hit with their excellent self released debut back in 2008 would ever seek out our radars again. But when Austin label Modern Outsider re-released the debut last year and then a new album hit shelves this year, it appeared another round was in order. And I have to tell you, my expectations for said return were high. They were unfair too, because this is a band I truly care about. But you know what, the new album meets those expectations and at times even exceeds them. The complex arrangements that grow from a sprout to a tall oak tree on each song make me step back in awe of what has just grown before me. Yeah, it’s that good. Pick up Arrivals and Departures and have your own experience.
Standout Track: Samsara
8. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Another rising star reached new heights this year in Sharon Van Etten. There is something about the simplicity and utter beauty of Tramp. It achieves what many albums cannot in that it has so many layers of stuff going on beneath the surface but the listener feels transported to an almost one to one experience with Van Etten while listening to the album. The Brooklyn based all-star contributors (Bryce Dessner, Beirut’s Zach Condon, Doveman’s Thomas Bartlett, Julianna Barwick) certainly helped raise the status of this album, but it was of course Sharon that made it what it is.
7. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
So here is a bit of a confession. I never loved Wolf Parade or Handsome Furs. There are some undeniable songs and even album in their discographies but I was never head over heels. That being said I love just about everything Britt Daniel puts his hands on, so I approached this one with mixed emotions. But the recipe for fantastic had just the right amount of both Britt and Boeckner and I found myself enjoying the Daniel songs just as much as the Boeckner crooned tunes. It’s equal parts Spoon power pop and Handsome Furs cloudy flirtation.
6. Hundred Waters – S/T
I don’t get to nearly as much brand new music as I used to, but every now and then a record rolls out of my speakers that I have no familiarity with and it just clicks. That is how I felt the first time I heard Hundred Waters debut. It’s just a beautiful record, from front to back. To make what may end up being a regrettable comparison, it’s like Joanna Newsome decided to make an album with Sigur Ros. Ok, I regret that already, but you get the idea. And as much as I fell for the album, seeing Hundred Waters live was the tipping point for me. As remarkable in person as on record, which to me says a lot about where this band is headed.
5. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Grizzly Bear have hit their stride. They are in the zone. They could be peaking, or this could just be the start of their peak. That’s kind of how I feel about this incredibly consistent gem of an album. It might not be adventurous or groundbreaking but it’s just incredibly good and I can’t help but think that we aren’t truly appreciating the things this band is able to pull off. They are no longer the flavor of the month but instead are accomplished veterans whose work will stand the test of time.
4. Cat Power – Sun
I wasn’t sure if she would do it. I knew she could, but it had been so long. When I and many others fell head over heels for Cat Power in the late 90′s / early 2000′s it seemed like the beginning of big things. And that is what we got, with amazing album like You Are Free. But not long after cover songs and personal drama seemed to be the emphasis for a career that suddenly felt aimless. Well I think it’s safe to say that Sun puts Cat Power on the solid ground as an artist that we all knew Chan Marshall was capable of, and even ups the anti a bit as well. This album reeks of summer on the west coast, in a good way.
3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
GY!BE returned with the expected political angst and complex sounds on this album. It’s something many fans had been anticipating for years and I’d venture to guess most were pleased with the results. For me, the first track on the album alone, the 8 minute voyage called Mladic, maps things out in a perfect way for Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! I won’t pretend to fully appreciate or understand the complexities that make up the detailed web that is GY!BE, but I know one thing, I love it.
2. Saint Etienne – Words And Music By Saint Etienne
I was skeptical about the new Saint Etienne album, I admit. It had been seven years since their last album and lets be honest, at least ten years since they put an album out we cared about (sorry Tales From Turnpike House). So when Words and Music by Saint Etienne was upon us, I hit play with a healthy plateful of ‘prove it’ represented. Well they not only proved it, but blew it out of the water. The record is pure fun and immediately addictive. It could be the 1990′s in me coming out, (and probably is) but this is one of the best dance albums to come out in years. And here is the thing, it sounds like it was released in the mid 90′s but does not sound dated. I think this is simply because Saint Etienne played on their core strength, which apparently is as strong as ever. Now if we could only get it on US distribution.
1. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
My Dirty Projectors fandom timeline isn’t exactly a pioneering one, but it’s also probably not uncommon. When I first discovered the band I have to admit to being fairly annoyed by most of what I had consumed. That all changed though in 2009 when Bitta Orca had just enough palatable songs to turn my head and suddenly I counted myself as a fan. Well, the progression continues this year with Swing Lo Magellan. This is quite simply one of my favorites this year. Whatever annoyances I could count in the past have all but disappeared and I find myself enjoying just about every song on the record. Dirty Projectors, it’s not you, it’s me, but in a good way.
Standout Track: About To Die
More albums I listened to and loved this year but didn’t write multiple sentences about.
The Walkmen – Heaven
The Tallest Man On Earth – Theres No Leaving Now
Hot Chip – In Our Heads
Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
Beach House – Bloom
Grimes – Visions
Ty Segall Band: Slaughterhouse
M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion