Normally around this time of year, I try to put together a Top 10 list of albums for the year. For most of the past year, I’ve actually been working in an office, which is a big change for me, and it’s kind of thrown off my listening habits. I haven’t been staying on top of current music at all. I mean, I’m usually lousy about listening to new stuff promptly, but this year I’ve been just terrible. I tried to make a serious push in December to catch up with everything I hadn’t heard, listening to roughly 150 albums over the course of the month. Not every album got a full listen. If no one I knew had recommended it and it didn’t grab me in the first ten or fifteen minutes, I usually moved on to the next one.
Once I got down to that set, I had a hard time cutting down. I kind of felt ambivalent about all of them, and, at one point, I was just going to do a big post with a little something about all thirty of the albums that I was somewhat enthusiastic about, but, after a while, I realized I didn’t actually care about many of them to even write a paragraph. That helped me whittle it down to a top ten, so here goes.
Woods – At Echo Lake
I feel kind of bad I’ve never heard of this band since this year, given that their previous releases were all co-released by Shrimper. I can’t entirely pin down who this band reminds me of. There’s certainly a lot of Bingo Trappers in there, and the vocals are somewhere between Neil Young and Dennis Callaci. I love that they’re doing L.A. Canyon Sound thing, but filling in around that with interesting noise. It’s a wonderfully warm album that I can’t really stop listening to. I’m a little scared to see the band live, since I’ve read a fair bit describing them as more of a jam band, but this album is pretty much perfect.
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks
Until the last few weeks, when I’ve been pressed to name a best album of the year, this has been my answer. It’s their best album since Hearts of Oak, arguably even better (Oak has better singles, but this is a better album on the whole, I think).
Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. It’s a little front-loaded, maybe, but it’s a solid album. I think it’s probably got the most bona fide singles of any Superchunk album (“Learned to Surf,” “Crossed Wires,” “Digging for Something”, and “My Gap Feels Weird” are all great), but I’m not sure it entirely comes together as an album.
Betty & the Werewolves – Tea Time Favourites
I remain a little torn on this band. I am not entirely sure I can argue for the artistic importance of a band that sets out and entirely succeeds to replicate the sound of Tallulah Gosh, but, on the other hand, I am extremely glad to have a new album of ersatz Tallulah Gosh songs to listen to.
Miniature Tigers – F O R T R E S S
The first time I listened to this band, I mostly just felt old. I’m not sure what it was about this band, but there was something about people that I’m sure are about fifteen years younger than I doing the same sort of 60′s pop recycled through a lo-fi indie rock aesthetic that seemed exciting during the Elephant 6 explosion fifteen or so years ago. A few weeks later though, I ended up with “Rock and Roll Mountain Troll” stuck in my head for about a week, and ended up relistening to the album many more times.
Orca Team – Let It Go
Pretty sure I saw Orca Team more than I saw any other band this year (though, now that I think of it, might be tied with Superchunk). The album’s pretty fun. Kind of sinister surf pop that reminds me a lot of the second Rosebuds album.
The Futureheads – The Chaos
I feel kind of ashamed to like this band as much as I do. I really enjoyed their first album, but, again, felt a little ashamed about it – enough that I didn’t really pay much attention to them until this year. Their new album is hard to ignore. The XTC influence is still very, very strong, but they’ve grafted on a variety of guitar parts from the first couple Oingo Boingo albums, and added in a big chunk of late 70′s/early 80′s power pop. Maybe some Jam. And Beat? I am aware that referencing these bands is not going to win over a lot of people. Nor does it make me seem particularly cool or hip. That said, I really enjoy this album.
Dum Dum Girls – Blissed Out
I am aware that it is incredibly pretentious to include the cassette-only release from this band instead of their actual album, but I find the album kind of dull. The cassette, on the other hand, is pretty great. “Hey Sis” is, without a doubt, the best thing I’ve heard from them, and, while I’m ashamed to admit it, I kind of like their cover of “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” better than the original.
Jonathan Richman – O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth
We saw Jonathan a couple times this year, and this album is pretty much a perfect replica of what his live shows are like these days (only much less sweaty). I’m glad he’s come out of his post-divorce depression, and can now write songs that are melancholy without being unremittingly bleak. The production on the album is great. It’s a welcome change from that awful Ric Ocasek produced one, and just feels like you’re hanging out with Jonathan.
Soda Fountain Rag – Reel Around Me
The only reason this is coming in at #10 instead of topping the list is a pair of technicalities. The album’s nine songs long, but it’s a 10″, so I think it’s probably an EP. It also consists of re-recordings of old songs, which is good, but I would really like to get some new Soda Fountain Rag songs. On the other hand, I am really glad to have a nice sounding version of “Give Yourself a Break,” which was the song that first endeared me to this band. It probably says bad things about me that a song about cheering oneself up by laughing at drunks walking into traffic signs is the song that makes me become a life-long rabid fan of a band.
Runners up: Bedroom Eyes, Shout Out Louds, Tango in the Attic, Joanna Newsom, Harlem, Los Campesinos!, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Sambassadeur, Happy Birthday, Pill Wonder, The Splinters, Mighty Clouds, The Volebeats