Arcade Fire made the best album of the year and Savages released the top debut I heard. Mikal Cronin recorded pure pop bliss, while the new Deerhunter album reminded me how lucky we are to have Bradford Cox churning out intriguing music. See the full list for the year’s top 10 albums below.
1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor. The latest from Arcade Fire is far more diverse and imaginative than the Grammy-winning album The Suburbs. Produced by James Murphy, Reflektor mixes disco, Caribbean, dub and other styles. There is more than a nod to the Clash’s Sandinista!
2. Savages – Silence Yourself. This is an aggressive debut from a U.K. female quartet that pays homage to earlier post-punk bands. Think of Siouxsie and the Banshees only tougher.
3. Mikal Cronin – MCII. Cronin makes great music, but he really over achieved on this hook-laden record. Irresistible pop from Ty Segall’s collaborator.
4. Deerhunter – Monomania. Even by Deerhunter standards, this album is pretty edgy and raw. It’s one of the more overlooked albums this year.
5. The National – Trouble Will Find Me. The latest from the National doesn’t hit you in the face. But the depth of the songs will pay off after repeated listens.
6. Bill Callahan – Dream River. Callahan more often resembles a poet than a singer, speaking through his songs in his deep, impassive voice.
7. Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Daze. As meditative as this album sounds at points, Vile lays down some serious guitar licks. An original musician with a distinctive sound, he sometimes reminds me of mid-70s Neil Young.
8. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt. This is a personal-sounding album from Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. The songs and music are reminiscent of the very best parts of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.
9. The Men – New Moon. While New Moon explores a hodgepodge of styles, the new love for country rock stands out. Maybe because the album was recorded in a cabin?
10. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin. Some day, I expect Thee Oh Sees will make the No. 1 album of the year (at least on my list). Frenetic, infectious rock ‘n’ roll. Sheer enjoyment.
Rounding out the top 20:
11. Superchunk – I Hate Music. Elder indie rock statesmen make a record to keep your head nodding and feet moving. A strong offering from a band who has been going for almost a quarter century.
12. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. This has to be one of the most fun albums of the year from guys who take a real tongue-in-cheek approach to ’60s and ’70s genres.
13. Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others. Here is an excellent collection of songs from a great singer-songwriter. If you pare it down to the very best tracks, this would be a top 10 album.
14. Polvo – Siberia. What a great comeback for these ’90s noise warriors. Essentially, they stick to the same formula but it sounds fresh today.
15. Ty Segall / Fuzz – Sleeper / Fuzz. We again see the two sides of the prolific Bay-area rocker. With its slow to mid-tempo acoustic and electric numbers, Sleeper is similar to Segall’s 2011 release Goodbye Bread, while his new band Fuzz pays tribute to stoner rock from four decades ago.
16. King Khan & the Shrines – Idle No More. If you listen to just the upbeat, soulful music, you’ve got a great dance party. Underneath, Khan wants to make a statement about the wretched world we live in after battling his personal demons.
17. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork. I really didn’t think Josh Homme had another good album in him (at least not as Queens), but Like Clockwork is a rollicking good time.
18. The Love Language – Ruby Red. Listening to the full sound of Ruby Red, you wouldn’t know the Love Language originally started as a guy making bedroom recordings. Stuart McLamb created a powerful pop album that’s also a blast.
19. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II. The second album from Unknown Mortal Orchestra is quirky, funky and sometimes breezy like its predecessor but I like the songs better on this one.
20. Wavves – Afraid of Heights. The latest album from Nathan Williams doesn’t stray far from King of the Beach (2011). Afraid of Heights is tighter and rocks harder.
Honorable mention. Here are some other albums you should check out: Majical Cloudz, Impersonator; Swearin’, Surfing Strange; Crocodiles, Crimes of Passion; Iceage, You’re Nothing; Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven; No Age, An Object; Yo La Tengo, Fade; Fidlar, Fidlar; Suuns, Images Du Futur; and Charles Bradley, Victim of Love.
HEY THERE! All the Young punks has a new home. Read this article and others at alltheyoungpunks.com.
Cass McCombs opened his set at a sold-out Empty Bottle Friday with the chugging new song Big Wheel and he ended with his somber 2011 classic County Line. The songs between, picked from his seven albums over a decade, highlighted McCombs consistently good songwriting and unique take on Americana.
Saying little more than thank you to the crowd for the applause, McCombs spent almost no time between songs, playing an efficient set that included some mini jams. If you’re a fan of his music, I highly recommend checking out his live show. He may not be much of a conversationalist on stage but he delivers a great performance.
Arbouretum opened the show with a fine set of heavy folk. The video below is taken from a California show performed by McCombs last month. The Empty Bottle gig featured the same glimmering backdrop.
Cass McCombs’ sprawling recent release Big Wheel and Others is the latest in a line of excellent and intriguing albums from the enigmatic singer-songwriter. Boasting 19 songs, Big Wheel also has the distinction of being by far the longest album McCombs released. On Friday, you can catch him at the Empty Bottle. Judging from his recent set lists, McCombs is going back years, drawing from all his albums and usually playing no more than three or four new songs in a night. This intimate setting should be a perfect venue.
Cass McCombs opens his ambitious new album with (partial) title track Big Wheel set to the tempo of a big ol’ trucker song. “I dig the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” McCombs sings as he starts us on a journey through almost an hour and a half and one of the more intriguing releases this year. Big Wheel and Others is not a concept album and, really, the only unifying aspect about the lengthy record is that it’s a lot of good songs by one of America’s best singer-songwriters. Like most of McCombs’ work, the songs sound personal and from the perspective of an outsider. Country and blues are the most common musical influences running through the record.
Among the many highlights: Morning Star, Joe Murder and Angel Blood. There are far more hits than clunkers on Big Wheel despite its girth.
That’s not to say this is a perfect album. Everything Has to Be Justified is way too long. The jazzy instrumental It Means a Lot to Know You Care doesn’t work for me and seems out of place. When you record 19 songs for a single album, it’s hard for all of them to succeed. And then there are the snippets from Sean, a 1969 short film that features an interview with a 4-year-old boy in San Francisco whose parents are hippies. There are three roughly one-minute sound bites from the movie.
The late actress Karen Black made an appearance on the album, singing Brighter! It’s another highlight of Big Wheel. The song also appears earlier on the album performed by McCombs, but Black truly puts the exclamation point on the song. Black, who died in August of cancer, also appeared on McCombs’ 2009 release Catacombs, singing on Dreams Come True Girl.
Big Wheel closes with Unearthed, a softly delivered country-blues number. Musically, it’s a quiet song and not a particularly strong finish, but, thematically, Unearthed complements the tongue in cheek manliness of the opener, Big Wheel. “I moved seventy-five thousand tons of earth with my teeth.” McCombs, who is notoriously media shy, doesn’t lay out an easy map to read with Big Wheel but that’s part of his mystique.
Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison today in the government’s case against him for leaking documents and video to WikiLeaks.
Check out this stunning video for Cass McCombs’ song Bradley Manning. Manning is the Army intelligence analyst accused of giving the “Collateral Murder” video and documents about the Iraq war to WikiLeaks.
One of the more interesting singer/songwriters out there, he plays Lincoln Hall Sunday in what should be a very good show.
McCombs previewed the song Mystery Mail (from Humor Risk) at Pitchfork fest in 2010.
Check out this video for the 2009 song Dreams Come True Girl, featuring … Karen Black!