Austin, Texas based Spoon has become so consistently good at what they do, so reliable, that they are easy to take for granted. I have all of their full length albums since 1998’s “Series of Sneaks” and they don’t have a single misstep in the bunch. “Transference” is not my favorite albums of theirs but I do feel it has been underrated this year. Production on the album is drier and more stripped down than on previous efforts and songs take awhile longer to sink in- the album is not as poppy on the surface but the hooks are there and tracks like “Got Nuffin’”, “Mystery Zone”, “Trouble Comes Running” and “Written in Reverse” should all deserve a place in their future, inevitably awesome greatest hits collection.
29. CARIBOU- SWIM
This is electronic veteran composer/producer Dan Snaith’s, poppiest, sunniest, most club-oriented and most song driven album release to date. It captures the zeitgeist of the beach music trend without sacrificing any of his musical integrity, blending bands like Delorean, Neon Indian & Washed Out with more IDM inspired artists like Four Tet.
28. THE-DREAM- LOVE KING
Buy Love King [Explicit]Amazon
Outside of Beyonce, super-producer The-Dream is the greatest force in modern R&B and “Love King” is my hands down favorite for R&B album of the year (if that’s saying much). Dream has produced such mega-hits as “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies” in the past five years and “Love King” is his third straight successful stab at a solo career. The album is chock-filled with everyone one of his studio tricks along with his R Kelly inspired over-the-top lover man metaphors that can also be described as a modern update on 80’s Prince.
27. THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH- WILD HUNT
Buy The Wild Hunt [+Digital Booklet]Amazon
As stripped down as the first Iron & Wine album, “Wild Hunt” is just one guy and his acoustic guitar.
The Tallest Man is the nasally voiced Kristian Mattson from Swden. Despite his minimalist approach, the music never feels, erm, small. He is a hell of a guitarist and his intricate playing compensates for the lack of other instrumentation in the music. His voice can be a turn off to some but like fellow nasal-voiced troubadours before him like Colin Meloy (of Decemberists), Jenn Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) and the one and only Bob Dylan, dismissing him on his vocals alone will leave you missing out on some great stuff.
26. Crystal Castles (II) – Crystal Castles
Buy Crystal Castles (II)Amazon
This second straight self-titled full length by the enigmatic Crystal Castles can be best classified as goth-techno, or industrial-goth, or goth-synth-punk- o.k. it’s tough to come up with only one phrase but the group combines the icy, synth beats of modern groups like the Knife with shrieking punk-rock style vocals and a decidedly witchy vibe. Despite the above description, the follow-up is surprisingly accessible and more cohesive than their also very good debut album. And II doesn’t even have their best song- a remix of the album track “Not in Love” featuring Robert Smith of the Cure.
25. THE DRUMS- THE DRUMS
Buy The Drums – The Drums
Buy The Drums Amazon
Like a cross between the Cure, New Order & Vampire Weekend- the Drums are a throwback to 80’s synth-pop without being a carbon copy. Their sound also gives a nod to classic late fifties-early sixties pop. The upbeat & catchy melodies belie the often extremely melancholy of the lyrics. These guys could easily carry the ‘wuss’ tag but for anyone who is unafraid of a little Pet Shop Boys, Cure or Erasure this one’s for you.
24. LOCAL NATIVES- GORILLA MANOR
Buy Gorilla Manor – Local Natives
Buy Gorilla ManorAmazon
Local Natives have a similar sound & vibe to bands like Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear & Blitzen Trapper. Mellow music- much of it acoustic, with sweet, high harmonies but despite their similarities to these bands they are able to carve out their own niche as well. They are less rustic than Blitzen Trapper, less difficult than Grizzly Bear and more rockin’ than Fleet Foxes; also funky enough to pull off an awesome cover of the Talking Heads in “Warning Sign”. “Gorilla Manor” is a deep album and shows off the Natives’ impressive song-writing abilities. Local Natives are a band that may very well be destined for greater things.
23. FREE ENERGY- STUCK ON NOTHING
Buy Stuck On Nothing – Free Energy
Buy Stuck On NothingAmazon
A fun joyride through seventies power-pop and arena rock played by kids generations removed from it. But it’s not just a vibe, the ten songs on the album, are concise, hook-filled and well-written. Free Energy has more in common with Thin Lizzy and T. Rex than modern rock bands like the Strokes or the Black Keys (themselves throwbacks) and most of these songs sound like they could come right off of the “Dazed and Confused” soundtrack. This is a pretty high ranking for a pretty obscure band that isn’t brining much new to the table but the album is a total blast from beginning to end.
22. GONJASUFI- A SUFI AND A KILLER
Buy A Sufi and a Killer (Bonus Track Version) – Gonjasufi
Buy A Sufi And A Killer Amazon
Works as a companion album to L.A. wonderkind producer Flying Lotus’s “Cosmogramma”. Lotus is one of the main producers on “A Sufi and a Killer”- while is album is almost entirely instrumental, “Killer” contains Gonjasufi’s cracked-out vocals throughout, sounding like an 80 year old very hip ancient who has smoked a million cigarettes. More rooted in hip hop and sixties psychedelia than the space rock/techno of the brilliant “Cosmogramma” but both albums sound like they are by artists traveling on a different plane than the rest of us. Definitely a unique listen!
21. CURREN$Y- PILOT TALK
Buy Pilot Talk – Curren$y
Buy Pilot Talk [Explicit]Amazon
Louisiana born Curren$y started his career with Master P’s No Limit roster, a commercially successful but artistically limited bunch. He then moved to Lil Wayne’s Cash Money roster and plied his trade as a guest rapper on Wayne’s albums, as well as all over the rap underground. “Pilot Talk” is his full length debut and it’s a great one. Remarkably consistent, intelligent stoner-rap (yes I just said that!) and still very underground. Hopefully Curren$y will become more of a household name in the coming years. Anyone who digs Native Tongues’ style early 90’s rap ala De La & Tribe should give this a listen pronto.