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December is when anybody who writes about music—whether it’s for magazines or blogs or on post-it-notes stuck to their bedroom wall—starts writing up their “best of the year” lists. It’s a natural instinct; I understand it, and celebrate it, even though I’ll no doubt get tired of reading lists with all the same albums on them.
So far this year, not from any great endeavor but just from circumstances, most of my favorite albums have been keeping fairly low under the radar. I figured then, though it’s only August, that I’d write a little something up about those albums that I’ve been loving that you might not know about (though maybe you do; no assumptions made here). For the purposes of this I’m ignoring a few great albums by bands that you probably do know about (THE CLIENTELE, OF MONTREAL, SPOON). In alphabetical order:
BLACK BEAR—The Cinnamon Phase (Baskerville Hill)
This is an album so personal – its liner notes could be mistaken for a journal or scrapbook—that you’ll probably either get annoyed or immediately get in line. Well get in line, ‘cause these diary entries take the form of totally infectious little DIY synth jams: playful and thoughtful.
HALLELUJAH THE HILLS—Collective Psychosis Be Gone (Misra)
Do you miss the kind of album that keeps revealing itself to you? Do you like bands that are weird and mysterious but also will rock your speakers up and down, and throw in great pop hooks out of nowhere? Here you go.
JEFF LONDON—The Bane of Progress (Hush)
There’s songs are thematically connected in a way that appeals to me greatly. Maybe it’s the universal quality of the general theme—we’re all moving from city to city, trying to get a handle on the world and where we fit, right? Or maybe it’s how pristinely these friendly, articulate folk-pop songs were recorded, giving the album the peaceful glow of a sunset.
LUCKY SOUL—The Great Wanted (Ruffa Lane)
A few of these albums are debuts, which is doubly exciting. Nothing against the others, but I’m ridiculously excited about Lucky Soul, considering how perfectly written these pop songs are. Think Motown and Stax meeting more recent dreamy indie-pop…or something like that. Gorgeous and stylish, every song on here is. They’re replicating old styles to some extent, but making them fresh, in-the-moment.
THE MARY ORNETTES—The Mary Ornettes (Labrador)
This doesn’t have the crisp, clean, pop! sound of many Labrador releases. Instead The Mary Ornettes play a fuzzier, dreamier style of pop-rock; an ‘80s THE CURE/JESUS AND MARY CHAIN mood, but brighter in tone. Lush and undeniably romantic: “I can still hear the noise from the heart that kept me up all night,” a line in the last song goes.
NAMELESSNUMBERHEADMAN—Wires Reply (St Ives, Scatterplot Sounds)
The unknown band that I’ve raved about most for the last five or more years, Kansas City’s Namelessnumberheadman have outdone themselves this time. An album filled with interesting sounds, layered together; with music suggestive of both nature and the future; with a balancing act between anger and peace. A beautiful, complicated album.
SCHOONER—Hold on Too Tight (54º40’ or Fight!)
There’s a ton of interesting rock bands coming out of North Carolina, and this is one of the best. Their new album has darkness, humor and poetry to it, plus these evocative little allusions towards the music of yesteryear: towards proms and teenage lust and car crashes.
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