Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
Oddly powerful is the only way to describe the Hold Steady. As in, “This bar band fronted by a short, chubby guy who sings about born-again punk rockers and slutty ‘hoodrats’ is oddly powerful.” I’m still surprised at how susceptible I am to the classic rock template of loud and rockin’ riffage, then a soft and slow organ break, then loud and rockin’ riffage again. Maybe it’s because when the music gets soft and slow, Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn says things like “She got screwed up by religion/ She got screwed by soccer players/ She got stoned for the first time down by the banks of the Mississippi River.” Hold Steady CD: $15. Enjoying a classic rock band while still feeling smart: priceless.
Another great record from the Decemberists. But I’ve got a great idea for the next record: a concept album from the point of view of the meth heads that stole the band’s equipment. Colin Meloy and company need the catharsis and the meth heads in this state need their sad, sleazy tales told. It’s win-win, right?
Belle and Sebastian, Push Barman to Open Old Wounds
Finally, Belle and Sebastian has its own Louder Than Bombs. And though Push Barman is nowhere near as good as that famed Smiths collection, it still has some of B and S’s best songs. “La Pastie De La Bourgeoisie,” “A Century of Fakers,” “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” “You Made Me Forget My Dreams” and “Photo Jenny” are some of the best indie pop songs written, period. Proof positive all those crappy twee pop bands that came after completely missed the point.
Six Organs of Admittance, School of the Flower
Ben Chasny’s first studio album as Six Organs is the place for new fans of the band to start. Faheyesque folk, acid-guitar workouts and enchanting modal instrumentals all take their turns on School of the Flower, with the overall mood pure and otherworldly. If somebody finds this record 20 years from now, it’s still going to sound as beautiful as it does today.
Cam’ron, Purple Haze
To enjoy gangsta rap, you have to enjoy hyperbole. And Cam’ron is hyper with hyperbole, spitting easygoing, often surreal lyrics about his cars, his furs, his groupies, his jet-skis, his coke and his crew, the Diplomats, over beats that range from sped-up soul samples from Kanye West to a beat I swear could come from the Lion King musical. Purple Haze is the best rap album I’ve heard this year.
Of Montreal, The Sunlandic Twins
Elephant 6 popsters go Postal Service. Or, How I Learned To Stop Using Analog Equipment and Love the Laptop. The Sunlandic Twins is weird, a little sardonic and catchy as hell.
Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
The new Eels double album, though too damn long, is a beautiful too damn long. Both CDs are bursting with brilliant pop songs, and even the short instrumental bits between songs are too gorgeous to skip. So set aside 100 minutes of your day to listen to Mark Everett work his magic. It’s the least you can do for all the time it took him to make it all.
Beanie Siegel, The B. Coming
Before Tupac went to jail for sexual assault, he sounded defiant and full of rage. Beanie Siegel just sounds broken. With an attempted murder charge over his head and the success of Damon Dash’s fledgling Roc-4-Life label on his shoulders, Siegel sounds bitter, sad and disenchanted. And the beats are crying right along with him, from sad saxophones to soulful strings. Even sampling Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” doesn’t put any pep in Siegel’s step. Guess there’s actually nothing “gangsta” about jail time.
Gang Gang Dance, God’s Money
More cowbell? No, more pan flutes. And weird IDM textures and funky grooves that !!! and Out Hud would kill for. Coolest party record of the year.
50 Cent, The Massacre
Derivative and unoriginal? Undoubtedly. Better than Eminem’s new record? By leaps and bounds. Minus a few duds, The Massacre is at least as entertaining as 2002’s Get Rich or Die Trying, if not as intense. And for a song that beef-wise bites off way more than it can chew, “Piggy Bank” has a killer keyboard beat from G-Unit guru Sha Money XL. Overall, The Massacre is as g-g-g-g-good as you’d expect, considering it’s the follow-up to one of the most exciting rap records this century.
The Sounds of Silence
by Nathan McKee
Minimalist electronic music made by a French girl with records she borrowed from the library. Her distaste for laptops has motivated her to reproduce most of the songs live with only acoustic instruments and a few samplers, which makes me love her that much more.
The Evens, The Evens
Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina, Geoff’s sister, got together for their version of the drums-guitar duo and succeeded wildly. This has fantastic harmonies, catchy melodies and a fresh sound while remaining political. I feel bad about ever doubting them.
The Arcade Fire, Funeral
You already own this record, I hope.
M. Ward, Transistor Radio
It started out as my least favorite of his, but ended up being my favorite. I guess sometimes you just have to be in California, lying on a friend’s floor and drinking tea to really appreciate an album. I should try that with the latest Destroyer.
The Hidden Cameras, Mississauaga God Damn
Strange and beautiful music that’s probably too gay even for Stephin Merritt. For some reason, most of the people I know don’t realize the intense genius of my new favorite band.
Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs
I didn’t think he could ever top Weather Systems, and I might’ve been right. It’s hard to say. If it’s not better, it’s definitely as good and is also very different. Seeing him play these tracks live was life-changing.
Greg Weeks, Awake Like Sleep
Lots of dark, rich layers of organ, guitar and vocals. The bloody knife in the white snow wins the award for strangest album cover, which is creepy yet also intriguing – kind of like this album.
Reverb-soaked pop music with a vintage feel that will get stuck in your head for weeks on end. Jason Quever recorded this in Oakland, San Francisco and Portland with an independent attitude that shows itself in all the best ways.