Filed by M. Trevor Higgins
Here are a few staff picks for the top albums of this past year. You can hear these discussed on this week's MUSICcast.
M. Trevor Higgins picks:
"Boys and Girls in America," The Hold Steady. Vagrant Records. Imagine a literature professor staying up all night drinking and listening to The Replacements, and then next morning he writes an album with the sharpest hooks this side of a Bass Pro Shop. This is that album. It's smart, catchy rock that sounds how your Friday nights feel.
"St. Elsewhere," Gnarls Barkley. Downtown. This is what I think people of the past thought music of the future would sound like. Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse blend soul, hip-hop and rock into a lethal cocktail. It's delicious.
"Big Iron World," Old Crow Medicine Show. Nettwerk Records. Produced by David Rawlings, this album from the Nashville string band is part lament and part celebration. OCMS wail to God, mourn river workers lost to progress, sing the praises of the union and try to stay away from the cocaine.
"Return to Cookie Mountain," TV on the Radio. Interscope. Five songs in and "Wolf Like Me" hits the speakers like a meteor. No song this year was performed with as much urgency and intensity. What's even better: It's about werewolves. TVOTR explore other dark corners with great focus, wild drumming and Tunde Adebimpe's exotic vocals.
"Hell Hath No Fury," Clipse. Re-Up Records. In a year when Jay-Z came back corporate and Lupe Fiasco intoduced us to nerd-hop Clipse comes hard. This long delayed release gives parents new reasons to lock their car doors and stay away from dark alleys. The Neptunes production work clicks, pops and rolls, but this album is all about Clipse's precision verbal assault.
Matt Wilson picks:
"Everything All the Time." Band of Horses. Sub Pop. I'm not exactly sure how music can be simultaneously folksy and anthemic in the way this album is, but somehow this Seattle-by-way-of-South-Carolina band pulls it off, making this not only the finest, but also the most appropriately titled album of the year.
"Just Like the Fambly Cat." Grandaddy. V2. The American answer to Radiohead called it quits this year with an album filled with oblique symbolism and beautiful melancholia, and that's just how I like 'em. It's a shame the band didn't get more recognition when they were around.
"Return to Cookie Mountain." TV on the Radio. Interscope.The band name doesn't make any sense. Neither does the album title -- or the album. It's cacophonous, dissonant and utterly incomprehensible on the first listen. But those are all good things.
"Game Theory." The Roots. Def Jam. It was a weak year for hiphop, but the critical darlings of the genre let loose with a powerhouse that almost made up for the slump. Dark and thunderous, Game Theory is the album The Roots should have released instead of 2004's misstep "The Tipping Point."
"The Crane Wife." The Decemberists. Capitol. Yes, it sounds like they came flying out of the 1880s. And yes, they made a 12-minute-long suite with four movements the second track of the album. And I understand that Colin Meloy's singing voice is kind of wimpysounding. I can't help it. I love this album. Give me a break.
Michael Davis picks:
"Boys and Girls in America." The Hold Steady. Vagrant. Prepare to binge on the rock culture references and over-the-top piano riffs that infuse this record -- a concept album about the tales and travails of American youth. Singer Craig Finn chimes that these guys and gals are "dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late." And they haven't been better illustrated this decade.
"Everything All the Time." Band of Horses. Sub Pop. Soaring, loud/soft vocals are crammed into this halfhour album, an indie favorite that has garnered the band numerous My Morning Jacket comparisons. If it's possible to be epic in three-minute pop songs, this outfit succeeds.
"Fox Confessor Brings the Flood." Neko Case. Anti. The New Pornographers singer puts pop to the side and returns to an Americana sound. This organic offering ebbs and flows with her band's rootsy instrumentation, but it's Case's dazzling voice that carries the disc to mountaintop peaks.
"Return to Cookie Mountain." TV on the Radio. Interscope. A weirdo wall of sound built around melancholy vocals and an industrial feel that at times makes Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sound like a softy. It's the challenge of listening to this album that makes it so compelling.
"Post-War." M. Ward. Merge. Take a trip back in time with these chilled-out throwbacks. This vagabond road music is perfect to play while careening through the North Georgia mountains. Case and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James hop in for the ride.
E-mail M. Trevor Higgins at email@example.com