Lots and lots of great albums this year already...
Spoon- Transference- [B+] The best average band in the world. Always good for a number of 5-star/A+ singles on each record, but in my mind, Spoon has, and always will be, the champions of the mid-tempo, agreeable genre as well. Nothing wrong with that, they just never seem to skate too far outside of their tried and true comfort zone. On the whole, Transference is as good if not better than 2007's overwhelming critical and commercial success Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
Cold War Kids- Behave Yourself EP [B+] "Coffee Spoons" and "Audience" finds the band picking up where they left off on 2008's Loyalty to Loyalty and "Santa Ana Winds" [Click to listen] is just vintage and camera-ready Cold War Kids.
Memoryhouse- The Years E.P. [C-] If you're gonna shoegaze, you have to do it better than this. See M83 and/or Explosions in the Sky for inspiration.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band- An Album to Benefit the Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Outreach Program [A+] Don't think of this as just another compilation, rather an outpouring of support and appreciation from some of the more talented lyricists and performers to one of the city's most beloved groups. This is the real deal. Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong [who appears as an apparition on the record] himself would appreciate the authenticity of the 1920s, 30s & 40s Jazz sounds being reinterpreted and largely replicated to a T by such guests as My Morning Jacket's superhero front man Yim Yames, indie rock whistling expert Andrew Bird, the Okie from Muscogee Merle Haggard, and the collection's highlight, a delightfully fractured spin on the public domain Mardi Gras ditty "Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing" by the Tom Waits. Even the "wrong notes" fit here and the whole thing rolls together seamlessly as the backing Preservation Hall Jazz Band keeps this album melodically thematic and protects it from detracting into a heterogenous mess (like most compilations). But, as I said, this ISN'T a compilation. Each artist visited New Orleans over the course of a year to sit in the PHJB. Buy this album or stream it here.
Shearwater- The Golden Archipelago [C+] An intriguing concept based on insular life that wears on the listener making this record difficult to see through til the end.
Local Natives- Gorilla Manor [A-/B+] The record opens with a very standard mid-tempo track that immediately stirs up Band of Horses comparisons. Midway through "Airplanes", the listener finds the band's comfort zone as the exhilariting verse comes in, I bet when I leave my body for the sky/The wait will be worth it/I love it all. Compared to Fleet Foxes who seem to glow brightest amongst the simplest of sounds, Local Natives thrive on melodic complexity as in the album closing “Sticky Thread”, a track that slowly layers itself towards the stomp-and-clap exposition before the album drifts towards completion. Like the climate in the City of Angels, Gorilla Manor’s vibe is largely sunny as the words Why does the soul/Hallucinate?/I have control/I shift shape pulsate by in the strongest original track, “Shape Shifter”. Also, credit should be given where it’s due for a band with the cajones to cover the Talking Heads on their debut LP (something I haven’t seen since Widespread Panic covered “Heaven” on their ’88 debut Space Wrangler), putting a stirring and memorable spin on “Warning Sign”, and doing it their own way. The cover is arguably the best track on the record because of it’s inventive and effective approach on such a multi-faceted and amelodic tune written and arranged by one of the most difficult-to-imitate artists out there. These guys sound like they’d be great live, so I’ll be sure to catch them on their expansive upcoming tour…you should too.
Also, their YouTube video [330,000 views] from the Gorilla Manor backyard the band doing a campfire-arrangement cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” is a must-see.
Midlake- The Courage of Others [B-/C+] Rockers, gets your flutes out. I haven't seen this much fluting since my high school days in the 70's watching Jethro Tull empty is lungs with his "Locomotive Breath". Many, many peaks and maybe even more somber-inducing yawners here. Worth a listen for fans of the band's 2006 excellent debut The Trials of Van Occupanther. New listeners may want to check out LP1 before checking out the choice tracks like the "The Courage of Others" [Click to listen] and the brooding "Children of the Grounds".
Reptar- EP [A-] 19/20 year old college collective. The next generation of indie synth psych-pop dream rock. Yes, that was a 6 word genre.
Beach House- Teen Dream [A/A-] See review below. Arguably the year's best. Almost perfect.
Yeasayer- Odd Blood [A-] Only slightly less staying power than 2007's timeless and stunningly psychedlic debut album All Hour Cymbals. The innovative style on this record should be a hugely influential sound in the coming years though. Recommended tracks: "Madder Red", "Ambling Alp", and "I Remember"
Vampire Weekend- Contra [B/B-] Too sporadic to receive a high grade. Having said that, these guys are here to stay for the long haul. A whole lotta people [including yours truly] would've disagreed with this statement after the flash-in-the-pan style explosion of hype surrounding the band's debut release in 2008. "Cousins" might be the best Vampire Weekend song yet. See the music video below.
Galactic- Ya-Ka-May [B-/C+] Trying to do too much within the confines of a single disc. As usual, go see them live any chance you get though.
Morning Benders- Big Echo [A-/B+] Go catch a wave.
Ravenna Colt- Slight Spell [B] Any friend of Yim's is a friend of mine. Ex-My Morning Jacket guitarist Johnny Quaid's debut album is a slice of Americana. This surging alt-country rock album will be appreciated by fans of Ryan Adams and early Wilco. "Forsake and Combine" is the only track that has much of a semblance from the sounds of early MMJ and that's only in the song's first thirty seconds and the sickening "Easy Morning Rebel" jam outro. Great voice, excellent musicianship, and a nice road companion of an album.
Vampire Weekend- "Cousins" Official Music Video
Spoon- "The Mystery Zone" live
Yeasayer- "Madder Red" live