I’m taking a bit of a shortcut, but I think it’s justified. Over the year, I wrote about several of these artists for a local music publication, L.A. Record. So rather than try to say the same thing differently here, I quoted myself in those cases. Work smarter, not harder.
The Explorers Club – Freedom Wind
A lot of bands are influenced by the Beach Boys; this one apparently became the Beach Boys. They pull it off surprisingly well.
Deerhunter – Microcastle
I spent several months listening to this occasionally and thinking it was unremarkable. Then, a few weeks ago, it hooked me. A sweeping, graceful guitar-rock wilderness.
Hot Chip – Made in the Dark
More blazin’ dance hits from this crew, but I wish they would have left off about three tracks.
The Morning Benders – Talking Through Tin Cans
Sharp, infectious pop-rock. A solid debut, but I think they have even better work ahead of them. Also check out their free album of covers.
10. Mirror Mirror – The Society for the Advancement of Inflammatory Consciousness
I don’t think I want to know what “inflammatory consciousness” is. Furthermore, this album is kind of creepy. These Mirror Mirror people sound like a cult choir calling for new members. Just listen to the lyrics: “Bring the babe to me / Bring the babe to the Society for the Advancement of Inflammatory Consciousness” and “We are your family now / Lock up your songs,” for examples. Still, this batch of cryptic psychedelic pop is captivating and often surprising. “Don Coyote’s Confession” could pass for a long-lost Syd Barrett track. “Lock Up Your Songs” would make a good alternate soundtrack for the dungeons in the Legend of Zelda. And “My Talisman” sounds like a druggy cover of something from the Zombies’ Odessey & Oracle.
9. Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
First of all, I don’t know how a band can manage to put out an album every year, as Deerhoof has been doing for about a decade (although I think they skipped 2006). Second of all, such prolific output surely runs the risk of burning out the fans. But Deerhoof’s albums never fail to exhilarate. This one has a bizarre jazz number (“Chandelier Searchlight”), the cutest little jock jam (“Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back”) and plenty of delicious riffs.
8. Bodies of Water – A Certain Feeling
They certainly still have their bombastic moments, but this album doesn’t sound as ecstatic as their debut, last year’s Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink. The Bodies’ sophomore offering is a bit darker and a bit more adventurous. I want to call it a prog-rock musical set in the Wild West (and I just did).
7. Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez – Why Is Bear Billowing?
This greatly named man sounds like a reserved Jeff Buckley singing simple but beautiful lullabies. In one of the album’s highlights, Mr. Alvarez sets Edward Lear’s nutty poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” to a stirring acoustic guitar waltz.
6. Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling
Fluttering electronic music augmented by Mr. Polar’s own violin playing and odd, scientific lyrics. Not as easily accessible or danceable as his last album, 2005’s fantastic Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens, but once I had listened to I Need You several times through, I found it to be just as satisfying. Crank it up in the car on a starry night.
5. School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms
Twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza harmonize gorgeously and chant hypnotically amid primal beats and shoegazing guitars. I was a fan of their previous band, On!Air!Library!, but this project, which is rounded out by former Secret Machine Benjamin Curtis, reaches a whole new plateau of aural ecstasy.
4. The Henry Clay People – For Cheap or for Free
“A scorching set of twangy, gutsy rock that doesn’t sound like anything new but is somehow infectiously fresh. It’s in the way they spit out their lyrics — more arguing than singing — about being ‘broke but still alive’ and ‘tired of leaving our futures up to fate.’ It’s in the way they turn what would otherwise be a straight-ahead alt-country jam into an urgent, arena-sized anthem, tearing through it like it’s their last shot.”
3. Ruby Suns – Sea Lion
“While the band is in fact headquartered in the Kiwi country, McPhun was born and raised in California, and his music appears to have sprung from all over the globe. The Suns’ set tonight showcased the far-flung sounds that they cohesively packaged in their recent Sea Lion album, from the mariachi strains of ‘Oh, Mojave’ to the African pop explosion of ‘Tane Mahuta’ (which is actually sung in a Polynesian language).”
2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
One of two much-hyped, self-titled debut albums that transcended the buzz and never lost their appeal (look down for the other one). Vampire Weekend, in my opinion, is the sound of baroque pop on safari. Impeccable melodies, excited delivery, exotic instrumentation — the combination of which is an irresistible package.
1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
“Throughout a set drawing from this year’s Sun Giant EP and self-titled full-length, the Seattle group presented a kind of sacred folk music, in awe of the magnitude of nature and the ephemerality of life. ‘Days are just drops in the river to be lost always,’ they sang in ‘Drops in the River.’ Instrumentally, the band’s pastoral soundscapes and dynamic range bring to mind their contemporaries in Grizzly Bear. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s soaring vocals bear a resemblance to those of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, but when the rest of the Fleet Foxes chime in — as they usually do — the effect is more Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Still, Pecknold proved that he could keep the crowd enraptured on his own with a few solo songs. In the elegiac ‘Oliver James,’ his voice, strong yet unpretentious, filled the room and certainly induced widespread chills. As he stopped strumming and merely tapped the body of his guitar, he cried, ‘Back we go to your brother’s house, emptier, my dear / The sound of ancient voices ringing soft upon your ear.’”