I'm so 3008. You so 2000 and late.
I was going to try to list a top 15 or 20 albums or something, but then I realized I was only 100% sure of my top five, so I decided I'd just go ahead and rip off Tom Breihan all the way. I tried to stick to stuff that came out between January 1 and March 31; if we're lucky, I'll post some of my favorite individual tracks of the first quarter before the next one comes around. Apologies to Zola Jesus, Surfer Blood, These New Puritans, Lindstrom & Christabelle, Dum Dum Girls, Gorillaz, Cloud Nothings, Akira Kosemura, Sonny and the Sunsets, Yelawolf, Race Horses, Tanlines, Ted Leo, Broken Bells, Active Child, Gil Scott-Heron, Field Music, Fabolous, etc. etc. (Oh, and I have some photos from the Black Eyed Peas show at Wells Fargo Arena, not sure if I'm going to end up using them with a possible essay so I figured I'd throw those up just for something pretty to look at.... There's more where these came from, too.)
Let's get it started in here.
1. Spoon - Transference. OK, I know they're playing 80/35. I know there's not an obvious hit on Transference like "The Underdog." And I know that after my first few listens, I was telling people Spoon probably shouldn't play a festival like 80/35 this year, because the new album was just too much in its own little world-- should've grabbed 'em after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (of course, they'd go and name the accessible one Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). But Transference is the album I've probably listened to most this year-- I went out and bought it on vinyl, and for some reason I haven't felt the need yet to pick up the new Titus Andronicus on vinyl, so I guess I must like this better, huh?-- and you know what, I think I was just being paranoid. Because once people spend more time with this album, I feel like it's going to move up a whole lot of year-end lists: It's just one of those albums that is totally its own, unified experience, from its The Graduate-goes-record-geek cover art (a 1970 image by William Eggleston; I picture the kid from the cover hiding out in his bedroom, trying his best to escape for a little while by making music that sounds like the records he thinks are cool) to its weird, off-center production and unexpected audio interference-- plus it happens to have another great batch of songs, from a band with no shortage of them. Spoon's own Britt Daniel and Jim Eno produce, so when "The Mystery Zone" cuts off suddenly or "Before Destruction" starts to sound like your cell phone is too close to the speaker (or when you notice how "Who Makes Your Money" has no question mark but "Is Love Forever?" does), you gotta figure it's intentional; there are auteur films, and this is an auteurs' album. And I have no clue what it all has to do with the psychological concept of transference, but I get that they're singing about communication here, communication breakdowns really-- and I can't think of a more important subject now that we're all connected to each other but struggling to express ourselves in a meaningful way between "likes" and "pokes" and Farmville. Nor can I imagine a rock album expressing that struggle with as much smoldering gorgeousness. There's the White Album-style cut-loose rocker to showcase Daniel's fantastic howl ("Written in Reverse"), the taut post-punk groover that reminds you how most of Transference was recorded at the same studio as tourmates Deerhunter's Microcastle ("Got Nuffin'")-- there's even a piano lullaby ("Goodnight Laura"). My favorite is probably "Out Go the Lights," which you can hear here. Spoon already had their day in the major-label sun, such as it is, so they knew there was no point trying to duplicate the success of "The Underdog." This is the sound of a band with nothing to lose. And nothing to gain except an album its members might like, whether it gets through to other people or not. Here's betting it does.
2. Beach House - Teen Dream. Beach House have been coming up with new ways to be sure they'd get described as "languid" for three albums now. I wasn't sure they'd top Devotion, an intimate slow-burn dream-pop album I'd recommend to anyone who liked either Mazzy Star's So Tonight That I Might See or Britney Spears' Blackout. But they did. And how: You're still going to remember a haze of impressions more than the individual songs, at least until you've listened as many times as I have, but "Norway" broadens the Baltimore duo's scope to include 1980s Fleetwood Mac-style choruses, "Used to Be" is a marvelously restrained piano-based song about a couple growing apart (the lyrics suggest one ending, the warmth in the music makes me hope for another), "Silver Soul" is just a bigger, more impassioned version of the kind of thing they've been doing since their debut's outstanding "Apple Orchard." You may have read that Victoria Legrand has a classically trained voice, but compared with that earlier stuff, it now sounds rock-trained, honed by a few years of touring; Alex Scally's guitar lines have new arrangements to snake through. "Zebra" motif aside, there's nothing black-or-white about this album-- the lipstick-smeared pink on the inner cover (I picked this one up, too, double-vinyl with DVD of kinda lame videos) suits it just fine.
3. Love Is All - Two Thousand and Ten Injuries. I won't even pretend this would've been this high if not for the Swedish five-piece's great show at the Vaudeville Mews a couple of weeks ago. Love Is All have been one of my favorite bands since debut 9 Times That Same Song, and I was a big fan of sophomore album A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night, too, so don't get me wrong; there are few bands I'd rather turn to for punk-spiked indie-pop with braying saxophones and painfully accurate reflections on single life. But the first track I heard from the album was the uncharacteristic "Take Your Time," which had my expectations low-- borrowing from the Clean's "Tally Ho" was one thing, but what, they're doing Pachelbel's "Canon in D" now? Then I listened like 10 times to get ready for the show and another 2,000 times since picking up the physical record, and it doesn't hurt a bit.
4. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor. I have a feeling a lot of people are going to rally around this one just because it's great to hear something so ambitious in an indie-rock scene flooded with too-cool-to-try lo-fi and too-commercially-savvy-to-try licensing bait. But I think there's a lot more going on here than just an overblown Civil War concept album with a multiplatinum rap record's worth of (indie-famous) guest stars. I liked Titus Andronicus's previous album OK, and I enjoyed them when I saw them live, especially when the New Jersey dudes were jumping off of speakers and cussing about politics and stuff, but I had a hard time hearing past the Bright Eyes-ish quaver in Patrick Stickle's voice. Then again, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst wasn't the first to sing that way-- I wonder how fans of David Dondero felt when Fevers & Mirrors came out-- and there's no way a vocal style could cause me to dismiss an album that makes me pump my fists and sing along so many times (as Tom says, great driving album). So, let's see, the Civil War: Our side won, right?
5. White Hinterland - Kairos. A review in UK magazine The Wire says this isn't an r&b album as much as something "to inspire wistful gazing onto snow-covered landscapes." I respectfully disagree.
6-10. Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring; Four Tet, There Is Love in You; Liars, Sisterworld; Toro Y Moi, Causers of This; Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh)
Mazel Tov. (L'chaim!)