Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys!
"Station Approach," the opening track of Elbow's 2005 release, Leaders of the Free World, was an absolute eagle in my book, but the rest of the album never lived up to the expectations created by that first song. Still, based on just one song, I've been waiting for this band to reach that potential, and finally they have. While there are no eagles here, there are a few birdies, and that's enough to capture my attention.
J Mascis - Several Shades of Why
I was living in New Hampshire when the Dinosaur Jr. front-man's first solo album, Martin + Me, was released. I was shopping in my favorite record store, Portsmouth's Rock Bottom Records, and asked the clerk what she thought of it. Her response was that it was basically Mascis's "Unplugged" record, and while he was definitely not capable of melodic folk, she really liked the album. 15 years and three solo releases later, Several Shades of Why is a much more melodic effort than anything he's released before. Somewhat surprisingly, that turns out to be a good thing.
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
There was a time when it seemed every band had an expiration date. That is, a point where the momentum of their early, defining material wears off and they try—repeatedly and unsuccessfully—to reinvent themselves. That point came for R.E.M. almost 20 years ago. Then, in 2008, they went back to basics with Accelerate, and it worked. Three years later, they continue that no-nonsense approach with Collapse Into Now, proving there's really a very simple formula for artists looking to extend their shelf lives.
The Strokes - Angles
The Strokes are a band that seems to be in jeopardy of becoming the Joe Charboneau of indie rock. Maybe there's a better baseball analogy than that one, but Charboneau always comes to mind when thinking of someone who burst on the scene showing so much promise, only to fade to oblivion shortly thereafter. Of course, that's not entirely the case here, despite the fact it's been ten years since their debut, Is This It, and they're just releasing their third subsequent album, with none of them anywhere near as good as their first. At times, I've thought this is their second best album, but reality is it's about as good as the prior two. That is, much better than any of Charboneau's post-rookie seasons, just not as great as the one that got everybody excited.
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
This one came recommended by a couple different reputable sources. Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers called it his favorite album of this year so far, and Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis selected Vile as his opening act for some early 2011 tour dates. Pitchfork's review plays the "name three artists" game, referring to Vile as "...channeling the energies of John Fahey or Tom Petty or even Bob Seger," which is quite an interesting perspective. While I've definitely been enjoying this album, it's not instantly catchy, in my opinion. So, you may have to be a little patient to try and decide if this will be one that falls into the "rewards repeated listens" category.
Lucinda Williams - Blessed
I'd almost given up on the artist who I've always considered the queen of alt-country, but with this year's release of her best album in a decade, it's occurred to me that she's much better when she waits at least three years between album releases. While her last few efforts were a little too focused on the bluesy side of her persona, Blessed marks a bit of a return to her rocking side, a la Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an album that was famously six years in the making. Not that this record comes anywhere near the brilliance of Car Wheels, but it's a pleasant return to the style that turned me on to Lucinda in the first place.
MVP Elections – 2006 AL
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