Sunday, March 09, 2008

Frequent Spins (2008.2)

Last year, I generally considered March to be the best month for new releases. Two of my top 10, as well as numbers 16, 23 and 32 were released in that month. July, September and October were pretty impressive months as well. This year, while February may not turn out to be as top-heavy as March '07, it may end up going down as better than any month in either year. There are no fewer than 11 albums that I want to recognize, and while I have no intention of ranking them, I'm pretty certain that no month last year could have produced as reputable a top 10.

American Music Club - The Golden Age
Prior to this band's 2004 comeback after a ten year hiatus, Love Songs for Patriots, my only knowledge of them was some of Mark Eitzel's solo work...decent stuff, but nowhere near as good as these last two albums. Love Songs made my top ten that year, and I wouldn't be surprised if this one does too. I think I need to add American Music Club to my list of bands whose back catalogs need some exploring.

Gary Louris - Vagabonds
While this is certainly not the magnum opus for the Jayhawks' frontman, and may not even be as good as last year's effort from Jayhawks' co-founder Mark Olson, it's still a good album. And, yes, I would have expected that Louris would prove better than Olson as a solo artist. I guess Mark has a little more experience at it than Gary does, but if the alt-country pioneers, The Jayhawks, are done for good, I'm certainly looking for Louris' solo work to fill the void.

The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
I've read a lot of buzz about this one already. Most folks seem divided into two camps, those who feel this is another brilliant work from John Darnielle, or just a mediocre release from an artist who has mined the same old territory for a little too long. Not sure if I'm enough of a Mountain Goats expert to say either way, but I'm inclined to agree with those in the former category. While this may not be the most versatile group around, Heretic Pride is the best I've heard from this quirky indie pop band who remind me a bit of The Decemberists here.

Nada Surf - Lucky
This album is about 2/3 simple but infectiously catchy pop tunes, and 1/3 mediocre songs in the same vein that simply miss the mark. I like to throw the term "guilty pleasure" around a little loosely, but I have to say that this record legitimately fits into that category. I'll probably take a lot of flack from my indie-rock-snob friends (or friend, actually), but so be it...this is no James Iha Let it Come Down, but it's an enjoyable listen nevertheless.

SamAmidon - All is Well
Will Oldham is the most obvious reference point for this side project from Doveman members Thomas Bartlett and Sam Amidon. I have to admit that I've grown a little tired of the Prince of the Palace, and most things that remind me of him, but this one is on the money. SamAmidon ventures bravely into the frequently charted territory of re-working traditional Appalachian folk tunes, but do so beautifully. The album's third track, "Saro", deserves most of the credit for forcing me to not dismiss this one fairly quickly, and will certainly go down as one of my favorite songs of the year.

Say Hi - The Wishes and the Glitch
Formerly known as Say Hi to Your Mom, this band made the wise decision of shortening their name this past year. Their brand of quirky but sweet indie pop has, to me, always been misrepresented by this former handle, one that wreaks of sophomoric frat boy banter and could easily result in their being confused with crappy bands like Story of the Year. This would be a grave injustice, as their last two albums, Ferocious Mopes and Impeccable Blahs, showed some serious potential that has, at least in part, been achieved on this album.

Also spin-worthy
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Jason Collett - Here's to Being Here
Grand Archives - The Grand Archives
Los Campesinos! - Hold on Now, Youngster...
Tift Merritt - Another Country

Overlooked and/or Overrated
British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
Everyone seems to think, based on their knowledge of my musical taste, that this is one I would like. I have to admit that I do sometimes like my music a little overly dramatic and/or theatrical (see Arcade Fire, Interpol), but if you want evidence that these clowns are just a bit ridiculous, it's in their names...Hamilton, Noble, Yan, and Wood. Enough said.

Thao Nguyen - We Brave Bee Stings and All
I'm not sure whether she officially goes by Thao, Thao Nguyen, or the full-band acknowledging Thao Nguyen and The Get Down Stay Down, but this is the best album from January that I overlooked in my first 2008 installment of Frequent Spins. This album is 32 minutes of pure indie/folk/pop pleasure.

Dengue Fever - Venus on Earth
This is another January release that I didn't recognize last month...for what an overrated piece of crap it is. Actually the music's not bad, but how can anyone residing in the Western hemisphere stand listening to this chick's vocals. Even Deerhoof isn't nearly this annoying.