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Best Music of 2011: Best Indie Rock Part II

Here’s the second half of my Best Indie Rock of 2011 selections.

roman-noir.com Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme (B.) - The Black Queen / Memories of Retrocity

Image credit: roman-noir.com Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme (B.) – The Black Queen / Memories of Retrocity

Grouplove – Naked Kids (3:29)

I’m a sucker for harmonies and handclapping. Both are in abundance. This is one of those bands I discovered because cool DJs keep remixing them. I look forward to getting to better getting to know their sound in 2012.

Gauntlet Hair – Top Bunk (4:43)

That echoey guitar and croon combination creates some surreal magic in “Top Bunk.” Sounds like: Animal Collective made a mainstream surf album. And what’s with that drum that sounds like an explosion at the bottom of the ocean? How are they producing that dub-step worthy bass out of an ordinary drum kit? If you like music that sounds like the soundtrack Venice Beach surfers hear as they drown, get this whole album, because it’s equally, oddly, delish.  Just for fun, here’s a video of “Top Bunk” made with old Shwarzaneggar movies. It’s well-produced but I can’t imagine it’s official, what with copyright and all.

Handsome Furs – Repatriated (4:48)

The word “mature” comes to mind: musicians that have been doing this for a while and have put some thought into the lyrics and how it all comes together. The guitarist plays around a bit, showing off but not too much, while the percussion trades off with a variety of synth melodies. Sadly, I haven’t heard the rest of this album, so please share in the comments if you can tell us if the other songs are as good as “Repatriated.” If this song ended at 3:40 it would still be one of the year’s best, but it goes on for another minute just to make sure you know: Handsome Furs know how to rock.

Heartsrevolution – I.D. (3:54)

In the proud tradition of Le Tigre, Heartsrevolution is an indie pop band fed on the mother’s milk of riot grrrl punk rock. “I.D.” goes back and forth between the identity politics of war and pop music. It’s framed as a prayer so when she says “I think we got a bad connection… Can you hear me now CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? NOW?” the urgency is to a savior that doesn’t seem to be listening. My favorite part is where she puts a new spin on that pop-shlock icon when she says that her fear “is that the world will be filled with Britney Spears. ‘It’s Britney Bitch. And I’m not that innocent.’ We’re not that innocent.” But she’s not (only) talking about pop music fans, she’s talking about the claims about American jingoism’s good-vs.-evil motif. She’s saying we know the war cries are a bunch of BS. Suffice to say, there’s a lot more going on in this band than a bunch of crystal bling on a pink ice cream truck. If you like electro but wish you could find something with a bit more substance, Heartsrevolution may be the flavor you crave.



Jon Fratelli – Rhythm Doesn’t Make You A Dancer (3:15)

Jon Fratelli can’t seem to get his shit together. First the Fratellis make it big, and he quits the tour because he got too effing “tired.” Then he formed the truly fantastic Codeine Velvet Club, and quits it before they have a chance to build any kind of legacy. But what he lacks in caffeine/direction he makes up for in talent. It’s straightforward indie rock, with rollicking guitars, “Whoah-ohs,” and charming lyrics about life on the road and the women he meets along the way.

Mister Heavenly – Bronx Sniper (3:39)

You can listen to Mister Heavenly’s entire album on Youtube, which is how I can tell you it’s a solid work with ample variety between songs. I wanted to pick one song from Out of Love and while I think “Bronx Sniper” is my favorite, the songs are so wonderfully different from one another you may find another suits you better. It’s no surprise, as Mister Heavenly is made of folks from The Shins, The Unicorns, Islands, Man Man and Modest Mouse. They even got Michael Sera to play bass for them on tour. Something good is bound to come of such a combination, and it seems that they’ve lent their talents in equal proportions.

Oberhofer – Away FRM U (3:42)

This single appeared in 2010 but it didn’t get released on Amazon til 2011, so it’s fair game by my rules. Oberhofer sounds a bit under-produced in a world of Britney Spears, and that’s a good thing. It sounds like they recorded it on the second take, capturing all of Oberhofer’s emoting, whistling, and glockenspiel-tapping in its random, glorious splendor.

Oh No! Yoko – Go Alien (3:22)

Initially “Go Alien” sounds like a Jonsi clone, which we could stand to have a few more of, so that’s fine. But twenty seconds in, some banging drums and guitar-slapping let us know that this isn’t all going to be lullaby music. I like that the build-ups and breakdowns in this song don’t fit the standard chorus-to-refrain ratio. Where most songs kind of do the same thing for a minute and then give you a repetitive refrain, Oh No! Yoko seems to change course every thirty seconds, taking you on a nice ride.

Patrick Wolf – The City (4:12)

Patrick Wolf put out a ton of material in 2011. Most of it struck me as a pretentious but I’d listen to it again. Perhaps his seriousness keeps “The City” from slipping too far into bubblegum territory. It’s a new wave love song in the tradition of Crowded House or Tears For Fears. I love the piano melody, and only wish it were louder in the mix.“ The City” harkens to the days when a saxophone was a perfectly fine backing instrument for a rock song.

Pete & the Pirates – Come To The Bar (5:40)

Hey, who uses this much flanger anymore, or at least uses it well? This song is an anthem, a song to dedicate to your friend who’s just gotten out of a long-term relationship or failed the bar exam. It seems all these years we’ve been in need of a song that proclaims “Get back into the rhythm of things and come to the bar!” So thanks for that, Pete.

Polarsets – Leave Argentina (3:23)

Polarsets have put out one of my top-5 favorite albums of 2011, and “Leave Argentina” is just one song worth checking out (See my Best electro of 2011 list for a few others). The first thirty seconds of this song are nothing to get excited about, which makes the contrasting burst of sound all the more compelling when he breaks into the refrain. There’s all kinds of bells and electronic percussion and general exuberant wackiness. The refrain of “Leave Argentina” is one of many reasons Polarsets is one of the bands to keep an ear on in 2012.

Scattered Trees – Four Days Straight (3:43)

It’s a simple guitar melody, some slow drums, occasional handclaps, and a few well-placed backup harmonies. When simplicity works, it’s all the more effective (see: The XX), and this Chicago band has pulled off a song just as catchy as some of the pop numbers with double the instruments, clappers, and singers.

The Submarines – Fire (4:19)

I haven’t had a chance to listen to the rest of their latest album, but “Fire” is a sign that The Submarines are just as good as they were on the last one (which is worthy of blowing your milk money). It’s hard to believe it only takes two people to make songs this infectious. Maybe the synergy comes from the fact that they’re married. Maybe it is because singer Blake Hazard is a Harvard-grad whose great-grand-pappy wrote The Great Gatsby. Whatever the case, I hope this couple stays lovey-dovey long enough to get the fame they deserve.

Aren’t they cute?

The Black Keys – Lonely Boy (3:12)

This is probably the most over-played song on this list, but The Best Indie Rock of 2011 wouldn’t be complete without it. Thank goodness we have the Black Keys to pick up where the White Stripes abandoned the cause of reminding us of rock and roll’s long-time love affair with the blues. The Black Keys are back with another album, chock full of guitar-bragging in the fine tradition of Billy Gibbons and Angus Young.

The Go! Team – Buy Nothing Day (3:58)

The Go! Team are happy to present another album of songs for cheerleaders to rock-out to. If you’re looking for songs to do kartwheels and splits by, this is the one for you, and this here’s the finest track. Bonus points for naming their title track after the anti-consumerist holiday, though from vague lyrics are more likely to inspire a round of beers than a revolution. There’s a terrific Go! Team remix in my Best Dance Songs of 2011 list.

The Naked And Famous – Girls Like You (6:04)
The Naked And Famous – Punching In A Dream (3:58)
The Naked And Famous – Young Blood (4:06)

Three reasons for three songs by Naked & Famous :

  1. they’ve put out arguably the best album of 2011.
  2. “Young Blood” is arguably the best song of 2011.
  3. they’re the up-and-coming band to watch for 2012.

Naked & Famous makes songs that are instantly likeable that I never seem to tire of. Add these to your heavy rotation, serve them at breakfast lunch, and dinner. They will only grow in your favor.

The Raveonettes – Evil Seeds (4:17)

When it comes to dark, shoegaze-y rock born of some shadow-world version of 50s LA surf-rock, the Dum Dum Girls are not alone. The Raveonettes have produced another album for people who like their guitars with maximum fuzz.

The Wombats – 1996 (4:20)

The Wombats make rock music that’s as close as it can be to being described as “cute” without crossing the line into twee. “1996” is a full-blown nostalgia trip for twenty-somethings. If you liked “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” or “Kill the Director” or “My Circuitboard City” here’s more of the same.

The Ting Tings – Hang It Up (3:24)

I didn’t want to like this song because I overplayed The Ting Tings’ first singles until I was sick to death of girl rap-singing over guitar and a catchy beat. I thought I was through with all that, but “Hang It Up” refuses to be ignored. I forget to not like it, catch my head nodding, and when the guitar breaks out 1:40 I’m all “sweeeeet!” My apologies, Ting Tings. You still got it.

Those Dancing Days – Fuckarias (2:55)

Fast drums and shrill synth and then it’s all over too quickly. Another in the category of great-bands-from-Sweden, Those Dancing Days are an all-girl rock band in the tradition of the Go-Gos and Sleater-Kinney. While their last single was more in the pop tradition of the Bangles this songs shows that Those Dancing Days can rock out like the late-90s girl groups.

Speaking of Sleater-Kinney, the Portlandia star is still making music, with her band Wild Flag. Perhaps should have been on my Best-of list, no?

Tune-Yards – Bizness

The first time I heard TuNe-YaRdS I thought they were some sort of Afro-Carribean revival. And maybe they are, despite the fact that singer Merrill Garbus is not an African dude, but a petite woman as white as a stationary shop. It’s not really cleary what genre TuNe-YaRdS is trying to be, which is half of what makes them so great. The other half is that crazy voice, that swoops off in a thousand directions, at times pretty, at times raucous, at times soulful, but never predictable.

Zoey Van Goey – You Told The Drunks I Knew Karate

You know how your best friends are your partners in crime? How half the amazing pranks, road trips and crazy antics of your life only happened because of some off-hand brag or dare you had to live up to? It’s about time someone wrote a song about it. “You Told the Drunks I Knew Karate” is a fun and clever duet in the tradition of alt-folk story-telling. If you like Hello Saferide or the Moldy Peaches, be sure to give this one a listen.

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Best Music of 2011: Best Electro (Part II)

Best Electro of 2011 Part II

art by Javier Medellin Puyou

Image by Javier Medellin Puyou

Kids Of 88 – My House (3:58)

Hey dudes: if you’re looking for a song to sing at your woman while you jump around the dancefloor–this is the one.Try dancing like a maniac while mouthing “I’m gonna take you back to my house! I love the feeling when you touch me baby!” and surely you will get laid.

M83 – Midnight City (4:03)

This sounds like it should have been the lead single on the Tron soundtrack. After releasing countless albums, M83 is finally starting to get radio play with this song. No wonder, as the beat makes it a little less dreamwave than most of their other stuff. It’s hard to tell where the vocals end and the synth begins. And the passioned cry, “The city is my church!” never gets old.

Mr. Little Jeans – The Suburbs (Arcade Fire Cover) (5:12)

Remember when Arcade Fire won that grammy and everyone was all, “Who’s Arcade Fire?” Strange times we live in. They wouldn’t let me on their selection committee, but I suspect one of the reasons they won was for the lyrics that explore suburban angst. Arguably the best of these is this song, “The Suburbs,” a song I can’t seem to get tired of.This cover slows it down for a sexy groove that makes the beauitful lyrics easier to understand.

Neon Hitch – Gucci Gucci (Kreayshawn Cover) (2:40)

Another fun cover that’s a bit easier to sing along with than the original. If you haven’t heard of Kreayshawn yet, just-you-wait. She’s an up-and-coming Oakland rapper, who courts controversy by being not only white, but having a uniquely Oakland-hipster style. Far as I can tell, she doesn’t seem to give a fuck, which is the best way to be. The original “Gucci Gucci” is in my collection, but I recognize that it can be a bit too…boldly obnoxious for many. 2011 was a year for sexy slow-downs, and this one contrasts nicely with Kreayshawn’s brazen and clever lyrics.

Neon Indian – Polish Girl (4:24)

There’s a lot of weird, delightful little sounds in “Polish Girl.” It’s easy to get lost in wondering what toys he’s using to create this-or-that sound. Then I remember the lyrics, and get pulled back into the story of the song, until I hear that sound that’s like Mario just won a green 1-up shroom, and I’m pulled back into the swirly goodness. When there’s too much greatness to concentrate on at one time, you know it’s a song that’s going to stay on the heavy rotation for many months.

Polarsets – Morning (3:43)

Pure, perfect electro.So happy, it almost sounds like calypso. Yet it manages to avoid sounding too sacharine. Maybe it’s because of the emotion in his voice, but it all just works. If you like this song, get this album. One of the year’s best.

Polarsets – Sunshine Eyes (3:40)

No really, you should get their album. Listen to “Sunshine Eyes” and get a lesson in how a perfect new wave song is built. Pure delight from beginning to end. Sounds like: the montage music for your summer romance.

Teams – Stunts (5:26)

The heavy beat on “Stunts” would have made this a good fit for the “Best Dance Music of 2011” list, but the lack of vocals takes some of the energy out of it, so I put it here instead. If you’re a fan of Ratatat and Caribou this may be the fix you need.

The Knocks – Make It Better (3:53)

You love whistling, right? You love a head-bopping, disco beat with a melody that’s easy to sing along with right? Well then give this a listen.

The Rapture – How Deep Is Your Love? (6:27)

I was very excited to hear the new Rapture album, and while I can’t recommend the whole thing, this song is a winner. Part of what makes the Rapture so great is Luke Jenner’s emotive vocals, and this one is no exception. Four cocktails down, you will have trouble not singing “How deep is your love!” not as a question, but as an exclamation to be shouted to the fullest.

Yacht – Paradise Engineering (3:46)

At the beginning of the year, I was obsessing over their new song “Dystopia (the Earth is On Fire).” Well, I overplayed it and now I’m sick of it. But then I discovered that “Paradise Engineering” is even better. Both songs give a nod to the catastrophic state of the world channeling it all into blissed out disco denial. It’s a soundtrack for oblivious consumerism in a broken world, which makes it more than good pop: it’s the zeitgeist of the 21st century.


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The Best Albums of 2010!

Or: Why Best-Albums Lists Are Bullshit

I am never doing this again. No fucking really: if I start talking about Best-albums lists next year, someone give me a solid slapping and point me back to this page. Best-of lists are bull shit of course, but Best Albums lists are shit of the rankest kind. There’s just no conceivable way that any one person can listen to that many albums and also have some kind of a life. I basically disappeared from blogging from November-January, and here I still didn’t get it done by the ever-critical Dec. 31st deadline. My loved ones have actually told me I’m no longer allowed to utter the words “Best of” and “2010” in the same sentence anymore. They try to convince me that no one takes these lists seriously, that everyone assumes these are just your favorites, not the actual best albums.
But if you look at the comments for any of these lists, you’ll see that it’s just the opposite. Everyone responds with fury and indignation: you mean “The Muppets Sing Fight Club didn’t make your list? I’m never visiting this site again!” News flash: the person writing the list was on a deadline, and probably never even heard your cherished album. The albums they did include were based on whims and hype.
Think about it: when you want to compare two songs, it’s easy: just play one right after the other and decide which is better. But if you want to compare albums, you can’t exactly play all hour-and-a-half of each one, because you will be in a totally different mood by the time they’re both done. Moreover, it’s very rare for an album to not have one stinker song. Even the Beatles classic albums had such bombs as “Wild Honey Pie” and “The Tax Man.” So which do you rank higher? An album with 7 classics, and two losers? Or an album with ten pretty great songs and one classic? And do you give more credit to albums like The Suburbs because they have more tracks in total? It takes a long time to get to know an entire album and then there’s the whole issue of whether the songs move from one to the next in a pleasing, well-thought out way.
Anyway, after spending much more time contemplating this list than I should have, here are my picks for Best of 2010. For what it’s worth.
1.Crystal Castles – II

There are so many songs on this album that force me to utter, “I loooooooooove this,” the words are as compulsive as a cat’s purr. No matter how many times I’ve heard II I like it more than I remembered. There’s a huge diversity of genres touched on here: lush dreamwave, volatile dance punk, electro —it doesn’t hurt that these are some of my favorite genres. While the songs are vastly different from one another they’re all distinctly Crystal Castles, a hard feat that only Janelle Monae’s album achieves to an equal extent. Perhaps most importantly, when I ask myself which band of 2010 is doing something interesting and original, I can’t deny Crystal Castles tops my list.

Check out: Crystal Castles – Suffocation

No sense repeating myself: here’s  a full review from back in August.

Also see: Like A Pixie in A Blender

2.Sleigh Bells –Treats

Sleigh Bells’ “Treats” is the biggest surprise of my list. First, they deliberately overdrive their sound, which I expected would get tired by the third song. I can’t imagine they’ll be able to pull that off for four more albums, but on Treats, it works. Moreover, the sound is somewhat formulaic: Heavy, dance-y bass, solid urgent guitar riffs and enthusiastic female vocals. Yes! It’s loud! Very loud! But that gets repetitive really quickly, right?images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ9ZiBIUlKIZWbDjRcSNubDZxFHp15qeyiOiH11crt5rZ1rKaGGvg

The faceless cheerleaders marketing Treats perfectly match their furiously upbeat rockage.

But the more I got into Treats, the more complexity I discovered. There’s the explosive sound effects on the title track and the drum-guitar combo that sounds like a machine gun on “Tell ‘Em.” There’s the long wind-up and scream before the refrain on “Kids.” There’s the constant underlying siren under “Run the Heart.” They have taken that formula and pushed it’s boundaries. The lyrics to their slow number, “Ring Ring (Rill Rill),” are charming and intriguing. Even the only song I usually skip, “Straight As,” is full of win because it takes the noisy aspect of their sound to the max as the album reaches its climax. The album has its peaks and slow downs and each song flows comfortably into the next so that no matter how much I love the song before, I am excited about the next one. There’s never been a time Sleigh Bells came up on my radio stream that I felt the urge to skip them.

I can’t imagine where they’ll go after Treats because I don’t think they can push this particular sound in too many more directions. Then again, they said that about AC/DC too.

Check out: Sleigh Bells – Treats

3.Wolf Parade – Expo 86

I wanted there to be a new Sunset Rubdown album this year but Spencer Krug was busy releasing another album with Wolf Parade. I’ve always liked Wolf Parade’s previous stuff and I like Dan Boeckner’s other project Handsome Furs too but even still this album was surprisingly great. What everyone else has said about Expo 86 is true: it combines the two gents’ skills in a true collaboration.I’m usually drawn to Krug’s delicious build-ups and captivating lyrics (see: “Cloud Shadow on The Mountain” or “Oh, You Old Thing”) but Boeckner’s songs are also among my favorites. His “Little Golden Age” and “Pobody’s Nerfect” bring a bit more rock and roll, a bit more bang and grrrr, adding the perfect spice to Expo 86‘s sound. Lyrics like I am a wall of sand and stone / and you, you’re some kind of ivy I’m trying to hold/ as best as I can will draw you into the song’s winding journeys with serious guitars, rising synths and toe-tapping rhythms . Though there is certainly enough rockage to generate a visceral response upon the first listen, Expo 86‘s the kind of album that will only get richer and more rewarding the more you play it.

Check out: Wolf Parade – Pobody’s Perfect

4.Menomena – Mines

Menomena reminds me of Modest Mouse and TV on the Radio, though they sound not a thing like these bands. The similarity is in that Menomena is a rock band that manages to do something new with the idea of the rock band. For one thing, they use horns in a way that sounds nothing like ska or reggae, and rock and roll doesn’t have much of a context for that. Honestly, I don’t know what all instruments they use. Somehow they make their guitars sound like a whole new animal (a rhino, perhaps?). There’s piano in the mix, but it usually pounds out percussion along with melody. You get beautiful harmonies and distinctive vocal solos. And the lyrics are intriguing and every song is a tiny symphony. . Just when you think a song has reached a climax the harmonies come in and that’s when you know it’s just getting started.

Check out: Menomena – Taos

5.Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

I know, there’s a great pop rock record every year. I know, I know, there’s probably ten great pop rock records every year. Two Door Cinema Club isn’t doing anything that’s never been done before. But damn if they aren’t doing it right.

What struck me about the addictive nature of Two Door Cinema Club’s songs is what they lack: a keyboard. I’m a sucker for pianos and their bratty cousin, they synth (and pipe organs? Delish!). Guitars are necessary to bring the rockage, but they can’t get out in front and dick around if they want to make my list. I’m a child of the eighties and it was part of my upbringing to rebel against the Led Zeppelin guitar wankery my parents so relish. But it is the guitar hooks that make me think these songs should come with a warning label. So. Damn. Catchy.

I didn’t expect the whole album to make my list, rather I figured the finer tunes were likely to end up on a list of singles. But when you find there are eight songs out of ten that must go on such a list of singles, truly the whole album deserves celebration. If you like The Black Kids, Tokyo Police Club, or any rock band with catchy hooks, pick this one up.

Check out: Two Door Cinema Club – What You Know

6.Yeasayer – Odd Blood

First, there’s “Ambling Alp” which is easily one of the best songs of 2010. I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t like it immediately. I’ve probably played it more than any other song this year, except maybe some of the tracks from Sleigh Bell’s debut. I keep thinking I’ll get tired of it but return to it with delight over and over.

Part of the fun is the variety of their sound. It’s hard to classify “Odd Blood.” It’s electronic and easy to dance to, but it’s not dance music. The lack of guitars bars the classification of electro. O.N.E. Is vaguely calypso. “I Remember” sounds like the love song from a lost eighties movie. “Mondegreen” with it’s handclaps and saxophone could be the latest pop song if it weren’t for the odd childlike vocal sections. The only thing the songs have in common is a love of synth and harmony. Yet Yeasayer isn’t the last in the long line of eighties retro revisionists either. The keyboards on “Rome” meander like a vocal improvisationist played in fast forward. “Love My Girl” sounds like Of Montreal covering Duran Duran. The music isn’t deep, soul-searching poetry, but it is a unique sound that’s going to influence their peers for years to come.

Check out: Yeasayer – Rome

7.Parlovr – Parlovr

Really, it’s Parlovr’s fault that The Arcade Fire didn’t make this list. I was listening to that long album over and over, taking the time to get to know the lyrics and contemplate the value of the many reprises when I finally gave Parlovr a spin. Without a clue what the hell he was singing about or any familiarity I instantly responded to the songs on a visceral level that The Arcade Fire just wasn’t hitting me on. Think of the first time you heard Modest Mouse or Nirvana or The Pixies (fans of The Pixies and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should particularly check this one out). I’m not saying that Parlovr is a match of these legendary bands, I’m only saying that they know how to rock out.

I love how they take a rest to harmonize sweetly on the refrain of “On the Phone.” I love the shouted opening of “Hiccup,” or the fast build-up at the front of “Sever My Ties.” After delightful “Oh-ooh-oooh-oohs he shouts, “What would you say to a dead man with no face!” and I admit that I have no clue what the fuck he is talking about but I am solidly on board. After five hearty servings of rocking out, “Speech Bubble/Thought Cloud” starts of as slow and alluring as the aforementioned Arcade Fire and takes it’s time reaching that leaping off point where shouting and guitars reign. Parlovr is a rollicking reminder that rock n’ roll is something to get excited about.

Check out: Parlovr – Sandwalking

8.Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid

I’m going to be frank with you: I intensely dislike R&B. That Janelle Monáe made the Best-Of list of a chick who listens to electro and new wave should tell you something of Monáe’s mastery of the genre. I say R&B but The ArchAndroid touches on so many genres it’s like a sampler of female vocal styles for the last sixty years. Many of these songs will blow you away right from the first listen.

The only reason this album didn’t rank higher on my list is that the lyrics were disappointing. The Arch Android is a concept album built around the 1908 dystopic epic Metropolis (Which—Whoah! Is reason enough to check it out). Thus I was expecting sci-fi visions on par with David Bowie or Kevin Barnes (in fact, Of Montreal backs her on a track). But the rhymes and the lyrics were all cliché and prosaic. Which is fine—you’ll be singing along with her regardless.

Not only can she sing, her technique has style. And that voice! “Cold War” is a good example of her vocal skills. By the time she finishes off that high note, you’ll have forgotten Cat Power ever existed. Then she has the brilliant audacity to finish the note with a growl. It’s exquisite. My advice to you (and to me): see this woman in concert soon. She is going to be very famous and even the nosebleed seats are going to be expensive.

Check out: Janelle Monáe – BeBopByeYa

9.She & Him – Volume Two

I had a lot of trouble deciding between this and Freelance Whales album Weathervanes. The latter even averaged one point higher in the ratings I gave the album’s songs. But it was the She & Him album that I played over and over until I learned the words to the songs, even though Zooey Deschanel doesn’t sing in my range. It was *her songs that got stuck in my head over and over; it was her songs I sang in the shower. Ultimately ratings are no match for the sheer desire to listen to the same album on repeat. Volume Two is full of heavenly harmonies, adorable lyrics (“Why do I always want to sock it to you hard? She sulks at the opening of “Over and Over Again.”), and catchy refrains.

My personal favorite on the album is “Home,” a song that gets me all teary and happy at the same time. Can’t ask for much more out of a song than that. Other excellent stand-outs are “Thieves,” “Lingering Still,” and the mythological metaphor “Don’t Look Back.”

Check out: She & Him – Home

10.The Limousines  –  Get Sharp

It was the year after MGMT released their instant classic, “Time to Pretend.” Having overplayed that song to death, I was on the hunt for a new song that captured the American experience with the same wit, charm and melody . I had Los Campesinos! And NPSH but my life needed a new dance anthem. Then I was at a music festival with my pal @WorkerBee when he lured me to the tent where The Limousines were tearing it up. Their as yet un-signed song “Very Busy People” filled that lack and became an instant obsession.

Like all their songs, the first thing you notice about “Very Busy People” is probably the fantastic melody and head-bopping pace. You may notice that they aren’t lazy on the trills and DJ effects. But it won’t be long before you catch a taste of the lyrics. And that’s it, you’re done for: these lyrics are so clever that no matter which line you come in on you’re going to be hooked. Do I exaggerate? From the very first line, We’ll end up numb from playing video games and we’ll get sick of having sex, The Limousines follow the rules of good writing drilled into undergrads by their poetry teachers: Be specific. Be succinct. Be personal.

Their lyrics aren’t the lofty philosophical themes of Nick Cave or the strange but brilliant metaphors of Tori Amos or the sharp political observations of Ani Difranco. No, The Limousines sing about the same things your average pop band sings about: getting drunk, getting lucky, seizing the day. In fact, the biggest turn off about them is probably the lead singer’s voice. It’s not that Eric Victorino can’t sing, it’s that his voice sharply resembles the kind of teeny-bopper heartthrob sound indie rockers shrink away from, for its associations with didactic cliches. But if you just let yourself be seduced by the catchy pop rhythms, you’ll discover that they bring a fresh perspective to these tired themes. These are the kinds of songs you are not only going to want to learn the lyrics to, you are going to want to sing them with your friends at the top of your lungs while drunk at three a.m.

Check out: The Limousines – Flaskaboozendancingshoes


*I know that M. Ward was a successful musician before collaborating with actress Zooey Deschanel but since she wrote the songs and their lyrics, She & Him is properly her band first and foremost. There are two songs not written by Deschanel, and they are the two weakest songs on the album. Partially due to the brainless babes that dominate pop music and partially due to sexism, woman’s contributions to their own bands tend to be marginalized. Thus, it is always worth mentioning when a front woman really leads the band, despite the fact that with a male singer this is assumed.

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