5. Vampire Weekend – Contra
I can’t think of a band more universally liked. Does anyone have a problem with VW? No. You know why? Because they’re infectious and fun and even the most hardened pessimist has to admit that they’re on to something. Something special. And, there’s no one else like them doing this faux-reggae/calypso/jangle-pop hybrid thing that they do. Contra is even an improvement on their first record because the sound, while staying basically the same, has evolved slightly with some electronic and brass elements that weren’t there before, which I’m sure were influenced by the Discovery side project. Keep ‘em coming, boys.
4. Jonsi – Go
This one took me a while to fully digest and is really only best appreciated through good headphones. Jonsi is the lead singer (wailer?) of Sigur Ros and he brings their trademarked cinematic lushness to his first solo album. This album is the sound of childhood, of innocence. It’s the sound of wonder and curiosity. It’s the sound of life seen through the eyes of a child who’s frames of reference are fantasy and magic. It’s fitting the Jonsi did a song for the film “How To Train Your Dragon” because he evokes the sensation of flight. Animated flight even. The colors are lovely.
Nugget: “Boy Lilikoi”
3. The Soft Pack – ST
There’s almost nothing better than the sound of a garage band grinding out fast and furious rock in the true DIY style. It’s perfect simplicity. That term may seem boring. Simplicity is so… simple. But, when done right, simplicity is also the sound of truth. That’s why true Pop music is such an amazing thing; it’s the sound of universal truth. It’s irrefutable. The Soft Pack don’t over-think things or stretch beyond their comfort area. They just thrash a melody, a chorus, and an ending all in a couple minutes. Pure and simple.
Nugget: “Down On Loving”
2. Underworld – Barking
I wrote off techno and Underworld years ago. It’s not really my thing anymore. So, imagine my surprise when one of the pioneers release something better than anything they’ve done in over 15 years, or since techno mattered. In their old age (they’re in their 50s!!!!!) they’ve matured. The silly experiments are gone and Barking is just plain warm and spirit-lifting, which is what the best techno always was to me. It’s the best workout music you’ll ever hear. When I’m really in the zone, I call it a bio-rhythm, the beats and my feet are movie together and my breathing is natural and normal. This album helps me get there. It’s a selfish pick because it doesn’t take over-analyzing. I just liked it. A lot.
Nugget: “Always Loved A Film”
1. Fitz and the Tantrums – Picking Up The Pieces
When deciding who to pick for #1 one, the biggest determining factor is “who do I want the world to fall in love with?” They are. My favorite music moment of the year was watching them perform with Daryl Hall on Live From Daryl’s House and see the alchemy between their modern version of retro soul and Daryl’s years of experience working the same retro groove. A torch was passed. Every song is a blood-pumping barnburner of classic soul with lots of horns and organs. Very Motown of today. I’m rooting for them above and beyond everyone else.