#1 Julien Baker - Sprained Ankle (6131 Records)
These are truly the kind of albums that I live for every year. They just seem to come out of nowhere. I knew after listening to the first song that I was going to love this album. She is sort of like a young Chan Marshall of Cat Power. A beautiful and haunting voice that I just can't resist. An album I want to listen to again as soon as it ends. I have always been a fan of anything Mark Kozelek and Bill Callahan. All things dark and introspective. And she will fit nicely on your shelf next to those artists. I never find music like this depressing. There were a lot of great albums out this year but it was sort of hard to come up with my favorite of the year. But as soon as I finished this album for the first time I knew that I had found it. A perfect album.
#2 Tamaryn - Cranekiss (Mexican Summer)
This is the third album by Tamaryn but my favorite by them so far. And it is really rare to make an album this good on your third try. A perfect album for fans of anything dream pop or shoegaze. Tamaryn often sounds to me like 90s shoegaze greats like Cocteau Twins, Cranes or Curve. I have spent a lot of time with this album this year. The perfect album for long drives home from work. I can never get enough of this genre and am so happy that bands keep putting out albums like this.
Starting a new feature to highlight some recent tracks available to download on the Amoeba site. Take a listen and if you like them, add them to your Amoeba shopping cart (you won’t be charged until you check out). All downloads are in the $.98 MP3 format; visit the album page to pick up higher-res M4A or WAV files.
Mikal Cronin – “Weight”
Starting with a stately piano and acoustic jangle, “Weight” opens Mikal Cronin’s excellent MCII on a classy note. Those Rubber Soul-style harmonies and crunching guitars at the chorus don’t hurt, either. This one’s a free download. (From the album MCII)
Ancient Animals – “Teen Wolf”
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
Limited Edition LP $19.98
Every time the world turns against Vampire Weekend, they have a way of turning around and shattering expectations. From the get-go, the band was dogged with Strokes comparisons and scoffs of Ivy League grads pilfering African music while singing about rich people. But none of those things could stop people from enjoying their immensely enjoyable first album, their underrated second one and now their third pop opus, Modern Vampires of the City. It’s low-key like Contra, but Modern Vampires’ hooks are silkier and more ingratiating. “Step” waltzes with a gorgeous collegiate melody, featuring some of the finest singing to date by Ezra Koenig, who’s finally mastered that Paul Simon trill. He also extends his voice beyond its comfort zone, taking on Buddy Holly-style hiccupping and extending his range up and down (aided by digital skewing) while the band rocks a solid shuffle on the cleverly titled “Diane Young.” It’s one of their best singles yet. Koenig’s lyrics, too, retain their wittiness and specificity, though they are open enough to make your own implications — “though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me we got our own sense of time,” he sings memorably in “Hannah Hunt,” which ends with a beautiful, well-earned climax in which Koenig tears his lungs out belting. The band mostly stays supportive, only going full-tilt on a few songs, like the galloping “Worship You,” which allows Koenig to spit verse at lightning speed, or pulling out grand pop moments in “Unbelievers” and the uber-strange “Ya Hey,” which pairs its intricate melodies with hyper-warped vocal tricks. Modern Vampires doesn’t go for obvious, occasionally obscuring itself in too much oddity and not ripping loose often enough. But few bands at this level are still taking these many chances, and pulling it off more often than not. Vampire Weekend’s freewheeling Modern Vampires of the City firmly perches the band back in the top echelon of bands making music today.