Without a doubt, the Horrors have risen from their lowly and dubious beginnings to one of the best modern rock bands around in the course of three albums. Skying sees the band going widescreen, and songs like "Still Life" find them rejoicing in some of the most melodic things they've recorded. Coming straight of Faris Badwan's Cat's Eyes project earlier this year, I would venture to say that the man has quite a future ahead of him (his brother's S.C.U.M. project is good as well). A song like "Moving Further Away" finds the perfect balance between psychedelic and college rock, between Kraftwerk and Echo & the Bunnymen. There are shades of many great bands here--the Cure, Suede, etc.--but the Horrors continually find ways to be original. They are ones to watch.
2)LAURA MARLING--A Creature I Don't Know
Strangely, this album didn't hit me the first time the way her previous record did, but I was willing to give the young singer the benefit of the doubt. After all, I Speak Because I Can only came out a year ago, with Alas I Cannot Swim merely a year before, so any 21-year old with three albums in three years has gotta be running out of steam at some point, right? Man, was I wrong. A Creature I Don't Know is every bit as strong as Marling's other efforts, it's just a bit more oblique and takes a little getting used to. Things are jazzy on first track "The Muse", while "Sophia" has some of the strongest melodies she's penned. There are moments that recall Joni Mitchell in her prime, not a bad place to be. Do not miss this!
3)JENS LEKMAN--An Argument With Myself
Yes, this 5-track EP is ranked high on my list, and it would probably be number one if it were a full album. Lekman's four-year absence has left the world at a great loss for humorous Swedish pop, and he's back (a little) to fill the void. The title track is one of the most fun guilty-pleasure songs of the year, while "Waiting for Kiersten" (Dunst) is a scenario only Lekman could come up with, and the other songs add to the feeling of exhuberance and tenderness from this master songwriter. One of my favorite things about Lekman is his way of describing things happening currently, as opposed to writing about the past or future. This tends to strip away a lot of the unnecessary stuff other writers would layer on. He also has unique views on love and relationships that few express in song. Hopefully this EP is just a taste of more to come soon, as Lekman is just now hitting his stride.
4)TORI AMOS--Night of Hunters
What can be said about this album that hasn't been said before by reporters and bloggers? It features a kooky story about a disintegrating romantic relationship featuring a shapeshifting animal (played by Tori's mature 10-year old daughter, Natashya), a fire spirit (played by her 19-year old niece), and includes interpolations of famous classical pieces taking odd detours with new (and somewhat indecipherable) lyrics ("Cactus Practice" anyone?). The long and short though, is that Night of Hunters features some of Tori's best singing and piano playing in ten years, even with the absence of drums, guitars, or any other rock fodder. It's heady stuff, rather long (maybe a bit too long, pushing over an hour), but these are things we now come to expect from Tori Amos releases. We don't really expect them on the Deutsche Grammaphon label, but she sounds very "at home" here. How about a more conventional orchestral-pop album without a big concept lasting around 45 minutes next time?
5)GIRLS--Father, Son, Holy Ghost
This may seem like a rather odd choice for me, but I really responded to this album from San Francisco's Girls when I heard it. For one thing, it sounds like it came from the 70's, but at the same time, it doesn't sound determined to be retro, or like anything other than the new Girls album. Sure, there are some Beach Boys references here, Led Zep there, etc., but the way Girls fit them together is totally unique. I certainly hope this album does well, as it should not be overlooked as a smashing sophomore effort.
Great album from UK superstars. What's it gonna take to make them bigger here? Should they work with Brian Eno?
This is a great debut album, and while it may be a bit 80's, it isn't so overloaded in references that it cannot stand up to other contemporary pop music. A winner!
8)BUTCHER BOY--Helping Hands
Great second album from a band reminiscent of a more wistful Belle & Sebastian. The title track and "Bluebells" are particularly wonderful songs.
9)DIRTY VEGAS--Electric Love
You may be surprised to see this on the list, but this was actually a great, concise pop album from a band who used to prefer meandering epics. There may still be a small sense of corporate entitlement lurking, but the fact of the matter is that Dirty Vegas' mega-selling "Days Go By" is several years old, and that U2 direction just didn't work, so it was back to the drawing board with an indie label and a rethink. Good choice.
This has been a weird year for some bands who had a normal sort of distribution to all of a sudden being put off for long periods of time or being told they could only release their album several months later in America. The Hard-Fi album is yet to be released in the US, but it follows on from the other two Hard-Fi records by upping the dance factor slightly, as well as the melodies. A very sharp album once you actually get time to sit and spend time with it.
Other good efforts:
WILCO--The Whole Love (not really my thing, but a very good album)
WILL YOUNG--Echoes (while his plaintive voice may never replace George Michael's, this is quite good pop balladry and dancefloor heat)
INNERPARTYSYSTEM--Never Be Content (listed as an ep, but longer than the Erasure album, this was a definite step up for the band, helped by Richard X who produced the Will Young. The band broke up two months after its release.)
THE RAPTURE--In the Grace of Your Love (highly regarded indie dudes back to make you forget LCD Soundsystem existed. Good luck)
LADYTRON--Gravity the Seducer (About a B+...the songs are great, but I could do without a couple of the instrumental interludes).
IVY--All Hours (Great pop album from a band I rarely hear about anymore.)
DRUMS--Portamento (Very good sophomore effort--very quickly released too)
BLACK LIPS--Arabia Mountain (good racket-y fun!)
KOOKS--Junk of the Heart (this is a rather enjoyable piece of British pop.)
METRONOMY--English Riviera (unique and satifyingly summery pop)
FRANKMUSIK--Do It in the AM (this album wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. I think he can do so. much. better.)
BJORK--Biophilia (I'm not against this record, but not completely sold yet either. I think the technology is beginning to take over where there were some fabulous and passionate moments in the past.)
Actually, there weren't too many letdowns either. This whole quarter was heavily and seemingly loaded up with things people liked but didn't go gaga over. It will be interesting to see how all the things in Q4 stack up against what's already been this year, as there have been a lot of good records, but supposedly there are many more to come. Here are some things I'm looking forward to in the Q4 list:
FLORENCE & THE MACHINE
SOUND OF ARROWS
SAINT ETIENNE (early 2012)
GARBAGE (early 2012)
Keep your ears open!