A list of great albums I got acquainted with this year:
Sounds like: Super-robot-piano-blues-funk-girl-with-introspection
Best tracks: “Extraordinary Machine,” “Better Version of Me,” “Tympani (the Sick in the Head song),” “Please, Please, Please”
Representative lyric: “I am likely to miss the main event / If I stop to cry and complain again / So I will keep a deliberate pace / Let the damn breeze dry my face” (“Better Version of Me”)
Notes: Fiona continues to mature in her music by offering some of the most addicting assonant rhymes this side of hip-hop.
Sounds like: Simple Minds covered by Franz Ferdinand with a drum machine
Best tracks: “This Modern Love,” “Like Eating Glass”
Representative lyric: “Stop being so American / There’s a time and there’s a place / So James Dean / So blue jeans” (“Helicopter”)
Best of Bowie
Sounds like: No one else.
Best tracks: “Under Pressure,” “Modern Love,” “Changes”
Representative lyric: “I’m afraid of Americans / I’m afraid of the world / I’m afraid I can’t help it / I’m afraid that I can.” (“I’m Afraid of Americans”)
Notes: I was stunned to realize when I first heard this album that I knew and loved so many David Bowie songs.
Sounds like: Duran Duran rearranged with disco beats in a science fiction blender
Best tracks: “Honest Mistake,” “No Brakes,” “Fearless”
Representative lyric: “Sometimes / I forget I’m still awake / I fuck up and say these things out loud” (“Honest Mistake”)
Notes: The Bravery are a fun and interesting new band
Death Cab for Cutie
Sounds like: Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos on male hormones
Best tracks: “Soul Meets Body,” “Your Heart Is An Empty Room,” “Crooked Teeth”
Representative lyric: “If the silence takes you, well I hope it takes me too.”
Notes: Another band whose bus I missed until just this minute.
You Could Have It So Much Better
Sounds like: Drunken Scots having too much fun
Best tracks: “Do Ya Wanna,” “Walk Away,” “You’re the Reason I’m Leaving,” “Outsiders”
Representative lyric: “I swapped my innocence for pride / Crushed the end within my stride / Said I’m strong now, I know that I’m a leaver” (“Walk Away”)
Notes: They might be my favorite band.
Sounds like: Ben Folds if he were born In New Orleans and raised on crawdads and chitlins
Best tracks: “Crush,” “Chariot,” “Just Friends,” “I Don’t Wanna Be”
Representative lyric: “Your favorite fruit is chocolate covered cherries / seedless watermelons / Ooh / Nothing from the ground was good enough”
The Chronicles of Life and Death
Sounds like: Your fourteen-year-old sister’s favorite band
Best tracks: “World Is Black,” “Truth,” “
Representative lyric: “Turn on channel 7 at a quarter to eight / You see the same damn thing, it’s just a different day / And no one really cares that this is happening”
Sounds like: Daddy’s little girl is all growsed up and she has something she wants to tell you.
Best tracks: “Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Gone,”
Representative lyric: “What you see’s not what you get / With you there’s just no measurement / No way to tell what’s real from what / isn’t there” (“Gone”)
Sounds like: A punk opera?
Best tracks: “American Idiot,” “Jesus of Suburbia,” “When September Ends,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
Representative lyric: “I’m the son of rage and love / The Jesus of suburbia / From the bible of “none of the above” / On a steady diet of soda pop and ritalin” (“Jesus of Suburbia”)
Notes: I’ve heard this album described as featuring a character named Jesus of Suburbia who explores contemporary America, commenting on our values and mores. It’s an interesting concept and the album is really, really phenomenal.
Sounds like: All the art kids in high school got their hands on a four-track, a synthesizer, and a time machine direct to 1964.
Best tracks: “What’s Yer Take on Cassavetes?” “Deceptacon,” “Hot Topic”
Representative lyric: “Oh fuck / Giuliani / He’s such / A fucking jerk / Shut down / All the stripbars / Workfare / Does not work” (“My My Metrocard”)
Notes: Le Tigre is Andy Warhol’s favorite band, featuring Bikini Kill alum Kathleen Hanna.
Confessions on a Dance Floor
Sounds like: Your mother got drunk and pulled out her favorite disco albums but can’t remember the words
Best tracks: “Hung Up,” “Let It Will Be,” “Isaac,” “Push,” “Sorry”
Representative lyric: “Ring, ring, ring, goes the telephone / The lights are on but there’s no one home / Tick-tick-tock it’s a quarter till to and I’m done / I’m hanging up on you” (Full disclosure: if you call me cell phone, you are treated to this snippet instead of the traditional “ring” noise.)
Sounds like: “I know I tried to sell out with my last album, and I’m sorry, so this time I’ll be more artistic and keep my selling out to a minimum.”
Best tracks: “Somebody’s Miracle,” “Count On My Love,” “Why I Lie,” “Leap of Innocence”
Representative lyric: “If you asked me why I hurt you / I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know myself / It’s a simple combination / Of predatory instinct and simple ill will.” (“Why I Lie”)
Notes: This album takes Liz back to the sound and aesthetic she brilliantly captured on whitechocolatespaceegg, the last album of hers I really loved.
Together We’re Heavy
Sounds like: The cast of an off-Broadway Jesus Christ Superstar dropped acid in a high school band practice room.
Best tracks: “Hold Me Now,” “Two Thousand Places,” “We Sound Amazed”
Representative lyric: “He started the day with a mood and a shake / He was finally arranged / And someone said with a cold, hard chest ‘You’re a mess!’” (“Hold Me Now”)
Notes: Listening to this album will turn your home or car into a commune.
Sounds like: Coffeehouse poetry lightly sung over the soundtrack to Super Mario Bros.
Best tracks: “Such Great Heights,” “Clark Gable,” “Sleeping In,” “Nothing Better”
Representative lyrics: “‘I’ve been waiting since birth to find a love / That would look and sound like a movie / So I changed my plans / I rented a camera and a van / And then I called you / ‘I need you to pretend / that we are in love again.’” (“Clark Gable”)
Notes: I feel like this is probably the most innovate musical act I encountered this year, both lyrically and musically.
Sounds like: Gwen Stefani playing musical dress-up
Best tracks: “Hollaback Girl,” “What You Waiting For,” “Rich Girl”
Representative lyric: “Like an echo pedal you’re repeating yourself / You know it all by heart / Why are you standing in one place?” (“What You Waiting For”)
Veronica Mars Soundtrack
Sounds like: a painstakingly crafted mix tape by the shy boy with the indie music collection for the popular girl who doesn’t know his name
Best tracks: “We Used to Be Friends” (Dandy Warhols), “I Turn My Camera On” (Spoon), “Lost & Found” (Adrienne Pierce)
Representative lyric: “When I turn my feelings on / I turn my feelings on inside / Feel like I’m gonna ignite / I saw them stars go off / I saw them stars go off at night/ And they’re looking all right” (“I Turn My Camera On”)
Notes: The only shortcoming of this compilation is its inability to capture each and every fantastic song featured on the show, including Korn’s cover of “Word Up” and Notwist’s “Pick Up the Phone.”
Sounds like: Rivers Cuomo gets bumped on the head, wakes up and thinks he’s reliving 1984
Best tracks: “Beverly Hills,” “Perfect Situation,” “This Is Such a Pity,” “The Damage In Your Heart”
Representative lyric: “There’s the pitch / slow and straight / all I have to do is swing and I’m a hero / But I’m a zero” (“Perfect Situation”)