Courtney Barnett- Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit (9.0)- This is a big leap forward from her, the songs are so well crafted and the band is awesome, which was the big surprise for me seeing her show at the Black Cat last year. Seems like everyone is jumping on her bandwagon and I expect to see this on most best of lists for the year. I’m looking forward to her show at 9:30 club in June.
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp (9.0) – As a huge fan of her first two albums, I was unsure about this upon my first listen. The opener, Breathless, sounded so different from her previous work. The next couple of songs sounded more like her sister’s band Swearin’ then there is some piano- then about halfway, the song Air brought me back to more familiar territory albeit, more confident- more complex. It didn’t take too many more spins to fall in love with this album
Mountain Goats- Beat the Champ (8.5) – I feel sorry for anyone who dismisses this because the songs are about small time pro wrestling. Darnielle and I are about the same age and I can generally relate. I used to have to fight for time to watch Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling as a kid because it conflicted with my dad’s favorite show, Hee Haw. As usual, Darnielle takes a subject and wrings so much out of it. What makes this album for me is the band. What a band, oh, and Darnielle actually singing.
The Decemberists- What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (8.5) – This is probably the big surprise for me this year. I like some of their stuff but generally find the concepts of their albums to be annoying. There is something about the “old fashioned” wording of the lyrics that is off putting to me. Then comes this- a pretty straightforward collection of really good songs. The Lake Song is my song of the year so far.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor- Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (8.0) – Nothing really new here, in fact it is a suite they have been playing live for more than a decade. It’s really good though and it does not include any “found” voice parts, which sometimes gets in the way for me.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell (7.5) – I came pretty late to the Sufjan Stevens party so my introduction was the wonderfully bizarre, over the top electronics of Age of Adz. I later caught up on his more acoustic work. This is a really good album about his relationship with his mother but it hasn’t really grabbed me. In general, reviews are focusing in on how this will tear at your emotions. I haven’t felt that yet. I like it and I will keep listening.
Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves (7.0) Years in the making and somehow the song, Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996) made it to the final album. One reviewer said it was the single worst thing Brock has done and, well, its not great. But there is some really good, classic Modest Mouse kind of stuff that you’d expect and some really nice unexpected stuff like the lovely opener. It feels slick and shiny at places where a little dirt might have been better. Its still a pleasure to listen to in the studio.
Death Cab for Cutie – Kitsugi (6.5)- Boy loses girl, the "New Girl" no less. Anyway, this is a pretty polished album and like the Modest Mouse, it suffers a bit. I’m a sucker for Ben Gibbard’s voice and phrasing so I’ll keep listening- maybe it will grow on me. I’ve listened mostly in the car which is not the best environment- needs some studio airtime.
There’s plenty of new music I haven’t listened to yet. I’ve heard some of the Kendrick Lamar and find it pretty compelling. As far as anticipated releases, I can’t wait for the So Percussion recording of Bryce Dessner’s Music for Strings and Wood. I saw them perform this at Atlas a couple of weeks ago and it is awesome. Look for it in May.