The following post is not even close to an administrative update, but for the past couple of years Matt Jennings and I have blogged about our favorite albums of the year (for instance, see this and this). Because we do a radio show on WRMC every Friday afternoon, we get to pretend to be authorities on pop music. And we have fun.
We ‘re doing it again this year, and share the following recommendations in the spirit of the holiday season. We invite readers to post their recommendations as well. The more, the better . . .
Astute listeners of 68 Degrees and Holding will not find my list particularly surprising (nor will they be surprised by what will surely be a snarky response from my friend and co-DJ, the author of this blog).
Some really good music was produced this year, but to my admittedly quirky ear, this five albums represent the best of the best:
- Mumford & Sons, “Sigh No More”
A brilliant debut from this West London quartet. From Marcus Mumford’s passionate vocals to Winston Marshall’s banjo pickin’ (yes, Spears, banjo pickin’!) to Ted Dwayne’s mastery of the stand-up bass, this band manages to sound both refreshingly original yet appropriately reflective of their musical roots in bluegrass, folk, and eclectic rock.
- The National, “High Violet”
I enjoyed “Boxer” so much that I was both eager and anxious about this album’s release. Eager because “Boxer” just left me wanting more, more, more and anxious because I fretted that “Boxer” was so good that anything that followed would be a letdown. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.
- Frightened Rabbit, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” [Insert Spears eye roll here]
I’m well aware of the heresy of comparing the Irish to the Scottish, but this band reminds me of the Pogues–without Shane MacGowans drunken (and ultimately destructive) antics. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is the perfect follow up to 2007’s “The Midnight Organ Fight”; it’s fun, catchy, and addictive.
- LCD Soundsystem, “This is Happening”
A trendy pick, I know, but to ignore James Murphy’s latest work would be a flagrant omission, especially if we were to look back on this list in a year’s, two years’, ten years’ time. Aggressively original and fascinating to listen to.
From the traditional (Dr. John, Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffin) to the original (Steve Earle’s “This City, which was written for the show) to the hilarious (“Shame, Shame, Shame” by Steve Zahn and friends) this soundtrack from the HBO original series is a must have, both for fans of the show and folks who love great, authentic music.
No snarkiness here. All sweetness and light!
- Cee Lo Green, “Lady Killer”
Cee Lo Green has a storied career in the hip-hop world, but this is a full-out R & B record that traditionalists will love. It includes the infectious and infamous “F– You,” which can be seen and and heard in all its glory on YouTube. But there is nothing gimmicky about this album. Fans of Michael Jackson, Al Green, or Beyoncé should take note.
- Janelle Monáe, “The ArchAndroid”
At times, this sounds like another entry in the R & B sphere, but the album is so diverse and international in its offerings that it really can’t be categorized (though I don’t think it includes any banjo). Style-wise (check out her videos), Monáe gestures to 1920s (the album cover art is apparently inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis), but her genre-mashing encompasses hip-hop, jazz, Afro-punk—you name it. A virtuoso performance, and Monáe, who is from Kansas City, is only 25.
- Bruce Springsteen, “The Promise”
The outtakes from Springsteen’s 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the songs here will please long-time fans of the Boss. This album is not entirely new, since Springsteen has been performing these songs for decades and they’ve appeared on bootlegs. But it is great to have them all in one place. And it’s also worth listening to these songs along with “Darkness” so you can see what sort of sound and statement he was going for on the original album, which is more stripped down than “The Promise.”
The Swedish techno-pop star hits the sweet spot with songs about dancehall love, gender bending, and cyber culture. She keeps it light, witty, and danceable—not so heavy as Lady Gaga. And, believe it or not, she will be performing at Higher Ground in later January. I already have my tickets.
- Jamey Johnson, “The Guitar Song”
This is country music about the useful themes: heartbreak, crummy jobs, alcoholism, and the little pleasures of everyday life. Johnson is a compelling storyteller, and his Alabama-tinged bass voice gives the lyrics a sense of gravitas and depth. I don’t listen to a lot of country music, but I keep returning to this album, trying to understand why I like it so much. There are also just enough guitar riffs here to satisfy rock fans.