#6: Mogwai - Mr. Beast
Speaking of perfect titles (and I'm assuming you are reading these posts from the bottom up, how silly of me), this monster is a tower of sound, although Mogwai's bricks are a bit smaller than they have been historically. The shorter songs somehow manage to pack a punch--that same old hook through the heart that pulls you through emotions so strong that you are lulled into a spent stupor. Mogwai have not stopped evolving, and this latest step has brought them to higher production, less electronics, and some more tinkly overlays. And, of course, there are the waves of sound. Oceans. The sound is so big, and probably my greatest regret this year is missing their show because I was too tired after returning from Spain. That is a piss-poor excuse, and I should be ashamed of myself. And I am. We're No Here. (Not We're Not Here).
#7: Califone - Roots & Crowns
My basic sense of this album is that Tim Rutili just keeps on growing. Never afraid to experiment with raw sounds--not electronically shredded, but layered and muted and earthy--Califone has come up with the perfect answer to the sound of their Heron King Blues EP. I've been waiting for this album to come along, knowing full well that Rutili's sonic experimentation in the Decelerations and his acoustic solo shows (one of which I had the pleasure of seeing) would serve as exercises for his next major work. The album title is perfect. If you are looking for something down-to-earth but still exploratory, you might just find this record majestic. Check out Michael's blag for a song.
#8: Ester Drang - Rocinate
I just now realized that I don't really know anything about Ester Drang. I guess I know their label is Jade Tree, the same as the now defunct Pedro the Lion. Because my awareness of bands and their stories tends to affect my view of their music (of course), I want to stress that this album stands on its own. I listened to this laid-back opus daily on my walks through Segovia all winter/spring. More eclectic and atmospheric-shoegazey than the 2001 debut Goldenwest, Rocinate is where the band comes into their own. Now that I look it up, I guess this is because of a near-total lineup change. And now that I look it up, I have to add that these guys are huge Talking Heads, MBV, Echo, and Mogwai fans. It's like they wrote a press release to my heart. And check out those piano accents... Come Back Alive.
#9: Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
This will be one of the most interblagged albums of the year, so I'm going to tell you just why I like it, very shortly. I miss early Sonic Youth, and so do Sonic Youth. I saw them play at Lollapalooza, and they alternated between tracks from this album to early album work and pre-album demos. I can't think of a time in recently memory that I've been so impressed by new work from hip old snots like the Youth. I'm just glad they picked a name that has ended up so ironic and wistful. If you like fuzzy rock in pop-sized donut holes, get this.
#10: Envelopes - Demon
Don't let the sinister name fool you. This Swedish band kept the Swedish name for this album, and it means "demos." Still, Envelopes recognize the English sense, and the moniker lends something to my interpretation of these very fun pop songs. When I listen to this album I almost feel like someone is telling me a secret. The voices are captivating, if a little unrefined, and that is the main draw of the album. Every song on this record is good in its own way, and I'm not sure Demon has gotten a fair shake from listeners this year. The sound alternates from sweet and straightforward to clangy and out-of-tune. More than anything, these songs are infectious, and I've been an addict since January. Glue.