Modern Skirts — Gramahawk: my favorite electro-indie-pop band from Athens; probably my favorite electro-indie-pop band in general. Starts slow but grows on you; the slink of “American Gothic” and the pop of “Happy 81” make this one an early best of contender and a serious keeper. One of Athens’ most underrated indie rock bands, and Athens has a lot of underrated indie rock bands.
The Decemberists — The King Is Dead: I haven’t unconditionally loved a Decemberists album since Picaresque; I was meh about The Crane Wife except when I hated it, and while I dug Hazards Of Love, it was a hard song-by-song listen — that one really only came in album flavor, and that’s not always what I’m looking for in my Decemberists albums. This one, though, oh — I’m not sure it sounds like a Decemberists record, it’s gone all rootsy and there’s pedal steel all over it, but that’s not a bad thing. The songwriting is clever and the music is catchy, and it makes me want to sing at the tops of my lungs and dance, which is, in the end, even when they’re songs about getting eaten by whales, all I really want from Colin Meloy and company.
The Smith Westerns — Dye It Blonde: that shiny, shimmery, breaking waves kind of guitar pop; good songwriting and great playing. This is the sophomore album from Chicago’s Smith Westerns, and it’s just a really solid, interesting piece of ’60s glam-influenced indie pop. If I could find more Chicago bands I liked this much, I might think about moving back (for about four seconds, before I remembered “November” and “December” and “January” and “February” in the Midwest; sorry, Chicago!). This is an early and very strong contender in my top 5 of the year. (At the 506 Sunday January 30, locals.)
Caleb Stine — I Wasn’t Built For A Life Like This: a guy with a guitar doing straight up acoustic alt-country; I wasn’t blown away, but the title track and “No Harm In Being Crazy” are both gorgeous in that terrifically depressing country way. If you like your alt country more acoustic and less electric and very, very depressing, you might dig this.
Des Ark — Don’t Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker: the strength of this album, which is a tour de force broken hearted masterpiece, is that Aimee is as comfortable and talented mixing twee pop and a breathy little girl voice with the hugely soaring rock and roll moments, like the stark shift in the middle of “Bonne Chance Asshole”, which is just shudderingly arresting. This album crashes as much as it croons, and it shouldn’t work, the dichotomy, but somehow it manages to, and it’s glorious.
Amos Lee — Mission Bell: man, not going to lie: I rolled my eyes and went, God, do I have to care about Amos Lee now? when this album was announced. But this is part southwestern cantina, part gospel album, part soul, part Lee’s increasingly strong and decreasingly twee voice, all backed by consummate musicians Calexico, and it’s sharp and sad and the songwriting is surprisingly compelling. I guess I have to care about Amos Lee now, because this is actually really, really good.
Orquesta GarDel — Lo Que Tu Querias: remember when Erik asked me to review the Static Minds album and I was like, but I don’t know anything about the Stooges? Well, shit if I know a good goddamn about salsa music, either, but Orquesta GarDel is a 13-piece salsa orchestra based in Durham, putting out their first official release this year, and my official review is that they make me want to dance in my chair at the office. This EP is tight musically, officially an ass-shaker, and it makes me want to know more about salsa, so that’s good, right? Right. (At Motorco Saturday night for their release party. I can’t go, but y’all should.)