The Low Anthem — Smart Flesh: there was no way that this year’s follow-up to 2009’s stunning Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was going to be anything less than incredible, but Smart Flesh manages to be even more painfully honest and heartbreaking, more complex and intricate musically, and intimate and quiet and huge, than both its predecessors. Some of the best songwriting today. But y’all probably already knew this; I’m just writing the truth.
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion — Bright Example: this was less country, more indie rock than I expected it to be; the orchestration occasionally drifts into soft rock territory without meaning to, and the songwriting isn’t always revelatory, but it’s quietly comfortable, and their harmonies are exquisite. RIYL: She & Him. (I didn’t love the album, but damn, I love the cover photo, oh my gosh.)
The Biters — All Chewed Up EP: you know what city’s producing some top-notch rock and roll right now? Atlanta. And, okay, that’s two sentences right there, but Underrated Records’ the Biters come out swinging, back beat and guitars, from the first note of “Born To Cry”. All Chewed Up is a balls to the wall 7 songs of late 60s garage rock EP, about rock and roll and touring and girls and drinking. They’re currently touring with label-mates the Booze (see directly below), and that’s going to be a hell of a show, Triangle. 5/29 at the 506, with Richard Bacchus & the Luckiest Girls.
The Booze — At Maximum Volume: I know very little about Atlanta’s the Booze, except that they bounded onto my radar when the Line of Best Fit posted the first single from this album, “Kick Me Where It Hurts”, and it immediately became one of my favorite tracks of this year. I know that this is their fourth album, they’re touring with the Biters this spring, and true story: this is probably the best pure vintage rock and roll album nobody will hear this year. If it sounds a little too much like Sticky Fingers in some places, well, that’s a damn good album now, isn’t it? So fuck you. RIYL: Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones, John Paul Keith & the 145s. 5/29 at the 506, with Richard Bacchus & the Luckiest Girls.
R.E.M. — Collapse Into Now: I have loved R.E.M. since I was a very small child, since I first bought Green on tape, but I have lost interest in them in recent years — Up had a few gorgeous tracks that I still love, but after that, well, eh. But I love this, I love this, I think it sounds like those recent albums, yes, but I think it also sounds like vintage R.E.M. — I can hear Monster all over this, and the sad strange notes of Automatic for the People, and even a little of the edges of the IRS recordings. This is the first R.E.M. album in years that has felt like an R.E.M. album to me, and I love it.
The Mountain Goats — All Eternals Deck: Ugh, this album is so fucking gorgeous and sad and gorgeous, and I will love it like John is not someone I see out all the time, like his wife is not a friend of mine. It is a strange disparity, when your favorite indie rockers are also people who live where you live and go to the shows you go to, but I will love this album like John wasn’t at the Superchunk show at the beginning of the month, because it is gorgeous and sad and shivery all the way down. (Jon Wurster is still the best drummer working today; that he can drum behind both Superchunk’s huge anthemic rock and the Mountain Goats’ delicate, complex acousticy stuff is just proof of that.)
Those Darlins — Screws Get Loose: if Those Darlins’ debut album was earnestly ironic cowpunk, their follow-up is earnestly ironic ’50s girl group pop. The harmonies on the title track alone are enough to make me think Phil Spektor, and it just keeps going. It’s not flawless — when they slide too psychedelic, it gets weird and boring — but when it’s good, it’s delightful. They’re also one of the hardest rocking live bands I’ve ever seen, so I can’t wait for them to tour behind this and see how the harmonies and the surf guitar and cheerful background glockenspiel play out on stage.
Rural Alberta Advantage — Departing: this sounds like Hometowns, their debut album; there’s nothing new in the sound or the arrangements, just in the content of the songs. Their songwriting is impeccable, but I can’t say it’s as good as Hometowns, because it’s new without being new. It’s really good — it’s just not anything they haven’t done before. (They were absolutely fucking spectacular live, though.)