California Wives — Art History: sparkling, thickly layered guitar pop that makes great use of vocals as instruments, and repeated choruses as sonic texture. Really compelling listening, and the only word for it really is ethereally beautiful. (Saw them this week opening for Stars, and they fucking blew me away. Get this album now, because these Chicago kids are the next big electro synth indie pop thing. Swear to it.)
Nicolette Good — Monarch: a Kasey Chambers-esque baby doll voice with surprising power behind it, backed by an excellently understated shuffling band. With her strong songwriting, Good is a bit of a nice girl’s Lydia Loveless; she doesn’t quite have the same fierce and nasty streak behind her words, but she also doesn’t sound like a woman to be trifled with.
Bob Mould — Silver Age: Bob says this is a big dumb rock record; frankly, I think it’s a big smart rock record. Yes, it sounds more like Hüsker Dü than Bob’s stuff has in years, and yes, Jim and Greg from Sound Opinions, it actually has more of Grant’s flavor in songwriting than it does a typical Mould, but those are good things. This is a big smart rock record from one of the smartest rock and roll songwriters out there, and it’s great. (Aside: between the Grant trip in August and then immediately running into all the press for this record, constant mentions on lots of podcasts where Hüsker is not normally a topic, my head was in a really strange Hüsker place for most of September. I kind of just wanted to hang out with Greg Norton a lot, is that weird?)
Delicate Cutters — Ring: Alabama’s Delicate Cutters made my 2011 best of list with their lovely and powerful Some Creatures, and there’s no reason to expect that 2012’s Ring won’t do the same. Where Some Creatures had an otherworldly Beirut-esque feeling to it, Ring is a deeply swampy, fiddle heavy slice of Alabama backwoods, complete with eerie Southern gothic vocals, and shivering guitars (and the occasional saw). Skybucket Records always has an impressive lineup of artists, dating back to their release of several Dexateens records, but right now the Cutters are probably my favorite of all of them.
Heyward Howkins — Hale & Hearty: odd and richly orchestrated, this debut effort from Philadelphia’s Howkins is absolutely captivating. I can’t put my finger on exactly what about Howkins’ plaintive vocals and almost distinct music is hooked straight into my brain, but it has. Title track “Hale & Hearty” is a great example of what I’m talking about; thick with horns, keyboards, plinking percussion, there’s nothing about its orchestration that matches Howkins’ clean and open vocals, not even hardly in time, and yet: it works. That’s what I can say about this album: it works.
The Pollies — Where The Lies Begin: think early Wilco, kind of; shimmering, fuzzed-out, eerie guitars with a bottle slide edge to them, and hypnotically repetitive choruses. A remarkable debut from a Muscle Shoals supergroup, this is one from This Is American Music that’s definitely worth checking out.
Through The Sparks — Alamalibu: faintly Southern, faintly European flavored, keys and organ-heavy Americana; sharp songwriting that doesn’t necessarily catch you on the first listen, this is a record that requires multiple listens, and preferably on good headphones. Sort of like if Sgt Pepper-era Beatles had collaborated with Woodstock-era the Band. If that makes any sense. Actually, I’m glad I have this EP because I’m really disappointed that collaboration doesn’t actually exist now.