by Various Artists
Jose Gonzales, In Our Nature.Argentinean singer/songwriter who was raised in Sweden and sings in English delivers a haunting, spare recording, with songs that revolve around war. It's the sound of this record, with only Gonzalez on vocals and acoustic guitar strummed in an uniquely unorthodox manner that draws the listener. Beautiful.
Handsome Furs, Plague Park. Dan Boeckner, a member of the Canadian band Wolf Parade, and his partner Alexei Parry have put together a record of lo-fi pop that still sounds full and engaging. Ironically, it overshadows the material of Wolf Parade. Only problem: The disc isn't long enough (less than 40 minutes in length).
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky.If Ghost Is Born was Tweedy's painful journey into the landscape of "Handshake Drugs," Sky Blue Sky is his personal recovery, with sad resignation and small joys of a sober life, awake in a dark world. Wilco, at their most organic, recording in a live atmosphere, exhibits why this current line-up, including the scorching and delicate guitar work of Nels Cline, may be its most definitive formation.
Panda Bear, Person Pitch. This seems to be the year for solo projects (St. Vincent/Annie Clark, Thurston Moore, Gruff Rhys). Case-in-point: Animal Collective member "Panda Bear" (Noah Lennox) has released a recording of swirling sounds — from industrial clanging to flying jet fighters — and catchy rhythms, with layered Brian Wilson/Pet Sounds vocals. It's one of the most eccentric and original releases this year.
Radiohead, In Rainbows.What makes this new recording by Radiohead so engaging is that it sounds like a full band effort. Intricate rhythms, beats, guitar, keyboard and bass lines, and melodic vocals intertwine fluidly, creating finessed, complex songs.
Sir Richard Bishop, Polytheistic Fragments.Founding member of the noisy Sun City Girls, Sir Richard Bishop has released a number of solo records that explore free noise to subtle acoustic guitar. Polytheistic Fragments puts all of these elements together in a cohesive guitar record that draws equal inspiration from Bill Frisell, Middle Eastern folk, gypsy guitar and John Fahey. Bishop's guitar translations are stunning, inventive, killer.
Nels Cline Singers, Draw Breath.Nels Cline's guitar is all over the place. And that's good. Teamed up with his Cryptogramophone colleagues, Devon Hoff (contrabass) and Scott Amendola (drums, percussion, electronics/effects), the Nels Cline Singers display a wide sense of intense execution to their "contemporary jazz," from the frenetic to the spacious, atmospheric. Individually, these musicians are amazing; together they are monster. Listen for yourself.
Iron & Wine, Good Shepherd's Dog. Singer/songwriter Sam Beam has surrounded himself around an eclectic group of musicians, ranging from Joey Burns and Paul Niehaus (Calexico), to Brian Deck and Jim Becker (Califone), to Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio). The result is a multi-layered textured wall-of-tones that compliments Beam's soft-sung, dark lyrics. With the aid of Brian Deck's production (he also produced last year's excellent Califone release Crown and Roots), this could be Iron & Wine's strongest release yet.
A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Self Titled.Drummer, percussionist and accordionist, Jeremy Barnes, formerly from Neutral Milk Hotel, has strayed a great distance from his musical past with his partner Heather Trost (violin, viola and cello) and the Hun Hangar Ensemble (and some help from Zach Condon). Here he crafts a collage of old folk and gypsy music, from Budapest to Hungary to Albuquerque, with frenetic pace.
The Detroit Cobras, Tied & True.Straight-ahead rock 'n' roll and Detroit seem to always blend well and dirty together. Rachel Nagy and Mary Ramirez have recruited Greg Cartwright and Carol Schumacher from the current Reigning Sound, who help provide tight arrangements, with just enough of that garage edge, giving a new sheen to these tasteful cover songs.