You might think I would declare this my guilty pleasure of the year, but there are several “guilty” albums this year. Kylie’s latest — her tenth — is a fun pop album with a few boring tracks that were made simply to be singles. The good news is that there are also several songs that are just outstanding as well. The biggest mistake here is the one American release “All I See” where the producers make Kylie sound like Janet Jackson in an era where even Janet can’t sell records. Stick with “The One” and “Wow”.
Favorite songs: Like A Drug, The One, Wow
Favorite lyric: “You’re so hot/Get me into the shade!” from Wow
Pleasant is the word of the day here. Inspired by gospel music, Byrne and Eno decided to write a collection of standard arrangements for their new music instead of the experimentation of their 1981 collaboration My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. The outcome is a group of songs that verge on pop, electronica and prog rock. My guess is that they still can’t stop experimenting whenever they’re together. Still, they write catchy music.
Favorite songs: Home, Everything That Happens, Strange Overtones
Favorite lyric: “This groove is out of fashion/These beats are 20 years old” from Strange Overtones
Would you look at that? Lucinda is actually happy about something. Her typical style includes lots and lots of heartache, but she seems to be in a good space in her life during the making of Little Honey. The album is still full of great songs despite that. Now they are just bit more rainbowy. Still there are a couple of slower songs that embody her darker side like “If Wishes Were Horses” and “The Knowing”. A nice collection of music for the Lucinda fans out there.
Favorite songs: Real Love, If Wishes Were Horses, The Knowing
Favorite lyric: “Because if wishes were horses/I’d have a ranch” – from If Wishes Were Horses
If you’re a fan of Ben Folds, you’ll love this; however, it won’t convince any new fans to join on. Ben has seemingly cornered the market on fun, catchy, piano-based pop that Elton John and Billy Joel left empty. His tongue firmly in his cheek, Ben starts the album with a hilarious song about cracking his head open at a concert in “Hiroshima”. The rest of the album is his typical look at suburbia (“Effington”), crazy women (“Bitch Went Nutz”) and broken hearts (“Cologne”). Way To Normal also includes his best single since “Brick” in the bitter “You Don’t Know Me”.
Favorite songs: Hiroshima, The Frown Song, You Don’t Know Me
Favorite lyric: “…I crawled back on the stage/And started pounding out the first song/There was blood on the keyboard…/Oh my God!” from Hiroshima.
I haven’t really dug an Enya album since Shepard Moons, but have followed her releases through the years. For some reason this winter/holiday release embedded itself into my pleasure centers. Enya hasn’t changed her style or production in decades, but this pleasant album about winter and the holidays does invoke the season. It’s the audio equivalent of curling up in a blanket with a book and watching the snow fall outside.
Favorite songs: White Is The Winter Night, Trains And Winter Rains, One Toy Soldier
Favorite lyric: “He’s one small toy for one small boy/But his heart is oh so blue” from One Toy Soldier
After the freakishly intimate Under The Skin, it’s nice to hear Lindsey rock out a little bit. He still is experimenting with his sound and several of the songs have arrangements not heard on your typical rock/pop album. The album starts off with the guitar/vocal settings of “Great Day” and “Time Precious Time”, but soon moves into more standard fare. Great pop songs like “Love Runs Deeper” and “The Right Time To Fade” are sprinkled throughout. Gift Of Screws proves that Lindsey can still create great music that sounds relative.
Favorite songs: Did You Miss Me, Love Runs Deeper, The Right Time To Fade
Favorite lyric: “You were out of tune/It seemed to suit my dark side” from Love Runs Deeper
Album title of the year. If you are fan of her older brother Rufus, then you’ve heard this amazing voice. Like Rufus, her songwriting is quirky and makes for songs that can — and do — go places you aren’t expecting. “Jesus And Mary” starts off as a Casio calypso song, but quickly turns into a guitar folk song for example. Martha follows her heart on most of these songs and tries different styles and instruments on the album. Synthesizers mix with Indian flutes, strings and odd percussion. She even rocks out on “Jimi” and covers Pink Floyd and Eurythmics. Of course, the highlight here is the pop masterpiece “You Cheated Me”. I Know You’re Married… takes a few listens to find the magic, but it is definitely there in spades.
Favorite songs: You Cheated Me, So Many Friends, Jimi
Favorite lyric: “My heart was made for bleeding all over you/And I know you’re married but I’ve got feelings, too/And I still love you” from Bleeding All Over You
Here’s another slow-burn album. At first listen, it sounds like noise as this seems to be more of a Jack White album and less the pop-influences of Brendan Benson. The Raconteurs burst onto the scene with one of the best songs of 2006 with “Steady, As She Goes” — an explosive and catchy piece of pop genius. With their new album, the band has meshed their personalities into a cohesive sound. Consolers is a fun blues-rock album with traditional pop song arrangements and tunes that get stuck in the head.
Favorite songs: Old Enough, The Switch And The Spur, Many Shades Of Black
Favorite lyric: “If you’re looking for an accomplice/A confederate/Somebody’s that helpless/You’re going to find/Find yourself alone” from Consolers Of The Lonely
What a change an election can make. With Barack Obama as our President-elect, the first half of Sheryl Crow’s return to the world of good songwriting became a little less relevant. Detours disses on two men: George Bush and Lance Armstrong. This is a good thing because it’s now been proven that only a Sheryl Crow with an angry, broken heart writes good music. The first half is an anti-war, anti-Bush, free love protest and has some of catchiest songs she’s written since Sheryl Crow. The second half is a stick in the spokes of Armstrong’s bicycle. Never, never piss off a recording artist. They will write songs like “Make It Go Away”, “Diamond Ring” and “Now That You’re Gone”. So thank you Lance Armstrong for pissing Sheryl off. Look for the Japanese edition, too. It has “Beautiful Dream” — a lovely 70’s-style soft rock song that would have been on Detours if it weren’t so damn happy.
Favorite songs: Love Is Free, Out Of Our Heads, Motivation
Favorite lyric: “Devil take your money/Money’s got no hold on me/Cause everybody’s making love/Cause love is free” from Love Is Free
At first listen, this would seem we have another American Life on our hands. Then the Neptunes-produced tracks start to stand out and the fun starts to come through. Tracks like “Heartbeat” and “Incredible” began to ingrain themselves — especially the latter. “Incredible” is synth-epic of a song that meshes The Neptunes’ flair for the odd with the 80’s stylings of Jellybean Benitez. In other words, it’s an homeage to Madonna’s heyday. The five Timberland tracks are less inspired, but some like “Miles Away” and “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” have heart. Love it or hate it, Hard Candy definitely proves that while Madonna not be ahead of the trends anymore, she can certainly keep up with the Britneys.
Favorite songs: Heartbeat, Incredible, Beat Goes On
Favorite lyric: “You’re only here to win/Get what they do?/They’d do it, too/If they were you” from Give It 2 Me
Darker than you would expect, the newest from The Weepies is another pleasant folk/pop album from the duo who fall in love with each other’s music before even meeting. The tone of the album supposedly came from all the touring they did to support Say I Am You. This adds a sense of weight to the songs that their major-label debut was missing. On the other hand, this is missing the lively and eyes-just-opened feel of their last album. Still this is great listen especially if you’re feeling a little blue because by the time you hit the last song, they are and you will be cheered by “All This Beauty”.
Favorite songs: Hideaway, Wish I Could Forget, Not Dead Yet
Favorite lyric: “Troubles fly like embers/Out the windows of our traveling car” from Hideaway
Here is the best power pop album you’ve never heard. Andy Goldberg has a very real knack for the dreaded earworm syndrome. His talent is to create songs that are new yet familiar so there is a level of comfort from the first few notes throughout to the end. His 2006 effort Hooks, Lines & Sinkers introduced us to his feel good music and this one is no different. It’s the kind of album that you want to put on during outdoor events and share with your friends. Under The Radar does have a few darker moments and some beautiful ballads. Andy is definitely channeling George Harrison in songs like “Water Blue” and “One More Time”, but no where as much as the ukulele-driven “A Hand To Hold”. Andy Goldberg has created another perfect social event album. Your party guests will thank you… or, at least, ask what is playing.
Favorite songs: Ain’t Gonna Stop, I’ve Had Enough, One More Time
Favorite lyric: “When did everything become too much for you?” from I’ve Had Enough
It’s been 11 years since their last album and time has been good to them. Even though this is the most inaccessible of their studio albums, the music still intrigues, befuddles and energizes the listener. Gone are the attempts at traditional song structure and blatant hooks. Here be noise. The band still creates their own samples and use them to bring the listener in so they can plumb the depths of such sound fests as “Silence”, “The Rip” and “We Carry On”. This isn’t for everyone, but the adventurous will discover a band that may not be prolific, but certainly creates some of the best ambient, trippy music out there.
Favorite songs: Nylon Smile, We Carry On, Magic Doors
Favorite lyric: “I’d like to laugh at what you said/But I can’t find a smile” from Nylon Smile
Fans of [adult swim] know his name. mc chris is the voice of several vocally high-pitched characters from many shows of Cartoon Network’s mature programming block when it was first launched. Chris used his love of rap and hip-hop throughout these shows to hilarious effect which in turn led to him following his dream of being a recording artist. Now the nerdcore (a term he rejected for a little while) rapper is up to his fifth album of goofy, geek-influenced and — as usual — hilarious nerd songs. He’s still pining for geek girls to get freaky with, but also extols Reese’s Pieces, masturbation and beats that kill. What makes this collection stand out is the music. It’s not just about the snort-inducing lyrics, but is working with his writing partner to up the ante on the overall sound and it really plays off. Songs like “Never Give Up” and “Falynn” have catchy choruses and beats that make you wanna jump. A must have for geeks.
Favorite songs: Pizza Butt, Hoodie Ninja, Falynn
Favorite lyric: “Is it delivery?/No, it’s DiGiornno/Let’s microwave it/And put in a porno” from Pizza Butt
It’s always interesting to hear critics gush about a relatively unknown pop diva princess, so taking a chance I bought it when it finally hit American shores earlier this year — it was released in 2005 in her native Sweden. Being on the same label as Britney Spears, Robyn could have easily gone the pre-fab, insta-hit route and probably had a few more hits, but she wanted to do things her way. It paid off. This is a fun, tough europop album full of songs that all could easily be singles. Robyn is a definite for those who love diva pop with an attitude and the hooks to back it up.
Favorite songs: Konichiwa Bitches, Handle Me, With Every Heartbeat, Crash And Burn Girl
Favorite lyric: “Don’t even get me started on my bada-boom-booms/One left, one right that’s how I organize ’em/You know I fill my cups no need to supersize em'” from Konichiwa Bitches
Album cover of the year. Former Christian singer Leslie Phillips has come a long way. Through disappointment with the Christian music scene, being a critic’s darling, disappointment with major labels and a divorce from T-Bone Burnett, her music has survived and been made better for her difficulties. Don’t Do Anything is the first time she has produced an album, but with the sound so familiar with her past few albums, there is cause to wonder if she didn’t have a heavy hand in her sound throughout her career. This time Sam has created a weird, wonderful mix of darkness and mood with several songs sounding muddy as if she had dredged them from some murky corner of her heart. There is a multitude of electric guitar uses on this album that are reminiscent of R.E.M.’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi. The highlight here is the 1-2-3 punch of the sparse “Don’t Do Anything”, the killer hooks of “Little Plastic Life” and the jazzy-rock of “My Career In Chemistry”. Nothing else on the album is as tightly written. Also included here is Sam’s recording of the song she gave to Robert Plant & Alison Krauss for their Raising Sand album – “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” — in all its glory.
Favorite songs: Don’t Do Anything, Little Plastic Life, My Career In Chemistry, Signal
Favorite lyric: “When you’re useless/I love you more/When you don’t do anything” from Don’t Do Anything
What Web Pen Top 20 would be complete without my favorite artist? Good thing Aimee Mann released an album this year. Aimee continues from her piano-driven concept album, The Forgotten Arm, and this time around even includes horns. While Arm was a story of love gone wrong, Smilers is mostly her observations of the fake people in Los Angeles. We start in high fashion with “Freeway” which is not only the best pop song she’s written since 2000’s “Red Vines”, it’s also the perfect theme song to those in L.A. who look out so intently for themselves they end up causing their own losses. The rest is another great Aimee album full of sing-along sadness. She even points her powers of character study at herself on “Thirty One Today”. Other great songs include the poppy “Borrowed Time”, the short word play of “Stranger Into Starman” and the sardonic insult of “Columbus Avenue”. The packaging for this one — like The Forgotten Arm — is nominated for a Grammy. It’s beautiful on the inside.
Favorite songs: Freeway, Borrowed Time, Great Beyond, Columbus Avenue
Favorite lyric: “I want you/But you’re a poltergeist” from True Believer
Overrated band of the year? Hardly. Having read all the hype before the album was even released, I was excited to hear what everyone was talking about. This has been in constant rotation in my library since January and it hasn’t lost any of its appeal. Claiming their influence is African pop and classical music, Vampire Weekend is full of everything from the aforementioned African influences to 80’s synth pop to college rock to said classic music — and everything in between. The point is this is damn good album and an incredible debut that didn’t get worse simply because it became popular. The band is tight with the two Chrises on drums and bass keeping near perfect rhythm and Ezra’s vocal playing the rift of heartbroken college student and Society’s pressure to mature with aplomb. The real credit goes to keyboardist and producer, Rostam Batmanglij, whose tickling of all sorts of ivory puts this ahead of many others. I can’t even imagine the pressure they must be under for a follow-up, but the here and now is that Vampire Weekend has massive potential and as long as they produce music of this quality throughout their career, I’ll be a fan.
Favorite songs: Oxford Comma, A-Punk, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, One (Blake’s Got A New Face)
Favorite lyric: “Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?/I’ve seen those english dramas, too/They’re cruel” from Oxford Comma
Intense. Where their first release Beams was more of an homage to 80’s synth pop of Eurythmics and Depeche Mode, Apocalypso sees The Presets channeling Nitzer Ebb. This fusion gives them the ability to create intense, driving dance music that incorporates hooks galore. The albums kicks into high gear with the personal “Kicking And Screaming” with its lyrics about growing up as an outsider, but quickly moves into what can only be called Socially-Conscious Dance Punk. “My People” is about the boat people in Australia’s detention centers, but listening to it would lead to the belief that it was about going to a rave. There is nothing here as beautiful as “Girl And The Sea” from Beams, but “This Boy’s In Love” comes close in its profound loss of a girl and a boy starting a life away from their current horrible one. With their obvious love of the 80’s plainly in site, The Presets have created a multi-layered album which combined with Julian’s vocals makes for the best party album of the year. Trivia: Apocalypso won the Australian equivalent of the Grammy for Album Of The Year — the first time an electronic album has ever won the award.
Favorite songs: My People, This Boy’s In Love, Talk Like That, Together
Favorite lyric: “Don’t like what you see?/Send them a memo: ‘tough titties!’/They ought to try it sometime/They might just like it” from Talk Like That
If you didn’t figure this one out, then you haven’t been following the blog very closely. This is still in heavy rotation in my library and every time I play it at my part-time job at least one person’s curiosity is piqued and they ask for information. This is the chill-out album that comes as a pleasant surprise after listening to, say, The Presets at top volume. This gorgeous, orchard of organically-grown music may not be the album that many wanted after Supernature, but to deny yourself the pleasure of songs like “Little Bird” and “Some People” is a crime. Seventh Tree starts off in the most unlikely of places. When Alison sings, “Only clowns would play with those balloons,” you would never guess through her nearly wordless vocals that she’s talking about fake breasts. Floating along through songs about the dangers of cults, the importance of taking in the sights around you and, uh, eating yourself — actually I still haven’t figured out that one, but still love the song — suddenly, you hit track 9 and out of your speakers is “Caravan Girl”, the most rock song they’ve ever done. Surprise is what this is all about if not intentionally. Straying from a formula that would sell them many records, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have done the brave thing and traveled with their heart on this one.
Favorite songs: Clowns, Happiness, Eat Yourself, A&E, Monster Love
Favorite lyric: “Think I want you still/But it may be pills/At work” from A&E