20. Cyndi Lauper – Memphis Blues
The last thing people would think when hearing Cyndi Lauper’s name is the blues. This is the girl who just wanted to have fun after all. Well, you can’t take the Cyndi without the sunshine so here’s a collection of happy blues. Lauper giggles, chirps and hiccups as you would expect but she still respects the genre. So, while it may not be a traditional blues album, Memphis Blues does a great job of showcasing big blues guests supporting her unique take on these songs.
Favorite songs: “Just Your Fool,” “Shattered Dreams,” “Down So Low”
19. Felix Da Housecat – He Was King
Felix may not be the most original DJ out there, but he is a lot of fun. On He Was King, Felix breaks no new ground even for himself, but the sexy is on full throttle. Women breath in and out of the songs like seductresses bent on the ultimate tease. This time around he goes straight out electronica mixed with his almost creepy love of Prince. Hell, the best song here is “We All Wanna Be Prince.” Felix may be projecting a bit, but most of the album is a fun party.
Favorite songs: “We All Wanna Be Prince,” “Plastik Fantastik,” “LA Ravers”
18. The Golden Filter – Voluspa
Sexy, sensual and seductive, the first full-length release from New York’s The Golden Filter is homage to the time of big hair, pastels and cassette decks. Voluspa is all early 80’s in its sounds but all pagan in its attitude, lyric and dress. Penelope Trappes’ breathy vocals are a lovely foil to Stephen Hinderman’s love of all things blippy in music. See them live if you have a chance for their oddly entertaining show.
Favorite songs: “Dance Around The Fire,” “Solid Gold,” “Thunderbird”
17. Howard Jones – Ordinary Heroes
Oh, yes, he’s still making music but this is the first time since 1989’s Cross That Line that one of his collections has been consistently good. Let’s set the record straight, Ordinary Heroes is an adult Jones. Songs are more acoustic, warm and middle of the road, however, the album has the feel of a low-key picnic with your closest and dearest friends. Go ahead, grab a sandwich and have a listen.
Favorite songs: “Straight Ahead,” “Say It Like You Mean It,” “Even If I Don’t Say”
16. Yazoo – Reconnected Live
Yazoo (or Yaz as they are known by us Yanks) only released two albums in their brief career but what influence those two have wrought. Years later well-respected bands like LCD Soundsystem cite Yazoo as one of their biggest reasons for making music. Not only do you get to hear pop history with Reconnected Live, but you also get to see two people who never got along well put aside their differences to do their unfulfilled 1983 tour. Alison still sounds strong if not older and Vince must have had the music files lying around. This is an excellent celebration of new wave 25 years later.
Favorite songs: “Bad Connection,” “In My Room,” “Only You”
15. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
After a successful cult record and soundtrack submissions, what do you do? Take several years off and have people wonder if you died. You then start listening to a lot of Panda Bear and try to one-up him with stronger song structures. While The Age of Adz does have the odd sonic clash that Panda Bear concocts, it doesn’t ramble too long on most songs (until the 25-1/2 minute opus at the end.) Still, an interesting album by a compelling artist.
Favorite songs: “Too Much,” “Get Real Get Right,” “Vesuvius”
(or see the official video here.)
14. OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
OK Go has made this list for all three of their albums. This time around they made it for their videos. I kid. This time around the band has tried to bring the funk to the mix while holding on to their alternative roots and do a great job with the balance. “White Knuckles” is the best example of this: bouncing slap bass, jangly guitars and old-school syth sweeps. Pure fun, but the best thing here is the dipped-in-the-50’s “This Too Shall Pass.” A gorgeous song full of hope. Hopefully, they continue this trend now that they are free from their record label.
Favorite songs: “WTF,” “This Too Shall Pass,” “White Knuckles”
13. Kate Miller-Heidke – Curiouser
The 29-year-old Australian singer/songwriter finally made a splash in the States with her ode to unwanted Facebook friendship requests, “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” This turned out to be a boon to quirky pop fans everywhere. “Are You…” may be more of a novelty, but her first release (2nd in her home country) is an amazing piece of love. Her sense of humor is well matched for her melodies. Songs like “Can’t Shake It” and “I Like You Better When You’re Not Around” will make you howl with laughter and sing along. However, nothing beat what turns out to be my favorite song of the year: “Caught In A Crowd” is an apology to a high school friend that was pushed aside for the popular crowd. It’s a song so beautiful in its sincerity that you pray that it’s based on true events.
Favorite songs: “The One Thing I Know,” “Caught In A Crowd,” “Can’t Shake It”
12. Goldfrapp – Head First
“Satire is a form of homage,” is what I told someone who commented on the video for the first track from Goldfrapp’s latest album, Head First. “Rocket” is the story of a scorned woman set to mid-80′s synths straight out of Van Halen’s 1984. It’s a fun beginning to an album reminiscent of Supernature in its glam party attitude, but living in the throwaway pop history of the mid-80′s. Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have created an album filled with fun — but ultimately disposable — songs that pay homage to a time when Thatcher was Prime Minister and the rich were living in open extravagance. Goldfrapp is a band known for change and doing it well, but they may have gone a little too far in paying homage to the music of the era this time around.
Favorite songs: “Rocket,” “Alive,” “I Wanna Life”
11. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards
How much music is floating around Jack White’s head? Sea of Cowards is the second album in two years by his third band. While The Dead Weather’s first album was an intriguing attempt at rock-blues, this one comes alive with its 70’s-style production. It’s dirty blues throughout with lots of echo, reverb and a female singer (Alison Mosshart of The Kills) doing her best Grace Slick. Sea of Cowards is like tuning into the classic rock station broadcasting out of White’s mind.
Favorite songs: “Hustle and Cuss,” “I’m Mad,” “Old Mary”
(See official video for “Die By The Drop” here.)
10. David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love
A 22-track song cycle about the life of Imelda Marcos sung by the majority of highly respected female vocalists as written by David Byrne? Yes, please. Byrne’s past experience with world beats really pays off here, and with Fatboy Slim co-writing most of the songs, he has found the perfect collaborator. Here Lies Love may be a little long but there is plenty of gorgeous melodies and angelic voice work to keep any unitary presidential constitutional republic happy.
Favorite songs: “Here Lies Love” with Florence Welsh (yes, THAT Florence), “Ladies in Blue” with Theresa Andersson, “Men Will Do Anything” with Alice Russell, “Why Don’t You Love Me?” with Cyndi Lauper & Tori Amos
9. Sleigh Bells – Treats
Sleigh Bells made a huge splash last year at several music festivals and with music connoisseurs. One of those music lovers sent me a few demo tracks. They were strange. It was like listening to punk cheerleaders. High-school-chant melodies back with fuzzed out guitars and over-modulated beats. They were awesomely intense and their debut doesn’t disappoint. Easily the most experimental of the albums on this list, Treats is just that: little tidbits for the discerning palette.
Favorite songs: “Tell ‘Em,” “Riot Rhythm,” “Infinity Guitars,” “Run The Heart”
8. The Bird And The Bee – Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates
Here’s the plan. Your lead singer is preggers and you want to get a quickie album out. You love making pop music so why not do a collection of covers of one of your musical heroes? You break out the Daryl Hall & John Oates sheet music and give the songs your own quirky arrangements, but don’t stray too far from the original. Viola! You now have a set of very entertaining covers. However, you accidently make two original songs that not only fit into the Hall & Oates mold, but one of them turns out to be one of the catchiest tunes of the year. “Heard It On The Radio” is so good that Hall & Oates should cover it. It’s a slice of pop radio lushishness that radio doesn’t play anymore.
Favorite songs: “Heard It On The Radio,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “Maneater,” “4th of July”
7. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
Dance bands don’t get much respect so how is it that LCD Soundsystem has created a third collection of critic’s darling goodness that still sounds fresh, lovely and relevant? The band has again defied the odds and come up with a series of smart, well-arranged songs that are dance floor ready, but also make you think; maybe even feel. Songs include such topics as love, dancing, drunk girls and how shitty the music business can be, but are done with such fineness that you’ll want to check out the big brains on an electronic band.
Favorite songs: “Dance Yrself Clean,” “One Touch,” “I Can Change,” “You Wanted A Hit”
(See the official video for “Drunk Girls” here.)
6. Vampire Weekend – Contra
Remember when Eurythmics was this synth band that made quirky new wave pop music? You know before they went back to their rock bank roots? Here’s a modern day version. Vampire Weekend’s second album builds on their debut with more strange arrangements and instruments you would never imagine to hear on a rock album. The fortunate thing is these songs aren’t odd for the sake of being different. They seem to be made with real love. Contra is full of catchy ditties that keep you singing along. Sophomore jinx: avoided.
Favorite songs: “Horchata,” “Taxi Cab,” “Run,” “Giant”
(You can see official, unembeddable videos here.) Yes, I’m bitter. Top 5 starts Monday.
5. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Gorillaz has been an enjoyable diversion from Damon Albarn’s musical ventures with Blur. Two albums of quality albeit hit-or-miss hip-hop pop, the band has now given us an semi-experimental pop record that works as a whole despite the variances of its individual parts. Mixing orchestral pieces with electronica, rap, rock and old-school R&B, Plastic Beach is a collaboration with an extraordinary cast of special guests. The band has delivered their finest piece of work that is not only consistent, but in turns dirty, funny and beautiful.
Favorite songs: “Stylo,” “Superfast Jellyfish,” “Empire Ants,” “On Melancholy Hill,” “Plastic Beach”
4. Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark – History Of Modern
OMD’s story is similar to Tears For Fears: band consisting of multiple members is reduced to a duo and then the less creative one leaves. Years later hurts are put aside and an attempt at re-living the past is made. While this produced only mediocre results for TFF, OMD made their best since 1985’s Crush. History Of Modern is full of old-school OMD sounds and arrangements (pre-fame) mixed with John Hughes-era melodies. Of course they couldn’t have ‘modern’ in the title of their new album with updating something so they successfully try their hand at rock (“New Babies: New Toys”), Hi-NRG (“Pulse”) and — of all things — new age (“The Right Side?”) A surprise to say the least, OMD has achieved the rarity of reconstitution and still tasting good.
Favorite songs: “New Babies: New Toys,” “History Of Modern, Part 1,” “RFWK,” “Pulse,” “The Right Side?”
3. Robyn – Body Talk
Giving the finger to the music industry was the best thing Robyn could have done. Since starting her own label, she has produced a surprising amount of quality pop music. Released as three EP’s over the year, Body Talk was a chance for Robyn to try her hand at making music while on tour. She has said the process was exhausting, but there is no denying the results: too many great songs to fit within the confines of a CD. Body Talk is best when Robyn is hurt so songs like “Hang With Me” and “Get Myself Together” have real emotional impact while mixing melody with elements of trance and house. However there are other songs like “Fembot” and “U Should Know Better” which are downright hilarious. Many would call this music frivolous, but anyone who can invoke feelings while making you shake your booty has created a work of art.
Favorite songs: “Fembot,” “Love Kills,” “Hang With Me,” “U Should Know Better,” “Get Myself Together”
(See her official videos here.)
2. DEVO – Something For Everybody
Something For Everybody kicks DEVO back into full-tilt irony early with a song entitled “Fresh” — at least, considering that the band is either over 60 or quickly approaching makes it so. Mark Mothersbaugh has a great career in television and film scores so it was a welcome surprise when it was announced the band was getting back together. Rallying against almost all aspects of the music industry early in their career, the boys from Akron decided to wholly embrace the marketing campaign for their first album in 20 years. No, it was done ironically as well. Their audacity has truly paid off. This is the best DEVO album since 1980’s Freedom Of Choice. The subjects of their songs haven’t changed much. The boys are still trying to throw a mirror up so civilization can see the insipid things they act on and create set to hyperactive beats and tunes. DEVO has tried to update their song a little, but the album sounds like a cross between their 70’s new wave punk and their 80’s synth pop. It works which makes this possibly last hurrah that much more enjoyable.
Favorite songs: “Fresh,” “What We Do,” “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man),” “Mind Games,” “Step Up”
1. Scissor Sisters – Night Work
What’s inside the party album of the year is perfectly described by the Robert Mapplethorpe cover: sexy, dirty, playful. It’s an album showcasing a band rediscovering the fun of their hungry years. Night Work could easily be considered a concept album, but feels more like a raunchy history of pop music lesson. The band, with the help of producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue), have encapsulated 1977 – 1982 in nearly perfect chronological order as homage to the occupation of hitting the clubs. In other words, the night work. The only ballads here are power ballads with the remaining music being nothing but an opportunity to cavort with strangers in a dark, strob-lit party house. Night Work is a cocaine-induced night at Studio 54 in its prime. It’s writhing pleasure mixed with sweat from physical exertion — dance related or not. If only all history lessons were this fun.
Favorite songs: “Whole New Way,” “Any Which Way,” “Running Out,” “Something Like This,” “Sex And Violence,” “Night Life,” “Invisible Light”