11) The Rock*A*Teens - Sixth House (Merge)
Rock-A-Teens were a 90’s band whose influence was ultimately larger than their own success. Their particular brand of indie rock was a unique fusion of American music played through a rock lens with a health dose of reverb and distortion. Now, after 18 years since their last release, they have returned with half of their original line-up and a really nice comeback album. The best part, they still sound like The Rock *A* Teens.
LINK: Turn And Smile
12) Grapetooth – Grapetooth (Polyvinyl)
I have always liked when musicians step outside of their fulltime projects to do something different. I especially like it when the side project brings something new to the table. Clay Frankel, from Chicago band Twin Peaks, trades in that band’s Rolling Stones swagger to create a synth-driven pop sound. Is the best “pop-rock” album of the year? Yeah, it probably is.
Link: Red Wine
13) Angelique Kidjo - Remain In Light (Kravenworks)
The story behind this album shows just how universal the language of music is. New York band The Talking Heads record the album “Remain In Light”, a groundbreaking new wave album full of African influences, in 1980. Almost 40 years later, Angelique Kidjo, a West African musician revisits the material with a song-by-song cover. Taking a body of songs that was influenced by her homeland and reimagining it as something uniquely her own.
Link: Born Under Punches
14) Alejandro Escovedo - The Crossing (Yep Roc)
I had been listening to The Crossing for a few weeks before I got around to looking online for the album credits. I guess I presumed Escovedo was working with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck – the co-writers and producers of Escovedo’s 2016 album Burn Something Beautiful. I could not have been more wrong. Rather than record this album at home in Austin, Escovedo went to Italy and recorded the new album with a band called Don Antonio. With a collection of songs focused on the theme of immigration, this album is both topical and another accomplishment in Escovedo’s 40 year career.
LINK: Footsteps In The Shadows
15) Buffalo Tom - Quiet and Peace (Schoolkids Records)
Buffalo Tom came out of Boston in the late 80’s when a lot of great music was coming out of Boston. You can count The Lemonheads, Pixies, and Dinosaur Jr. among their contemporaries. Featuring a guitar, bass, and drums line-up the band’s three members have stayed pretty close to their original formula of writing heartfelt songs that include both ballads as well as more aggressive classic rock. On this album, cover versions of The Who’s “The Seeker” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy In New York” are standouts.
LINK: The Seeker
16) Young Jesus - The Whole Thing Is Just There (Saddle Creek)
Young Jesus reminds me of the great Chicago band Silkworm and the 90's-N.Y. band Rex. There sound is art-punk-rock with extended jams filled with angular guitars. What I like most about this record is the band’s use of pacing and dynamics. The slow parts make the fast parts better. The soft parts make the loud parts more explosive. A lot of bands take a lifetime to figure this out. Young Jesus seems to be off to a good start.
LINK: Saganism vs. Buddhism
17) Macy Gray – Ruby (Mack Avenue)
I have been a fan of Macy Gray since I first saw her at Bumbershoot a few weeks after her first album was released. At that time just about no one else in the audience was familiar with her music. Somehow, I already had the lyrics to that first album committed to memory. This record stays pretty close to what you want from a Macy Gray record. It has plenty of soul and personality. The horn parts and arrangements give the songs a vintage “Dusty in Memphis” vibe that is perfect for late-night chilling. This is album is a mature effort from an artist with a 20 year resume and one of the most distinctive voices of her generation.
Link: Over You
18) Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs (Sub Pop)
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever write good rock songs with a polished pop-sheen. Their rhythmic style reminds me a little of the Feelies meets Vampire Weekend. More than anything this band sound like a group of guys who live on the beach in Australia and like it that way. Surf, jam, party, sleep, and repeat.
Link: Talking Straight
19) Giant Sand – Returns To The Valley Of Rain (Enigma Records)
Howe Gelb, leader of Giant Sand, is one of the most prolific artists I follow. His contributions to alt-country music runs deep. I am the first to say I do not equally applaud all of his output but there is surely lots to love in his extensive and diverse catalog. This re-recording of the band’s first ever record, with better instruments and recording equipment, is a feedback drenched reminder of where the band came from. If you’re a longtime fan it’s like visiting with an old friend. If you are new to Giant Sand it is an opportunity to travel back in time and hear a quality band revisit some old tricks.
Link: Tumble And Tear
20) Cat Power – Wanderer (Domino Recording Company)
After many years on Matador Records, Cat Power defected to Domino for her most recent album. I think the change of scenery did what a change of scenery often does – it gets the creative juices flowing and ultimately inspires something new. This record is achingly beautiful with spare arrangements that give Chan Marshall’s vocals an opportunity to effortlessly float along. The results are as comforting as a warm blanket. The fact that Marshall played almost all of the instruments on the album is another accomplishment worth noting.
RIYL: Piano.Ballads.Sirens.SingingLink: In Your Face