Top 10 Albums
With a top 10 that so heavily hearkens back to beloved ’80s bands, it’s appropriate to begin this list with Cold Cave. Unlike many bands that simply evoke a vintage sound, Cold Cave sometimes recreates it, such as with the New Order–inspired title track. But far from being a cover band, the band has its own identity: the feedback and distorted vocals of intro “Cebe and Me,” the poppy “Life Magazine,” the electro “The Trees Grew Emotions,” and the shameless all-out Goth-dance of “Heaven Was Full.”
A friend recently said he was afraid of Phoenix, because he felt powerless against their songs, which he felt were bland, though irresistibly catchy. But even the crankiest of music-lovers could not resist the undeniable pop hooks and thoughtful, soaring songs. Though this French band has been making great music for a decade, since forming as a backing band for an Air remix, this is the year Phoenix transitioned from one of the best bands you never heard of to the band you always heard—from commercials to late-show appearances to movie trailers.
Some critics deemed Tiny Masters of Today—siblings Ivan and Ada, now 15 and 13, respectively— washed up by the time of the release of their follow-up to 2007’s Bang Bang Boom Cake. Too punk dismiss, to poppily irresistible to ignore, this duo isn’t a fluke. The merry, tongue-in-cheek chorus of “It’s all about the money!” of “Pop Chart” and the beachy ’50s feel of “Real Good” shows wisdom and talent beyond their years.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are the best Britpop band to ever come from Brooklyn. Their sound draws comparisons to a wide range of past greats, from the Vaselines to the Stone Roses, as well as a fuzzy undercurrent like Ride or My Bloody Valentine. Thankfully, there’s a youthful energetic, freshness, albeit belied with a touch of melancholy, that makes listeners nostalgically yearn for the past as well as, more confusingly, the present and future.
After a flurry of releases veiled in secrecy, this one-man Brooklyn band was finally revealed to be Mike Sniper of the DC Snipers. Comparisons to Joy Division and the Cure are inevitable. Is it coincidence that the Blank Dogs’ “Setting Fire to Your House” is eerily similar to Seventeen Seconds’ “In Your House?” Probably, but it’s still uncanny and haunting. On Under and Under, Sniper re-imagines those influences into an insular world all his own, one shrouded in lo-fi subterfuge—and all the better for it.
The HBO phenomenon/comedy duo wasn’t originally on this list until a friend’s story of a bar populated by lonely, single guys sparked another spin of “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor.” Upon every listen, it’s comedy gold and musically solid, from the chorus of ex-girlfriends who interrupt the love song “Carol Brown” to the parodies, such as “We’re Both in Love With a Sexy Lady” (R. Kelly and Usher’s “Same Girl”) and “You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute” (The Police’s “Roxanne”). It’s sad that this last TV season was the last—but at least the beloved New Zealand duo goes out on a high note.
UK singer-songwriter Mica Levi and her Shapes, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell, generated a lot of buzz with their debut album, Jewellery, one of the most creative records of the year (if not decade). Almost androgynous, sweetly sung vocals are backed by refashioned pop created with Mica’s own modified guitar (played with a hammer action called a “chu”) and, in part, unconventional instruments, including a repurposed CD rack and a vacuum. The result is uncontrived brilliance.
Tiger Songs is, unfortunately, the swan song for this San Francisco/New York trio. After a 2007 debut with Nom De Guerre, full of energetic garage rock infused with name-appropriate dark tints, the band called it quits this past June after releasing the six-song EP. The tone of songs like “Tiger Song” and the haunting “Ammunition,” are a bit moody and slow, yet there is still a punk verve in “Sunday Girls” and “White Girl.” Vocalist Luisa Black has always sounded like a more laid-back Karen O. while traipsing over the band’s atmospheric landscapes.
Oliver Ackermann, singer and guitarist for A Place to Bury Strangers, perhaps knows feedback better than most, as pedal purveyor to U2, TV on the Radio and kindred spirits in loudness My Bloody Valentine. But the house that the Jesus and Mary Chain built perhaps has never had its walls-of-sound shake with such fearless reverb than with this Brooklyn trio. From inescapable “It Is Nothing” and “Everything Goes Wrong” to the melodic “In Your Heart” and “Time Keeps Slipping Away,” the band draws you into its moody orbit.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs never wallow in complacency, so their new record unsurprisingly takes the trio into a new direction. The first track and single “Zero,” finds vocalist Karen O. seducing listeners to “climb, climb, climb higher,” while stepping over garage guitars onto the dancefloor they’ve commandeered for you. Stay there for the beat-heavy “Heads Will Roll” and the Studio 54–worthy “Dragon Queen.” But tracks such as “Skeletons” and “Hysteric” show the raw vulnerability that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are capable of, albeit in a more majestic way.
10. Micachu & the Shapes, Death By Audio, Brooklyn
This UK trio has produced one of the most interesting records of the decade, using some unconventional sounds and instruments, and they’re a solid live band as well. Mica Levi, clad in a white t-shirt, strummed and beat her small custom guitar, and her bandmates appropriately wore shirts adorned with shapes—circles for keyboardist Raisa Khan and triangles for drummer Marc Pell.
9. Calvin Johnson, Arrington de Dionyso, Desolation Wilderness and City Center
Death by Audio, Brooklyn
The Williamsburg DIY space was temporarily transformed into a maze, the walls of which were decorated with grotesque relief sculptures. After entering the maze, the audience just followed the music to the various performances. From a closet space, City Center emitted an electronic soundscape before the poppiest band of the night, Desolation Wilderness, took the main stage. The audience filed to the back to peer over a low wall containing Arrington de Dionyso, whose style was similar to Tuvan throatsinging, and a companion using an overhead projector. Singer-songwriter Calvin Johnson took the main stage to round out the evening with his acoustic songs and witty banter.
8. Dum Dum Girls, The Bell House, Brooklyn
For this Halloween show opening for the King Khan and BBQ Show, the Dum Dum Girls made it a “Ghouls Night Out.” But main Girl Dee Dee and her three leather-clad and gelled Misfits played their own punk-infused jangly pop, with a GG Allin cover thrown in for good measure.
7. Broadcast and Atlas Sound, Le Poisson Rouge, New York
Shrouded in darkness, backlit by a screen showing eerie backgrounds and psychedelia, Broadcast was certainly no sonic wallflower, plying ear-ringing soundscapes. Bradford Cox was backed by openers the Selmanaires for the Atlas Sound set, punctuated by Cox’s stage banter.
6. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Mercury Lounge, New York
This fresh-faced indie pop group played a particularly solid and lively set for their album release show. The songs were even more contagious and irresistible when heard live.
5. The Feelies, Maxwell’s, Hoboken
If, between the Feelies formation in 1976 and their recent reunion, you haven’t seen this band, a word to the wise: if you leave before the encores, you’ll miss half the performance. For their Fourth of July show at Maxwell’s—the start of which they pushed back 15 minutes so the crowd could catch the fireworks over the Hudson River—they performed six encores after already playing two sets.
4. Skinny Puppy, Nokia Theater, New York
Making commentary against the system while playing a glossy Times Square venue, where the theater’s namesake products are prominently on display, is a difficult task, but one that these industrial pioneers managed with their theatrical live show. The band examined big business, animal testing and warfare, with a set that included “Politikill,” “Tormentor” and “Pro-Test,” as well as Skinny Puppy classics, such as “Rodent” and “Worlock.” Though much industrial music sounds dated, Skinny Puppy showed that their complex, layered sound holds up after more than 25 years.
3. Dean & Britta, Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn
As 13 of Andy Warhol’s screen tests were shown on a backing screen, Dean Wareham and Brita Phillips played soundtracks to the clips Warhol shot at his Factory from 1964 to 1966. The pair added a hauntingly beautiful accompaniment to clips of well-known faces, like Nico, Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper, and shared some stories about the other subjects—many of whom seemed to have met their end after taking too much speed.
2. John Fogerty, South Street Seaport, New York
The South Street Seaport wrapped up its free summer concert series with none other than the former frontman for Creedance Clearwater Revival. While playing to support his covers album, The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again, Fogerty still played plenty of CCR classics. The full moon shining high in the sky over the lower Manhattan waterfront was a perfect companion to “Bad Moon Rising.”
1. The Vaselines, Bowery Ballroom, New York
The reunited Scottish duo of Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly played a memorable set with songs that included “Son of a Gun,” “Monsterpussy” and the disco-lit Divine cover “You Think You’re a Man.” The two seemed to be happy to be back onstage and their banter between songs was hilarious and adorable, creating a contagious enthusiasm that was transferred to the crowd as well.