This week everyone and their grandma will serve you up a healthy helping from their Best Albums of 2000-09, but I just can't do it for you. I thought I might instead offer you a peak into my favorite albums of the past year, in no particular order.
* Sonic Youth's The Eternal: I am continuously amazed by how good this band continues to be nearly 30 years into its existence. This album may not be as good or as ground-breaking as the band's 1984-89 work, but it still is overwhelmingly solid. Antenna easily would wind up in my fav 10 SY songs list.
* St. Vincent's Actor: It is beyond rare that my oldest brother turns me on to any kind of music these days, so for him to tell me, "Dude, seriously, you've gotta hear this St. Vincent record," and have it actually not only be good but darn good was, and remains still, a major surprise to me. Jagged indie rock fights with New York artiste bohemia, Eno-esque atmosphere, and mid-period Kate Bush strangeness.
Just another great release in the revitalization of 4AD Records as an artistic leader.
* Atlas Sound's Logos and Lotus Plaza: The Floodlight Collective. Both bands are side projects from Georgia's Deerhunter that have rapidly become one of my favorite bands of this decade. They take the free-for-all genius in a basement scattershot approach of early '90s lo-fi indie rock and mate it with a significant love for late '80s dreampop, 4AD gothic psychedelia and '60s wall-of-sound pop.
* The Pains of Being Pure At Heart's The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: There's nothing new really going on with The Pains, but if you never heard mid '80s Anglo jangle pop other than The Smiths you won't get who The Pains are ripping off. And I'd dare say most Americans won't get it. This band combines a hyper-literate lyrical approach with sunny, jangly, reverbed-out guitar pop. It's uptempo, it makes you want to dance like Molly Ringwald and when the lyrics soak in and you realize just how clever this band is, they've already got you hooked.
* Zombi's Spirit Animal. Pittsburgh's Zombi sounds like 1976-78 Genesis and late '70s Rush but without any vocals or pop nonsense. Plus it's only two guys who can manage to play a bank of analog synthesizers, sequencers, bass guitar and a massive Neil Peart-esque drumset and still rock out. Spirit Animal is a little more early '70s prog than their previous efforts, which had begun to lead a little too close to Jan Hammer/Harold Faltermeyer.
* Levi Fuller's Colossal: Seattle singer-songwriter Levi Fuller has a major preoccupation with wildlife. So much so that 2006's This Murder Is a Peaceful Gathering is all about crows. Seriously. With his latest album he's decided to branch out into mice, squids and pigeons. While these may be strange song material makings, Levi manages to find very human qualities in these animals and projects that insight back into some fairly dark stuff, like dealing with conformity, death and relationships. Sounds pretty smart, almost too smart, but Levi does it with a sense of whimsy and a sunny alt-country/indie folk character that just all fits together in a way that nothing he's done before has. A lovely album.
* KISS's Sonic Boom: Boy, was I shocked to discover that Kiss is serious about being a band again and has written a new batch of sugary '70s glam/power pop! It doesn't stand with the band's initial 1974-77 run, but it is better than pretty much anything it's done since 1983's Lick It Up, and it's kinda fun to just crank it up and listen to some dumb power chord rock with killer choruses.
* Sunn 0)))'s Monoliths and Dimensions: Sunn 0)))'s are one of the linch pins of the doom metal scene, combining a campy cult-like quality to intense slabs of droning guitar distortion. Live, Sunn 0))) are a hellish experience with dozens of amps feeding back and droning in a way that is tangible. With their most recent album, Sunn 0))) has decided to open up the music to include chamber orchestra and voice, and it livens the music up somewhat and at least on record helps to make it feel more like '60s avant-garde music more so than just a big loud joke.
* Yeah Yeah Yeah's It's Blitz!: This record has really split fans in half. Many miss the garage-y craziness of their early era. For me, I find the glammy new wave synth explosion of It's Blitz a kind of revelation, where their minimal guitar rock feels more fleshed out and a little less about attitude and more about songs. I like the manic craziness of singer Karen O couched in a cool '80s synth setting, and I think it makes the band sound more sophisticated and less wild.
* Mastodon's Crack the Skye: Mastodon's sell-out album. These guys tried to hit this one out of the ballpark, and in that quest the melodies are all polished up with more structured songs, harmonies, acoustic guitars -- much akin to how Bob Rock scrubbed up Metallica 20 years ago.
I know how disappointing that could be to you metal dudes. I agree somewhat, but it is still an extremely compelling record and could be a great gateway for folks to discover the creativity and artistic vitality that has returned to metal this decade.
* Kelly Minnis plays in a bunch of bands, DJ's, co-owns a local record label and still somehow finds time with his wife and kids. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.