Sounds a bit like Tegan & Sara, but only one of them, at their rockiest and punkiest, on A LOT of speed. This is overwhelming--it's too noisy and too fast for me.
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
Maybe the biggest disappointment of the year. I kept waiting for the mind-blowingly complex jams OR the sullen echoic dirges, and only caught a glimpse once with the subtly sexy Librarian. I almost turned it off after Highly Suspicious, which I can only describe as ridiculous--I was nearly compelled to write the band and ask them what they were thinking with this album, since I'm such a big MMJ fan (At Dawn is my favorite, followed by It Still Moves). They tried something new here, and they went too far; with this release they've lost--almost completely--what makes them so great.
Natalie Walker - With You
Less-dreamlike and more dance club-like. Tags would include house, trip-hop perhaps, but not chill/downtempo female vocalist... She even has some rockier tracks... Interesting that she definitely changes direction at With You followed by Empty Road which sound like her last album, are beautiful, flowing, ethereal, but then she kinda regresses. There are some definite good tracks, but as a whole it doesn't even come close to urban angel.
Bloc Party - Intimacy
Following their albums' progression from softer to harsher, this is the hardest and fastest rocker yet. Only a couple songs sound like their first album and softer/more melodic Weekend tracks, which happen to be the ones I like the most, the rest are a lot of electronic manipulation with the BPM turned up and kele's strained, inchoate voice...No range of emotions, only the one; (club music).
Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns
More of the same from this band; fans will enjoy. Teeny heart-tugger highlight would be The Planets Bend Between Us.
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology
I appreciate that Ryan is settling into this band, leaning towards dropping his name and simply calling themselves The Cardinals, but this disc is relatively vapid. There isn't anything that really sticks out. The overall quality is high--I would expect nothing less from these guys, but it seems that when working with his band, Ryan eschews his regular lyric-writing method of cutting his heart out of his chest and laying it bare for a more reserved, mindful writing style; this, of course, is more rock-concert (and band) friendly, but I like the Ryan Adams that breaks my heart the best.
Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs
Includes bootlegs from 1989-2006; Is an absolutely excellent collection of rarities, alternate versions, and live recordings, mostly from the Time Out of Mind and Oh Mercy period. High quality recordings, shows the depth and variety of Bob Dylan's talents; even with his dozens of albums, this collection still seems indispensable. My favorite track is the acoustic version of Most of the Time.
Aqualung - Words & Music
Pretty inconsequential, nothing stands out here; not their best, not their worst, ultimately inaffective. HOWEVER, the closer, "Arrivals" is incredible. My favorite Aqualung song by far, up there with my favorite tracks in recent memory.
Keane - Perfect Symmetry
Terrible. I can usually put myself in others' shoes and see what they like about music that I don't, but this is so bad I'm really having trouble with this one. I quite liked their last two albums, but this is such a departure. It's all up-beat, shallow, and monotonous. There isn't one good track.
Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
I only listened to this once, which led me to conclude that it is almost as bad as the Keane; some songs (many?) can only be described as "aggravating."
The Stills - Oceans Will Rise
This is pretty decent, a definite improvement over their last; avoids the emptiness of their previous release and goes back to their debut success. It's not as infectious, and not uniformly good, but we do hear evidence of the carefree, lengthily-phrased indie rock ballads that we fell in love with (e.g. Being Here, Statue of Sirens, and especially Everything I Build)...I don't know who told these guys that they needed to distort and strum their guitars harder and faster, because the low-key stuff from their debut was at the very least, their own sound. Good thing the whole album isn't like that.
The Verve - Forth
Overall, this is a good album, which is a considerable accomplishment considering their unbelievable 11-year hiatus. While there are some tangents into new territory, incredibly they still sound like The Verve, with that unmistakable dreamy-rock-Brit-pop.
The Gabe Dixon Band - The Gabe Dixon Band
I rather despise this album. I bought it, and a few days later gave it to a friend. Too twangy, too much country influence, awkward when they try to rock, and much too repetitive. The version of All Will Be Well, my favorite song by them, is not nearly as good on this disc, and really the only keepable track is the opener, Disappear, which was a cruel little joke, getting my hopes up like that.
Jem - Down to Earth
I loved her debut Finally Woken, I mean it was just so FRESH! But this is not fresh. It's not exactly what the "pop" radio stations are playing, but it's close. And it still sounds like Jem, but it sounds like Jem at her worst. Like she took the worst songs (really only two, Save Me and Falling for You) from Finally Woken and said, "yes, those are the ones that should really be replicated..." The charm and adventurousness is replaced by predictability and stagnancy. Except for maybe It's Amazing and perhaps I'll give subdued props for trying out You Will Make It: even though it is reeaally preachy, at least it's something different.
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
I like this album. It's a much different sound from Rabbit Fur Coat, not as folksy, more rocky; but Jenny Lewis will always make her music just that, and that's apparent here. The title track is the gem. Johnathan Rice provides backing vocals. These songs belong in a bar; they have a western feel to them, some of that happy honky-tonk rock stuff.
TV On the Radio - Dear Science
I can't review this album. I honestly don't understand how anyone likes this band. This music hurts my ears. Enlighten me?
Priscilla Ahn - A Good Day
This album is VERY girly. I can generally take it in small doses, although it is very pretty. She writes cutesy little stories and romantic tales. I would compare her to Alison Sudol (of A Fine Frenzy), but she doesn't try as hard to be as metaphorically deep, and a lot of her songs are light-hearted and happy enough to be pleasantly enjoyable.
Ray Lamontagne - Gossip in the Grain
I would normally spend more time on this guy, since he's one of my favorite artists of the past few years, but his newest album frankly doesn't deserve it. Overall, it's a disappointment. Not terrible, well, no, that's not entirely true: some songs on here are garbage, lyrics about nothing, songs that go nowhere over endless repetitions, and this new rock from Ray that is way out of his comfort zone. There are some good songs, a couple really good songs, though, (You Are the Best Thing, Let it Be Me, for example) which makes it not a total wash. However, I should say, that upon first listen of Meg White I was a bit disgusted, until I saw him live and realized that it's not supposed to be a serious song. That opened my eyes to the intentionally less-serious and less-sad feel of this album, which is good, but what I said about most of the other tracks still holds true.
Dido - Safe Trip Home
This is a good album. Slightly more mature, slightly more retrospective. There's no mistake it's Dido: same chill-pop sound with those soft vocals often floating over a subtle electronica backdrop. Some heartfelt lyrics that conjure up images of yearning for a lost love while walking through rainy city streets or in the warmth of a remote cottage in the snowy countryside, as one's ex-lover flies off in a plane...
Passion Pit - Chunk of Change
So Sleepy Head has just taken the music world by storm; I just read it as the "#1 Song YOU MUST DOWNLOAD NOW!!!!!!" in October's SPIN, and while it is a freakin' awesome track, the rest of the EP doesn't quite live up. Yes, Smile Upon Me is, well, appropriately titled--this song is perfect for a dance party within the battered walls of an open-aired building with a gigantic neon smiley as its roof. You'd think, with everyone using electronic sampling, a lot of these electronica bands would start to sound the same, and while it's true that they have, Passion Pit, a wholly independent outfit, actually have something new to offer. It's actually intoxicating.
Phosphorescent - Pride
Obscure indie singer/songwriter Matthew Houck that sounds like Great Lake Swimmers meets Fleet Foxes meets Bon Iver and maybe a little Vetiver thrown in. Very chill. Originally from Alabama, the Southern influence comes through with ease; his voice is on the scratchier side; the music is acoustic and folksy but a little rougher, like his beard. He uses choruses of his voice with phrases that extend like a warm breeze to the horizon. Harmonica, acoustic guitar, not really any solos though, just light enough to be there in the background... Good music for a snow day; or better yet, a bonfire on a snow night. Yes, fire would go well with this music--it glows like that. He's originally from Alabama, but I think he recorded this while he was living in Brooklyn; the music has an on-the-prairie, wide-open feel to it, which, when placed within the confines of the claustrophobic city, makes it seem all the more lonely.
Jeff Hanson - Jeff Hanson
Goooooood. Very unique voice, that, if one didn't know any better, would be considered "female." Has been [accurately] compared to Elliott Smith, although his music is much less raw and depressing. He requires a careful or at least all-the-way -through listen, because, and this I love, he transforms songs 4 minutes into them with ease, surprising the listener and providing his music with a lot of depth. He does things I'm not used to, and the variety in his songwriting is superb. If you don't mind his high, soft, rather feminine voice, his lyrics are excellent and his band creates some incredible moments, especially when you least expect them. I loved his song This Time It Will for years before I picked up this album, and now I'm getting his other stuff (this is a 2005 release); the closer of this album is gorgeous; it trails off on one of the most sentimental lyrics I've heard all year. Perhaps more than with any other album, I kept hearing myself saying "perfect" to his song construction.
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
This is Okkervil River's best album. More refined than Black Sheep Boy, and much more musically beautiful and lyrically effective than this year's The Stand Ins. They are much better than Neutral Milk Hotel; they are similar to The Decemberists and Arcade Fire, but more like a combination of the two. Sheff does get a little wordy sometimes, but their music is inventive. They're doing things I haven't heard before, and they do things that make me really happy to be alive. Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe is one of the most infectiously joyous songs I've ever heard; it is spectacular in its cinematic verses and its ability to move. A Girl In Port is probably my favorite track of the year; the song is written like a novella, each chapter completely different and as beautiful as the last--it is absolutely perfect in its romantic reflectiveness, and if I could have written a song, this would be it. NOTE: If you can, get your hands on the deluxe edition that contains a bonus disc with the acoustic version of every song--this is amazing; the songs sound much different in these stripped down versions.
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
While this is on everyone's "best albums of 2008" list, I think I'm biased because of how much I like My Morning Jacket (or did). The first time I listened to this, I dismissed them as MMJ-wannabes, but repeated listens elucidated their [slight] differences. Fleet Foxes is slightly more retro, slightly more laid-back, and slightly more pop-friendly in their relative uniformity (to earlier MMJ). Yes, there are parallels to Animal Collective and Blitzen Trappers, but FF is more on the conservative side. This is a very warm album. It is lovely to listen all the way through; the tracks don't assault your ears, and nothing stands out like a sore thumb. They do vary from space-filling melancholia to progressive folk-rock. In fact, every time I listen to this album, I like it more.
Lykke Li - Youth Novels
I really like this album. It's something COMPLETELY NEW. I've never heard anything quite like this. Her voice is cute, and she's got her own unassuming style, which is apparent from track one, when she's giving [literal] instructions on this dance we call love. I was introduced to this Swedish newcomer by an informal collaboration she did with Bon Iver, recording "Dance, Dance, Dance" in an L.A. park. That song is one of the happiest, most innocently carefree songs I've ever heard, and no other voice could pull it off as well as Lykke. Her album is all over the place, utilizing electronic samplings, layers and different uses of her voice, nontraditional instruments, and just mixing it up with rapping, speaking, and singing. She's growing in the media quickly, and she deserves it: this is some much-needed freshening of the pop music scene.