Merry Christmas all! Sounds like you’re in need of a last-minute gift? Well, why not have the final four songs in our Bracket Challenge? Check those out below, and even further down you’ll find 6-10 of my favorite albums of the year:
Our first challenge has the two flip sides of a coin: soft-spoken or fast-paced.
One of the biggest phenomenons of the year up against a minor hit from a British band:
Now, for some additional enjoyment, here’s the first five of my favorite albums of the year:
10) The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl, Dave Matthews Band – Come Tomorrow and Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending
In a bit of a bind and a rush, I couldn’t help myself. All three bands are some of my favorites, and all three put out comeback collections that put them back on my radar once again. Franz Ferdinand was due, at this point, to have something worthwhile, and they even did it without longtime guitarist Nick McCarthy. The danciness of Tonight is there, but there’s something more fluid and heartfelt to this piece. The Decemberists had been experimenting with long-form story albums, concept pieces if you will, for their last few albums, and here they stride back towards basics with a group of songs that hearken back to their eclectic early days and one-off weirdness. Dave Matthews and his band have put out what may be my favorite of their albums, with several supple songs that crescendo with emotion. All in all, this trio were also highly underrated, so they have the underdog quality going for them as well.
What I Said Then: (3/22) It’s good to hear a familiar voice…I’d be glad to get back on this roller coaster again and again… (6/21) Truly I became immediately enraptured with this latest work …Never doubt the fun this band has, even if it’s a language all their own….(2/15) I’ve been waiting years for Franz Ferdinand to return to form….A mixture of that early sound with the delicate crash from Right Thoughts makes for at least a happy reformation.
9) Ruen Brothers – All My Shades of Blue
All year I’m looking for new acts that resonate in a way that I can’t get them out of my head. Henry and Rupert Stansall (their band title is an amalgam of their given names) have voices that remind me of one of my favorite bands, Murder By Death, with a baritone that occasionally escapes into a borderline falsetto when hyped up by a rousing chorus. The title song is their best feature, hearkening back to a time when drive-ins and bandstands were in fashion. To see them in person must be a trip back in time as well, with their aesthetic appropriately designed to replicate the period. It’s surprising then, to find that the brothers are from Scunthorpe, England. Fans of bands like the Rolling Stones and the Everly Brothers, you can imagine where the sound derived. Strumming a solemn guitar and slipping in a harmonica, the brothers harmonize as they wander down memory lane with a collection of love songs that could easily have been plucked from oblivion by Dick Clark. This was a nostalglic rendezvous that hopefully results in a minor revolution.
What I Said Then (6/9): There’s been a void of classic rock (inspired) bands slipping back into the mainstream….I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these songs end up in an AMC or FX show at some point….I really immediately connected with their stylings.
8) Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
It’s remarkable that two young friends from England managed to put out one of the most exciting dream pop albums of the year. I took a chance on them, given the name, and it paid off for in spades. Each song builds on the next, and it’s easy to get lost in the symphony they’ve crafted. I’m looking forward to what they’ll do next, but for now we can revel in their moodpiece. Drugs aren’t even necessary to enhance the quality, this is a fine album to blast in the background while you work. It’ll push you to move faster. Vocalists Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth will have you enraptured before long.
What I Said Then (7/13): It’s not quite fuzz pop, but the wall of sound they produce is reminiscent of Chvrches or Silversun Pickups, sans synths. There’s still a brilliant use of instrumentals here, and they mix in an entrancing way.
7) Beach House – 7
I’ve said this before, but there are some bands you’re told you should love right off the bat and it just doesn’t connect. This was my experience with Beach House for the past decade, but something finally clicked this summer. All the dream and fuzz pop I’ve wanted from them at last emerged in an 11-song escapade that soothes any mid-summer anxiety. Cascading down your frontal lobe, singer Victoria Legrand’s melodic caterwauling reaching epic proportions here, and after all this time she sounds more confident than ever. Maybe it was the right timing, maybe it was the right lyrics, maybe it was a combination of everything, but this would be what I’d want to have been introduced to me all those years ago as a gateway to this genre. It’s the finest example around this year.
What I Said Then (5/16): hopefully long time fans will be enamored with the ethereal nature of the whole….Definite must grab for all fans of dream pop, it’s the dreamiest pop of the year.
6) The Wombats – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
Another band I had trouble getting into, The Wombats had that hit “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” and then vanished for some time. I’m happy to say that this album had several tracks that were considerably high on possible entries for the bracket – and as you can see, one even made it all the way to the final four so far. Something clicked here as well, with every song having a bit of a different touch to it. You can dance to most, you can rock out as you drive. It’s pretty much the best example of this band as well, with it also showcasing the direction rock has been going. Far more nuanced than your Walk the Moon or Twenty-One Pilots, there’s a sensitivity to the instruments and a sinister irony to the lyrics. It’s almost as if this album were made for me, so let’s hope it’s not a fluke.
What I Said Then (2/15): Thick with relatable stories, rock-hard rhythms and some of the best song titles this year, I’m going to give this significant replay.
Honorable Mentions: Liza Anne – Fine But Dying; illuminati hotties – Kiss Yr Frenemies; Elle King – Shake the Spirit; Metric – Art of Doubt; Kate Nash – Yesterday Was Forever; St. Lucia – Hyperion; Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today; The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships; Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past; Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Next week we’ll tally the votes for the final match, plus showcase the top five albums of they year. This Thursday I’ll have the best in television for you!
Five of my all-time favorite bands (Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, Muse and Chvrches) released new albums this year. Did any of them make my top ten? The answer will surprise you, next: