(N.B. I have changed my mind
twice three times since last week.)
5. Go-Go Boots by Drive by Truckers – Virtually every DBT album is a collection of short stories the interconnectedness of which is inversely proportional to the cohesion of the band at the time of recording. When they were a fractured infighting shit-show, DBT dropped some very tightly thematic albums, The Dirty South, Decoration Day. When they returned to sweaty groups hugs and whiskey pulls, the albums (Brighter Than Creation’s Dark and A Blessing and a Curse) became looser conceptually converting more to musical anthologies rather than coherent short story compendiums. Their two best albums, Decoration Day and BTCD show that contrast. Decoration Day screams it’s themes of strained families and southern gothic justice. BTCD teases the edges, with songs that seem connected only to quickly shift to another mini-point. If there’s something they were getting at on BTCD, you had to dig to find it. Having said that, I’m not sure which end of the spectrum Go-Go Boots falls. First of all, from what I’ve read, they’re getting along swell since the departure of uber talented but discontented, Jason Isbell. So history would imply a less conceptual offering. However, I feel like they are trying to tell me there’s a theme, but at the same time they hide it (behind a silly album title for one) by inserting several “off-topic” (but still fucking great, BTW) songs like Cartoon Gold (which they should have chosen for the album title) and The Thanksgiving Filter. But any such theme is
bookended restrained by the title track and the equally meticulously narrated The Fireplace Poker. Both some dark-ass wife murdering shit. But in the middle are songs so hopeful (e.g. Everybody Needs Love, I Do Believe and Pulaski) it makes you think maybe they’re lightening up a bit. Doubtful. Or at least I hope not.
Highlights: Everybody Needs Love, I Used to be a Cop, The Weakest Man
4. Watch the Throne by Kanye West & Jay-Z – I’m still in wow status with this album. The two best producers and rappers in the world get together with all of their toys and all the sidekicks and samples they need to produce an unnatural technical marvel the world has never seen. Described this way, WTT eerily resembles the Manhattan Project and may approach its results in brute force. An opulent hip-hop neutron bomb…..yeah.
Highlights: Otis, No Church in the Wild, Ni**as in Paris
3. In the Mountain In the Cloud by Portugal. The Man – Edging out Watch the Throne as the most fun I had listening to music this year. And soon to edge out Drive-by Truckers as the music I most demand people listen to with the smallest % of people taking me up on it. People, I’m fucking serious, this is really good. Every part of this album works. The lyrics, the instrumentation, the vocals. Ten tight tracks that channel the very best things I love about the Flaming Lips (with unrepentant musical fun being most of those things) and Bowie (with a keen ear for atmospherics shredded with guitar, textbook Bowie), followed by the sublimely languid closer, a lullabye for the most unexpectedly gorgeous 44 minutes you’ll spend listening to music this year. Guaranteed.
Highlights: Sleep Forever, Got It All, All Your Light
2. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes – If there was such a thing as Album of the Year by default, HB would have taken it. And I was right there having spent most of the year after this album dropped constructing reasons that it wasn’t great and shouldn’t be AotY. I even saw them in concert hoping for cracks in the ship. None. It staked a big claim. Counter-claimants to it launched valiant assaults (always with the war metaphors) against its virtuosity. It took on (almost) all comers and stands up with everything released this year. It’s not a perfect album like the The Suburbs was last year (and the way some will say Bon Iver is this year) and at times I got caught up in its lack of perfection. But it is everything great about their first album, further explored and amplified and then refined. In the end, I realized I enjoyed listening to no. 1 more. But that should be no slight to this warm and wonderous album.
Highlights: Title track, Grown Ocean, Lorelai
1. Circuital by My Morning Jacket – That eye stares at you doesn’t it? Reportedly it’s a Magic eye tube fitted onto vintage radio receivers from the 1930s. But that’s not really what it is. It’s Jim James, the narrator, eyeing you, daring you not to love this album, or his lonely impassioned gaze hoping you understand the emotion he’s dumped into these ten tracks. In my opinion Circuital surpasses MMJ’s seminal 2005 album Z. Reaching all of the same heights, but with none of the weird turns SMCs lauded as revolutionary, but in reality were just goofy noises.
Early on in Circuital, something magical is evident, beginning with the slow burn opener, Victory Dance then transitioning seamlessly into the epic title track. These two tracks are a combined 13:00 and if released on their own would make the single greatest two-song album in the history of rock-n-roll. 13 minutes down the road and your table is set for what follows: melodic mind bending rock created with your car stereo in mind interspersed with painfully honest ballads (Movin’ Away, Slow Slow Tune) only Jim James, the best a rock singer in the world without a good voice, could attempt without a trace of irony. The whole album relents song by song like the cymbal crash of the first two tracks coming to a stillness. Then it drifts off and all you want is more.
Every year this list should have the one great rock album on it. I knew fairly early, that unless The Clash or Pixies came out of no where Circuital would be this year’s great rock album. It still hasn’t disappointed.
Highlights: Put it in and listen.
Top 15 Songs Next Week. Enjoy