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2013 SOTO Staff Picks

December 18, 2013

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It wouldn’t be fun if only I just rambled along about what I liked this year, so I reached out to my very diverse staff for their Top 5 Albums of 2013.  I think you’ll see that the SOTO clan like a lot of different things.  Enjoy.

You know what can, sometimes, kind of blow? Getting old. Yup, watching the old life clock tick on by, the responsibilities of life pile around your ears, those precious moments when you could just wile away an hour or five listening to a handful of new records. Well kiddies, those days are dead. Nowadays I’m happy if I can listen to the new Lil’ Wayne single more than a few times when I’m driving to the gym to work my gut out with my trainer Francis. What I’m getting at here is that though I wish my list was full of a shocking selection of diverse and mind-expanding music, well, it’s not. I stand by each and all of these picks but I can’t say I did the extra work this year to blow any minds.

Forgive me, and enjoy.

5. The National – If I Stay Here, Trouble Will Find Me
4. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
3. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
2. Fuzz – S/T
1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

In keeping with my column, I fully intended to select nothing but chick-fronted albums in 2013. Laura Marling was one of my most-streamed, and my girl Neko’s latest was an insta-fave. But once I got back to looking at things, I realized my list was a little more eclectic than anticipated. Vampire Weekend never ceases to be the catchiest around, and Local Natives continue to lyrically break my heart with everything they put out. And there’s nothing like a little Washed Out to soundtrack a Sunday afternoon. Notable mention? Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds stopped by KCRW, resulting in a record store day release that I haven’t stopped listening (and crying) to since purchasing.

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Washed Out – Paracosm
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
Local Natives – Hummingbird

I see it this way … 2010 was the first date, 2011 was the good times, 2012 was the breakup, and 2013 was when music took some “me” time. That does not mean this year did not generate some great or even classic records, it does mean that there was some experimentation that may or may not have worked out so well; see Drumgasm. That being said, there was still plenty of illuminations happening all over the musical cosmos in 2013. Labels like Chapter Music and Paradise of Bachelors killed it this year, as did Bedroom Suck and Fire Records. Though some more successful than others, 2013 saw artists and bands the world over restate time honored sounds and genres.

5. Fat History Month – Bad History Month (Exploding In Sound)
4. The Stevens – A History Of Hygiene (Chapter Music)
3. Purling Hiss – Water On Mars (Drag City)
2. Dick Diver – Calendar Days (Chapter Music)
1. Steve Gunn – Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors)

When I received my assignment to pick my Top 5 albums for the year, I thought that It would be a piece of cake: “5 albums? No problem.” But then I started to recall the various new releases from this year and felt twinges of panic and regret: “Who do I choose ? Who do I leave off the list ?”. I don’t have a complicated system for deciding on favorites; it usually comes down to what I listened to the most.  The focus for my 2013 Top 5 are all Austin-based artists, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy records from bands from other places. This year was also a fantastic year for some outstanding releases from some of my favorite local bands. They all share a common love for melodies, harmonies, and top notch songwriting.

Royal Forest – Spillway
Black Books – Black Books
Wiretree – Get Up
The Zoltars – Walking Through The Dark
Yum – Take My Blue / Santiago Dietche – Waxing And Roaring (tie)

This year there have been some amazing metal releases, I am not even giving lip service about my genre, it has been incredible the caliber of albums coming out, and to narrow it down to five, I had to switch a few things around from other lists I have made. Excluding Dillinger Escape Plan, Cult of Luna, Arsis, Black Dahlia Murder and All Pigs Must Die is heart wrenching, but these five bands have created some of the best music metal has heard in two decades. From noisy extremes like Nails, to groove laden jams on the new Clutch album, and the rebirth of the dormant Carcass to win the top spot on every list I have done.  So let it be written, so let it be done, the best metal albums of the year are:

5. Nails – Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)
4. Kvelertak – Meir (Roadrunner)
3. Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weathermaker)
2. Protest The Hero – Volition (Razor And Tie)
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)

Hey, everybody! It may surprise you that here in my natural habitat of the music blog, I am supremely uncomfortable making lists.  Yes, I listen to a lot of music, and yes, there is stuff I like more than other stuff, but really when it comes down to taking my favorite albums from an entire year and ranking them on such a fine gradient, I just get miserable and ambivalent.  There was a lot of great hip hop produced this year and these are all great albums, and these are only in an order because John Laird forced me to do it.

5. Shad – Flying Colours
4. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
3. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
1. Danny Brown – Old

2013 was a big year for pop music. Miley’s tongue was inescapable, British teens ran rampant, and through it all I reveled in the weirdness. The latter half of this year found me really embracing my not-so-guilty pleasure of pure female fronted pop, so I thought I should theme my Top 5 to mainstream pop with female vocalists. Specific enough for ya? But after all, there’s so much of it, sometimes you need a spirit guide. Like Katy Perry–those of you who wrote her off for bubblegum pop need to check out Prism, where her dark side shines and emotions run rampant. And Ariana Grande–the next in line for a breakout from the Disney dynasty actually has the pipes to back it up, and I can’t stop spinning her tracks. Meanwhile, singles shine for Lady Gaga’s Artpop, where any track could be a hit–and Do What U Want is climbing charts for a reason. None of the Lana Del Rey songs on 2013′s Tropico are new–all taken from last year’s Paradise–but these three songs might be her best so far and provide an excellent primer for burgeoning Lana fans. Number one couldn’t go to anyone but Lorde–sure, brush her off as a one hit wonder, but I’d take Tennis and Ribs over Royals any day–it’s an incredible album.

5. Katy Perry – Prism
4. Lady Gaga – Artpop
3. Ariana Grande – Yours Truly
2. Lana Del Rey – Tropico
1. Lorde – Heroine

So 2013 was pretty good year for music, yes? My thirst for catchy punk rock and fuzzy garage rock was quenched throughout the year. There were a bunch of albums I loved that did not make the very top of my list. I’m looking at you Ty Segall, Bad Sports, Mind Spiders, A Giant Dog, and Thee Oh Sees. I love you all but there can only be five:

5. Radioactivity – Radioactivity
4. Vaadat Charigim – The World Is Well Lost
3. Sweet Talk – Pickup Lines
2. Mikal Cronin – MCII
1. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

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Top 25 Albums Of 2013: Part 3

December 13, 2013

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This is it! I’m done listing things for you people. If you’re curious about what the staff loved, look for an all-inclusive post next week!  Enjoy.

05) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

If I were to jot down a list of my biggest surprises of 2013, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires Of The City would be at the top.  I’ll forever feel sort of silly for assuming they could never be this good.

:Vampire Weekend – Step:

04) Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

Chvrches were pretty much all the rage this year, and it’s easy to see why when listening to The Bones Of What You Believe.  There’s just not a bad song anywhere on it.

:Chvrches – Recover:

03) Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen

I’ve listened to Waiting For Something To Happen at least once a week since it was released back in February.  I love the songwriting.  Also, I think there’s only a handful of indie pop acts that can claim to be as infectious as Veronica Falls.

:Veronica Falls – Buried Alive:

02) Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

Speedy Ortiz’s Major Arcana is a sloppy slice of 90s alt-rock, and I absolutely love it to no end.  I only wish I had managed to give the band more love on SOTO throughout the year.

:Speedy Ortiz – Tiger Tank:

01) Mikal Cronin – MCII

Mikal Cronin dominated my 2013 with MCII.  From front to back the album is nothing but one stellar pop rock song after another, and it pretty much made me a forever fan of Mikal’s.  Here’s hoping a follow-up isn’t too far away.

:Mikal Cronin – Shout It Out:

5 Honorable Mentions:
Bleached – Ride Your Heart
Quasi – Mole City
Mirror Travel – Mexico
Russian Circles – Memorial
Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2

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Top 25 Albums Of 2013: Part 2

December 12, 2013

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Here’s another 10 of my favorite albums of 2013.  Jump back tomorrow for the top five on my list!  Enjoy.

15) Polica – Shulamith

If you’re pessimistic and happen to remember how high my expectations were for Polica’s Shulamith, then you might look at this “middle of the pack” placement and call the album a disappointment.  Believe me though, that would be silly.  Lots of great tracks to be had on this one.

:Polica – Chain My Name:

14) The Mantles – Long Enough To Leave

If I had things my way, everyone would start including the Mantles in the first wave of bands that roll out of their mouth whenever the Bay Area comes up in conversation.  Long Enough To Leave is loaded with very catchy retro pop tunes.

:The Mantles – Hello:

13) The Octopus Project – Fever Forms

The Octopus Project have long been a solid act, but I think Fever Forms is proof that they’re actually a great one.  I’m excited to see where they go from here.

:The Octopus Project – Whitby:

12) Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

Only one album in 2013 actually made me want to throw up rock horns in a non-ironic way, and it was Diarrhea Planet’s I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.  Listen loud.

:Diarrhea Planet – Separations:

11) Haim – Days Are Gone

The girls in Haim have been making music for most of their lives, so of course Days Are Gone is packed with some of 2013′s better crafted pop songs.  On another note, this album is a sing-a-long lovers dream.

:Haim – The Wire:

10) A Giant Dog – Bone

Pop punk is fun stuff, but I usually wear the albums out and then promptly shuffle on to something else.  This didn’t happen with A Giant Dog’s Bone though, the songs are too good to just let go of.

:A Giant Dog – All I Wanted:

09) Kanye West – Yeezus

Kanye West’s Yeezus is such an intense album that I can’t listen to it on a regular basis.  With that being said, I think it’s a stellar piece of work from one of the biggest, most interesting pop stars on the planet.

:Kanye West – New Slaves:

08) Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin

Thee Oh Sees release so much music that I always move on to whatever new thing they’re doing instead of allowing the “old” effort to settle.  Floating Coffin managed to hook me though, and I plan on jamming the gloriously kinetic album for years to come.

:Thee Oh Sees – Maze Francier:

07) FIDLAR – Self Titled

FIDLAR seem like an act that could fizzle out at any moment, so I’ve been loving them while I can.  Their self titled debut is as catchy and loud as I hoped it would be when the band first popped up on my radar last year.

:FIDLAR – Cheap Beer:

06) Sigur Ros – Kveikur

I didn’t think Sigur Ros had a bombastic post rock album in them at this point, but Kveikur is just that.  If their last few efforts were too far out in left field for you, then this one should win you back.

:Sigur Ros – Kveikur:

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Top 25 Albums Of 2013: Part 1

December 11, 2013

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Because I want to makes sure you know I listen to too much music, here’s another year-end list.  This time it covers the albums I couldn’t take off repeat when I wasn’t pouring over various singles.  The countdown will come to a conclusion on Friday!  Enjoy.

25) Chelsea Light Moving – Self Titled

Thurston Moore’s new band put out their self titled debut in the first part of 2013, and I’ve been listening to it fairly often ever since.  It’s a meaty, noisy indie rock effort that gets better the more time you spend with it.

:Chelsea Light Moving – Burroughs:

24) Thao And The Get Down Stay Down – We The Common

We The Common didn’t resonate with me as much as Thao’s previous two albums, but I still find it to be a really good effort.  She continues to be one of my favorite songwriters.

:Thao And The Get Down Stay Down – We The Common:

23) Marnie Stern – The Chronicles Of Marnia

Despite being a long-time fan of Marnie Stern, The Chronicles Of Marnia is the first album of hers that I’ve fully liked.  Probably because it’s easily her most focused effort to date.

Check out the album here.

22) The Men – New Moon

I know everyone prefers the Men’s heavier efforts, but I adore the almost folkish indie rock sound that makes up New Moon.  Don’t be afraid to toss on headphones for this one.

:The Men – The Seeds:

21) Grape St. – A Date With You

A good chunk of my 2013 was spent singing-a-long with Grape St’s A Date With You.  The Austin act sure knows how to put together a catchy garage rock tune.

:Grape St – A Date With You:

20) Terry Malts – Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere

Terry Malts’ Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere took a few listens for me to completely warm up to it, but once I did I never wanted to let go.  If you like fuzzed-out pop punk, then you need this album.

:Terry Malts – I Was Not There:

19) White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade

Even if you’re not a big fan of White Denim, you have to appreciate how hard they work to constantly expand their sound.  Corsicana Lemonade is really nice step forward for them.

:White Denim – At Night In Dreams:

18) Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister

Weird Sister is one of the more scatterbrained, largely crazy indie pop efforts of 2013, but it works.  Here’s hoping Joanna Gruesome never change.

:Joanna Gruesome – Sugarcrush:

17) Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic

Foxygen’s poor/bizarre live showings seem to have soured most people’s opinion of the band, and that’s just too bad.  We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic is a really good album that proudly showcases the band’s various influences.

:Foxygen – On Blue Mountain:

16) Bosnian Rainbows – Self Titled

Omar Rodriquez-Lopez (The Mars Volta) and Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes) are at the center of Bosnian Rainbows, and their self titled debut is full of well crafted alt-rock gems.  Still not sure how I feel about their name, though.

:Bosnian Rainbows – Morning Sickness:

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Top 25 Albums Of 2012: Part 5

December 7, 2012

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And then it was the end.  You guys now have my Top 50 Songs of 2012 and my Top 25 Albums of 2012.  Hooray for sharing!  Anyhow, I’m off to take a break.  The rest of the SOTO staff will be posting their 2012 favorites next week, so if you’re not listed out, come on back by.

For good measure in regards to my album list, I easily could have spewed out 50 releases, but I realized that half of those would have been albums that I only listen to when I’m in a particular mood.  In other words, they’re not immediately accessible, and that to me knocks them down a notch.  So, if you’re looking for 25 releases that you can immediately dive into and love, this is the place to be.  Enjoy.

05) The Sword – Apocryphon

I thought the Sword’s last release, Warp Riders, was pretty fantastic, but Apocryphon is worlds better.  The album isn’t even what I’d consider metal, it’s just high quality rock n’ roll, and we all need that in our lives.

:The Sword – Eyes Of The Stormwitch:

04) Terry Malts – Killing Time

Slumberland put out a lot of nice albums this year, but the one that I felt stood above the rest was Terry Malts’ Killing Time.  It’s awesomely overloaded with fuzzed-out, two minute-ish punk jams that make you want to get up and go.

:Terry Malts – I Do:

03) Purity Ring – Shrines

I had very high expectations for Shrines, and Purity Ring actually managed to meet them.  Even after what seems to be a million listens, this album still sounds fresh and futuristic to me.   Wear headphones, friends.

:Purity Ring – Belispeak:

02) Japandroids – Celebration Rock

If you can listen to Celebration Rock and not immediately want to set out on a drunken, caution-free adventure with whoever happens to be around you at that moment, then you’re dead.  No one inspires like this duo does.

:Japandroids – The Night Of Wine And Roses:

01) Lace Curtains – The Garden Of Joy And The Well Of Loneliness

Well, this is it.  We have arrived at my favorite album of 2012, and it comes via a side project of Michael Coomer (from Austin’s Harlem).  The Garden Of Joy And The Well Of Loneliness is full of fantastic songwriting, and I’ve spent a lot of time just lost in each of its 10 tracks.  If only all pop music was this memorable.

:Lace Curtains – High Fantasy:

PS – I had a few other albums floating around in my head, so I made some mini-lists for fun.

5 Albums That Would Have Made The List Had I Done A Top 30
Dan Deacon – America
Reptar – Body Faucet
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
Frankie Rose – Interstellar

5 Great Albums That Require Patience
Mono – For My Parents
Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
Beach House – Bloom
Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
The Walkmen – Heaven

5 Great Austin Releases That Didn’t Make The Top 25
Dana Falconberry – Leelanau
The Calm Blue Sea – Arrivals And Depatures
Heartless Bastards – Arrow
Shearwater – Animal Joy
Letting Up Despite Great Faults – Untogether

Top 5 EPs
Icona Pop – Iconic
MS MR – Candy Bar Creep Show
Dum Dum Girls – End Of Daze
Rubblebucket – Oversaturated
FIDLAR – Don’t Try

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Top 25 Albums Of 2012: Part 4

December 6, 2012

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Well, here’s the fourth part of Top 25 Albums of 2012.  We’re so close to the top!  By this time tomorrow you’ll know all the songs and albums that I loved in 2012.  Whew!  I’m ready for a break.

As I’ve said, I easily could have listed 50 releases, but I realized that half of those would have been albums that I only listen to when I’m in a particular mood.  In other words, they’re not immediately accessible, and that to me knocks them down a notch.  So, if you’re looking for 25 releases that you can immediately dive into and love, this is the place to be.  Enjoy.

10) Tame Impala – Lonerism

Of the 25 albums that made my year-end list, it was Lonerism that took me the longest to love.  For the first slew of play-throughs I just couldn’t stop comparing it to the stellar Innerspeaker (2010), but now I’ve come to see (and greatly appreciate) that it’s just a more challenging listen.

:Tame Impala – Apocalypse Dreams:

09) Cat Power – Sun

I really want to high five Cat Power for Sun.  It feels like a well crafted combination of the various sounds she’s had over the last 17 years, and I greatly dig it.  It’ll be interesting to see if she holds onto this approach or just moves on to something entirely different.

:Cat Power – Ruin:

08) POS – We Don’t Even Live Here

We Don’t Even Live Here is a nifty album.  There are more than enough politically-charged messages that can be found throughout its 11 tracks, but the LP is also a big, fun listen.  Thank whoever that POS is smart enough to know that trying to say something important doesn’t need to be an obnoxious endeavor.

:POS – Bumper:

07) Lee Fields And The Expressions – Faithful Man

Every year there’s a soul-oriented effort that I want to champion forever, and this time around it came from Lee Fields And The Expressions.  These guys are a wild bunch, and I loved frequently revisiting Faithful Man in 2012.

:Lee Fields And The Expressions – I Still Got It:

06) Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel

I don’t know how she does it, but Fiona Apple is able to live up to super high expectations every single time she puts out an album.  Maybe such a winning streak and the amount of pressure that comes with it is why she always seems to be on the fritz.  Feel free to take a break now, Fiona.

:Fiona Apple – Werewolf:

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Top 25 Albums Of 2012: Part 3

December 5, 2012

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Because at least two of you asked for it, here’s the third part of my Top 25 Albums of 2012.  As I’ve said, I easily could have listed 50 releases, but I realized that half of those would have been albums that I only listen to when I’m in a particular mood.  In other words, they’re not immediately accessible, and that to me knocks them down a notch.  So, if you’re looking for 25 releases that you can immediately dive into and love, this is the place to be.  Enjoy.

15) Tennis – Young & Old

I didn’t expect to like this album as much as I did.  There are so many great songs on it, and I think that (for me, anyway) it establishes Tennis as one of the best pop acts currently working.

:Tennis – Petition:

14) The White Wires – WWIII

Even if I had wanted to, there was no escaping the garage rock glory of WWIII.  It’s loaded with so many hooks that the White Wires could cut a bunch out, and they’d still be providing an album that’s catchier than any of us deserve.

:The White Wires – Let’s Start Over Again:

13) Twin Shadow – Confess

To be honest, I figured I’d listen to Confess and just repeatedly skip to Five Seconds while ignoring the rest of the songs on the album.  But that didn’t happen.  In fact, the “skip” button never even came into play.

:Twin Shadow – Golden Light:

12) The Eastern Sea – Plague

Austin’s the Eastern Sea have been slowly assembling all the right pieces for years, and Plague is them (finally) putting everything together.  I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

:The Eastern Sea – A Lie:

11) Jack White – Blunderbuss

While Blunderbuss may sound exactly how you’d expect a Jack White solo album to sound, it’s still a pretty great effort.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get a follow-up sooner rather than later.

:Jack White – Missing Pieces:

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Top 25 Albums Of 2012: Part 2

December 4, 2012

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And just like that, we’ve arrived at the second part of my Top 25 Albums of 2012.  As I’ve said, I easily could have listed 50 releases, but I realized that half of those would have been albums that I only listen to when I’m in a particular mood.  In other words, they’re not immediately accessible, and that to me knocks them down a notch.  So, if you’re looking for 25 releases that you can immediately dive into and love, this is the place to be.  Enjoy.

20) Why? – Mumps, etc

There are few things better than listening to Yoni Wolf as he unloads a lyrical collage of images right onto your brain.  Oh, you don’t want to pay attention?  That’s OK.  There’s also plenty to sing-a-long with.

:Why? – White English:

19) Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II

Whenever I hear anything off this album, I immediately want to be in a sweaty club somewhere watching Thee Oh Sees play.  Putrifiers II is a fantastically fuzzed-out blast.

:Thee Oh Sees – Flood’s New Light:

18) Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky

I love that Dinosaur Jr. are still cranking out quality albums.  Those guys definitely have the right to just sit on a couch somewhere, and yet they’re out and about rocking harder than most of us ever will.

:Dinosaur Jr. – Pierce The Morning Rain:

17) Yellow Ostrich – Strange Land

Strange Land didn’t hit me like last year’s The Mistress did, but it does feature a nice step forward sound-wise for the band, and there are some really fantastic tracks on it.

:Yellow Ostrich – The Shakedown:

16) The Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

I’m not sure the Dirty Projectors will ever really be easily accessible, but I do think that Swing Lo Magellan is them actually giving it a shot.  The album is loud, oddly hooky, and just so very interesting to listen to.

:The Dirty Projectors – Offspring Are Blank:

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Top 25 Albums Of 2012: Part 1

December 3, 2012

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Now that I’ve run down my 50 favorite songs of the year, it’s time to move onto my Top 25 Albums of 2012.  I easily could have listed 50 here, too, but I realized that half of those would have been albums that I only listen to when I’m in a particular mood.  In other words, they’re not immediately accessible, and that to me knocks them down a notch.  So, if you’re looking for 25 releases that you can immediately dive into and love, this is the place to be.  Enjoy.

25) Tim Fite – Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t

Tim Fite is a man with a million neat things floating around in his head, and I love listening to him try to bring some of those ideas into the real world.  You’ll dig Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t if you like your albums to be full of songs that each have their own sound.

:Tim Fite – Joyriding:

24) Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

I really thought this much-hyped album was going to have a couple of great singles, and then a lot of filler.  Nope.  It’s an effortlessly inspired modern soul/southern rock effort that’s a great listen from start to finish.  Alabama Shakes are the real deal.

:Alabama Shakes – I Found You:

23) Pujol – United States Of Being

I don’t know how many times this year that I sang along with this effort from Pujol.  It’s a raucous album that’s also surprisingly smart, so while you’ve got the volume cranked, be sure to pay some attention to the lyrics.

:Pujol – Providence:

22) Santigold – Master Of My Make Believe

What a fun album this turned out to be.  I’ll admit that the eternity it took Santigold to put together a sophomore effort had me doubting that it would be a good release, but she pulled it off.  Kudos to her.

:Santigold – Disparate Youth:

21) Chairlift – Something

Just when you think a band is about to only be remembered for an iPod commercial, they come out with an album that features a sizeable jump in quality.  Something has made Chairlift into an act that I will now always pay attention to.

:Chairlift – Sidewalk Safari:

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