January is usually our month to cash in those gift certificates and iTunes gift cards on the albums from the previous year, culled from Best Of and Top Ten lists, that fell through the cracks. They tend to be hit-or-miss as we wander from the beaten path of trusty favorites and old standbys and take a few chances. More than a few critical faves usually disappoint. This year is no exception.
Andrew Bird, Soldier On. We bought this EP off iTunes to get us in the mood for Noble Beast. There are new versions of “Plasticities” and “Heretics,” as well as a cover of Dylan’s “Oh Sister,” but the real gems are “The Trees Were Mistaken” and “The Water Jet Celice,” which sounds like a Radiohead song with whistling. (Bird does a very convincing Thom Yorke impression.)
The Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight. Our friends Dave and Eric recommended this to us just days apart. Ben listened to the album twice through trying to figure out what it reminded him of. Erin nailed it immediately: “They sound like the Counting Crows.” Except FR is Scottish. And they’re rockier than the Counting Crows. But lead singer Scott Hutchinson has an uncanny ability to sound just like Adam Duritz. One reviewer says the band has a “Neutral Milk Hotel meets Counting Crows sound.” We’re still trying to figure this one out.
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals. Straight out of Pittsburgh! Gregg Gillis creates exceedingly profane mash-ups that, on first listen, will likely give you a migraine. But it has its charms. And anyone who can sample artists as wide-ranging as Kanye West, Michael Jackson, Radiohead, The Band, Ben Folds Five, Ace of Base, Fergie, Kenny Loggins, the Beastie Boys, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen and Cat Stevens — all in the same song — is either 1) a genius, or 2) clearly insane. We don’t know which. Erin practically destroys the elliptical machine when she works out to this.
Hot Chip, Made in the Dark. We pop this in during pre-parties before we go out clubbing, but after a few songs everyone in the room is sitting down, looking mildly distressed and vaguely constipated. Then we put in LCD Soundsystem and everything is right again.
Kings of Leon, Only By the Night. We’ve never been fans of Kings of Leon, and we’re not sure why we thought things would change with Only By the Night. Just not good. We’re selling this to the highest bidder. And we resolve not to be hornswoggled again.
Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust. Our favorite album from 2008 about any of the seven deadly sins. The obvious comparison here is The Jesus & Mary Chain, but there’s a hint of Yo La Tengo and a dash of Luna too. And what band today loves eyeliner quite as much as they do? (Amy Winehouse is a contender, but she gets her own category.) “Aly, Walk With Me” would be a great Guitar Hero song; Ben likes to air-bass to it in the car. (The video gets really trippy around 2:01, but depending on your tolerance for great squalls of guitar distortion, you may want to listen with the sound off.) Our favorite track is “You Want The Candy.” (Kids, they’re not talking about Snickers bars.)
We have not gotten around to purchasing Blitzen Trapper or the Avett Brothers (we dig “Die Die Die”), but both remain high on our list. We’re ambivalent about the second coming of The Polyphonic Spree, I’m From Barcelona, after Dan Vore gave I Killed Harry Houdini so-so reviews. Can anyone second these? Or steer us in another direction? Educate us (In the meantime, we’re counting down the days ’til Tuesday.)