Maybe your family opens one gift early. Maybe you take a pre-Christmas drive to check out the houses with the best lights. Me? I've only got ONE tradition: every year, on Christmas Eve, I spend the day going through the past year's CD's to come up with my definitive list of the Top 10 Albums of the Year. (It's a music nerd thing, indulge me.)
#10 - GOMEZ - "How We Operate" - I've mentioned before how much I hate hippie rock. Gomez is the exception. This UK band has been releasing album after album of laid-back groove rock for almost a decade now, and "How We Operate" is the stand-out of the bunch. Working with an outside producer for the first time, the result is a new-found cohesiveness among the batch of tunes, and a jam record with melody, fun, and earthy spirituality.
Gomez - See the World (click below for video)
#9 - CAMERA OBSCURA - "Let's Get Out of This Country" - The Glasgow-based Camera Obscura are one of those bands who've shown potential for greatness in the past, but it's finally realized with this, their third record. Pop music so gentle you fear a breeze could blow it away, this album excels from their others in tunesmanship alone.
Camera Obscura - "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken" (click below for video)
#8 - THE 1900's - "Plume Delivery EP" - Speaking of bands with potential, the Chicago-based 1900's have only offered one debut EP and are already at the forefront of many a critic's minds. It might only be 6 tracks long, but this one EP packs more of a whallop than most band's entire discographies. Hazy psychedelic folk-rock that isn't just a carbon-copy of the 60's, the 1900's bring beautiful harmonies together with loosely orchestrated strings and organs.
#7 - THE RAPTURE - "Pieces of the People We Love" - The only band that might actually take the "MORE COWBELL!" mantra seriously, The Rapture have spent their career putting their NYC-fueled punk funk signature on top of, yes, cowbell-laden dance grooves. The new record is more of the same, and hey, why wreck a good thing? Luke Jenner's shrill vocals might be a deal-breaker for the more timid, but you just can't help but shake a booty or two to this one.
The Rapture - Whoo Alright Yeah Uh Huh (click below for video)
#6 - CHRASH - "Audio Feng Shui" - Anyone reading this who's older than 25 hopefully remembers Tripmaster Monkey, one of the few QC bands to ever earn national exposure, and deservedly so. A decade later, former Tripmaster frontman Chris Bernat has again delivered a record worthy of the same acclaim. Finally transforming his ever-changing solo project into a proper band, the results are evident in the new-found strength of quirky songwriting and production. Released on the QC's own Futureappletree label.
#5 - SPANK ROCK - "YoYoYoYoYo" - The best thing to happen to hip-hop in years, Baltimore's Spank Rock takes underground rap and makes it fun again. Packed with low-budget, speaker-bending bass thumps and the kind of lyrics you simply can't go near in a family newspaper (suffice to say our boy Spank likes the ladies, a lot -- graphically,) this record truly represents the spirit, drive, & energy that made hip-hop so captivating in the first place. Play LOUD.
Spank Rock - Rick Rubin (click below for video)
#4 - BELLE & SEBASTIAN - "The Life Pursuit" - Belle and Sebastian are quite possibly the wussiest band in the world. It's hard to find a B&S review that doesn't use words like "twee," "fey," or "precious" when trying to describe the Scottish group's polite brand of art school pop music. The rules are simple: you either love Belle & Sebastian or you make fun of them. That said, "The Life Pursuit" finds the group expanding their repertoire into mildly glam rock territory, and ends up being their most exciting effort in years.
Belle & Sebastian - White Collar Boy (click for video)
#3 - THE GUILLEMOTS - "Through the Windowpane" - It seems like every year, a band comes along that surprises the heck out of me. The Guillemots feature an English singer, a Brazilian guitarist, a Scottish drummer, and a Canadian bassist. Their music is equally multi-tiered and confusing, yet somehow coalesces into a true pop masterpiece. Unorthodox instrumentation, stellar vocals, and magnificent tunes all add up to the most impressive debut record of the year.
Guillemots - Trains to Brazil (click below for video)
#2 - OF MONTREAL - "Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer" - Okay, I'm cheating here. This one doesn't come out until January, but their label was kind enough to furnish a copy back in September, and it's barely left my CD player since. Perfectly balancing unabashedly fun, over-the-top glam showmanship with lyrics that paint a haunted picture of 30-something married life, it's a dance album with smarts -- disco you could write a dissertation on. Shy of putting a gun to your head and forcing you to a record store, I don't know what else I can do to get you to support this gift of a band.
Of Montreal - Wraith Pinned to the Mist (an old song, but hey, this record's too new to have a video yet!)
#1 - THE BROTHER KITE - "Waiting for the Time To Be Right" - It's as if someone entered my brain, carbon-copied my musical tastes, and figured out a way to assimilate them all onto one record. This virtually unknown band from Rhode Island have basically made Shane: The Album. Fuzzed-out jangly guitars conspire with Beach-Boys-esque blissed-out vocal harmonies, plus the kind of truly epic hooks that make neck hairs stand on end. In short, it's everything I've ever wanted out of music. But don't take MY word for it, go to www.myspace.com/thebrotherkite and listen for yourself.
The Brother Kite - "You're Not The Only One" (the poppiest tune on the record - click for video)