The New Pornographers -- Twin Cinema -- A.C. (Carl) Newman is a pop genius. Sure, Neko Case has a great set of pipes, and Dan Bejar contributes a few decent songs, but this is Newman's album, and he continually amazes me with his ability to turn the most tired power pop conventions inside out. Yes, you'll hear echoes of The Kinks and The Who, but it still sounds remarkably fresh. If it weren't for the three slightly inferior Bejar songs, Twin Cinema would be right there with Sufjan Stevens' Illinois as my choice for Album of the Year.
Son Volt -- Okemah and the Melody of Riot -- Which, if I do say so, plays rings around the latest disappointment from Wilco. As far as I'm concerned, Jay Farrar has always been the winner in the great Uncle Tupelo schism, but his solo albums have been meandering, noodling affairs featuring a few good songs surrounded by filler. Not so this time. The songwriting is much more tightly focused, the newly revamped Son Volt plays some righteous rock 'n roll ("6 String Belief" is an absolute anthem), and Farrar's vocals sound passionate and soulful. A wonderful return to the form that produced Trace, and easily the second best album in the Son Volt catalogue.
The Clientele -- Strange Geometry -- Gently melodic English folk rock, as filtered through a decidedly '60s sensibility. I hear echoes of Van's Astral Weeks and Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left mixed with the more baroque tendencies of Anglophiles such as The Left Banke. It's all pretty and it's all feathery light until you start listening to the lyrics, which are uniformly thoughtful, if a bit downbeat. But it's literate loveliness, and that's always in short supply.
Jose Gonzalez -- Veneer -- And speaking of Nick Drake ... Gonzalez has certainly spent his time with the Drake catalogue, and this album comes closer to recapturing that beautiful, hushed, doomed sound than anything I've heard in a long time. Gonzalez is not as mopey as Elliott Smith, and his accomplished fingerpicking compares favorably to Drake's innovative guitar work. What's not to like?
The Wild Tchoupitoulas -- The Wild Tchoupitoulas -- Poor, poor New Orleans. They play party music at funerals down there, so I've been playing this 1975 funk masterpiece from The Wild Tchoupitoulas, a loose collective of New Orleans R&B greats made up of members of The Meters and The Neville Brothers. It doesn't get any tighter or funkier than this.