These are the albums that have impressed me the most over the first three months of this year. Some of them may not yet be released. Sorry about that. I receive albums months in advance of their release dates, and it’s a thankless task to go back and check on these things. All I know is this is what I’ve heard, and this is what I like. If it’s not out now, it will be out soon. There is no implied order here other than alphabetical.
Marco Benevento – Invisible Baby
An impossible, goofy convergence of jazz, post-rock minimalism, classical wankery, and video arcade game sounds, this is the album to put on for all your friends who think that instrumental music is boring.
T Bone Burnett – Tooth of Crime
T Bone moves forward by going backward. 2006’s The True False Identity was underwhelming, the product of too much vitriol and not enough wit (AKA Steve Earle Syndrome). These older songs from the ‘90s, written to support the Sam Shepard play of the title, are dense, witty, and wonderfully offbeat.
Firewater – The Golden Hour
In which a Nick Cave/Tom Waits acolyte travels to Pakistan, hangs out with the locals, and makes Sufi cabaret punk rock music.
The Fleshtones – Take a Good Look
Garage rock in the noble tradition of ? and the Mysterians, The Standells, and The Animals. No guitar solos. Three chords. Twelve tracks. 30 minutes.
Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight
Winner of the prestigious Best Indie Rock Album of the First Quarter of 2008 award, the second effort from the Scots trio is soulful, full of U2-like anthems, and offers creative uses of the work “fuck” on more than half the songs. Who doesn’t love a good midnight organ fight?
Jacob Golden – Revenge Songs
The most conflicted and honest divorce album I’ve heard in years. Golden veers wildly between I wanna kill myself/I wanna kill my baby modes, and his sorrow and anger are tinged with the kind of regret that can only accompany a first-class asshole. “I’ve got no integrity to cling to/I don’t have myself a backup plan,” he sings in an angelic choirboy voice that masks the demons within.
Old 97’s – Blame It On Gravity
After 2004’s subdued Drag It Up, this new one is a fine return to form, and features everything we’ve come to love about the 97’s – Rhett Miller’s smartass, lovelorn songs, and Ken Bethea’s surf guitar king workouts.
Matthew Ryan – Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State
Matthew Ryan has two moods: sad and angry. Sometimes you get both in the same song. You get more of the same on this album, but with a sympathetic and sloppy band backing him up. And what you end up with is a Replacements album with a very literate singer/songwriter. Nothing against Paul Westerberg, but he never quoted the great World War I soldier/poet Wilfrid Owen.
Son Lux – At War With Walls and Mazes
Oh boy. A capsule summary just will not do. But anybody who combines classical minimalism, Radiohead, hip-hop, techno, opera, and plainsong chant on the same album is almost certainly going where no man has gone before. Recommended for non-Trekkie fans too.
Sun Kil Moon – April
Mark Kozelek can’t write a short song to save his life. As is customary, he divides his long songs between lovely acoustic ruminations and winding, Neil Young-like rockers. He’s excellent at both, and he may have surpassed ‘70s-era Jackson Browne as the King of Literate Mopery on this latest effort.