Here’s my top 10 list of non-LA artists for the year. I skipped over most of the tastemaker favorites. If I get some time I’ll do a top 10 list of hipster-cred artists that don’t move me. Only two of these artists are new, but two others are new to me. As you can see, I’m really biased towards male, indie guitar music.
1) Kelley Stoltz Below the Branches (Sub Pop) – Some critics knock San Francisco’s Kelley Stoltz for not being original. Obviously Stoltz has listened to a lot of mid-period Kinks and late period Beatles (and Wings and solo Lennon) but his music isn’t limited to those influences. There are really personal moments in these songs. This record will sneak up on you. I haven’t stopped listening to this since it came out last February. He did about 16 dates with the Raconteurs but it didn’t seem to help his name recognition factor. Even though he sounds great live, he’s not what I’d call a crowd pleaser. Download "Memory Collector" and “The Sun Comes Through”
2) Aloha Some Echoes (Polyvinyl) – They’ve still got the vibraphone, but the music’s not all cluttered and claustrophobic like their earlier stuff. The lyrics convey emotion and largely avoid cliché, which isn't an easy thing to accomplish. If you like slightly maudlin and very personal songs, give this one a spin with your headphones on. Download "Your Eyes"
3) Belle & Sebastian The Life Pursuit (Matador) – A lot of their fans keep waiting for them to make another If You’re Feeling Sinister or Tigermilk. (I’ve been guilty at times). So even though they’re one of my favorite bands, I was kind of indifferent to the record until I saw their tour in support of it. The Wiltern show was good, but the Hollywood Bowl show was completely captivating. The upbeat nature of many of these songs translates extremely well in the live setting. Download "Another Sunny Day"
4) Voxtrot Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives EP and Your Biggest Fan EP (Cult Hero) – He’s just straight up a damn fine songwriter. I’ve been really skeptical of this dude since he hasn’t put out a full length record. I kept thinking to myself, “Does he only have a few songs in him?” But he put out two more EPs this year and there’s not a bad song on either one. If you like the Smiths, Belle & Sebastian and C86 stuff and you haven’t listened, stop what you’re doing and download these songs. When I finally saw them live, I was impressed that they’ve already got one of those powerful connections with their audience (we’re talking Morrissey, Elliott Smith, Stuart Murdoch-style bonds). Download "Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives" and “Trouble”
5) Sparklehorse: Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (Astralwerks) – Sparklehorse is one of those totally overlooked bands that deserves a much bigger audience. It seems like their only fans are other musicians. The new record has a few tracks with Dangermouse, a few tracks with Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, a few tracks with Dave Fridmann and a track with Tom Waits. It’s haunting but pretty music. Mark Linkous is one of those tragic guys you wish was less tormented so he could put out more amazing music.
6) Grandaddy Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2) – Unfortunately Grandaddy is no more, but at least they left us with this. The record has everything you expect from Grandaddy: Jason Lytle’s delicate voice, fuzzy guitars, crappy keyboards and lyrics that any aging kid from the suburbs should love.
7) Band of Horses Everything All the Time (Sub Pop) – Almost everybody compares them to the Shins and My Morning Jacket (me included). I think my new year’s resolution should be to not compare any more bands to the Shins. Every time I put it on I think I’m not going to like it anymore, but I’m always pleasantly surprised and get caught up in it all over again. Put “The Funeral” in 2007’s updated version of Singles and they’ll sell 600,000 records. Download "The Funeral" and “The Great Salt Lake”
8) The Pernice Brothers: Live a Little (Ashmont) – Last year’s record was on my top 10 list and this year’s record crept on. I wish all my favorite bands put out records every year. I love Joe Pernice’s songwriting. I’d love to hear what kind of chamber pop album he could make with a giant, Sean Lennon sized recording budget.
9) The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (Capitol) – I’ve always considered myself a Decemberists fan, but I usually only like three or four tracks on each record. Their major label debut is much more consistent. Colin Meloy has a voice that will probably limit him from giant record sales, but this record’s at the top of a lot of top 10 lists. The songs are loosely based on a Japanese folk tale. This album is the 16th best reviewed album of the year on Metacritic.
10) Built to Spill You In Reverse (Warner Bros.) – We had to wait five years for this. Pretty much vintage Built to Spill. Not their best effort, but not a disappointment either.
Honorable Mention: Ghostface Killah Fishscale, Serena Maneesh Serena Maneesh, TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain, Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas, The Sword Age of Winters, Awesome Color Awesome Color, My Morning Jacket Okonokos, all the LA bands in my top 10 list of LA bands