This year found many artists still picking at dance-punk's already rotting corpse, forming 10th-generation bands that sounded like watered-down Gang of Four. Others, like the Liars and Chromatics, took such influences and smartly made ass-shaking adjustments to the blueprint. Elsewhere, teen queens Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and Ashlee Simpson cranked out pop-rock that kept the tweens buying, and the dominance of hip-hop and R&B remained unabated. I spent most of my year driving in a van, listening to an awkward combination of all these styles.
Wrangler Brutes Zulu Wrangler Brutes bring back a sense of fear and confrontation that's been missing from punk since those kids and the baby-eating dogs moved out of that house in Suburbia. Singer Sam McPheeters snarls, screams, and stutters like an aggro Porky Pig overtop a brand of circus-styled hardcore that finally adds something to a now 20-year-old formula.
The Walkmen Bows + Arrows Hamilton Leithauser's croon will never be as cool and composed as that of his contemporaries. Often spiking off into a shattered wail, as in lead-off single "The Rat", the singer, along with the rest of the Walkmen, stumbles through songs with an engaging awkwardness that's refreshingly real.
Jobriath Lonely Planet Boy Compiled by Morrissey, Lonely Planet Boy turns the spotlight on the late Jobriath, highlighting the brilliant and tragic career of a man that most never knew existed. Jobriath was more effeminate than Ziggy Stardust, but even after glam hit, lyrics about being a proud gay man proved too much for '70s audiences.
Blonde Redhead Misery is a Butterfly Blonde Redhead's latest is the New York trio's most accomplished, mostly because the band has finally shed its Sonic Youth fixations. Singer Kazu Makino's haunting coos float overtop luscious, fully orchestrated chamber pieces and melancholic melodies.
Kid Commando Holy Kid Commando The first lyrics of the album may be "I'm afraid of dancing," but the Swedish group's debut is one of the most dance floor friendly records this year, and certainly one of the strangest. The vocals have a goofy Adam Sandler quality and the guitars are tuned so loose that the strings seem ready to unfurl at any second, but it all gels enough to make Holy Kid Commando a semicoherent masterpiece.
Julie Doiron Goodnight Nobody Julie Doiron returned to a full band lineup with Goodnight Nobody, but didn't lose the nakedness of her last two solo efforts. The lyrics are painfully personal at times, talking about leaving her children to go on tour. Her fractured voice, meanwhile, crackles with hurt, bringing the audience into her very literal world.
Death From Above 1979 You're a Woman, I'm a Machine Canada's success story of the year saw the Toronto two-piece sing about not much other than the tried and true rock practice of picking up and breaking it off with women. The power and aggression of Jesse Keeler's gritty, overly distorted bass and drummer Sebastien Grainger's sexy screams push this stripped-down duo to the head of the pack.
Laura Veirs Carbon Glacier Seattle folk singer Veirs conjures up images of cold seas and ice flakes, creating a chilling mood despite the alt country touches provided by sad violins and vibraphones. As glacial as this release is, there is warmth in her voice that brings an undercurrent of hope to an overall eerie record.
Ted Leo + Pharmacists Shake The Streets Ted Leo's latest sees him going back to the mod stylings of his work with Chisel. "Me and Mia" and "Heart Problems" are pure gold, while the polka-punk beat in "The One Who Got Us Out" is an entirely groundbreaking addition to the Pharmacists' already great sound.
The Blood Brothers Crimes Seattle's punk heroes took a huge chance by practically abandoning their hardcore roots, slowing down their pace, and embracing a bizarre hybrid of Goth, glam, and salsa-infused freakouts. Singer Johnny Whitney hits notes so high they'd make Mariah Carey jealous.