White Denim and more...
Wake the President
You Can’t Change That Boy
One of the year’s best albums is also one of its least celebrated. You Can’t Change That Boy, the delicate, sincere, even beautiful debut by Glaswegian quartet Wake the President, might not have gotten the acclaim it deserved. However, with the Smithsian jangle of “Remember Fun?”, the brilliant lyricism of kitchen-sink tales like “Miss Tierney” and “Just Give Me Two Secs”, complaining about commercial success doesn’t really seem relevant. Combining winsome lyrics with ‘80s-inspired (but never clichéd or derivative) riffs, Wake the President have a knack for melody and genuine heart. In a year that was all about spectacle, Wake the President provided the substance. Emily Tartantella
While no one was looking, my favorite Monster of Folk put out the most sadly overlooked piece of beautiful since Ed Harcourt’s Strangers. Maybe he sings too much about God for the fashionably agnostic to abide. However, for those of us who have a power greater than ourselves to thank for our lives, but don’t want to listen to anything with the word “Winans” attached to it, Ward is nothing short of a revelation. Music I would love anyway, that also happens to talk about themes that inform my everyday existence? This is not something I stumble upon often. Hopefully, his collaborations with more famous consorts (like his fellow Monsters and Zooey Deschanel, the “She” to Ward’s “Him”) will eventually bring people around to the quiet brilliance of Hold Time. Jennifer Cooke
We Were Promised Jetpacks
These Four Walls
This Glasgow-based four-piece offers melodic post punk infused with such exuberance and youthful confidence that I completely failed in my (shamefully earnest) attempt to hate them. Seriously, who names their band We Were Promised Jetpacks and expects to win the support of dorky critics? Well, I guess if your début record is this good—this fun, this melodic, this raw, this passionate—you can call yourself whatever you want and eventually we’ll come around. “Quiet Little Voices” is the tune that finally got me: it’s one of those songs that makes you want to push the pedal a bit further down, to run a little faster, to sing out loud, maybe even to do something grand and romantic and embarrassing. Come for the goofy band name, stay for the good old rock ’n’ roll. Stuart Henderson
The Wheat Pool
Little-known but sharp and talented, Albertan alt-country-rockers the Wheat Pool followed their outstanding 2007 debut LP Township with last year’s aptly-titled Hauntario. Couched in visceral melodies and passionate melancholy, it’s an album of wonderfully-crafted elegies to restless wandering hearts. Grand highlights like “Lefty” and “I’m Not Here” reflect the humbling panoramas of the Canadian West, a perspective that leaves the fraternal songwriting/vocalist duo of Robb and Mike Angus feeling rootless and delicately pained. They grasp at the bruised poetry of roots music to make sense of these bottomless feelings, as Glen Erickson’s exquisite lead guitar flourishes add touches of indie rock and classic country to the tapestry. At once simple and sophisticated, beautiful and wrenching, Hauntario is eerie in its tensile maturity. Like a fine view, it’s worth the extra miles’ drive. Ross Langager
While most fans of the power trio format were forced to settle this year with choking down the crappy, foul smelling hype of Them Crooked Vultures, White Denim—a smoldering, insanely good trio out of Austin, Texas—dropped Fits, their third full-length release, and an elephant of an album. Wailing like the Mars Volta on Frances the Mute, freaking like the Chili Peppers on Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and sneering like a Texas take on the Stooges, White Denim bangs out an evolved, complex, but still raunchy form of garage rock fit for the 21st century kid with the MC5 shirt. Veering into deeper, more hypnotic realms on “Mirrored and Reverse” and “Sex Prayer”, however, White Denim shows they are not just raw energy. The band also hits a rather poignant pop note on “Paint Yourself”, while successfully trying funk and soul on for size with “I Start to Run” and “I’d Have It Just the Way We Are”. Louis J. Battaglia
Edinburgh has never been renowned for its indie rock. Certain beacons from post-punk stand out, but its always brought the folk more than the skronk. Appropriately enough then, a great alternative album has come out of the city which is cloaked in the vestiges of folk. Withered Hand’s first album Good News is meditative and ethereal, helped by reverb laden mastering work by Galaxie 500 producer Kramer. Yet, singer-songwriter Dan Willson’s lyrics are all downbeat navel gazing and skewed slacker prophesy, as if Dave Berman picked up sticks and settled in Leith. His voice, timid but full of Neil Young style “soul”, is defiant amongst the pessimist imagery. “Religious Songs” is his anthem, a tune which renders the lyric “I beat myself off while I sleep on your futon” exultant. Still, there’s much more to recommend it, from the Kellogg namechecking anti-folk ramble “Cornflake” to the Pavement-gone-folksy “New Dawn”. A minor classic of 2009. Kieran Curran
The Wye Oak was the honorary state tree of Maryland. Knowing that, it’s hard not to hear echoes of the Old Line State in the music of Wye Oak, the Baltimore two-piece. On their second album, The Knot, Wye Oak weave together strands of shoegaze, slowcore and folk with just a hint of country twang, producing ten songs that ebb and flow like a gentle tide. That said, The Knot is by no means a quiet affair: walls of distorted guitar and thunderous drums counterbalance the record’s more tranquil moments, lending the album an almost naturalistic dynamic bent. The end result is ten songs that evoke the state of Maryland in all of its beauty, ugliness and glory, from the mean streets of Baltimore to the placid eastern shore. Et tu, Sufjan? Mehan Jayasuriya
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// Notes from the Road
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