Stuck in Wonderamaland – Dramarama
Majordomo John Easdale had charisma and a bunch of smart, crafty Jagger/Lou Reed inspired songs, and the band (including exuberant ex-Blondie drummer Clem Burke) played impeccably; their lack of major success is odd. This record has the FM classic “Last Cigarette,” a cool Mott cover and is as good a place to start as any.
She’s The One – Tom Petty
Overlooked soundtrack from a largely unseen indie film, this is probably the best thing in his catalog—eclectic, loose, natural-sounding. “Walls” was a fair-sized hit and is the standout; his Lucinda and Beck covers are also killer. Sad to see him go.
A Deeper Understanding – War on Drugs
Ambitious, impeccably produced and massively praised, but for whatever reason I can’t get into it—like the similarly-revered Arcade Fire (or the Cure at their most meandering) too much of this seems to be striving for an angsty grand statement, to the exclusion of, you know, actual tunes.
Don’t Go Away – Primitons
Jangle pop not too far removed from, but harder-edged than, contemporaries like REM or the Windbreakers, these guys had an outstanding singer and a bunch of first-rate songs, of which “All my Friends” and “Five Lines” are most noteworthy.
Spiderland – Slint
Innovative, oddly beautiful math/art rock; utilizing all manners of shifting time signatures, loud/soft dynamics and noisy guitars to create a unique rhythmic squall. Rawer and more experimental than similar practitioners such as Mogwai or Tortoise; fans of early Sonic Youth or White Light-era Velvet Underground will love the hell out of this.
In Between – The Feelies
I had muted hopes for this reunion, but this actually captures the spirit of their 80s classics quite capably. Somewhat more restrained and less rhythmically hyperactive than previous discs, but the songs are top-flight and this insinuates its way into your psyche quite deftly.
December – For Against
intense, atmospheric post-punk trio from Omaha, of all places, though fans of dark 80’s Brit bands like Joy Division or Echo & the Bunnymen would dig this. The band is tight and economical, with an especially fluid rhythm section, and the songs are sharp, if somewhat melancholy—this is excellent headphone music.
1984 – Ryan Adams
Unexpectedly great tribute to classic American punk from the normally AOR-leaning altcountry crooner. A dozen or so short, frantic tunes rush by in 15 minutes; such an adrenaline surge that you’re actually sad when it ends.
Counter Culture – Roy Harper
Double-disc retrospective of the brilliant singer and songwriter, whose style ranged from wistful folk to searing hard rock. Oft compared to Syd Barrett and much revered by English rock royalty (Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Keith Moon et.al. appear frequently here); much of this wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zep III or Aqualung. Granted, his lengthy anti-society screeds can get a bit wearing, but “Another Day,” South Africa” and the majestic “Old Cricketer” are among the purtiest songs in the English language.
Tuatara – Various Artists
Fantastic compilation of indy New Zealand bands, a few of whom (the Chills, the Clean, the Verlaines) wound up on larger labels. Most of these bands share a lo-fi, garage-y ethic (the Velvet Underground and the Stooges being pervasive influences), and virtually every song here connects, with “Death and the Maiden” and “Pink Frost” being stone classics. Fans of Murmur-era REM and the Shins will find much to admire here. Very highly recommended.