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Brent Stecker has been a Guerrilla Candy contributor since the days of Ear Candy, which was eons ago in blog years. This year he patrolled The Gorge while providing excellent coverage of the Sasquatch! Music Festival and wrote several thoughtful reviews of local albums. His top 10 records of the year, which includes six locals (if you count The Lumineers due to their strong ties to Seattle) are below.
10. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
What’s old is new again, and nothing had more to do with that this year than the powerhouse full-length debut from the Shakes, who absolutely packed the record with instant southern-friend soul classics.
9. Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon
Sub Pop’s best-kept secret hit her stride with Deer Creek Canyon, which hits the sweet spot between Gillian Welch’s lonesome country and Iron & Wine’s delicate folk, and boasts a drop-dead-catchy single (“Naked”).
8. Soundgarden – King Animal
They may not rock as hard as they did in the Badmotorfinger days, but Soundgarden proved they can still mix late-era Beatles songwriting, Doors-y psychedelia and Sabbath-level heft better than anybody.
7. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Building off the success of 2007’s amazing and adventurous Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear added a heavy prog rock influence and turned out a pair of the year’s best singles (“Yet Again” and “Sleeping Ute”).
6. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Seattle’s folk-laureate cranks up the gain on jammy album opener “Nothing is the News,” then dials it back the rest of the way for some of his prettiest, lyrically-intoxicating music to date.
5. The Lumineers – S/T
I hear a lot of shit thrown these guys way because of the old sincerity/insincerity issue that has taken over indie rock criticism. I understand it, and I know The Lumineers are also behind the game Candlebox-style because they’re like the fifth indie folk band to show up in the last three years that has (or at least threatened to) cross over into the pop world. But there’s one thing they have over the rest of the lot — actual good songs that don’t use the same chord changes and/or simple rhythmic patterns over and over. Yeah, we could stand to take “Ho Hey” out back and give it the Old Yeller treatment because it’s been played to death, but it happens. At least it’s better than anything else on Top 40 radio — well, except for “Gangnam Style.” Love me some “Gangnam Style.”
4. The Orwells – Remember When
I immediately took to the ramshackle garage punk style of this Chicago-based four piece, then was blown away when I found out they are all still in high school. I gotta say, that kinda pissed me off, because holy shit, this an amazing album for anybody’s standards, let alone a bunch of teenagers. All ageism aside, the lazy, lo-fi vocals make the songs, which are anchored by quick bursts of Pavement-style instrumentation.
3. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Really, it’s as simple as this — I think J. Tillman’s voice is the greatest voice I’ve ever heard, and when you add the fact that he can also spin a yarn lyrically like he does all over Fear Fun, it’s criminally unfair. I don’t know if anybody has mixed this kind of humor with such great songs since the heydays of Zappa and Nilsson, and I damn sure don’t want to see anybody else try to. It’s a fool’s game. Let Papa Misty handle this one.
2. Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks
Seattle-based Jessica Dobson made her name as a hired gun for Beck, The Shins and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but it turns out she was just positioning herself for a chance to take over the mantle her former bosses once laid claim to. Deep Sea Diver is her real love, and History Speaks is an incredible album wherein Dobson proves to be equally adept as an effects-laden guitar hero, folk-style acoustic picker, piano balladeer or uptempo keyboardist, all while singing her heart out with a unique, heart-stopping voice.
1. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
The first time I listened to Tramp, I wasn’t a Sharon Van Etten fan and, foolishly, I didn’t ‘get’ it. It seemed a bit off, lacking the things that typically hook you. But I kept listening to it, to the point that my last.fm has me at 278 listens to Van Etten this year, almost 100 more than the next closest artist. I think it’s safe to say I get it now.
Tramp buzzes with the best indie rock had to offer this year. It has the prettiest folk songs of the year. Each of the first nine songs are legitimate show stealers that could find their way into any ‘best songs of the year’ list. And most importantly, Tramp makes you feel exactly what Van Etten put into each song. If you examine the lyrics, they’ll tear you up inside. And even if you don’t, Van Etten’s emotion permeates every note. You can’t escape it. I know I can’t.
Honorable mentions — Gardens & Villa – S/T; Jack White – Blunderbuss; Bowerbirds – The Clearing; Deep Time – S/T; Heartless Bastards – Arrow.