Wisconsin knows how to produce some bands, let me tell you. That Midwestern state has some soul.
By now, we all know of Eau Claire's Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver fame), but Baraboo, Wisconsin has its own claim to fame with PHOX. PHOX manages to marry the soul rock revival that is so popular right now with tangible emotion and self-conscious lyrics. I love a good dance tune as much as the next reserved introvert (only in my car), but many of those songs lack any depth.
PHOX's self-titled debut LP is out now, and they are touring all over the country. Someone go see them for me. My favorite song off the album is "Satyr and the Faun," with "1936" as a close second, although I really love them all. The former has a perfect ethereal sound that only enhances Martin's comfortably raspy, yet arching vocals and the latter takes a standard acoustic track and layers it with a banjo, choir-like vocals, and charming lyrics. This album straddles the four corners of pop, r&b, folk, and alternative rock and roll, making it a unique addition to its contemporaries on the alternative charts. The lyrics are self-aware, questioning, and observant. Listen to "Raspberry Seed," another of my favorites, below.
XM radio is a true blessing. I can listen to the best of the 90s and also hear some great rock and roll. Zach and I drove to some waterfalls yesterday and then went on a 4-mile hike and only brought home one tick. Before we hit the trail, this song came on the radio. I was hit with two reactions: to makeout in the car like a teenager and recline the seat, close my eyes, and listen in solitude. I'm at a crossroads.
The twangy guitars, just enough whiny vocals, the fine straddle between singing and talking, and steady, strong strumming make it a perfect amalgam of Neutral Milk Hotel, Daniel Johnston, Wilco, and Weezer. Palace Music is a Will Oldham project, but I prefer it to Bonnie "Prince" Billy. It makes my heart race and my head float in a way BPB doesn't. Enjoy.
At this time last year I felt overwhelmed making this list. This year not so much. These five albums are easily my favorite so far. I feel like a you can judge an album by how many times you can listen to it without getting tired of it. All of these are still on repeat.
- Conor Oberst: Upside Down Mountain - This is an easy pick for my number one record. Sure I'm biased, but Conor's at the top of his game with this one. He's back to personal song writing which is where he's at his best.
- Beck: Morning Phase - I'm not going to pretend that I'm a huge Beck fan. Until Morning Phase I hadn't listened to a full Beck album all the way through since Odelay. I hadn't listened to MP's older sibling Sea Change or anything else. Please don't judge me. All I have to say is that this album is damn good. It reminds me so much of Pink Floyd that I tried to turn down the volume on my TV so the album could accompany The Wizard of Oz.
- Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire For No Witness - Angel Olsen has the best female voice in indie rock, you can quote me on that. This is lyrically my favorite album of the year. Adding a full band was a surprise and an upgrade from her last album.
- Jack White: Lazaretto - The dark lord is back with his second solo album, Lazaretto. I really liked Blunderbuss, but I felt that it lacked cohesiveness. It seemed all over the place. Lazaretto on the other hand flows from song to song without question of the songs place within the album. The title track rocks like no other song this year and "Would You Fight For My Love" makes me feel like I'm in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western ready for a shootout. Jack White has taken the crown for America's best rock n' roller.
- Parquet Court: Sunbathing Animal - Brooklyn transplants Parquet Courts channeled their inner Lou Reed for Sunbathing Animal. The only comparison I could think of for this album is Transformer. It's that good. It also produced two of my favorite songs of the year, "Raw Milk" & "Dear Ramona".
- Via Chicago
- I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
- New Madrid
- Whole Love
- Passenger Side
- Laminated Cat
- Hesitating Beauty
- Born Alone
- Jesus, Etc.
- I'm the Man Who Loves You
- A Shot in the Arm