1. Grampall Jookabox,
Asthmatic Kitty/Joyful Noise
On Ropechain, Grampall Jookabox's David Adamson lays his deceptively simple street poetry over dirty beats, booming guitar, echoing voices and miscellaneous tinkling percussion, creating a claustrophobic soundscape that occasionally opens up to address travelling companions, figures from pop culture and the ghosts of unborn babes and lives. It's my favorite record of the year, and it's attracted strong reaction from national press, with almost unilateral praise for Adamson's sound design and mixed reactions to his lyrics, which some call emotionally stunted or just plain stupid. But the provocation posed in mythic language on "Black Girls" and the soul-searching, symmetrical rhyme of "The Girl Ain't Preggers" seem almost original on this page of the post-industrial American popular songbook.
"The Girl Ain't Preggers" from "Ropechain": http://www.asthmatickitty.com/mp3/grampall_jookabox_-_the_girl_aint_preggers.mp3
"The One Thing" from "Ropechain": http://www.asthmatickitty.com/mp3/grampall_jookabox_-_ropechain_-_the_one_thing.mp3
"The Girl Ain't Preggers," directed by Brian Wyrick
"Let's Go Mad Together" from "Ropechain," directed by Jim Walker
2. The Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band,
The Whole Fam Damnily
(Side One Dummy)
There's a reason this one has hung around the Billboard Blues Album chart for much of the year, and it's not because of Payola or the Big Damn Band's taste for Jimmie Ray Vaughn-inflected solos. It's because there's still a place out there for country blues, that kind of raw, post-war stuff recorded by the likes of Charley Patton and Son House. The Rev. Peyton summons a mighty sound from resonator guitar, Breezy gives forward momentum and texture to the songs on washboard and Jayme keeps the whole show together on drums. Highlights from this fourth album by the band include the aggressive "Your Cousin's on Cops," stomping "Mama's Fried Potatoes" and the head-nodder "Worn Out Shoe."
"Mama's Fried Potatoes" and "Worn Out Shoe" from "The Whole Fam Damnily" (at the band's Side One Dummy page): http://sideonedummy.com/bands.php?band_name=The_Reverend_Peytons_Big_Damn_Band
3. The Dixon-Rhyne Project,
Groove-friendly saxophonist Rob Dixon collaborates with a hard bop legend in B3 organist Melvin Rhyne on Reinvention, bringing along the versatile guitarist Fareed Haque and drummer Kenny Phelps to fill out the quartet. Dixon skirts both worlds here: He can write catchy, funky themes that could stand alone in more groove-based material, and also toss off intense, rapid-fire, climactic solos that could be at home with more straight-ahead bop material. The record sounds the most fresh on tunes like "Shadow and Light," where with a late-night, electronica-influenced vibe (and terrific, skittering work on the set by Phelps), the arrangement and production is just as inventive as the solos contributed by the individual players.
"Mind's Eye" from "Reinvention"
4. Everything, Now!,
(Musical Family Tree)
Like the Nuggets compilations of obscure garage rock bands from the '60s and '70s, Everything, Now! explores different territory on each track from their new record, managing to sound like - to use some less obscure bands as points of comparison - The Kinks, ? and the Mysterians, Procul Harum, The Who and The Bonzo Dog Band before they're through. The thing about those collections is that rabid collectors sifted through a lot of dross to find songs with decent hooks and an ineffable (and irreproducible) energy. That E, N! can construct this kind of pastiche all by themselves and leave very few throwaways is all the more impressive.
"Burden Time" from "Spatially Severed": http://www.soapboxpromotion.com/mp3/everything_now-burden_time.mp3
5. DM Stith,
Asthmatic Kitty breadwinner Sufjan Stevens may contribute some recorder to the first track from this debut EP by Bloomington's David Stith, but Stith expands the horizons of Steven's chamber pop, foregoing some of Steven's warmth and intimacy to give his lyrics and arrangements a chance to reverberate in negative, subterranean space. John Cage-esque prepared piano dominates "Hoarse Sorrows" and the slow-building centrepiece "Just Once" favorably compares to Antony and the Johnsons (though Stith's voice isn't quite as expressive) and the kitchen-sink energy of Animal Collective. An extraordinary and promising first missive.
"Just Once" from "Curtain Speech": http://www.asthmatickitty.com/mp3/dmstith_-_curtain_speech_-_just_once.mp3
6. The Impossible Shapes,
It's about time Bloomington's The Impossible Shapes got around to titling their record with a glyph, a possible though unlikely shape. Chris Barth's mystical, pagan, occasionally addled lyrics ("Let the mushroom teach") recall another band fond of glyphs, Led Zeppelin, and the legacy of British folk rock (as well as lo-fi indie rock and psych-pop) is prominent in the band's sound. "Stop making excuses and babies, make art," Barth proclaims on "Make Art," and on the prolific band's seventh release, they follow their own directive with another batch of nourishing, passionate rock.
"Hey" from "The Impossible Shapes": http://www.scjag.com/mp3/sc/hey.mp3
"Infinity's Lips" from "The Impossible Shapes," directed by William Winchestor Claytor
"Let The People Build What They Will" from "The Impossible Shapes," directed by Aaron Deer
7. Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos,
The Margot completist heard from a couple incarnations of the band this fall. On Animal, they got what might be considered the "director's cut," much of which was compiled from recording sessions in early 2008. And like some director's cuts, it's a little indulgent and overlong, opening with five tracks that inhabit a forlorn, somewhat depressed world and offer only snatches of brightness (about 30 seconds on the opener "At the Carnival"). But it's also more sophisticated and ambitious (note the symphonic if not quite coherent "There's Talk of Mine Shafts") than Not Animal, which was compiled largely from earlier recordings of songs that the band has kept in their live show since their debut record. Those tracks exclusive to Not Animal tend to be more direct, with more obvious hooks and more rock intensity. The albums share the most memorable songs: the upbeat "A Children's Crusade on Acid," propulsive "German Motor Car" and resonant "As Tall As Cliffs" (performed on Conan).
"As Tall As Cliffs" from "Animal" (and "Not Animal")
8. The Coke Dares,
This second set of garage rock miniatures (and first since 2004) by Bloomington trio The Coke Dares is usually funny, occasionally absurd and catchy in an economical, three-chord way. Song titles give away the joke, really - "I Wish I Could Get as High as Neil Young Does," "There's a Meth Lab on My Street" - although "Mask Map" is a little more obscure, describing a map of masks that's driving the singer insane. The 33 tracks last less than a half hour, so any missteps fly by quickly enough to be forgotten. Similarly, the speed of the album is such that you'll have to circle back to hear a condensed punk masterpiece like "Tour Rot."
9. Freeze Etch,
(Force of Nature)
Perhaps the most striking thing about the opening tracks to Vessels is the way that producer Adam Duckworth maintains a fuzzy heartbeat-esque rhythm through pieces with very different textures and soundscapes, making good on the promise to explore different (blood) vessels suggested by the album and merging organic and industrial sounds. To oversimplify, those soundscapes might be separated into digital rhythms that suggest breaking glass; more breathy industrial rhythms that evoke a Victorian steam engine; and organ-like, stately ambient textures that underlay much of the record. Pursuing a fascinating sidetrack, Duckworth samples ganga singers from Croatia and Herzegovina on "Boundward," giving the vocals a modern setting while respecting the integrity of the original field recordings.
"Another Moving Vessel" from "Vessels," directed by Chris Hefner
10. The Born Again Floozies,
Street Music: 13 Rebellions and a Song of Consolation
It seems appropriate that the Floozies pay tribute to a street performer (a dancer perennially posted at 38th and College) on a song from their new record. After all, the band has the kind of tract-printing, crackpot energy that literally compels them to march (or tap) to the beat of a different drum. Joe Cheesman (co-producer), Joey Welch (co-producer and songwriter) and Steve Albini (recording and mixing) coax aand the band coax a surprising range of sounds and genres (funk, hard rock, funeral march) out of vaudeville instrumentation, and lyrics (and bizarrely annotated liner notes) that urge collective action and spontaneous theater on the streets of Indianapolis are a little wordy but inspiring.
"Beulah, You Rock" from "Street Music"
The next 10 (in alphabetical order): Steve Allee, Dragonfly; Tad Armstrong, Scorpio Falling; Beyond Things, Our Call Outs; Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, Where or When; Gentleman Caller, Gentleman Caller vs. the Elephant; Tim Grimm, Holding Up the World; Red Light Driver, ... And Now We Can Be Ourselves; Everthus the Deadbeats, John Kill and the Microscopic Lullabye; Mystikos Quintet, Club Dub A Go Go; State, You Shouldn't Stare.