TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2014

Justin-Townes-Earle-Single-Mothers50. Justin Townes Earle- Single Mothers
Single Mothers sees Justin Townes Earle stripping elements away instrumentally without dialing back the 3am heartache. Pedal steel supplies a morphine drip of comfort to the audience as they try to cope with the Earle’s fragile songs of lament. As far as the new age of Nashville songwriters/storytellers is concerned, he remains near the top.

PallbearerFoundationsofBurdenalbumcoverartworkpackshotThrashHits49. Pallbearer- Foundations of Burden
In terms of rafter-rattling monstrous riffs in 2014, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more monolithically menacing record that Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden. With four of the six songs clocking in over 10 minutes (Plus another at 8:41) it’s easy to get into sucked these massive slabs of metal as visions of Sabbath course through your brain.

favorite_waitress48. The Felice Brothers- Favorite Waitress
After 2011’s experimental Celebration, Florida The Felice Brothers return three years later with more of a return to their roots with the folk rock-tinged Favorite Waitress. With refined melodies and Ian Felice’s early Dylan-esque nasally croon, Favorite Waitress is a warm-hearted record that rewards the listener with repeated listens.

13992-half-the-city47. St. Paul & The Broken Bones- Half The City
Half The City is like a jubilant liturgical service for castaways and ragamuffins. Born out of the same Alabama neo-soul that saw the ascension of Alabama Shakes (Even produced by Shakes’ Ben Tanner), St. Paul & The Broken Bones have created a righteous debut that makes the grit and sweat of the streets seem like salvation.

51dZ6+j5dqL46. Robert Ellis- The Lights From The Chemical Plant
While awful plop country/bro country continues to be bafflingly successful in America there is a movement of genuine-article country artists trying to save the genre. Names like Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell, and now Robert Ellis are reminding us why country music used to be such an earnest and respected art form. Ellis acts as a craftsman on The Lights From The Chemical Plant with frayed songs that are both raw yet slightly polished. More records like this could go a long way in restoring the fortitude of country music.

softwhite45. The Soft White Sixties- Get Right.
The Soft White Sixties start breaking down the walls with a radiant debut in Get Right. With nods to retro rock and pop, The Soft White Sixties mine similar territory to that of Dr. Dog. Churning, chattering organs and buzzing guitars make for a blissful alchemy with just the right amount of edge.

cold-war-kids-hold-my-home-album-cover-art44. Cold War Kids- Hold My Home
After the astounding breakout success of Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids’ momentum cooled. With 2013’s stellar Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and this year’s even better Hold My Home it appears that they’re back on the map. Pounding pianos and strutting grooves are the perfect pillars for Nathan Willett’s warbling falsetto to soar into arena rock territory.

14003-eagulls43. Eagulls- Eagulls
These ain’t The Eagles your Dad listened to. The self-titled debut from Eagulls is a hungry and fierce entrance into the world, a cross section of howling punk blended with eighties left-of-the-dial guitars making it a record that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go.

wig-out-at-jagbags42. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks- “Wig Out at Jagbags”
Former Pavement front man Stephen Malkmus continues the 2nd stellar act of his career with his backing band The Jicks and 2014’s “Wig Out at Jagbags”. Jangling, wiry jolts of guitar play off of Malkmus and his wry delivery of lyrics. So when he invites us to, “Come slam dancing with some ancient dudes” the answer is of course, yes.

chi-goldplay-ghost-stories-review-20140519-00141. Coldplay- Ghost Stories
Coldplay return after a three-year hiatus to deliver their most experimental endeavor yet with Ghost Stories. Icy synths and hip-hop rhythms supply a velvet undercurrent to many tracks but if you think they’ve forgotten about their stadium-sized theatrics guess again as they shoot for the moon on the Avicii-produced, EDM-inspired “A Sky Full of Stars” proving that they still haven’t lost their taste for celestial theatrics.

16239-dereconstructed40. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires- Dereconstructed
With a band name like Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires you better damn sure be a shit-kicking act. Bains and company do not disappoint on Dereconstructed. Part soaked in southern comfort, part motor oil from the garage, and crushing riffs on the level of AC/DC; this is a record meant for hard-charging weekend nights. Really, any night you feel like killing a bottle of bourbon or case of beer yourself.

20140401_jack_white_9139. Jack White- Lazaretto
With the release of his sophomore solo effort Lazaretto, ever-mercurial Jack White is clearly trying to cut his own individual swath and be redefined as something other than the garage rock guitar god of The White Stripes. White stretches further into exploration with uneven pianos bobbing and weaving throughout and a sense of matured restraint. It’s quieter than his usual amplified racket but he still wonders back occasionally into realms that put him on the map as indicated by the screeching instrumental “High Ball Stepper.”

1391438441_d8016922d83933daec546eae47e11f6038. The Family Rain- Under The Volcano
What an apt name like The Family Rain is for this band. Three brothers unite forming a potent power trio and Under The Volcano expertly displays their formidable prowess. A tight but not constricted set of catchy blues rock bangers similar to The Black Keys. Continuing a trend like this record ensures staying power.

5f94532b-e139831137097637. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Days of Abandon
2011’s Belong put The Pains of Being Pure at Heart on the map. Trying to keep the momentum going with their follow up, Days of Abandon they more than succeed. More dreamscape guitars swirl around singer/guitarist Kip Berman’s whimsical vocals. They bring the alternative side of the ‘90s into the new millennium with fantastic results.

17851-benjamin-booker36. Benjamin Booker- Benjamin Booker
Benjamin Booker arrives on the blues scene with a frenetic self-titled debut that is sure to put him at the forefront of the movement. A gritty, raw output that has the dirty, sincere feel of traditional blues blended with distorted, scuzzy guitars that you’d hear on punk rock albums. Booker’s wounds pour out in fervent feedback-fueled bliss.

drytheriver-artwork-album-small35. Dry The River- Alarms in the Heart
After a phenomenal debut in 2012 with Shallow Bed, Dry The River return with more gorgeous chamber pop while aiming for even loftier places with Alarms in the Heart. Chiming and ringing waves propel that band forward but the real weapon continues to be Peter Liddle’s haunting, wounded falsetto. It teeters on an improbable line of innocence and experienced heartbreak.

field report34. Field Report- Marigolden
Christopher Porterfield leads Field Report through opulent yet simplistic landscapes on Marigolden. Similar to that of Wilco, Field Report brings the best elements of Americana to the forefront and adds dashes of electronic flourishes and modernized production. As far as looking towards the future in a genre like Americana you’d have to look to Field Report as one of the front-running bands.

upside down mountain33. Conor Oberst- Upside-Down Mountain
Conor Oberst’s pedigree is well-known by now. A tireless workhorse as indicated by his discography with both Bright Eyes and as a solo artist. Also stunning is his prolific songwriting chops; one of the best around and Upside-Down Mountain is his finest solo effort yet. Oberst’s songwriting continues to be his primary strength but understated idiosyncrasies in the layers of neo-folk make this his best record since 2005’s Bright Eyes masterpiece I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning.

DBT english-oceans32. Drive-By Truckers- English Oceans
Drive-By Truckers have been the workingman’s blue-collar southern rock band since 1998, constantly cranking out quality records every year or two. A three-year break might’ve caused some concern, but English Oceans shows no signs of rust. In fact, if anything they emerge stronger than ever as Mike Cooley has emerged as a wonderful co-collaborator next to Patterson Hood writing six of the 13 songs here. Another fine batch of gritty southern-spun tales but none better than the powerful closer “Grand Canyon,” a cascading sunrise epic to fallen DBT family member Craig Lieske.

SR_swimmin31. Shovels & Rope- Swimmin’ Time
Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have brought a refreshing angle into Americana music. A married duo creating some of the best music of the genre with the male/female dynamic which continues in Swimmin’ Time. Enchanting campfire sing-a-longs are met by boozy ramshackle burners. It’s an album that sounds rustic yet revitalizing at the same time.

california breed30. California Breed- California Breed
There are aging rockers with their weathered vocals losing some of their punch over the years and decades, then there’s Glenn Hughes whose pipes still have enough hurricane howl to level a stadium. After the dissolution of Black Country Communion, Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham regrouped and with 23-year-old hot shot virtuoso Andrew Watt. The trio formed California Breed and their self-titled debut picks up where BCC left off. Powerhouse bluesy rockers strut as they pummel their way into your cerebrum. And as for if Hughes has lost any amplification in that Golden God wail yet? Just listen to the chorus in “The Grey” and give your verdict.

jbrowne29. Jackson Browne- Standing in the Breach
Jackson Browne has always had a way of standing out from the pack regarding topical singer/songwriters because of his delicacy and reassured approach to his craft. Standing in the Breach is his first record in six years and one of the finest he’s ever made. His gentle California croon gliding effortlessly through a classic collection of songs that signal a probable resurgence for Browne.

ty-segall-the-manipulator-album-stream-npr28. Ty Segall- Manipulator
Ty Segall has built one of the most prodigious catalogs in a short amount of time and with Manipulator he’s made his best record to date. What a difference a little clarity and fidelity makes! Segall fuses elements of pop with his California garage fuzz all filtered through T. Rex-style guitar glam. Segall has the canon of someone twice his age and yet Manipulator shows that he may just be getting started.

rival sons27. Rival Sons- Great Western Valkyrie
Rival Sons are carved out of the granite of classic hard rock. With 2014’s Great Western Valkyrie they’ve seemed to finally reach their Valhalla destination. Their best record yet that could hold up against many of the monumental albums of ‘70s powerhouse acts. Front man Jay Buchanan wails and howls with impunity as the band weaves in and out of touchstones from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple. With a classic rock-leaning band like this not in fashion you certainly hope they don’t fade into obscurity.

neil young storytone26. Neil Young- Storytone
Neil Young is a man that doesn’t know how to stop working. He’s arguably been more prolific with releases in his latter-day career than at his creative summit in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some of it very frustrating (Fork in the Road, Americana), some of it good (Chrome Dreams II, Living With War) and even in some cases, still incredible (Psychedelic Pill). 2014’s Storytone fits in the middle of that pack and sees Young believe it or not putting yet another new spin on his musical footprint. Songs are split between the massive swells of a 92-piece orchestra and big band arrangements with surprisingly stunning yet focused results.

AC-DC_-_Rock_Or_Bust25. AC/DC- Rock Or Bust
You’ve heard terms “The irresistible force” and “The immovable object” before? Well, the indomitable AC/DC can fit under both of those banners. AC/DC are Rock & Roll survivors, after first losing front man Bon Scott in 1980 all the way up until this year losing co-founding guitarist Malcolm Young due to dementia and drummer Phil Rudd due to legal troubles. The result of all of this attrition and internal strife leads up to Rock or Bust. A stout, guttural shot of classic visceral AC/DC. Clocking in at less than 35 minutes, it’s their shortest record ever but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack all of the meaty riffs and power surges from some of its masterpieces lead by guitarist Angus Young and front man Brian Johnson’s weathered banshee growl. It’s uncompromising, they haven’t changed a damn thing in 40 years… and thank these Aussie Gods for that.

el pintor24. Interpol- El Pintor
Interpol was one of the more prominent guitar buzz bands in the early 2000’s and after a four-year break they prove why they were at the head of that pack with El Pintor. Nocturnal and brooding in areas, luminous and energized in others as Paul Banks serenades with his melancholy baritone that could give The National’s Matt Berninger a run for his money.

temples23. Temples- Sun Structures
There are several bands who’ve tried to tap into the golden years of ‘60s and ’70s psychedelic rock with mixed results. English lads Temples feel more like the real deal than some cheap imitator. Their debut Sun Structures is brilliantly produced with echoing guitar tones, whimsical harmonies, and hooks a-plenty this band sounds like they’re at the beginning of something extraordinary. Songs like “Shelter Song,” “Keep in the Dark,” “Mesmerize,” and “Test of Time” sound like they could be hit singles from 1968 all the way up until today.

WNCC-500x50022. Wolfmother- New Crown
Wolfmother’s future seemed uncertain with a constant revolving cast along with leader Andrew Stockdale releasing a solo album in 2013 and in a roundabout way hinting that Wolfmother may be finished. Out of the blue though Stockdale dropped Wolfmother’s surprise third record New Crown as a digital download via website Bandcamp to no fanfare at all. New Crown finds Stockdale taking a more raw approach than the two predecessors while still maintaining all of Wolfmother’s strengths. Squealing, squawking guitars rip like serrated blades while Stockdale roars like an invigorated beast. No matter the cast behind him, whether he continues under the Wolfmother moniker or as a solo artist, Stockdale is going to continue moving forward on his own terms. He’s too talented not to.

seeds21. TV on the Radio- Seeds
Following the 2011 death of bassist Gerard Smith, TV on the Radio took a break from the action until the release of 2014’s Seeds. A requiem of sorts for the band it serves as a fitting eulogy to their fallen comrade. They continue to carve out their own niche of art rock with subtle washes of electronic accents. Arguably their best record to date, TV on the Radio has seemingly survived tragic loss and come out on the other side stronger than ever.

smashing pumpkins20. The Smashing Pumpkins- Monuments to an Elegy
By now The Smashing Pumpkins have really become nothing more than a glorified solo project of Billy Corgan’s as the lone-surviving original member. That doesn’t make newer Pumpkins records any less potent or rewarding as Corgan has always been the brain trust at the center of the matter. Monuments to an Elegy has more of the alt-‘90s guitars that buzz and hiss while liquid synths provide a glacial blanket to make this the most engaging record Corgan has released in years.

Tuff artwork19. King Tuff- Black Moon Spell
There’s no other way to put it: King Tuff is one of the weirdest and best artists out there right now. His style is almost unable to be categorized and his newest LP Black Moon Spell displays that. Psych pop, garage fuzz, glam rock, and metallic riffs all packed into an irresistible cauldron of eccentric magic. If you get lost in a swirling psychedelia while listening to this record, fear not as Kyle Thomas will ferry you safely across the river.

broken bells18. Broken Bells- After the Disco
It seemed at first like it may have been just a one-off side project but James Mercer and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) return under the guise of Broken Bells after a four-year absence with their sophomore effort After the Disco. Ever the production wiz with an ear for catchy pop hooks, Burton creates an atmosphere of flittering globes and fluorescent nebulas that dance around Mercer’s tantalizing falsetto. Inescapable grooves and melodies are like 2nd nature for Mercer and Burton; it’s as natural as breathing for them.

Band_of_Skulls_-_Himalayan17. Band of Skulls- Himalayan
With Himalayan Band of Skulls concocted a metallic-sounding record that is an amalgamation of truncated pop sensibilities and adventurous prog rock. You wouldn’t think something like the complex grandiosity of a band like Muse could be shaped and melded into a Black Keys style of bluesy restraint but that’s exactly what they manage to do. A record that is largely undefined, and that’s what makes it so alluring.

Strand-of-Oaks-Heal16. Strand of Oaks- Heal
Timothy Showalter (Strand of Oaks) has tapped into a rich reservoir of neo-folk similar to that of My Morning Jacket. Showalter drifts in and out of a sonic slipstream with a shaman’s proficiency on Heal. None more startling than the centerpiece simply titled “JM” for the late indie rock icon Jason Molina. It’s a transcendent, Crazy Horse-spirited tribute that would leave the likes of Neil Young and the late Molina awestruck.

the_orwells_disgraceland-500x50015. The Orwells- Disgraceland
In an era where everyone is trying to decide what’s next for popular music and attempting create state of the art futuristic albums with mixed results; The Orwells come crashing through the wall with a breath of fresh air in Disgraceland. With no frills and all thrills it’s a brash, middle finger double shot of rough ‘n’ tumble Rock & Roll. Front man Mario Cuomo sounds like he’s coughing up blood to get every last ounce of moxie into each song as the band shreds a jagged distorted path through Friday nights. Why over-think things when it’s so much easier hanging on the edge for dear life with The Orwells?

into the wide14. Delta Spirit- Into the Wide
Into the Wide is a fitting title for Delta Spirit’s fourth album as it’s a panoramic journey that sees them take their biggest creative leap yet. Sounding less like a band entrenched in Americana music and gliding towards a more ethereal template with visions of grandeur as evidenced by anthems like “From Now On,” “Live On,” “Take Shelter,” “For My Enemy,” and “Patriarch.” Delta Spirit continues to grow more ambitious with each passing record and their surging arc of creativity doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

high hopes13. Bruce Springsteen- High Hopes
For his 18th studio album High Hopes Bruce Springsteen takes his most unorthodox path of constructing a record. A collection of castaways, covers, and reconfigurations providing a fusion that Springsteen thought had to see the light of day. Fueling Springsteen’s drive even further was Rage Against The Machine guitarist and E Street understudy Tom Morello. A genuine guitar hero, Morello’s amplified alien landscapes were a lightning rod of inspiration according to Springsteen himself. The results are startlingly synergetic as Morello’s tones and squalls sound revitalizing interwoven throughout the various rhapsodies of Springsteen’s. Retirement is seemingly the furthest thing from Springsteen’s mind at this moment; with plenty of material left to excavate and revive along with a continuous outpouring of new ideas, Springsteen made this keen observation, “It’s like that old story. The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

spoon12. Spoon- They Want My Soul
Waiting over four years for a new Spoon record is far too long. With the arrival of 2014’s They Want My Soul however, Spoon shows it was well worth the wait as they’ve created one of their best records. Certainly their most accessible and engaging since 2007’s breakthrough Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. A concentrated set of songs with the perfect balance of staccato guitars and off-kilter pianos that have become a part of Spoon’s blueprint. “Rent I Pay,” “Rainy Taxi,” “Do You,” “Outlier,” and “Let Me Be Mine” all hold up against anything else in their sprawling back catalog. The finest moment however might come on luminous closer “New York Kiss” that sounds like Spoon taking a stab at new wave flourishes with outstanding results.

DFA197911. Death From Above 1979- The Physical World
Death From Above 1979 became the definitive buzz band with the unpredictable success of their 2004 debut record You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. As quickly as success found them it became all too taxing on the duo of Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger and they called it quits. 10 years later, burnt bridges are repaired and with it comes their hotly anticipated follow-up The Physical World. The results are incredibly dynamic as it sounds like they never split in the first place. With bizarro ragers dancing on a razor’s edge, killer cuts like “Cheap Talk,” “Right On Frankenstein,” “Trainwreck 1979,” and “Government Trash” make you wish more than anything that we hear more from DFA 1979 before 2024.

Royal+Blood+tumblr_n7mc8bsHqR1qcp7mao1_128-500x50010. Royal Blood- Royal Blood
2014’s best debut record was by far the self-titled effort from Royal Blood. Royal Blood is a pulverizing display of noise caused only by the menacing tandem of Mike Kerr on bass and Ben Thatcher on drums. You can hear a burly brew of influences flooding this 32:38 blitzkrieg including The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age and Muse amongst others. Frantic, uncompromising riffs keep rolling throughout like a seismic steamroller displaying Royal Blood’s vicious prowess, well beyond their years. You can literally feel the sweat and fuel drip from the pores of these brawny headbangers, there’s not one second on Royal Blood that isn’t explosive and adrenaline-packed. Royal Blood have already conquered the UK with their album going to #1 and they’ve got enough fire power to rattle the dominos and make them fall across the Atlantic too.

lc19. Leonard Cohen- Popular Problems
There’s no denying the latter-day genius of Bob Dylan. He’s in rarefied air that few can touch, save perhaps for Leonard Cohen. Continuing his brilliance now as an octogenarian, Cohen like Dylan has seen an unlikely creative resurgence with his latest output Popular Problems being the best of the batch so far.

Cohen continues to saunter through his twilight years under the guise of a smoky lounge-act bard; his calloused fathoms-deep vocal brings about a demanded reverence and awe. Popular Problems is nine psalms soul-crushing in dimension, their sorrow burrowing into the marrow of listeners. Cohen uses simple melodies, lilting arrangements, and choral female backing vocals to set the back drop for his phenomenal lyrics. Whether it’s the desolation of “Almost Like The Blues” (“I saw some people starving/ There was murder, there was rape/ Their villages were burning/ They were trying to escape/ I couldn’t meet their glances/ I was staring at my shoes/ It was acid, it was tragic/ It was almost like the blues”) or the emotional anguish of “A Street” (I cried for you this morning/ And I’ll cry for you again/ But I’m not in charge of sorrow/ So please don’t ask me when/ There may be wine and roses/ And magnums of champagne/ But we’ll never know we’ll never/ Ever be that drunk again”), Cohen’s capacity to find the genuine interpretations of personal heartbreak and worldly tumult are nearly unmatched. At 80 years old, how can you beat that type of authenticity?

lost in the dream8. The War On Drugs- Lost in the Dream
It may not top this list but there may have been no other album more beloved in 2014 than Lost in the Dream from The War On Drugs. Critical acclaim from countless publications and a general consensus (Well almost, sorry Mark Kozelek, you missed out) that this is indeed a sonic marvel.

It’s a hybrid of the familiar and extraterrestrial, a nebulous wonder with a cavalcade of classic rock influences wrapped in the cosmos. The gorgeous “Eyes to the Wind” sounds like Against The Wind-era Bob Seger fronted by Bob Dylan with mastermind Adam Granduciel’s nasally Dylan-esque delivery while tracks like “Red Eyes” and “Burning” are like long lost cuts distorted through a wormhole from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. with their radiant synths and restless spirit. There’s an underlying inflection of Dire Straits too as meandering, weaving passages of haunting guitar atmospherics sometime prove more effective than any lyric could do.

Shivering ambiance in areas, enthralling interstellar highways in others, Lost in the Dream defied everyone’s expectations securing 2014’s Dark Horse Record of the Year award for this list.

teeth dreams7. The Hold Steady- Teeth Dreams
You knew the hangover couldn’t last forever, The Hold Steady are finally back for the first time since 2010. Time to saddle up to the bar and try to make a good night last forever again with Teeth Dreams. Front man/preacher Craig Finn leads his Rock & Roll crusaders through more hyper-literate cautionary tales, and their collective sound is the biggest and boldest of their career.

That’s thanks in part to former Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz as well former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge joining as a full-time member to add even more muscle to the six string assault. With him, Tad Kubler, and Finn creating an interplay that make the guitars more towering, as evidenced by the masterful opening trifecta of “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” “Spinners,” and “The Only Thing” able to slash right out of watering hole dives and into arenas. Finn lets things simmer with the hypnotic waltz of “The Ambassador” really exploiting his superior songwriting prowess (“When you came back to us/ In South Minneapolis/ You said revenge exists outside of space and time/ Back behind The Ambassador/ Man it feels kind of magical/ I guess your friend can really move things with his mind”) He has an uncanny way of turning the tragic losers and downtrodden characters into the most beautiful. The true crowning achievement though may come in the nearly nine-minute mammoth closer “Oaks.” If there’s such a place as Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” then The Hold Steady’s “Oaks” is the next borough over. It’s transcendental but not as ethereal. This is a sifting, a clawing through the drug-addled fog, chasing the ambulance lights in the distance. No one wins and everyone dies at the end of this West Side Story. Once again The Hold Steady have created a record that sounds like communal catharsis and feels like one big maudlin embrace.

artworks-000081350319-q8i9yo-t500x5006. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye
“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Flowing seamlessly like a blistering live set of Petty & The Heartbreakers, they bash out snarling rockers sounding like a band half their age.

There’s the predatory riff of opener “American Dream Plan B” as Petty unspools his disintegrating future, “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as lead guitarist Mike Campbell interjects some piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar, and “Red River” is fueled by a brawny, swampy riff to cutting through the Everglades as Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans. Petty and Campbell’s interlocking guitars continue to gallop and swirl like cyclones on “All You Can Carry” and take on a bluesy crunch for “Power Drunk,” “U Get Me High,” and “Burnt Out Town.” The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until melding into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.

FooFighters_Album8_Cover_l5. Foo Fighters- Sonic Highways
After the career apex of 2011’s instant classic Wasting Light many were left wondering how the Foo Fighters would respond. The result was a hiatus imposed by leader Dave Grohl which allowed him to concentrate on side projects. One of those projects being a documentary about Sound City, a paean to the legendary Los Angeles studio. After that the hiatus didn’t last much longer sparking the motivation of the Foo Fighters most daunting and experimental record yet, Sonic Highways.

Much like the Sound City documentary only far more encompassing, Sonic Highways is a love letter to American music of all forms synthesized through the filter of the Foo Fighters’ trademark sound. It’s literally an expansive journey across the American frontier taking place in eight different pivotal studios in eight different major U.S. cities. Although each track has the signature Foo Fighters’ caterwaul there are audible cadences from the different cities and studios alloyed throughout. An all-star supporting cast facilitates this whether it’s Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen providing an additional baritone guitar to the hulking opener “Something From Nothing,” Zac Brown “devil-pickin’” through “Congregation” leading to a “Freebird”-esque outro, blues gunslinger Gary Clark Jr. providing an escalating solo in “What Did I Do? / God As My Witness,” or guitar God Joe Walsh providing the sweltering desert distortion on “Outside.”

Although this doesn’t quite reach the same mountain top as Wasting Light it is a worthy follow up, aiming high and succeeding. There’s also comfort in knowing that with Wasting Light and now Sonic Highways the Foo Fighters have leveled up to what seems to be a new creative plateau while also becoming standard bearers for arena rock bands.

tga get hurt4. The Gaslight Anthem- Get Hurt
Hipster publications can criticize all they want but there’s still no one on the rock scene making music like The Gaslight Anthem. Going even further, no act has been as consistently dependable as The Gaslight Anthem with producing great records and Get Hurt is their darkest yet.

It’s a collection of jagged yet passionate songs, the emotional strife cloaked in pile-driving rockers, clarion-call choruses, bleeding metallic guitars, and piston-firing drums. Front man Brian Fallon continues to be an authentic heart-on-sleeve poet whose universe remains tilted to an alternate reality. It’s one where James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen all came into their prime a decade or so later. After filming their latest big screen epics they would hang out at CBGB’s in its golden years, down the bar Fallon would be sitting between Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen, trading tour stories over beers. The Ramones would be set to take the stage with gutter punks and greasers in the crowd unified in undulating anticipation. It’s that type of infused mythology that makes Get Hurt so rewarding beginning with opener’s “Stay Vicious” sledgehammer riff and Fallon sounding like he’s been chewing asphalt as he bellows, “And I feel just like a murder, and I feel just like a gun/ And I’ve been shaking in the hands of somebody who’s finally had enough.” Get Hurt continues heavy on the heartbreak and riffs throughout with “1,000 Years,” “Stray Paper,” “Helter Skeleton,” Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Red Violins.” The best moment is saved for last with closer “Dark Places” and even goes as far to rival the band’s summit song “The Backseat” which to put in Springsteen vernacular, is their “Born to Run.” This seems like the conclusion to “The Backseat” as a worst case scenario; a road trip that started out so promising with an open stretch of highway and optimism that ends in disillusion and separation, a gradual drifting apart.

Despite the disillusioned climax, there’s an enduring fortitude in Get Hurt, a restless and relentless heart beats in its chest. It’s earnest and genuine and if you’re going to bag on a record like that then there’s no telling what can move you.

ryan adams3. Ryan Adams- Ryan Adams
When Ryan Adams doesn’t release a record for three years it’s the equivalent to 10 years for most other artists. 2011 saw the release of Ashes & Fire after which Adams went dormant (again, relatively), largely in part due to a continuing battle with Ménière’s disease: A debilitating inner ear disorder that can affect hearing and balance. It was so crippling to Adams that it was uncertain if his career would continue.

Fortunately for Adams and everyone else 2014’s self-titled record is not only a comeback, but it’s one of the best he’s ever made. Adams has made a career out of masterfully jumping from genres of music, throwing caution to the wind without batting an eye. Ryan Adams sounds like a record he was always born to make but couldn’t do so until reaching such an age of experience. At 40 he’s made assured adult-contemporary rock music. No deviating sharp turns or genre-jumping from track to track, just 11 masterfully crafted seraphic songs. Filled with visions of a man still cocksure and focused yet having a sense of maturity that belies the same man that had some pretty burdensome demons. The album is bountiful with anthemic ‘70s and ‘80s touchstones but perhaps the most prevailing influence whether deliberate or not is the fidelity of golden-age Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. With their classic chiming guitars and insatiable tenacity coursing through the sultry swagger of opener “Gimme Something Good,” the crepuscular lust in “Kim,” and the Damn The Torpedoes-sized drums in “Trouble” that sound like they could go round-for-round with “Refugee.” “Stay With Me” is so sultry it damn-near sweats and you’d half expect Stevie Nicks to come knocking on your front door, well, 1981 Stevie Nicks. Even Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench is credited with “Organ and Piano weirdness” in the liner notes. There are nods sonically to other statesmen of Rock & Roll, chiefly Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” being emulated on fist-pumping “Feels Like Fire” and the staccato guitar barreling down the darkened highway on “I Just Might.” There are moments of restrained solace as well none better than the astral envoi of “Let Go” as a summation of more than just the album but perhaps Adams’ entire career.

The once combustible, caustic troubadour is letting go of his reservations and instability. Taking the virtues he’s been bestowed with and getting out of the ditch and out onto the middle of the road, driving steady. If this is the sound of driving down the road sober, Adams is entering a new phase in his already prolific career with radiating affirmation.

U2_Songs_of_Innocence_cover2. U2- Songs of Innocence
U2 are arguably the biggest band on the planet (There’s still some band named The Rolling Stones around that might beg to differ), and with that they are also the most polarizing. U2 released Songs of Innocence to a firestorm of negativity due to the way it was delivered, being released for free to anyone that had an iTunes account. It was invasive to a certain extent but nothing more than a minor annoyance which U2 haters blew completely out of proportion. Unfortunately this is how it largely came to be defined as many publications panned it for its release tactics rather than on the merits of the actual record itself. Giving scathing reviews just a few hours after it was available on iTunes. How could you possibly absorb the record that completely? Better question yet, how could you possibly call yourself a professional? Delving deeper into Songs of Innocence reveals U2’s most audacious, ambitious, and cohesive record since Achtung Baby.

At the start or end of every decade U2 has had an innate ability to reinvent or at least reestablish themselves in part due to sheer fortitude but also out of necessity. Where 2009’s No Line on the Horizon missed this mark slightly, Songs of Innocence is an immaculate rebirth that valiantly stares down the future. Ironically U2 move into new frontiers sonically by looking to their past with an array of contemporary producers. Unleashing their classic rapturous sound of heaven as a modern cadence permeates the entire enterprise to create something astonishingly intrinsic. Opener “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is like a call to arms as distorted shock waves of The Edge’s guitar rupture through Larry Mullen’s militant drums, Bono’s epiphany comes in the form of hymn (“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/ Heard a song that made some sense out of the world/ Everything I ever lost, now has been returned/ In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard”). “Every Breaking Wave” is sweeping and devastating, it ranks as a peer amongst their biggest most opulent anthems while “California (There is No End to Love)” teeters more towards the rejuvenated rush of early 21st century U2 and “Iris (Hold Me Close)” is an epitaph to Bono’s late mother with the chiming allure of The Unforgettable Fire or The Joshua Tree. “Volcano” and “Raised By Wolves” have the virility and touchstones of War as The Edge’s virtuosity splinters into shards through the disenchanted angst while “Cedarwood Road” may have the heaviest riffing in any U2 song yet. “This is Where You Can Reach Me” has a disco-punk strut of Sandinista-era Clash buoyed by outer limit synths. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and closing duet with Lykke Li “The Troubles” are ballads that pulse in the afterglow with electronic accents further pushing U2 into new territories while maintaining their rhapsodic essence.

Ultimately, Songs of Innocence embodies everything that makes a great U2 record; unbridled passion, spiritual sermons, eminence, and deliverance. With talk of an impending sequel in the works U2 may be in the process of a pertinent resurrection befitting of their stature.

The_Black_Keys-turn-blue_album_Review_Under_the_Radar1. The Black Keys- Turn Blue
Every year there are so many great records released. Everyone pining to put out their best statement but to be better than anyone else is no small task. Since I started this endeavor there has always been a different artist at #1, no one winning that coveted top spot more once. That is until 2014 as The Black Keys have earned the honor of Record of the Year once again with Turn Blue. Not only is this the 2nd time they’ve topped this list but they’ve done so with consecutive records dating back to 2011’s truncated masterpiece El Camino. Turn Blue for all intents and purposes is The Black Keys’ victory lap as the dynamic duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have executed another flawless opus. Co-producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) also deserves partial credit for helping Auerbach and Carney sculpt and hone a sound that’s been evolving ever since their first collaboration, 2008’s Attack & Release. It’s now become an undeniable sonic signature of theirs, so catchy and many have attempted to imitate but only The Black Keys can perfect it.

While El Camino was a short uppercut of their glam rock vertex, without sounding oversaturated, Turn Blue is their most indulgent record yet. Nowhere is this more apparent than opening track “Weight of Love” which is the most stunning as well as one of the best songs they’ve ever made. Rather than the concise numbers we’re so familiar with, this is an entirely different beast all together. By Black Keys’ standards it’s a roaming colossus at nearly seven minutes. It’s a deluge in ‘70s excess, looking into a snow globe and seeing the dunes as two figures appear in the distance. It’s like an intergalactic Spaghetti Western with The Keys trouncing through the alien landscape in their Chelsea boots like nomadic cowboys as a hazy narcotic blizzard of guitar God luxuriance is kicked up by torrents of Auerbach’s majestic solos. The slow-burning opiate flame of the title track feels like a pupil dilating process and Auerbach’s congenial falsetto nearly conceals the impending danger (“I really don’t think you know/ There could be hell below”), “Fever” bathes you in a hypnotic palpitating Farfisa-style organ and “Bullet in the Brain” begins as a kaleidoscopic rover before transforming into a clamorous cosmic stride. The trio of tracks to conclude Turn Blue is one of the best stretches on any of their previous works. “10 Lovers” is the best groove they’ve ever devised, ridiculously infectious like a lunar dance hall before giving way to the bluesy lava flow of “In Our Prime” which contains some of the darkest lyrics on the record (“Like every lover hovers in my mind/ We made our mark when we were in our prime./ The house had burned, but nothing there was mine/ We had it all when we were in our prime.”) Redemption however lies ahead in the beaming road trip closer “Gotta Get Away” as tantalizing guitar twang and euphoric organs explode out of the gate, not looking back in the rearview mirror. Rock & Roll as a cathartic release, what a concept.

Contrary to what many may think due to the heavy psychedelic atmosphere, this is the bluesiest album The Black Keys have ever made. A testament to their prevailing tenacity, Turn Blue rose from the ashes of Auerbach’s bitter divorce. The heartache and personal turmoil is obscured by contagious hooks, soulful guitars, swirling organs, swooning falsettos and impeccable production. The Black Keys have stated that they love to make albums rather than just singles, if they continue to treat the process with this much aplomb and proficiency then we may have to start calling them the dynasty duo. The only ones that can seem to slow The Black Keys down are themselves.

TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2011… 3 MONTHS LATE!

Well I am 28 years old today, you guys. Man I am getting old. Just the other day a kid outside my house said, “Hey dude, nice beard. You look like Brian Wilson.” But did he mean this Brian Wilson?…

Or did he mean the much older Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys (Although here he’s rather young)?…

Either way, I’m POSITIVE he meant it as an insult meaning ‘You’re old, guy!’ It’ll be interesting to see what 28 holds. I’m planning on graduating in May from the University of Iowa. It’s been a decade of destruction in the making to get my bachelor’s degree. Although several factors were beyond my control and I also took a four year hiatus from school and worked full-time. BUT I’M BACK! Everyone thinks once I get my degree I’m going to sky rocket to a different job that pays better and one that I actually like. I don’t see it that way, especially with an English degree. I just wanted to get it done and to stop paying 200 dollars a month in student loans for essentially nothing. Plus maybe it’ll look good on a future résumé, who knows. Other than that, looking forward to the summer and the rest of the year and not having to worry about Spanish anymore. Either way, I just hope the rest of my year doesn’t end up like this guy’s…

 

 

 

 

 

Now onto the meat and potatoes of this post my friends. This is really late again, way more late than my top 25 albums of 2010, but here it is, my top 30 albums of 2011, only three months late! I did a Top 25 albums of 2010 in which I wrote extensively about all 25 albums (Sometimes very extensively). This year, chalk it up to lack of time during the Fall and Spring due to returning to school, unending overtime at work from October through January or sheer laziness as factors for me not getting this done sooner. I did extend the field of albums from 25 to 30. Mainly because as I was pouring over which albums to include in the top 25 and where to rank them there was another handful of records where I thought it would be criminal if I left them off the list and didn’t write about them as well. Enjoy!

TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2011


30. British Sea Power- Valhalla Dancehall

For their fifth LP Valhalla Dancehall, British Sea Power continues with their big-hearted stadium-rock championed sound that has yet to break out of the pubs and taverns near you. That’s not taking anything away from this ambitious sextet though as there are several fantastic cuts like the rafter-rattling call-to-arms opener, “Who’s in Control”, soaring “We Are Sound”, noodling electronica of “Living is So Easy”, propulsive “Observe the Skies” and the thundering atmospheric “Cleaning Out The Rooms” all capture the band at its most epic. Whether or not British Sea Power eventually get to the grand stage they seem to be seeking remains to be seen, but the masses will surely settle for consistently grandiose and more importantly good records.

29. The War on Drugs- Slave Ambient

Perhaps the album cover of Slave Ambient is a perfect summation of the sound of The War on Drugs’ second full-length record. A depiction of a Northern Lights-like dreamscape is exactly what Slave Ambient has to offer. The record is packed full of shimmering soundscapes and driving jangling guitars. Standouts like the superb first four tracks “Best Night”, “Brothers”, “I Was There”, “Your Love Is Calling My Name” as well as the record’s finest moment “Baby Missiles” show that Adam Granduciel is comfortable at the helm steering the band himself and that the departure of Kurt Vile hasn’t hurt the future prospects of The War on Drugs. Slave Ambient actually generates a much different reaction than shoegazing. Instead it’ll leave you with a euphoric astral taste in your mouth, staring straight up into the night possibly while sharing a spliff with your mates.

28. Arctic Monkeys- Suck It And See

 

The wonder boy lads from across the pond the Arctic Monkeys have had to live up to enormous expectations before anyone had really heard of them outside of the UK. Sir Mick Jagger first declared himself a big fan of theirs and then their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not became the fastest selling debut album in British history surpassing the mighty Definitely Maybe by Oasis. Now four albums in, it seems like they are skilled veterans of their craft. And front man Alex Turner is only 25! After two great first albums, the boys stumbled on the rather mundane Humbug but get back on track with Suck It and See. The one element that they seemed to have adapted to Suck It And See is a melodicism combined with their frenetic and spurred late-night indie-rock attack of Whatever… and their second album Favourite Worst Nightmare. Look no further than the opening track “She’s Thunderstorms”, “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair”, the title track and the closer “That’s Where You’re Wrong” for showcasing a band rapidly maturing and adding more weapons to their arsenal with each passing album.

27. Blitzen Trapper- American Goldwing

 

After some of their most bizarre, freak-folk adventures on Destroyer of the Void, it sounds as if Blitzen Trapper have wondered out of the desert after ingesting large amounts of peyote with Destroyer… and have taken off down the highway on their Honda Goldwings for a rootsier back-to-basics Americana approach of American Goldwing. Actually, back-to-basics may not be the right term for it as this is perhaps the largest departure from a standard-issue Blitzen Trapper record as American Goldwing is their most straight-forward foray of Americana music yet. Acoustic-strumming and harmonica are rampant and none is more prevalent than on the title track with a “The Weight” like vibe that could’ve climbed its way onto the Easy Rider soundtrack as well had it not been made 42 years too late.

26. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears- Scandalous

 

Scandalous has to be the consummate party record of 2011. Its gritty sweaty infusion of R&B, soul and funk could’ve been cranked at a house party on turntables in the mid-70’s just as it could be blasted on an iPod dock at a party now (Maybe minus some of the high fidelity). Lewis is a chameleonic smooth operator passing through and blending these genres effortlessly such as the Motown “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin” shuffle of opener “Livin’ in the Jungle”, the plodding blues of, “I’m Gonna Leave You” or the jive-talk rock ode to a brothel of “Mustang Ranch”. Even songs as ridiculous as “Booty City” are sung with such James Brown show-stopping conviction that you feel that you should be there to drape a cape over Lewis after Scandalous concludes as he has poured buckets of sweat onto record.

25. Bon Iver- Bon Iver

The self-titled sophomore effort by Bon Iver is the most gorgeous record of 2011. Although not near as minimalist sounding or isolated as the debut For Emma, Forever Ago which was more or less played like a Justin Vernon solo record, Bon Iver still maintains a significant level of desolate beauty and intimacy despite the addition of things like horns, strings and synths. Still though it’s Vernon’s wounded-wing falsetto that’s the greatest weapon in their arsenal. Bon Iver explodes out of an isolated cabin in Wisconsin to lofty places on cuts like, “Holocene”, “Towers”, “Wash.” and “Calgary”. Vernon and the boys sound like they’ve come outside to join the rest of the world with this record. Let’s hope they hang around for awhile.

24. William Elliott Whitmore- Field Songs

From his sparse and archaic banjo-driven arrangements, gruff baritone, native stomping grounds of Lee County, Iowa, album title of Field Songs, right down to the album cover itself suggests that William Elliott Whitmore is the greatest dust-bowl depression-era balladeer… that was born about seven decades too late. That’s part of Whitmore’s musical charm though in the sense that no one really sounds this rustic and rural yet fresh and revitalizing as well these days. These songs could be plucked on the back porch of a farmhouse, a century apart. Whitmore continues to be a protest singer of sorts. Not against any specific type of institution or tyrannical government, but the general idea of defeat itself. Endurance is the key no matter how difficult the struggle is and nowhere is this more prevalent than the defiant stomp of the album’s closer “Not Feeling Any Pain”. He’s reassuring us and raising a glass to all of us for just getting through our days. Everyone will gladly raise a pint back to Whitmore for Field Songs, even if we were in prohibition times too.

23. Iron & Wine- Kiss Each Other Clean

Iron & Wine ringleader Sam Beam has been slowly progressing away from the subtle quiet, almost whispered folk indie-rock that he first made a name for himself with. With Kiss Each Other Clean this is his most radical departure from the stripped hushed acoustic music of his first few records. That’s not to say there still aren’t the stunningly tender moments with the lovely soulful opener “Walking Far From Home” the gospel-tinged angelic “Godless Brother in Love”. Then there are songs that are far from his usual comfort zone that work as well with the atmospherics of “Monkeys Uptown” and the funky sax-drenched “Big Burned Hand”. With Iron & Wine now sounding like an actual full band outfit, it’s interesting where Beam will steer the ship next.

22. Coldplay- Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay have in-part been tethered to U2 for creating records filled with celestial gigantic sweeping songs that tug at the heart strings. Perhaps it is interesting then that they would try to break their own mold on Mylo Xyloto similar to how U2 first did so with their record Achtung Baby. Although this is a far cry from the groundbreaking heights of Achtung Baby, Mylo Xyloto is perhaps the most interesting record in Coldplay’s catalog. Producer Brian Eno is back at the helm providing lush orchestral arrangements, hip-hop rhythms and electronic loops. However as U2 also discovered, Coldplay will never be able to completely stray from huge anthems no matter how much they’re dressed up in studio clicks and whistles. Songs like “Hurts Like Heaven”, “Paradise”, “Charlie Brown” and “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” are sure to stand up against any of the other epics in their catalog. Maybe next time though Coldplay can cast their nets a little further away from Ibiza and leave the dance-club Rihanna duets off the record.

21. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Belong

After creating a great amount of buzz from their self-titled debut album, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart capitalized on their momentum with their follow-up Belong. The Pains sound like they could stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the great 90’s alternative-rock bands and none more so than the Smashing Pumpkins. Even front man Kip Berman sounds like he’s cut from the exact same cloth as Billy Corgan. With his angst-riddled whimsical vocals they almost suggest leaning towards shoegaze music, that is until the guitars smack you right in the face. The guitars are equally metallic and dreamy with echoes of brit-pop especially on “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now”. With a wide-range of influences on Belong The Pains have brought a 90’s vibe into the new millennium and they’ve done it better than almost anyone else.

20. TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light

After going their separate ways for a variety of solo projects, the members of TV on the Radio reconvened in 2011 for Nine Types of Light. The band’s signature sound continues with an amalgamation of several different genres, which in essence they’ve created a sub-genre all their own. Elements of pop, funk and rock rolled up into electronic grooves that sound like seasoned veterans effortlessly cranking out catchy prism-drenched tunes. This is the most cheerful the band has been on record which is too bad that bassist Gerard Smith died just nine days after the release of Nine Types of Light. If there is one thing that Smith can take with him though it’s the sense of knowing he went out after making yet another great TV on the Radio record.

19. The Felice Brothers- Celebration, Florida

On their fifth studio album Celebration, Florida The Felice Brothers broaden their palate and move far beyond the standard pure-folk revivalist movement that so many new bands have attempted to hang their hat on these days. Instead the band achieves a more eclectic sound by embracing hip-hop rhythms and textures taking them perhaps beyond realms they thought never to achieve. There are still plaintive stark ballads such as “Oliver Stone” and “Dallas” where Ian Felice cuts through the atmosphere with a distinctly Dylanesque, nasally croon. Elsewhere it’s a grab-bag of standouts like the rave-up bops of “Fire at the Pageant” and “Honda Civic” as well as “Cus’s Catskill Gym” which may be the only sympathetic ode to Mike Tyson ever written. There’s diversity on the record that’s inescapable and penetrates deeper with each listen.

18. Dropkick Murphys- Going Out In Style

Time changes everything… and then there’s the Dropkick Murphys. The Murphys have a firmly entrenched fan base and they aren’t out to change or cater to the masses. Get in or ship the fuck out. Pint-sloshing anthems with shout-along (Literally!) choruses have been the blue print for Boston’s rowdiest sons for over 15 years now, and on Going Out In Style there’s more where that came from. The thing with this seemingly by-the-numbers formulaic approach to making albums is that somehow nothing ever feels stale or that the records are past their “sell by” date. Take your pick of litter of chest-beating fist-clenching mosh-pitting songs, they’re all classics by the Murphys standards. After this album and a few pints you’ll be in the mood to rumble with McGreevy or the Fitz brothers or old Fat Mike. Or just go whip a Yankees’ fan’s ass.

17. The Head and The Heart- The Head and The Heart

With their debut self-titled album, The Head and The Heart have officially entered the fray of a budding and promising Seattle folk-rock movement. The ensemble already sounds like polished veterans on their first album which may be staggering to think about how much higher they can go. The harmonies are rich and warm and have a new-age Americana feel to them, similar to that of The Jayhawks. The key weapon in their arsenal though may be pianist Kenny Hensley. His piano is buoyant and profound throughout the key tracks of the album such as “Couer D’Alene”, “Down in the Valley”, “Rivers and Roads” “Sounds like Hallelujah”, “Heaven Go Easy on Me” and the unbelievably catchy “Ghosts”. A song that you can easily listen to 15-20 times in a row without even knowing it. A fantastic song, a fantastic album, and a great start for The Head and The Heart.

16. Smith Westerns- Dye it Blonde

The Chicago “power” trio the Smith Westerns take the angst of their garage rock debut, and shoot for a much grander stage on Dye It Blonde. Producer Chris Coady must be a big fan of Ian Hunter’s because the record has glossy textures that sound like the band is aiming for the glam rock stratosphere chasing anthems like “All the Young Dudes”. The thing with that is that the band pulls off their bigger sound with stunning confidence, maturity and swagger. The band has a huge 70’s glam rock pomp & circumstance sound, while maintaining their youthful indie-cool from their debut. With T. Rex guitars, twinkling pianos, and swirling organs there are countless catchy standouts on the record that get into your head with their relentless hooks and big top choruses like, “Weekend”, “Imagine, Pt. 3”, “All Die Young”, “End of The Night” and “Dance Away”. A big future is in the works for these lads. The young dudes do carry the news and the hits too apparently.

15. Hayes Carll- KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)

You have to sift through a huge pile of manufactured fake bubblegum “Country” bullshit to find anything good. Sad thing is, you’ll probably reach the bottom of that fecal heap and come up with nothing but E. coli. Then there are genuine gunslingers like Hayes Carll who breathe a much needed authenticity into a flaccid Country scene with his blend of gritty Texas outlaw rockers and barroom blues. Carll goes full-throttle right out of the gate with “Stomp And Holler” which sounds like it was cut in a roadhouse right off Highway 61. Carll strikes the hot iron again with his own “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on the bluesy revved-up title track that is just as impressive of a lyrical tour de force and puts him well ahead of any of his peers. Elsewhere Carll yelps like a wounded coyote pouring whiskey on the gash then drinking the rest on 3am laments like “Hard Out Here”, “Chances Are”, “Another Like You” and “The Letter”. Carll closes the album with the an affectionate and vulnerable “Hide Me” that adds a gospel flavor that cuts deeper than any phony bible-thumping, church-going processed Country “star” ever could.

14. Portugal. The Man- In The Mountain In The Cloud

MGMT exploded onto the scene with their synthy neo-psychedelic type pop rock with Oracular Spectacular, but indie-workhorses Portugal. The Man have done it more consistently and arguably better than MGMT since 2009 with three stellar albums. The Satanic Satanist, American Ghetto, and now their latest effort In The Mountain In The Cloud. The record flows effortlessly, coddled in an addictive dreamscape as John Gourley’s spacey falsetto navigates a Milky Way of catchy intergalactic boppers like “Floating (Time Isn’t Working My Side)”, “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)”, “Senseless” and “All Your Light (Times like These)”. The gentle closer “Sleep Forever” only furthers the case Gourley’s voice is smooth enough to serenade the dead wrapped in the vibrant kaleidoscope of In The Mountain In The Cloud.

13. Frank Turner- England Keep My Bones

Someone should warn Frank Turner that he may be in danger of becoming a powerful social conscience. Part Woody Guthrie, part Joe Strummer armed with a weapon that can cut down any fascist, a guitar. Although if you asked him, he’d probably tell you he’d rather be spilling pints on a bar pissed as a fart rather than spilling blood like a bold countryman. On England Keep My Bones Turner bears his teeth in a bedlam of insurgent proclamation with shout-a-longs like “I Still Believe”, “One Foot Before the Other” and “If I Ever Stray”. Turner also ponders gut-wrenching loneliness and isolation veiled in a beauty that only a master troubadour could achieve on cuts like “I Am Disappeared”, “Nights Become Days” and “Redemption”. Then the closer “Glory Hallelujah” hits. A jubilant hymn for the atheists (There are even hand claps!) that could shake the most devout Catholics into swapping “Their confirmation for their dancing shoes”. “There is no God, so ring that victory bell!” So much for 12-years of Catholic schooling. Turner could set the record straight for you then make you forget what that record even was at the pub across the street.

12. Red Hot Chili Peppers- I’m With You

The Red Hot Chili Peppers took a lengthy hiatus following the expansive bluster of their 2006 double album Stadium Arcadium and world tour. Then they were dealt the serious blow of guitarist John Frusciante leaving the band once again. Enter long-time Frusciante friend and collaborator Josh Klinghoffer as the Chili Peppers’ replacement guitarist. I’m With You is a much leaner attack than Stadium Arcadium (Which is saying something because the album is still nearly an hour long). Klinghoffer’s guitar serves the record as a companion rather than delving in too much virtuosity. The band has been sort of redefining their sound as more of a conventional rock band and less of a rap-rock punk band ever since Californication. Make no mistake about it though, they’ve made a sound all their own. What is conventional for the Chili Peppers is incredibly unorthodox for anyone else. The fantastic disco-ball rock of opener “Monarchy of Roses”, funked-out greats like “Factory of Faith”, “Look Around” “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” “Happiness Loves Company” and “Even You Brutus?” are complimented by wonderful ballads like “Brendan’s Death Song”, “Police Station” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”. A balanced and focused attack by veterans of the craft that can still make middle-age rock filled with the youth angst they’ve always been so good at.

11. My Morning Jacket- Circuital

My Morning Jacket’s brain-trust Jim James has always been a Zen-master for the weird with the band’s ever-evolving shape-shifting sound and with their latest installment Circuital, My Morning Jacket may have struck their weirdest nerve yet. Things go interstellar and extraterrestrial pretty quickly as James goes A cappella on a horn intro with opening track “Victory Dance” followed by the mammoth jam of the title track which begins as a gentle creep before exploding into crushing Who-style power chords. My Morning Jacket have echoes of past lives, from their At Dawn era with slow-burning numbers and gentle folk ballads like, “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)”, “Slow Slow Tune” and “Movin’ Away”. Then there’s their most terrifically bizarre song yet with “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” which may be the furthest away from sounding like Black Metal as all the disco globes and lasers in the world couldn’t hold in the funkadelic of this track. Circuital is perhaps My Morning Jacket moving gracefully into a new phase of their career. Despite their melting pot of styles and genres, album after album My Morning Jacket showcase perhaps their most important trait as one of the best and most consistent bands in America, as well as the world.

10. Deer Tick- Divine Providence

Deer Tick are known for their rowdy and raucous live shows they’ve put on over the years, and yet that’s never really transitioned to record. Then the boys decided to wear their hearts on their sleeves by capturing the feral ferocity of their live act and appropriately name their fourth album after their hometown of Providence, RI with Divine Providence. Front man John McCauley and company sound like they came barreling into these sessions at 200 mph fully lubricated, ready to tear the house down. Only instead of a stage in your local taverns and theatres, it’s your own living room. Divine Providence is full of bar room blitz and bravado as McCauley sneers and snarls through bawdy braying numbers like, “The Bump”, “Funny Word”, “Let’s All Go To The Bar”, “Something To Brag About” and “Make Believe”. Where Deer Tick started mainly as a solo project for McCauley, here they sound more unified than ever as guitarist Ian O’Neil delivers a couple shinning cuts including the ballad “Now It’s Your Turn” complete with a Slash-like pyrotechnic guitar solo and drummer Dennis Ryan delivers a surprisingly delicate tale of serial killer John Wayne Gacy with “Clownin Around”. It was last call hours ago, you’re black and blue with cracked red eyes, howling at the moon… but hey you’re young, you’re alive, and you’ve still got Divine Providence on your side while you lick your wounds. Deer Tick have finally captured their accurate self-portrait. A loud, abrasive picture soaked in beer and covered in cigarette ash.

9. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

The Seattle-based Fleet Foxes are still relatively new to the scene but they craft music that sounds so enchanting, so sacred and shrouded in the intrigue of the wilderness that they sound like hymns that could’ve been around for decades buried deep in a forest or up in a little mountain village somewhere. The engine of the Fleet Foxes, Robin Pecknold took an extremely cerebral approach, relentlessly pouring his time and heart into their second record, the brilliant Helplessness Blues (Even costing him a relationship at one point, until she heard the record and they got back together!). With a barnyard owl falsetto as haunting as it is beautiful, only Jim James of My Morning Jacket could possibly match him in this area. On Helplessness Blues Pecknold blends in with harmonies that are as powerful as the highest peaks of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The songs this time out are bigger and bolder. An amazingly enriched, deeper sound particularly in the drums that on multiple tracks sound like massive tribal war drums. Songs like “Sim Sala Bim”, “Battery Kinzie”, “The Plains/Bitter Dancer”, and “Grown Ocean” are shook into thunderous vitality with the elemental pounding. Then there is the centerpiece of the record, the title track. A stop-the-clocks song with a mighty building arc and lyric that is built for the silver screen even to the point where Pecknold closes out the song with the line, “Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen”. The song as well as the rest of the record sits as a timeless piece of art in the folk scene and may have catapulted the Fleet Foxes to the front of the pack.

8. The Decemberists- The King is Dead

The Decemberists have sort of been the like the lost fishermen in the sea of the indie-folk rock scene. They’ve always been on the verge of breaking through to commercial mainstream success before being cast back underneath the waves in seemingly self-sabotaging fashion. Their major record label debut The Crane Wife was a rare hit despite its sprawling complex narrative. The band tried to strike while the iron was hot with an equally expansive The Hazards of Love. The album was met with a tepid, at best lukewarm reaction. Front man Colin Meloy had perhaps grown a bit too self-indulgent in their heady progged-out art rock. Then comes a complete curveball with The King is Dead (Even the title suggests yet other lengthy prog-rock tale). This is their breeziest, loosest record, and also their best. One key weapon joins the foray on this album, R.E.M.’s guitarist Peter Buck. He plays on three songs and nowhere else is he more prevalent than on the terrific “Calamity Song” with its chiming sound soaked in R.E.M. DNA it could’ve been a track left off Reckoning. It’s one of the popiest Armageddon songs you’ll ever hear. Meloy takes his band deeper into the thicket of Americana than anyone probably ever thought they’d go. There’s the harmonica drenched stomp of opener, “Don’t Carry It All”, the nocturnal duet with Gillian Welch, “Down By The Water” and the defiant, “This is Why We Fight”. The King is Dead is an interesting record in a completely different way than its two predecessors The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love. Capturing the dark chiming jangle that made so many R.E.M. records great and combining it with a rural Americana vibe adding up to an irresistibly addictive record. This is saying something for a band whose leader sounds like he’s usually got his head buried in Victorian literature. It should be noted that Meloy stated the band would be going on indefinite hiatus following this record and tour. A great record to go out on, but it also has people salivating for more.

7. Middle Brother- Middle Brother

They may not have as impressive resumes as the cumulative sum of say the Traveling Wilburys (Yet!), but Middle Brother is one of the better “super” groups in recent memory. And unlike another youthful super group deceptively titled Monsters of Folk which actually had a more spaced-out vibe, Middle Brother actually stays closer to the rocks, roots and gravel of folk. The trio of John McCauley of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit combine into a pool of young incredibly talented songwriters. What’s staggering is that they gel so well together it’s like they’ve been playing together for years as the chemistry on record comes off as an established vet. rock act rather than a side project or a super group. Each member contributing batches of great tracks to make the summation of the record that much better. John McCauley’s cuts include the fantastically delicate opener, “Daydreaming”, the shuffling Paul Westerberg cover of “Portland”, and barnburners like the title track and “Me, Me, Me”. Matt Vasquez provides the rugged “Blues Eyes”, as well as “Theater” and “Someday” while Taylor Goldsmith’s songs are the more subdued heartbreakers like, “Thanks For Nothing”, “Blood And Guts” and the tremendous “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” style closer “Million Dollar Bill” where all three take turns on lead vocals. All three men stay busy cranking out records with their other bands which makes it even more impressive that they could fit an album this good into their schedules.

6. The Strokes- Angles

The Clash were once known as, “The only band that matters”. Ever since then, there hasn’t really been a band to be able to stand up to that moniker. Enter the dilapidated music scene of the early 2000’s. Boy bands and bubble gum pop ruled the charts. The only thing that’s getting over in what’s considered Rock & Roll is the heaping pile of bullshit of nu metal, rap-rock, and post-grunge. Gross. The Strokes crashed the scene like a hypodermic needle straight to the heart with their debut album Is This It. Itwas a breath of fresh air, and The Strokes sounded like a genuinely dangerous revitalization for Rock that hadn’t been felt really since Guns ‘N’ Roses first broke onto the scene and initiated a shockwave that was as essential as The Clash hitting the scene. They continued to ride the buzz of their phenomenal debut with two more stellar albums in Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth. Just as the band was hitting their stride however, everything unraveled and the band disintegrated. A few years and solo projects later, The Strokes patched things up and were able to make another fantastic album with 2011’s Angles. A few years apart, it’s clear that the members of the band have brought in and pooled together new ideas and influences while maintaining the sleek stinging presence of their first three records. The hypnotic swagger of opener “Machu Picchu” blends new sonic layers to The Strokes formidable attack of serrating guitars gnashing and snarling like predatory teeth while front man Julian Casablancas occasionally hits Axl Rose worthy notes. The Strokes indulge successfully in blending pop and punk in songs like “Two Kinds of Happiness” before giving way to more incendiary bursts of screeching guitar. Perhaps their most extreme departure to date is the dance floor synths of “Games”. That’s not to say The Strokes don’t have their trademark slashing indie-rock still in tow. Look no further than the sure-fire instant classic Strokes song, “Under Cover Of Darkness” along with other greats like the ominous “You’re So Right”, and the deceptive buoyancy of “Taken For A Fool” and “Gratisfaction”. The Strokes show hints at exploring new territories in the future but it still feels distinctly rooted in the their elements of aerodynamic danger.

5. Wilco- The Whole Love

Although 2009’s Wilco (The Album) was another strong album in the band’s catalog, band leader Jeff Tweedy might’ve sensed minor rumblings and billowing clouds from some of their elitist critics and snobbiest fans that they were perhaps playing it a little too safe on their self-titled effort. Whereas Wilco (The Album) was an amalgamation of their entire career, a Wilco by-the-numbers, 2011’s The Whole Love plays much more like a hybrid of their loftiest peaks. One being the sprawling double album of Americana in 1996’s Being There and the other being the electric fusion android rock of their career-defining 2002 masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The Whole Love jumps back and forth between these peaks with terrifically reckless abandon and both Wilco and their fans wouldn’t have it any other way. The album opens with the masterful seven-minute “Art Of Almost” which begins with gurgling bubbling synths that pulsate in anticipation until a crescendoing atmosphere bomb of strings explodes and clears the clouds for Tweedy to calmly proclaim, “No, I froze, I can’t be so far away from my wasteland”. It’s a song that surely has Foxtrot marks salivating till the very end when guitar virtuoso Nels Cline kicks in with a buzz saw attack that erupts into the finale of a furiously agitated solo until the waves break back into a sea of electronica. This is followed by “I Might” bringing with it a toe-tapping fuzzed-out 60’s groove punctuated by gnashing guitars and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen indulging in Ray Manzarek-like organ while Tweedy spits lines like, “It’s alright. You won’t set the kids on fire, oh but I might.” Other standouts include the power pop (Well, pop for Wilco) of tracks like “Dawned On Me” and “Born Alone”. “Black Moon” which sounds like a brooding nocturnal trot across a desert with a swell of Arabic strings colliding with pedal steel for a lush back drop. The title track is a catchy vibrant Celtic number followed by the 12-minute voyage, “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”. The lengthy closer coasts on effortlessly with the sure-handed rhythm section of John Stirratt and Glenn Kotche shuffling along like a train rattling across the Midwest while Jorgensen’s gorgeous piano filters through the cracked boxcars like gentle interjections of rain beautiful enough to conjure the lovely soundscapes of Roy Bittan. If there was ever a Wilco song perfect for a road trip soundtrack, this is it. Even the more subdued country-tinged numbers have small hisses and fits of robotic tension woven into them. This is the third album with this sextet outfit of Wilco and it sounds like they’ve really hit their stride. The Whole Love is another great album in their catalog, but truth be told there is yet to be a bad Wilco album… period. Wilco’s been in their golden years for 16 years now.

4. Dawes- Nothing is Wrong

Dawes created a big buzz for themselves mining the rich Laurel Canyon sound on their debut LP North Hills. Now it’s only their second album, but Dawes have advanced and matured years if not decades beyond their experience. Front man Taylor Goldsmith is rapidly morphing into a world-class songwriter as Nothing is Wrong sounds like a series of forlorn love letters. The blood of a heartbreak poured out onto paper written on a countryside journey and put into song. While the record is well-polished its core sound still delves deep into the creaking old-guard Americana they were raised on. Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne are among the legendary folk/Americana vets solidly behind Dawes as Robertson requested them as his backing band on his 2011 World Tour, and Browne leant backing vocals to the album’s anthemic track “Fire Away”. Although Dawes are great on numbers like the chiming Byrds-ian opener “Time Spent in Los Angeles”, the ragged Crazy Horse guitar work of “If I Wanted Someone” or the rollicking Celtic-tinged, “The Way You Laugh”,  it’s their ballads where they truly break ground. They’re stunning in depth and devastating in beauty. Suddenly America unfolds in cinematic scope. There’s “A ballerina in Phoenix” there’s “The pines up North”, there’s a young man “With his back against the San Francisco traffic”. “The Way Back Home” plays like a cross-country train ride narrative with Goldsmith having his sights set on one destination, the heart of his young lover. “So Well” contains sublime Crosby, Stills, & Nash-worthy harmonies and “Million Dollar Bill” is so great in its break-up majesty that Goldsmith decided to include it on this album even though he also put it on the Middle Brother record as well. And there’s the closer, “A Little Bit of Everything” that’s so gorgeous sonically with its twinkling piano that it may lead you astray when you listen to the lyrics. It’s masterful aching storytelling, that makes you think Goldsmith’s songwriting and leadership could take Dawes to legendary heights and longevity. If this record is one big kiss-off, you’d hate to be the girl that left Goldsmith and his mates behind because now they’ve got Nothing is Wrong, now they’ve got the momentum, now they can bowl anything over. There may be individuals who believe in the “Sophomore slump” in terms of making records, but clearly Dawes don’t because Nothing is Wrong is incredible. Dawes are ready to carry the torch of Americana for years, maybe even decades to come.

3. Noel Gallagher- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Rock & Roll thrives off conflict. And sometimes, having an arch-rival can stoke the flames, be your muse and be the greatest driving outlet for creativity. But how often is it that your arch-rival is your own brother? For 90’s brit-pop God Noel Gallagher, that’s exactly the case with the devil incarnate manifested in his brother Liam. Oasis was the biggest band in the mid-90’s. Their popularity decreased significantly over the years but they still released strong albums up until their split in 2009. And to say the split between Noel and Liam was nasty is an understatement. Mudslinging in the press continued and it was only matter of time before Noel and Liam released post-Oasis records for the fans to choose their side. Liam struck first with his new band Beady Eye (All of the members of Oasis BUT Noel) with Different Gear, Still Speeding. Then came Noel’s turn with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Noel is arguably Britain’s brightest burning beacon (And most arrogant) musically, and NGHFB is every bit as massive and grandiose as you’d expect, playing like a long lost Oasis record. In fact, with no one to butt heads with and no one to answer to but himself, there may be more over-indulgences on NGHFB than any other Oasis record. But if there is one man who can pull that off, it’s Noel Gallagher. Look no further than the stirring opener “Everybody’s on the Run”. Noel’s still crooning with his golden pipes as the song builds into a goliath crescendo with an outro of sweeping cinematic strings. Gallagher showcases his top craftsman form with other shoot-for-the-moon mammoth ballads such as “If I Had a Gun…” and two Oasis leftovers, “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine” and “Stop The Clocks”. There’s still the classic Oasis Manchester-attitude brit-pop of jangling stompers like “Dream On”, “The Death Of You And Me”, “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” and “(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach”. Hell, he even throws in a disco tune (Or at least that’s what he calls it) with “AKA… What A Life!”. NGHFB is every bit as epic as anyone would expect and whether or not Oasis get back together, Noel’s future looks bright. Liam hit first with Beady Eye, but Noel’s record is far superior.

2. Foo Fighters- Wasting Light

As big and successful as the Foo Fighters have become, Chairman of the Board Dave Grohl has seemingly still been searching for that signature Foo Fighters record. They’ve had several very good records, but not one that has really reached that classic album level. Grohl himself may have in part still felt like he was constantly chasing after the genre-defining masterpiece with his former band Nirvana in Nevermind. It was seemingly destined to cast a monolithic shadow over anything else Grohl would accomplish. Enter 2011’s Wasting Light. Grohl set a high water mark for Wasting Light when he stated before the record’s release that it was their Back In Black. A huge expectation indeed, but Grohl and company crush any naysaying. Wasting Light is their most galvanizing and most synthesized purest form of hard rock. Putting it more simply, it’s their best. And to conjure the magic once more, the Foos called upon the services of Nevermind producer Butch Vig as well as an old school method of recording, meticulously manipulating reel-to-reel tape machines. The old school approach gave it an aggressive rawness, beginning with the engine-revving guitar riff intro of opener “Bridge Burning” with Grohl howling, “These are my famous last words!”. Wasting Light grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go with the pedal to floor. It’s a Murderer’s Row onslaught afterwards with terrific cuts like the ballsy rocker “Rope”, the piledriving “Dear Rosemary”, the unforgiving “Arlandria” and the pummeling “Miss The Misery”. Those enough brutal adjectives for ya? Even the so-called ballads “These Days” and “I Should’ve Known” begin as gentle serenades before exploding into raucous forays. The latter being a paean of sorts for Kurt Cobain made even more imperative with a guest spot by former Nirvana band mate Krist Novoselic on bass providing an extra ominous rumble. Then comes the closer “Walk”, which is the band’s loftiest peak yet. A song that’s custom-built for arenas and stadiums around the world, but so massive that no structure may be able to contain it. A narrative that unfolds like the consummate road dog song as Grohl sings, “A million miles away/ Your signal in the distance/ To whom it may concern/ I think I lost my way/ Getting good at starting over/ Every time that I return”. During the bridge they kick it into overdrive, a relentless assault with Grohl wailing, “I never wanna die/ I never wanna die/ I never wanna die/ I’m on my knees/ I never wanna die/ I’m dancing on my grave/ I’m running through the fire/ Forever, whatever/ I never wanna die/ I never wanna leave/ I’ll never say goodbye/ Forever, whatever/ Forever, whatever”. Hanging out with guys from Led Zeppelin and Queens Of The Stone Age in Them Crooked Vultures must’ve really rubbed off on Grohl. This is undeniably the heaviest Foo Fighters record by a longshot as well as their greatest achievement to date. Grohl has been chasing the ghosts of glory for the nearly two decades, but now the Foo Fighters have a defining moment in modern hard rock. In a time when rock radio is struggling mightily, the Foo Fighters have boldly become the torch bearers for no frills hard rock with a juggernaut in Wasting Light, a 21st century hard rock masterpiece.

 1.      The Black Keys- El Camino

 

2010 was a sea-change year for The Black Keys. There was life before the release of their album Brothers and life after. They began their 2010 tour playing ballrooms and theatres before charging onto main stages at music festivals like Lollapalooza and Madison Square Garden. If 2010 and 2011 were monster years for The Black Keys, they’re somehow poised for an even bigger and better 2012 following the release of the brilliant El Camino at the tail-end of 2011. The dynamic duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have done it again, and they’ve managed to top their breakout record Brothers. Where Brothers was influenced by R&B and old soul, El Camino is a custom-built vintage muscle car polished to a mirror shine tearing down a Delta blues highway ready to rumble. For El Camino The Keys reunited with record producer guru Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) who they teamed with on 2008’s Attack & Release as well as their hit single “Tighten Up” from Brothers. El Camino has a wide range of influences, owing as much to glam rock fore-fathers Marc Bolan and T. Rex as it does to the gritty Mississippi Delta blues of Junior Kimbrough. The term “All killer no filler” gets tossed around a lot, but if there was ever one album that suits that phrase, it’s this one. At only 38 minutes long the record is that much more addictive providing a stout, compact knockout uppercut. El Camino is full of pump-up anthems designed to be blasted at hockey rinks, basketball arenas, and football stadiums alike. As for the individual tracks, which ones are the stand-outs? Try all 11 tracks, there’s not a weak track on the album. All of them are welcomed Chelsea-boot stompers and instant classics in their canon. The Keys come barnstorming through the speakers with the opener “Lonely Boy” powered by a propulsive high-octane barrelhouse riff. There’s the smooth operator charm of “Dead And Gone” and ridiculously catchy glam-rock guitar and Gary Glitter bombast of “Gold On The Ceiling” where it feels like a wave of marauders are coming to pillage and burn your village to the ground then dance through the ashes as a disco globe descends from the sky. The only brief reprieve from the bold rhapsody is in the beginning of “Little Black Submarines”. The track begins as a delicate yet troubling acoustic lullaby before its titanic outro explodes into towering Zeppelin-esque guitar hero ecstasy capable of soaring all the way to Valhalla. The inescapable cuts continue with the no bullshit rocker “Money Maker”, the soulful “Run Right Back” with its swarming stinging guitar licks, the Rolling Stones Some Girls/Emotional Rescue-era swagger of “Sister” and the pounding “Hell Of A Season” all guaranteed to burrow deep into your Cerebrum. Songs like “Stop Stop” and “Nova Baby” go for the jugular and anyone sitting in the nose-bleed seats before the closer “Mind Eraser” hits. Auerbach croons, “Oh, don’t let it be over” and anyone that’s listening to the record could share the same sentiments, because you don’t want the album to ever end. There’s so many slick studio tricks packed into El Camino: hand claps, foot stomping beats, female backing singers, and layers of fuzzy guitars and rave-up organs. And yet, nothing feels bloated or clunky which is even more impressive. The Black Keys use the studio as their main weapon and the result is an overwhelming success. El Camino is an opus that can still fit in your back pocket. It seems every rock band not of the old guard is reluctant to be the next act to take up the mantle of biggest rock band in the world. Judging by the sound of El Camino, The Black Keys are ready to grab that brass ring, and damned if anyone is going to stop them.