While most tend to prefer Lil Wayne’s older CDs and mixes, Tha Carter III is a great album for him to spread into the mainstream. It might be true. Lil Wayne could have been right about being the best rapper alive. However, on this record, he needed help from a lot of famous rappers to keep himself afloat. Whether he’s got Kanye laying down beats, Jay-Z jumping in, or T-Pain stopping by, the star power is tremendous. Although he had a lot of help, as long as he rhymes I think I’ll be listening. True, his voice can be grating. Yeah, Lollipop might be one of the worst singles of the year. But I love his pop culture references and interesting flow. See I get better with time like a watch/Osh B'Gosh/ Posh Spice husband couldn't kick it like I kick it/ I Kix it no cereal like a landing/ and I sticks it. (Playing With Fire)
17. Lykke Li- Youth Novels
Although her lyrics are highly repetitive and her voice isn't extremely strong, the beats on 'Youth Novels' make the album what it is. They can make the simple words seem poignant and her voice becomes an instrument that helps makes the songs beautiful instead of the focus of the album. A lovely, if a bit saccharine, pop album. My favorites are 'Let it Fall' and 'Little Bit'.
16. The Ting Tings- We Started Nothing
An extremely catchy, drum heavy album with songs that will stay in your head for days. And days. And days. My personal favorite is “Shut Up and Let Me Go”. The other songs aren’t as good, but I can’t find a single song that I truly dislike. They are a cute band with a loud sound, and although this was truly one of the best albums in a year of a lot of great albums, I can’t see them being around too much longer. So I’ll enjoy this really fun CD while they last.
15. Various Artists- The Hotel Café Presents…Winter Songs
There’s Ingrid, Brandi Carlile, Fiona Apple, Lenka, Sara Bareilles, KT Turnstall, Kate Havnevik, and some of my other favorite female singers. The only flaw on the CD is Katy Perry’s ‘White Christmas’. The combination of Sara and Ingrid for the first track, ‘Winter Song’ is slow, moving, and sounds like a sledding song. My favorite new CD for the holiday season.
14. Lenka- Lenka
13. Ani Difranco- Red Letter Year
Ani‘s records generally are highly acoustic without any glossy production. This is not the case with Red Letter Year. There’s a more heavily produced feel, and a much more grown up flavor to the album that some fans will detest and some will see as an artist simply growing up. After seeing her live this year I tend to prefer her older stuff live and her newer stuff straight off the album with the strings and such filling out her songs about times as a lobbyist and her baby. She’s still the bisexual feminist with an ability to slam the guitar like no other tiny woman you have ever seen. She’s just a bit calmer while she’s doing it. For a great song on her perspective on religion and of course the patriarchal society we live in, check out the songs ‘The Atom’ and “Alla This’, my two favorite off of the album.
12. Girl Talk- Feed the Animals
Night Ripper is one of my favorite albums of all time. I really thought it couldn't get better than a guy straight out of Pittsburgh with a scraggly beard mixing Slim Thug and The Verve. Yet, with Feed the Animals he takes it to the next level. Adding more party songs to his rap/indie mixes makes a record just screaming to be blasted. Whether played before going out, before work, during a long run, Greg put musical ADD on the map, and Feed the Animal contains some sick mashups.
11. The Weepies- Hideaway
The Weepies have an older sound to them, a Simon and Garfunkel style with a female voice thrown in. They aren’t controversial. They aren’t saying things no one’s heard before. But they speak with one voice, with great harmonies, about love, loss, and the need to always press forward in life. And if they can do that with a soothing style and smiles on their faces than innovation is overrated. I’ll take a little bit of simplicity every now and again.
10. My Morning Jacket- Evil Urges
9. Uh Huh Her- Common Reaction
Last year I was obsessed with their EP. While it was a great CD, I still wasn't prepared for the awesome sounds of 'Common Reaction'. Camila Grey generally takes the lead vocals and keyboard and Leisha Hailey is usually rocking out with the bass and back up vocals. Unlike Leisha's past bands (The Murmurs, Gush) Uh Huh Her is a more electro-synth type of project. Camila's voice is soothing, but never boring, and Leisha has proven to be much more than 'that chick from the lesbian TV show' or the girl from the Yoplait commercials. There's an eighties throwback feel to most of the album which is fun, and done right. Often times bands think that eighties just means throwing some synth around, but it takes a bit more to perfect the energy of the era. Main complaint? The changing of the song 'Say So' which was amazing on the EP and changed to a radio friendly pop song for 'Common Reaction'. While the album is getting heavy rotation in the back of MTV reality shows it’s much more than a back drop to teen angst. Check out the song 'Covered' if you want a good feel of what the band is like, or 'Not a Love Song' if you listen to Top 40 radio.
8. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago
'Skinny Love' is a wonderful song. A beautiful song. In fact, it’s a heartbreaking, wonderful, beautiful song. Sometimes, when I hear a song that great I don't want to hear anything else from the artist, fearing I will be terribly let down. In this case, I should have started listening a lot earlier. The sound reminds me of one of those winter days where you fear you'll be chilled straight to the bone but there is enough sunlight that the cold becomes part of the beauty. The chilling sound of this album becomes part of why it’s so wonderful and listening to the whole thing allowed me to see the record as an experience rather than just one song.
7. The Mountain Goats- Heretic Pride
Darnielle is a spectacular lyricist. He writes as many characters, and I believe him as each one of them, whether he's a spy or a young girl. Simply put, Darnielle's style is different than anything else out there. Currently my favorite song is the title track which states "I'll feel so proud when the reckoning arrives. With an amazing discography like his, he has a lot to be proud of.
6. Sara Bareilles- Little Voice
I really can’t say enough about this CD. The first single, ‘Love Song’, is one of the few songs that got heavy radio play this summer that I did not switch off immediately. Her lyrics are clever, her piano playing skills are much better than most pop stars, and she seems to have the kind of attitude where her music comes first and fame is just a side effect. At the age of 29, she probably wasn’t expecting this kind of popular stardom. However, her radio friendly songs are better than anything else on the radio right now. Those who write her off due to her singles are missing out on some fun songs that you’d never hear without digging a little deeper. Her ballads, such as the wonderful ‘Gravity’ show off her great range and precise voice. ‘Fairy Tale’ is a feminist spin on Disney’s stories that all girls should listen to. ‘Vegas’ digs into the parts of all of us that want to just run away from the situations we’ve found ourselves in. Here’s to hoping for another album soon because she’s anything but a little voice.
5. Britney Spears- Circus
Britney knows how to make a smokin dance album. Well, the producers and musicians behind Britney certainly do. Circus is a hot record, filled with songs that will be blasted at the clubs for a long time. I really can’t get into the meanings behind the songs, because the lyrics do not matter. They simply don’t. Brit’s at her best when she’s repeating choruses with an insanely altered voice over a crazy beat. I’m a little more than a little bit obsessed with ‘Womanizer’ and ‘Mmm Papi’. Although some may disagree, I think Circus is better than ‘Blackout’ in the fact that while it may not have as many good songs, the ones that are god knock it out of the park. Because that’s Britney, bitch.
4. Fleet Foxes
The ultimate Americana album. They use older influences, like Fleetwood Mac, without ripping them off. I really don’t have much to say about this album except it brought me a feeling of love for the vast amount of land in our country. Whether talking about sunrises or mountains, whether going all out or holding back, the Fleet Foxes have by far made one of the most unique and touching albums of the year.
3. Janelle Monáe- Metropolis: The Chase Suite (Special Edition)
Concept records rarely hold my attention. Especially ones about androids named Cindy Mayweather and intergalactic laws being broken. However, since I first sad Janelle I knew I had to listen to her. After I blasted the song ‘Many Moons’ so many times I almost had the little rap at the end down, I realized that she was more than just the interesting chick signed by Diddy on Bad Boy. Her cover of ‘Smile’ is simply beautiful, and it’s easy to get caught up in the story the record tells, although some of the songs can stand alone. I can’t wait for her next suite, and I hope it’s as interesting as ‘The Chase’.
2. Jenny Lewis- Acid Tongue
Rilo Kiley has been one of my top three bands for about two years now. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twin’s album has been on such heavy rotation since I got it that I fear I might become a slight country fan. When I heard Jenny Lewis was putting out a completely solo album made her way I was very excited and extremely nervous. I have high expectations when it comes to the red head, and I was afraid I’d be very disappointed. The first listen was an interesting one. In my excitement to hear the album I didn’t quite process it. Then came the vital second listen. When the title track came on I knew I was in love. Hearing ‘The Next Messiah’ clearly for the first time was incredible, knowing that she was probably speaking a bit more about her father (who played on the album) on this record after using her mother for inspiration when singing with the Watson twins. Hearing Elvis Costello on ‘Carpetbaggers’ let me know that this album could bridge generations, for I used to listen to ‘Allison’ with my dad when I was younger. Zooey D’s back up vocals added a bit of fun for her fans. Jenny Lewis’ first solo album did not disappoint, and I should have known that nervousness wasn’t necessary. Although I love Rilo Kiley, I can’t wait to hear her next venture.
1. She & Him- Volume One
A lovely, older sounding album. The problem with most records like this one is that it is simply not enough to make okay sounding tunes and give them a scratchy production as a gimmick. As a fantastic producer and wonderful guitarist, M Ward does a great job staying in the background. Although his work is worthy of recognition the true star in the band is Zooey Deschanel. Whether it's her slightly shy yet wise persona, her crystal voice, or just those shining blue eyes that you can picture as she sings, it's clear that Zooey is far more than an actress that sings on the side. Each song has a similar feel but they each have their own flavor. Volume One is a terrific start and I cannot wait for Volume Two.