This time of year brings a surplus of album releases and, for us, along with the fresh tunes comes a desire to do little more than stay home and listen to music while watching surf videos. The result is a collection of new faves and old jams, both up-tempo and down, to get you through the leap year.
Magnetic Fields: Distortion
The first album from the Magnetic Fields since 2004's i, Distortion is one of their better efforts this century. Chock full of smeary guitar arrangements that take on Dick Dale-like reverb, Stephin Merrit's definitive baritone is a mellifluous complement to the drawn out distortion. But it's Shirley Simms on this go around who comes through with tasteful harmonies on songs like "Drive on Driver."
Clean organs, the fuzzy guitars and a touch of feedback provide a surprisingly full but laid-back sound. It's one of those albums you can listen to all the way through. Pick up Distortion at Nonesuch or from iTunes. Also currently on tour, catch them live from 21-24 February at the Town Hall Theater in New York.
In my opinion one of the most innovative contemporary guitarists around, Bill Frisell, went back into the studio for a string of intense sessions to record Floratone with distinctive percussionist Matt Chamberlain and long-time producers Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend.
Conceived as a lab experiment, the recording process started with Frisell and Chamberlain improvising in the studio followed by Martine and Townsend splicing together a loose song format that the musicians then filled in. The result is an intricately produced blend of jazz-, reggae-, funk- and blues-drenched chords that create a distinctly Southern swamp-like sound. Overlaid twang and reversed tracks are add texture. Purchase it at Floratone or iTunes.—Tim Yu
Alela Diane: The Pirate's Gospel
British music store Rough Trade's #1 of 2007, Alela Diane's newest album The Pirate's Gospel is a folksy sound with trance-like lyrics. Our favorite tracks are easily the eponymous "The Pirate's Gospel" and "Oh! My Mama," a tribute to the role mother's play in the continuum of music and melody. Get the album from iTunes or from Holocene.
The Irish music sensation BellX1, released their new album Flock today (available on eMusic), sounding a bit like Radiohead with less melancholy. A range of instruments and the strong vocals of Paul Noonan make it a must-listen. You can get a live tour CD/DVD (as well as a teapot!) from their site. Or get the new album from eMusic.—Joel Niedfeldt
Released back in 2006, Snowden's debut has eluded much mainstream coverage. Which is strange, because the Atlanta foursome do an admirable job coupling fuzzed-out guitars and stuttering beats with hypnotic, monotone vocals (think Interpol, if they were bit less mopey and turned their distortion pedals up a few notches). Pick it up from Amazon or Jade Tree.
Liars have made a business out of taking extreme, sometimes unmarketable, stylistic turns between albums. Their latest self-titled disc is closer to the middle ground and finds them keeping the dark rhythms of Drum's Not Dead, while incorporating more accessible hard-rock elements. Easily their catchiest album ever. Buy it from iTunes, Insound or their site.—Doug Black
Hot Chip: Made in the Dark
They've done it again. The boys of Hot Chip pull out another masterpiece with their third album Made in the Dark. The album starts with a most epic intro leading us into a mixture of wonderfully danceable upbeat tracks and beautiful slow love ballads. I don't know which I like more, but I do know if you have the opportunity to see them live, take it, having seen them upwards of five times, I still have yet to find a better live show. Whether you're looking to dance, or make some love, Hot Chip has you covered. Get it from iTunes or Insound.
Yeasayer: All Hour Cymbals
Yeasayer is hard to describe. Seeing them live is like watching Blues Traveler play Animal Collective songs, I don't know if that makes sense, but these guys rock. They harmonize beautifully, sing fast sometimes and it's just hypnotizing. Another live show that shouldn't be missed, these guys blew me away, taking their studio recordings to whole new levels on the stage. Listen for yourself, experience the magic by buying it from iTunes or their site. —Seth Brau