January's Best Albums

This one's a bit late, but why not do a quick rundown of some of my favorite January releases? It's pretty apparent what I like -- slightly off-kilter indie rock and bands that are smart enough to know that 40 minutes is the longest an album should be. I'm sure you have other January favorites. Perhaps Drive-By Truckers, Blind Boys of Alabama or that deluxe reissue of Beck's "Odelay"? As always, chime in with your thoughts.

Thao Nguyen with the Get Down Stay Down - "We Brave Bee Stings and All"

I raved about this album in last week's paper, Patrick Foster raved about her CD release show at Iota a few days later, Chris Richards raved about her in the Singles File a few months ago and J. Freedom and I raved about her back-and-forth on IM throughout December and January. So believe it when we say We At the Washington Post love Thao Nguyen. The local singer-songwriter has a delightful chirp of a voice -- some people say Cat Power, I like to say Edie Brickell -- and she writes rollicking indie-folk jams that are centered around banjo, ukulele and horns. The entire album will leave you with a smile on your face, even if the lyrics are downers.
Download "Bag of Hammers"

Times New Viking - "Rip It Off"

Sometimes an album is simply right up your alley, and that's the case here. This Columbus, Ohio trio plays loud, catchy, snotty, lo-fi indie rock, the kind of music I've based my life around since I was 13 years old. After releasing two (fantastic) albums last year you'd think they might have used up all their good ideas but then you remember that they really only have one idea -- the whole loud, catchy, snotty lo-fi indie rock thing. And this isn't a case of "bad" production hiding subpar songwriting. TNV simply loves its aesthetic and the hooks and melodies still shine through.
Download "Drop-Out"

The Magnetic Fields - "Distortion"

Lots of people say that Stephin Merrit reached the level of Songwriting Genius with 1999's triple-album opus "69 Love Songs." It was quite an undertaking, and a great success, but if you ask "old school" MF fans, it's probably his third or fourth best album. On "Distortion," Merrit ditches the organic instrumentation of "69 Love Songs" and followup "i" for a set of saucy, keyboard-heavy romps and the titular distortion that lingers in the background of each song isn't distracting at all. He wisely leaves most of the lead vocals to Shirley Simms, whose sparkling voice adds the perfect pop touch, compared to Merrit's increasingly lumbering croon, which is best in small doses.
Download "California Girls"

Vampire Weekend - "Vampire Weekend"

Are they the coolest band in the world or the lamest band in the world? Guess it depends what blogs you read. It's slightly surprising that Vampire Weekend could cause such a fervor but much more surprising that they could cause so much vitriol. It's likely that most of that hate is due to the hype machine that made them breakout stars before their debut even came out, but the album itself is just so agreeable. All the songs are crisp, clean and clever -- I was singing along on first listen, somehow. The world music/African influences might be a touch overstated -- it sounds more like the Police to me -- but it's certainly not by-the-numbers American guitar rock. It's about as white collar as you'd expect from Columbia grads who namecheck Cape Cod and have a song called "Oxford Comma," but man are those some catchy songs.
Downnload "Oxford Comma"

Blood on the Wall - Liferz

This album is like a cousin to the Times New Viking album. The tape hiss isn't there, but the [expletive]-all attitude comes through in spades. It's a pretty rambunctious affair and the influences of indie rock godfathers Sonic Youth and the Pixies can be picked out with ease. When Courtney Shanks handles lead vocal duties there's a definite Yeah Yeah Yeahs thing going on -- she sings with that same kind of nervous energy of Karen O, as if she doesn't know what the next sound coming out of her mouth will be. This is basically a genre album, but a damn good one. "Rize" sounds like Unrest, "Lightning Song" sounds like a Pavement b-side, the X sounds like Mudhoney. Hey, I love all those bands! So even if I don't love this, I like it plenty.
Download "Hibernation"

By David Malitz |  February 6, 2008; 10:04 AM ET Monthly Bests
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i know i'm talked about it plenty with Dave M. through IM recently, but i'll just go on the record so that more people can see it...
Thao Nguyen is overrated by the people over at the post. It's a good album. No more. No less. A 6.5 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. I don't see what you think is unique about it. the two times i listened, all the songs ran into each other and vocal melodies are essentially the same on every song. 2 listens was enough. i don't think i'll revisit.

and as far as Vampire Weekend goes, i hold it in about the same esteem as Thao.
Good. Not great. The blog hype machine is just dying to hype anything with an ever so slightly innovative sound at this point.

Magnetic Fields peaked in about 1995. i think that was the point where he was equally dividing his time between MF and The 6ths. And that was just his best era, hands down.

I'm still dying to hear the blood on the walls album. Can you say Rapidshare?

Posted by: Ben W | February 6, 2008 12:30 PM

good picks, but Drive-By Truckers' "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" takes the cake for me ... i've listened to it more than a few times already and it keeps yielding more and more gems with every spin ... right now i'm hooked on the Hood tracks, especially "The Righteous Path"

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | February 6, 2008 4:15 PM

You know, I just couldn't get too wrapped up in the new DBT album. You can tell from my list that I like short albums, so maybe that's part of it. I also think Cooley's a little stretched thin; 7 songs is too many for him, he's best when he keeps it to 3 or 4 per album. Except for "You and Your Crystal Meth" I think Hood nails pretty much every one of his.

Posted by: David | February 6, 2008 5:30 PM

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