The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls of America
Craig Finn destroyed any typecasting with this year’s closest thing to a rock masterpiece, Boys and Girls of America. The Hold Steady pays homage to fellow Twin Cities bands of the past, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. The Replacements comparisons have existed since their heart-on-a-sleeve debut, but with Boys and Girls, the Hold Steady finally gave love to the Minneapolis-based Replacements’ St. Paul rivals. The album’s hazy texture, jaw-dropping melodies, and unexpected eclecticism make this album feel every bit as revolutionary as Hüsker’s Zen Arcade. Boys and Girls serves as a smack in the face to indie rock. An inspired and creative traditional rock band with considerable chops is the real formula for success? Who knew?
Mission of Burma, The Obliterati
This year, a lot of really old artists released solid new albums, but none was more daring or creative than The Obliterati. While Mission of Burma played music a decade ahead of its time in the early ’80s, their newest album seems a decade behind, combining a heavier, grungy sound with their trademark creative rhythms and textures. Throw in some of the most ingenious political lyrics you will ever hear, and you get a reunion album easily on par with MoB’s earlier releases. Maybe it’s the fact that their reunion has avoided the spotlight that has allowed the band to sound this fresh.
Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass
In retrospect, it seems absurd that after 2003’s rather flat Summer Sun, people thought Yo La Tengo was down for the count. They followed with their strongest album in nearly a decade. Right around the death of Love’s Arthur Lee, Ira Kaplan clearly tried here to turn in his own Forever Changes. The new album is a similar psychedelia-laced folk rock album, but with an aggression harkening back to the band’s early noise rock days. The result is one of Yo La Tengo’s best albums. Kaplan and co. have made a trademark of throwing together new sounds until they come up with a happy medium.
Be Your Own Pet, Be Your Own Pet
The best new rock band to emerge this year, this group of 18-years-olds made a powerful friend in Thurston Moore. Ironically, they outdo their label head, as Be Your Own Pet’s debut kicks the shit out of Sonic Youth’s Rather Ripped. You’d think such a powerful 33-minute attack would get old after awhile, but it never does. Thanks to particularly strong balancing tracks like “Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle,” and “We Will Vacation, You Can Be My Parasol,” Be Your Own Pet remains the best workout you can get outside of Ratner. Youthful energy has always been a hot commodity in rock and roll, and no band right now is younger—or more energetic—than Be Your Own Pet.
Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
St. Elsewhere, which has been (falsely) described as everything from alternative rock to neo-soul to underground rap, sounds like nothing else this year or any other year. Despite the bizarre twists and turns Danger Mouse takes in his production, he always manages to find a catchy hook in the muddle. But St. Elsewhere’s greatest accomplishment is some of the most unpredictably brilliant lyrics of the decade, whether it’s the evil genius of “Crazy,” the deceptively complex “Gone Daddy Gone,” or the sick anthem “Necromancer.” With the album dying due to digital technology, Gnarls Barkely has used that technology to make the most immediate, definitive album of the year.