“Gravity” — Filthybird
Triad-based Filthybird are soulful and restrained rock with powerful, sweeping melodies. They are at their best on their newest album opener, “Gravity,” where vocalist and keyboardist Renee Mendoza explores her wonderful range with soul and layers of melody. Reverb-filled guitars and carefully placed rhythm propel the song forward in a pleasing and non-obvious way. Notes fill in the space between the soaring harmony. Half of the band owns an instrument shop called Fret Sounds, as well.
“Digging for Something” — Superchunk
Indie rock stalwarts Superchunk helped define and shape the punk-influenced indie rock sound out of Chapel Hill in the ’90s, and continue to make waves as half the band runs the venerable Merge Records. The band has been on the back burner for almost 10 years until coming roaring back with this year’s Majestry Shredding. This return to form opens with the high-energy single of “Digging for Something.” Each verse and chorus is classic fare for this band, and it doesn’t fail to disappoint.
“Modern Man” — Arcade Fire
The Houston-born frontman William Butler’s meditation on the experience and ills of suburban life comes into closest focus on the song “Modern Man.” Through the poignant and simple lyrics he repeats a refrain of feeling “like something don’t feel right.” The slow, consistent beat builds to a crescendo that really gives a feeling of weight. Along with a catchy melody, the song almost feels perfect in form and function. Modern Man is a creepy and haunting song that won’t easily leave your brain.
“Mama Don’t Like My Man” — Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
Powerful voice and charisma, there’s nothing neo about Sharon Jones’ soul. Her full band is a spectacle of horns, guitars, keyboards, percussionists and backing singers (best known for being Amy Winehouse’s backing band on her album Back in Black). On Jones’ newest album, however, the best track is the withdrawn “Mama Don’t Like My Man.” The stripped down track features only vocals, one guitar and hand-claps. This arrangement gives space for the vocals soar in their powerful vulnerability.
“Everybody Wants to Rule The World” — Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
Ted Leo put out another brilliant record out this year, The Brutalist Bricks. He warmly embraces catchy hooks and melodies over Clash-inspired punk rock to express political outrage and discontent. Yet, it’s where Leo takes himself less seriously and relaxes does he really shine. Playing on the AV Club Undercover series, he covers the ’80s pop hit “Everybody Wants to Rule The World.” The live performance showcases his vocal ability, as well as the band’s tightness and comfort with taking on new material.
“Conversation 16” — the National
The National broods in sad reflections on failures — Matt Barringer’s deep baritone subtly cast in withdrawn instrumentation are often compared to Interpol and Joy Division. While their new album, High Violent, hits and misses, the song “Conversation 16” is spot-on. The music is most reminiscent of their best work on previous albums, while the lyrics spin a love song from the perspective of a zombie. Barringer croons “I was afraid/ I’d eat your brains.” For a band that can be insufferably serious, a nice lighthearted touch, even with an oboe part.
“Oaxaca” — Maserati
Created in the mold of a mix between Slint and Tortoise, it is impressive the Athens, Ga.-based Maserati has continued to progress. Their most recent effort, and potentially last due to the tragic death of drummer Gerry Fuchs, Pyramid of the Sun, embraces electronic elements that mix together like a Williamsburg-hipster dance party. The song “Oaxaca” could be a mashup of rock pieces with a later New Order song, with effects-laiden and looping guitars, robotic and pounding drums. It’s a hypnotic and fun song off an ambitious record.
“Out Again” — Torche
Miami-based Torche fluctuate between Helmet-insipred melodic hardcore and spastic metal. Vocals drenched in verb and drony, heavy guitars give this band a hard edge with enough Sabbath-like qualities to have wider appeal. On the short EP Songs for Singles, the stand-out track is the mid-temp “Out Again.” A driving song focused primarily on the consistent beat and layers of guitars on top of guitars without losing the rhythmic melody.
“Let’s Get Out of Here” — Les Savy Fav
Les Savy Fav made minor waves in the late ’90s with their dancy art rock. Albums have appeared every handful of years without lack of quality or intensity. Infamous and funny frontman Tim Harrington proudly proclaims, “We’ve got miles, let’s make the most,” over jagged guitars and a pounding rhythm. The quick rock song hits hard, coos melodically, and then gets out of here.
“Home” — LCD Soundsystem
Jaded musician and DJ James Murphy started up the dance band LCD Soundsystem as a catharsis to overly confining indierock forms. On their third album and potential swan song, This Is Happening, the hipster rants are more in the background. And ironically, they create a pop song that is refreshingly straightforward and personal in “Home.” Murphy reflects honestly on his own life and its relation to music. The long, shuffling song retains an upbeat and dancable all at once.
“American Slang” — the Gaslight Anthem
Many musicians have attempted to divine the inspiration and spirit of Springsteen. The Gaslight Anthem succeed where most fail. On the title track to their most recent album, the band creates a roots-inspired rock song that feels surprisingly fresh and essentially American. Against Me and Kings of Leon should listen to this record to remind themselves of where they went wrong.