All right, I'll start:
D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor:
Real Estate, Days
As we've mentioned before, since our jobs require us to listen to music almost constantly, it's relatively difficult to divorce what we're listening to for pleasure from what we're listening to "professionally." I wrote a two-sentence review on Days, the brand-new sophomore effort from New Yorkers by way of New Jersey, Real Estate. But I've been listening to the damn thing incessantly. Days' lead-off single, "It's Real" — for which there is a brand-new, canine-friendly music video — is the most upbeat and certainly one of the most immediately catchy numbers on the record, its shimmering guitar hooks and undeniable sing-along vocal melody serving as fantastic bait for the rest of the album (even if its lyrics aren't quite exceptional). Despite their rather banal name and an aesthetic that is seemingly both old hat and en vogue among the indie-rock set (surf pop, we'll call it), the melodies on this record are insistent and exceptional.
The Nerves, The Nerves
Los Angelean power-pop legends The Nerves, of course, only released one four-song EP during their brief tenure as a band back in the mid-'70s. The Nerves' three members — each of whom wrote songs and sang — went on to form other notable bands like The Plimsouls and The Beat, and The Nerves remains an under-sung slice of pop genius and a forerunner to the American punk movement (old news to record store clerks and audiophiles everywhere). Blondie, of course, had a hit with their cover of The Nerves' "Hanging on the Telephone" — it's also since been covered by everyone from Def Leppard to Davila 666. The EP is something of an excruciating tease, as — while the three members' other projects are great listens, too — it's one of those releases that makes you say, "I have to hear more of these guys" ... but there isn't any more. I've been listening to/singing/whistling "Hanging on the Telephone" almost nonstop this week.
Also in constant rotation is everything by Nick Lowe ("All Men Are Liars," "Cruel to Be Kind" and all of Jesus of Cool, mostly) and a playlist of "Best TV Show Themes Ever" I made. Said playlist includes The Brian Jonestown Massacre's "Straight up and Down" (Boardwalk Empire), Polaris' "Sandy" (Pete and Pete), Washed Out's "Feel It All Around" (Portlandia), Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes" (former theme song from the now scatterbrained shell of a narrative that is Weeds) and Angelo Badalamenti's "Falling" (Twin Peaks).
Ashley Spurgeon, freelancer:
Rufus Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright
I wore this album out in high school, but lost it at some point over the past decade. Only recently found a used copy at Grimey’s and have proceeded to wear it out again. Favorite song: “Foolish Love.”
Empire of the Sun, Walking on a Dream
I can’t even begin to explain how perfectly suited to my tastes this record is.
Joe Jackson, “Steppin’ Out”
Recently added to my rotation of “Songs to Listen to When Putting on Makeup.”
Lance Conzett, freelancer:
I'm going to go ahead and put aside all of the Halloween music that I was jamming on for the past month (well, minus one — more on that below) and the Beirut records I was submerged in while writing a preview for their show next week.
Circle Takes the Square, As the Roots Undo (Robotic Empire, 2004)
Thanks to NPR, of all places, I've been revisiting some of the moody hardcore bands I loved when I was in high school. My fascination with breakdowns and black hair dye was already in its twilight when I discovered Circle Takes the Square, but they're apparently a band that I can still get into in a big way. It probably helps that they, unlike many of the post-hardcore bands of their time, understand the value of musicality and composition. And that they're not brazen misogynists. Other bands of the genre that I've been strolling down Memory Lane with include Blood Brothers, The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and Please Tell the Captain This is a Hijack.
The Fat Boys, "Are You Ready for Freddy?" (Rhino, 1988)
I found this in a bin at Grimey's while looking for Hocus Pocus by Focus and caught some mad lulz for it. It's actually a pretty great song, written by The Fat Boys for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and featuring bits by Robert Englund himself. I've found myself morbidly fascinated by the Elm Street series lately since it scared me so much as a kid, especially after discovering that there's a four-hour documentary about the whole damn thing called Never Sleep Again and reading about the gay subtext in Freddy's Revenge that eluded executives at New Line at the time. This is just another amazing piece to that absurd puzzle.
The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck (Merge, 2011)
The older I get, the more I realize that John Darnielle is probably my favorite contemporary songwriter. Not much more to say about it than that. Dude can write the hell out of some lyrics and his latest record is no exception.
Edd Hurt, freelancer:
Miranda Lambert, Four for the Record (RCA)
I guess this is the big country record of the end of the year, with "Fastest Girl in Town" one of the more truly country (and better) moments on a rock-inflected grab-bag of hot tunes — a big box of Tabasco-flavored gourmet chocolate-chip cookies, you might say. Listen to the wobbly intro to "Mama's Broken Heart" and muse about studio-mania and how far country has come from three chords — the truth is Lambert's own, and has something to do with a healthy distrust for glamour.
Kevin Gordon's Gloryland (Crowville Media) and Dap-Tone's spiffy collection of Benin's El Rego et ses Commandos, a '60s and '70s West African group in thrall to James Brown and wah-wah guitars. Very danceable — the Gordon perhaps not quite so. Matthew Sweet's Modern Art (Missing Piece) is an amazing simulation of power-pop circa 1973, right down to the guitar sound. Also enjoying Merle Haggard's effortless and somewhat, er, anachronistic Working in Tennessee (Vanguard) — Haggard writes a song about soulless modern country music called "Too Much Boogie Woogie," and it's ridiculous. Other songs celebrate cocaine and murder, decry deceptive politicians and imagine Merle as a humble worker at Opryland. All Western-swing inflected, pretty well sung, and kinda nutty.
I can't stop listening to The Mamas & the Papas' 1966 album The Mamas & the Papas (Dunhill), which may be their best regular-issue album — "I Saw Her Again" and "Trip, Stumble and Fall" are pop at its most intricately joyous. Cornetist Graham Haynes' 1995 Transition (Antilles) is a fine hybrid-jazz collection, with hints of "world music" and Miles' electric period integrated with post-hip-hop rhythms. Finally, Jimmy Rushing's The You and Me That Used to Be (RCA) is a 1973 blues album featuring a stellar rhythm section, and Rushing finessing some standards.
Sean L. Maloney, freelancer:
Flaming Lips, Found a Star on The Ground
OK, so it's six hours long and I've only listened to the first two, but damn this is a pretty incredible piece of psych.
Deer Tick, Divine Providence
The DT boys embrace their inner punks and make a rowdy, ribald Replacements-fueled album that rocks far more than their previous efforts.
Call It Anything, Choose Your Own Adventure
This is a weird one, sort of like an improv sound-effects record from another galaxy, but with big funky grooves by the end of it. As the band suggests, "put it on shuffle".
Justice, Audio. Visual. Disco.
I know a lot of people are upset that they didn't put out another album of high-energy dance pop, but I'm not! It's definitely more of an electro-prog record like, say, Alphataurus or a way cooler version of Yes.
Boris, New Album
Yes, that's the title. No, it's not out yet. Yes, it's an incredible re-imagining of the band's previous two albums, a shoegaze-Jpop-ambient-metal-dance masterpiece. No, I won't burn you a copy. And yes, it's unlike anything they've ever done.