Continuing where I left off last week, I'm still trying to catch up on some of the more promising releases from this year. At this point in the season, it's too late go off on a exploring whim, not if I ever plan to put together a list of my favorite albums. Instead, I focus on bands with a good track record of pleasing me audibly or recommendations for reputable sources such as MoJo magazine's top list or friends with good taste. My top twenty five list is nearly filled up, but there's definitely some wiggle room with albums kind of just hanging on by a song or two. A few of these may have muscled their way in, but I won't won't know until I've played through the handful of albums I'm still hoping to see under the tree.
Electric Wizard - Black Masses: I discovered the pure stoner metal joy of Electric Wizard's classic 2000 album Dopethrone last year and have been a fan of these British sludge masters ever since. Still as heavy as ever, the band however has improved considerable over the last decade. They've incorporated more drone elements into their sound ("Crypt of Drugula" is a perfect example) which effectively makes the album more interesting for repeated listens. It's strange to refer to a stoner metal album as dynamic, but this one sort of is. If you like Sabbath and want to hear what that idea has evolved into, check out this album and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Air Waves - Dungeon Dots: The second album from Brooklyn based Air Waves is a nice piece of fuzzed out indie rock. It's sort of a bare bones kind of album, not quite lo-fi but lingering on the edges. It reminds me a little of Best Coast, only not nearly as sunny. It's a soothing, comforting kind of album, though it could stand out a bit more in my opinion. "Bisous" is a beautiful song and definitely worth checking out.
The Greenhornes - "****": This Cincinnati band has been around for over a decade, releasing four albums (this being the fourth) and two fine EPs, but are probably best known because they share a rhythm section with a certain band known as The Raconteurs. This album may be their most mature work to date. It sees them moving past the retro '60s garage sound with Jagger like vocals, not losing it altogether, but infusing it with a soul vibe that blends nicely. An all around solid album. If you've been into The Black Keys new album, The Greenhornes are certainly worth checking out. As the album title suggests, it's not 5 stars, merely four, but that ain't so bad.
The Sword - Warp Riders: From the sound, right down to the album cover, this album doesn't try to hide its influences. This Austin, Texas band set out to create a heavy metal album that draws upon the riff heavy sound of '70s metal on their album and achieved it with great success. Shredding guitars and Ozzy-ish vocals combine for a very enjoyable listen. Bonus points for being a space odyssey concept album.
Natural Snow Buildings - The Centauri Agent: My favorite drone folk outfit returned with another album this year, after two epics last year, including the 7 hour plus masterpiece Daughter of Darkness. This one clocks in just over two hours in length and sees the French duo tackle something they haven't yet ventured into: space. Drone folk combined with space rock is a match made in heaven. Another classic from a band that has already achieved legendary status.
Johnossi - Mavericks: This is the third album from the Stockholm duo and sees them moving even further from the indie-folk sound of their debut to a more alternative rock sound. I have to confess that after loving their debut, I've found each of their next two albums to be something less than unique. There are moments of greatness to be found on this album, but there are also moments of blandness. It left me a little disappointed, though I still strongly recommend their 2005 self-titled debut.
Those Poor Bastards - Gospel Haunted: The Madison, Wisconsin band's fifth album steps up the crazy in their gothic death folk sound. There are a few other bands out there making this kind of music, most notably O'Death, but Those Poor Bastards seem to take it to another level. Like a more dire Nick Cave or warped Patti Smith, the band creates unforgettable records. "Ill at Ease," the albums 12 minute epic, is quite possibly their best song to date.
Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy: This Brooklyn, via Athens, Georgia, band's fifth album is a great americana indie album in the vein of Magnolia Electric Co or more recent Wilco. Like many bands of this genre, there's a heavy Neil Young influence that shines through. Very pretty, sprawling songs that capture a soft feel that is great to listen to when...well, taking it easy. The closing track "Los Angeles" alone makes this album worth listening to, not that there aren't a few others that don't help out the cause.
The Young Veins - Take a Vacation!: I caught a video for the single off this album and found the Kinks like sound intriguing. I was surprised to learn this is a spin-off band of Panic! At the Disco, a band that I don't think too much of. This is one of those obvious side-project kind of albums, designed to move in another direction than the core band. In this case, it was to create a retro '60s indie pop album. It achieves it's end and stands as an enjoyable 28 minute little record. Though like most projects of this kind, it's doesn't really stand out as anything truly mesmerizing. A solid okay, but maybe more so if bands like Vampire Weekend are you're thing.