Of the bands left from the Return to Rock! hype machine of 2002, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are the only ones to change their style with any sort of success. The Strokes tried to go commercial, the White Stripes tried to get weird(er), and Interpol tried not be the most depressing band of all time. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs just cooled things down a notch and focused on the songs. What were manic raveups two years ago, or sturdy mid-tempo rockers. And where Karen O used to yell brazenly, is another guitar to pick up the load. Because it's not as confrontational, it's easy to quietly dismiss this album. But the best songs here are the ones that come from odd angles, and attack in ways you weren't prepared for.
19. Peter Bjorn and John - Writers Block
I wish I could whistle. In the past three months I've been trying hard to master this form of music with fairly limited success and to the confusion of much of the subway traffic I pass. But it does make me feel generally good about the world, which is much the same feeling I have listening to Peter Bjorn and John. They can whistle, or at least one of them can. And they can lay down a groove and then completely forget about it, because they are that cool. I've never heard so many beats take the background to a cute little melody. And it is a little record, one that needs to be examined closely. Unfortunately, it's one that I probably haven't given enough time.
18. Cat Power - The Greatest
This year, I think you were either a Neko Case acolyte or a follower of Cat Power's pain, and count me in the later. Neko has a set of pipes, but it sounds like a gift from god that she wants to flaunt. Cat Power's voice was shaped hardened experience, and I'll wallow in her misery anytime. Abby describes it as "that voice", and I know exactly what she means. Nearly all the female artists I listen to have it. It's a rusty, world-weary drawl best be exemplified by Lucinda Williams. When they sing the weight of the world comes crushing down. I don't get giddy listening to this stuff, it's not some fantasy of being with such tortured women. I usually just want to lay out on my couch and weep. I love that feeling. I know there are some upbeat numbers here, but I don't much care for them. I like the ballads where the band seems to ache every note out, nimbly stepping around broken hearts. But it would be nothing without Cat Power and "that" voice.
17. Neil Young - Living With War
How different things used to be. When this record was released, America was smack dead in a war that we were losing but refused to admit. There was no "Lauer-Certified Civil War", as the Daily show recently Christianed it. Just some Republican antics that in their 6th year were growing increasingly desperate and futile. It was easy to play ignorant to all this in the streets of New York, but all that changed when I entered the airport to head home. The faces changed, the television channels changed. I remember walking around the terminal with this album pipping in my ears and feeling completely futile. It's a topical record and it's violent and blunt. And there hasn't been an album this year that has touched me in the singular way this one has when I was walking through the airport worrying about the worlds sins and I'm not sure why. This is undoubtedly one of the worst produced albums I've ever heard. Sure it was produced quickly, but why make the drums sound like they were recorded in a concrete bunker? Whole bars of music are left blank where is sounds like Neil should be soloing but he forgot. But it's hard to imagine an angier record, or one that is as powerful as this, no matter how glaring its faults are. What started as an angry kick turned, thanks to the recent elections, into a record of righteous vindication.
16. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
"You keep me coming home again." No, it's not a recent foray into country for our favorite New York lads, but drastic refocus of basic rock essentials. After Sonic Nurse landed a little flat with me, I realized that Murray Street was probably some kind of minor miracle, and that I should be happy plunging into their back catalog instead of waiting on a new classic to be handed to me every other year. Then comes a stripped down, distortion free cruise through the most catchy album of their career. With zero fat, no extended jams, and enough tight solos to keep things interesting before they return to the groove. Their drummer was always a cut above rest, but it's wonderful to hear him so confident here.