Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lou's Top 20 of 2012, Part 2

1.    Ben Kweller – Go Fly A Kite (The Noise Company)

A consistently brilliant artist over a decade-long solo career, Kweller comes up with a platter of pop greatness here worthy of masters like Cheap Trick, Badfinger, ELO, and Rundgren. The guy just churns out hooks, shines equally on rockers and ballads, and has developed his penchant for sappiness into  mature but plainly heartfelt songwriting. Kweller proves himself more than ever as a singular talent here.

2.    Damien Jurado – Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian)

Damien Jurado has moved progressively away from the spare, ultra-melancholy approach that without a doubt served him well over the course of what for most singer-songwriters would be a very accomplished career. But nudged along by producer Richard Swift, he has pursued an expansion of his sound that reaches new heights on Maraqopa. The trippy acid guitar of opener “Nothing is the News” and perhaps even more trippy child backing vocals of “Life Away from the Garden” set the tone for this enthralling dream sequence. While the songs on the second half of the lp hew more closely to Jurado’s past work, each ranks among his best, with Swift’s accents only burnishing them.

3.    The Darkness – Hot Cakes (Wind-up)

It’s easy not to take the Darkness seriously, but if you’re not too self-important to have any soft spot for cock rock, it’s tough not to acknowledge their brilliance at it. They rock as much as you always wished Queen would have, cast hooks worthy of KISS, and deliver the crunch of AC/DC along with the lyrical subtlety they lost with Bon Scott. They seamlessly tie in art rock flourishes and the sentimentalism of the finest power ballads. And over the course of their three releases they without question have grown more adventurous and accomplished without losing grasp of the unbounded enthusiasm that filled the arenas in the first place.

4.    Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon (Sub Pop)

Cahoone’s haunting voice and aching melodies each reach new heights on her third lp, whose tracks strike the perfect balance between rootsy and modern, melancholy and (well, relatively at least) uplifting. Perfect complements of banjo, steel and strings make this an exceptionally well constructed record.

5.    Spirit Family Reunion – No Separation (self-released)

It’s as easy to imagine this motley band performing on the back of a flatbed somewhere in the deep South in the ‘40s or ‘50s as to picture them in their real-life Brooklyn street corner and subway station haunts. So it’s no surprise that their debut full-length is as authentic as any bluegrass/Americana release in recent memory, yet infused with a youthful spirit and new perspective which frankly gives me renewed faith in something much bigger than just the music here.

6.    Langhorne Slim & The Law – The Way We Move (Ramseur)

Slim continues his tenure as the troubadour of a searching generation feeling its way into adulthood, aptly conveying its optimism and jubilation with his energetic folk tunes despite self-doubt and the inefficacy of society as a whole (see “Great Divide”). In more heartfelt moments, he beautifully confronts the mortality of a loved one with “Sid’s Song” and his own coming of age on “Coffee Cups.” Another triumph for this gifted performer and songwriter on his fourth full-length.

7.    Lauren O’Connell – Quitters (self-released)

I’ve just discovered Lauren O’Connell, but at age 24 she is on her third full-length and it’s one of the most encouraging things I’ve heard in a while. From moody, powerful opener “Every Space” and its beautifully layered vocal parts, to the gritty roots-rock of “I Will Burn You Down,” on to the sneeringly Dylanesque “If Found” and the sparse, aching “What Breaks (and What Doesn’t),” a uniquely gifted singer-songwriter is evident from beginning to end of this album.

8.    Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere (Nettwerk)

Tony Dekker’s ability to craft alternately aching and buoyant indie-folk and envelop it in understated yet markedly creative arrangements seems to have become almost formulaic by this point, but it’s a formula which seems to get more intoxicating each time he concocts it.

9.    Woods – Bend Beyond (Woodsist)

The most focused Woods record yet, Bend shies away from the extending jamming which somewhat marred 2011’s Sun and Shade for me. Instead the songs stand out, with great hooks and Jeremy Earl’s incisive vocals—along with just enough psych accoutrement—delightfully coloring the jangly/rootsy tunes here.

10.    Trembling Bells Featuring Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Marble Downs (Honest Jon’s)

Bonnie’s past couple full-length efforts have seemed to me the most unremarkable of his generally brilliant career, but this collaboration is a breath of fresh air. The songs and adventurous instrumentation of (the heretofore unknown to me)Trembling Bells are unlike anything else to which he has lent his often thrilling voice, what with its amalgamation of British folk, baroque, psych, and Americana. His recent penchant for excellent work with female duet partners continues with Lavinia Blackwell, and the excellent songs of Alex Neilson are augmented with a somewhat hair-raising rendition of “Riding” from BPB’s past life in Palace Brothers and the late, great Robin Gibb’s “Lord Bless All.” Hopefully participating in this project will help end the uncharacteristic funk in this great artist’s own work.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Lou's Top 20 of 2012, Part 1

11.    Nude Beach – II  (Other Music)

On their debut, Brooklyn indie power trio Nude Beach channels early Costello/Attractions at their most amped up.

12.    Ladyhawk – No Can Do (Triple Crown)

Vancouver’s Ladyhawk have been one of the most criminally unrecognized bands of recent years, and continue their penchant for gritty, largely bare bones indie rock on their third full-length. Heavily laced with pop hooks as always, some subtle new wave hints are the only slight adjustment to their winning formula.

13.    Harlan Twins – Old Familiar (self-released)

Despite a revolving door rhythm section, Pittsburgh’s own indie-roots darlings the Harlan Twins have come into their own this year. Principals James Hart and Carrie Battle are constantly becoming more confident and engaging vocalists, Hart’s leads more eye-popping, and a more muscular and infectious sound has replaced the few unfocused or meandering moments that dotted their sets in the past. Their second lp ably memorializes this coming of age for the band and their well-hewn trove of songs that range from aching to danceable.

14.    Human Cannonball – Let’s Be Friends (self-released)

Jesse Remnant plays bass and sings beautiful harmonies in the great Southeast Engine, which is fronted by his brother, Adam. The second outing from his solo project leans heavily toward perfect pop tunes and hooky indie pop recalling Guided By Voices rather than the rootsiness of that outfit, however, and proves him a talented songwriter and engaging lead vocalist in his own right.

15.    Green Day – Uno!, Dos! & Tre! (Reprise)

Including these three albums separately would have meant devoting quite a bit of space to Green Day here (not that they are undeserving of it), and I assume they are meant to be somewhat of a piece. I’ve never really gotten off the Green Day bandwagon, although one “punk opera” really would have been enough. But these three platters chock full of the 2-minute pop numbers they do best is the best possible antidote to that brief overindulgence. Each record has a bit of its own feel: “Uno!” is heavy on the hook-filled pop-punk that made the band famous, “Dos!” incorporates some garagey elements recalling the band’s 2008 Foxboro Hot Tubs masquerade, and “Tre!” leans more toward power pop and new wave elements which show Billie Joe’s songwriting evolving to great effect even as he confronts his personal challenges. All three of these releases offer great encouragement that Green Day is beginning a third decade of exciting and meaningful music.

16.    Catherine Irwin – Little Heater (Thrill Jockey)

On her second solo release, Irwin stays firmly within the achingly authentic roots vein mined so well by Freakwater, the brilliant combo she has co-led since 1989. Will Oldham adds perfectly suited Appalachian-tinged backing vocals to leadoff track “Mockingbird.”

17.    Hal – The Time The Hour (Tri Tone)

Dubliners Hal finally resurface with their sophomore effort after an interminable layoff since their brilliant 2005 debut. It’s easy to wonder whether they did much other than listen to the Bee Gees during their break given the strong nods to both early- and Disco-era Gibb creations here. And when they shift gears a bit with “Rocking Chair” it nearly evokes a chuckle for its (admittedly delightful) Neil Young mimicry. I’m a staunch proponent of derivation when its sources are as good as those here, but this release lags the debut in terms of freshness and originality.

18.    Calexico – Algiers (Anti-)

After a few somewhat tentative steps toward cementing itself as a band focused on the songs rather than its penchant for genre bending, Calexico—and specifically singer-songwriter Joey Burns—take a significant step forward here not necessarily toward conventionality but certainly toward a new indie-folk comfort zone which may not be as unique as some of their past work, but no less engaging or accomplished.

19.    Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)

In his unexpected autobiography also released this year, Waging Heavy Peace,
Neil makes much of the fact that this nearly simultaneous recorded and released album is the first he has written without the aid of marijuana, and conveys his deep concern over whether he could create music sober. This experiment turns out to be a success, with somewhat more plainly stated lyrics perhaps the only giveaway, though the envelopment of nearly every track in sprawling jams ironically gives it a decidedly stoned feel overall. Indeed, the 87-minute double disc contains several of the longest songs of the man’s career, and takes the ballsy move of leading off with the 27-and-a half-minute “Driftin’ Back.” This doesn’t prevent a number of them from being among the most expressive and engaging of Young’s recent work, like the alternately gritty and yearning middle-agers lament “Ramada Inn,” or “Walk Like A Giant,” which suggests the image of a ancient mountain continuing to tower over the landscape despite the long torture of the elements over time, as autobiographical as sketch of Neil Young as any.

20.    The Breakup Society – So Much Unhappiness, So Little Time (Get Hip)

Longtime Pittsburgh rock stalwart Ed Masley’s Breakup Society seems to finally have shifted his musical base completely to Phoenix, his home of a half decade or so. Still, Pittsburgh’s Get Hip imprint gives us a third Breakups release which highlights Masley’s songcraft with a bit more nuanced and subdued instrumental palate, while expertly working in just the right amount Who-like raucousness throughout and a throwback garage riff on “Here Comes Floyd.”

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Lou's Top 20 of 2011, Part 4

Here's the last in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2011. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it. 

1.) Otter Petter - Nice Night for A Knife Fight (self-released)

There's not a song on this Chicago band's second full-length that doesn't simply ooze pop greatness. More hooks than a meat locker and a perfect balance between aching vulnerability and searing propulsion, personified in the exemplary vocals of Michael Pritchard, which resemble a more forceful Ben Gibbard or more grounded Ken Stringfellow. The instrumentation reveals charming intricacies without distracting from the enthralling melodies. Every tune here is a triumph, but "Torch" stands out as the most exultant moment with its searing organ and a slightly sneering Pritchard driving an absolutely slaying hook. Truly cannot get enough of this record.

2.) Old Calf - Borrow A Horse (No Quarter)

While Ned Oldham's adaptations of poetry, nursery rhymes, traditional folk tunes, etc. in former band the Anomoanon were uniformly pleasant, they served too to make one pine somewhat for that band's finest work, which revealed him as an amazing craftsman of beautiful indie-folk in his on right. The debut from his new project is the first on which he has gone the traditional route and has been able to rival the power of his own pen. While the instrumentation is largely authentic and homespun it is inventive enough to not strike one as "traditional," and Oldham's aching vocals add something special to even a tune as well-worn as "Bonny Cuckoo."

3) Damon & Naomi - False Beats and True Hearts (20-20-20)

It seems like I write this review every year or two, but here we go: Damon and Naomi just get better and better. They are constantly becoming even greater singers and writers. Their instrumentation is singularly enchanting yet unobtrusive. Their partnership with guitar magician Michio Kurihara is brilliant. Their material has a unique beauty. They have outstripped the legacy of Galaxie 500 with their own work. This is their strongest record yet.

4.) Southeast Engine - Canary (Misra)

Frontman Adam Remnant likened SEE's previous effort--2009's From the Forest to the Sea--to an Americana version of the Kinks' Arthur, and the follow-up seems to duly reflect Muswell Hillbillies, observing a soul-trying period of the first half of the 20th century with wry humor and a buoyant appreciation of simple pleasures. While it's the band's rootsiest effort yet overall, they appropriately indulge the irony of rocking out "The Great Depression," though the beautiful folk ballad "Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains" stands out as the highlight here.

5.) Mikal Cronin (Trouble In Mind)

San Franciscan Cronin mixes up Beach Boys, Barrett-era Floyd, and shoegaze influences to come up with this refreshing debut full of hooky, fuzzy goodness. Throw in an always appreciated early Byrds nod on "Again and Again" and this is about as good as it gets.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lou's Top 20 of 2011, Part 3

Here's the third in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2011. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

6.) Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire (Pax-Am)

Last year, I lamented Ryan Adams' spotty output since his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker when including that fantastic album in the upper echelon of my best of the decade list. Finally, he returns with an album approaching those heights. Adams seems to rediscover his gift for heart-tugging melodies impeccably delivered in his aching voice. The backing is subdued, rootsy, and totally authentic sounding, better than the pleasant but somewhat forced-sounding Cold Roses or Jacksonville City Nights. While his efforts to explore various genres and stretch out of his comfort zone have been oftentimes laudable, its good to hear Adams back in the domain in which he is a master.

7.) Dolorean - The Unfazed (Partisan)

Al James continues to become a more expressive and complete songwriter on his band's fifth full-length. He can still break your heart, but has tempered his melancholy tendencies with prettier melodies and more fleshed-out backing tracks. Not that most of the songs don't remain somewhat devastating, but that's James' strength, and he only continues to hone it here.

8.) I Was A King - Old Friends (Sounds Familyre)

Norway's I Was A King stays out of the trap of many '60s revivalists by bringing enough of their own exuberance and creativity to the proceedings rather than being entrapped by perceived faithfulness to their progenitors. It doesn't stop them from gloriously channeling the Byrds with a delightfully psychedelic 12-string break on "Learning to Fly," the Hollies' harmonies on "Nightwalking," or the Zombies' moodiness on "Here To Stay," not to mention fellow disciples like Teenage Fanclub and Apples In Stereo throughout.

9.) Little Scream - The Golden Record (Secretly Canadian)

A deeply inventive album with parts that seem to come from nowhere, recalling genres all over the map, the constants being the evocative songwriting and vocals of Laurel Sprengelmeyer. While "The Heron and the Fox" stands out despite (or perhaps because of) its status as the most straight-up folky tune here, "Guyegaros" and "Red Hunting Jacket" sound like tracks that Neil Young and the Doors, respectively, were never quite weird enough to make (which is obviously pretty weird).

10.) Meg Baird - Seasons on Earth (Drag City)

A truly eye-opening record somewhat radical in its sheer simplicity, with Baird's heavenly voice and plaintive acoustic augmented only occasionally by the perfectly utilized pedal steel and dobro. More focused than her work with Espers and a more worthy heir to the great female-led American and British folk of the '60s and '70s than much else that has been done since.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lou's Top 20 of 2011, Part 2

Here's the second in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2011. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it. 

11.) Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong  (ATO)

It might be an understatement to say that Dawes' excellent 2009 debut, North Hills, was heavily influenced by The Band, so it wasn't shocking that they ended up backing Robbie Robertson on tour early this year. So it is with their relationship with Jackson Browne, who they are now backing. Nothing Is Wrong channels Browne's plaintive, often heart-tugging poetry and the accessible yet highly authentic instrumental backing of his wonderful early records, which for my money are too infrequent touchstones today. But as with the debut, despite the plain debt to their progenitors, there are some simply killer songs and performances here that transcend eras. Taylor Goldsmith has a knack for songs which are heartwrenching and buoyant all at the same time, "Moon in the Water" being perhaps the finest case in point here.

12.) Marissa Nadler (Box of Cedar)

An artist whose back catalog I have somehow been oblivious to, Marissa Nadler is unmistakably a beautiful and haunting singer-songwriter. "The Sun Always Reminds Me of You" is simply one of the most affecting songs you'll hear--intoxicating, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once. "Baby I Will Leave You In the Morning," alternatively, is incredibly intense despite Nadler's voice barely rising above a coo. The instrumentation belies its subdued folkiness with numerous creative wrinkles and deceptive power throughout, though when "In A Magazine" fills out the sound a bit and Nadler's voice floats beautifully on the low end and becomes entwined with the pedal steel it's something of a revelation. An impeccably crafted record perfectly suited to a clearly gifted artist.

13.) Bird of Youth - Defender (Jagjaguwar)

The debut from this vehicle for singer-songwriter Beth Wawerna is simply chock full of incredible hooks delivered by a charmingly disaffected-sounding Wawerna. Both the songcraft and the organic yet often energetic backing offer strong nods to Okkervil River, whose Will Sheff co-produced.

14.) Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)

For years now, each time I get wind of a new Okkervil River record on the way a part of me expects it to be the one where the bottom falls out, where there will no longer be any discernible connection to the stripped-down indie-folkies I fell in love with way back in the early 2000's and I'll just let them drift away. But it hasn't happened yet, even as Will Sheff and company continue to take the band's sound further and further afield from where it began. Though the backing tracks keep sounding more and more like a full-blown stage production, there remains no other writer as gifted as Sheff with a clever phrase or a penetrating hook, or a singer as irresistibly emotive, and he and his cohorts have ably met the challenge of maintaining the quality of their craft with a greatly expanded palette. Perhaps I should no longer be surprised that Okkervil River remains among the best out there.

15.) The Cynics - Spinning Wheel Motel (Get Hip)

The legendary Cynics stay hip with their finest release since 1989's seminal Rock 'n' Roll. While 2007's Here We Are seemed to find the band moving into a more subdued space perhaps befitting a band that has been around for nearly 30 years, Motel  is fairly evenly split between the garage rock vein which they have mined more successfully than any band this side of The Sonics and Byrds-ian forays like "Gehenna" and the simply lovely "Circles, Arcs and Swirls." Regardless of genre, the songwriting of frontman Michael Kastelic and guitar god Gregg Kostelich (the band's constants over the years) has only become more polished with time, Kastelic's vocals are as incisive as ever, Kostelich continues to add more creative touches to the bedrock riffs he produces better than anyone, and Moon-esque Pablo Gonzalez stands out from the long line of Cynics drummers on the anthemic closer "Junk."


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lou's Top 20 of 2011, Part 1

Here's the first in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2011. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

16.) Witches - Forever  (Bakery Outlet)

The primal indie-rock three-piece at its finest and most pure, Athens, Ga.'s Witches--led by Cara Beth Satalino--conjures other rough-edged yet highly melodic female-fronted outfits like Scrawl. Glorious in its simplicity.

17.) The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing (Saddle Creek)

The second outing by singer-songwriter Paul Banwatt and mates brings the same brand of intense, hooky confessionals as their excellent 2009 debut, perhaps sharpening the focus on songcraft over raw emotion just a bit, but to the detriment of neither. Springsteen, Death Cab for Cutie, and Husker Du are all touchstones without a bit of incongruity.

18.) Bodies of Water - Twist Again (Thousand Tongues)

A more subdued but no less adventurous outing from this L.A. collective which throws in everything including the kitchen sink to create a constantly fascinating melange of moods and sounds which meld easily into a unique and wholly satisfying experience.

19.) Mount Moriah (Holidays for Quince)

The full-length debut from this North Carolina band delivers crushing hooks on both roots-inflected and more straight ahead indie tunes.

20.) D. Charles Speer & The Helix - Leaving the Commonwealth (Thrill Jockey)

I stumbled upon these guys live earlier this year, which was a pleasure, as is this platter of mostly fairly authentic honky tonk. Granted, there are certainly some psych elements and what I suspect must be unconventional lyrical themes (there may even be a Civil War concept), but you could totally dance to it and not really notice. Anyway, anyone doing country music well nowadays is fine by me, and this band fits the bill.


Monday, October 10, 2011


No, PURGe has not disappeared off the face of the Earth, just been too lazy to update the blog. Still haven't written anything new but fixed some links and stuff for your browsing pleasure. If you want actual content, check the new adds under Great Music Sites. Adios Lounge is what my blog would be like given some ambition. And I've lost track of the local scene a bit, so good to have a resource like Speed of the Pittsburgh Sound. (Did manage to catch the New Shouts' ep release show recently.)

Some exciting live music coming to town soon, with The Jayhawks next weekend and the legendary Ray Davies and Pittsburgh's own legendary The Cynics on back-to-back nights in early November.

The end of the year is coming up, which seems to be the only time I write anything. Suggestions for the year end list? Send them along to purgegeeks@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Lou's Top 20 of 2010, Part 4

Here's the last in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2010. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it. 

1.) Patrick Park - Come What Will (Badman)

Patrick Park makes the type of singer-songwriter album rarely heard since the genre's heyday of the '70s. While more understated musically than Park's tremendous 2003 debut, Loneliness Knows My Name, his clearly matured singing and writing now capably deliver the immediacy that dynamic backing did on that record. The confidence and melancholy interwoven in his vocals bring to mind post-topical Phil Ochs, while the steel, strings and organ serve as well-suited complements. And whether he is conjuring melodies that seem almost jarringly poppy in a folk context on "You're Enough" and the title track or delivering a stark confessional like "You Were Always the One," he has more than proven himself as a songwriter that can stand up with those of the golden era his work most strongly recalls.

2.) Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame (Anti-)

A new label, but no change in the winning formula or uncompromising quality that has given this band its run as maybe the best of the past half-decade or so. The pace at which they have turned out catchy tunes in a singular style while still maintaining creativity and freshness is little short of remarkable.

3.) Doug Keith - The Lucky Ones (The Village Label)

NYC singer-songwriter Keith's sophomore effort begins with a handful of sensitive yet muscular pop tunes that recall mid-career Springsteen (granted with far more tasteful production) before tacking toward the highly '70s-folk-rock-inspired tilt of his great debut. This effort, too, is a beautifully crafted affair with its jangly guitars, comforting organ trills, incisive violin, and buoyant female harmonies all topped by Keith's engaging rasp. "Don't Let Your Darkness Overtake You," resembling a cracked Mamas and Papas (or maybe even Partridge Family) side, kicks off a second half of this album that stands up to the true classics. The hook-filled masterpiece "Skip James Radio" is just the first of a brilliant string of stirring beauties that would fit comfortably on Planet Waves or Blood On the Tracks. Keith's second release proves that he deserves to be recognized as among those keeping the spirit of true songcraft alive.

4). Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy (Dead Oceans)

Phosphorescent (aka Matthew Houck) emerges from the shadows on this release. After a run of sometimes sometimes striking indie-folk concoctions that nonetheless lacked a certain substance, then the surprising left turn to recording a Willie Nelson tribute album, the new Phos emerges delivering aching singer-songwriter confessionals with immaculately crafted backing. Granted, opener "It's Hard to Be Humble" isn't quite representative, sounding like a rollicking Band outtake, but Houck then settles in with tunes owing to Merle and Willie before unleashing the absolutely shattering "The Mermaid Parade," which recalls the finest of Van Morrison. He continues on with more beautiful creations in the indie-country-folk vein in which he has now proven himself to be as adept as anyone.

5.) Dave Gleason - Turn and Fade (326 Records)

Among a choice few artists who continue to play authentic country music bowing neither to commercialism nor indie aesthetic, the quality of Gleason's work is unrivaled. Both his mournful twang and ringing Telecaster approach perfection on dancin' numbers and cryin' numbers alike, and his songs are imbued with enough pop and rock influence to prevent them from sounding wholly derivative. A guy doing what he loves without pretense and still making great records is all too rare on today's music scene, but Gleason is doing it exceptionally well.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Lou's Top 20 of 2010, Part 3

Here's the third in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2010. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

6.) The Henry Clay People - Somewhere On the Golden Coast (TBD)

The fact that straight-up rock 'n' roll isn't en vogue is well-illustrated by the fact that this platter of classic rock redux sounds so unique in today's musical landscape. These Angelinos' driving, hooky anthems bring to mind the Replacements or an amped-up Pavement, with strong nods to the Velvet Underground on a couple more subdued numbers.

7.) Futurebirds - Hampton's Lullaby (Autumn Tone)

This Georgia band's debut full-length combines soulful Band-esque vocals and authentic pedal steel/mandolin/banjo touches with decidedly non-traditional guitar distortion and propulsive drums that all equally complement a cascade of driving melodies from start to finish. Few bands have come up with such an adventurous concoction, though the late, lamented Canyon does come to mind.

8.) Woods - At Echo Lake (Woodsist)

I'm evidently behind the curve in getting into this band and haven't really had the chance to delve into their back catalog, but I like what I hear on this release a lot. There is a whole melange of '60s/'70s country/folk/psych/pop influences at play here, from Simon & Garfunkel on "Pick Up," to sunshine pop on "Suffering Season," to Neil Young on "Time Fading Lines," to the Airplane on "I Was Gone," all beautifully enveloped in lo-fi fuzz.

9.) Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month - Your Wicked Man (Soft Abuse)

A familiar voice from Skygreen Leopards' addled country-rock, Quinn similarly deconstructs the singer-songwriter here, winding up about where Leonard Cohen meets Syd Barrett. Or maybe just where Tom Waits would have if he had quit smoking early on. It's hard to say which element of this record is more satisfying: the evidently great craftsmanship or the delightfully cracked delivery.

10.) Hudson Bell - Out of the Clouds (St. Ives)

San Franciscan Bell unleashes aching vocal hooks and distorted guitar noise in a combination that can only be described as Young-ian and echoes more contemporary touchstones like Pavement and the Mountain Goats. A couple instrumental tracks do meander a bit, but the heartfelt, acoustic "Into the Morning" offers yet more evidence of Bell's talent for well-honed songcraft.