The challenge that lies in making a list of the best things you listened to for the last year comes from the whittling. There’s a lot of music made each year. Much of it sucks, much of it mediocre, and some of it worth keeping around. With record labels disintegrating, and the ease of making records at home or with smaller indie labels (or no label at all) increasing, it’s obvious the total output will increase.
Runner-ups this year include Mudhoney, 6-String Drag, Neko Case, Jesse Dayton and so many more.
10. Mo Douglas, “Live at the Continental” With subtle hints to the Blaxploitation or 1970s New York noir score, Mo Douglas’ latest record, which doesn’t seem as “live” as the title insists, is laid back and cool. The city sounds of a Saturday night into Sunday morning are present from front to back, and there’s as much laid-back groove as there is weird cocktail jazz that comes via a nonstop dose of saxophone. The lounge bounce of “Dipped Fruit,” the muted trumpet, saxophone, and acoustic guitar of “Fill a Pastry Bag,” and instrumental Beastie Boys vibe of “Chestnut Dessert” – all are delivered playfully and mellow, or perhaps what the hip kids or jazz dudes refer to as “mood music.”
9. Red Hare, “Little Acts of Destruction” The record begins with a quick snippet from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with a wrestling ring announcer introducing “The Crusher.” What follows is a crushing amount of rock. The partnership of guitar player Jason Farrell and singer Shawn Brown goes back to D.C. post-hardcore band Swiz. The second full-length from Red Hare hints at classic American hardcore, recorded cleanly and going for the jugular. There’s the obvious nods to the Dischord Records predecessors that influenced this band, but Red Hare is achieving a much larger scream-along sound.
8. American Aquarium, “Things Change” American Aquarium frontman B.J. Barham redefined his longtime Raleigh-based alternative country band for this record, but that didn’t take away from the emotional and picturesque Southern gothic tales within the songs. Things do in fact change, and perhaps that is a good thing. The band found a kindred spirit in producer John Fullbright. They recorded in Oklahoma, probably aided in the catchiness of “Work Conquers All,” but the whole album is strong, from the current day critique of “The World is on Fire” to the country groove of “I Gave up the Drinking,” and the tear-jerker “Shadows of You.”
7. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, “Years” Alternative country roots-rocker, or whatever you want to call Sarah Shook, one thing is certain. She has a knack for some heartbreaking hooks, and her lazy drawl just adds to the intermittent misery conveyed in her songs. The opener, “Good as Gold,” is punctuated by pedal steel, while “New Ways to Fail” is a nod to classic ’70s country, and “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down” has a gothic country flair. She’s backed by a band that can pick out a two-step shuffle, rip through some roots rock, or play up the cowpunk angle. Ache never sounded so D-I-Y good.
6. Hot Snakes, “Jericho Sirens” From the opening riffs of “I Need a Doctor” to the stop-on-a-dime ending of “Death of a Sportsman,” this album rips. It’s their first record in 14 years, and first for Sub Pop Records, yet it’s safe to say that everything Swami John Reis puts his hands on will hustle forward with aggression and swagger, this album included. There’s some 1960s garage rock charm to the album, but toss that into a blender with classic ’80s hardcore and you get somewhere close. It’s an angular sound, where guitars jab in all the right places and a rhythm section helps them do the job in beautiful and brutal glory.
Albums 5 through 1 will appear in next week’s edition of DGO.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. email@example.com.