5. Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread
If the slow, steady strum that kicks off this album didn't give it away, the press release written by none other than 60s Rolling Stones manager and bon vivant Andrew Loog Oldham sure as hell does. Goodbye Bread is garage punk prodigy Ty Segall's grown-up album, the one where he finally combines the fearless, ADD-addled fat kid at the buffet pop gluttony of his early work with the maturity that comes with being a somewhat respected rock n' roller with a handful of killer tunes under his belt before turning 25. Is anyone surprised that the ten tracks on Goodbye Bread flow seamlessly into one another and display a songwriter that taps directly into the same well of inspiration as John Lennon and Kurt Cobain without coming off as overly reverential or patronizing?! Segall's previous records sounded like they took a day or two to make, with schizophrenic highs of perfect fuzzed-out glam and dizzying lows of studio-induced unlistenable sludge fighting for equal time, but here he spent six months sculpting the sound, and Goodbye Bread immediately places Segall into a stratosphere above his legions of garage rock peers. If anything, this record makes a convincing case for Ty Segall the GUITAR HERO, as he packs some face-melting leads and solos into "Goodbye Bread," "The Floor," and "Where Your Head Goes" that add another layer to the package and proves that he's ready for a mainstream indie-rock close-up. Of course, he followed this up with the grinding sludge-metal moves of the "Spiders" 7", so who knows? Segall is a restless spirit, and combining such experimentation with classic singer-songwriter skills might not get him on the cover of Spin, but I highly doubt he gives a shit. and as a result, neither do I.
4. Strange Boys - Live Music
After taking the top spot in last year's countdown, The Strange Boys return with a near-flawless follow-up that probably would have ranked higher if it didn't come out in November. As always, your enjoyment of the band will hinge on your feelings towards Ryan Sambol's adenoidal croon, which sounds likes a tone-deaf Texas teen impersonating Mick Jagger in front of his bedroom mirror. Personally, I think Sambol's voice is an impressive weapon, which makes up for its rough and whiny tone with conversational candor and passion, especially when he unleashes powerful lines like "I'm surprised you're still alive, after all the time you spent in the middle of the road" with a withering sneer reminiscent of classic Dylan. Live Music strips the Strange Boys of their earlier, Nuggets-inspired garage production style once and for all, presenting these fourteen tracks in a warmer, fuller setting that pushes all the band's strengths to the forefront. The twinkly pianos, bleating harmonicas, and gradually building sing-a-long choruses will have you convinced that this is the great lost Stones album that would have come out after Exile On Main Street if the greatest rock n' roll band in the world hadn't fallen into drug-induced burnout and apathy. Dig the lightly funky swagger of "Doueh" and try to tell me that it doesn't resemble an outtake from Some Girls. While Be Brave was front-loaded with rockers and finished up with a bunch of dirgey ballads, Live Music does a better job of mixing things up and settles into a melancholy twilight mood that drives the songs further into your brain with each listen. With this new LP, the Strange Boys cement their place as the best American rock n' roll band since the Replacements. Believe it!
3. Mikal Cronin
If you're like me and you couldn't stop spinning the shit-fi surf-punk jams of the self-titled debut Moonhearts LP from last year but wished they would have spent a couple more hundred bucks and let the hooks out from under the noise, then do I have an album for you! Moonhearts songwriter Mikal Cronin is a California boy through and through, and on his first solo record he fuses the surfy Moonhearts punk chug with dollops of 90s grunge and classic post-Byrds strummy 70s folk-rock into a sound that fans of everything from the Beach Boys to Fleetwood Mac to Nirvana can appreciate. Like frequent collaborator Ty Segall, Cronin is clearly a musical omnivore, mixing genres and decades with reckless abandon, picking, choosing, and rearranging disparate influences into a stew that just sounds GOOD without pretense or irony. But while Segall is an unhinged, restless punk rock rabblerouser, Cronin seems to be a bit more cautious and calculated, turning out songs that hit all the pleasure centers with a type of universal and timeless appeal. Lead-off track "Is it Alright" fades into a multi-track Wilson brothers chorale of his own voice, gathers a head of steam with jangly pop, and then blasts off into a punk rock coda featuring an intense flute solo from Oh Sees mainmain John Dwyer, and if that sounds intriguing, then the rest of Mikal Cronin will be pure ear candy. He's mastered the stop-start Buzz Bin angst pop style with "Apathy" and turned it on its head with relentless optimism, and he evokes the top-down chilled-out cruising bliss of "Ventura Highway" on "Again And Again" while the lyrics speak of a bittersweet failed relationship, and Cronin does it while playing almost all the goddamn instruments himself. Mikal Cronin is a pop-art collage of familiar sounds distilled into a creative and intensely personal vision, and it's just his first album. I'm eagerly anticipating the next one.
2. Natural Child - 1971
Nashville's Natural Child released the best rock record of the year on 04/20/2011, and you just have to take one look at the band's glazed-over expressions on the cover to determine that this trio is out to celebrate every strain of hedonism under the sun. Initially lumped in with the current crop of garage punkers after their first couple of singles, Natural Child slowed things down on 1971, touching on all the hallmarks of FM radio classic rock. Back in the summer, I wrote "These kids worship at the altar of Exile-era Stones, Sabbath, Zeppelin, T. Rex, Faces, and Deep Purple, and bring a healthy dose of youthful exuberance to the table, soaking these eleven tracks in tape hiss, sweaty denim, barely audible Bic flicks, weed smoke, and Southern Comfort puke. It sounds more like the band your dad's shitty friends formed to rock the keg party and less like some artless, overproduced Black Crowes-style pastiche or the coked-up Beatles worship Oasis peddled for years." The riffs might be familiar, but Natural Child is the classic rock n' roll band that you Black Keys fans REALLY should be listening to at your next weekend blowout.
1. Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
The Strange Boys grabbed the top spot on last year's list in February 2010 and like Be Brave, Dye It Blonde emerged way early as the front-runner and knocked all potential competitors out of the box as they tried and failed to knock it down a peg. The big, BOLD, swoony tracks on the second Smith Westerns LP set the entire tone of the year with its high school love letter romanticism and instantly catchy songcraft. It was a massive leap from the boombox-quality sound of their debut, but somehow they managed to duplicate the best part of that record PERFECTLY. That obnoxious blown-out Marc Bolan guitar sound is lifted out of its formerly dingy surroundings and grafted onto big-budget rock anthems that flawlessly duplicate the epic, escapist majesty of 90s Britpop with the optimistic guile of kids too dumb to know better. The range of emotions veer from "weekends are never fun unless you're around" to "everybody wants to be a star on a saturday night," and sometimes that's all you need to get through the year. Dye It Blonde is the soundtrack to young love, sunny skies, and endless weekends, and it's just about the best makeout record I've heard in forever.