15. Times New Viking – Born Again Revisited [US]
So fucked it feels like it’s hurting your brain and damaging your speakers even when it’s down low. It’s Times New Viking, what do you expect? Received wisdom still maintains that Times New Viking are Yo La Tengo shooting their own tapes with nail guns from behind a particularly fuzzy curtain. But (as I’ve moaned before) the world’s postmodern now and there’s nothing external to a piece of art, so forget all about squeejeeing away the fuzz to get to the songs and simply embrace the abrasive, anarchistic catchiness of it. Even if it literally hurts to do so. City On Drugs, for example, is excellent, though fairly strictly to Rip It Off’s formula. Move To California, though is a darker, more serious Times New Viking channelling emo when it was the same thing as college rock. The sad fate of succeeding a classic album casts a shadow on Born Again Revisited, but not one it can’t at least answer to in its own right.
14. Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard – Em Are I [US]
If self-consciousness was music, it would be Jeffrey Lewis. Not quite as dark as neurosis and more constantly present than embarrassment. It’s in the shuffling, fuzzy acoustic arrangements, it’s in the nerdy comic-book cover art, but more than anything else, obviously, it’s in the lyrics. The motto inscribed on the theoretical title page of the multi-volume autobiography that is Lewis’ work is the unfunny punchline of the opening track slogans: “And I kept repeating it to myself to convince myself it was true – that everyone you meet is not better than you.” Not to say that there’s nothing more to Jeffrey Lewis than self-pity, because anyone familiar with anti-folk’s centre-pole will know that there’s nothing he says that isn’t simultaneously funny, sad and tuneful in a slipshod way. He has carved a singular career out for himself, and this could be the highlight. You’d think he’d be a little more cocksure, but then “going bald is the most manly thing I’m ever gonna do”. So maybe not.
13. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career [SCO]
Camera Obscura exist in a universe that somehow approximates what would happen if one was to superimpose the stylistic elements of the kitchen sink British 60s onto the modern day. In charity shop vintage, they present a honey-sweetened indie-pop sadness, filmed on grainy Super 8. These are not, as some have said, child-like love songs. They’re love songs that swapped cassettes and dog-eared books when they were younger and can’t rid themselves of dreams of tandem bicycle picnics. If an album that begins with the declaration “Spent a week in a dusty library!” is just to twee for you, that’s fine. But for some, the pillowy, melancholy sweetness will trigger a certain familiar strand of nostalgia for awkward moments and love that didn’t happen.
12. HEALTH – Get Color [US]
Progressive is fine. Experimental is fine. Go that route if you like, but if you do it right, even the most close-minded club attendee is going to be sucked magnetically from wall-propping position to the middle of the dancefloor. That’s what Get Color means, then. Get Color in the sense of hewing pop music from slabs of noise, but also Get Color in the sense of bringing a whole new palette into play, of bringing innovation to people whether they want it or not. You won’t hear many albums as simultaneously abrasive and immediately appealing as this, so my advice is to put it on in the dark, as loud as it deserves, and get a little colour yourself.
11. Christmas Island – Blackout Summer [US]
2009 witnessed the rise of lo-fi, and its fall. Things move quickly now, probably too quickly, and that unfortunately means that if Christmas Island melt down in the Catalan sun, they’ll only have themselves to apologise to. Not that it really matters. Blackout Summer is the best sort of apathetic guitar pop, the kind where songs are literally called things like I Don’t Care and Weird You Out. With a sense of humour and a preference for reverb over distortion making this closer to So Cow than to Wavves, the eleven song set scans like a greatest hits compilation for an insidiously catchy garage band who never got past passing out tapes. Its twin highlights are Black Cloud – a proto-anthem about paranoia – and Dinosaurs – a lament for the passing of the dinosaurs. Without a raised eyebrow in sight.