In 2009, Brooklyn 5-piece White Rabbits teamed up with Spoon's Britt Daniel to refine the lovably frenetic sound introduced on their debut two years earlier. The result was a solid album that sounded a lot like Spoon, but on the other side of that, it was a solid album that downplayed a few of the tics that made their first so great. This didn't mark an identity crisis as much as it offered another angle to the band, and proved the guys had the chops to hang around for a while. Still, the responsibility for it all to come together rests on LP3. And Milk Famous does feel like the right mix; this time they spin both the paranoid punch of that distinct breakthrough effort and those off-kilter Spoon-isms into something all their own.
On the strength of a bandcamp loaded with endearing pop, which ranged from self-harmonized hits like "WHALE" to synthetic experiments like an EP inspired by Morgan Freeman's Wikipedia page, Alex Schaff's Yellow Ostrich project quickly left his bedroom in 2010. The Wisconsin kid finished that year as a New York resident playing CMJ shows with Michael Tapper (We Are Scientists, Bishop Allen) on drums. Debut LP The Mistress would eventually see a proper release on Barsuk, and while still sparse in arrangement, it did hint at a full band future for Schaff and friends. Strange Land is indeed that kind of outing, richly layered and backed with an assortment of horns (11 to be exact, apparently). It might feel overboard for those first drawn to the inventiveness of those early one-man renderings, but luckily the grown-up approach didn't forget to be fun and catchy even if more dense (see: opener "Elephant King", and stomping single "Marathon Runner").
An Andrew Bird album is always a distinctly whimsical place to live in: violins swirl, guitars drift, and Bird's patented whistle flutters about. He's a master at this; the 38 year old is on his 6th solo release, and he's crossed over just a bit more with each one, making him one of the biggest names in folk rock. 2009's Noble Beast was a lovely, Starbucks-ready affair, packed with uplifting melodies and vivid wordplay. This one welcomes a few darker shades but otherwise fits securely in the ever-consistent formula that is Andrew Bird music—and that's not a fault when it's been working this well.
Ramona Gonzalez emerged in 2009 out of the same press-adored Los Angeles DIY art movement that helped get Ariel Pink more attention (and now Julia Holter as well). Her debut Good Evening was a collection of fragile, disco-lite tracks created on a portable eight-track cassette recorder. The album was heavy on an aesthetic, the product of its harsh recording, which could be both charming and frustrating, and certainly now an artifact of its hazy times. One Second of Love is a bold maturation; this isn't just polished lo-fi, it's a completely reinvented Nite Jewel, and the clarity and charisma suites her. The title track is a pop-funk anthem, and it's in mostly good company.
The Boss is back with another batch of socially-charged heartland rock. Springsteen's career has been defined by his ability to rally, and with Wrecking Ball he hopes to generate his own version of a rage against the machine, specifically the greed that caused our country's financial crisis. It's a lofty sentiment to hit for a rockstar in his 60s who statistically is not part of the 99 percent, but obviously Bruce tends to be a patriotic exception to the rules. And Wrecking Ball is a very deliberate fury of symbolic storytelling, delivered with triumphant, slogan-like hooks and an array musical influences—from Gospel to Celtic. Fans will sing along. Critics will bicker, and really, that's a discussion this album probably wants them to have.
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