The first three months of the year are traditionally the shittiest three months of the year for music. There are exceptions, of course (Animal Collective released one of last year’s best albums in January, and Vampire Weekend – more on them later – unveiled their debut during 2008’s first month). But most CDs that come out during the first quarter just weren’t good enough to merit a holiday release. The quality of some albums dropping so far this year indicates that’s either changing for the better or the music industry doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing anymore.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? This collaboration between Shins frontman James Mercer and Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse) is way more fun than anything Mercer has released with his fulltime band.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Replacing Mercer’s reserved indie-pop with hazy hip-hop and smoky soul, Burton opens up a whole new world for the often aloof songwriter. He draws out a rash of sounds you’d never expect.
CHANCES IT’LL MAKE IT ON YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS? 70 percent. The Shins and Danger Mouse are both critic favorites. As Broken Bells, they’re making some of the finest music of their careers. Best of all, they sound completely natural together.
Soldier of Love
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? The sultry singer’s first album in a decade features the same simmering R&B she’s mastered over the past 25 years. There are a few modifications, like marching drums and skittering electronic noises.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Soldier of Love is smooth, cool, and impeccably arranged. Sade’s deep, rich voice has lost none of its force over the years. The terrific title track builds on percussion rolls, handclaps and that voice.
CHANCES IT’LL MAKE IT ON YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS? 45 percent. Most of Sade’s records sound timeless (not much has changed since 1984’s Diamond Life). But nine months from now, how many people will remember this one came out in 2010?
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? Spoon have been building a critical cult ever since they reinvented themselves as jagged indie-rockers a decade ago (their first two, major-label albums are sorta blah). Bonus points for an Austin home base.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? The group’s seventh record isn’t nearly as much fun as 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. But frontman Britt Daniel’s songs are full of muscular hooks and sharp lyrical jabs. Too bad he still sounds so distant.
CHANCES IT’LL MAKE IT ON YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS? 80 percent. Spoon are adored by critics for many reasons: their persistence, their detached indie attitude, and their records, which flirt with conventional pop foundations while never totally embracing them.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? The Ivy Leaguers’ second album is even more globetrotting than its predecessor. There’s still plenty of African rhythms (via Paul Simon and Talking Heads), plus Auto-Tune and an M.I.A. sample.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? The sounds are more dynamic this time around, filling in most of the spaces that were left wide open on the debut. The songs are layered with studio tricks, revealing new sonic depth throughout.
CHANCES IT’LL MAKE IT ON YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS? 75 percent. Vampire Weekend have experienced surprisingly little backlash since they were crowned music’s It Boys two years ago. Contra builds on that buzz with music that pops in all the right places.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? Yeasayer don’t ooze pretension like many of their Brooklyn-hipster peers, and many songs here are more accessible than anything in the Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear’s combined catalogs.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? “Ambling Alp,” the first single, is way more ear-friendly — and way less mind-fucking — than you’d imagine from a band that proudly wears the “experimental indie-rock” tag.
CHANCES IT’LL MAKE IT ON YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS? 75 percent. The best cuts borrow Animal Collective’s tribal jams and meld them to peppy ’80s synth-pop. Yeasayer have learned to corral their tripped-out psych-pop more efficiently into real songs, rather than ideas for songs.