The Noisiest 

Our reviewers reveal their favorite albums of the year

Whether they’re chanting weird cheers about witches or serving up a dance party marinated in punk rock surliness, Mountain High delivers an electric shock to the system. Wicked Wanderer (Hot Dog City/Wäntage USA) brims with crazy barking and grunts, poppy hooks, beefy bass lines and writhing melodies. It’s the kind of album you turn up loud, force people to listen to and basically create a fun but unhealthy relationship with. (EF)

Secret Powers goes down like the ultimate pop cocktail: a jigger of Beatles, three fingers of Electric Light Orchestra, a dash of the Tee Set. Shake and serve on ice. Explorers of the Polar Eclipse (Twisted Kite) is just what anyone fed up with the post-Thriller pop scene is thirsting for. It’s hard to imagine a lineup including Shmed Maynes and most of Missoula’s former Oblio Joes churning out anything less spectacular. (AS)

Pierced Arrows put the rage back in garage rock, especially with Straight to the Heart (Tombstone). And no, I’m not talking about the fake-ass rage from backwards-cap-wearing, puffed-up douche bags who listen to shitty processed metal on processed corporate radio. I’m talking about the fury that comes with a road-earned, stick-it-to-the-man worldview. The kind of anti-establishment rock ’n’ roll that was made before rock music became the establishment. For no frills, speaker-tearing songsmanship, this album delivers. (CL)

Kansas City, Mo.-based The Wilders refer to Someone’s Got to Pay (Free Dirt Records) as “an old murder ballad come to life.” But it’s not the plot of the murder trial within this hillbilly rock opera that’s so riveting. It’s multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Phil Wade’s exploration of the complex emotions experienced by the reluctant juror-narrator that makes this one such a stunning piece of work. That and Betse Ellis’ bitchin’ fiddle—plugged in and, at times, distorted. (CK)

Sacred harp singing and SoCal psychedelic pop improbably mix together to create the album of the year. The eponymous debut from Seattle’s Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop) channels a weirdly familiar sense of Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, CSNY and a million other things without ever coming close to being unoriginal. Whether it’s the a capella interplay of “White Winter Hymnal” or the gorgeous songwriting in “Blue Ridge Mountains,” Fleet Foxes has found a fascinating new grip on lost sounds. (SB)

Don’t hate Vampire Weekend because they made the cover of Spin magazine before their first album was even released, or because their lead singer sounds like Billy Joel stuck in full ’70s pout, or because they’re bored by all the Paul Simon comparisons, or even because they made the most infectiously fun album of 2008— Vampire Weekend (XI Recordings)—and you didn’t. If you must, hate them because they licensed their music to appear in the entirely unredeemable Judd Apatow/Will Ferrell summer flick Step Brothers—but enjoy the album anyway. (CK)

Unselfconscious showmanship drips from MGMT’s anthems. Hip disco in “Electric Feel” and seething glitches in “Time to Pretend” strut with bravado unwarranted by the newcomers’ experience but earned by every note. Textured with styles yanked shamelessly from a dozen forbearers and then smashed together like an FM radio stuck on seek, Oracular Spectacular (Sony) revels in reinvention. (JW)

Call it the dance-in-your-underwear, jump-on-the-bed, mosh-with-your-roommates party album of the year. Over the course of 13 throwback punk tracks—none longer than 2:29—Teenage Bottlerocket’s Warning Device (Red Scare) never loses its contagious momentum. This Laramie, Wyo. foursome—with old ties, by the way, to locals Volumen—sounds a lot like the Ramones (the standout “In the Basement” is a direct descendant of “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement”), and that’s a great thing. Singing along to “She’s Not the One,” in which “one” becomes “ah-oh-oh-oh-oh-one” and almost no other lyrics appear, is better than replaying “Blitzkrieg Bop,” again. (SB)

If Bob Ross, the late host of public television’s “Joy of Painting,” heard about The Wartime Blues stumbling into a slot at SnowGhost Studio in Whitefish last summer, he probably would have referred to the whole scenario as “a happy little accident.” What is not an accident is the breathtaking musicianship demonstrated on the SnowGhost Sessions EP (SnowGhost Music) by this youthful local roots band backed up by lead singer/songwriter Nate Hegyi. Hopefully 2009 brings a full-length album from this smart folk-rock act. (CK)

Since bringing my signed copy home from Total Fest, Lana Rebel’s All I Need (Wäntage USA) has barely left my turntable for longer than the time it takes to flip the sucker over. That’s right, turntable. This is music meant to hit the ears via the medium of needle-stroking-vinyl. Miss Lana’s woeful tales, a dim room and a lonesome evening are perfect catharsis for a heavy heart. (CL)

Even the not-so-metal-inclined have to acknowledge true talent. Gods of the Earth (Kemando) stands as a ballad-buffet tribute to The Sword’s ability to fuse hard rock with fantasy. A masterful balance of steady bass lines, crash cymbals and non-confrontational vocals in tracks like “Maiden, Mother and Crone” never strays into the all-too-common outer reaches of distorted white noise. (AS)

Self-written, self-recorded and self-released, Bob Wire shows why there has always been a short bridge between real country music and the purest DIY punk rock ethic. I think if Bob took his show on the road he’d make his living waving a middle finger at Nashville. Lucky for us he holds it down in the 4-0-6 so we can regularly enjoy the collection of songs on Sentimental Breakdown (self-released) as they should be: live. (CL)

The mood on Sunday Night Blackout’s eponymous album (Vita Records) is something like watching a circus. In one ring you have Mötorhead, in another Iron Maiden and in the third you’ve got The Dwarves spitting bile, wearing women’s underwear and drinking bottles of Early Times. It’s not the most precise thing you’ve ever heard, nor is it the most original, but this album rocks like very few rock these days, with no lack of snarls and nothing done half-assed. (EF)

My favorite rock record of the year is a country record. I don’t know what I like better on The Mother Trucker’s Let’s All Go to Bed (Funzalo Records), Teal Collins’s magnificent voice or Josh Zee’s Strat-strangling. I just know that together these two comprise the core of one of my newest favorite bands. The real strength when these two get together is in the songwriting, and there isn’t a dud here. (CL)

Call it rock. Call it power pop. Call it catchy. The Salt Lake City-based Vile Blue Shades bring to mind every band you ever loved with their 2008 vinyl LP John Thursday California Adventure (Wäntage USA). All musical influence is here, from the vintage rock guitar licks and gritty lyrics of “I Felt Differently at the Bar” to the jazzy sax solos of “Exceptional Whore.” Too bad the release doesn’t come with a lifetime supply of turntable needles. (AS)

Instrumental favorites Talkdemonic toss in all sorts of new sounds on Eyes at Half Mast (Arena Rock), including autoharp, synth, banjo, trumpet, organ and acoustic guitar. But this inventive Portland, Ore.-based duo still butters its bread with the beats of versatile drummer Kevin O’Connor and the lilting strings of violist Lisa Molinaro. Their third album—perhaps their best yet—provides yet another imaginative soundtrack to the coolest movie not yet made. (SB)

Why? struts through slow beats and minor keys with the confidence of a lion. But the lyrical craft of Alopecia (Anticon) emits inner-conflict, simmering neuroses and madness. It begins with the clank of chains and snakes through the album with dark humor. Yoni Wolf’s characterization that “I’m not a ladies’ man, I’m a landmine, filming my fake death,” sets this darkly complex album apart from this year’s egoist machismo hip hop. (EF)
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