Beastie Boys - "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2" (Capitol)
For me, this is their most complete album since "Ill Communication." It's full of the thumping beats and crazy, funky melodies that have always been a part of their finest work. The very first song is announced with a fat, fat synth line and as the record saunters forward you get more groove. There are still a couple of goofy tracks and a couple harkening back to their punk days. We still get lyrics with a lot a pop culture and the humor that made them a hit, but it's tempered by age. I'm not saying they're old, but their wisecracks have a measure of age.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - "Scandalous" (Lost Highway)
Such a funky, soulful party starter. Lewis sings like it's his last gig ever, and the horns get as much space as the guitar and rhythm. Black Joe reminds me of James Brown; he and his band pack a lot of funkiness into unbelievably precise tunes. When the song ends you know it's over but you want more. I would buy another couple of discs worth of these sessions.
Mike Doughty - "Yes & Also Yes" (Snack Bar)
After 10 years solo I'm still impressed by the laidback poetry of his lyrics. He gets a little crazy on a few of the short songs, a little reflective with Rosanne Cash on a tune, and even references old programming languages in a track called "Russell." Doughty does a lot of the production himself; some songs have other sounds and music mixed with the rhythm and his trademark guitar playing. I keep waiting for a Doughty record that doesn't have me falling all over it like a prom date on Boone's Farm -- this isn't it.
Explosions in the Sky - "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care" (Temporary Residence)
I've been fan of this group since I first saw them on Austin City Limits. Their long, atmospheric compositions set awesome moods. One track on the album is perfect for a nice sunset, another perfect for a night drive, and yet another would work for finding a corpse in your back yard. It demands your attention; it's not throwaway music. It's simply one of those CDs that you get into deeper with every listen.
Ezra Furman & the Harpoons - "Mysterious Power" (Red Parlor)
This frantic pop band from Chicago sent out another kick-ass record this year. When this showed up in my mailbox I did a little happy dance. I love it when I'm into a band, and I can hear them get stronger with each album. The Harpoons as a whole have gotten better at the brisk power pop that makes up most of the album. The slower tracks (like "Don't Turn Your Back On Love") are full of sincerity, maybe to the point of being a little goofy (in a good way). This is a great album.
Ben Folds - "The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective" (Epic)
The one disc version of this is a pretty decent greatest hits that's perfect for a casual fan. If you're Super Fan #1 like me though, you bought the three disc set. That version is an historical document of his whole career to date. I get stoked when a band I like digs into their dresser drawers for stuff a fan drools over but new folks can dig as well. This has old demos, Ben Folds Five stuff, live tracks and one offs like the Bens and 8in8. The liner notes have all the detail that liner notes should dang well have.
David Lowery - "The Palace Guards" (429)
The first solo record of sorts from the Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker front man. While Lowery said the songs don't fit neatly with CVB or Cracker, they do stand up as a trip through what I imagine to be the well-considered transom of Lowery's mind. He's one smart dude with a knack for putting big concepts into lyrics. The vibe is pretty similar to his other bands; a little more pop here, a little more singer-songwriter there, but it won't throw fans for too much of a loop.
North Mississippi Allstars - "Keys to the Kingdom" (Songs of the South)
This is a record in part about the death of Luther and Cody Dickinson's father, the great Jim Dickinson. It kind of feels like they were making peace as they were recording the album. One lyric has the lines: "I've seen proof of God and I don't mind dying." It's a nice example of several that reflects finality and hope at the same time. A foundation of southern rock runs throughout, which helps keep the mood hopeful rather than funerary.
OK Go - "180/365" (Paracadute)
This is a raucous live album recorded on their 2010 tour. The versions of "White Knuckles," "A Million Ways" and "Do What You Want" in particular will have you checking their tour schedule so you can experience the band in-person. I've only seen them once, but I loved how they took a club-sized crowd and did a theater-sized show. That comes through on this album. If I didn't know a bunch of the clubs they recorded at I wouldn't have known if they were at Glastonbury or some dude's backyard.
Primus - "Green Naugahyde" (ATO/Prawn Song)
I've been a Claypool fan for a long time and wondered if he'd ever do a new record as his old namesake. He's put out some incredible material under various names (the dude is in four or five bands at any given time) and I'm happy to hear a familiar Claypoolian groove with Larry "Ler" LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane. Claypool doesn't always get credit for lyrics but they're usually pretty cool. I'm also a fool for word play (from the song "Moron TV"): "More on TV/There's gotta be more on TV/Than just moron TV."
Nick Cowan hosts Train of Thought every Friday 3-5 a.m. Central on 88.1 KDHX.