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20. Saint Etienne — Word and Music by Saint Etienne
Can a bubblegum record be grown-up? Apparently. The eighth studio album by London’s Saint Etienne makes a case that on-repeat pop worship, message board song obsessing, and fluttering stomach butterflies ahead of a big show can persist several decades beyond your tweens. Sarah Cracknell’s voice is top-class as ever, providing the vital, weary grit that offsets this set of sugar-snap fluff.
19. The Fresh & Onlys — Long Slow Dance
The latest album from Tim Cohen and his garage rock posse reads like a love letter pleading for one more chance at romantic bliss. He’s messed up a lot, he knows it. He’s sorry. The album’s revved-up guitars tell us love conquers all, but its gothic underpinnings hint at doom. However the story may end, putting his feelings out there is a small but brave gesture for our unassuming hero, or anybody really. Its 11 tracks is this year's equivalent of a boom box being held outside a bedroom window.
Key Track: “Foolish Person”
18. Titus Andronicus — Local Business
“Ok, I think by now we've established everything is inherently worthless/And there's nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose,” says the kid who suddenly no longer sounds like Springsteen fighting to make sense of the American narrative, but instead a 20-something fighting to make sense of himself. The result is anthemic, as Titus Andronicus can only be, but not necessarily celebratory. Its cathartic comfort comes from the realization we’re all sort of fucked up.
Key Track: “Ecce Homo”
17. The Babies — Our House on the Hill
City kids go to the country and discover America is big, beautiful and ugly. The album may have come into fruition in Brooklyn and L.A., but it sees Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone play out a Paul and Linda McCartney dynamic, minus the matrimony, dropping their default garage rock into scenes of Southern gospel towns and the outlawed West in addition their Brooklyn backyards, reminding us that rickety rock songs and simple folk ballads are capable of saying big things.
Key Track: “That Boy”
16. Japandroids — Celebration Rock
There wasn't a whole lot of anthemic rock music making headlines this year (though I think in some ways country-leaning bands like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers have awkwardly picked up that torch?), but Japandroids got fists pumping everywhere with the aptly titled Celebration Rock, an album that, like much of the best Hold Steady material, carries a hefty sense of nostalgia but is also somehow all about living in the moment. Lines like, "Remember that night you were already in bed/Said 'fuck it,' got up to drink with me instead" wouldn't be so rousing if they didn't also carry the possibility that in remembering, you'd be inspired to relive it.
Key Track: "Younger Us"