The Handsome Family - Honey Moon (Independent Records) Husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks have, over the course of eight albums, refined their brand of gothic Americana.
The pair's shared vocals — usually over sparse instrumentation — can make for compelling listening. Opening tracks Linger, Let It Linger and Little Sparrows are typical of the Family's songwriting craft, attention to detail and love of storytelling. It helps that their vocals are so distinct. The schtick gets a little tired over the course of an album, though, and on Darling, My Darling fans of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's recent collaboration will feel that the Sparks have borrowed too heavily from (Plant and Krauss's) Your Long Journey.
Burn it: Little Sparrows
Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (Drag City)
Bill Callahan no longer labours under the stage moniker Smog, and this second album under his own name finds the Maryland singer-songwriter exploring a lighter side of life.
His music is still low-key, and comparisons with Lambchop's Kurt Wagner are as apt as ever. There's an admiration of the commonplace that will appeal to those who care little for the empty sentiment that passes as profound in so much music today.
With songs bearing titles like Invocation Of Ratiocination and Rococo Zephyr, and lyrics that are as mystifying as they are interesting, Callahan isn't aiming for a No 1 any time soon. But there's much to be gleaned here.
Burn it: Rococo Zephyr
The Juan Maclean - The Future Will Come (DFA)
A small number of record labels have reached that seminal point where devotees will take a punt on a new act simply because they are on said label's books.
DFA Records — founded by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy — is quickly attaining this status. And its reputation for cutting-edge electronica is set to be enhanced with this second album proper from John McLean (aka The Juan MacLean).
The Future Will Come is an exemplary fusion of beat-oriented music for the heart and feet. Epic opener The Simple Life sounds like the best song Hot Chip never wrote. And Tonight is about as close to a comedown anthem as you can get.
Synth pop is undoubtedly the flavour of 2009 — witness Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ new direction — but few will deliver an album to match the excellence of this collection whose disparate influences — from Human League to ESG — make the result such a winner.
Burn it: The Future Will Come