Best Albums of October
A whale, a 5-year wait, and imagining Amy Winehouse as a happy person.
By Maria Popova
Fall is usually the hottest season for indie releases. And October has been sizzling in more ways than we can count. With new releases from old favorites, debut albums by promising up-and-comers, and even some fantastic free mixed samplers, it’s been a grand month for music.
THE FLAMING LIPS EMBRYONIC
An instant classic by a cultural legend, The Flaming Lips‘ latest, Embryonic, may be a bit self-indulgent at 19 tracks and 70 minutes of play-time, but so long as it’s good music — which it is — that’s okay by us.
Bonus points for releasing it as 2LP color vinyl as well.
Favorite track: Anything You Say Now, I Believe You (Amazon MP3 Exclusive).
BRUSHFIRE RECORDS FALL 2009 SAMPLER
Brushfire is one of our absolute favorite indie record labels. (Who, by the way, record in a solar-powered studio.) And their Fall 2009 Sampler is not only completely free, but also DRM-free — something rare and respectable in today’s domination of iTunes proprietary formats and licensing restrictions.
It features tracks from indie favorites like Jack Johnson (the label’s owner), Zach Gill, Matt Costa and the fantastic up-and-comer Zee Avi, whom you may recall from our spotlight feature.
Favorite track: Zee Avi’s Darling.
THE SWELL SEASON STRICT JOY
Songwriter duo The Swell Season began with the romance between The Frames’ frontman Glen Hansard and Czech vocalist Markéta Irglová, who met on the set of Irish indie film gem Once. But the band, named after a novel by humanist Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, suffered an inevitable setback when the romance ended, leaving fans to question its fate. Luckily, the two had the good sense to put their creative integrity first, and continued collaborating on what quickly became one of the best folk bands around. Strict Joy, their formal debut, is every bit as rich and remarkable as their story.
For a taste, grab a free download of In These Arms, the thrid track from the album.
Favorite track: Two Tongues.
NOAH AND THE WHALE FIRST DAYS OF SPRING
We already reviewed British pop-folk outfit Noah and The Whale‘s First Days of Spring and their brilliantly innovative release model, the world’s first-ever film/album hybrid. So no need to wax poetic any futher, but we’ll just say the album a stunning string of quietly excellent tracks.
KINGS OF CONVENIENCE DECLARATION OF DEPENDENCE
We’ve been infatuated with Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience since the release of their debut album in 2004. So we were increasingly impatient as they took a 5-year sabbatical from recording. Which is why the October 19 release of their new album, Declaration of Dependence, is incredibly rewarding culmination of a long, long wait.
With beautifully melodic acoustics and vocals that clutch you in their quiet but firm grip, their sound is both vulnerable and powerful, full of that intangible but highly distinct Nordicness. Their lyrical sensibility sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise with deep reflections on the simple complexities of everyday life.
For a teaser taste, you can snag Boat Behind, the fourth track from the album, for free.
Favorite track: Mrs. Cold.
THAO KNOW BETTER LEARN FASTER
Thao With The Get Down Stay Down is easily among the best acts we’ve discovered over the past few years. Their sound has continued to evolve, with vocalist Thao Nguyen channeling Cat Power and and Fionna Apple while innovating in her very own way. Bassist Adam Thompson and drummer Willis Thompson bring a rich layer of vibrant instrumentals to the mix, for a grand total that much grander and more fantastic than the sum of its parts.
And their new album, Know Better Learn Faster, is every bit as brilliant as we expected it to be.
Favorite track: Cool Yourself, because this track is just too white-hot.
ASTEROIDS GALAXY TOUR FRUIT
Although Danish alt-pop outfit Asteroids Galaxy Tour released a couple of EP’s last year, Fruit is their first full-blown album — and full-blown it is. It’s a glorious intersection of the psychedelic-pop of the 60’s and what Amy Winehouse might sound like if she were a happy person, all wrapped in stunning, unmistakable Scandinavian vocals, with a hint of brilliant but elusive indie collaborator Bajka. Beautiful brass instrumentation and superb drum work give their sound that extra zing that takes it from great, listenable music to head-bobbingly superb.
For more curated music, check out tune of the moment, our Tumblr spinoff, where each day, you can listen to a full track that’s making us smile.
Published November 1, 2009