11 Iron & Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog
Sam Beam's records as Iron & Wine have, for the most part, been modestly recorded and buried beneath a comfortable blanket of lo-fi warmth, but with The Shepherd's Dog he finally embraces the full band sound that has been lurking in his stripped down tunes all along. It's a direction he first accepted as inevitable on 2005's Woman King EP, and now he doesn't simply expand the arrangements, he blows the format wide open and incorporates the gamut of sounds – varied percussion, brass, piano, organ, and even studio effects, notably the dubwise production on the improbably great “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog).” Elsewhere, Beam trades in afropop, funk, rock and, yes, the countryesque tunesmithery for which he's been known all along. It all results in the most listenable I&W album yet, as in a record you won't hesitate to put on even when you're not feeling insular and downcast (which is the only complaint I could levy against either of his two previous full lengths). Might be that Beam is applying the lessons gleaned from his collaboration with Calexico, a band known for its robustness of sound. Or maybe he's just tired of mumbling. Either way, he's throwing a hell of a coming out party.
10 Caribou, Andorra
Dan Snaith/Manitoba/Caribou has an impressive track record of creatively produced bedroom records, beginning in the electronic DJ mode, but moving gradually toward more traditional song structures. With Andorra, the transformation from DJ to pop star is complete, and in place of impersonal and calculated dance music, Snaith gives the world something that sounds warm, rich, personal, and very much as though it was recorded 40 years ago. Snaith has become a one man band and his own producer, and all in the service of real songs – bridges, choruses, the whole nine. And what songs – slices of British Invasion psychedelic pop that Sts. Argent and Blunstone would appreciate (if not write themselves), big and sunny four minute miracles that sound like nine perfect afternoons spent with kaleidoscopes taped to your RayBans.
It's simple, really. Like being happy? Enjoy pop music? Get this album yesterday.