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Laura Hamlett | Albums

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empireThey said their second album would be a masterpiece, and it is. Normally such braggadocio turns me off, but when the product more than lives up to expectations...

 

 

 

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Bluebottle Kiss at SXSW '06 [photo: Jim Dunn] 

1. Bluebottle Kiss | Doubt Seeds (Nonzero)

For now, Doubt Seeds remains available only via import, but don't be surprised when the American labels and press get ahold of these monstrously talented Aussies. Front man Jamie Hutchings is a modern genius, one of the best songwriters around today. With a knack for composition and an ear for combining the best of the classics with contemporary multi-instrumentation and straightforward rock 'n' roll, he deserves to be a household name-not to mention rich.

2. Kasabian | Empire (Paradise)

They said their second album would be a masterpiece, and it is. Normally such braggadocio turns me off, but when the product more than lives up to expectations, you have to cut some slack and recognize that Kasabian are masters at their game. The sophomore release is a bit more classically influenced than the largely dance-inspiring debut, but it's solid through and through. Empire, indeed.

3. The Frames | Burn the Maps (Anti-)

Glen Hansard could sing just about anything and I'd listen. Lucky for me, though, he's a witty songwriter, fully capturing the trials of life and love, of the little things we give to one another and the big things we take away. Add in the violin to the haunting strains of quiet-loud-quiet and you've got yourself a completely captivating listen, over and over.

4. Hard-Fi | Stars of CCTV (Atlantic)

This, the Staines U.K. quartet's debut, is fun and funky, the perfect Brit rock album to cross the Big Pond and succeed. The lyrics are gritty, emotionally honest, accurately portraying life in a bleak city with few options. Stars has made the boys just that in Britain; it'll be interesting to see if they'll be able to capture our hearts with their honesty and wit on the second album, given their increased bank accounts.

5. The Kooks | Inside In, Inside Out (Astralwerks)

Yet another British sensation (and I'm not finished yet), the Kooks have crafted the perfect pop-rock album. There are influences galore to keep you guessing and grooving, and witty lyrics combined with hummable choruses to sing along to. Play this one loud in the car stereo; I know I do.

6. The Arctic Monkeys | Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino)

After this we'll go back to our own country, I promise. But, man, have those Brits been hot this year. I wanted to not like the Arctic Monkeys as much as I do. I had been hearing so much hype and buzz before their album hit our shores; surely they couldn't be as good as everyone was saying, could they? Oh, but they are. There isn't a song to dislike on their awkwardly named debut disc, and you'll find more and more to like with each listen. The lyrics, for example, are awfully clever. Oh, and I did mention front man Alex Turner was just 19 when the album came out? What have you done with your life, eh?

7. Matt Nathanson | At the Point (High Wire Music)

This is a very simple disc: One guy, one guitar, a small venue, a self-released disc. Normally that wouldn't be a recipe for success, but in Matt Nathanson's case-a very solid songwriter who turns into stand-up comedian between songs-it works, and in spaces. The stripped-down nature of the songs allows Nathanson's charm, vocal ability and honest lyrics to shine all the more; his unaccompanied guitar work isn't bad, either. One could, I suppose, make the argument against including such long-winded stories in between songs for eternity-but in Nathanson's case, again, it's part of the appeal. I listen again every time, and laugh each time, as well.

8. Blue October | Foiled (Universal)

Forget everything you think you know about Blue October; this is a pop record, pure and simple. Oh sure, there are elements of rock, some of them quite loud. But most of Foiled, their follow-up since Universal resigned after dropping them, is pop music, and could be easily slipped between Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake. Thankfully, Justin Furstenfeld's strong voice and super-personal lyrics continue to set Blue October above the pack. The result is something unexpectedly beautiful, and fragile.

9. Margot & the Nuclear So and So's | The Dust of Retreat (Artemis/V2)

It's nice to see these Indianapolis indie kids making a go of things on a major minor. With the recent merger of the two labels, Margot could have gotten lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, the sharp songwriting of Richard Edwards-combined with the talented and cacophonous instrumentation of the seven other So and So's-kept the band with the long-ass name in the spotlight. A successful showing at CMJ and a brand new home studio for the gang means we'll be hearing more from Margot in 2007; I, for one, can't wait.

10. Eddie Cohn | If I'm Happy, It Ends (s/r)

This one was an unexpected surprise, and sometimes those are the best kind. Combine solid songmanship with strong production, an at-times symphonic backing band, and utterly relatable lyrics and you've got a quiet gem. I'm not sure how much attention Cohn's gotten from the industry thus far, but this one's definitely worth another listen. | Laura Hamlett

 

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