1. Delta Spirit, Delta Spirit (2012)
Label: Rounder Records
Album highlights: “Tear It Up,” “California,” and “Home”
I heard Delta Spirit for the first time during SXSW 2012 when they played a joint show at a private party with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jr. — one of my favorite bands at the time. Prior to arriving in Austin, I’d emailed a writer I admired who was speaking at one of the festival’s media panels. We met up, and she snuck me into the party using one of her friends’ extra press passes — which made the experience more thrilling because I was only an 18-year-old college freshman but a few industry yuppies mistook me for Someone Important and chatted me up about topics where I had to fudge my expertise, ha. Anyways, Delta Spirit was excellent, and I’ve had a soft spot for them in my heart since seeing them at SXSW. They’re still excellent, but this eponymous album is by far their best. Listening to it will make you want to pack up your bags, no matter where you are, and drive up the California coast with nothing but a blonde, surfer-lover and big, big dreams to keep you warm at night.
2. Boys and Girls, Alabama Shakes (2012)
Label: Rough Trade Records, ATO Records
Album highlights: “Hold On,” “I Found You,” and “Heartbreaker”
Alabama Shakes is not quite famous yet, and I have no idea why — they’re terrific. The band was formed in — you guessed it — Alabama, hailing from the worldly city of Athens (what is it with Southern states and appropriating the name “Athens?”). The lead singer Brittany Howard also kills it on the guitar, and she and her Shakes manage to seamlessly combine genres like Roots, blues, and Americana into one helluva musical experience. Ugh, I love them. This album, though older, is one of their best, and listening to it is prime for staying in bed on a lazy summer day or dancing barefoot in a park somewhere. It will simultaneously heal any of your emotional maladies, make you want to dance, and reaffirm your belief in love.
3. Time Capsules II, Oberfhofer (2012)
Label: Glassnote Records
Album highlights: “oOoO,” “Away Frm U,” “Haus”
This album by Brooklyn-based band Oberhofer received a less-than-favorable rating (only a 5.0) from Pitchfork, the self-imposed authority on indie music. The reviewer claimed that lead singer Brad Oberhofer’s signature style of singing suggested he might, uh, have Tourette’s. I just think that the album’s artistry was too much for that Pitchfork reviewer to grasp.* This album is subtly heartbreaking under the guise of light-hearted dance pop, and that is what makes it lovely. It is bubblegum, strawberry-flavored beer, and watermelon popsicles during the dog days of August with a hidden touch of benzos to keep you going. Besides, Brad Oberfhofer is a sweetheart — earlier this year, he publicly offered to send uncut demos from Time Capsules II to any fans that requested them. I’m not going to lie; I fangirled pretty hard when I got them.
*In case you were wondering, this is probably the most pretentious sentence I have ever written.
4. The Rip Tide, Beirut (2011)
Label: Pompeii Records
Album highlights: “Santa Fe,” “East Harlem,” and “Vagabond”
On paper, Beirut — initially a one-man project, formed in Santa Fe by Zach Condon — churns out music that falls under the Baroque pop genre. But, what makes the band innovative (and really, really cool in my opinion) is that it infuses elements of Eastern European (specifically, Balkan) folk music into its tracks. The Rip Tide is a perfect example of how Beirut manages to do this — using heavy brass, occasional accordion, and layered, rich choruses to create pop songs with Old World styling. Without a doubt, listening to this record will make you want to drop everything this summer and spend the rest of your days traipsing throughout Europe — dancing at Roma weddings, kissing locals when you don’t know how to communicate with them, and writing poems in a Moleskin journal.
5. The Rhumb Line, Ra Ra Riot (2008)
Label: Barsuk Records
Album highlights: “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” “Dying is Fine, “Can You Tell”
Ra Ra Riot released its last album in 2013, but I believe that it released its last good album in 2008 with The Rhumb Line — avoiding the slump that most bands experience with a sophomore album. While some of their later albums have a couple of hits here and there, The Rhumb Line is Ra Ra Riot at its best — before the band started questionably experimenting with electronica, abandoning its Baroque pop roots. Though some of the songs here cover grave subject matter, lead singer Wes Miles maintains a cheery, almost optimistic warble throughout the album. That’s what makes it great. That’s what makes it punch a hole in your heart. This is the album you play on repeat at the end of the summer, when you’re preparing to say good-bye to a fling, a town, or an experience you probably will never see or have again.
Fun fact: Ra Ra Riot released this album under the same label that catapulted Death Cab for Cutie to fame.
6. Be the Void, Dr. Dog (2012)
Label: ANTI- Records
Album highlights: “Lonesome,” “That Old Black Hole,” and “These Days”
Dr. Dog has been around forever (since 1999, which makes it ancient!). The Philadelphia-based band came to Atlanta, where I go to school, this year and played one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Granted, they took almost two hours to get on stage — ugh, indie musicians are such divas — but the wait was well worth it. During the course of two and a half hours, Dr. Dog played notable songs from its entire discography — including good stuff from Be the Void, an underrated album that is also one of their best. Be the Void is a little bluesy. It’s a little psychedelic. It’s a little lo-fi. But it’s wonderful. Unless you have little capacity for appreciating music, you won’t be able to help bobbing your head (vigorously) to the songs on this album.**
**This is the second most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written.