It’s been a while since I’ve posted on music, so I’ll do a little catch up here by highlighting some of my favorite albums of the last couple years, all gathered under the descriptor “smart,” because, well, that’s exactly what they are.

Panic at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

What if the Killers and Duran Duran had a baby and you injected it with ten ounces of adrenalin and the lyrical wit of Morrissey?  That’s right, you get Panic at the Disco.  This stuff is lyrically clever, melodically addictive, and danceable (if you’ve had plenty of caffeine).  And the title track features the most impressive lead vocal performance I’ve heard since Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”  Brendon Urie (lead vocalist, multiple instrumentalist, songwriter, and stage acrobat) is a wonder of nature.  Wow.

Avett Brothers – True Sadness

I’m just now getting on this band’s wagon and am happy to be late to the party, since a wealth of great music awaits me.  This latest offering is poignant, earthy, witty, wise, and stylistically eclectic.  My favorite song on the record is “No Hard Feelings,” a powerful musical resolution to hold no grudges or resentments toward people.  This is one of many Avett Brothers songs which dare to make mature statements about personal virtue which are extremely rare in the world of popular music.

Foxygen – Hang

After three interesting but somewhat sprawling albums, this innovative California duo settled down to create a lushly produced and fully orchestrated song set, and Hang is the fascinating result.  Though clocking in at a total of just 33 minutes, the album explores several genres in a way that leaves the listener feeling like s/he is attending a Broadway musical.  And these guys have a great sense of humor, as evidenced by this video for the song “Avalon.”

Stephen Malkmus – Sparkle Hard

This former front man of the legendary Indie-rock founders Pavement has been making high quality solo records for seventeen years, and this latest offering maintains his high standards of unpredictable musical adventures combined with quirky lyrics and unpredictable melodic flourishes.  Here are some performances of songs from Sparkle Hard on Live at KEXP.

Arctic Monkeys—Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

These guys have been around for a while, but they refuse to make the same album—or even an album within the same genre—twice, evolving admirably from a gritty garage rock through progressive rock to their current reinvention, which is spacious, atmospheric, and loungy musical palate surrounding Alex Turner’s mesmerizing stream-of-consciousness lyrical puree.  Joe Strummer meets Paul Weller meets Tony Bennett.  Or something like that.

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