It’s been a fantastic 12 months for rock ‘n’ roll. Any of the top 10 albums listed here could easily have taken the No. 1 spot in a different year. Buy (or burn) them all. The only surprise was that, bar Kings of Leon, none of the new garage-rock upstarts hitching a lift on “The White Strokes” bandwagon managed to deliver a truly great album, but that was more than compensated for by the post-punk revival led by bands like The Rapture and The Kills.
1. Super Furry Animals — Phantom Power (Epic-Sony)
Improving on 2001’s “Rings Around the World” album — a No. 1 on this list — was a daunting task. For any band less than the Super Furries that is. Six superb albums in nine years says it all. The record kicks off with the upbeat “Hello Sunshine,” but it soon becomes clear that this is simply ironic as “Phantom Power” is their darkest album to date. Less of the infectious melodies and psychedelic pop and more of the melancholic folk give it a seamless, dreamlike quality. One lyric talks of doing a deal with the devil at a roundabout. Guess that explains why they’re so good.
2. 54 Nude Honeys — 54 Nude Honeys (U.K. Project)
This band’s punk-rock credentials are impeccable: Dumped by Sony several years back for being too punk rock, they now release brilliant underground albums that nobody buys while moonlighting as dominatrixes. Sadly, they didn’t even tour this album. Recorded in New York, bassist Vivi thought the place so rock ‘n’ roll that she moved there. What we’re left with is a bunch of stripped-down, brain cell-vaporizing sonic assaults that would scare the shorts off a Blink-182 fan at 100 paces. Yuri’s husky scream is terrifying and the band sounds like Elastica meeting The Stooges with Link Wray on guitar. Vivi! I’ll fund the flight home!
3. Stellastarr* — Stellastarr* (RCA)
Singer Shawn Christensen bellows like Scott Walker riding a speeding stallion through the gates of hell while trampling a horde of scumbag garage-punker also-rans. That, on top of a barrage of fuzzed-up guitars, means New York’s Stellastarr* are the most overblown, pretentious, intense indie band since Joy Division or Echo & The Bunnymen. And rock ‘n’ roll needs more of that.
4. Melt-Banana — cell-scape (A-Zap)
Tokyo legends serve up a punk-techno stew and it’s their most accessible album to date. But dancing to these wild beats and screeching vocals is a feat no one has yet been known to pull off, and it’s still loud and abrasive enough to have the neighbors hammering on your door.
5. The Rapture — Echoes (Vertigo)
Mournful barroom ballads, cheap ’80s synthetic disco grooves, something that sounds like James Brown covering a track off PIL’s “Metal Box,” and a vocalist whose neurotic whine makes him sound like Robert Smith’s younger brother having a breakdown because he botched his makeup. “Echoes” is a bizarre rock-dance hybrid from a band who, despite obvious musical differences, thankfully did not split up.
6. The Strokes — Room on Fire (Rough Trade)
The Strokes sell-out by delivering an 85-minute prog-rock concept album. Only kidding. The Strokes’ second album has about as much fat on it as Kate Moss’s backside, and is equally sexy. Eleven amphetamine-fueled pop-punk gems speed in at 30 minutes.
7. The White Stripes — Elephant (V2)
“Elephant” is the band’s most intense album to date and you half-expect Jack White to burst into tears at the end of almost every song. You imagine his fingers bleeding, his knucklebones bursting out from the skin, as he wrings raw blues out of his guitar while whining like his legendary private parts are being crushed in a vise. And by the way, that’s no bass on opener “Seven Nation Army” — it’s Jack’s guitar through an effects pedal. No selling out for this guitar/drums duo.
8. The Warlocks — Phoenix (Mute)
A wall of guitar noise, spiraling solos, a chanty vocal and trancey grooves. The Warlocks are the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and The Stone Roses.
9. The Coral — Magic and Medicine (Deltasonic)
England’s answer to Wales’ Super Furries for two reasons: 1) They deal in folksy psychedelia but always toss in surprises (here it’s the soft surf-guitar washing over the ballad “Summer’s Eve”); 2) Their inexhaustible inspiration. I mean, even their B-sides are classic. Last year’s self-titled debut made No. 1 on this list, and early next year you can expect another album of tracks that didn’t make it on to this one.
10. Kings of Leon — Youth & Young Manhood (Handmedown)
This was recorded live in 1973 in a Texas forest. Lynyrd Skynyrd were driving their tour van when it broke down in the dead of night. They built a campfire to keep warm and started singing folksy blues songs. They were then set upon by a family of cannibals who smashed their instruments before ripping the band to shreds and devouring their internal organs (note the insane screaming during some of these Southern-fried rock tracks). The incident was captured on vintage recording equipment. The following year the cannibals were arrested after starring in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
11. Diesel Ann — A Star is Born . . . (Little Pepper)
If Imawano Kiyoshiro had a sex change and was shrunk to the size of a hobbit he’d be Diesel Ann’s singer/guitarist Taeko, who spits out Showa folk sped up to a punk-rock pace.
12. Prambath — Sweet & Hot (Groovie Drunker)
What are they teaching the kids in schools down in Osaka? Punk-rock studies or what? First we got mummy the peepshow, and now it’s Prambath. Just think shouty punk-rock schoolgirls with spiked hockey sticks and big balls.
13. Shonen Knife — Candy Rock (Warner Indies)
Osaka veterans Shonen Knife depart from the pretty punk-pop, lounge and disco that characterized last year’s classic “Heavy Songs” and instead rock out like the old days. This clues us in to why an early Shonen Knife tape made it into Kurt Cobain’s recently reported list of his top 50 albums.
14. The Young Ones — The Young Ones (Needle)
You can’t help but admire a punk-rock band that boasts a singer who sounds like a constipated grizzly bear who’s just sat on a nail bomb.
15. The Kills — Keep on Your Mean Side (Sanctuary)
Who needs the Yeah Yeah Yeahs when trashy blues duo The Kills stalk the same post-punk lo-fi terrain, but with the minimum of fuss and a maximum of venom. If I was a serial killer this would be my soundtrack.
16. She’s Pippi — She’s Pippi (Ummo)
The Teletubbies grow up and ditch their toy synthesizers for guitars. But they just can’t help going back to their roots. So in between the guitar pop we get pings and bleeps that only a 3-year-old could understand. Weird? Yes. But it is on Boredoms’ member Seiichi Yamamoto’s indie label.
17. Hang on the Box — Di Di Di (Benten)
After 2001’s lo-fi debut “Yellow Banana,” Beijing punk rockers Hang on the Box move toward the mainstream with a more polished sound. The song titles sum it up. Before: “Asshole, I’m not your Baby,” and “Bitch.” Now: “I wanna say apology to you,” and an ace cover of Janis Joplin’s “Summer Time.”
18. Texaco Leatherman — Duke (Bermuda)
Marrying demented blues with tribal grooves, Texaco show they’re one of the most original garage-punk bands in Japan. And singer Mokkos Europe wields a katana at shows. Tom and Quentin would love it.
19. The Belters — Sound Game Booth (Loft)
Three loose-socked Tokyo schoolgirls playing along to Nirvana outtakes in their bedroom while the folks are at work. And you can’t get much cooler than that.
20. Audio Active — Back to the Stoned Age (Beat)
Tokyo’s Audio Active ditch the pop and rock inflections and go back to what they’re best at — experimental electronica and heavy dub.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.