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My 10 Current Favorite Musical Artists

March 1, 2009

This list is not to be confused with my 10 favorite musical artists of all time, though at least one on this list would also make that one.  I am focusing on those musical artists who are really top of mind right now, so I decided to exclude anyone who’s been performing with their current act longer than 20 years (which is why neither The Who nor Steely Dan are on this list).  I also established the requirement that in order to be eligible for this list, the artist(s) must have at least three full-length albums to their credit (which is why neither Art Brut nor The Broken West are on this list).

Now that my parameters have been fully explained, let’s begin the countdown, shall we?


10. The Black Keys

Loud and raunchy guitar-drum duos may have been brought into vogue by The White Stripes, a band I am also quite fond of in their own right, but nobody does it louder and raunchier than Akron, Ohio’s own The Black Keys.  Their most recent album, Attack & Release (2008), is one of their best.  Here’s one of my favorite tracks from that one, “Remember When (Side B)”:

9. Hayden

He’s Canadian, he’s introspective and he knows his way around a guitar.  Though that seems like an apt description of Neil Young, I’m actually referring to Hayden Desser, who performs sans surname despite the risk of being confused for the cheerleader from Heroes or teen Anakin Skywalker.  But his voice and music are much more reminiscent of a young Neil than a young Darth.  His latest album, In Field & Town (2008), is excellent, and includes “Damn This Feeling”:

8. The Long Winters

Based in Seattle, this band features John Roderick and a revolving cast of musicians, including Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson.  Their melodious and intellectual brand of power pop has gotten better with each passing album, culminating with their best release to date, Putting the Days to Bed (2006).  One of the most enjoyable songs from that record is “Fire Island, AK”:

7. Neko Case

Blessed with one of the most beautiful voices on the planet, Neko Case has lent her immense talents to many projects, most notably the Canadian indie supergroup known as The New Pornographers.  But Neko is at her most majestic when on her own, as evidenced by her brand new album, Middle Cyclone (2009).  This soon-to-be-released record (March 3) is an early contender for album of the year, thanks to such fantastic songs as “People Got a Lotta Nerve”:

6. M. Ward

Best known as the “Him” to actress/singer Zooey Deschanel’s “She” in the duo She & Him, retro guitar virtuoso M. Ward calls Portland, Oregon home.  His whispery vocals are the perfect compliment to his folk rock musical stylings, never more perfectly displayed than on his new album, Hold Time (2009).  Here is just one of many superb tracks from that record, “Never Had Nobody Like You”:

5. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

When it comes to politically-charged indie punk rock, nobody on the scene today does it better than Ted Leo & The Pharmacists.  Their high-energy music translates even better in a live setting, where the hyperkinetic Leo bounds around the stage with a euphoric intensity that drives the crowd into a frenzy.  One of the best tracks from their latest album, Living With the Living (2007), is “The World Stops Turning”:

4. Jim White

Jim White has mastered the spooky Southern gothic vibe and made it his own unique melange of sounds and imagery.  He infuses his sublime music with equal parts wit and weirdness, telling stories better than just about anyone going today.  His most recent album, Transnormal Skiperoo (2007), is among his finest works and includes such great songs as “Diamonds to Coal”:

3. My Morning Jacket

Probably the best known band on my list, Louisville, Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket has been headlining big-time festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza for several years now.  But do not mistake them for the jam bands who usually appear on the festival circuit, because MMJ delivers so much more than about any band around.  They can slay you with full-throttle Southern fried rock and segue right into a ballad that would have sounded right at home on a Soul station in the ’70s.  Their latest opus, Evil Urges (2008), contains several future classics, including “Thank You Too”:

2. The Hold Steady

From Minneapolis by way of New York City, The Hold Steady is led by the most unlikely frontman in rock, a bespectacled middle-aged nebbish named Craig Finn.  The fact that Finn really speaks more than he sings actually works brilliantly when backed by the monster riffs and propelling beats of his bandmates.  Their signature are the gritty Springsteenesque lyrics, which often depict the brief highs and prolonged lows of the partying lifestyle.  Stay Positive (2008), their most recent triumphant release, features “Magazines”:

1. Spoon

Austin’s Jim Eno and Britt Daniel have formed the core of Spoon since they first burst onto the indie scene back in the mid-’90s.  Their saga during the past 15 years has been fueled by major label betrayal and a drive to keep pushing the envelope with their one-of-a-kind brand of indie pop-rock.  Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) is one of the best records in their canon, and contains the fantastic song “Don’t You Evah”:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mexicanjunior permalink
    March 19, 2009 10:16 am

    I’ve never heard of any of these people…

  2. walt permalink
    March 1, 2009 11:38 pm

    oh, and the Hold Steady: SEVERELY underrated. Great sense of humor in the songs.

  3. walt permalink
    March 1, 2009 11:37 pm

    Impeccable list.
    Neko Case = none better.
    Ted Leo = just found out about ’em a few months ago. greatness.
    The Black Keys are amazing. Spoon live is great, too.

    Solid list.

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