Laura Veirs - July Flame (Raven Marching Band Records)
Laura Veirs' stunning, self-released new album is one of those textured, absorbing folk records that quietly commands your complete attention from start to finish. Unsurprisingly, her work with Jim James on "I Can See Your Tracks" is particularly excellent, but the rest of the songs stand up to scrutiny without any guest assistance, something that's due in large part to Veir's ethereal crooning. After spending the better part of 2009 being thoroughly disgusted by all the undeserved attention Middle Cyclone received last year (have any of the jerks who couldn't quit gushing about it even listened to any of Neko Case's other albums? I doubt it), Laura Veirs has come through in the early '10 with a sumptuous, melodic masterpiece that I know I'll be loving for years to come.
Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL Recordings)
While I sometimes find Vampire Weekend's dancier tracks enjoyable in a party setting, I fail to understand why most music journalists feel that this band is really that much better than the legions of indie rockers who've appropriated some small element of another musical style (bhangra, tropicalia, bluegrass, what have you) in order to make it palatable to hipsters who've never ventured into the "World" section of the record store. No, Contra doesn't make me want to rip out my earbuds in disgust, but nor has it changed my belief that all that was good about Vampire Weekend has been poisoned by the hyperbole that spewed forth from an out-of-control hype machine like exhaust from a diesel engine. And because of it, I remain underwhelmed by Vampire Weekend as ever. If you're into such things, it's my personal belief that the Ruby Suns are a lot more fun, a lot less cutesy and have not, as of yet, fallen prey to an overabundance of buzz.