7. Pet Shop Boys, “Super”
A solid sequel to the album that brought them back from the dead, Super is business-as-usual Pet Shop Boys: catchy, cheeky and ever-dancefloor ready. If it doesn’t add anything new to their catalog, the best songs show that Tennant and Lowe still know their way around a killer hook (the glorious, relentless chorus of “Burn”) or how to evoke deep feelings for a past era without delving into cheap nostalgia (“The Pop Kids”). And “Happiness”, “Groovy” and “Pazzo!” all provide heady escapism at time when it’s most needed.
Favorite tracks: “The Pop Kids”, “Say It to Me”, “Burn”
6. John K. Samson, “Winter Wheat”
With The Weakerthans now officially kaput, leader Samson’s second solo album (I somehow missed the first) isn’t radically different from that outfit’s literate, lived-in folk rock—after all, it does feature two of his three former bandmates. It’s a tad gentler and more acoustic than Reconstruction Site, but no less world weary or endearingly scrappy. Imagine if Michael Stipe made a solo album in 1985 or if Billy Bragg was from Winnipeg instead of London. But arguably only Samson could pull off leftfield experiments such as the spoken word “Quiz Night at Looky Lou’s” or a lyric like, “I believe in you and your PowerPoints.”
Favorite tracks: “PostDoc Blues”, “17th Street Treatment Centre”, “Prayer For Ruby Elm”
5. The Avalanches, “Wildflower”
This was never going to exceed or even equal Since I Left You—it just can’t match that album’s limitless sonic design or its seamlessness, and it also gradually peters out in its final third. However, Wildflower is still far better than a second Avalanches LP has any right or purpose to be, especially in that sublime, vintage-disco-to-psych-pop run from “Subways” to “Zap!”, capped off by the kinda stoopid/near-brilliant Biz Markie/Beatles mash-up “The Noisy Eater”. That five months on, I’m still discovering new things to savor within a majority of these songs is a good sign this LP will endure.
Favorite tracks: “If I Was a Folkstar”, “The Noisy Eater”, “Harmony”