Stephen Slaybaugh

Top 10 Albums

Children’s Desire
Katorga Works

While mechanical sparks and frayed ends hint at a noisy past, it is the melancholy melodies of songs like “Time” that make Children of Desire stand out. Similarly, over the course of the album’s six songs, Merchandise veers between the conciseness of the aforementioned pop gem and lengthy excursions like “Become What You Are” that embody all the dimensions of the band in their epic scope. It is the details, however obvious or obscured, that comprise the mettle of this out-of-nowhere surprise.

Maxïmo Park
The National Health
Straight to the Sun

Produced, like the band’s sophomore effort, 2007’s Our Earthly Pleasures by Gil Norton, The National Health could be called a return to form after Quicken the Heart, Maxïmo Park’s disappointing third album from 2009. But that would be too easy. Instead, the band has eclipsed its past work entirely. The album bears the kind of charm that’s been exhibited in the past by luminaries like The Smiths, The Jam, and Orange Juice. Indeed, The National Heath shows that Britpop hasn’t completely died, it’s just been buried under the weight of Coldplay’s melodrama and Muse’s balderdash. Maxïmo Park always hinted that they had a great album in them, and The National Health is that album.

Cloud Nothings
Attack on Memory

Following two albums of manic pop thrills, Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings delivered a punch to the gut with this no less thrilling platter of startling roughhewn tracks. As song titles like “No Future/No Past,” “Stay Useless” and “No Sentiment” hint at, there’s a certain amount of angst at play here, and the many comparisons that have been made to Nirvana aren’t entirely inappropriate. But Dylan Baldi is too smart to simply be aping the ghosts of alt-rock past, and Attack on Memory is more the furious fruition of his own songwriting.

Cheater Slicks
Reality Is a Grape
Columbus Discount

After 25 years of playing in the deep end of murky ruckus making, the Cheater Slicks weren’t about to change directions on their latest—even after drummer/singer Dana Hatch had a brush with death. But on Reality Is a Grape, there seems to be a greater cohesion between the band’s sonic attack and the sentiments of its songs. I’d like to think that the band is just hitting its peak now, with another quarter century of righteous noise left in them.

Slug Guts
Playin’ in Time with the Deadbeat
Sacred Bones

While Playin’ in Time with the Deadbeat seems at first to be heading to the same Birthday Party as its predecessor, it becomes quickly apparent with each subsequent track that these scrappy Aussies have expanded their vernacular. Songs like “Old Black Sweats” and “Suckin’ Down” kick at the corpses of Jeffery Lee Pierce and Lux Interior to dislodge fragments of bluesy shit and the pus of rock’s underbelly, while the band also takes on PiL’s “Order of Death,” turning its chorus into a seething mantra. But more than any influence, Playin’ bristles with the synaptic electricity that comes from tapping into a vortex of intangibles, and its exacting tones and arrangements strike every nerve.


After several previous attempts, Claire Boucher (a.k.a. Grimes) came into her own this past year with Visions, her debut for 4AD. A mix of Tinkerbell electronics, Björkian otherworldliness, and grooves mined from the same gemstone bed as “Genius of Love,” the record presented the Canadian singer as a pop maestro. Tracks like “Oblivion” and “Skin” seemed inherently insular, but proved to work in a live setting too, blossoming into splendorous moments full of color. It was the eccentricities of Grimes’ breakthrough that distinguished it, though, and made Visions the perfect soundtrack for dreaming of electric sheep.

Kill for Love
Italians Do It Better

While being evocatively languid, the cover of Neil Young’s “Into the Black” that leads off the Chromatics’ latest, Kill for Love, only gives brief glimpses of what to expect—most noticeably Ruth Radelet’s bewitching vocal turns—on the rest of the album. Instead of plaintive guitar twangs, Kill for Love, as epitomized on its title track, is marked by six-string twitches and minor-keyed synths that play up the romantic melancholy that seemingly pervades every inch of every note. While the record could have been trimmed by a few tracks of filler, at its most brilliant peaks (“Kill for Love,” “Lady”), it sounds like a worthy successor to New Order’s Low-Life.

Divine Fits
A Thing Called Divine Fits

Morrissey got it all wrong when he sang that “we hate it when our friends become successful,” because I couldn’t be more happy for my buddy Sam Brown, drummer for the Divine Fits. The synergy between Brown, Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs) is obvious on the band’s debut. Songs like “Flaggin a Ride” and “Would That Not Be Nice,” on which Daniel sings, are a Spoon-esque mix of sharp hooks and cracking beats, but it’s an electro-pop aesthetic that dominates the record. The synth tones of “The Salton Sea” share more in common with Kraftwerk or OMD than Daniel’s other band, while the fidgety keys of “For Your Heart” bring New Order to mind. On both, Boeckner sings like he is at the end of his rope, his voice filled with just the right amounts of desperation and determination, while Daniel sings from a similar place on a superb cover of “Shivers” by The Boys Next Door. In short, this is an album that’s brilliant on every level.

The Fresh & Onlys
Long Slow Dance
Mexican Summer

While I've enjoyed The Fresh & Onlys at every turn of their existence, Long Slow Dance represents the band’s ascension to a higher plane. Frontman Tim Cohen and the rest of the band have allowed an influx of pop overtones into their psychedelic milieu and have benefitted for it. That the album at times also recalls ’80s mope rock touchstones (The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen) is just icing on the cake.

A Place to Bury Strangers
Dead Oceans

On Worship, Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers further fucked with their tumultuous sound by introducing more of the toys frontman Oliver Ackermann creates for his Death By Audio effects company, but the band also learned how to rely less on erecting mountains of sound by shifting the focus to mood and texture. In that sense, the Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons are perhaps more apt now than ever, even as APTBS has better defined its own sound. That may sound like a paradox, but Worship is the kind of record that also defies logic through pure force of will.