Marissa Nadler | "Diamond Heart"
Not to get too personal here, but my BF was listening to way too much Joanna Newsom this past spring, and it led to all sorts of unreasonable reactions on my part — one being an unofficial embargo forbidding anything vaguely "enchanted" or faerie-derived from entering my earports. Now I realize how silly that was, since I spent most of '08 not listening to the gorgeous Songs III: Bird on the Water (Kemado). Don't meet the same lame fate: start with lead-off track "Diamond Heart" and enter Nadler's dreamy, glimmering — and thankfully harp-free — world.
Pants Yell! | "Two French Sisters"
There aren't too many indie-pop outfits that can cause serious breakouts of goosebumpage within the first few seconds of starting a song; but then again, there aren't as many indie-pop bands as erudite, endearing, and as easy to lose yourself in as Pants Yell! "Two French Sisters" closes their brilliant 2008 disc Alison Statton (Soft Abuse), and its soaring Mellotron, tear-streaked guitar lines, and wistful monologue make the idolatry it takes as its topic seem less the result of post-graduate ennui and more like a moral imperative.
Passion Pit | "Sleepyhead"
"Oh, wicked original, Phoenix," you say. Well nanny-nanny-poo-poo, we reply. For one thing, Passion Pit's well-worn "Sleepyhead" remains white hot — and you can lay the emphasis on either term there. The nervously drawn jam landed them on Frenchkiss (which issued their sole Chunk of Change EP this year), got them all sorts of love and hate above and beyond the blogosphere (hell, Andrew Kuo even smarmily diagrammed its merits for TheNew York Times), and still enjoys unspeakable powers over our collective booties. Maybe you just need to lighten up, dude.
Ponies in the Surf | "See You Happy"
The brother/sister duo of Alexander and Camille McGregor put out a truly, lastingly beautiful record with this year's See You Happy (Darla). Though it abounds, their simplicity should never be mistaken for a minimalist streak, as demonstrated here on the album's title track, where the melody seems to construct its own system of sense. They deftly navigate the same bare-bones complexity that makes loving someone else so difficult — which is probably how they make it sound so easy.
Termanology/St. Da Squid | "It's the St."
Local MC Termanology has been buh-lowing up this year (see his profile in Spin this month) — and for good reason. His Politics as Usual (Nature Sounds) had some of the most forward shit to come from the Bean in years (check "We Killin' Ourselves"). But this year, no track spanked me like this Statik Selektah-produced cut from his crew's ST. da Squad mix, featuring Term, DJ Deadeye, Ea$y Money, Clip, Ghetto, Stalion, Hectic, and Superstah Snuk. Picking a good rap track in Boston is like picking a yummy grape off a bunch of them, but the ST. are a great gang of guides for the curious newb.
Winterpills | "Take Away the Words"
The Northampton five-piece Winterpills may have kept something of a low profile over the years, but they've also recorded what could be this year's finest local album (hey there's still a few days to go), Central Chambers (Signature Sounds), a lush spread of beautifully fleshed-out folk-pop that would have any fan of Luna, Yo La Tengo, or Belle and Sebastian insta-smitten. Any track off of Chambers will do you right ("Burning Hearts" is especially lovely, dark, and deep); but for a survey of their skills with softness and stompers alike, "Take Away the Words" is a hit single that only needs you to hit it.