I get upset by music "fans" at work who seem wilfully ignorant about important artists. I want to say this to them....
You decrepit baby boomers with your Bob Dylans and your Beatles, getting excited over the Led Zep reunion, you think you're still in touch with "modern" music because you like REM. Well get with these or get to the old folks home! * Here are the new classics, which you've never heard of.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane over the Sea. Jeff Magnum's recurring dreams about Ann Frank spew forth directly from his subconscious, and mix with everything else in his life and yours. Sometimes they take form as simple folk songs, just a guitar and a cracking voice straining beyond its natural range; sometimes they become a raucous punk explosion to excite the mosh pit; then they take a left turn with a brass band funeral dirge or a solo from a bagpipe chanter. From its opening seconds to its final note this ageless album oozes brilliance, humour, passion and love, and expresses it in a totally original way.
Panda Bear - Person Pitch. This album takes the hypnotic soundscapes and high-tech methods of European minimal dub techno from the far left. From the far right it takes the melodic vocal sensibilities of Brian Jones and the Beach Boys at their finest. You also get the feeling of an imaginary Phil Spector who was born in 1979 instead of 1939. The oil and water is somehow mixed into a miraculous new compound. It's another dreamscape that gets you into the mind of its creator Noah Lennox, surpassing the work of his band Animal Collective. Somehow this album generates endorphin-like waves of love. I cannot stress how much I adore it.
Patrick Wolf - Lycanthropy, Wind in the Wires, the Magic Position
All three of his albums are worthy of inclusion on this list. His mastery of classical music, his unorthodox instruments (viola, tenor ukelele), his embrace of new electronic music forms, all suggest a serious artist. But his fans have turned him into a pop idol worthy of throwing panties at. You get glimpses of Jacques Brel, then you see a bit of Tom Jones or Julian Clary. But everything about Patrick Wolf is young. According to the mythology he started his career at 14 as part of a performance art collective. Mythology is a key word with patrick, he comes across as a pop star version of Pan or Dionysus.
Sufjan Stephens - Illinois
It's all about rhythm, melody, and harmony on this album. Sufjan writes a great tune. Sometimes he puts it in an unusual time signature like 5/4 or 11/8. His small orchestra has the feel of Michael Nyman Band, a major turn-on for me. There's a lot of joy and a lot of sadness, sometimes there's horror almost too intense to bear (on a song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy). Hardcore atheist that I am, I am appalled by the explicit Christian theme of the lyrics, mentioning things like bible studies and "following the carpenter". But the music is so good I can go with the flow.
The Honeydrips - Here Comes the Future
So much of my favourite music is English, but in recent years, other countries are tugging at the crown. The Swedish invasion gets a big troop surge from the Honeydrips, using many of the weapons of mass seduction invented by the English in the 1980s. It makes me want to scream it from the building-tops, I LOVE TWEE POP! Add to that the lyrics which could have been written by Morrissey after consuming lots of very pure ecstasy tablets. Then all of a sudden a bassline is stolen (with Wildean genius) from Peter Hook of new Order. The final song talks about future archaeologists finding your name on a list of sexual conquests is a real spine tingler, especially for a fan of post apocalypse SF like me.
Also worth mentioning:
The Knife - Silent Shout
Bob Evans - Suburban Songbook
The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
*Hypocrisy disclosure: I was born in December 1962, I love the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, I barely escape categorisation as a boomer myself. Also, I respect the boomers because they are passionate about music, it is at the core of their subcultures, and I regret that music plays a lesser role for subsequent generations.