(feat. track – “Shadow" [spotify])

I’m a longtime fan of Jack Antonoff’s work. Fun.‘s Some Nights checked in at #8 in 2012’s Top Albums; Aim and Ignite made 2009’s Best Of The Rest; and, frankly, I fucked up in not ranking the 2010 self-titled album by Steel Train – though that album’s marvelous lead single, "Bullet,” earned a spot on 2010’s Mixtape. (Not to mention that I can’t even count how many times I marked out to 2007’s “Kill Monsters In The Rain” live which, if you never had the chance to catch Steel Train in person, you owe yourself to at least look up on YouTube.) So it’s really sort of predictable that the debut album from his newest project, Bleachers, would wind up somewhere on this list. At the same time, though, there’s always a little, welcome rush when an old favorite manages not only not to let you down, but to exceed all expectations. In that sense, Strange Desire is a wonderful surprise of an album.

Strange Desire’s heavily ’80’s-influenced production – whether the gloss was inspired by the participation of Erasure’s Vince Clarke, or whether the material’s native gloss made Clarke an inspired choice to produce, we may never know  – is a new direction from a man who’s constantly moving in new directions. Steel Train metamorphosed from dank-stank hippie bummer jam dealers to strident Jerseycore enthusiasts; Fun. evolved from purveyors of pretty-but-painless orch-pop to beat-embracing, rule-rewriting anthemicists. Each album, a new guise (if not new guys).

And yet, what I find most interesting about Jack’s work is that, underneath the production du jour, each one of his record sounds distinctly like a Jack Antonoff composition. His choice of style, of genre, is merely an avenue to that sound – each one takes this already-extant set of coordinates and opens up a new avenue with which to explore it. Here, the big gated drums, dry reverb and clipped guitar jangles imbue the typically massive gang choruses with a goofy, self-aware charm; it cuts away all the know-nothing ego, loosing him to play with Queen-sized statements, dance like a Bowie with two left feet, somehow score a Yoko Ono cameo without coming off as pretentious in the least, and at long last, wail on his guitar like a motherfucker.

The end result is that Strange Desire, rather than feeling indebted to an era, sounds positively freed by it – wild, reckless. exuberant, joyful and life-affirming at every step. Of all the many looks Jack Antonoff has sported through the years, Bleachers might well be the clearest – and the best.