Yeah, pal, that's "college rock," scare quotes very much included. Look, it's a meaningless term. As are "indie," "alternative," "hipster," etc., etc. Let's not overthink this: Here we have ten splendid records with an amorphous rock 'n' roll designation, albeit in a perhaps slightly more experimental and thoughtful vein than the harder stuff that nowadays exists mostly to make you feel bad for not joining the Army. We begin, of course, in France.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Exuberant, prismatic, relentlessly infectious, entirely inscrutable: The opening one-two punch of "Lisztomania" and "1901" (hailed as "summery" by every critic on earth, including me) floors you with both its gorgeous synth+guitar-pop songcraft and its wanton ambiguity. No idea what frontman Thomas Mars is yelping about. None. But his vertiginous slide-whistle of a voice sells every word, from the gnomic to the unrepentantly corny: "Love Like a Sunset" (parts one and two!) is straight-up the cheesiest song title you could possibly imagine, but the burst of Eno-worthy synthesizer melodrama that heralds the transition from part one to part two will floor you all over again.