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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Music: The Year So Far

We made it. Or at least I did. We're halfway through the year, if you can believe that. That having been said, I think it's high time I posted concerning music that's been on my radar up till now. Many of them have secured a place as year end favorites already, but the die is yet cast and nothing would make me happier than to have too many great choices to pick from. I should also mention that this is in no particular order. It's just a giant list of stuff that I've listened to and some thoughts. Almost all of it is stuff I liked but December is when I'll put together a top 25 for the year.

So, here's what I've been listening to so far:

All Hail Bright Futures by And So I Watch You From Far Away

Well right off the bat, we've got a mouthful. I really enjoyed this album but it makes for tough conversation. People get bored of listening to me before I finish saying the band's name and (god willing) album title. If anyone out there is of the Math Rock persuasion I think this would definitely be up your alley. Hailing from Belfast, Ireland, these guys have tagged their music rather underhandedly as "alternative instrumental rock Belfast" via their bandcamp page. It's much more than that! I wouldn't go so far as to say experimental, which is what you'll get from Wikipedia. All in all, it's a pleasant mix of instrumental shredding and high spirited choral backings with enough variation to keep it engaging and fun along the way. Check out "Rats On Rock" for a taste.

Anxiety by Autre Ne Veut

In what appears to be an age of R&B reinvention, we've slowly been receiving excellent output from artists such as Frank Ocean and The Weeknd (Not a typo). Autre Ne Veut picks up in a similar vein but exhibits a slightly more electronic vibe than the former artists. The result is just as enjoyable however. At certain points we're treater to frantic, and quivering synths. Other times it scales back and slower sweeping melodies dictate the mood. Even the moments of bouncy synths matched with a slight twist of eccentricity somehow line up extremely well with the soulful vocals. One highlight for me  would have to be, "Gonna Die". If you're only going to youtube one song from this recommendation, make it that one.

Cerulean Salt by Waxahatchee

Apart from having a fun artist name to say, Katie Crutchfield AKA Waxahatchee, seems to have crafted a grungy summer album that feels like a slightly melancholic surf rock record. At times this album has the spirit of a laid back Pixies album, crossed with the sound of Best Coast. Regardless of what it "sounds" like however, Katie definitely maintains an introspective attitude throughout the entire piece. The whole work altogether might be a bit slow and I can totally understand how that puts people off an album that I've described as being "summer", but that shouldn't be a reason to prevent you from hearing this album out in full. A personal favorite would have to be "Misery Over Dispute".

Comedown Machine by The Strokes

Nope. Okay it's not that bad as Angles, but I was hoping for a Strokes comeback rather than a letdown. I'll still keep the faith for more good work in the future. "All The Time" sounded promising. The single "One Way Trigger" felt like cover of Aha's "Take On Me" for a minute. . . I don't know if that earns or loses points.

Desire Lines by Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura definitely played it safe with this release. It doesn't go too far in either direction, and comfortably fits within the rest of their catalog. It'll probably go mostly unnoticed but perhaps that's just what a decent record does. I think I'm pretty sold on Tracyanne Campbell's charming vocals and lovey dovey lyrics. Even if this isn't Camera Obscura's best record it maintains the bar all the way throughout. I'd say this is a great record for some easy listening to, especially if you're doing some work and need something to casually listen to. It sort of reminds me of that scene from High Fidelity where Barry accuses Belle & Sebastian of being "sad old bastard" music. While I'm not really either of those three yet (we're all getting older) I can still sit down and enjoy this record without being blown away. Maybe you will too. "Do It Again" is probably the most derivative song from album's mold of slow and steady wins the race.

Dreaming In Key by Applescal
This one is a purely electronic work, so if that scares you, go ahead and skip right along to the next entry in his list. For anyone interested, this album doesn't thrash about in its digital execution. It carefully establishes moments of synthetic droning that are slowly expanded upon as each song runs its course. This probably seems like standard fare for something that could be describe as a "techno" album. In practice though, I would say it plays out much more sensibly than that, and never treads the waters of bombarding the listener with far too much to hear. Rather, playful harmonies dance along the wayside as the repetitious sequences develop the deeper into each song you go. Altogether the collection of songs on Dreaming In Key reminds one of the way a single lightly salted cracked only pushes the desire for another. "Thanks For Fun" demonstrated this appeal well. It's a song that so desperately wants to give you more, but holds back knowing you'll stay the whole way waiting for it.

Endless Fantasy by Anamanaguchi

Though the name of this New York based band can be tough to sound out, the music is decidedly easier to swallow. Anamanaguchi is likely one of the only bands flying under the "chip tune" flag that can be said to have slipped into more open, noticeable territory. I hesitate to say the dreaded "M" word, because mainstream they are not, and mainstream chip tunes (as a whole) is not. There's a really easy way to tell if you're going to like this band and its output: First, did you play video games as a youth? Second, did you like the music? If you answered yes to both then chances are you'll have a pretty good time with this album. Utilizing actually modified video game consoles essentially in place of effect pedals, Anamanaguchi creates music that thrives in the real of digital bleeps and bloops but has the sensibilities of rock/pop that might surprise you upon listening.

II by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

I honestly thought I was going to have a bit more psych stuff on this mid-year "what I've been listening to" list. Even if the psychedelic scene isn't your deal I'd say that this album is at the very least a pretty interesting listen. It's far more rock oriented than something like The Flaming Lips' latest, The Terror. Most often relaxed throughout the listen, there are occasionally bursts of more engaging moments such as the 70s inspired funk licks on "One At A Time" and even changes pace a bit with the fuzzy, distorted riffs from "No Need For A Leader". On the whole, there's a lo-fi quality mixed with the psychedelic tinges at work on every song. The result is extremely enjoyable.

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
This album was so damned good that nothing so far has shaken its current spot as my number one pick so far. Check out my in depth analysis of this work here.

Wondrous Bughouse by Youth Lagoon

This one caught me off guard. It's taken a bit of time to fully appreciate in the way that I admired Trevor Powers' first album but this one is certainly not without its fascinations as well. The Year Of Hibernation fits slightly better into the formative genre known -quite aptly I believe- as Chillwave. Lo-fi sensibilities, glowing, radiant textures that are accompanied by soft dissonant vocals. This album is distinctly psychedelic. At first I didn't know how much I would've liked that. I love psych music, but I was such a huge fan of his original album that I was worried I would just be prejudiced towards the music because there was a concerned effort to not replicate himself. I suppose I cannot be upset about that, especially when he demonstrates that there's plenty of talent in his mind left to be tapped into. Even as the album dips into areas that sound more like acid trips to the carnival such as "Sleep Paralysis" everything just seems to fit in place.

Bankrupt! by Phoenix

What an uphill battle these guys have had. You don't just come back from an album like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix with any old collection of songs. I almost feel bad because after having written that, it was hard to imagine that it would get any better. Sadly, Bankrupt! is not 'better' but it's not horrible. It's chock full of great songs and it still has all the whimsical pop, textured synths, and lofty vocals that make their work so accessible. It just feels like a Phoenix album, which is perhaps the best compliment I can give. If this album had come out before Wolfgang, then it would be considered fantastic, and then Amadeus would be the crowning achievement. As it stands, this albums plays out as the younger brother living in the shadow of its towering older sibling. It's not fair, but you can do your part by giving this album a chance and discovering that it's quite good by yourself. Also, "Bourgeois" is a song that feels like it came right off of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, it's amazing.

We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic by Foxygen

I will excuse the unbelievable length of this album's name because of how fun it to listen to. This album has influences flying all over the place. At first you might be keen to accuse these guys of ripping off former acts, but I find that this album sounds rather like a humble expression of what they themselves must have enjoyed. "No Destruction" starts off with a drum that almost gives an impression of early 60s R&B them quickly pulls out sounding a bit more country/folk and maybe even a little bit Dylan with the vocal work, but later jumps to a more typical rock beat. The album describes itself as both an homage and tribute while changing pace enough within each song itself to feel fresh and original. A personal favorite off this album has to be "San Francisco".

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

The hype machine was cranked up to 11 in the weeks leading up to the release of this album. There's definitely more to be said than I'm attempting in these short paragraphs. Perhaps the easiest way to define this album is to say that rather than making a pure electronic or even dance album, they enlisted the help of former greats of the 70s, utilized antiquated recording techniques, and brought a few current surprise artists along for the ride in order to create a modern day disco/funk record. Quite a gamble for a group that had a pretty solid image working for them already. The good news is that it totally paid off, and we now have a meticulously crafted, tremendously intriguing album with great depth and what I believe will be a lasting quality. "Touch (feat. Paul Williams)" is perhaps the greatest song on this album. Just wait for that instrumentation to explode all over you. 

Untogether by Blue Hawaii

A relatively new band, Blue Hawaii's debut LP has fast become a favorite of mine. Created from members of the band Braids, Untogether is largely an ambient album scattershot with otherworldly vocals that feel like spiritual transmissions. I can only hope that this project continues and produces even more fruits of this kind. The album is at once minimalistic, playing with gentle harmonies, and at others slightly droning, swimming in dark undertones that course through the prescribed atmospheric illustrations. It remains curious enough throughout the whole listen to keep your attention. "Try To Be" is my recommendation.

Obsidian by Baths

Baths' first album was a bit of an welcomed obscurity when it was first released in 2010. It was an electronic album that contained elements of downtempo leanings, trip-hop structures and had shifted between popping enthusiasm to moments of warm, relaxing melodies. While Pop Music/Fale B-Sides was technically the second release from this LA based musician, it was a sort of intermediary work composed while on tour, rather like Gorillaz's The Fall right after Plastic Beach. Obsidian is a much more focused work dramatically expands the scope of what Will Wissenfeld is capable of producing. Very little of the album contains maximalist composition, having been replaced with darker, moodier, and more methodically paced songs replete with a heavier focus on lyrics, not the just content, but actually putting more focus on the words themselves as well. It feels almost as though it is the emotional 'night' to Cerluean's 'day', and is worth at least a listen, if only for that.

Monomania by Deerhunter

Another album that was a tremendous change of pace from its previous iteration which no doubt has created a polarizing attitude toward it. Whereas Halcyon Digest was at times ethereal and more dreamy in its soundscapes, Monomania is without a doubt far much more of a noise rock album that screams and punches at every turn it possibly can. There's still a bit of that HD Deerhunter on this album, but most of those moments are pushed into the background rather than being the point of the work. I can definitely understand the trepidation towards this one, especially if you were as big a fan of the last album as I was. I think there's plenty to find in this album though. It might not happen on the first listen, but it definitely has its merits. You can certainly feel the effort to put a specific aesthetic into this album based off track titles referencing Americana such as leather jackets, junkyards, and even the motorcycle fading off into the night on the title track "Monomania". It won't give you much insight as to the rest of the album but, "T.H.M" is a good one.

The Island Come True by L. Pierre

This will probably be the most obscure of all my mid-year suggestions, but I'm sticking to it. Aidan Moffat formerly of Arab Strap has worked for several years under the moniker of Lucky Pierre (L. Pierre) creating sample based, electronic music. This side project apparently got its start because of a challenge that former band mate Malcolm Middleton set out against Aidan to release solo material. Moffat definitely did and ventured far away from Arab Strap's indie, alt-rock sounds which were very respectable and formative for the indie scene in Glasgow after their years. The album (The Island Come True) defines itself within the aesthetic of washing up along the shores of a clandestine locale. At times the album creates a storybook effect with magical textures and an increasingly lo-fi quality as it moves deeper into the tracks. As the album closes with "The Kingdom" all of the lo-fi overlays drop out completely and leave the listener with a jungle-like soundscape, as if to bring us both to reality and fantasy at once.

Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit

I think Frightened Rabbit has become one of those bands that doesn't let me down. Whether it be because of how purely talented they are, or just an alignment of my own tastes is something that I might not ever know. Lyrically, the album was still written entirely by Scott Hutchinson but the duties of composition were split across all the members of the band. Even with this being the case it never fails to feel like a Frightened Rabbit album, which might be attested once again to the contents of the lyrics covering all manner sorrowful subjects. Probably most easily discerned is the breakup up Hutchinson experienced during the course of this records creation. There's plenty of emotions to be experienced if you give this one a shot.

Lady From Shanghai by Pere Ubu

Okay I know I said I was only going to drop a single obscure one. But Lady From Shanghai is worth putting up on this list. It's probably the biggest stretch that I'll ask anyone to make so far. Despite having labels like ' Experimental Industrial Rock' and even having reported influences from ideas such as 'Musique Concréte' I think they are a tremendously listenable band. And I'm not trying to take the band down a peg, or anyone for that matter, because of their musical tastes. I think like any field of art, members of a particular group can provide various levels of accessibility, and no matter where said acts fall on this spectrum they are all just as important and necessary as the others. I realize I haven't talk about the album yet! It's extremely varied, and from track to track you'll get the industrial, almost Krautrock-esque vibes, and then on the next you'll run into New Wave influences, but while also dropping that Musique Concréte (noise, basically) into the mix to create a blend that is something else altogether.

Trouble Will Find Me by The National

I think I'll stop here with the short reviews. There's just too many and this post is taking me quite a while to put up! The National. What can I can say? They've got great music; the lyrics are both emotional, full of power and occasionally humorous. The instrumentation has never been an issue with these guys, once again being a generally high quality band. There's not much room to go wrong with this one. Give it a shot.

Wow, this post is getting really long. From this point on I'll trim off the writing and just post pictures of stuff that I think you should consider.

Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara

Drifters/Love Is The Devil by Dirty Beaches

Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age

The Man Who Died In His Boat by Grouper

mbv by My Bloody Valentine

Optica by Shout Out Louds

Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad seeds

Volume Three by She & Him

Silence Yourself by Savages

The Terror by The Flaming Lips

Ultramarine by Young Galaxy

Even with all of that I still have more albums to listen to....

Can't really be upset with that though, can I?


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