Since the year is over halfway complete, here is a list of my favorite music that I have listened to thus far. You may get a paragraph, you may get a few sentences, but either way I recommend all of these.
1. Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
I’ve been eating all of the negative words I have ever said about this band ever since they released their 3rd full-length. This album dials down on the Paul Simon/World Music rhythmic influence that has turned me off from this band for so long and focuses more on writing catchy hooks with their most mature lyrics to date. Ezra Koenig delivers his religious-themed musings over the best melodies of the year thus far. Tracks like “Hannah Hunt” exhibit the bands shifted focus from rhythm to melody while still keeping the traditional Vampire Weekend instrumentation of bright keyboard-organ tones and thin guitars. This record cements Vampire Weekend as a creatively open group that will hopefully continue exploring new, more thoughtful direction for years to come.
Tracks: “Step”, “Don’t Lie”, “Diane Young”, “Hannah Hunt”
Available on XL Recordings
Alabama-native, Katie Crutchfield comes back after her crushing lo-fi debut, last year’s American Weekend, with a dynamic sophomore effort. From the moody “Dixie Cups and Jars” to the spare “Brother Bryan” and the crunchy guitars of “Coast to Coast,” Crutchfield gains a lot from the enhanced production on the record; however, no matter the setting, Crutchfield’s bruising drawl delivers tales of failed and failing love with an engaging bite.
Tracks: “Brother Bryan”, “Swan Dive”, “Blue Pt. II”, “Coast to Coast”
Available on Don Giovanni Records
This album sounds like you are watching someone perform in an empty room without him knowing that you are listening. The fragility in Winston Yellin’s voice keeps the listener engaged through lush string arrangements and gorgeous harmonies on these gentle, alt-country tunes.
Tracks: “Even if We Try”, “22”
Available on Dead Oceans
Trevor Powers won my award for the best album of 2011 with his debut The Year in Hibernation and returns with an eccentric, and at times bizarre sophomore effort. This album finds Powers bringing his delicate vocals into the spotlight, rather than hiding them in waves of bedroom reverb, as in his debut. He turns away from his warm nostalgia and sings of his debilitating anxiety of the presence death over psychedelic synths, gurgling electronic percussion, and soaring guitars. This album represents Powers taking several different steps in a new creative direction, with his risky, experimental sounds assuring him as a conqueror of the sophomore slump.
Tracks: “Dropla”, “Raspberry Cane”, “Third Dystopia”
Available on Fat Possum Records
Right from the first soft, crunchy guitar tones of “She Found New,” I am immediately reminded of why I absolutely adore shoegaze music and why MBV are and will always be the kings of this style of music. The first new music in 22 years from this group finds them right where they left off in 1991, with the iconic and seminal Loveless; in fact, this record may top the legendary album in terms of accessibility. MBV forgoes a lot of the harsh, tinny tones that were present on Loveless while sticking to the gauzy guitars layered into a wall of sound with Kevin Shields wispy vocal swimming on top. This record is definitively sonic bliss.
Tracks: “She Found Now”, “If I Am”
Available on Pickpocket Records
6. Adam Green and Binki Shapiro- Adam Green and Binki Shapiro
This collaborative album from The Moldy Peaches frontman Adam Green and Little Joy singer Binki Shapiro sounds like pure 1970s AM gold. Shapiro’s sweet, summery voice lays perfectly on top of Green’s straightforward, Lou Reed-esque croon to create breezy tunes filled with sparkling keyboards and sauntering basslines. This album is a light, relaxing album that is a pleasure to listen to.
Tracks: “Cassanova”, “Just to Make Me Feel Good”
Available on Rounder Records
Rhye is an LA-based duo that lays smooth falsetto vocals over soulful electronic beats. This record is kind of the apex combination of a couple of different styles that have been coming into prominence over the past several months. The spare yet expressive electronic groundwork for these songs is slightly reminiscent to me of Usher’s “Climax” from last year, with its production not crowded with bells and whistles giving the vocals room to move without sounding too empty. The main difference is that Rhye’s music, while being bedded on electronic percussion, implements lots of organic components, such as rich string arrangements and light horn melodies. The vocals on this album dwell in the stratosphere without ever becoming too piercing, sounding very similar to Nick Principe of Port St. Willow, whose 2012 debut Holiday was one of the best releases of last year. Rhye creates some of the most affecting melodies of the year so far without ever losing the laid back feel of the record.
Tracks: “Open”, “Last Dance”, “The Fall”
Available on Polydor
This is the debut record from the Orlando-based dream folk group who teased tracks off the record for close to a year, that are all filled with reverby instrumental swells and soft soporific vocals.
Tracks: “Walking Home”, “Go to Sleep Mess”
Available on Small Plates Records
A near perfect little pop rock effort from this Swedish outfit, that delves away into experimentation just enough to keep the listener tuned into every turn on the record.
Tracks: “14th of July”, “Illusion”, “Glasgow”
Available on Merge Records
The last we heard from this Chicago glam rock revival outfit was 2011’s Dye It Blonde, a hazy rock record with buzzsaw guitars, sparkling synths, and dreamy vocals. The group softens all of these elements with their third effort, bringing singer Cullen Omori’s vocals forward in the mix to lead some well-crafted rock gems. This record’s production has a more rounded feel to it, and the band presents its most thought out material to date, both lyrically and musically.
Tracks: “3am Spiritual”, “Varsity”, “Only Natural”, “Idol”
Available on Mom + Pop Records
If you really like a band, you hold their new releases to a different standard because you know already that they are capable of making music that you enjoy. A week after hearing this record, the sixth from indie rock’s poster child, I was ready to call it number one of the year, but after stepping back and letting the record fully sink in, this album doesn’t do it for me like other records by The National like Boxer or Alligator. There are a lot of elements present on this record that rub me the wrong way such as Matt Berninger’s vocals, that usually drunkenly stumble with endearing and crushing charm through the lavishly orchestrated rock tunes, seem quite disengaged. There are also several lines on this record that I feel don’t make the grade when it comes to the National, and these songs find the Dessner twins laying off their usually intricately pieced together guitar arrangements and song structures, which is on one hand greatly refreshing to hear a more laid back sound, but also on several tracks leaves more to be desired from underdeveloped ideas. Negativity ending. These gripes I have are quite nitpicky, and I know that they wouldn’t exist if this record was made by any other band, but that being said, I still think this album is great. “Sea of Love” is a giant track that rocks in every corner of its uniquely formed structure with Berninger’s vocals seething. Berninger kills it again with the track “Graceless,” a straightforward rocker that has his overdubbed vocals bubbling on the surface of dense guitars and perpetual. The band is overall in an interesting place in their career, as its members are in their early 40s, and this record shows it. Overall its nice to see them being able slow down and still put out as good of material as the songs presented on this record, but for the next go around, I’m hoping for something a bit more adventurous.
Tracks: “Sea of Love”, “This Is The Last Time”, “Graceless”
Available on 4AD
I never know what this guy is going to say next. Songs written by Matthew Milia whose rhyming proclivity, at times, would make Dylan jealous, compose this, the fifth album from this Michigan based folk rock group. Frontier Ruckus deliver detailed scenes of memories from all walks of life over solid folk soundscapes littered with stuttering banjo lines, grandiose trumpet, and instances of musical saw.
Tracks: “Careening”, “Eyelashes”
Available on Quite Scientific Records
This is the sophomore release of Will Wiesenfeld’s electronic art-pop moniker Baths. Like its predecessor, Obsidian is chock full of glitch percussion tones (think Dan Deacon), polyrhythmic beats, jumpy song structures, and huge washes of falsetto vocals. This record is definitely not an easy listen, with its unsettling off beat rhythms and electronic experimentation, but there are some great ideas present on this album if the listener is willing to take the time to unpack some of these densely mixed tunes. Underneath the crackling beats that are almost incessantly jumping on top of one another and Wiesenfeld’s at times overwhelming falsetto swells lies a collection of uninhibitedly sorrowful songs. Wiesenfeld seems to be quite confident in his gloom, which makes this record an interesting sort of inclement weather kind of listen, which can be quite enjoyable, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Tracks: “Miasma Sky”, “No Eyes”, “Ironworks”
Available on Anticon
14. Observer Drift- Fjords
Last year, I saw this chillwave album online and liked the title and artist name, so I listened and fell in love with Corridors the debut album from then 20-year old Minneapolis native, Collin Ward. Fjords is his second full-length and is comprised of dense electronic soundscapes brightened with shimmering keyboards, pulsating guitars, and Ward’s sweeping, layered vocals. This album displays Ward’s knack for melody while showing some serious growth in the lyrics department from his previous efforts.
Tracks: “Ligonberry”, “Never Strangers”, “Machine”
Self-released. Available on bandcamp.com
The French duo’s disco revival efforts, which beckon to be commended, feature funk legend and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, so it’s no wonder that this record is Good Times.
Tracks: “Instant Crush”, “Give Life Back to Music”
Available on Columbia Records