February turned out to be a great month for music releases, and as much as I hate grouping recommendations into posts like this, other aspects of life are getting in the way of individual recommendations. These types of posts will have to serve as ‘better than nothing’ for the time being.
Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
There is something very frightening about how free Mike Hadreas is with his inner-most feelings; there are moments on his sophomore release when I feel uncomfortable with the way he confesses to strangers, but there is also something painfully beautiful in his delivery. Listening to this album reminds me of when I first discovered the androgynous sounds of Antony Hegarty (another artist I wasn’t entirely comfortable with in the beginning), but Perfume Genius comes with more of a pop sensibility. In a year already solidifying itself as something exciting, Put Your Back N 2 It redefines how emotionally deep and moving a medium such as simple music can be in the hands of a gifted artist.
BLKHRTS – CHRCH
Born in Hell, raised in Denver. BLKHRTS just might be the most unexpected of discoveries here in the Mile High City. Comprised of three MCs (King F.O.E, Karma The Voice, Yonnas), these locals walk a fine line between being honest, hardcore, hilarious and horrifying. They sample WU LYF, Girls, Lana Del Rey and Toro Y Moi; they are influenced in equal parts by Northern California MC’s (as diverse as E-40 and Brotha Lynch Hung), Morrissey and Joy Division, and although some of their lyrics are regional (Miss Colfax), I have road-tested this mixtape and have received positive feedback from coast-t0-coast. Here’s to looking forward to what the prolific BLKHRTS have to offer next.
Burial – Kindred EP
The UK producer known as Burial continues to blur the lines between the diverse labels used to compartmentalize electronic music with his latest EP, Kindred. Every beat, sample and break on display across these 3 tracks (and 30 minutes) is the sound of Burial maturing — maturing without losing the signature sound that made Untrue such a classic. There are few producers whom I recognize instantly, and Burial is one of them, so it’s a shame that memes like Skrillex are getting so much attention while William Bevan creates sprawling masterpieces in relative obscurity. Or is it? I say let the masses have their screaming monsters, electronic carnivals and ridiculous looking djs — makes for less trolls on this side of the scene. But if you are one of those who are uncomfortable with the rotting sounds of the mainstream, check out Kindred. You will not be disappointed.
Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
(Southern Lord, 2012)
On Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II, the (not-so-much anymore) drone band continue where they left off with the preceding AoD, DoL I, which is essentially a perfectly orchestrated exercise in patience. To be honest, I can’t put my finger on why I like these albums so much. The journey is a slow one, and even the arrival at the chosen destination is extremely anti-climatic. But at the same time, there is a thing of beauty in just giving oneself over to something soothing, yet ominous. I use this album as a reprieve from the overwhelming nature of the majority of the music I listen to. The best way I can describe these instrumental compositions is that they are like watching a raging storm from the safety of your own home — the warmth and quietness envelop you, concealing the danger with a false sense of security, all while the elements wreak havoc just inches away.
Evian Christ – Kings And Them
(Tri Angle, 2012)
It makes sense that 2012′s first youtube-born ‘next big thing’ would land on Tri-Angle — the home of How To Dress Well, Balam Acab, oOoOO and Clams Casino. The label recently dropped this mixtape of the 8 tracks the enigmatic Evian Christ had posted in late December. Having only listened to “Fuck It None Of Ya’ll Don’t Rap” before this release, I have to say I’m extremely impressed with this collection that brings to mind most of the labelmates listed above, as well as Salem, (sampled) Grouper and the new school of rappers coming out of New York and Southern California. Take the time to download Kings and Them and I’m sure you’ll be looking forward to the future of Evian Christ.
Frankie Rose – Interstellar
On Interstellar, the first album credited to Frankie Rose alone, the ex-Vivian Girls/Dum Dum Girls/Crystal Stilts Brooklynite manages to jampack 10 tracks into just over 30 minutes; she also manages to hold my attention for much longer than any of her former bandmates. Honestly, besides a handful of songs (most of which Rose had a hand in) I never got into any of those bands, so I didn’t expect to like this album either. But Interstellar made me realize what those bands were missing — a level of production, maturity and focus to compliment Rose’s excellent voice and songwriting skills. I could make a long list of bands who would do well to take a page from Rose’s notebook, but let’s just leave it on a positive note and say you should check out this album.
Goatwhore – Blood For The Master
(Metal Blade, 2012)
New Orleans’ Goatwhore are not going to be winning any awards for originality, and even in a genre drowning in ridiculous band names, I find Goatwhore lazy at best. But that’s where the laziness ends. For well over a decade now, Goatwhore have been pillaging cities and towns across the globe with their blasphemous blackened death metal. Five albums in and they continue to tighten a sound that hasn’t actually changed a whole lot since the beginning. Blood For The Master isn’t going to win this band any new fans, but for those who like a little blackened thrash and angel’s blood with their death metal, give this album a shot. And even more importantly, catch their uncompromising stage presence when they blaze through your town. Just remember to lock up your daughters, wives, girlfriends and…farm animals.
Grimes – Visions
Grimes first caught my attention in 2010 with Halfaxa, making a last minute entry as one of the best electronic albums of that year, but it wasn’t until I caught her daytime set at FFF6 last November that I really took notice. Claire Boucher’s freestylistic approach to the ‘solo electronic performance’ infected the audience with her mallrat-on-acid giddiness. The 23-year-old from Montreal was literally having so much fun that you couldn’t help but smile and follow her down the rabbithole into an alternate 80′s — a history that never was, where Tiffany and Debbie Gibson are replaced with Korg keyboards and indecipherable vocal loops. Ever since Boucher signed to 4AD, there have been rumblings of an imminent backlash against this Grimes project, but ignore the arguments that are sure to form in the wake of LDR fatigue. Give Visions a shot. You’ll likely form your own opinion within the first few tracks .
Heartless Bastards – Arrow
The first time I heard Heartless Bastards was during an opening slot for Drive-By Truckers quite a few years ago. I knew then that I really liked the band, but for some reason I just never gave them much consideration. A few spins with every new release and I moved on. There is no explanation why this band from Cincinnati, Ohio shouldn’t be as popular as the duo from Akron whom they share a sound with, but at this point I doubt Heartless Bastards will ever be headlining arenas as The Black Keys are now. That’s not to say they don’t deserve to though. Arrow is a consistently good album from a consistently good band. If you have never heard them, think Lucinda Williams fronting a smoother, less abrasive Keys. If that sounds appealing, give Arrow a shot.
John Talabot – ƒIN
(Permanent Vacation, 2012)
Electronic music has splintered into so many forms that at times it’s hard to categorize the sounds into specific genres, which is actually kind of cool. It really is about the sound, aesthetic and atmosphere the sounds create, not the label attached to them. The only time this becomes a problem is when trying to explain the music to someone who hasn’t heard it. Under this latest alias, John Talabot showcases his own genre-dissing music on ƒIN. Like The xx, Air France, and fellow Barcelonians, Delorean, John Talabot creates a sort of electronic pop music that instantly transports you someplace fun — the music literally creating a hypercolor kaleidoscope of international destinations in your mind. But don’t think flamenco or tropical; think a Spanish vacation through the eyes of Danny Boyle. What John Talabot has created on ƒIN is not just another album in a very crowded space, it’s an escape to an isolated island where everything is new, and even the familiar has taken on a air of mystery.
Les Discrets – Ariettes oubliées…
(Prophecy Productions, 2012)
Les Discrets is a French shoegaze band that has been called Alcest’s younger sibling. Not only do the two bands share a history when it comes to members, there are times when you would not be able to tell the two apart. Metal is at the core of Ariettes oubliées…, but the swelling crescendo of sounds that haunt most of these tracks are more in the vein of post-rock bands like Explosions in the Sky then anything coming from the more atmospheric black metal bands. And unlike Alcest, even as we reach the peak of each composition, the singing continues to come from a place of beauty. In other words, this album has a 100% clean vocal guarantee. For those of you who like Alcest, but can’t get into the occasional black metal shriek, Les Discrets might provide you with a happy medium.
Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral
In all reality, Mark Lanegan should be one of my favorite artists. The dude is one dark individual. He writes songs that make the sun seek shelter behind black storm clouds. His critically acclaimed material stretches from the late-80′s into the 90′s with the grunge masters Screaming Trees, but unlike so many in that Seattle scene, he didn’t fade away into obscurity, only to bide his time until the big reunion payday. Instead, Lanegan signed to SubPop and released a slew of very well received solo albums. His output became progressively darker as the years went on, casting him as the beast to Isobel Campbell’s beauty on a few collaborative albums in the later part of the past decade. And with every release I would give it another try; and with every release I would find myself disappointed. The solo stuff, the Gutter Twins stuff, even those collabs with Campbell all left me feeling empty. It wasn’t until his Soulsavers contribution that I found something I could stick with, but Blues Funeral turns out to be the album I gave up waiting for. This is some of Lanegan’s darkest, most intricate, exciting material ever — and with every listen, I thank myself for not giving up on my idea of what Mark Lanegan could be.
Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
(Profound Lore, 2012)
As I made clear in my profile, everything wearing the Profound Lore logo is sure to contain something worth your time, and the first release of the new year is no exception. The debut album from Tennessee doomsters Pallbearer contains some of the most emotive doom metal since 40 Watt Sun’s The Inside Room, but unlike that post-Warning album, Sorrow and Extinction demands much more from the listener. Some of the best music is not easy music, so it’s no surprise it took multiple listens over multiple weeks to descend through the layers of depression presented here. It wasn’t until the fifth time around that I was able to break through the heavy fog and rejoice in the celebration that I was still alive to experience the gift that was presented. Just as Brett Campbell’s voice was the sound of a man who had successfully dug himself out of the grave on Loss’s “Silent and Completely Overcome”, he carries this album from the funeral to the future — a future where even Pitchfork cannot deny metal as masterful as this.
Rhye – Open
(Innovative Leisure, 2012)
There is something frustratingly familiar about the seductive female vocal in the 3 tracks that make up Rhye‘s debut teaser, Open — I just can’t put my finger on where I’ve heard it before. Unfortunately, this is one of those rare times when Google will not give up the answer I’m looking for. Rhye are playing the popular game of hide-and-seek, putting their own spin on the new ‘buzzmaker’ with black-and-white photos of body parts instead of masked figures. What we do know, via their Fader introduction, is that ‘they live in LA, but both have European backgrounds; they’re signed to Innovative Leisure, and they’re both members of other (possibly well-known) bands‘. They immediately bring to mind The xx, jj, Sade and others, but instead of confusing you with my perception of this project, take a listen below. And please, let me know who you think they are…
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Sharon Van Etten is a singer-songwriter in the simplest definition of the term — an old fashion singer-songwriter who should make you nostalgic for the days before the Internet and it’s World Wide Web gave everyone with access the right to call themselves such. In this age of overwhelming choice, artists seem willing to try anything to stand out from the pack — haircuts, guest spots, genre/scene hopping, NSFW lyrics and videos — but when it comes down to it, all you really need is talent and time. What makes Sharon Van Etten a star is her deeply personal songs that are relatable to anyone who’s experienced life through something other than a computer screen. The lyrics to “Give Out” alone give me shivers when I think about how they relate to decisions I have made in my life, although they probably mean something completely different to others that hear them. Sharon Van Etten has used her voice and time wisely; maturing year-over-year, all while building a devoted fanbase. Her voice is her own, but lending it to others as a soundtrack to the ups-and-downs in their lives is what makes her a unique talent.
Shearwater – Animal Joy
(Sub Pop, 2012)
Although Austin-based Shearwater are now 8 albums in, they are still relatively unknown, even when compared to Okkervil River (the band Will Sheff left to form). But there is no doubt that Jonathan Meiburg is as powerful as Sheff when it comes to drenching a song with a tidal wave of emotion. It’s just that his dramatic approach can be off-putting to some. I have struggled with this myself. There are a handful of songs on every Shearwater album that will change your life, but there are usually just as many that you can live without. I believe Animal Joy is the band’s first cohesive presentation of their potential, and while it’s not going to catapult them into the mainstream, I am glad they have found this balance. Definitely an early highlight of the year.
The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know
(Fat Cat, 2012)
Having been a Twilight Sad fan from the very beginning, I have to say I was a little disappointed in the direction the band took for their sophomore album and subsequent EP. They seemed to have lost the intensity that separated them from their peers, and it wasn’t only on record, their live performances suffered as well. The first time I saw the young band was an opening slot for Aereogramme and there was a hunger (literally, they bought burritos with the cash I gave them for a t-shirt) to their stage presence. They didn’t seem like a band that ‘wanted’ to do it, they seemed like a band that ‘needed’ to do it. A couple years later I caught them at some festival or another and there was a laziness to the show. So I wasn’t expecting much from No One Can Ever Know, and maybe that’s why I’m so impressed with this album. I won’t say it’s a return to form (it’s much more mellow and balanced that previous work), but I will say it’s a return to the path they should have never strayed from in the first place.
Wymond Miles – Earth Has Doors
(Sacred Bones, 2012)
Wymond Miles has been a busy man. Not only is he a member of The Fresh & Onlys, he is also a father, a husband, and up until recently, a student. And in his free time he managed to write and record his first solo release, the 4 song EP titled Earth Has Doors. Not being familiar with The Fresh & Onlys, this is my first exposure to Miles’ work, and as with most of the material coming out of Brooklyn wearing the Sacred Bones label, I have to say I’m impressed. If I had to, I would call it psychedelic folk, but it really does go beyond that. After reading the one-sheet about the desire to ‘document the existential crisis of our current epoch — moving from the nothingness of modern materialism, fragmented reductionist thought, and drug escapism to a world imbued with subjectivity and meaning through a new relationship with the Earth and cosmos as alive and full of inherent intelligence‘, I have to admit I am at a loss for words. So I’ll just leave you with a song from a extremely talented individual whom I am extremely excited to see at SXSW next month.
Rewind: (pre-Feb albums on heavy rotation)
13ghosts – Garland of Bottle Flies (Skybucket, 2011)
Dodecahedron – Doecahedron (Season of Mist, 2012)
Loma Prieta – I.V. (Deathwish Inc., 2012)
Mount Moriah – Mount Moriah (Holidays for Quince, 2011)
The Pines – Dark So Gold (Red House, 20112)
Young Fathers – TAPE ONE (self-released, 2012)