April was a good month for music, but it did provide a lull in what has been an incredible start to the new year. That being said, there are still quite a few albums worth checking out, 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.
Emily Wells – Mama (Partisan, 2012)
Emily Wells has been making music since she was almost as little as the toddler rockin’ the Mama album cover. A classically trained violinist, Wells is also proficient on the piano, glockenspiel, guitar, banjo and other, nontraditional instruments. Take all the tools at her disposal, throw in a mixing board and a voice that ranges from Joanna Newsom to Macy Gray, and you could have a disaster on your hands, but somehow Wells floats through folk, hip-hop and pop on a minimal breeze — never straying too far off track from start to finish. To make something so complex sound so simple, yet so moving, is a testament to the talent that is Emily Wells. In a month full of good releases, Mama stood out from the rest.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (ATO, 2012)
It’s a little strange to be recommending Alabama Shakes debut album this month. First off, almost half these tracks were on the Alabama Shakes EP that I recommended back in September of last year, so they’ve been on heavy rotation for awhile now. Second, I witnessed the remaining tracks performed live back in February. And third, this album leaked months ago, so it’s not exactly new to my ears. But all that aside, Boys & Girls gets much closer to the intensity of the live show than the EP did. Alabama Shakes are revivalists, they unabashedly channel soul classics from the 60′s and 70′s, and like anyone who mines sounds from the past, they are going to have detractors — mix that with their seemingly sudden rise to fame and the haters will be lining up. But don’t let them get you down, Alabama Shakes are for real — go see a live show and tell me they’re not. And in the meantime, give Boys & Girls a shot. It will do more than hold you over until Alabama comes to your town.
BADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG2 (self-released, 2012)
The second album from the Canadian experimental trio takes their hip-hop-infused jazz to another level with quite a bit of original material mixed in with the Odd Future, Kanye West , James Blake and Gucci Mane interpretations. While BBNG was a great album, I feel like it could have been a one-off. But with BBNG2, the band showcases a level of maturity that makes me wonder where this project might go next. BADBADNOTGOOD prove to be talented jazz musicians, taking the genre to places it hasn’t been before. Purists will probably be turned off right away, but if you can open up to what these guys are doing, I think you’ll be surprised at how powerful it is.
Death Grips – The Money Store (Epic, 2012)
It’s hard to think of hip-hop as dangerous music in a time when the President is a Jay-Z fan, Snoop and Dre headline Coachella with a (it’s not a) hologram of Tupac, and not only are rap songs prevalent in children’s shows and movies, but actual ‘gangster’ rapper star in those productions. That’s not to say there arn’t legitimate players in the game, but it’s rare to come across an artist who ‘shocks’ like so many did in the late-80′s/early 90′s. That’s why Death Grips are so important. Sure, The Money Store is already overrated — the praise being heaped upon this release is more about the fact that Epic Records would allow something like this to see the light of day than about the actual material contained within. Don’t get me wrong, I love this album. I’ve been a Grips proponent ever since stumbling across the extremely abrasive Ex-Military mixtape last year, and the live set I caught in Austin is something I will never forget. The Money Store proves that there will be no censoring MC Ride. It also proves they are an actual ‘hip-hop’ band and tracks such as “Get Got”, “Hustle Bones” and “I’ve Seen Footage” are better than anything they’ve done before. I’m happy this album exists and I highly recommend checking it out, I just don’t think it deserves the near-perfect scores it has received.
Dry the River – Shallow Bed (Red Ink, 2012)
Dry the River first came to my attention when a buddy saw them open for The Antlers on their European tour. Described as British Americana, they bring to mind Shearwater, Wild Beasts and The Antlers more than Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars or Fleet Foxes, but I know what you might be thinking, ‘do we really need another one of these bands?’ A truly valid question. The answer to which is ‘probably not’, but Shallow Beds is a pretty powerful argument that Dry the River are better than their native counterparts in this newly crowded scene.
Elephant & Castle – Transitions (Plug Research, 2012)
Elephant & Castle is the moniker under which Oakland-based producer David Reep created his latest collection of material, Transitions. I’m not quite sure where I came across this album, but I do remember walking through a crowded airport when it came across my headphones for the first time. I was immediately transported into a scene from a movie being shot with an invisible crew. I walked well past my gate and into another terminal before I remembered that I had an actual destination. It’s not often an electronic album, especially one with hints of jazz, world and techno, can drown the constant cinema in my head, so for no other reason than that, I have had this album on repeat whenever traveling for work.
Daughn Gibson – All Hell (White Denim, 2012)
The name Daughn Gibson meant nothing to be just a few days ago, but now the ex-truck driver’s voice haunts my thoughts long after the music dies. Part Stephin Merritt, part Johnny Cash, Gibson makes country music like you’ve never heard it before — if you can even call it country music. Baritone vocals flow like think syrup over loops and samples from old gospel songs — telling stories of love lost, youth forgotten and rain on the highway. Only someone who has spent countless hours, days and years on the road could write songs this honest and convincing.
High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis (E1, 2012)
My metal intake for the month of April was on the light side, but the ten new tracks from High on Fire gave it the weight of thousand suns. De Vermis Mysteriis means ‘The Mysteries of the Worm’, and apart from being the title of HoF’s latest stoner opus, it is also a fictional book of magic created by Robert Bloch. This grimoire has been referenced in a great many works by H.P Lovecraft, Stephen King, F. Paul Wilson and others. In all reality, HoF’s reference here is highly irrelevant to your listening experience, as is the concept that spans the songs on the album. As with most of Matt Pike’s work, this is loud, dirty, hairy, grimy, stoner metal — everything else is window dressing. If you’re a fan of High on Fire and Sleep and Motörhead and and and…then you’re going to love this album from the new masters of their domain.
Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (Asian Man, 2012)
Being a veteran of the 90′s SoCal (pop)punk scene, I’m always on the lookout for bands continuing down the path forged by so many before them. Honestly, I am usually bored by the ‘Blink-182 wannabes’ before the second track, but every once in awhile one of these bands will grab my attention, as so happened with Joyce Manor. Coming straight outta Torrence, CA, Joyce Manor’s latest has eight original tracks and a cover of “Video Kill The Radio Star”, all over 13 minutes. Granted, there is nothing on this album that’s going to blow your mind, but if you’re looking for a quick dose of catchy punk and you don’t have a copy of The Longest Line handy, this should do you just fine.
Moonface – With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery (Jagjaguwar, 2012)
When I spoke with Spencer Krug back in October, he was more than excited about this collaboration with Siinai. Being a huge fan of the Finnish band, he essentially turn over all instrumentation to them, freeing him up for what he does best — lyrics and vocals. Those that have a hard time with Krug’s almost schizophrenic way of changing direction with every project/band/release shouldn’t expect any relief here. Heartbreaking Bravery sounds nothing like Organ Music, and even less like anything else he has done. Looking for similarities is a fool’s game though. Moonface is not a band. It’s not even a project. Moonface is essentially Krug’s alter ego. Everything released under Moonface will probably be completely different than what came before. Part of the reason Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown don’t exist anymore is because this particular artist needed absolute freedom to follow his muse down the rabbit hole. As much as I miss those bands, I applaud the man for the decisions he’s made, and Heartbreaking Bravery is proof that he continues to be one of the most interesting artists alive.
Screaming Females – Ugly (Don Giovanni, 2012)
Having never heard of Screaming Females before SXSW this year, I now seem unable to escape them. Evidently Ugly is their 6th studio album? Crazy. But now that they are on the radar, the trio from New Brunswick, New Jersey seem to be everywhere. A quick search will provide countless positive reviews referencing Sleater-Kinney, Dinosaur Jr., Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin, and of course, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Marissa Paternoster might look more like Alice Glass than Karen O, but the comparison is sure to come to mind with every first listen of Ugly. This album took me awhile to get into. I even went as far as deleting it from my playlists a few times, but there was a familiarity about it that I couldn’t get over — it wasn’t Yeah Yeah Yeahs either. It took weeks for me to realize Screaming Females remind me of a band called Tilt. They were on Fat Wreck Chords and based out of Berkeley. Til It Kills was an album I had on repeat in ’95 and Ugly sounds like a lovechild between lead-singer Cinder Block and Jack White. Once I made this connection in my own mind (as off as it might be), I decided I really liked this album.
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum, 2012)
The album cover might ask ‘huh?’, but the name of Jason Pierce’s seventh Spiritualized album is Sweet Heart Sweet Light — a phrase repeated throughout the album’s first proper song, “Sweet Jane”. The question on the cover refers to Pierce’s drug-induced confusion during the creative process that led to this release. The chemotherapy and the chemical cocktails that accompanied it were successful in combating Pierce’s liver disease, but they also acted as a muse for another incredible Spiritualized album. Critics are calling it a return to form, and I guess that’s accurate, but I thoroughly enjoyed Songs in A&E as well, so I’m not sure a return to anything was needed. These tracks do seem more personal in nature when compared to those released in ’08 — maybe more grounded in this world — but overall, it’s just another Spiritualized adventure, and I’m happy to be along for the ride.
Jack White – Blunderbuss (XL / Third Man, 2012)
What can I say about Jack White’s debut solo album? It’s pretty much what you would expect. It sounds like a Jack White solo album. So why do I like it so much? I have never been a huge White Stripes fan, although I did enjoy White Blood Cells and Elephant alright. I could take or leave the Raconteurs and Dead Weather. Off the top of my head, I’d have to say “Portland Oregon” with Loretta Lynn is my favorite Jack White song. So why did Blunderbuss grab me on the first listen? Why do I still have it on repeat weeks later? To be honest, I don’t know, but if hard pressed I would say it’s because his vocals takes center stage. I do like his voice quite a bit. And these songs seem more personal. They sound warmer than anything he has done before. Coming from someone who hasn’t even given Jack White more than a passing thought, I believe this just might be his most solid collection of material…ever.
Zambri – House of Baasa (Kanine, 2012)
Jessica and Cristi Jo are sisters from New York. Zambri is their collaborative project. House of Baasa is their impressive debut album. On first listen, it’s hard not to think of Tegan & Sara. The sisters’ wordplay is as seamless as you would expect from two girls who have spent their entire lives together, but they are much more than just a pretty voice — this sibling chemistry goes beyond the vocal. On every subsequent listen, new layers fold back on themselves to reveal an intricate collage of perfect pop music, noise and electronic architecture — creating a playful, yet dark atmosphere with a level of authority rarely seen on a debut album.
Rewind: (pre-April albums on heavy rotation)
KA – Grief Pedigree (Iron Works, 2012)
Lord Mantis – Pervertor (Candlelight, 2012)
THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE (Sub Pop, 2012)
Whirr – Pipe Dreams(Tee Pee, 2012)