May was almost overwhelming in its presentation of new music. Not only were there countless new releases, I also took the time to catch up on some of the metal I had been missing out on, making this a heavy month in recommendations. And as much as I hate grouping these 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.
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
(Williams Street, 2012)
R.A.P. Music presents Killer Mike giving tribute to all those who came before, whether it be by calling out 2 Live Crew and Tupac by name, writing rhymes that tell stories in the vein of Slick Rick, killing dirty cops like Ice-T, or simply recycling lines from OutKast songs. R.A.P. is an 80′s throwback album in many ways (there is literally a track called Reagan), but it is also an album of current events. Tight rhymes, relevant lyrics and the always insane production of El-P, makes this one of the most addictive hardcore rap albums in recent memory. I won’t say it wouldn’t be a great album without El-P’s ‘like-they-d0-in-the-future’ touch, but I will say his fingerprints are all over this thing — pushing everything past the level of intensity found on his own Cancer For Cure. R.A.P. Music is going to put Killer Mike on the map. It is going to catapult him from the underground to a higher plain reserved for the best in the game.
Beach House – Bloom
(Sub Pop, 2012)
There are many who claim all Beach House songs sound the same. I empathize with those people. Beach House and Devotion were two albums that I tried to get into, but never got past the halfway mark without feeling like I was listening to Track 1 on repeat. Teen Dream changed things for me. What began as a sleepy, dream pop song, grew into something huge — like experiencing the dreams of a collective conscious — an ethereal vision of epic proportion. Instead of sounding like the same song on repeat, it was one long song — the ending of one track and the beginning of the other blurring into a one master sound. Bloom is the second part of that journey. Sure, “Myth” can stand on its own, but in my opinion, these tracks should be experienced as an full album — as one more peak into the dreams of others.
Before The Dawn – Rise of the Phoenix
(Nuclear Blast, 2012)
You seriously can’t click a link without coming across a melodic death metal band these days, but very few rise above the growling masses with something unique. To be honest, most of the time I can’t distinguish one from the next. That’s why I am happy to recommend Rise of the Phoenix from Finland’s Before The Dawn. You won’t find any clean singing here, but the death growls are decipherable on quite a bit of the album. There are a few acoustic passages, as well as some keyboard driven action, but huge riffs are not in short supply. There is no single sticky factor to this album, it’s the overall cohesive package that set it apart from most of what I’ve heard from the genre recently.
Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
(Arts & Crafts, 2012)
Al Spx is Cold Specks, but that’s not her real name. Evidently she hides behind these monikers because her family does not approve of what she does, which is ironic, because she’s getting more than just approval from strangers around the globe. Described as ‘funeral’ or ‘doom’ soul, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion highlights a young artist on the brink of big things. Think Tracey Chapman gone gothic, or Macy Grey in the the darkness before the dawn. I will say that the whole album doesn’t quite live up to the promise of “Holland”, but for a debut album, it is pretty impressive.
El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
(Fat Possum, 2012)
This album has been a long time coming — 5 years to be exact — and it was soooooo worth the wait! Having seen a lot of this material live at SXSW, as well as having “The Full Retard” on repeat for months, I have to say this album lives up to all expectations. It’s El-P in full effect. It’s the logical next leap from 2007′s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. The only reason Cancer 4 Cure is not my pick of the month is because El Producto literally outdid himself with his production on Killer Mike’s new album. “So you should pump this shit like they do in the future!“
Father John Misty – Fear Fun
(Sub Pop, 2012)
Not being a huge fan of Fleet Foxes, I never paid much attention to J. Tillman. I guess I always just assumed his stuff wouldn’t veer too far off the path of his former bandmates, but to be honest, when I first heard this album, I didn’t even know Father John Misty was J. Tillman. Filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, Fear Fun is the best collection of folk songs I have heard in a long time. There literally isn’t a bad one in the bunch. This is a perfect album for all the outdoor activities that usher in the long days and warm nights of summer.
Led Er Est – The Diver
(Sacred Bones, 2012)
Led Er Est are one of the new additions to one my favorite labels, Sacred Bones. I caught them at the SXSW showcase and I have to admit I was not impressed, so I almost skipped right over this release. But like everything Sacred Bones puts out, I decided to give it a shot. My first impression was Cold Cave, but with less attitude and an obsession with Black Celebration, and while that assessment is fair, there is more going on here. These guys mine the past for sound, sometimes just stealing what they find, but more often than not, they do create something original from fragments of decades past. Led Er Est will never be a band I need to see again, but The Diver brings enough to the table to make it interesting enough to keep in steady rotation.
LHF – Keepers of the Light
If I understand this correctly, LHF are a group of electronic producers who have concealed their identities by using pseudonyms such as Double Helix, Amen Ra, No Fixed Abode and Low Density Matter. The result of this collaboration is a sprawling dubstep document that goes well beyond the generally accepted confines of an album. 26 tracks over 2 1/2 hours. This is not an album you can digest in one sitting. It is something that needs to be taken in small doses if you really want to experience the layers of sound these mystery men have produced. But it also can serve as background music. I’ve had the album playing all the way through quite a few times, all while working on other tasks.
Lower Dens – Nootropics
(Ribbon Music, 2012)
Nootropics are smart drugs used to improve and enhance the mind’s capabilities, so I can only assume the latest album from Baltimore’s Lower Dens has something to do with a higher intelligence, but in all reality the lyrics are the least interesting aspect of this album. What has drawn me into this murky, drug-infused space is the ability to dull my senses, not enhance them. Nootropics is an album of extreme atmosphere. Even the music itself can’t escape, as it fills the balloon it was created in — threatening, without success, to burst through. This is night time music. This is dark music. When the album ends, it immediately starts to fade away, allowing you to discover it anew, again and again and again.
Willie Nelson – Heroes
While Heroes will never go down as a Willie Nelson classic, that doesn’t mean this collection of original, classic and cover songs doesn’t deserve a place on your playlist. Sure, some tracks are better than other — Tom Wait’s “Come On Up To The House”, Coldplay’s “The Scientist”, Willie’s own “A Horse Called Music” and Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” are among the best, while the collaboration with Snoop Dog is as bad as it sounds — but if you’re a Willie fan, you’re bound to find more to like than dislike. Lucas Nelson proves himself a able songwriter, while guest verses from the likes of Jamey Johnson, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson are never unwelcome.
Ne Obliviscaris – Portal Of I
Having been in the business of creating epic, sprawling, symphonic black metal since ’03, it’s hard to believe it has taken almost 10 years for Australia Ne Obliviscaris to release their debut album, but Portal Of I was worth the wait. Coming from someone who prefers black metal, well, black…my love of this album is a testament to how well these ozzies compose their (extremely) progressive metal. Layers upon layers, lathered with shrieks and clean vocals, sometimes attacking you from both sides at the same time. On the first few listens, I will admit to being overwhelmed — there was almost too much going on at any given moment, but now everything seems to fit into place perfectly. For those of you missing the Opeth days of old, this might be the release you’ve been waiting for.
Odz Manouk – Odz Manouk
(Profound Lore, 2012)
Psychotic black metal from an entity in California only known as Odz Manouk. This is previously released material, but Profound Lore has packaged the self-titled demo, as well as the tracks from the Tukaaria split, in this first ever CD release. The remastering does nothing to make the content more accessible, so listen at your own risk. This is not for the metal novice, but for those who follow the usbm scene, Odz Manouk is an essential listen.
PS I Love You – Death Dreams
(Paper Bag, 2012)
PS I Love You is a Canadian duo comprised of Paul Saulnier on vocals and guitar, and Benjamin Nelson on drums. They make loud, noisy, garage rock ‘n roll that hurts so good you can’t help but love the abuse. Sualnier’s vocals won’t be for everyone — part snarling punk, part paranoid pimply teenager, it’s hard to determine what is more abrasive, his voice or his fuzzed-out guitar frenzy. But it’s the pop hooks and classic rock riffs that set this album apart from all the other ‘noise pop’ or ‘garage rock’ bands out there today. Death Dreams is definitely one of my favorite albums this year.
Ramona Falls – Prophet
What started out as a side project for Menomena’s Brent Knopf has turned into his full time gig. Prophet, the second album under the Ramona Falls name, sounds exactlyas I’d expect a Knopft solo album to sound. I’d call it Menomena-lite if I didn’t think it would diminish the tracks that exist here. But in reality, it does sound like a Menomena album stripped down to its bare essentials, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes Knopf’s prior band got so caught up in the details, they buried all pop sensibilites. Prophet comes across as a warmer album, more personable. It sounds like Knopf is having more fun than he has in the past.
Royal Headache – Royal Headache
(What’s Your Rupture?, 2012)
Straight-up garage rock from Australia. The album is only 26 minutes long. Stop wasting time reading this and just listen to it!
Santigold – Master of My Make-Believe
Every year there are a few pop albums that restore my faith in popular music, and although it might not be fair to group Santigold’s sophomore album into that category, there are more than a few songs on Master of My Make-Believe that will get heavy radio play this summer. It’s been four years since Santogold hit the scene with her self-titled debut, so I can understand why some critics are claiming Master wasn’t worth the wait. It might not be the groundbreaking release its predecessor proved itself to be, but that’s also because there have been so many who have followed in Santigold’s footsteps since then. So don’t be discouraged, this album still provides a fresh blend of pop, hip-hop, dub and (the best elements of) electronica to quench the thirst created by a four year drought.
Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
Silversun Pickups have yet to disappoint me. I know that’s not exactly a glowing recommendation, but in reality, it is. So many of my favorite bands have never been able to live up to the expectations I have for them. Either they change too much or don’t change at all. Members come and go and change the dynamics. They tried too hard, or don’t try hard enough. But Silversun Pickups continue to put out good albums, one after another. No gimmick, no exploring their curiosity of Massai tribal music, and no getting lost in the woods. Silversun Pickups are just a good ol’ alternative rock band. They are good at what they do. They are consistent. That might sound boring, but one listen to Neck Of The Woods will convince you of how good ‘consistent’ can sound!
Sleep – Dopesmoker
(Southern Lord, 2012)
This 63-minute epic stoner masterpiece has seen a few releases, but never before has it sounded so loud. It literally shook my windows and knocked shit off my desk the first time I played it, and that wasn’t even at a quarter volume. Southern Lord presents Sleep’s “Dopesmoker” in the form it was meant to be consumed. The live version of “Holy Mountain” does nothing for me, but I can’t complain that it’s there as an added bonus. If you like stoner metal, this is an essential release. I don’t even smoke and I’m still hooked!
Sun Kil Moon – Among The Leaves
(Caldo Verde, 2012)
My first exposure to the work of Mark Kozelek was a CD-R version of Tiny Cities given to be by a friend — an album of acoustic Modest Mouse covers. Not only did it make me appreciate the lyrics of Modest Mouse, it also turned me into a diehard Kozelek fan. I dove into his back catalog, whether it be Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon or the work under his own name. Seeing him perform in San Francisco in 2008 was a highlight of that year. Labeling Kozelek a prolific songwriter would be an understatement, but claiming Among The Leaves among his best works would not. At 17 tracks and well over an hour, the album never seems to drag on or get boring. All the (sometimes simultaneous) humor and heartbreak you would expect is presented in that same dry, haunting voice. This album will rank among the best of the year.
Tukaaria – Raw To The Rapine
(Profound Lore, 2012)
Like Odz Manouk above, this is psychotic black metal from an entity in California only known as Tukaaria. This is previously released material, but Profound Lore has packaged the Raw To The Rapine material, along with the tracks from the Odz Manouk split, in a unique CD digipak. The remastering does nothing to make the content more accessible, so listen at your own risk. This is not for the metal novice, but for those who follow the usbm scene, Raw To The Rapine is an essential listen.
Rewind: (pre-May albums on heavy rotation)
Desaster – The Arts of Destruction (Metal Blade, 2012)
In Mourning – The Weight Of Oceans (Spinefarm, 2012)
Killing Joke – MMXII (Spinefarm, 2012)
Naglfar – Téras (Century Media, 2012)
Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol (Century Media, 2012)
Joe Pug – The Great Despiser (Lightning Rod, 2012)
Secrets of the Moon – Seven Bells (Lupus Lounge, 2012)
Ty Segall / White Fence – Hair (Drag City, 2012)
Unleashed – Odalheim (Nuclear Blast, 2012)
Valtari – Fragments of a Nightmare (self-released, 2012)
Billy Woods – History Will Absolve Me (Backwoodz Studioz, 2012)