Tag Archives: albums

Favorite albums of 2015: The mid-point review

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – I get caught up in what Barnett does lyrically. The laid-back, stoner vibe musically makes a soft base for harder, more serious thematic moments.

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – The most I’ve loved an electronic pop album since Postal Service’s Up.

Girlpool, Before the World Was Big – This album seemed a bit too … twee at first. I kept waiting for the point where Before the World Was Big would annoy me or wear me out, and it never happened. This smart, stripped down collection has sucked me in.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Wow. I’ve been a fan for awhile, but none of the Bastards’ previous releases prepared me for this. Less straightforward and a little more diverse than the rest of their catalogue. Wind Up Bird (above) has some terrific, acid-rock guitar work.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – Kentucky’s finest polish their sound and drop an instantly lovable collection of country rock.

July Talk, July Talk – Last year’s EP was terrific. This year’s full-length is terrific-er. I think I’ve written this before, but it’s kind of like listening to Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave front the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper I have any interest in. Part of that may be because he’s the only mainstream rapper who has something more to say than just listing off what expensive swag he owns.

No Joy, More Faithful – Grimy, fuzzy, stoner punk that would have been just as comfortable in the 1990s as it is now.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – So, so glad to have them back.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, TooTo Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the support it’s received, both critically and from fans. White Men Are Black, Too, takes hip-hop to new strange, interesting places, and – heresy! – might even be better than Kendrick Lamar’s latest.

Honorable mentions: Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful; Alpine, Yuck; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Mark Ronson, Uptown Special; Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer; Snoop Doog, BUSH; Torres, Sprinter; Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

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Fave albums of 2015, the first quarter review

Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth – It seems like one of the hardest things for a young band to do is to make a second album that A) goes somewhere new and sounds fresh while B) not abandoning your core sound that made fans love you in the first place. Houndmouth kicked the sophomore slump in the teeth with this one.

No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney – It’s so sweet to have the greatest all-female punk band of all time back in the house (with some apologies to L7). Please don’t go on hiatus again.

Shake, Shook, Shaken, The Do – Lyrically driven electronic pop. Postal Service fans, take note.

Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse – The more I listen, the more I like it. Musically, it’s Modest Mouse’s most diverse album to date. Lyrically, MM still has a flair for the surreal and humorous.

To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar – I don’t know that I’ve said this about many albums, but To Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the praise it has been given. And the critics like this album more than fat kids love cake, so that’s saying something.

Honorable mentions: Rebel Heart, Madonna; Mr. Wonderful, Action Bronson; Seth Avett & Jessica Leah Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, Seth Avett and Jessica Leah Mayfield; Uptown Special, Mark Ronson; Viet Cong, Viet Cong;

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Favorite 10 albums of 2014

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker – Maybe my favorite album of 2014. I wrote before that Booker is “somewhere between the Black Keys and the Black Crowes.” I still think it’s a fair assessment.

Curtis Harding, Soul Power – Today’s R&B so frequently sounds way too clean or way too dirty. Soul Power keeps a fresh, live sound throughout.

July Talk, Guns + Ammunition – A great one-two, male-female vocal combination. Saw them live in October, and I was blown away by their stage presence.

Jenny Lewis, VoyagerVoyager is a departure from the country-tinged solo albums preceding it. It’s Lewis’s lyrics that keep me coming back for more.

Parkay Quarts, Content Nauseau – Parquet Courts’ second release of 2014 was another impressive entry into their short catalogue.

Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love – Hard, heavy and awesome. I can’t wait for more from PP.

Pixies, Indie Cindy – It’s Frank Black’s band now, and it works. Not a classic, but better than 95% of the new releases from old bands getting back together.

Royal Blood, Royal Blood – The Lord said there shall be metal. And there was.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything – It’s not easy, and it’s not catchy. But it is awesome.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Half the CityHalf the City recreates that classic Stax/Muscle Shoals sound, and St. Paul and Co. do it well. They also put on a show on the live stage.

On the bubble: Courtney Barnett, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas; King Tuff, Black Moon Spell; Lacrae, Anomaly; Tony Molina, Dissed & Dismissed; Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Jack White, Lazaretto; Angel Wilson, Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Honorable mention: Cherub, Year of the Caprese; Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence; First Aid Kit, Stay Gold; Guided By Voices, Motivational Jumpsuit; Kelis, Food; Logic, Spectator; Pharoahe Monch, PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Pete Molinari, Theosophy; PRhyme, PRhyme; Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2; Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want; Spanish Gold, South of Nowhere; St. Vincent, St. Vincent; Trampled By Turtles, Wild Animals; Tweedy, Sukierae; Young Fathers, Dead

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Favorite albums of 2014, so far

My favorite albums through the first six months of 2014.

Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – I love it when a band manages to mix chaotic musical departures with strong song-writing, a la the Mars Volta. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra has that ability, creating complex sonic pastiche while just barely clinging to traditional rock structure.

Guns + Ammunition, July Talk – In my songs list, I said the dueling vocals of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay sounded a bit like Nick Cave and Tonya Donnelly. Musically, this one-two singer punch helps give July Talk an interesting edge.

Half the City, St. Paul & The Broken Bones – These southern boys aren’t reinventing the wheel here. This is old school, big band soul, plain and simple. But the thing about that old school, big band soul sound is that, when done well, it’s impossible not to listen. Paul Janeway and his crew display power and deftness on their debut.

Indie Cindy, Pixies – It’s not strange that the Pixies are on this list. Indie Cindy is the outlier among rock albums from bands who broke up for an extended period of time then got back together to record in that it doesn’t completely suck (see the Fleetwood Mac catalogue, anything after Stevie Nicks’ initial run with the band). What is strange is that the Pixies, indie underground darlings of the late 1980s and early 1990s, are easily the most recognizable band on my list.

Out of the Black, Royal Blood – If you like Queens of the Stone Age, give these fellas a shot. Thick, heavy guitars and active drumming drive Royal Blood’s sound, and singer Mike Kerr provides strong, melodic vocals to play against the wall of sound.

Say Yes to Love, Perfect PussySay Yes to Love makes beautiful noise, from the opening track Driver – a full-throated roar over music that is constantly spilling from melody to chaos – to points deep in the disc, such as the schizophrenic vocals and slow, quiet fade out of Interference Fits. Sublime punk rock.

South of Nowhere, Spanish Gold – Southern rock, reggae, psychedelic rock, blues … Spanish Gold touches a bit of everything, committing only to make the best album they possibly can.

Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts – I think of Pavement and 1980s skate punk quite a bit while listening to Sunbathing Animal. That’s a good thing. Parquet Courts use some conventional punk and garage rock song structure, but tend to throw the occasional feedback solo or wall of noise in spaces where the average fan probably isn’t used to hearing them.

Honorable mentions: Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Angel Olsen; The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Courtney BarnettGirl, Pharrell Williams; Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings; Stay Gold, First Aid Kit; Standing By Your Side, Lee Fields & The Expressions; Theosophy, Pete Molinari; To Be Kind, Swans

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Favorite albums of 2014 … so far

My favorites full-length recordings from the first quarter of 2014. Drumroll please …

Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, Silver Mt. Zion – I’m sure a more sophisticated/pretentious reviewer would have some sort of post – “post-punk,” “post-rock,” etc. – to toss in here. Silver Mt. Zion rages in a unique way. The only touchstone I can offer is Sonic Youth, but it’s not a easy-to-connect relationship. Experience the wonderful noise for yourself.

Girl, Pharrell Williams – Pharrell is just so damn smooth. There’s not a soft track on here, although I don’t know that it has the type of blowout single (I’m not a Happy guy) that he’s often associated with.

Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Being a good person doesn’t mean you’ll get ahead. Being a bad person doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live a horrible life. Now if we could just get the idiots in Washington, D.C., to appreciate the logic.

Half the City, St. Paul & the Broken Bones – Blue-eyed soul of the first order. These guys know how to get down. I’m seeing them live in May, and I couldn’t be looking forward to it more.

Out of the Black EP, Royal Blood – Is it too early for the second coming of Queens of the Stone Age? Loud, feedbacky stoner rock. Prepare to bang your head.

Say Yes to Love, Perfect Pussy – Frontwoman Meredith Graves and her three xy chromosome bandmates have made an album that would make Beavis scream “Yes! Yes! Fire! Fire!” Lean, full-throttle, hardcore punk rock.

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Best of 2013: The albums

Haim, Days Are Gone – This sisterly trio from Cali manages a very interesting balancing act: Paying homage to 1980s era melodies while sounding like the future of pop. Bravo.

Hanni El Khatib, Head in the Dirt – Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produces, so it’s no surprise that Hanni’s Dirt is bluesy. That said, Hanni’s is a strong songwriter and performer, so he manages to keep Dirt uniquely his own.

Houndmouth, From the Hills Below the City – These Louisville roots rockers aren’t innovators, just damn good at what they do.

Juana Molina, Wed 21 – Molina is an Argentinian psychedelic folkstress who makes some brilliant noise on Wed 21. I mostly think of Beck as I listen to her, although the connection isn’t as direct as sounding alike, but more of their openness to unique sounds and arrangements while hewing to a traditional folk sound.

Janelle Monet, The Electric Lady – I’ve never quite bought into Monet because she always seemed heavier on the image than the music. With Electric Lady, she’s changed that perception.

Savages, Silence Yourself – Ignore the fact that they have Courtney Love’s seal of approval. This quartet of female post-punkers is more Rid of Me than Doll Parts. If I had to say, “This is the best album I heard this year,” Silence Yourself would get that nod.

The Shouting Matches, Grownass Man – Solid blues rock, track the first to track the last.

* Best of the rest: J. Cole, Born Sinner; Daft Punk, Random Access Memories; M.I.A., Matangi; Pissed Jeans, Honeys; Tylor, The Creator, Wolf; Kanye West, Yeezus; Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito

* Honorable mentions: Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost; Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2; The Flaming Lips, The Terror; Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse; Har Mar Superstar, Bye Bye 17; Valerie June, Pushin’ Against a Stone;  Parquet Floors, Light Up Gold; Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork; The Relatives, The Electric Word; Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana; Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience; Gin Wigmore, Gravel & Wine

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Favorite Five Albums of 2012

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Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do – I’ve never been huge on Fiona before this, and the older she gets and the longer the albums titles get, the more annoying it gets. That said, she floors me on this one. There’s a maturity to her work now that gives her a base to work from, and her talent is undeniable.

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Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leaving Eden – If you’ve heard them, I shouldn’t have to say anything. If you haven’t, that’s your damn problem.

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The Flaming Lips, The Flaming Lips and Their Heady Fwends – “Gimmick” albums always tend to be a disappointment (I’m not just thinking of the Judgment Night soundtrack, but I can start there). The good thing is, The Flaming Lips tend to be a “toss in the kitchen sink, too” kind of band, so adding lesser known acts (Neon Indians, New Fumes), up-and-comers (The Tame Impalas, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros) and fellow freaks (Biz Markie, Ke$ha, Yoko Ono, Nick Cave, Jim James) seems like a very natural thing.

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Fun., Some Nights – I’m a bit surprised to be finding this here, but so it is. Some Nights is pure pop end-to-end, but ranges stylistically from the piano showmanship of Billy Joel to the over-the-top glam of Queen. These guys should be interesting for a while.

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Murder By Death, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon – When you listen to an album and think of names like Johnny Cash, The Pogues and Tom Waits, that’s never a bad thing.

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Favorite 5 albums of 2012 (for now)

Little late on this, but it’s been a busy writing month. So here I go …

Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – I could see this being my favorite album of the year by the time 2013 rolls around. I could also see me running from Idler in fear by the end of the year. There’s rarely middle ground with Ms. Apple, and this album is no exception. There are times she loses me lyrically, but the piano on this disc is just mesmerizing.

Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leaving Eden – There just aren’t enough bluegrass bands with full-time beat boxers. 2009’s Genuine Negro Jig is one of my favorite discs of the past five years, and their take on Blu Cantrell’s Hit ‘Em Up Style is hands down my fav cover over that same time period. I have a feeling Leaving Eden could earn the kind of love with a little more time.

The Flaming Lips, The Flaming Lips and Heady Friends – Me loving this disc isn’t surprising. I tend to love everything Wayne Coyne and Co. put out. Their previous disc, Embryonic, and their take on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (with help from Peaches, Henry Rollins, etc.) were a taste of what was to come. Heady Friends sees appearances by Yoko One on the unnerving Do It!, the long-overdue Jim James’ collaboration That Ain’t My Trip and the disc’s opener and shining star, 2012 [You Must Be Upgraded] with Biz Markee and Ke$ha.

Japandroids, Celebration Rock – I love fuzzy, distorted guitar rock. Celebration Rock at times reminds me of Social Distortion, at times the best of early … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. I’d much rather end an album thinking I want more – like with Celebration Rock – than feel like four or five songs could have been cut from the bloat.

Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE – I don’t often respond positively to R&B albums. The last album I cared for by a male R&B artist was Maxwell’s BLACKsummer’snight in 2009, and before that, it would have been D’Angelo’s Voodoo from 2000. I’m not sure I’ll love this album in a week or a month. But there’s something … seductive and gripping about what Ocean is doing here. What hurts it is that it could probably be 3-4 songs shorter.

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