After so many great releases last year from a ton of great band (Bon Iver, M83, Fleet Foxes, Panda Bear, James Blake, EMA, Girls, Kate Bush, Atlas Sound, Nicolas Jaar and Washed Out) this year seems like kind of a letdown. This year I have spent more time going in to the past to discover some of the music that inspired some of my favorite music of today. I have learned that David Bowie actually made some pretty good music, the Cocteau Twins must have never worried about how they would do a live performance when they recorded an album, Kraftwerk may have been one of the first electronic bands but they are still one of the best and that there is a reason why many people consider ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ to be the greatest album ever. Oh, and there is this album by the Pink somebodies about the Moon or the ‘Wizard of Oz’ or something that I listened to once or twice…a day for a month straight.
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser that the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
On the first track of this album Fiona declares ,”I am what I am because I does what I does.” She then goes on prove that this album is what it is because she does what she does. From the album title that challenges word count records to the songs that are mostly about relationship triumphs and tragedies, Fiona Apple stays true to her roots while presenting more stripped down songs that somehow seem even more personal than what appeared on her last album Extraordinary Machine.
Beach House – Bloom
If Fiona Apple succeeded by taking what she does best and stripping it down, Beach House succeeds by taking what they do best and really not doing much to it, maybe adding a little here and there but really sticking with the same formula that worked so well on their last album Teen Dream. They still make gorgeous minor key compositions that layer and swirl, always taking the music to surprising new heights. The second track ‘Wild’ shows what a great ringing guitar arpeggio can do for a song (I haven’t heard anyone do that since the ‘90s).
Grizzly Bear – Shields
Some of my favorite films are the ones that really have a sense of place. I want to feel like I am where the characters are at; when they are in Boston I want it to feel like Boston and when they are in the desert or on a submarine I want to be there with them. This album has a sense of place. It feels like it was recorded somewhere, in an actual room with actual walls and floors with resonance and echoes. And when I listen I feel like I am in that room while this music is being played. Musically, I always feel like I am listening to a collaboration between The Beatles and Deerhunter.
Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold
I enjoyed Sufjan’s second installation in his hopefully constantly expanding Christmas collection more than the first. I love the way he deconstructs just about every Christmas song we have heard in our lives, making Santa a creepy home invader in ‘Up on the Housetop’ and making us aware that ‘We Need a Little Christmas Now’ has a second verse that is much more cynical about the holiday, about life and growing older, and why we still love and need Christmas now that we are no longer children. His original composition, ‘Christmas Unicorn,’ may be the first Christmas song that I will want to listen to all year long.
How to Dress Well –Total Loss
An album that is defined by its R&B influences but lives in the spaces in between the music, in the breaths between the beats, in the silence between sounds. This album continually winds back on itself, using familiar musical lines or lyrical phrases in different context to hit on a different emotion the second time around. Almost all of the vocals on this album are high wispy falsetto, but the most wonderful moment on this album comes a minute and a half into the first track when vocal line dips and the singers voice goes into his lower register, creating a moment of vulnerability unsurpassed on this very personal record of love and loss.
Passion Pit – Gossamer
I have been back and forth about this album since its release. One week I think it is the best thing that came out this year and the next I have a hard time finding anything I like on it. The first track ‘Take a Walk’ has been everywhere this year, unfortunately it is probably the least enjoyable song on the album. It’s so catchy you find yourself singing it over and over anyways, which is pretty much what happens on just about every song on this album. With topics ranging from love, break-ups, addiction, and immigration and lots of things in between, I find myself slightly self conscious walking down the street with my dog singing “Love, love, love….love is greed” under my breath.
Albums I Really Want to Like
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
I loved Sleigh Bells first album ‘Treats’ but I just can’t get into this one. ‘Treats’ was a hugely pleasant surprise when it came out, mixing bubble gum pop and heavy metal in a way that made you think, “Why hasn’t anyone ever done this before.” ‘Reign of Terror’ tends more towards the heavy metal side prompting me to move more to the disinterested side.
Grimes – Oblivion
With my interest in electronic music increasingly growing I was incredibly excited when I threw this in my car stereo for the drive home a few months ago. What I discovered was that I still enjoy music that sounds like music. This album sounds more like a robot composed it. Don’t get me wrong, Claire Boucher’s voice is absolutely stunning and the track ‘Oblivion’ is one of my favorite of the year, so there are wonderful things happening here. I just have a hard time keeping it on for more than ten minutes.
Other Stuff I have Heard and have no Opinion About….Yet
Sharon Von Etten – Tramp
Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Twin Shadow –Confess
Wild Nothing – Nocturn