Kicking off the new and improved blog with the one type of post I’ve managed to put up annually without fail — a recap of my favorite music from the past year. So here’s the list in no particular order:
White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again – Scuzzy, lo-fi, power-pop played with garage-punk intensity that simply blasts out of the speakers with abandon. White Reaper’s got vintage punk and new wave spirit in spades with passionate, nasally vocals, crunching guitars, a thumping rhythm section and rinky-dink organ counter-melodies. This album is the most fun I’ve had rockin’ out since the Exploding Hearts’ album. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.
Skylar Spence – Prom King – Under the name Saint Pepsi, Ryan DeRobertis morphed, chopped, warped and recontextualized disco rhythms, echoing drum machines, and pinging synths into something both retro and new at the same time. Now, under the Skylar Spence moniker, he’s pursuing his mission of making “pop music for freaks”. It’s always amazing to watch millenials absorb sounds I grew up with and spin them in new and interesting directions. In this case, it’s a purification and distillation of 70s/80s pop/dance music into impossibly catchy, lighter than air confections. The result is something like early work from Cut Copy and Phoenix, but even more upbeat and bouncy. The lyrics suggest that Prom King is sort of a meta-commentary about making pop music in general, but it’s also about DeRobertis impressing himself as he maps the edges of his talents.
Cold Beat – Into The Air – The album moves from post-punk rockers to chilly electro-pop with such aplomb, it takes a while to notice how much the sound has changed from the the first track to the last. It appears the band decided to simply include their best songs regardless of style, and sequenced them perfectly. Hannah Lew’s sighing, girl-group vocals are the one constant, binding the songs into a coherent whole. The variety makes the album sound fresh even after numerous spins.
Escort – Animal Nature – Escort is the finest contemporary disco band performing original material. This second album release comes after 4 years. Over that time they’ve fully integrated the talents of singer and bass player Adeline Michèle. And they’ve taken their time to hone each song. Real instruments and and an organic live feel make the best ones sound like lost classics. Sometimes the production is a little too fussy or clean, but it holds up well over the course of the album. The focus is a little more on the post-disco 80s dance sounds than the pure mid-70s disco of the debut, but the result is another winner. Would love to see them live with their 17-piece orchestra!
Tame Impala – Currents – So apparently this new album represented a big change in musical direction for Tame Impala. I hadn’t heard of them until this year, but their 2010 debut Innerspeaker, was apparently a much-loved neo-psych-rock album. Or so I gathered from the complaints and comments regarding this new release, which is very much electronic pop influenced by psychedelia, R&B and hip-hop. While I haven’t heard their early stuff yet, it’s clear that Kevin Parker is an impressive talent with a sharp ear for melodies, arrangements, and beats. His lyrics and vocals are so straightforward, sometimes their depth is disguised. The meandering first single “Let It Happen” was what initially drew me to the album. After my first spin through the album, I was pretty much hooked. It’s best enjoyed with headphones, allowing the production details to really shine through. Hope Parker keeps following his muse!
Chvrches – Every Open Eye – There’s no sophomore slump here. Chvrches have followed up their excellent debut with an album that’s even more consistent. Every song seems to have a great blend of earworm hooks and Lauren Mayberry’s increasingly confident vocals. If you liked the debut, you need to check this out. It’s modern synth-pop of the highest order.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness – The Weeknd, a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye, has deservedly hit the big time with his most recent album. He debuted with a series of three powerful mixtapes released online, featuring his trademark emotive, pleading vocals and lyrical themes exposing the dark side of sex, drugs, and romance. These were later released as part of the Trilogy compilation. His official debut Kiss Land had its moments, but mostly missed the mark, especially when compared to his earlier work. But he kept plugging along, guesting on numerous tracks by other artists, both underground (Kavinsky) and mainstream (Ariana Grande). Beauty Behind The Madness finds him regaining his earlier form, and adding pop smarts to the mix without compromising his essence. “Can’t Feel My Face” was pretty much the song of the summer, with one of those pulsing, inescapable basslines — the kind that have powered hits from Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” to Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body”. The rest of the album isn’t nearly as pop friendly, but the slower tempos allow Tesfaye’s lyrics to hit harder, as they explore themes of twisted love and doomed relationships more deeply than before. It’s not easy listening, though. Hopefully those drawn in by the big hit will stick around to experience a great album.
Beach House – Depression Cherry – Beach House have a pretty distinct dream-pop sound, so it is possible to view Depression Cherry as more of the same. But the songs are all high quality, so if the sound appeals to you, this is another fine album to enjoy. It’s a hair shy of Bloom, overall, but individual tracks are just as good as their very best work. They have been quite prolific lately, releasing another album Thank Your Lucky Stars this year, but this is the one to get first.
Icky Blossoms – Mask – Dark, danceable, electro-pop indebted to any number of 80s goth bands, but with a deft modern touch similar to The Faint and Cold Cave. Only a few of the songs betray a single influence, such as “Wait” which sounds like prime New Order with Gillian Gilbert on vocals. The album’s overly compressed, harsh sounding production does a disservice to the songs, which ultimately manage to shine through all the racket. I hope to hear more from the Blossoms, hopefully with a different producer next time.
Twin Shadow – Eclipse – George Lewis, Jr. returns with a new album that focuses on his electronic pop/R&B stylings and complex vocal arrangements. The themes of love, longing, and pain are balanced by the feelings of hope and faith in the future, making the album as a whole stronger than the sum of its parts. A few of the hooks don’t sink quite as deep as the better tracks from his first two albums, and a couple of the songs succumb to bombast, but there are numerous gems to be found. While it feels like it may be a transitional album, there’s a lot to enjoy, and hopefully more to come from Twin Shadow.
Evans The Death – Expect Delays
Panama Wedding – Into Focus [EP]
Nite Fields – Depersonalisation
Passion Pit – Kindred
Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind : The River Collection
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti/Presence/In Through The Out Door/Coda (Deluxe)
Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (Deluxe)