It’s been a long sojourn through a deserted holiday season, with not many new releases to speak of. So it’s not a moment too soon that we arrive at the first Big Release Day of 2013. I’ll roundup the ones we think are worthwhile, but I’d love to hear some feedback from you as well. Which albums did I miss? Which in this batch are you most excited to check out? And which do you think you’ll skip? Let’s turn this into less of a lecture, more of a dialogue.
A$AP Rocky, Long.Live.A$AP: FINALLY. Eternally-delayed full-length from justifiably buzzed-about NY rapper A$AP Rocky delivers on the promise of his early mixtapes. A$AP’s flow is the draw — it bounds and bounces and skips across the beats, which are mostly icy and digital and vaguely ominous. Jayson Greene talked to A$AP for us, and the conversation detoured into some pretty unexpected places (like the fact that A$AP’s favorite Bowie song is “Lady Grinning Soul”). The record is Highly Recommended. In his review for us, Jordan Sargent says:
The album sticks to the cold, melted-down sound that helped push Rocky to prominence — a combination of screw music and the blown-out, haunted instrumentals of Internet stew-stirrer Clams Casino — while folding in productions from industry heavyweights like Hit-Boy (“Goldie”) and T-Minus (“PMW”). But even those beats are dunked into a double-cup and emerge steeped in Rocky’s aesthetic. There’s often so much going on — from the ghostly, gasping vocals of “LVL” to Skrillex stomping through “Wild for the Night” — that it may seem like LONG.LIVE.A$AP is about everything except A$AP Rocky. Yet, that’s the point — Rocky argues that there is virtue in being a magnet for the ephemeral world.
Christopher Owens, Lysandre: Former Girls frontman casts out on his own with a concept record about his first tour, the breakup of his band and a misbegotten relationship. Barry Walters talked to Owens for us, and got him to reveal the true stories that inspired the album. Of Lysandre, Walters says:
Every song except the final, elegiac one that waves goodbye not just to the album’s title character but also to Owens’ own bandmates is written in the key of A, and musical themes reoccur across its compact 28 minutes, as if the album was one sustained composition. Tempo, volume, and intensity fluctuate: The sax-driven “New York City,” for example, evokes Lou Reed’s Transformer, the dirty, sexy flipside to the immaculate folk paid homage to elsewhere. There’s a unreasonable amount of florid flute tooting supplied by Vince Meghrouni, former leader of SST’s ’90s jazz-punk oddballs Bazooka; the arrangements are gentle but excitable as its narrator, who looks at the world wide-eyed and besotted.
New Order, Lost Sirens: You know, the advance billing really undersold this thing. Songs recorded for, but not used on, 2005′s (underrated!) Waiting for the Siren’s Call, Lost Sirens is actually just a few minutes shy of being a proper album. The songs here emphasize the group’s moodier side – which probably explains why they were excised from the album – but they also sound weirdly in step with much of what’s going on in indie rock that’s informed by electronic music. It’s Recommended, as is the excellent interview Barry Walters conducted with the group, which you really should have read by now.
The album evokes all the yearning, emotional tumult and poetry one would expect from a young man who has left home to become an adult. The six-piece band’s earthy, shape-shifting sound recalls the melodrama of Shearwater, but the album’s real attractions are John Orth’s lyrics and delivery. He has written 10 songs with the detailed scene-setting and novelistic phrasing of Sufjan Stevens’s Michigan and Illinois, and he sings them with practiced delicacy.
Lee Fields, Let’s Talk it Over: Long-overdue reissue of Fields’ 1979 album, rounded out with singles and B-Sides. Fields, as you may know, has risen to some level of prominence lately — and rightly so — thanks to his rediscovery by the great folks at Daptone and Truth & Soul (the latter of whom have reissued this). This is a smoldering collection of funk vaguely reminiscent of James Brown, but with nods to disco and gospel as well. Recommended
Adam Again, Ten Songs By Adam Again: There was a time when CDs of this album were selling in the high hundreds on eBay. The second effort from Los Angeles dream-funk band Adam Again, the album betrays a clear influence of classic soul artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder (“Who Can Hold Us” even cops Wonder’s “Pasttime Paradise,” but it funnels those through a decidedly New Wave framework. Admittedly the album, with its layers of synths and thumping drum machine, sounds dated now and bears little indication of the heights the group would hit on their bleak swamp-funk masterpiece Dig, but it’s still a fine curio for collectors.
Fig Dish, That’s What Love Songs Often Do: Blast from the past! My first exposure to Fig Dish came via one of those CDs that used to come with CMJ Magazine, back when CMJ was a magazine that used to come with CDs. I am not sure how this one has aged! For the uninitiated, Fig Dish were a band from Chicago in the mid ’90s that delivered a brawny take on melodic indie rock that was very much A Thing at the time, but might not be much of a thing anymore. Other bands of this ilk included Buffalo Tom. It is weird that now I am hearing this as a precursor to the Foo Fighters.
The Brooklyn What, Hot Wine: Roughed-up and rollicking blue collar punk rock, this combines the heart-on-sleeve passion of early Springsteen with the loose-and-messy aesthetic of contemporary groups like The Men. Solid songcraft with enough rough edges to keep things interesting.
Jessie Ware, If You’re Never Gonna Move EP: Jessie Ware was one of my personal favorites from 2013 (I spoke about her at length on this edition of NPR’s On Point last week). This EP, weirdly, seems to just gather up a few songs from her excellent debut plus one new one and a remix. Probably a good place to start for the curious first-timer.
Datahowler, The Crystal Gazers:New one on the excellent California label Velvet Blue, this one from Texas producer Datahowler. The cover telegraphs exotica, but this is some dreamy, bucolic, electronic dreamscapes, soothing and surreal — not entirely unlike that Gayngs record from a few years back, without the vocals.
Cornell Campbell, King Jammy’s Presents: The Best of Cornell Campbell: Cornell Campbell has one of the most beautiful, soothing voices in all of reggae. A high-set, impossibly tender falsetto, it’s perfectly suited to the gentle style of Lovers’ Rock he’s spent his career exploring. This compilation gathers up songs Campbell recorded for the King Jammy’s label, and it finds his gorgeous voice acting as a nice contrast to the restrained, electronic production.
The Lost Dogs, Scenic Routes: Reissue of long-lost alt-country cult classic. The Lost Dogs were a ‘supergroup’ made up of the frontmen of California bands Daniel Amos, The Choir, Adam Again and the 77′s and bringing out the best in all of them. Smooth country-pop brushes up against rugged blues, gentle elements of psych float up and fade away. Final track, “Breathe Deep” was a minor alt radio hit. Recommended
Deux Filles, Double Happiness: The first thing that caught my eye is the fact that this is being issued by the great LTM Records who, in the early ’00s, were responsible for reissuing the better part of the Factory Records catalog (which, until that time, had been woefully out of print). The back story on these spooky records from the early ’80s is that they’re the work of French orphans named Gemini Forque and Claudine Coule. The truth, though, is that Deux Filles are an alias for Simon Fisher Turner and Colin Lloyd Tucker. The music here is great — spooky ambient synth compositions that feel ominous and sinister. It’s terrifically skin-crawling stuff. Recommended
Bvdub, A Careful Ecstasy: Really lovely new effort from Brock Van Wey, A Careful Ecstasy is full of keyboards that blink like buttons on the control panel of a deserted spaceship. Alternately soothing and unsettling, the songs here feel like ghostly lullabies, a soothing song sung in the midst of an apocalypse.
Aura Noir, Dreams Like Deserts: 1995 debut EP by the infernal Norwegian metal band Aura Noir, gets reissued and, er, fleshed out with outtakes and rarities. Aura Noir walk an unholy path between black metal and thrash, and most of the songs here land squarely between both genres. It’s primitive, to be sure, but that also makes it feel more dangerous and demonic.
Pickwick, Covers: Seattle soul/folk outfit Pickwick dashes off an EP of covers of Damien Jurado, Richard Swift and Lou Reed. Sharon Van Etten guests!