Jim James, Regions of Light and Sound of God – MMJ frontman goes solo with an easy-flowing, richly intimate record. Sharon 0′Connell writes:
Regions of Light and Sound of God presents as a deeply personal record, most of it played by James himself and recorded in his home studio. The reverb slathered so generously over MMJ’s material also warms and enriches these nine, alluringly intimate songs, but without once threatening to smother James’s effortlessly lovely voice, while instrumentation (his MIDI guitar gets a good workout) and arrangements are markedly more minimal.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II – The Portland-via-New-Zealand take a breath and ease into some looser, laid-back jams without losing their firm grip on melody or concision. Definitely an Editor’s Pick. Alex Naidus has more:
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, primarily the creative vehicle of founder Ruban Nielson, is an unconventionally psychedelic band. Many of the things you’d imagine floating a psych rock tag cloud — “sprawling,” “trippy,” “open-ended,” “whimsical” — largely don’t apply. Nielson is a disciplined songwriter, and the carefully-constructed sound that unspools on II is streamlined, deliberately deployed and, oftentimes, gentle. In this psychedelia Venn diagram, the overlap is largely in the details: off-kilter production effects (vocal and guitar delay, occasional wah, slight panning); wispy vocals; a sense of groove. Slight nods and tactful sonic cues rather than “hey man, far out!” indulgence. Working in this sweet spot, Nielson has produced a loose batch of great songs.
Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse- Our favorite soused Scots return, this time wielding their expanded budget with a bit more confidence. Dan Hyman writes:
Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchinson has long led us down a dour path littered with cigarette-burned hearts and suffocated dreams. The singer’s love/hard-breakup/drink heavily/rinse-and-repeat ethos once felt intimate — see 2010′s The Winter of Mixed Drinks – yet on last fall’s State Hospital EP, the first Frightened Rabbit release to follow the Glasgow five-piece signing a major-label deal with Atlantic, such tales of woe were propped up (and rendered sterile) by lavish production. Pedestrian Verse, the band’s latest full-length and fourth, is still a transitional album — Hutchinson, drummer brother Grant and company now bring a noticeably brighter, more arena-sized sheen to their tales of woe.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, We The Common – Thao takes a breath, takes aim, and takes on bigger targets. Ashley Melzer has more:
After spending most of her 20s touring like mad and cranking out ragged, playful indie pop, Thao Nguyen settled down in San Francisco for a year’s respite. The break from the typical tour-to-studio-to-tour grind gave her time to explore the city, work with nonprofits (like the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, through which she met track one’s dedicatee, Valeria Bolden) and take a more measured tack toward her writing process. The result is palpable. We The Common is a thoughtful, provocative build on all the band’s strengths of easy-flowing melodies, big hooks and inventive arrangements.
Darkstar, News From Nowhere – The electronic trio get more delicate on the woozily lovestruck follow-up to North. Here’s Nate Patrin with the review:
Six years after their first batch of trad-dubstep singles, four years after the skittering buzz of their breakthrough “Aidy’s Girl Is a Computer,” and three years after their synthpop-homaging debut full-length North, Darkstar just keep getting more delicate. Their sophomore album News from Nowhere is a tricky album to grasp — placid on the surface, but built to make its intricacies emerge with patient listening. Instrumentation leans heavy on airy, bright pianos and chimes, the basslines hover just as much as they throb, and vocalist James Buttery has an almost translucent quality to his voice that still sounds inhumanly frail no matter how many multitracks and effects it’s run through.
Eels, Wonderful Glorious – Mark Oliver Everett, the man behind Eels, takes a lickin’ and keeps on Eelsin’. He has been mightily prolific as of late, a development chronicled for us by Bill Murphy:
Wonderful, Glorious caps a prolific four-year burst of activity from Everett that yielded an autobiography, a documentary about his late father (quantum physicist and “many-worlds” theorist Hugh Everett III) and a trilogy of Eels concept albums. What sets this one apart is the overarching sense of optimism and the fact that Everett’s four-piece backing band — a road-hardened touring unit since 2009 — had an equal share in the making of it. While Everett still relishes his sarcasm, he sounds more relaxed than ever — a glorious development indeed.
Night Beds, Country Sleep – Rangy, lamplit alt-country graced with angelic, Jim James-style singing and lovely harmonies. A stunning late-night weeper of a record, with flecks of Ryan Adams surfacing. Lyndsey Field writes:
Country Sleep, the debut from Colorado expats Night Beds, is largely the product of 23-year-old frontman Winston Yellen, sprung from a trip Yellen took across America in a small hatchback Think Justin Vernon, but not for too long: As soon as Yellen’s voice starts sliding up to falsetto it flicks suddenly away, like candlelight in a night breeze.
Richard Thompson, Electric – The celebrated British guitarist and singer/songwriter Richard Thompson gives us a sputtering, seething burst of his still-sharp-as-ever mind. Richard Gehr writes:
Thompson long ago electrified the Anglo folk tradition’s too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral and hey-nonny-nonny tropes as a founding member of Fairport Convention. His later mastery of a kind of “Anglocana”-noir manifests itself on Electric in songs like “The Snow Goose” — a duet with Alison Krauss in which he sings that “Nothern winds will cut you/ Nothern girls will gut you/ Leave you cold and empty like a fish on a slab” — and “My Enemy,” a slow, seething survivor’s tale in which vengeance is far from sweet. The instrumentation may not always be electric, but the playing, writing and singing sure as hell are.
Chris Stamey, Long Distance Mixing – The producer and singer/songwriter returns with another rough-cut jewel of an indie-rock record, one that recalls his time in jangle outfits like the DBs as well as pointing towards darker, more cinematic places. Holly George-Warren tells us:
An in-demand producer (Whiskeytown, Alejandro Escovedo), North Carolinian Chris Stamey infrequently releases solo work. So when his finely-crafted songs make their way to an album, it’s always a sonic surprise, rich with echoes of his myriad projects: sometimes jangly fare like his seminal power pop outfit the dB’s, other times unabashed rock like Yo La Tengo, with whom he cut 2005′s A Question of Temperature. The haunting Lovesick Blues, Stamey’s first solo offering in eight years, is darkly intimate chamber pop reminiscent of Big Star’s Third.
Terri Lyne Carrington, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue – An acidic, coolly swinging revisitation of Duke Ellington’s classic Money Jungle. Ken Micallef writes:
Carrington revisits some of the album’s original material while delving further into the nature of a buck in modern America. Peppered with dollar-centric speech sampled from Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., George W. Bush, Herbie Hancock and others, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue spikes swinging and occasionally funky jazz with provocative political commentary.
David T. Little, Soldier Songs – A mini-opera song cycle dealing soberly with the personal and emotional fallout of warfare, complete with sampled snippets of interviews with real veterans. Seth Colter-Walls writes:
“Every Town Has a Wall” and “Two Marines” are both driven by post-war reflections, and it’s in those songs that Little reaches for the complexity of mood that also made Phil Kline’s Zippo Songs a modern classic. Precisely because we may be prone to think we’ve moved past the “Global War on Terror” era (drone strikes to the side), Little’s songs feel important, even necessary
The Spinto Band, Cool Cocoon: The Spinto Band is back with their second record in less than a year; lots of jangly, harmony-driven indie rock.
Bettie Serveert, Oh, Mayhem!: Dutch group Bettie Serveert have been around for 20 years but they’ve kept up with modern times, at least in terms of song titles — there’s one here called “iPromise.” Lots of quirky indie pop here.
Clogs, The Sundown Song: A few new tracks from Brooklyn indie-classical faves, backed by the Mallacoota Community Choir.
Hayden, Us Alone – The Canadian alt-rock stalwart has a lovelorn, frail little voice that he mumbles sweetly with like a suburban Nick Drake. This is warm, gently understated folk rock, his specialty.
Apache Dropout, Magnetic Heads – Smeary, echo-laden, yodelin’-in-the-bathtub lo-fi garage pop racket.
Ballake Sissoko, At Peace – Raindrop-delicate sketches from the Malian kora player. This is subtly restorative, relaxed music, a deep cleansing breath.
Cough Cough, Everything EP – Big-ticket British guitar-rock band, exposed-nerve twitchy and caffeinated and yelpy. Sounds like Bloc Party and Vampire Weekend in a Cuisinart.
Guards, In Guards We Trust – Big, echoey bombast from a big-ticket American indie rock band. Sounds like The Arcade Fire and Twin Shadow in a Cuisinart.
Fela Kuti, The Best of the Black President 2 – A repackaging of some of the Afro-beat master’s most potent music.