I don’t know why this happened, exactly, but the better part of today’s releases skew super arty. You’ll see what I mean. Those looking for meat-and-potatoes indie rock, this is not your week. Those with a taste for the adventurous: dive on in. There’s more than enough to satisfy.
Julia Holter, Loud City Song: One of the most ambitious and innovative pop releases of the year. Surprise — it’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Winston Cook-Wilson says:
Julia Holter’s sound constantly shifts reference points, so it would be hard to claim that it is “distinctive”; this implies a certain level of predictability. However, it is, at any given moment, nearly impossible to liken to anyone else’s. The singer/composer’s work combines an erudite singer-songwriter sensibility with elements of 20th-century classical/electroacoustic music and millennial “bedroom pop,” and her latest, Loud City Song, demonstrates a significant change in the scope of her arrangements, featuring the densest tracks she has released to date.
No Age, An Object: The punk duo gets gloomy on their fourth LP. Andrew Parks says:
Listening to the latest No Age album usually makes my recessive punk genes want to grab the world by its left one, so it’s disconcerting — worrying, even — to hear the duo teetering on the verge of tears halfway through their fourth LP, An Object. As Randy Randall drags his distortion boxes over Dean Allen Spunt’s knuckle-dragging beats, we’re treated to a lonesome tale of day-long drives, truck stops that pour watery coffee pots, and a seemingly endless stream of “bullshit on the stereo.”
Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell featuring Mivos Quartet, Versions: These orchestral reworkings of Zola Jesus’s songs by Jim Thirwell of proto-industrial act Foetus were debuted at the Guggenheim last year, and it was one of the most stunning live shows I’ve been to in ages. The recorded versions are just as good, and are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Andy Battaglia says:
With arrangements written by JG Thirlwell, a veteran polymath with roots in the industrial band Foetus who has recently done pan-stylistic work for TV’s Adult Swim, Jesus bellows and swoons through material (five songs from Conatus, three from 2010′s Stridulum II, and one new song, “Fall Back”) made especially dramatic and grand by this backing. For the most part, Versions tacks toward the stately and the restrained.
Laura Veirs, Warp and Weft: Veirs gets some help from Neko Case, My Morning Jacket and others on her excellent ninth LP. RECOMMENDED Hilary Saunders says:
Veirs recorded Warp and Weft while she was eight months pregnant with her second child, and her husband and longtime collaborator Tucker Martine later produced the 12-track release. As such, themes of love and loss, protection and ultimate surrender weave their way throughout Warp and Weft, with Veirs’s own motherhood experiences serving as the connecting thread on her ninth LP.
Ski Lodge, Big Heart: THIS ALBUM IS SUPER GOOD. If you are a fan of The Smiths or the Housemartins or the Harvest Ministers, this is the record for you. Big, bounding, jangling guitars, dour, sad-romantic vocals and hooks for days. Days! RECOMMENDED
Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe: The one ambient album indie-rock fans should make room for this year, from an eMusic Selects alum. Ian Cohen says:
The format of Barwick’s music hasn’t changed; she’s still transmogrifying herself into waves of pure gauze five or so minutes at a time. But here, she avails herself of Iceland’s amenities — string ensemble Amiina, members of múm, a teenaged choir and reverb that makes Nepenthe sound vast enough to fill any space it’s put into. It’s not pop music, but it’s not difficult; you couldn’t call it “easy listening either.” In its own way, the category-dodging Nepenthe follows the rules of a typical rock follow-up: It’s a deeper, darker and more accomplished version of its predecessor.
A$AP Ferg, Trap Lord: A$AP Ferg’s first commercial release goes more for comprehensiveness than cohesion. Ian Cohen says:
Although Ferg is a fringe figure at heart, Trap Lord presents him as a middleman, or at least a central hub, where the darker strains of ’90s pop-rap mingle with their current analogues. It’s a weird one for sure, pitch-black in both sound and spirit at times. But even in its rushed, slapdash state, it’s a labor of love. The dank production and misanthropic lyricism can’t hide its creator nerding out over the past two decades of amoral hip-hop.
Army Navy, Crushed EP: Only Army Navy can make total emotional devastation sound like romantic bliss. On this EP – a teaser for their forthcoming full-length – the group apply their winning combo of honeyed hooks and clear-eyed melodies to the topics of desperation and disappointment, making gorgeous songs from snapping heartstrings. RECOMMENDED
His Electro Blue Voice, Ruthless Sperm: Italian combo HEBV have been around for a minute now, slowly perfecting their ruthless, grinding trash-rock. They’ve cleaned up nicely for their Sub Pop debut — the hooks are bigger, the riffs toothier and the vocals more panicked and urgent. This is one big chaotic barrel of sound.
The Horse’s Ha, Waterdrawn: Lovely-sounding folk music from Janet from Freakwater and James Elkington; this one channels early English folk in places — mystic, sparkling acoustic guitars — and early Americana in others. The whole thing is spit-shined and super cheery.
BRAIDS, Flourish // Perish: The Montreal band goes digital on their second effort. Annie Zaleski says:
At its core, Flourish // Perish is built around icy keyboard drones, clipped digital splotches, cut-and-paste vocal manipulation and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s acrobatic enunciation. Guitars are practically nonexistent; only the album-closing “In Kind” features the instrument, and even then, these corrugated sweeps blend into the electronic textures and Standell-Preston’s Elizabeth Fraser-like trilling.
Larry Gus, Years Not Living: Whoah! This is really weird and pretty awesome! Grecian jack-of-all-trades Panagiotis Melidis delivers a head-spinning collection of art-pop not too far off from the late-night lounge lizard vibe of the last Matthew Dear record. This one is more outre tho — where Dear conjured a creepier Roxy Music, this one is artier and more obtuse. RECOMMENDED
Destruction Unit, Deep Trip: New one from these mean-eyed marauders — and one of the best live rock bands going — whallops full force, lots of squealing feedback and motorcross riffs and everything so drowning in distortion it almost sounds like a solid wall of static at times. This is the angriest record you’ll hear this year, and it’s RECOMMENDED.
White Hills, So You Are, So You’ll Be: Pretty awesome sturm und drang from New York stoner/acid/psych metal band. Sneering vocals and gallons of greasy guitars, offset by weird, glitchy broke-computer interludes.
Porcelain Raft, Permanent Signal: Mauro Remiddi’s sophomore LP thrives on intimacy. Puja Patel says:
The album features contributions from the Antlers and Yuck, but Remiddi mostly thrives on intimacy, balancing crackling, lovelorn moans with glassy-eyed reverb and barely-there melodies on “Echo” that push to the surface but never quite break through. The result is an enveloping, quicksand-like quality that makes Permanent Signal easy to get sucked in by even when there are no hooks to grab on to.
JJ DOOM, Keys to the Kuffs (Butter Edition): For a new MF Doom record, the original iteration of Keys to the Kuffs kind of snuck out without much fanfare. Here’s your chance to catch up on what you missed. The expanded edition appends 9 remixes and B-Sides to the original’s cockeyed, Kool Keith-conjuring hip-hop.
Shigeto, No Better Time Than Now: Drifty tracks that are no more techno than they are jazz. Michaelangelo Matos says:
No Better Time Than Now has a much heavier early-’70s astral-jazz feel than producer Zack Shigeto Saginaw’s prior work — if the title of the opener, “First Saturn Return,” isn’t enough of a clue to Shigeto’s orientation, the crinkly percussion and slow-rippling Fender Rhodes line and chimes ought to do it.
DIANA, Perpetual Surrender: The Toronto band’s debut is a mix of chillwave blur and ’70s art-rock chops. Barry Walters says:
Like all recent acts still working the chillwave formula, DIANA brings the blur. The quartet’s vocalist, Carmen Elle, sings softly, often smothered by wooly keyboard blankets; the sustain settings are often high, and there’s little here that’s fast or jarring. But significant variations on the familiar formula flow throughout this Toronto band’s debut album.
Diarrhea Planet, We’re Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: It’s hard to get an exact read on one of the year’s best live bands, but they’re still captivating on their debut. Evan Minsker says:
Diarrhea Planet have been lauded as one of the best live bands going, and We’re Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams offers a stack of evidence for why that might be. They can deliver a melody that’s as catchy as any Cars hit and land an electric guitar solo that’s indebted to the hair metal gods. But for an album with cock-rock guitars and a Raymond Pettibon-reminiscent album cover, I’m Rich also has a sizable pile of quieter, simmering moments.
Crocodiles, Crimes of Passion: Big, blissful, noisy pop songs that flash back a bit to the noisier end of Britpop. Jesus & Mary Chain are the obvious reference point, but the melodies here are mostly sweeter and sunnier and more unabashedly pop.
Watain, The Wild Hunt: Watain take black metal into new places on their HIGHLY RECOMMENDED fifth record. Jon Wiederhorn says:
Watain haven’t yet figured out a way to express their malodorous aesthetic on record, but they keep finding new methods of shocking listeners. The Wild Hunt is just as dark and sinister, or as the band puts it in “De Profundis,” it’s “the defiant chords of dissonance, to rape the symphony of God.” Yet the album is far more eclectic than 2010′s Lawless Darkness, blending together a multitude of musical elements ranging from the blastbeat fury of “Outlaw” to the dark acoustic folk dirge “They Rode On,” which includes clean vocals by Erik Danielsen that resemble Nick Cave or Death in June.
Ptahil, For His Satanic Majesty’s Glory: For some slightly less-refined Stanism, there’s the latest from this Indiana death metal band, with incredible cover art, panic-attack guitars and shredded-voicebox singing.
Lycia, Quiet Moments: I can’t even front, I was way into this dude back when he was on Projekt. This is more chilling dark ambient perfect for those lonesome, sinister summer nights — weird layers of synth and an overall melancholy vibe.
The Kissaway Trail, Breach The Danish band’s sophomore effort is more focused, even without a couple founding members. Annie Zaleski says:
The album’s hazy indie rock draws from diverse influences, including Britpop (the shimmering “Nørrebro”), psych-pop (the Flaming Lips dead ringer “Cuts Of Youth (Razor Love)”) and ’80s alt-pop (“Sarah Jevo”). Stylistically, the Kissaway Trail aren’t reinventing the wheel, but their songwriting is taut and dynamic; as a result, Breach sounds effortless and irresistible.
Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore: It is a real bummer that Mark Kozelek has fallen so far below the radar, because after he got that bad Modest Mouse covers record out of his system years ago, his work has actually been really consistent. He’s establishing the same kind of career arc as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, putting out a rewarding record every few years for them that have ears to here. This one is a collaboration with Desertshore, the band helmed by Phil Carney, who also used to be in Red House Painters. Wheels within wheels! RECOMMENDED
Mountains, Mountains Mountains Mountains: New one from delightful droners features all measure of moody, meditative compositions that grow and swell and gain weight and scope and depth as they go on.
Still Life Still, Mourning Trance: The Toronto group comes out from Broken Social Scene’s shadow on their second album. Ryan Reed says:
Still Life Still’s sophomore LP, Mourning Trance, resonates on a deeper level — mostly because it doesn’t try as hard to impress. Alex Bonefant offers lush, synth-heavy production, and Saarinen has turned toward a more nuanced, imagistic lyrical style (“What does the world want?” he wonders on the slow-jam “Thinking About Our Plans,” elongating each syllable in a pained croon).
John Mayer, Paradise Valley: This guy. Ryan Reed says:
Paradise Valley finds Mayer at his most laid-back, embellishing the open-prairie folk of his previous album, Born and Raised, with breezy vocal harmonies and jazzy electric guitar nectar. Whether he’s in wistful-daydreamer mode (the shuffling country-folk of “Dear Marie”) or channeling his inner Slowhand (the impeccable, guitar-drenched kiss-off “Paper Doll”), Mayer’s hooks and grooves have an effortless glide to them — so much so that it’s easy to ignore that Paradise Valley is the most random, eclectic he’s ever made.
A.M.S.G., Anti-Cosmic Tyranny: No-fi people-hating black(ish) metal is weird as hell — it kind of reminds me of a less-well-adjust Xasthur, so do with that what you will. Profound Lore’s official site claims the album was, “formulated and constructed behind prison walls by mastermind and notorious black metal crime lord Angelfukk Witchhammer,” so take that at face value or don’t. What you can be assured of is that you won’t hear another metal record like this this year. Midway through the first track, a saxophone delivers a Coltrane-style solo behind some of the filthiest, most unrefined metal riffing this side of Mantas. I mean, I don’t even know where to start with this. RECOMMENDED for sheer weirdness’s sake.