Conor Oberst- Upside Down Mountain
Release Date: 05/19/2013
In 1998 Conor Oberst was releasing his second album under the moniker of Bright Eyes entitled Letting Off the Happiness, where the opening track “If Winter Ends” triumphantly sings the lyrics “Because if I can’t learn to make myself feel better/ How can I expect anyone else to give a shit“. Oberst was an 18 year old when he sang those lines, and he became a folk-hero for an audience of validation-starved listeners because of how he seemed to be capable of articulating their problems into his music time and time again. But in the present Bright Eyes is over (at least for the moment) and Oberst is a thirty-four year old man who has become a lot more comfortable with himself in his music. Consider that the single of the album “Hundreds of Ways” carries the chorus of how “There are hundreds of ways/ To get through the day/ Just find one“. It’s similar to Modest Mouse’s “Float on Moment” in how odd it sounds compared to the earlier work which led to this point, but another shared similarity is that this oddity doesn’t necessarily contradict itself. Oberst has grown as an artist since he was a kid and now leans closer to a traditional folk and country cross-over sound, and his career has led him to stay away from the angst which drove him before and instead focus upon finding some sort of comfort in the world while he’s still alive. This makes Upside Down Mountain an oddly hopeful album which is highlighted by the imagery and diction of Oberst’s dropping and honestly imperfect vocals. The primary issue to be held against the album is that the sound doesn’t change much in between the tracks, and the slow progression creates a product which can feel dragged out towards the latter moments. Despite that, here’s still enough fascinating lyricism present to call Upside Down Mountain a solid release even when compared to the catalogue of one of my favorite artists and perhaps the premiere folk artist of the 21st century so far.
Top Tracks: “Time Forgot”, “Hundreds of Ways”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Days of Abandon
Release Date: 05/11/2014
Earlier in this year as I created a list about artists who were due for a release in 2014 I talked about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart as an artist who were primed for an album-of-the-year type of release within the year. The reasoning behind this is that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are a band entering their prime at the moment and coming off of two excellent releases in The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in 2009 and more recently Belong in 2011. Pains is a band which has been consistently fun and danceable in their past, and that continues on Days of Abandon as the pop qualities of the music are still obvious and melodic, but the disappointment stems from the band not taking that next step which would have catapulted them into indie stardom. Days of Abandon is a missed opportunity in that way as it’s likely the weakest album by the band at this point in their career; it lacks the single qualities which earlier releases carried. Still, this is still an album which does highlight the band’s strengths and shows that they really are one of the premiere pop groups of the moment even in a disappointing release. There’s better representations of the band, but Days of Abandon is still an easily enjoyed listen because of it’s melodies and consistent lightness.
Top Tracks: “Beautiful You”, “Art Smock”
Baths- Ocean Death EP
Release Date: 05/06/2014
Will Wiesenfeld, the man behind Baths, stays pretty and thoughtful on this release as the Ocean Death EP sounds similar to what I was expecting to hear from Michael Angelakos on Passion Pit’s ‘dark’ 2012 release Gossamer. The voice similarity between those two is uncanny and makes the comparison between them seemingly inevitable, but a nice thing about Baths’ is that the artist brings a lot to the table by keeping the music further in the background and deeper in tone. It’s still electronic-pop meaning that the primary principle of the music is that it has to be danceable, and thankfully Ocean Death fulfills this while still giving the listener terrifically creative lyricism like “We can talk, We can talk all you want / You don’t speak to me” on personal favorite track “Orator”. The lasting impression from this EP is that it’s a great sampling of sound by an artist which is consistently easy to enjoy, but also a release which is best displayed as an EP because of doubts about how enjoyable the product would be if it was stretched out into a full album. Since it’s kept in a shorter format though there’s no need to worry about this, and you can view Ocean Death as an interestingly fun EP which is well worth the listen.
Top Tracks: “Orator”, “Ocean Death”
The Hold Steady- Teeth Dreams
Release Date: 03/25/2014
One of the most impressive aspects of The Hold Steady’s discography is how their songs have shown a wide variation of sound while the band aged, a sound which has shifted from album to album despite being, for the lack of a better word, formulaic. The appeal of The Hold Steady which has garnered them an impressively dedicated crowd comes from the ‘live’ aspect of their sound which translates into the recorded product, and the energy which accompanies this alongside lead singer Craig Finn’s eloquently vague lyricism. The issue here is that Teeth Dreams is missing the keys that made Boys and Girls in America a joy to laughingly dance to back in 2006 because of the recent departure of Franz Nicolay, and it also doesn’t pack nearly the punch which carried either Separation Sunday or Almost Killed Me did in their most ambitious moments. And so it’s safe to say that this album isn’t the band at it’s best, but an album which continues and perhaps even intensifies the issues of it’s mediocre predecessor Heaven is Whenever in 2010. The music world is in Hold Steady purgatory at the moment where everything that will likely define the band’s career has passed by now, and the rest of what we hear is more similar to an extended farewell tour then a band worthy of releasing new material. All this being said, it would still be a fun farewell show to see.
Top Tracks: “Spinners”, “Almost Everything”
Metronomy- Love Letters
Release Date: 03/10/2014
The Primary impression of Love Letters was that it might have been the unexpected gem album of the year, as the beautifully patient pop track “The Upsetter” opens up the album to grand expectation. It doest die down quickly afterwards, but by the time that the end of the album arrives you realize that the sound has only been descending, or perhaps from an optimistic viewpoint ‘plateauing’ for the past twenty minutes. This is disappointing as a listener because the album’s sound could be described as consistently enjoyable, but the full product becomes so easy to tune out that it is most certainly not capable of being viewed as a terrific comprehensive album. Instead it’s a good release by the band which contains a few terrific songs within it, but a release which should become characterized by it’s almost habitual quality of missing the little thing which would have made it great.
Top Tracks: “The Upsetter”, “Monstrous”
Kishi Bashi- Lighght
Release Date: 05/13/2014
Back in 2012 Kishi Bashi came out with a debut album named 151a which showed that this multi-instrumentalist who was formerly a touring member of the Kevin Barnes-led band Of Montreal had an impressive amount of talent of his own. It was a beautiful creation of orchestral pop which contained music which contained complex, interesting, and melodic music that garnered Bashi some attention due to it’s consistent quality and single appeal in tracks like “Bright Whites” and “It All Began With a Burst”. So does Lighght bring Kishi Bashi back to earth? In some ways, yes. There are more tracks on the album which are stripped down and more direct than anything which was heard on it’s predecessor and thus less ambitious in some aspects, but these tracks actually stand alongside the orchestral pop terrifically well and have become the high-point of the album because of how they display a form of variation which was actually missing before. Kishi Bashi creates some absolutely tremendous music to listen to once again on Lighght, and if you’re a fan of a more complex form of pop similar to what you see in Of Montreal’s chaotically melodic period then I would highly recommend you give Kishi Bashi a listen sooner rather than later.
Top Tracks: “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!”, “In Fantasia”
Future Islands- Singles
Release Date: 03/24/2014
Future Islands is a band that’s difficult to throw into a musical category. There’s heavy use of synthesizers, and genre wise it’s somewhere between pop and rock, but the way that the vocals seem to clash with the instrumentation in an unexpectedly fitting way gives this band their own unique sound. It’s difficult to confuse a Future Islands album with anything else, and their 4AD debut Singles reveals that they are still capable of creating the great sounds which have defined their discography and live performances in the past. Singles is filled with consistently pleasant listens which can either soothe your mind such as “A Song for Our Grandfathers”, or give you an easy excuse to dance like what “Sun in the Morning” provides. It caps out at a B+ here only because Singles sounds just like what it’s name suggests, a collection of singles which lacks the continuity of a great album. That being said, this album will be a great one to throw on and relax to for the upcoming months surely!
Top Tracks: “Seasons (Waiting on You)”, “Sun in the Morning”
Perfect Pussy- Say Yes To Love
Release Date: 03/18/2014
Things have been progressing rather quickly for the noise-rock band who hail from Syracuse. It started with them gaining the attention of national music publications who shared their singles last year, and it’s now grown to both give them a record deal and allow them to become one of the top live-performance stories of the past CMJ festival in New York City. Say Yes to Love clocks in at twenty-three minutes long and contains eight tracks, careening between energy paced rock and long segments of transitional empty noise in the process. These qualities make the listen seem more similar to a demo tape than a debut album, but the rawness of the approach actually helps here more than it hurts because it helps to create the feeling of music which is immediately present to the listener. Perfect Pussy gets a lot of the credit that they do because of how consistently this immediacy is present in their music, but the band really does needs to improve significantly in songwriting before they can claim to fully deserve the attention which they’ve received thus far. It’s doubtful that the band will be sending out apology notes for this however, and to be fair if I could claim a song as good as “Interference Fits” is then I probably wouldn’t be doing that either. It might just be that consistently good songs will require being patient with the band who have received about every opportunity except that up until this point.
Top Tracks: “Interference Fits”, “Big Stars”
Architecture in Helsinki- Now + 4EVA
Release Date: 03/28/2014
This Australian indie-pop group’s music used to be identified by how simple it was to enjoy in earlier albums of theirs like In Case We Die and Fingers Crossed. Those were albums which although light in substance at times, remained fun and at least semi-thought provoking for their duration. Perhaps a band creating their fifth studio album has a good reason to stray from this, but the combination of pop and disco qualities on Now + 4Eva has turned Architecture in Helsinki into a group who’s lost touch with their sentimentality in a similar sense to what’s happened to Ra Ra Riot post-The Rhumb Line. It’s discouraging to listen to because it’s obvious in the opening moments of the first track “In the Future” that this album will accept loose hypotheticals as legitimate song topics and rely on pop qualities to save the song. The group is still very good at overlapping vocals and added instrumentations to their credit, but I’d argue that these are strengths which have been displayed elsewhere in their discography even more impressively than on Now +4Eva. From here on out it appears that there are two justifiable routes for the band: either fully committing to a more electronic sound with the focus being set upon top notch production, or returning to a more stripped-down sound with focus placed upon creatively genuine song topics. Anything else just damages the lasting perception of the work which has been completed beforehand.
Top Tracks: “Born to Convince You”, “Dream a Little Crazy”
Beck- Morning Phase
Release Date: 02/21/2014
Beck is an excellent musician to familiarize yourself with if you enjoy an artist who’s willing to challenge themselves consistently in redefining their sound. Throughout his discography his music has changed drastically, from early lo-fi recordings to sarcastic electronic funk, the man has covered a lot of the possible sounds on the spectrum. Morning Phase is an album which is meant to exist as the companion to an album which is commonly viewed as one of Beck’s best in Sea Change, and this new album carries over similar qualities from there in how it displays Beck in the most straight-forward way we’ve been able to access his music yet. A lot of the focus on Morning Phase is placed upon the harmonies present, which alongside the orchestral pop qualities makes this a pretty product to listen to. The negative here is that this newest release does lack the ambitiousness of the best material which Beck has been involved in, but it doesn’t stop Morning Phase from being an easily enjoyable record from front to back.
Top Tracks: “Blue Moon”, “Morning”
The War on Drugs- Lost in the Dream
Release Date: 03/18/2014
When Kurt Vile left The War on Drugs it didn’t have to much to do with stylistic differences between himself and the band, the semi-shoegaze and ambient sounds of last year’s Wakin On A Pretty Daze are easily compared to work done here on Lost in the Dream afterall. The reported reason for why this separation actually occurred is that Vile wanted to focus his attention to his solo career, but here we’re able to see that another reason for why it may have occurred is that the group would have received significant input from Adam Granduciel whether Vile wanted to be the primary voice in this project or not. I state this because The War on Drugs hasn’t missed a step yet, and for that you give credit to the band for creating consistently interesting musical compositions filled with well placed jams and fantastic production. Lost in the Dream is a terrific album to just lose yourself to, it’s a relaxing listen which doesn’t demand your attention because it knows that you’ll be listening anyway. It is an album which asks the listener to be patient with it however as a majority of the tracks last longer than five minutes and don’t necessarily tell narrative stories, making the music more about a feeling than anything else. If you enjoy listening to relaxing music featuring consistent instrumental breaks than this one would be recommended for you.
Top Tracks: “Eyes to the Wind”, “Red Eyes”
Foster the People- Supermodel
Release Date: 03/14/2014
The band who was able to capture the world’s attention with their single “Pumped Up Kicks” back in 2011 has found themselves in an undesirable situation for the sake of their career. That’s because despite the ambitiousness which the band has tried to portray on their sophomore release, it hasn’t accomplished it’s primary job of destroying the synonymous relationship between the aforementioned single and the group as a whole. That’s how one-hit wonders seemingly become solidified, because if you can’t talk about a band without bringing attention to a specific past song of theirs then every listener has no reason to hope that the best is still yet to come. Supermodel isn’t a complete swing and a miss however as the group still does display some fun tracks within the realm of pop beauty, and the style does change enough to make it an interesting comparison to their debut album Torches. The issue is that nothing here sounds fully inspired, and the moments that exist which seem to suggest some form of inspiration quickly revert back to mundane melodies, a habit which displayed itself on this album with disappointingly consistent results. Supermodel is a sophomore album which sounds like it was released because their sophomore album was due, but there’s no need to jump off the bandwagon quite yet if you’re a fan of the band because they could come back from this.
Top Tracks: “Ask Yourself”, “Fire Escape”
Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else
Release Date: 04/01/2014
The last time that we heard from this Cleveland based noise-rock band they gave us one of the best albums of 2012 in Attack on Memory. That album captured the attention of many critics because of it’s consistent energy from song to song while shifting between pop-punk and garage, and a lot of the followup after this release said that future sounds from the band were going to lean more towards the garage-rock sound since they felt that was more of a strength and natural noise for frontman Dylan Baldi to sing in. This is what makes the accessibility of Here and Nowhere Else a bit of a shock. You knew that the energy was going to be there, but the band has made a point of not sacrificing their hooks in the process along with a pleasantly surprising amount of vocals being present. It’s a Cloud Nothings album which you could mosh to, the probable preferred method if you were to ask the band, but it’s also a fun and energetic album which the listener can enjoy passively. I highly recommend giving Here and Nowhere Else a listen as this is the album which I’d call my favorite album of 2014 to this point.
Favorite tracks: “No Hear In”, “I’m Not Part of Me”
Real Estate- Atlas
Release Date: 03/04/2014
Real Estate is one of the premiere easy listening bands that you can turn to today, but there were some reasons to be cautious about what approach the band would take with it’s third studio album. As the band becomes more established they will continue to find themselves in situations where they could understandably flirt with the idea of changing their style for a more vocalized approach, but there hasn’t been much of an indication that this is something which the band is looking for. On the surface that seems disappointing because nobody wants to hear a band release the same album under a different name, but Atlas is better described as being an album with the same sound in new ways.
Real Estate stuck to their strengths here by making a soft-pop album which makes the room feel like a suburban escape, and they try out some new approaches to the sub-genre in the process to show that the band is still further exploring the style which they fit into so naturally. “Talking Backwards” is a surprisingly upbeat and pretty tune to prepare you for the upcoming spring, while “Crime” has an interesting duality to it with progression existing alongside passivity. “How Might I Live” is the most unique track on the album featuring guest vocalist Dean Wareham and sounding similar to one of the softer tracks by Noah and the Whale.
Track Picks: “Talking Backwards”, “April’s Song”
St. Vincent- St. Vincent
Release Date: 02/24/2014
Annie Clark’s released a difficult product to review for her self-titled fourth album, as it can be a frustrating experience where the music is focused more upon variation of noise sources rather than creativity in rhythm. The music could improve in that aspect substantially, but there’s also a lot of techniques here which St. Vincent does impressively which deserve to be praised. For starters, Annie Clark has a terrific sense how to sing pop with her pitch and phrasing fitting seamlessly into her tracks, and she deserves a large amount of credit for releasing an album which is very detailed in how it’s layered and well-produced (An important accomplishment since a wide array of instruments and a full background choir are added to the final product cleanly). Annie Clark is a very confident musician who’s had the incredible fortune of being able to work with talented artists such as David Byrne and Sufjan Stevens among others up to this point in her career and she has taken advantage of these circumstances to become a well articulated songwriter in the process. St. Vincent isn’t a showing of the genius which her music seems to hint she has the potential of reaching though, instead it’s another tease to place some terrific musical qualities into an album which is good but never great.
Track Picks: “Prince Johnny”, “Regret”
We missed a few days there while our radio station took a retreat to Dippikill, but its nice to be able to resume this project on an important date. Lou Reed’s passing last year left a strong impact on the music scene as many prolific artists from various genres chose to show their respect to the former lead singer of The Velvet Underground. Today would have been Reed’s 72nd birthday, and he’s one of those figures that I enjoy paying tribute to as often as I can, so with that in mind today’s Song-A-Day is going to go to the track “Here She Comes Now” off of White Light/White Heat.
Happy 86th Birthday to Fats Domino! Music has changed a lot since the times when this man’s music was constantly on the charts, but the quality of his compositions remains as apparent today as it was then. Congratulations for staying strong, out Song-A-Day goes to you with your hit “I’m Walkin”.
George Harrison was born on February 25 back in 1943, and is perhaps the best example in music history of a musician gaining their voice in the creative process mid-way through their career. Today’s Song-A-Day goes to his contribution to Sgt. Peppers in “Within You, Without You”.
One of the best upcoming rappers out there still can’t drink legally in the US, happy 20th birthday to Earl Sweatshirt from Odd Future, our Song-A-Day goes to him with “Blade”.
Today’s Song-A-Day gives you some current music, this one is off of Angel Olson’s new album titled Burn Your Fire For No Witness with the song “Enemy”.