Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Nilsson, better known as Tove Lo, has been gaining momentum and mainstream attention since 2012. In her debut EP Truth Serum the pop phenomenon unabashedly admits, “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs/Watching freaky people getting it on.” It wasn’t until that track “Habits (Stay High)” off Truth Serum was remixed by experimental hip-hop producers Hippie Sabotage that Tove Lo received international attention. Now that she has received the attention of the masses, her true confessional has begun. Much like her debut EP, Queen Of The Clouds remains brash and earnest, although it now takes on a narrative style that the full-length has afforded her. The album is split into three different segments: “The Sex,” “The Love,” and “The Pain.” “The Sex” culminates in an almost hyper-dance orgasm “Timebomb.” The climactic triumph of which is only made realistic by Tove recounting, “You’re not forever, you’re not the one.” Her playful lyricism becomes more of a self-effacing tool during her love song “Moments” where she lists all of her faults and explains, “…but on good days I’m charming as fuck.” The pain of this awareness is overshadowed by her hit single “Habits (Stay High)” which is a shockingly deep portrait of a personal relationship and the effects it had on her. The synergy between this open-book mentality and out and out club beats make this debut a lyrically dark dance charmer.
The full-length debut album from Milky Chance hits all of the German duo's varied sounds with an ease that sounds like it never left the bedroom (in a good way). Singer/songwriter Clemens Rehbein and DJ Philipp Dausch started recording songs for their friends and uploading them on the internet several years ago. They describe their genre as “folktronica” infused with jazz, soul and reggae. What that means is Milky Chance combines the folky guitar and vocals of Clemens with the acoustic-sounding (but no less electronic) beats from Phillip. This is then combined with an almost Dadaist (refer to name) lyrical style and lack of convention and… Sadnecessary . No wonder they have captured the hearts and minds of kids and adults alike on the internet and off.
Bloodshot Records is a biggie in the indie music world. The Chicago based label has represented such various artists like Neko Case, Old 97s, The Sadies, the Gore Gore Girls, and Ryan Adams, that referring to them as "varied" might be a bit of an understatement. Now twenty years since their inceptions, respect is being paid by an even LARGER variety of artists like Shakey Graves, Andrew Bird, Chuck Ragan, The Minus 5, and Superchunk in a variety of tribute tracks representing the diversity and wide catalog of music that has been birthed out of Bloodshot Records. Not just a mere tribute, but a true letter of love to one of contemporary music's most eclectic and influential labels.
After his 2013 GRAMMY winning Steppin Out , Herb Alpert, at 79 years old is still at it and making surprising innovative music in 2014. In The Mood is a spirited re-imagining of classic jazz tunes, as well as a few originals. Opening with the familiar Glenn Miller tune "Chattanooga Choo Choo," Herb's more modern arrangement is built on loops provided by his nephew Randy Badazz Alpert. "It's a little bit electronic, with some jazz floating over the top of it at times," Herb says. The album features inspired versions of "Begin The Beguine," the Everly Brothers tribute "Let It Be Me," as well as several tunes featuring the vocals of Lani Hall, the former singer of Sergio Mendes' Brasil '66 and Alpert's wife of 40 years. In The Mood proves it is always exciting to see a true artist forging a new way to approach his sound.
With the help of some ace vocalists, Aussie producer duo Flight Facilities have a seductively cool debut album on their hands. Singer/songwriter Emma Louise sells the soft and sensual “Two Bodies.” “Comedy Bang Bang’s” Reggie Watts proves a soulful crooner on the groovy “Sunshine.” The whistling, beat-driven “Stand Still” leaves you doing anything but, while singer/producer Stee Downes helps the duo remake adult contemporary synth-funk on “Hold Me Down.” The non-vocal tracks are just as sweet, with found recordings serving to add a dose of drama to the duo’s silky synth sounds. Flight Facilities could go further to distinguish themselves, but what they do, they do very well. And songs like “Crave You” have a lot of personality—pop singer Giselle pines away, “Why can’t you want me like the other boys do? They stare at me, while I stare at you,” over the duo’s jazz-inspired production. Consistently engaging and immaculately made, it’s a project that ultimately soars.
Seth MacFarlane might be known more for being the king of crass animated shows like Family Guy and American Dad , but who knew the voice of Peter Griffin had the pipes to belt out holiday classics while simultaneously invoking the energy of Fred Astaire? Sprinkled with goofy humor and arrangements right out of Arthur Freed's MGM musicals, Seth MacFarlane plays it (mostly) straight with iconic vocalists like Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles joining in to add a bit more class to the mix. A couple of martinis and Holiday for Swing! , and December will feel like June in no time.
Mac DeMarco wrongly gets called “slacker rock.” At only 23 he’s releasing his third album, and it’s one of the best things we’ve heard all year. The title track is a swaying, gleefully glum blues track, its charming, singalong quality masking some quarterlife crisis (“Always feeling tired, smiling when required/write another year off and kindly resign,” suggesting some darkness behind DeMarco’s goofy grin). “Brother” features DeMarco sumptuously singing while milky guitars dance beneath the surface. It’s one of the loveliest tunes he’s ever produced. Songs like “Goodbye Weekend,” with its woozy, intoxicating guitar line and lovely jazz tones, speak to what a strong songwriter DeMarco has always been beneath it all. And while he’s all the better for ditching some of the affectations he sported on the still-great Rock and Roll Night Club in favor of a streamlined sound he’s dubbed “jizz jazz,” DeMarco can still pull some conceptually striking songs, like “Passing Out the Pieces,” which uses heavily effected harpsichord and booming synth-bass to create miraculous millennial psychedelia, pulling in some of the good ol’ Beatles/Kinks/Beach Boys influence he’s seemed to (probably smartly) avoid showing thus far in his career. Salad Days shows DeMarco to be a classical songwriter with the ability to turn an amiable, if not immediately memorable, voice and intricate yet mangled guitarwork into tunes that pull at you in unexpected, emotional ways. So he can’t be bothered to shower or cut his hair—we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The smooth vibrations of ODESZA are fuzzy and softer than ever with their sophomore triumph, In Retur n. With never a dull moment, ODESZA creates a sonic ether of syncopated, African style percussion, chiptune arpeggios and and minimal synth flare, turning something a lesser artist would filter into derivative dance hits. The unique blend of wild sounds turn each track into a Technicolor pastiche of electronic bliss.
EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints was the terrifically auspicious art-pop debut by Erika M. Anderson aka EMA. Any question as to whether she could replicate its success or even top it is quickly silenced as we listen through her follow-up. The Future’s Void is bigger, bolder and more affecting all around. It’s also a lot more fun, as it seems Anderson has taken a young lifetime of growing up listening to KROQ and made those formative influences into something truly fascinating. She swings big on songs like opener “Satellites,” coming off like a millennial successor to PJ Harvey, with all of the fury and inventiveness that would suggest. She also dabbles in sunny SoCal power-pop (“So Blonde”), touches on Depeche Mode-style emotional synth-pop (“Cthulu”) and writes ballads that don’t suck (“3Jane,” which draws its power from a simple “Be My Baby” beat, droning pianos and Anderson’s world-weary vocals). The biggest improvement here is Anderson’s vocal ability and overall presence, as she tears her voice to shreds in the choruses of “So Blonde.” She comes off like a female Trent Reznor on the aptly titled “Smoulder” and really makes us feel on “3Jane,” even as she throws in a cynical line like “it’s all just a big advertising campaign.” It’s sometimes tough to know exactly what she’s getting at, given The Future’s Void ’s wild turns, but taken as a whole, it’s an incredibly strong piece of work. Its fragmentation seems to be part of the message. If the future’s void, we can be whatever we want.
Ben Howard, alongside his fellow bandmates Chris Bond and India Bourne, release I Forget Where We Were , a follow up to 2011’s Every Kingdom . In his sophomore effort Howard pushes himself and those around him further musically while maintaining melodies as striking as his first outing. This makes for a less accessible but more moody atmospheric listen. I Forget Where We Were , while fueled with agile finger picking, hammering and other guitar antics, is both lyrically and musically haunting. The album's true hold on the listener is far more mesmerizing than virtuosity alone.
Beautiful and talented U.K. singer/dancer FKA Twigs’ first full-length album is here to explode some minds. Her voice transports you to a world where reality and imagination is blurred to the point of pure ecstasy. Her style of unique ethereal R&B with a little bit of trip-hop is like a breath of fresh air with a cherry on top. - Nick@Nite, San Francisco my friend chris sent me a link last year and i was intrigued. minimal and eccentric, this record is so textured and effortless. it doesn't feel manufactured or forced, and the eerie wash of abstract sound comes alive with the whispery vocals. it is sensual and compelling and… rich.
Conceived by its members as the fusion between a synth take on The Sound of Music and amelodic No Wave, The Drums craft compellingly tumultuous music on Encyclopedia. Thrilling opener “Magic Mountain” is about as far from The Drums’ first album and its sunny Cure-at-the-beach vibe as you could get, its highwire vocal doing battle against fraught guitars and theramin. You can hear that Sound of Music thing on songs like “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him,” a girl-group-style ode to drifting apart with shooting-star synthesizers and misery-laden guitars. “Kiss Me Again” feels a bit like The Drums’ earlier work, particularly the more frantic Portamento , but the newness comes in how adventurous founding members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham allow themselves to be melodically while remembering how great they are at writing hooks like “kiss me again” sung out into infinity. Encyclopedia is definitely more of a bummer record, but there are some really nice classical melodies buried under the mopeyness and experimentation—“Break My Heart” is a great Brian Wilson-style lament, even as it slowly struts off the pier. And when they go full force on the “Face of God,” it’s like a surf song about a tidal wave, as its vocals suggest tragedy and its bassline and synths creep too far upward to tingle at the back of your neck. It’s like the aural equivalent of losing your innocence and becoming bitter, reminiscent of Weezer’s evolution from The Blue Album to Pinkerton , full of catchy tunes that are chewed and spit out. So Encylopedia stings a little, but in a good way.