It is now almost exactly halfway through 2014! It’s time to look back on the last six months and see what’s it’s had to offer music-wise. There’s already been a bunch of great records released this year, including a couple of excellent ones released just this week. If you haven’t checked these out, they’re all worth getting—pick ’em all up and catch up on what you’ve been missing.
Some people write memoirs. Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek write songs crammed with details, from a brutal story about a distant cousin’s death by a freak fire to mundane details about Panera bread and sports bar shit on the walls, that somehow come together to form something called a life. Just when you feel like the songs are too stuffed to keep up, Kozelek will let his breathy “sadcore” folk open up and focus on a seemingly trivial line like “blue crab cakes” in the song “Ben's My Friend,” and in doing so perfectly captures the weird things that stick out in our heads when we reflect. Simply put, listening is like attending a master class in songwriting.
Let’s just say Swans’ To Be Kind isn’t an album you put on while you’re working. It’s an album where you light some candles, lower the lights, stop what you're doing and put it on in order to fully experience the moving madness Michael Gira and co. have created on the two-hour album. You’d do the same for a great film. Besides being a remarkable, if occasionally difficult and harrowing album, To Be Kind hearkens back to a time when albums were treated as events, things to be fully absorbed rather than sampled and tossed like so many records. We can thank them for reminding us of that. And don’t be afraid—To Be Kind has an oft-overlooked, David Lynch-style black humor that makes its orchestral calamity more palatable.
Instead of reinventing their sound, Real Estate perfect it on their third album of reverb-laden guitar rock that jangles softly like car keys in a suburban station wagon.
Goofy as he may be, Mac DeMarco is a brilliant songwriter. Salad Days proves this by letting go of any schlock whatsoever, instead focusing on DeMarco’s talents as a capable guitarist, singer and songwriter of classical tendency and casual grace.
Annie Clark just keeps getting better. Her fourth solo full-length goes the self-titled route for her most confident set of songs yet, utilizing her experimentation and heady wordplay in service of writing great pop songs, like the frenetic “Birth in Reverse,” skronky “Digital Witness” and poignant “Prince Johnny.”
Electronic music that isn’t shitty brostep or dance-pop often gets wrongly derided by rock fans as boring bleep bloop music, so it’s great to have someone as playful and funny as Todd Terje around to bridge the gap. Terje takes us from the pool to the disco and back to his place for a nightcap on the whirlwind It’s Album Time, traipsing through decades and genres while retaining a knowing, leisure-suited wink. And, just for fun, Bryan Ferry stops by for the touching synth ballad “Johnny and Mary.”
The first of two albums released this week that have shot up the charts of best albums of the year, Sea When Absent makes A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s dream-pop surrealism feel more concrete, yet never more special.
A brilliant collaboration that only seems tossed off at first glance. Madlib’s beats are as strong as ever (listen to the Pinata Beats solo for the full effect of his psychedelic soul trips), and Freddie Gibbs (with some help from Raekwon, Danny Brown, Scarface and others) doles out a steady flow that never lets up, feeling like a true collaboration. What Pinata actually is, is effortlessly enjoyable.
The other album released this week that’s sure to go down as one of the best of the year comes from How to Dress Well, as Tom Krell’s indie R&B project goes from great but self-consciously cool lo-fi soul to brazenly, all-embracing electronic pop with real heart. The Lover’s Lane album of 2014.
The War on Drugs’ bleary-eyed country rock builds out its glassy expanses of sound even farther on Lost in the Dream. It’s like falling asleep in the car during a long road trip and having decades of AM radio rock, new wave and folk rock filter through your dreams, coming out nostalgic yet instantly new and memorable at the same time.
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