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.
It’s a gutsy move to call your album Singles, but in the case of Future Islands, their fourth album and first for 4AD, it’s appropriate. The album is packed with songs that are both immaculately written and catchy as hell, as Future Islands mine new wave and pop-rock for all they’re worth. Just as lead singer Samuel Herring’s dynamite performance style and swingin’ dance moves have won people over (David Letterman, famously), the band gives it their all on songs like “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, is given the perfect backdrop of stargazing new-wave rock that should bring together fans of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cure to The Killers with lighter-waving glee. The synths of “Spirit” bring up memories of B-Movie's “Nowhere Girl,” but Herring’s unique voice keep Future Islands from ever veering into purely nostalgic territory. “A Song For Our Grandfathers” is dreamy yet packs an emotional punch. Herring seems to get more and more insistent over the sprightly “Light House,” almost completely out of step with the band, yet it works so much better than it would have if he played it straight, getting in your face and making it impossible to merely have the song on in the background. On “Like the Moon,” a sexy, pulsating groove gives Herring the chance to kill it vocally, crooning romantically. But his best vocal performance comes next, on “Fall From Grace”—over a simple waltz, Herring goes deep into the bowels of his voice to deliver a performance somewhere between Tom Waits, The National’s Matt Berniger and a black metal singer. Charisma like his doesn’t come around all the time, and as a band, Future Islands are smart enough to stay out of the way while crafting terrific songs that stand on their own. Before you know it, you’ve listened to Singles like five times and still can’t wait to hear it again.
The War on Drugs’ dreamy country-rock music evokes slow motion, even as its songs move at a sprightly pace. The driving rhythm behind "Under the Pressure" is caked in heavily reverbed guitars and washes of synthesizer, even as real-life guitar solos and Adam Granduciel's vocals come through more clearly than ever before. Similarly "Red Eyes" is like some lost '80s collaboration between The Highwaymen and The Cure, effusing brilliant colors with its bright synths and yelping vocals, but the most stunning moment comes in the minute or so in the middle of the songs when a third of the sound is stripped away, leaving a gorgeous, introspective bridge before Granduciel's yelp brings everything crashing back, while the rhythm stays insistent as always. Lost in the Dream invites repeat listens—atmospheric pieces like "The Haunting Idle" keep things spacious, yet the band comes back for the Bruce Springsteen-vibing "Burning" in the albums latter half. As its title would suggest, it's an album to get lost in. It feels like seeing the entire open road ahead of you, coasting yet seemingly to move in place while the sun sets and middle-of-nowhere stations play Bruce and Tom Petty in the background.
Here are 12 great albums that are coming out soon. Better save your pennies!
Out March 18
Atlanta’s finest, scuzziest garage rock band is back with its seventh album. It’s co-produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. The video for “Boys in the Wood” has all kinds of homoerotic and drug-fueled forest mayhem.
Out March 18
Often when an established artist like Dean Wareham, the former lead singer of Luna and Galaxie 500, releases a self-titled album, it’s a restatement of purpose or sound. However, Dean Wareham really is the most Dean Wareham release yet, especially languid, dreamy and witty, even by his standards. The songs are milky and heavily reverbed, taking their cues from The Velvet Underground’s third album, while lyrically Wareham provides his typically engaging specificity—“This is not my home, stuck inside a drop down menu” he sings, venting the comic frustration of tech-enabled culture. On “Happy & Free,” the drums rise above the reverie to make for one of Wareham’s loveliest rock ballads in years, harkening back to the Galaxie 500 days. While Dean Wareham is short on surprises from the singer/songwriter, it’s also a terrifically concise, at nine solid songs, and immensely enjoyable. It’s thoroughly appealing for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with the Wareham’s music.