I‘ve kind of slacked off on listening to the music lately; part of that is that Metric’s new album was released in June, and I’ve kind of had it on repeat. The other part is just that I haven’t felt like listening to much else. In any case, I did find a few albums I thought worth mentioning this month in addition to Metric.
Metric – Synthetica
Frankly, there wasn’t much question in my mind that once Metric’s new album came out, it would leap to the top of my favorites for the month – in fact, most likely for the year. Metric is probably my favorite currently-working band, and I’ve never yet been disappointed by any of their releases. Of course, there’s a first time for everything, but this is not that time. Naming their new album Synthetica seems like a natural move – after all, the band is well-known for their throwback use of New Wave-esque synths. But that’s not all that’s going on here; frontwoman/songwriter Emily Haines has constructed an album about the blurring and distinctions between the real and artificial, embodied life and synthetic detachment. Like most of her lyrics, the power behind these is felt rather than explained, and the music, which harkens back to the entirety of the band’s past as well as pushing forward, matches the evocative lyrics beat for beat. An easy front-runner for my favorite of the year.
It’s official. My taste is turning solidly toward the folk and folk rock quarter. I still need dense enough instrumentation to keep me going (full-on acoustic singer-songwriter down-tempo on every song still doesn’t to it for me), but with nearly five months straight of my top album being in the folk/folk-rock/alt-country vein, it’s time to stop pretending it’s unusual for me to like this stuff. A couple of years ago, I didn’t really, which is why I keep being surprised. Tastes change. I’m learning to accept it.
One Little Plane – Into the Trees
I have a few different ways of finding new bands to listen to – friends recommendations, music blogs (though I’m bad at keeping up with them), Pitchfork reviews (I rarely agree with their reviews, but they turn me onto some good bands), NPR’s First Listen. Sometimes I just look up all the releases coming out in a week and randomly add albums to my Spotify playlists because I feel like I’ve vaguely heard of the band before, or just because I like the sound of their name. It’s a total crapshoot that sometimes pays off. That’s the case with this band. I have no idea why the name “One Little Plane” struck a chord with me, but I took the plunge and started up the first song and was in love within five seconds. Led by folk singer Kathryn Bint from Chicago (whose gorgeous voice easily slides into the same zone as Amy Millan or Emily Haines), this album is folk rock with just enough contemplation mixed with just enough rich orchestration to keep me enamored.
Garbage – Not Your Kind of People
I’ve been kind of a casual fan of Garbage for a while, enjoying the songs I heard, even owning an album here or there and listening once in a while, but I hesitate to claim any more fan-status than that. Still, when I heard they were coming out with a new album, I was pretty excited to get a chance to get into an album from scratch, as it were, rather than coming to it years later. And I wasn’t disappointed…I really like pretty much every song on this album, and it’s one of the few May albums I’ve really had on repeat.
Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts
Norah Jones has always been someone on my radar who never quite hit my repeat playlist. I think her voice is lovely, often perfection in the right song. I won’t necessarily say that Little Broken Hearts is a better record than her previous ones; I don’t have the experience necessary to say that, but perhaps thanks to the Dangermouse influence as producer, it’s a big closer to my personal taste than her earlier, more straight jazz/folk leanings. There’s more going on in a lot of these songs (“Little Broken Hearts” sounds like a Southern gothic noir song straight off a Neko Case album by way of True Blood, and I love that), but then when she strips it down, like in “Miriam,” it’s some of the most beautiful and ethereal stuff I’ve heard this year.
Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
I was a big fan of Silversun Pickups’ Carnavas (though I admit to being a bit behind the curve on getting into them), but was sort of meh on their follow-up Swoon, which had a few songs (“Panic Switch”) I really loved, but largely hit me as kind of repetitive. So far, they’re back on my good side with Neck of the Woods. There are a few samey-sounding songs, but by and large, I’ve been quite happy listening through this multiple times over the past month. And the songs that are on (“Bloody Mary,” “Skin Graph,” “Mean Spirits”) are very, very on.
Best Coast – The Only Place
Oh, Best Coast. I’m not sure I would enjoy them as much as I do if they weren’t such an unabashed Los Angeles band. I mean, the title track from this album is basically an ode to how awesome living in Southern California is, and that’s something I can’t really argue with myself (a lot of people could, but I can’t – I love it here). Bethany Cosantino’s lyrics aren’t any more deep than they were on their debut album, and the songwriting’s pretty similar in scope as well. But everything’s so gorram catchy.
Beach House – Bloom
I’m not quite sure what to do with Beach House, frankly. Every time one of their songs comes on or I listen through the album, I settle back and think “yeah, this is really great, I’m loving this.” And then the next one of their songs comes on, and it sounds the exact same. And then the record ends, and I can’t differentiate any of the songs apart or remember any of the melodies. The same thing is true of their previous album. So yeah. I really like listening to them, I like their sound, but I also find it highly unmemorable.
Violens – True
This was another random “let’s throw this on the Spotify and see how it is” band, and while it obviously didn’t hit me in quite the same way as One Little Plane, I really like the sound and enjoyed the album right the way through. I haven’t been back to it as often as many of the others this month, but I’ll definitely recommend it as worth a listen or two, and it could very well grow on me in the future.
Super-sized edition this time, combining March and April since I didn’t have time to compile this post for March. But now there’s some certifiably great stuff to include, so I guess it works out okay. I’ve also switched to Spotify play widgets, which I realize are great if you have Spotify and worthless if you don’t. I apologize for that if you’re in an area without Spotify service, but the formatting on the YouTube videos I was including before was driving me crazy, and this is much cleaner and nicer. I’ll still include one YouTube video, of course.
Also, since I was going with the Spotify integration anyway, I’m going to start including a Mix at the bottom of the post with my favorite songs of the month (or two months in this case). Not only is this a good way to highlight my favorite songs off these albums, but I’ll also include songs that I really liked from albums I didn’t care for enough as a whole to include here, so you can find and check those out if you want. You can always head over to my Listening page and listen to my playlist of all my favorite songs for the year, which I update often.
As of right now, the Spotify embeds seem to be a little glitchy, so I’ll include the direct link to the mix in case it doesn’t work in the post. The albums I’ll trust you can look up on your own if you want to. :)
Jack White – Blunderbuss
I haven’t always been as big a fan of Jack White’s non-White Stripes stuff; his solo stuff was too alt-country for me (though my tastes seem to be changing on that front and I should probably revisit those), and The Dead Weather a bit too harsh, though the Raconteurs are admittedly up my alley. So even though I liked the first couple of singles, I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to feel about this album as a whole. I needn’t have worried, because I love pretty much every second of this album. So much so that I will be very surprised if it’s not in my top five at the end of the year. Bold claim, since there’s still a lot of music left to come out this year. I think this is probably the closest to the White Stripes sound he’s gotten since they split up, and for me that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of variety on the album, from the wailing minimalism of “Love Interruption” to the lilt of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and the Elvis-channeling of “I’m Shakin'” – and it’s all good.
The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea
Jonathan first got me into the Magnetic Fields, who are, it’s safe to say, his favorite band. Stephin Merritt is to him what Jenny Lewis is to me, in other words. I enjoyed the mix he gave me and need to delve deeper into their back catalog, but with this release, I’m definitely a fan as well. Usually I gravitate right toward how the music sounds and choose what to listen to based solely on that, but with The Magnetic Fields, the lyrics grabbed me just as quickly. They’re incredibly clever for one thing, but always with a jab of poignancy that gets you when you’re least expecting it. There’s also a very interesting approach to gender expression that runs throughout the lyrics, especially in the songs Merritt sings himself, but also to some degree in the ones Claudia Gonson sings (which are split about half and half on this album). Just listen to the supremely catchy “Andrew in Drag” to see what I mean. Most of their other albums have kind of a “theme” to them – distortion, 69 songs about love, songs that start with the letter “i”, etc. – but this one is kind of a mix. Lots of different styles and approaches, and yet they’re pretty much all memorable.
Month number two of keeping track of my favorite music releases ended up quite well, even if I spend a good part of the month continuing to listen to stuff from January. I guess that’s how it should be, eh? A bit of variety this month, with a bit of electronica, some country rock, some noise rock, some indie pop, and even a silent film connection. I should note that unlike my Scorecard post for movies, I’m not listing everything I listened to, but only stuff I liked to one degree or another. You can see how these fit in with the rest of the albums I’ve heard this year on my 2012 Favorites page (below the movies). And you can listen to my favorite songs of the year over here on Spotify.
Goldfrapp – The Singles
Okay, so this isn’t strictly speaking NEW music, but the album did release in February, and I have been listening to it a whole, whole lot, and I do kind of consider it my re-introduction to Goldfrapp, so I’m counting it. I’ve heard a few Goldfrapp songs before (notably “Strict Machine”), but I wasn’t enough into electronic-infused music until now to really get into her stuff. I guess Jonathan is having an effect on my musical tastes as well. I’m still not hugely into electronica, but this falls somewhere closer to the electronic end of rock for me – just a step or two beyond the synthiness of Metric or Blondie, and with good vocals and melodies layered in. It pretty much hits all my buttons, and it’s been almost on repeat all month (don’t worry, I still made time to listen to some other things), and it may not stop anytime soon. Granted, a singles album has a leg up on other albums since it’s kind of a “best of” record, but yeah, whatever.
I may have to rethink my anti-country music stance, because both of my favorite actually new albums this year have been either country or folk inflected to some degree (the other being First Aid Kit – see last month’s post). Apparently if there’s enough rock in your country rock, I may quite easily become a big fan. Which leads me to believe that it’s just modern-day Nashville that I don’t like. Erica Wennerstrom leads this band with highly distinctive growling vocals, just the right sound for this raw sound. Something in the instrumentation and power vocals (especially on “The Arrow Killed the Beast”) also reminds me of my favorite Neko Case album, Blacklisted, which I’ve heard described as “country noir.” That epithet fits Arrow as well.
One of the cool things about Spotify is that I can introduce myself to bands that I had no idea existed before – I can usually find out about hot new bands from Stereogum or other buzz-tracking blogs, but sometimes one slips through the buzz cracks. Tennis is husband-wife duo (my favorite thing!) Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley from Denver, and they’re on their second album with Young & Old. I’m not sure they’ll reach the upper echelons of my musical taste that husband-wife duos like Mates of State and The Submarines enjoy, but they definitely put a smile on my face with these songs.
After hearing the opening bit of this album, I was all prepared to dislike and dismiss it – it’s a little too noisy and chaotic for me at the beginning, with the shouting going on under the singing. But I decided to stick it through and listen to the whole album at least once, and somewhere by the fourth song or so, I found myself genuinely enjoying it, as it settled into just the right amount of noise rock. By the end, I was ready to immediately play it again. That’s not been the norm as I try to take in two or three new releases a week lately, so it was a refreshing surprise. (I can’t remember if I’ve listened to their previous releases or not; I’ve certainly been aware of the name, but perhaps I dismissed them too early before, as I almost did this time.)
Fanfarlo is a fun band, and very personable the time I met them after a show at Amoeba – I even have a signed ‘7 from them. :) Even though I find this new release lightly enjoyable, I can’t say I’m a big fan, though. I won’t turn it off, but it runs a bit to the overly twee/hipster side, even for me. The song “Shiny Things” (see video below) is fairly solid and avoids some of the unnecessary quirk, but it’s all over “Replicate.”
Being the burgeoning silent cinema aficionado that I am, I couldn’t let this one pass me by. I’ve heard various things by Air over the years, and it’s never really been my thing as anything but a novelty, and to be honest, that’s pretty much what this is. They were tasked with writing a new original score for Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon, newly restored in its original hand-colored version, and this album is that score plus a few more tracks. I don’t love it, but it’s an interesting fit with the film most of the time.
Most of my music posting ends up limited to the random music video I happen to come across when I’m in a posting mood and year end-lists. I still want to focus mostly on movies here, but I figured as I’m using Spotify heavily this year to try to at least listen through a whole bunch more albums this year, I could do a month-end post with the things I’ve discovered or enjoyed the most.
The one major caveat with music as opposed to movies is that music tends to jump around far more wildly on my lists than movies. Movies I can generally watch once and have a pretty good idea how much I liked it. My feelings towards specific music is far more variable, and depends a lot on how much I listen to it. Of course, if I really dislike something, I’m unlikely to listen to it again, but among things I like or love nothing’s ever set in stone. All I’ll say are these are all albums I’m enjoying now to one degree or another, and that deserves a mention in case you might like them too.
The first album of the year that I’ve really loved, and after only a couple of listens, too. Usually it takes more than that, but this Swedish duo with their hippie-looking cover somehow snuck into earworm status almost immediately. The country-folksy thing doesn’t always work for me, but this is well within the indie style country folksy that I’ve grown to like. Beyond that, it’s got a touch of an almost medieval feel in cadence and intervals (at least in some of the songs – the title song in particular). And I love those close harmonies and epic orchestrations. Yeah, instant fan.
This is just good old-fashioned rock. I didn’t even realize until I was just looking up videos for this post that these guys are apparently all 14 years old. Probably not really, but they definitely look young. Whatever, they make music that I can totally jam out to over and over. A scary number of the songs on this album have already made it on my ongoing Favorite Songs of 2012 playlist.
I liked The Big Pink’s previous album, but I never quite listened to it enough for it to reach loved status, and I mostly remember the couple of singles off it. I’m getting the jump on this new one, and I quite like it as well. Some songs get a bit too “dance-y” for me, but for the most part, it’s bit anthem rock, and it’s pretty catch stuff.
This video places these guys firmly within the quirky indie rock tradition, what with all the cut-out words and jumping around switching clothes. That’s all right with me! The rest of the album has the same upbeat feel. I only recently started listening to this one, but I imagine it will get a lot more play over the next few weeks and months.
Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
I actually remember picking up a Nada Surf CD from the library when I was back in college and beginning to explore what different music was out there. I couldn’t tell you now which album that even was, but I enjoyed it without really latching onto it. When I saw this new one pop up on NPR’s First Listen, I figured I’d give it a try, and it’s also pretty enjoyable stuff. Definitely worth a listen, and I might go back and try out some of their older stuff again as well. Also, the title is awesome.
Not always do I get into singer-songwriter type stuff, but Edwards quite reminds me of Kathryn Calder, the New Pornographers singer who came out with a solo album I liked very much a couple of years ago. Similar pure voice, solid songwriting backed up by some really nice and often very full orchestrations. I think Edwards has actually been around longer, but whatever. This may not stay high on my list as the months go on, but I do like it.
I’m kind of split on this one – some of the songs (like the ones I’ve included below – you actually have to click through to YouTube for them; embeds are limited) are pretty awesome, with strong instrumentation of the type that makes me not mind when songs have long instrumental sections, and raw vocals that work with the music. Other songs sound like a mediocre alternative band from the ’90s. Plus, the whole thing is rather short. Still, when this album is good, it’s very, very good.