Friday, January 23, 2015

Also recommended in 2014

Sampling hundreds of releases is a monumental task, and it's not a perfect arrangement -- there are albums to which I feel obligated to give my full attention even if they aren't incredibly interesting to me personally, and then there are those with considerable potential that fall by the wayside in the attempt to hear as much as possible while not snapping my tenuous threads of sanity. What follows is a listing of 2014 releases that I heard, liked, but did not have time to listen to more than once or twice; thus I can't meaningfully "review" them, but I can point you in their direction and suggest they're worth your attention. So each record comes with a brief description and hopefully some indication of whether or not they may strike your particular fancy. (That may be extraneous if it's an established artist; I imagine you know how you feel about Conor Oberst already.) They will be in rotation over my way in the years to come for sure.

Where applicable, I've also noted up to three songs that really stood out to me so if you're on the Spotify or whatnot you can cut to the chase and not have to take my word for it all, not that you would do that anyway, o me droogs.

(Since I mentioned last year that I especially regretted not having more time for M.I.A.'s Matangi, this year I choose to single out Ambrose Akinmusire and Metronomy for the same reason -- they may both be under-graded here.)

***

I Break Horses: Chiaroscuro (Bella Union)
Very pretty, electro-tinged shoegaze from Sweden; more Chromatics than Cocteaus. ["You Burn" / "Faith" / "Weigh True Words"]

Blank Realm: Grassed Inn (Fire)
Brisbane noise-pop ramshacklers discover hooks, sinaglong choruses. ["Reach You on the Phone" / "Falling Down the Stairs"]

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want (Daptone)
The usual flawless classic-soul party, undemanding but sweetly addictive. ["Get Up and Get Out" / "Slow Down, Love"]

Damien Jurado: Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son (Secretly Canadian)
Baroque-ish folky concept record, alternately intimate and florid but always very classic-sounding.

Warpaint (Rough Trade)
Lush but tough psych-dream pop comes equipped with Flood's peerless sonics. Great harmonies. ["Biggy" / "Feeling Alright"]

Dum Dum Girls: Too True (Sub Pop)
Dee Dee's fine writing fits well with J&MC / Siouxsie sound. ["Rimbaud Eyes" / "Cult of Love" / "Lost Boys and Girls Club"]

Angelique Kidjo: Eve (429)
Celebrated Beninese performer's cycle about African women escapes the spectre of overproduction; the results are pure joy.

Cymbals: The Age of Fracture (Tough Love)
Emotional dancefloor synthpop, a must if only to hear singer Jack Cleverly get overwhelmed. ["The Natural World" / "You Are"]

Suzanne Vega: Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles (Amanuensis)
So great to hear her voice again, and on some superb material. ["I Never Wear White" / "Fool's Complaint" / "Silver Bridge"]

The Notwist: Close to the Glass (Sub Pop)
Long-running, tricky electro rockers from Germany fit right in with the trends now. ["Close to the Glass" / "Casino"]

Rick Ross: Mastermind (Def Jam)
Extremely fond of the part where Ross checks his bank account by phone. ["Nobody" / "Thug Cry" / "Sanctified"]

Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note)
Brilliant crossover jazz that engages immediately; some vocal cuts drag. ["Richard (Conduit)" / "Vartha" / "Marie Christie"]

Metronomy: Love Letters (Because)
Tantalizingly minimal synthpop with vulnerable shading; potentially special. ["Reservoir" / "Monstrous" / "The Upsetter"]

London Grammar: If You Wait (Columbia)
Hyped debut is strongly sung, but beats more minimal and sporadic that I was hoping. ["Wasting My Young Years" / "Shyer"]

Polar Bear: In Each and Every One (The Leaf Label)
Avant jazz not for all tastes, surprisingly accessible if you're into the aesthetic.

Young & Sick (Harvest)
Pretentious one-man show makes unpretentious dance music. ["Ghost of a Chance" / "Counting Raindrops" / "Feel Pain"]

Badbadnotgood: III (Pirates Blend)
Hip hop-tinged jazz is less immediate than Flying Lotus' similarly vibed record but no less musically sprightly.

Sylvan Esso (Partisan)
Almost feels like a relic from the coffeeshop trip hop years -- Amelia Meath finds joy in the sometimes static songs.

Conor Oberst: Upside Down Mountain (Nonesuch)
"I used to think that time was of the essence / Now I just wish I could get some sleep." ["Hundreds of Ways" / "Zigzagging Toward the Light" / "Common Knowledge"]

Hercules & Love Affair: The Feast of the Broken Heart (Moshi Moshi)
Hi-NRG disco revival is as harmless as ever, sometimes a great joy in the right context. Never probing though.

Hamilton Leithauser: Black Hours (Ribbon Music)
Solo debut from frontman of dear departed Walkmen is not as bland as it first seems, at least toward the end. ["I Retired"]

La Roux: Trouble in Paradise (Polydor)
Fresh and invigorating, beat-driven relationship laments. ["Kiss and Not Tell" / "Silent Partner" / "Uptight Downtown"]

Dilated Peoples: Directors of Photography (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
Lessons in film history and escaping your demons from Evidence et al. ["Opinions May Vary" / "Show Me the Way"]

My Brightest Diamond: This Is My Hand (Asthmatic Kitty)
Without a doubt one of America's most unheralded, powerful voices. ["Shape" / "Lover Killer" / "I Am Not the Bad Guy"]

alt-J: This Is All Yours (Infectious)
Unassuming and inviting -- even calming -- alternative rock, so of course Pitchfork loathes it. (It's no Benji.)

Allo Darlin': We Come from the Same Place (Slumberland)
Twee London aliens write lovely songs, stumble over them charmingly. ["Half Heart Necklace" / "History Lessons" / "Angela"]

Wussy: Attica (Damnably)
First time with this Xgau-plugged cult act and I can feel its noise and the dynamic vocals growing on me. ["Beautiful"]

******

Please note that the conspicuous absence of D'Angelo in our commentary thus far is occurring because I'll be treating his record (for now) as a 2015 release. We'll get there eventually, I assume.

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