Future Islands – “Before The Bridge” & “Balance”
December 11, 2011, 6:16 pm
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It’s always dangerous to post a year-end list too early because, inevitably, there are several (or many) things that slip through the cracks over the course of the year.  Therefore, I’ve become increasingly thorough in my listening habits (i.e. checking out the recommendations of friends/critics and the things that sound most appealing to my tastes while, ultimately, remaining open-minded) and I will wait until the first week of January to post my top albums of 2011 list.  So, for the next few weeks, my plan is to highlight a few bands I slept on this year only to discover at the very end that their albums totally knock me on my ass.

First up: Baltimore trio Future Islands, a band I originally heard several years ago and then, due to no apparent reason, simply forgot about/ignored/etc.  Their third album, On The Water, is a magnificent amalgam of New Order, Frog Eyes, Berlin Bowie and Brian Eno.  Singer Samuel Herring bares an uncanny resemblance to Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer – albeit a more relaxed, melodic Mercer.  Bassist William Cashion’s playing evokes the glorious, lurching rumble of Peter Hook and Gerrit Welmers, who handles “keys and programming,” provides fever dream synthscapes and robust beats.  On The Water, is chock full of intoxicating sounds/songs and it’s quickly become one of my favorite albums of the year.

On The Water is out now via Thrill Jockey.

Download MP3: “Before The Bridge”

Download MP3: “Balance”


Sharon Van Etten – “Serpents”
November 27, 2011, 5:05 pm
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Sharon Van Etten’s last album, 2009’s Epic, became a recent favorite of mine not all at once in a flurry of massive hooks and choruses but as a slow-burning reveal that crept up and took hold of me without notice.  Epic‘s downcast, muscular folk-rock is not far removed from bands like The National and Bon Iver (both of whom she counts as fans/friends).  Fittingly, her forthcoming new LP, Tramp, was recorded with The National’s Aaron Dessner in his home studio.  He also performed on the album along with his brother/fellow National member Bryce Dessner, The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, Julianna Barwick, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Beirut’s Zach Condon and Doveman’s Thomas Bartlett.  Barrick’s booming backbeat and the Dessners’ winding, twilit guitars are immediately noticeable on Tramp‘s first single “Serpents” and they effectively emphasize the “rock” in Van Etten’s folk-rock.  Not surprisingly, “Serpents” and the rest of Tramp‘s ambitious arrangements/production sink in quicker than her previous output which should help make Tramp the breakthrough Van Etten deserves.

Tramp is out 2/7 via Jagjaguwar.

Download MP3: “Serpents”

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica” and “Sleep Dealer”
October 30, 2011, 7:22 pm
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Daniel Lopatin, the drone wizard behind Oneohtrix Point Never, has already had a busy year with Ford & Lopatin (his other musical project with Tiger City’s Joel Ford) and his last OPN LP, Returnal, was released just 16 months ago.  Returnal ended up being one of my favorite albums last year so I was very pleased (and shocked) to hear a follow-up LP was already done. The press release for the forthcoming Replica describes it as: “an electronic song cycle based around lo-fi audio procured from television advertisement compilations.”  I have admit that the album did not endear itself to me a whole lot at first.  The lo-fi audio samples – when perceptible – often felt grating and in disservice of the song.  However, further listens revealed a rich and engrossing album underneath Lopatin’s new bag of tricks. Also, reading this especially insightful interview in which Lopatin describes himself as a sonic Indiana Jones help put things into context:

“I like this idea that I’m not actually a musician and that, instead, I’m kind of like Indiana Jones — an adventurer who is looking for old things that are meaningful. So, like, we don’t tend to think of television commercials and ephemera like that, but to me, it was a really wonderful source of meaningful information. It was an amazing pool of ephemera that I could pull from. Then you’re restructuring and rearranging it to interfere with the original narrative and creating this new poetry.”

Replica does not chart the same dark, ambient, interstellar course that made Returnal such an immersive record but it is unmistakably an OPN album.  This time around, Lopatin has created an aural time capsule that evokes a relatively specific time and place instead of letting us choose our own adventure.

Replica is out 11/8 via Software.

Download MP3: “Replica”

Download MP3: “Sleep Dealer”

Tom Waits – “Bad As Me” & “Back In The Crowd”
October 16, 2011, 7:04 pm
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It seems hard to believe but Tom Waits has not released an album of new material since 2004’s Real Gone.  Since then, he has blessed us with the stellar, three disc, odds ‘n’ ends collection, Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, and a live album, Glitter and Doom Live, culled from his most recent tour.  Real Gone was a gnarled, beat-heavy collection of what Waits’ deemed “Cubist funk” but it was tempered by a fair amount of his typically somber (and great) balladry.  Based on the two tracks released from his forthcoming new album, Bad As Me, it sounds like we’ll probably be getting something akin to 1999’s Mule Variations (which, on a number of levels, always felt like Wait’s own Time Out of Mind to me).  The title track plays like “Way Down In The Hole” run through the filter of Real Gone and the lovely, flamenco guitar-laced “Back In The Crowd” proves once again that a gorgeous melody still comes to Waits as easily as a junkyard stomp.

Bad As Me is out 10/25 via Anti-.

“Bad As Me”

“Back In The Crowd”

Widowspeak – “Gun Shy”
September 9, 2011, 5:42 pm
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It’s sort of rare for a favorite song to start off as something you casually ignored on the first few listens.  Although it seems hard to believe at this point, “Gun Shy” didn’t really grab me on the first or second listen.  According to my iTunes, it currently ranks as one of my most played songs this year.  Chalk it up to the band’s languid, graceful way of unspooling a song and Molly Hamilton’s breathy croon – given time, it’s wildly irresistible.  Sonically, the trio evoke Galaxie 500, Sleater-Kinney’s The Hot Rock, Mazzy Star (Hamilton’s voice is a dead ringer for Hope Sandoval’s) Ennio Morricone and even Chris Isaak (the b-side for the “Gun Shy” single is a cover of “Wicked Game”).  “Gun Shy” displays a more prominent Morricone influence than anything else on their debut which is probably for the best as a whole album of dusky, spaghetti-western rock could have come across a bit like shtick.  As it stands, “Gun Shy” is a tremendously intoxicating song from a band that is subtly blending their way towards a sound they can call their own.

Widowspeak is out now via Captured Tracks.

Download MP3: “Gun Shy”

Mark McGuire – “Get Lost”
August 30, 2011, 7:41 pm
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Emeralds’ mesmerizing guitar wizard Mark McGuire was behind two of my favorite albums of 2010: his solo LP, Living With Yourself, and Emeralds’ Does It Look Like I’m Here?  With his next solo album, Get Lost, ready to drop in September, his prolificacy is showing no signs of abatingThe album’s title track finds McGuire further honing his sound – ever evolving textural guitarscapes deeply indebted to Robert Fripp and Brian Eno

Get Lost is out 9/27 via Editions Mego.

Download MP3: “Get Lost”

Forest Fire – “Future Shadows”
August 14, 2011, 7:13 pm
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Forest Fire’s 2008 debut LP, Survival, was a criminally neglected collection of raw, ramshackle, cosmic Americana that nodded to The Velvet Underground and The Moon and Antarctica as much as it did The Basement Tapes.  The band’s excellent sophomore LP, Staring At The X, finds them building on Survival‘s template of “weird folk” and embracing the role of “ambitious rock band.”  Preview single “Future Shadows” makes it clear that changes are afoot with its drowsy pop bounce and subtle studio effects. Thankfully, songwriter Mark Thresher’s fatalistic lyrical tendencies are still intact: “like shadows, we’ll leave/when the time comes.”

Staring At The X is out 10/18 via Fat Cat.

Download MP3: “Future Shadows”

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