This album achieves success in my book for a few reasons that seem to draw me to “these types” of albums time and time again. For one, it’s an album from an artist I had little interest in before this album. I had heard some things from Baths, didn’t really gel with it, and was ready to pass. For whatever reason, likely a mood I was hunting, I listened to Obsidian and was sold almost immediately. The other is that this really works (and perhaps ONLY works) as an album versus merely a series of tracks. While that’s a pretty romantic idea for a record to function like that, it’s usually just not realistic. So, while I wouldn’t necessarily pull a song from this and have you listen to it, somehow—all strung together—they make an excellent listening experience. It’s a greasy album. Dark but slick, a little dirty, a bit strange but mostly familiar.
The Marshall Mathers LP2
Nomad is so choc-full-of-attitude it’s pretty hard not to like. But not the kind of meaningless angst we’ve come to mistake for atiitude. This all feels very purposeful and articulate. It took all of this bottled sass and stuck it through a wood chipper to spit out this funky mulch of pure grit. He’s been described as “desert” blues and that’s as geographically accurate as it is sonically. Aside from his compelling backstory—which is absolutely compelling, look it up, we’re talking about living in a place that banned guitars—the music actually does stand for itself. It’s a pretty shuffling album, lots of movement, and lots of gears grinding. But because of this dynamism, each song, while relatively short, packs much power and drive even though—and this is a kicker—the whole thing is sung in Tamashek. I’ve written before about my interest and love for instrumental music, and the some of the reasons why I love that apply to why I love this, but I will say there is a divide here that needs crossing. However, despite the language barrier, there is little time spent feeling distant from what it is happening, and by the time the second verse of the first song comes along you’re already singing along. Impossibly.
The Flower Lane
For as big a fan of Real Estate I’ve been, I’ve been a somewhat small (microscopic) fan of Ducktails. Which is likely why I love this album as much as I do! Ducktails has always been fine, I had little interest, but it was cool over there doing it’s own thing. However, on this album the production quality has been amped, the structure to the songwriting is much, much, stronger than it has been, and it sounds much fuller. All of these things drew me right to it and I got down with it in a big way. It’s lazy at times (in a good way), a little shmoozy (also in a good way), and teasing constantly between chill and electric. It’s a cocktail of an album for sure.
White Denim has been impressing me for a while now, but nothing of theirs really struck me as being great until this album. This album seems to have a stronger, more clear vision than anything to this point. It’s focused and contained and because of that there is payoff. They’re an interesting group to me because of their obvious comparisons to groups like Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers, which I think makes them insatiably fun right from the get go. But on top of just being fun, they are also equal parts raucous and beautiful. I’m often attracted to things that are fun, because it has immediate satisfaction. Every year I love more pop singles than I can count for this reason, but often they lack the beauty that something that would perhaps be less fun but more introspective and thoughtful might have. This album achieves both of these notions—a feat for sure—and makes listens and re-listens a real joy.
Love’s Crushing Diamond
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Modern Vampires Of The City
Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Whoever thought kicking an album off with a nine and half minute song is a bad idea is by all means likely correct. But Kurt Vile did it anyway and proved us all wrong. Not in that it’s either a good idea of a bad idea, but that it doesn’t matter when the song is Wakin On A Pretty Day. With the first chord of that song, you’re launched into a pretty daze right then and that nine minutes could be nine hours and it wouldn’t much matter. Kurt soon joins in lazily as only Kurt could do with a floppy melody that sort of melts on top of the cloud-like song like provolone and that sets the par for the course. As the record progresses the daze only gets stronger and the cloudiness engulfs you. Like all his other albums, this has his signature atmospheric vapor pumping its lifeblood, but this time he’s created something much clearer than previous efforts. That’s a common theme in my attraction to albums—artists like who make albums I like finally hitting a nerve and making something I really love.
For all the reasons I’m a fan of Kurt Vile—the hazy attitude of each song, the thick airiness of his voice, the pulling between seeming cool and being cool, the tug of war between being serious and being flippant—this album is a success. But what really brings this album to life for me is a little understanding of Kurt as a person. Which has nothing to do with this album specifically, but also I don’t know how to separate those things from each other. He’s a man with a family living in a changing world and trying to do the best that he can while balancing music and family and his own ideals. We all have these struggles, but to see someone approach them so honestly and purposefully, makes me really appreciate what he’s doing. It makes me listen to his lyrics in a different way. Oh, he’s a little like me. On “Goldtone” the last, longest, and maybe best track he sings “Been livin’ my life on the run, from day one. Every day is “hey, so are they.” A classic Vile-ism if there ever was one. (This album is full of them.) An introspective lyric with much room to relate to it. The lyrics itself is about relatability. Identifying the feelings we share and calling them out as shared feelings. An interesting approach to thinking about how we interact with each other. Much like his masterful songwriting has been doing forever, these songs are excellent and beautiful to listen to and they don’t require much of you to enjoy them, but when you are ready to dive in—and you will get to that point—there is a deep hole of meaning and thoughtfulness to get lost in.
I LIKED IT
Unsurprisingly, I found this record to be another success from a band who only creates successful albums. Lots of ambition, lots of smarts, and plenty of great vibes on an album that without needing to, pushed Arcade Fire’s bounds just a little farther. I have so much appreciation for their ability to maintain interest, uphold quality, and continue on their tear of success. Fascinating and equally enjoyable!
Not usually a huge fan of this type of noisy blippy avant garde type of experimental stuff, and I can’t say this made me any more interested in the “genre” as a whole, but for whatever reason, this really worked for me. The guitar work on it is particularly excellent and I think it helped pull together some of the aimlessness I tend to feel often runs rampant on these types of projects. It served as a rockin’ glue to keep this together at it’s moments where it felt most likely to burst. The teetering on combustion can be as easily annoying as it can be entertaining, but I feel like it was done boomingly on this album.
Pretty Good EP
By far my favorite EP of 2013. Straight up power and sweat crammed into one tiny little EP. The heaviest (and maybe also the lightest?) stuff they’ve done to this point, which didn’t necessarily seem like a selling point to me on paper, but on listen, it works remarkably well. This is a direction I hope they continue to chase as this is their strongest stuff yet.
I’m waiting on the day a mainstream pop album can really be appreciated as an album as opposed to a series of songs and singles. I don’t think we’ve reached that yet, and instead of throwing a stink about it, I’ve transitioned myself to appreciate these pop albums for what they are. The fact that they can be a series of would be singles speaks to the way people consume pop music. I’m more likely to listen to Katy Perry on a car ride with friends than I am at home alone. (Though, I’ve done both.) So, that being the case, it’s interesting to see how we’ve evolved in receiving these types of albums. Personally, I don’t think we can call something like this great until it functions as a whole and rids itself of the excessive filler songs that all of these albums can’t seem to let go. Prism is guilty of this, but at least aware of itself. Artpop doesn’t know it’s doing it, and neither does Beyoncé, ugh, don’t get me started on Beyoncé. All of that being said, pop music really has one function and that’s to be fun. And so, so, so much of Prism is incredibly fun.
I DIDN’T GET IT
Days Are Gone
It was fine. It was perfectly fine, and there are plenty of great moments. But can we PLEASE knock it off with the pop groups masquerading under something more meaningful than they are? This is cry for artists to go all in on what they are doing. HAIM would benefit from calling a rose a rose and just truly embracing their pop tendencies and seeing where that could take them. OR back off just a hair and make things a little more intesting and authentic than what they tried to do with Days Are Gone. I don’t have much faith in them being around too long, I think the foot in both camps will be problematic for their longevity.
The Haxan Cloak
I mean, c’mon. What is this?
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Life Is Elsewhere