Too often this blog focuses on old favorites and standards, songs and artists that have stood the test of time, been with me through thick and thin, shaped how I understand music and human relationships, and effectively become an integral part of me. And though I do post about new additions and lucky finds, I thought I’d dedicate an entire post to the albums I’ve purchased in the last two months and are still finding a comfortable space for themselves in my life and library.
I’m leaving out some recent acquisitions that I’ve still yet to really dig into, by artists like Arbouretum, Fire! Orchestra, Mountain Goats and a few others.
Neil Halstead- “Palindrome Hunches”
I picked up this album based on its cover art alone. I hadn’t done this in a while– it has led to discovering a few treasures over the years, as well as several uninspiring duds. Thankfully, “Palindrome Hunches” was a treat: A lovely collection of quiet, understated acoustic ditties by former Slowdive guitarist Neil Halstead. Though the delicate guitar plucking against hushed vocals may have been done a million times before, this beautiful collection more than makes up for its lack of inventiveness with strong songwriting and a remarkably warm, well-rounded production sound. These songs breathe and unfurl with a confident ease, the piano and violin coloring the open spaces beautifully as the melodies glide over the contrabass and open-tuned guitar. A delightful record.
Eluvium- “Nightmare Ending”
My current favorite album sporting a 2013 release date. A gorgeous smattering of (pardon the momentary lapse into tumblr-speak) feels in audio form– heartbreaking and desolate and irrepressibly joyous, 90 minutes of collapse and wonder, drone and beauty in songs, vignettes and sonic experiments, classical minimalism and explosions of sound. This album is staring out at the sunrise at the beach– those quiet moments of inexpressible, abstract understanding, when life suddenly, and oh so fleetingly, makes total harmonic sense. An absolute stunner.
Medeski Martin & Wood- “Radiolarians I”
My first exposure to a group that should have been in my radar a long time ago, Medeski Martin & Wood. The first installment of the Radiolarians series, this album is a powerful collection of avant-garde jazz freak-outs that emphasize groove over noise, with anfractuous keyboards slicing through thick slabs of bass over propulsive drums, rather than the shrill attempts at late-period Sonny Sharrock guitar acrobatics that a lot of these bands seem to find themselves falling into. A hell of a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to acquire and listen to the next two installments.
Pity Sex- “Feast of Love”
A collection of tight, economical, amped-up and energetic fuzzed-out guitar rock songs, complying diligently with the shoegaze tropes of indiscernible lyrics, generous use of reverb and ethereal half-mumbled vocal melodies, but straying from the deliberately impenetrable production in favor of accessibility. Like the Neil Halstead record, what it lacks in inventiveness it more than makes up in the strength of the songs, which are all short, snappy, energetic bursts of finely-crafted enthusiasm.
A Metropolitan Guide- “Lesser Tragedies”
A brilliant subversion of the hopelessly mopey, confessional singer-songwriter trope that has simultaneously plagued and defined the most recent generation of guitar-wielding young men. It’s right there in the title: “Lesser Tragedies”. This is a great collection of sharp and zestful folk-rock songs that discard the self-reverential pity-parties in favor of bootstrap assertiveness. The songs are decidedly earnest, without falling into the trap of the doe-eyed and quixotic; there’s a certain wry humor to them, and they are delivered with steadfast gusto. These songs crackle and pop with wit, cleverness and charm. A very enjoyable listen. It can be picked up in A Metropolitan Guide’s Bandcamp page.
Portugal. The Man- “Evil Friends”
The band whose choice of punctuation makes any mention of their name read awkwardly. I like these guys quite a lot, but never purchased an album of theirs before this one. Though Danger Mouse’s production flourishes can sometimes feel like they detract (or, at the very least, distract) from the overall package, these are still brilliant Baroque pop songs whose ambitions never weigh down their effectiveness; a sprawling, glorious mess of influences and celebrations. Still processing this one, and am continuously amazed (if sometimes a bit exasperated) by all that I keep discovering in these arrangements.
My Favorite- “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”
A band that had been on my radar for a while, an album I always mean to track down. My Favorite was brought to my attention by my friend Aly, who mentioned them during a conversation about Stars, pointing them out as an example of another band featuring boy-and-girl singers and melodicas and ethereal pop melodies. The song that she first sent me was “Burning Hearts”, and ever since I first listened to it I’ve had it stuck in my head. It’s just a great fucking song, swirling keyboards and jangly guitars and drums that should push the song forward but instead feel like they’re just kicking it around. Pure ear-candy, in the vein of the New Romantics, but with a boho-hipster NYC millennial sensibility that prevents it from surrendering entirely to its own melodrama. The entire album is great, definitely worth listening to, but so far I’m left with the impression nothing can quite compete with that track.
Kaleidoscope- “White-Faced Lady”
Another album that I purchased based only on its cover art. “White-Faced Lady” is a relatively obscure relic from the early 1970s, an album that was completed and abandoned for over 20 years, only released in the early 1990s when psychedelia was irrelevant and long forgotten. Still, it features some really lovely song, its progressive ambitions never really taking over and trampling any trace of joy from the music (as is often the case with the worst of this breed of bands). Another record I’m still working my way through and discovering, but so far “The Matchseller” is a highlight.
William Tyler- “Impossible Truth”
A message board recommendation. What a beast of an album. Winding guitar instrumentals that take sharp turns towards the most unexpected places, transcending its “rootsiness” and building its own musical language and logic. Every note in this album is expertly played and meticulously composed, the entire collection coalescing together like one long composition. This is an album that I know I’ll find myself going back to often in the next few months.
Melody’s Echo Chamber
Love this album. I’d already streamed the whole thing last year, and had already decided that “I Follow You” is one of the greatest debut singles (or, at the very least, side1/track1) in recent memory. But, for some reason, I didn’t own a physical copy of it. When I saw it had arrived at my local record store, I decided to correct that immediately. I’m loving every second of it. It’s just thrilling. Melodic, psychedelic, otherworldly ear-candy, with mind-blowing arrangements and a wonderful, off-kilter production that is heavy on effects, reverb, and everything else that makes this record sound like it was produced by anything other than humans.
Stone Gossard- “Moonlander”
This album is a nice little glimpse at the type of band that Pearl Jam would be if it were the only (or even just the main) creative outlet for the songwriting of Stone Gossard (and also if Eddie had a much more nasal voice). This album is filled with all kinds of strange, sideways brilliance: everything from a sentimental ballad about a stray dog, to a folk-rock song which boasts the prechorus “I gotta go, I gotta swim, I gotta use my fins”, to this title track that sounds like a sorrowful James Bond theme song. This album is rich with treasures, and is pretty different from what you would expect from the person responsible for bringing “Alive” into the world.
Monte Dunn and Karen Cruz
Another forgotten oddity. This album got lost in the great folk wash of the 1960s and was left stranded in the sea of obscurity for decades. A strange collection of off-kilter folk songs, but one that features several little treasures, like the strangely beautiful track “Order to Things”. Every song is a collision of genres and styles, but it’s been fun culling through it, trying to make sense of the mess.
Sigur Rös- “Kveikur”
A lot of people I know seem to have grown disenchanted with Sigur Rós over the course of their last couple of releases due to a perceived sameness to their music, but their latest release is a decidedly harsher, darker, more rhythmic affair. There’s a bite and menace to it, and the songs are filled with tension and mystery. Still, if you’re the kind of person who finds everything Jonsi & company have put out to be nothing but mood pieces, a wash of ethereal whale sounds devoid of structure or reason, I don’t know that you’ll get much more out of this one. I am happy to surrender to it.