Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Top Album Picks of 2013 (Part 2)

FINALLY, Eryn finished her list.  While there may be some overlap with Jason's list, there are some differences as well, just to prove that we are not the same person (aka Michael & Diana).  Here she goes:


1)  WOODKID--The Golden Age
Yoann Lemoine made an indelible mark with this incredible debut record in 2013.  The dramatic music.  The brooding vocals.  The haunting lyrics.  The spectacular videos.  Even Absolut Vodka loves this stuff.  A debut for the record books in sheer amazingness.

2)  JANELLE MONAE--The Electric Lady
Monae is a one of a kind talent in a world of generic R&B-ers, and while she may not hit the top of the charts as much as Beyonce or Rihanna, she is in a class of her own.  To be able to release this sophomore record and hang tough with the likes of Prince and Erykah Badu, hats off to this disarming charmer.

3)  DAFT PUNK--Random Access Memories
A virtual history lesson in dancepop and disco, Daft Punk had the audacity to eschew pure electronic bliss in favor of layered tracks laced with orchestra, acoustic guitar, piano, and live drums.  Then add disco Gods Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder to the mix with a touch of the legendary Paul Williams and modern contributors Pharrell, Panda Bear, and Julian from the Strokes.  Somehow, it all works.  This puts two albums by French guys in Eryn's top 3.  Guess those years spent learning French continue to resonate...


Are those sound waves, sunglasses, or a bikini top on the cover?  No matter, as Arctic Monkeys created one of the grooviest albums of the year, and well written and sung as well.  Five albums in and they keep getting better.

5)  WILLY MOON--Here's Willy Moon
Fun and very underrated, Willy Moon made some very catchy retro pop in 2013.  "Yeah Yeah" was a monster in advertisements, but there was also a spooky vibe to some of the more downbeat tracks.  He also covers Jack White.  Ballsy.

6)  DAVID BOWIE--The Next Day
Can't say any more about this that I have not already said except you MUST buy this NOW and is MUST be in your collection.  His first work in a decade, but his BEST work in 30 years.  What's your excuse?

Stephen Merritt suffers from tinnitus and cannot play this album live, so you should do the next best thing and get this album.  Dark humor always wins out, and with songs like "Keep Your Children in a Coma", you cannot lose.

A kooky idea on paper turns into a brilliant idea on record.  Costello rejigs old lyrics with new while the Roots provide a suitably funky and appropriate background beat.  In a year that saw Jimmy Fallon's backing band advance to the new Tonight Show musical group, there is some serious magic at work here.

9)  SUEDE--Bloodsports
Best reunion album of the year, back with original producer, Ed Buller.  Like they picked things up right after the Trash album of 1996.

10)  NINE INCH NAILS--Hesitation Marks
Brilliant return to form and more mature with more subtleties in the mix, Trent Reznor has not lost his touch for making great records.  Some serious anger is bubbling just below the surface, but Trent does all he can not to show his hand so easily.  Those years of making soundtracks like The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have made his own work that much better.

11)  HAIM--Days Are Gone
12)  VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Modern Vampires of the City
13)  PET SHOP BOYS--Electric
14)  EMPIRE OF THE SUN--Ice on the Dune
15)  ARCADE FIRE--Reflektor
16)  GOLDFRAPP--Tales of Us
17)  PHOENIX--Bankrupt!
18)  FRANZ FERDINAND--Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
19)  CHVRCHES--The Bones of What You Believe
20)  CUT COPY--Free Your Mind
21)  FITZ & THE TANTRUMS--More Than Just a Dream
22)  SHOUT OUT LOUDS--Optica
23)  CAMERA OBSCURA--Desire Lines
24)  HOLY GHOST!--Dynamics
25)  YEAH YEAH YEAHS--Mosquito

Honorable Mentions:
JOHN LEGEND--Love in the Future
TEGAN & SARA--Heartthrob
SLEIGH BELLS--Bitter Rivals

Friday, December 6, 2013

Our Top Album Picks of 2013 (Part 1)

As 2013 winds down, we want to take a quick glance back on the year in music that was, and maybe shine a little light on what we thought were the best albums of the year.  Ah, albums...a quaint idea, right?  WRONG.  Nothing in the world of recorded modern popular music makes a bigger statement than an album that plays from beginning to end, taking you on a voyage of emotion specifically plotted and created by the artists involved in making them.  Sure, you could cherry pick singles or tracks you like here and there, but not only would you be missing some of their most vibrant work, you are doing a disservice to yourself by stunting your musical growth by limiting the process of exploration.  There have been many albums with songs that may take a while to seep into our consciousness, and many times, those same songs will become our favorites in the long run because they wear better upon repeated playing.  This process of music discovery is a unique journey, and if it's all too familiar on first listen, what's left to gain? This is why so many of the pop kids sound completely interchangeable these days.  On that note...

Here are Jason's favorites of the year, and check back for Eryn's coming up soon.  Maybe you'll find something you wish to check out for yourself.


1) PRIMAL SCREAM--More Light
Bobby Gillespie and co. return with the best album of their 20+ year career, mixing the best of their past with dashes of Bowie, Can, Sun Ra, Stones, Zeppelin, dub reggae...and making it all their own.  This is the sound of a great rock & roll band effortlessly blending their best qualities, and what a feat it can be making something so difficult sound so easy to do. 

2) WOODKID--The Golden Age
A conceptual album of the highest artistic order, Yoann Lemoine aka Woodkid, released one of the most startling debuts of the year with an album detailing the tale of a young boy fighting against all odds and ultimately losing his tragic battle.  Mixing a little of Nick Cave, Antony Hegarty, and Marc Almond, Lemoine's baritone flexes against the pounding and tribal rhythms in the upbeat songs, while gently smoothing out the ballads with heartfelt tenderness.  While it's seriously difficult to believe this is his first album, one can only wonder where on earth he goes from here.  Brilliant.

3) JOHN GRANT--Pale Green Ghosts
Reading like pages of his diary, Grant's fearlessness comes full force on this album, his followup to 2010's Queen of Denmark (chosen by Mojo Magazine as it's 2010 album of the year).  Both humorous and heartbreaking, Grant's dark and brooding voice is set against downbeat folk rock and stark electronic textures courtesy of Iceland's Gus Gus.  While there is a fair amount of soapboxing going on here, funny songs like "GMF" and "Sensitive New Age Guy" lighten the mood.  Simultaneously, the closing "Glacier" is one of the most transcendent songs in recent memory.  

4) MOONFACE--Julia With Blue Jeans On
Just a guy and his piano, Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) shows off some amazing talent on an album extolling the virtues of an ex-girlfriend in this modern song cycle.  Recalling a mixture of Nick Drake and Nick Cave, these highly personal songs were recorded live and feature no studio overdubs.  This was Krug's first album from all of his projects to be so stripped down, and it's all the better as the songs get the chance to breathe in direct ways.  An astonishing piece of work.

5) PET SHOP BOYS--Electric
Coming a mere 10 months after their previous album, the muted Elysium, this British duo have continued to create fantastic pop music for the past 30 years.  Their latest, Electric, is the first on their own record label (x2), and features production from master electronic producer Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers).  Expanding some of their songs in a looser format than usual, Electric ultimately continues the trajectory of Tennant-Lowe's history of witty and emotional songwriting that, with such a rich career, should place them in the category with other past luminaries like Lennon and McCartney.

6) DAVID BOWIE--The Next Day
An album most of us never thought would be made, Bowie shocked and surprised at the beginning of the year with his first release in a decade, and what a release it was.  The Next Day is invigorating with a sound that recalls some of his best past work like Heroes or Scary Monsters (Tony Visconti returns as producer), but lyrically stares down the end of a life that sees the number of days ahead shrinking.  Fire and brimstone are the word of the day here, yet the cover belies a flippant reaction to this weighty subject.  In a year that lost Lou Reed, the return of Bowie was almost like a resurrection. 

7) THE KNIFE--Shaking the Habitual
Certainly one of the most dividing records of the year, the Swedish brother-sister duo that make up The Knife returned with their first album of new material in seven years (Fever Ray came in-between).  Most of the songs clock in around the 8-minute mark, as this record stretches over two CDs or three LPs.  There's even an ambient track in the middle running nearly 20 minutes.  Still, the grinding industrial rhythms clash against sounds that seem as though they were created at the bottom of an Asian sea, as these tracks don't always function as songs, more often as sound collages.  Not for the faint of heart.

8) JAGWAR MA--Howlin
A liberating mix of British Oasis-style psychedelic rock mixed with late-80's rave culture, Australia's Jagwar Ma manage to find a sound that sits somewhere between the Stone Roses' debut and Primal Scream's Screamadelica.  These are not shabby reference points, to be sure.  Guitars weave in and out as dubby drums smash against walls of sequencers and trippy looped vocals.  With their debut, JM have managed to create something that references specific sounds of the past while retaining a fair amount of indivuality and originality.  Plus, it's damned catchy.

9) TEGAN & SARA--Heartthrob
Twin sisters Tegan & Sara have been making music for a decade, but it took producer Greg Kurstin (Kylie Minogue, Bird & the Bee) to really turn them on to the poppier side of their sound.  They are all the better for it, making the best pop record of the year (the similar Haim was close, but there's room for both). Recalling 80's Fleetwood Mac at their most melodic (again, see Haim), Tegan & Sara took a chance on alienating their audience, but have found a larger new one in the process, and have shown growth potential while also showing their fans another side of themselves.  This was an album that kept giving all year.

10) NINE INCH NAILS--Hesitation Marks
Nine Inch Nails is no longer the new band it once was--Trent Reznor's project has been active off and on for nearly 25 years now, yet Hesitation Marks is one of his freshest releases to date.  Reznor has shaken some of the shackles of the expectations of what an industrial album must sound like in 2013, with his work on soundtracks like The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo an influence.  He doesn't seem to be trying so hard to please here, finding more space in between the sounds, allowing for more creative textural nuances.  It's a slow-burning album with much of the anger tucked under the surface rather than being thrown in your face, and because of that, rewards on repeated listenings.  After a long break, this was another welcome return.

11) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS--Push the Sky Away
12) CUT COPY--Free Your Mind
13) M.I.A.--Matangi
14) VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Modern Vampires of the City
15) JANELLE MONAE--The Electric Lady
16) CHVRCHES--The Bones of What You Believe
17) EMPIRE OF THE SUN--Ice on the Dune
18) SUEDE--Bloodsports
19) PREFAB SPROUT--Crimson/Red
20) ARCADE FIRE--Reflektor
21) YEAH YEAH YEAHS--Mosquito
23) NEKO CASE--The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight...
24) GOLDFRAPP--Tales of Us
25) OMD--English Electric
26) ALISON MOYET--The Minutes
27) HOLY GHOST!--Dynamics
28) OH LAND--Wishbone
29) HAIM--Days Are Gone
30) VV BROWN--Samson & Delilah
32) JULIA HOLTER--Loud City Song
33) SIGUR ROS--Kveikur
34) THE VEILS--Time Stays, We Go
35) LAURA MARLING--Once I Was an Eagle
36) RHYE--Open
37) DAFT PUNK--Random Access Memories
38) ST. LUCIA--When the Night
40) SAVAGES--Silence Yourself
42) LORDE--Pure Heroine
43) LITTLE BOOTS--Nocturnes
44) LADY GAGA--Artpop
45) YOUNG GALAXY--Ultramarine
46) MARY ONETTES--Hit the Waves
47) DEPECHE MODE--Delta Machine
48) JOSEPH ARTHUR--Ballad of Boogie Christ
49) CAMERA OBSCURA--Desire Lines
50) IAMX--Unified Field

Monday, November 18, 2013

Album Spotlight: SUEDE--Dog Man Star

Suede always seem to get the short end of the stick.  Along with Pulp, they were one of the bands that shifted the early 90's Britpop revival into full gear, a dubious distinction which they themselves might not be too keen on, and would pave the way for mega-bands like Oasis and Blur.  Fusing influences such as The Smiths and David Bowie (and a bit of Pink Floyd here), Suede were unique in that they had a distinct rock edge, while also knowing when a sparse piano ballad would do the trick.  With an enigmatic and charismatic front man, Brett Anderson displayed his individual talent by not only writing lyrics containing tales of the downtrodden and dispossessed, but also infusing them with the right amount of sneer, pathos, and vulnerability.  Bernard Butler was his highly talented sideman, a guitarist (and sometime pianist) with extreme talents who has since gone on to big production gigs (Duffy "Rockferry"), and during his later days with Suede as on the making of Dog Man Star, their second LP, suffered from bouts of depression and social ostracism after the recent death of his father.  This combustible combination of band captains led to the demise of Suede MK1 as this album was being completed, and Butler would soon be replaced by newspaper ad respondent and teenage guitar wunderkind, Richard Oakes.  However, before Butler was sent packing, he helped craft the band's sophomore album, not only a fantastic example of what 90's Britpop had the potential of becoming, but also one of this author's favorite records of all time.

The cover image was considered somewhat controversial at the time of release (October 1994), but suits the music perfectly, and is typical Suede, as the ambiguous image of their debut LP featured two androgynous women sharing a passionate kiss.  "Introducing the Band" is an apt way to open the record, showing Suede in a more psych-drone-y way than they've been before or since.  When they released "The Wild Ones" as a single, "Introducing the Band" became a B-side with a 15-minute Brian Eno ambient remix, but here it has more punch, laying out the band's intentions in a couple minutes with some riveting opening lyrics ("Dog man star took a suck on a pill, and stabbed a cerebellum with a curious quill...").  This was followed by the glam-rocking "We Are the Pigs", a song which halted their run of big hit singles in the UK.  Not the best choice for a lead single, British kids just didn't get know what to do with it, and knowing that Butler was out of the band already did not help.  Additionally, the song has a darker political and psychedelic tone than anything from their debut's era, but even Lady Gaga would appreciate the chorus lyrics ("We Are the Pigs, We Are the Swine, We Are the Stars of the Firing Line"), and the song closes with children chanting the words "We'll watch them burn".  "Heroine" really lifts the album up a bit where needed, and reflects the glammier side of Suede with tales of lust and debauchery.  Butler's guitar absolutely cuts through the dense textures and "Heroine" remains one of the albums most rousing moments for it.

"The Wild Ones" follows, and will stand as one of the best songs of the 90's Britpop era.  Opening with Butler's strummed acoustic guitar and Anderson's croon in a lower register, the song gradually builds over five minutes into something magical that closely resembles this era's "Heroes"(Bowie), and probably should have been the lead single.  An elegant ballad with nuances that Oasis could have only hoped to reach, "The Wild Ones" was their second consecutive single not to reach the British top 10, even though the album still managed a UK number three placing.  "Daddy's Speeding" is an atmospheric ballad detailing a reckless drive behind the wheel backed by haunting piano lines and a scuzzy building guitar over five minutes of little-to-no drums, ending with the sound of a car crash.  "The Power" closes the first half, and remains bittersweet for the band as it is the only track not to feature Butler on guitar.  It's a swaying ballad that would not have been out of place on Bowie's Hunky Dory, and it's "lalala" closing refrains let in just a little light from all the sadness, anger, and longing up to this point.

"New Generation" begins Side 2 with something a bit more optimistically pounding and catchy.  It was the third single not to make the top 10 (it peaked at #21 while previous singles both made #18), but by this point the band were on their way to America to promote the album (they never registered with US listeners much, besides the fact they were still fighting name recognition against Maryland folk singer Suede, being forced to operate under the name "The London Suede" to avoid confusion).  The heaviest rocker on the album, "This Hollywood Life", is up next, and with tales of fantastic icons of the silver screen with a super-glam treatment, builds to a massive cliff of a climax.

What follows is what some would consider ballad heavy.  However, if ballads such as these are the stock in trade, they could have written and recorded album after album of them.  That this album does not sag under their weight belies just how strong the arrangements and material sound 20 years later.  "The 2 of Us" is a dark ballad that absolutely haunts, bridging the gap between glam and goth with its deep atmosphere.  Followed by the slightly lighter "Black or Blue", there is still an air of something gone awry, lovers lost to drugs, or something much worse.  The nearly 10-minute "Asphalt World", the centerpiece of the album, manages to hold your attention for the full running time with a prog-rock build containing some of Butler's best guitar work on record, some of Anderson's best singing, and while the band were literally coming apart at the seams, they continued to create some of their most vital and intriguing work.  The album closes with the epic string-drenched "Still Life", one of the best album closers of all time.  A song so good it could never be a radio single, cascades of orchestra mixed with Ed Buller's sometimes eerie production and Anderson's most sensitive singing that  hint at regret and loss.  It's a chilling tearjerker of the highest order.

Fans of Suede know the castoffs from their first two albums which were used as B-sides were generally as good as the album tracks, and most were included on the Sci-Fi Lullabies compilation.  However, Dog Man Star remains the favorite album of most Suede fans, even though it was generally misunderstood at the time it was released.  It is so highly regarded today that it was recently ranked the #31 album of all time by the NME staff of reviewers in England ahead of Paul's Boutique, Abbey Road, and London Calling.  Originally released on indie Nude Records in the UK and Columbia in the US, Edsel Records did a big remaster program on the Suede catalog a couple years ago as triple disc packages, crammed with bonus tracks and a DVD featuring concert footage from each of their five albums up to their extended hiatus after 2002's A New Morning.  This year's Bloodsports saw most of Suede (excepting Butler) reunited to channel some of that magic again, yet Anderson has said he feels they have yet to make their masterpiece.  With albums like Dog Man Star, they may be trying to top it for many years to come.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Album Spotlight: JANELLE MONAE--The Electric Lady

The  Electric Lady

There have been many reviews of Janelle Monae's recent albums written and published.  So why do I feel so possessed to write another one?  Because Monae's talent is so undeniable, that regardless of what style of music you are into, you should not deny yourself the ability to experience her music.  Growing up through much of her childhood in Kansas City, KS (go Kansas!), Monae's father had drug problems, and her mother was a housekeeper in a hotel, a job Janelle also took alongside her as a teenager.  Using music as an escape, Janelle eventually got to go away to college in Atlanta where she met many of the people in her band that still play on her records.  Sean Combs (P. Diddy) was so impressed, he took a chance and signed her to his record label, which would allow her the artistic freedom to explore all sides of her music personalities.  While artists like Stevie Wonder and Prince loom large in the Monae-verse of inspirations, other styles she inhabits include pop, jazz, funk, hip-hop, folk, psychedelic rock, rockabilly, R&B, Bond-style balladry, and all shades in-between.  Her visual style sees her in numerous uniform-style outfits and tuxedos (mostly black and white), throwbacks to her uniform-wearing days from her hotel job.  She has the stage presence, energy, and dancing ability of James Brown or Prince in their prime.  The Electric Lady is technically her second album, although she had an early EP (Suite I) previously released.  That effort featured a few tracks which collectively introduced the Archandroid concept that Monae has mined ever since.  A Messianic android from the future (2719 to be exact), Monae has been genoraped and cloned, then time travels back to our current world as Cindi Mayweather, the android who will lead the oppressed out of Metropolis (another inspiration), alter the course of the future, and be reunited with her true love, Sir Anthony Greendown.  (This is further explained in the liner notes from her last full length, The Archandroid (2010), featuring Suites II and III).

Admittedly, all of this highbrow conceptualism would hopelessly fail if Monae didn't have the musical chops to back it up.  She does, and then some.  The Electric Lady is a tighter record than it's predecessor, and while it does feature many of similar stylistic diversions, they are less expansive, allowing Monae to clarify her vision a bit more.  While moments of wild experimentation from the previous album ("Mushrooms & Roses", "Wondaland", BaBopByeYa") are less prominent, Monae amps up the energy a bit here, still has her experimental moments, and does so without veering too distantly from her template.  The specter of Prince still looms large, and here he even guests on opening dirty-funk track, "Givin Em What They Love".  Tracks that follow continue in the funk genre with guests like Erykah Badu (the supreme "Q.U.E.E.N."), Solange (the title track), and Miguel (the Prince-ly ballad, "Primetime").  "We Were Rock and Roll" and "Dance Apocalyptic" flesh out Suite IV, with the former a pop-rock track and the latter a kooky retro-futuristic smash in the waiting.  The suite closes with the Bond-esque ballad, "Look Into My Eyes", which Shirley Bassey would have been proud to sing.  The track is kept at a minimal 2:18 in an effort to streamline the album so it does not drag, but this song certainly left this listener wanting even more.

Suite V (as with Suite III from the last record) is more varying with tempo and character, however this group of songs feels the most indebted to a singular artist:  Stevie Wonder.  Songs like "It's Code" and "Victory" have an ease and affability with their quietly melting chord progressions and instrumental parts, including more guitar solos from her supporting cast.  "Ghetto Woman" and "Can't Live Without Your Love" are pure-70's Stevie, while "Sally Ride" and "Dorothy Dandrige Eyes" add to themes of female empowerment and history simultaneously, and the optimistic "What An Experience" closes the album in what harkens back to songs like Janet Jackson's "Whoops Now", the hidden closing track at the end of her 1993 blockbuster, Janet.  We feel like we have come so far with the Cindi Mayweather story, and while we aren't sure if there will be more story or not (yes, please!), it is a time to stop and reflect on the happiness we have felt through her musical journey so far.

The other Janet-referencing additions to this album are the hysterical comic skits which take place at an urban radio station from the future.  Radio callers either support or criticize the android cause, questioning whether or not they can actually function or embody similar values as humans (It's all a bit Battlestar Galactica-Cylon-ey).  When a caller insists "Robot love is queer", and the DJ runs to defend androids, one cannot help drawing parallels to the gay community today and how they are becoming able to marry and have equal rights (in some cases) that straight people have had for centuries.  It's just one more deep and provocative angle on Monae's vision.  Her records may have yet to sell in stacks, but Monae is a unique and special talent deserving of our attention.  She really is an artist ahead of her time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Best albums of the Third Quarter (or July--September 2013)

Maybe you've been wondering, 'where is that album of the week?' for the past couple weeks.  Maybe you have not, and unless you are among the few brave souls that read our updates here, you probably could not care less.  That's all fine and good, but we care enough to have taken a few extra days here to ruminate about the best music we've heard in the past three months.  A quarter of a year goes by in such a flash, but the amount of great music being made always seems to be a full meal.  While the third quarter is typically one of the slower release periods of the year, some really great music is usually unleashed during this time as artists are usually wanting to hit the road to promote their projects from late summer into early autumn.  2013 seems to be no exception, and we could probably make a best-of-the-year list out of what's here alone, but we will be gearing up for that in December.  (You may have seen our extensive half-year list a few months back.)

So, here are our favorites.  Remember, this list is TOTALLY subjective and only reflects our opinions.  You may have an opinion of your own.  That's fine, and we would like to see your lists as well if you feel like adding a comment.  We're sure there will be some great lists by the end of the year.  Here's a recent roundup then:

20) MAN MAN--On Oni Pond
19) BASTILLE--Bad Blood
18) EDITORS--Weight of Your Love
17) HAIM--Days Are Gone
16) FRANZ FERDINAND--Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
14) LITTLE BOOTS--Nocturnes
13) ELTON JOHN--The Diving Board
11) JULIA HOLTER--Loud City Song
10) OH LAND--Wishbone
9) JANELLE MONAE--The Electric Lady
8) NEKO CASE--The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Try, The Harder I Try, the More I Love You
7) CHVRCHES--Bones of What You Believe
6) HOLY GHOST!--Dynamics
5) GOLDFRAPP--Tales of Us
4) VV BROWN--Samson & Delilah
3) JAGWAR MA--Howlin'
2) NINE INCH NAILS--Hesitation Marks
1) PET SHOP BOYS--Electric

Monday, September 9, 2013

Album of the Week #7: Goldfrapp--Tales of Us

Fall has arrived and so has a landslide of new music titles.  This week, I'm taking a look at Goldfrapp's sixth album, Tales of Us.  If you are not familiar with who Goldfrapp are, it's OK.  America has yet to really wake up to this band, and they seem to like it that way.  They tour rather infrequently, and are most certainly not out to compete with Lady Gaga or Katy Perry for chart domination here.  Alison Goldfrapp was a sometime singer with UK trip-hop artist Tricky, and Will Gregory mainly a studio musician who played saxophone on Tears For Fears Songs from the Big Chair (see "Working Hour").  Will also played keyboards (lots of them), and Alison was a songwriter with operatic training, and they eventually formed a partnership that sees her as the face and stage presence aside Will's cinematic soundscapes.  Their first album, Felt Mountain, appeared in 2000 to rave reviews.  An atmospheric record, it featured lots of haunting strings, a bit of dark acoustic guitar and bass (courtesy of Portishead friend Adrien Utley), and a little bit of electronica on songs like "Utopia".  This sound was blasted open with their sophomore effort, Black Cherry (2003), filled with buzzing synthesizers and slamming drum machines ("Strict Machine" for one).

Goldfrapp (the band) made it clear that every album would be a little bit different from here.  Supernature (2005) blended sounds from both albums into a great hybrid that brought them their biggest sales in the UK, while Seventh Tree (2008) recoiled from all the synthetic dance music, opting for pastoral English countryside folktronica, coming off like a mix of Cocteau Twins etherealism and Nick Drake's sad reflection.  Head First (2010) has now been criticised by both Alison and Will for being too hastily recorded and too blatantly pop.  To some extent, they may be right, although that album isn't nearly as bad as they would have you believe, as it was their most direct statement, written while Alison was very in love, and it shows.

Like all other Goldfrapp records, Tales of Us is a reaction to what came before, and is Goldfrapp's most elegiac and haunting record yet.  The cover art sets the tone, with Alison strolling through a group of parked cars at night, headlights trained on her, in black and white.  It's in stark contrast to Head First's pinky-blue sky with her head floating in the middle, and the music is just as representative of the cover art as the cover art is of the music.  All the songs feature one word titles, namely names (a possible indirect reference to Cocteau Twins' Treasure album, in which every song featured a Greek name).  It's a mood piece and a collection, one that works much more effectively as a full length album than single tracks.  "Jo" sets the tone with a much more acoustic based sound than the previous album's pop-tronica.  It's quickly followed by "Annabel" and "Drew", two of the best and most beautiful songs on the album.  The former is quite sad, based on a harpsichord riff, and spins at length in sonic reference to Felt Mountain's lush textures.  The latter is a melodic centerpiece of the first half of the album, and features some of Alison's most intriguing lyrics and beautiful lyrics and singing to date.  "Ulla" and "Alvar" round out the first half with lush strings and Goldfrapp's sensual coo.  It becomes apparent that she disguises many of her lyrics through the delivery so the listener can make their own conclusions as to what she might be saying.  It's an open-ended gambit, but makes you want to listen closer just to pin down the meaning in the lyrics.

"Thea" has been described as a traditional Goldfrapp stomper, although I think that is a bit of a misnomer and an oversell.  It is, however, a great song, and the most energetic moment to be found here.  "Simone" and "Stranger" are quite different in character, but both have beautiful melodies and string textures.  "Laurel" is the most ambiguous song on the album, with Alison's lyrics quite obscured, and "Clay" ends things on a musical up note, with rushing melodies and a bit of synth pulse underneath the epic arrangements.  However, while "Annabel" is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel about a hermaphrodite forced to choose to become male, "Clay" is about a true story of two young male soldiers who met and fell in love during WWII, only for one to be quickly killed by the enemy, leaving the other to live on in sadness.  In these tales of us, nobody gets out unscathed, and nobody can be truly happy.  Loss is a theme that haunts this record just like ghosts of our loved ones that refuse to leave.  It's an amazing concept for a pop record, and may be the most truthful Goldfrapp album yet.  Where they go from here is anyone's guess.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Album of the Week #6: Nine Inch Nails--Hesitation Marks

Pennsylvania native Trent Reznor returns this week with one of the best albums of his career, Hesitation Marks.  Coming off a five year hiatus from the band, Reznor has started a family, begun a new band with his wife called How to Destroy Angels (their debut album was released a couple months ago), and recorded movie soundtracks for high profile films The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the former won him an Academy Award).  One other major change was getting sober in 2005, and after years of already great music, it seemed like he was tired and just needed a break.  All of these elements combine here to create one of Reznor's most mature and focused efforts of his twenty-five year career.

Nine Inch Nails have always been known for the ability to synthesize rock and technology by going from a whisper to a scream instantaneously.  That happens here as well, but in more subtle ways, and with fewer histrionics.  "Copy of A" is a great example of a song that glides and builds from moment to moment, and while it's a masterclass in programming, it also moves along effortlessly, showing just how well Reznor has internalized his craft and the ability to construct a song.  This is followed by "Came Back Haunted", the lead single from the album--one of the catchiest and most insistent songs here.  The fact that the David Lynch directed video came with a disclaimer that epileptics may be in danger of seizures might make it difficult for some to watch, but it's one of Reznor's best lead singles in a while, yet in a world with Miley Cyrus, he may have to keep working harder to get your attention.  "Find My Way" follows with a sound that is generally more indicative of the album by melding softer keyboard lines and tuned percussion to a lightly throbbing beat.  Here, Reznor find a seamless way to integrate his soundtrack skills and his industrial side into a passionate whole with tinkly piano lines and moody atmospherics.  "Everything", serving as a mid-point palate cleanser, is noteworthy not only for it's brevity and buzziness, but also for being the first song this writer can recall that he has written in a major key, echoing his newfound cautious optimism.

"All Time Low" and "Satellite" address the more aggressive and funky sides of NIN respectively, while "Disappointed" is all clangy precussion and softer rhythms.  While "Various Methods of Escape" is one of the most melodically tuneful songs here (and would make a good single), "I Would For You" and "In Two" are two of the albums best songs, coming late and showing how far Reznor's writing has come since the days of "Head Like a Hole" (Bow down before the one you serve/You're gonna get what you deserve).  They are aggressive without hitting the button marked ANGER, and are followed by the most alarming song on the album, closer "While I'm Still Here".  Notable in its quietude, this song plays like a mantra expressing Reznor's current mental state, and features a skronking sax riff by Reznor himself.  There is also a bit of guitar noodlery courtesy of Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham.  In fact, Buckingham, along with guitar maestro Adrien Belew, appear all over Hesitation Marks.  These might seems like strange reference points, but they integrate perfectly into the sonic palate Reznor envisions.  There are also songs tucked within like "Running" that feature nobody else but Reznor (with the possible aid of a studio tech), and illustrate just how self-sufficient and talented this man is.  Now in his early fifties, it feels like he is finally reaching his stride.  Hesitation Marks is a mini-masterpiece sonically more connected to Pretty Hate Machine than anything else he's done, bringing his sound full circle.  Here's hoping the next album isn't another five year wait.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Album of the Week #5: Franz Ferdinand--Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

Four years in the making, Franz Ferdinand have finally returned with their fourth album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.  At the dawn of the millennium, much of what was considered "Britpop" was either changing (Oasis, Suede) or disbanding (Pulp, Blur, Suede).  FF were at the forefront of a new wave of punchy and groovy guitar rock with indie cred with a slighty punk edge (they would be snapped up by Sony quickly).  After a minor breakthrough in the US with their debut and the hit single "Take Me Out", they quickly had loads of competition and imitators in other bands like Kaiser Chiefs and the Fratellis.  Their biggest competition came in younger form a couple years later as Arctic Monkeys took the rockier edges of their sound and amped them up with darker lyrics.  FF spent their next couple albums trying to stay in the game, but struggled a bit by album number three while looking to synths for new sounds and rhythms to add to the mix.  They recorded the album twice, and while it was a good record, it lost a bit of their energy in the process.

Back with the indie label, RTRWRA does a bit of restoration in that department, as the songs bounce along with lighter feet than recent offerings, and much of the sonic structure shows a band very confident in their abilities and open to new influences without letting them overtake the party.  The opening title track is a case in point, where the rhythm gets a little funkier than in the past, but the song by way of repetition becomes completely embedded in your skull after one hearing.  Other songs like "Evil Eye" sort of reference the sound that FF came up with on their debut, albeit with a bit more of a haunted vibe.  "Fresh Strawberries" is one of the most upbeat rock ballads they've come up with, while "Bullet" and "Treason! Animals." are just the type of quirk and cheek we've come to expect from them.  It all ends with the spooky ballad, "Goodbye Lovers and Friends", leaving one to wonder if it is an epitaph to the album, this particular style of FF, or the band themselves.  It's just one reason we keep coming back to them, as their lyrical ambiguity always keeps us on our toes.  Every time we wait three or four years we are reminded why we like them, but wonder why they can't keep the momentum more regular.  In any case, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is another enjoyable album in their repetoire, and hopefully not the end.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Album of the Week #4: Pure Bathing Culture--Moon Tides

Once in a while a new sound strikes you as reminiscent of something you have heard before, yet still retains an originality to distinguish itself from previous releases.  That tends to be the case with the lush new release from New Jersey-by-way-of-Portland's Pure Bathing Culture, Moon Tides.  If you are into bands like the Shins, Beach House, or Cocteau Twins, you really should take note.  Recorded in a mere ten days at Richard Swift's (Shins) studio, the duo features Sarah Vesprille's beguiling vocals, Daniel Hindman's chiming guitars, and while less histrionic than Liz Fraser's gliding bird calls of yore, there is something a bit sweeter and uplifting compared to Cocteau's or Beach House's darker material.  The difference is very apparent on songs like the spinning opener, "Pendulum" and the melodically poppy "Only Lonely Lovers".  "Scotty" goes one further by (strangely) quoting a Benny Mardones hit of decades ago, "Into the Night", and works it seamlessly into the song.  These tend to be the more grounded songs on the record, while tracks like the Cocteau-esque "Even Greener" has more ethereal guitar work, and closer "Temples of the Moon" is akin to some of that parent band's darker closing album tracks.  Heck, "Twins" may even be an indirect tribute of sorts.  What sets this apart is A)The fact that their vocals are in decipherable English, and 2)There is a warmer, more earthly connection than in much Cocteau work, which puts it more in the aforementioned Beach House territory.  With that being said, if you are looking for a lazy and gorgeous record to wind up your summer daze and you like the bands I've mentioned, Moon Tides might just do the trick.  "Scotty" is streaming below:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Album of the Week #3: August 5th, 2013

John Cale is most known for his work as a member of the Velvet Underground and producer who has worked with stars such as Patti Smith and Brian Eno.  A classically trained musician, once Cale no longer was part of VU, he began a solo career with the LP Vintage Violence, a sort-of homage to Americana coming from a British born artist.  This was followed by his most famous album, Paris 1919, which put him alongside unique songwriters of the day like Randy Newman.  Meanwhile, Cale had been producing stark records by former Velvets singer Nico and edgy legends like the Stooges and the Modern Lovers.  That sound finally spilled over into his own work on Fear, his first for Island Records in 1974, a year on from the previous LP.

Fear opens with the chugging title track in which Cale repeats "Fear is a man's best friend" like a mantra.  It's a statement of purpose that will carry Cale through all of his Island albums which follow.  Cale really lets go toward the end of the song where he begins shrieking over and over, showing a darker side that will also surface a bit in Patti Smith's Horses, which he was working on around the same time.  "Buffalo Ballet" follows as a bit of a throwback to his more western glancing material.  "Barracuda" (not the Heart song) and "Emily" follow with more of a quirky Roxy Music vibe (Phil Manzanera, Andy MacKay, and Brian Eno all guest on this album, as does Richard Thompson).  "Ship of Fools" with it's cascading piano melody is one of the cornerstones of the album, and predates Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom by a few years.

Side 2 (or part 2 if you have the CD), begins with the 8-minute rocker, "Gun", a song featuring an amazing dual guitar solo by Manzanera being shadowed (or messed up) on synthesizer by Eno. Eno and Cale would continue their working relationship on Cale's next couple of releases, and they would record the great collaborative duet album Wrong Way Up in 1990, the same year Cale would reunite with ex-Velvets Lou Reed for another collaborative album, Songs for Drella.  (Siouxsie and the Banshees liked "Gun" so much, they covered it on their Through the Looking Glass covers album, and then asked Cale to produce parts of their final studio record from 1994, The Rapture.)  The Beach Boys-esque lark "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy" comes next to lighten the mood considerably, followed by the stunning "You Know More Than I Know", another overlooked gem.  "Mommama Scuba" closes the album on a dark glam-rock note.

Fear was a turning point for Cale, and while struggles with substances have been somewhat documented, it is a leap of confidence into something new for him, becoming as interesting as the artists he was producing.  The next two Island albums, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy follow suit with the template Fear sets out with.  It's a remarkable body of work from an artist who tends to get marginalised compared to other 70's luminaries of the genre such as Bowie and Talking Heads.  Now in his 70's, Cale continues to experiment and grow as an artist, releasing last year's interesting Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood LP and the Extra Playful EP.  He refuses to retire or rest on his laurels, and Fear is a fantastic and somewhat overlooked rock record.

All of Cale's three Island solo releases plus his collaboration with classical artist Terry Riley (Church of Anthrax) have been recently remastered and reissued by the Culture Factory label.  Here's a short, fan-made version of a series of comic book covers to the song "Gun":

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Album of the week #2: July 29, 2013

Approaching a weekly album review presents challenges, with one of the biggest being what to review in the first place.  Since I am highlighting albums that I feel merit some sort of attention, whether something classic that is somehow special, or something new that inspires and excites.  Edition two is a tough one, for while week one was rather simple to choose, being impressed by a new release, week two needs to contrast by focusing on something from the past that some or many may know, but shouldn't be something that everybody knows already.

My choice this week is Prince's seventh studio album, Around the World in a Day.  Released on April 22, 1985, it arrived a mere ten months after the Purple Rain soundtrack of June '84,  and is one of only four Prince albums to hit number one on the Billboard charts (the others being the aforementioned soundtrack, the Batman soundtrack, and 3121 in 2006).  The album was an incredible departure from everything he had done up to that point, with some considering it a failed experiment.  Prince had always been a very R&B based artist, writing, performing, and producing nearly everything on his albums.  Purple Rain felt more like a full band effort, with his band The Revolution taking a more prominent position in the sound of the album, and it showcased his many sides in a very concise effort fusing dance and funk music with rock like a hybrid of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix.  Around the World in a Day was an about face that shocked many of his R&B leaning fans by fully embracing psychedelic rock and stripped down funk and pop, functioning as his own personal summer of love record and reflecting his love of Joni Mitchell and that style of music.  The album is now seen as a minor dip in quality between Purple Rain and Parade (another great record), but did go on to sell three million copies in the US (Rain sold 13 million), and spawned two top ten hits with "Raspberry Beret"(#2) and "Pop Life"(#7).

There are many touches of Beatle-based influences (not to mention cover art), and the album is full of surprises.  The title track features lots of strange and warped percussion mixed with carnival-esque instrumentation including flutes and sitar-like sounds.  "Paisley Park" is likely the cornerstone album track, with big beats similar to "When Doves Cry" from the previous year, out-of-tune organs, and ringing guitars.  Not only was this the name of a great song, but it became the name he chose for his record label AND recording studio complex in Minneapolis.  While the singles were other melodic highlights, there is some weird stuff going on between them.  "Condition of the Heart" is a big and powerful ballad that strives to twist Purple Rain's "Beautiful Ones" into something altogether trippier.  "Tamborine" is one of the shortest and strangest songs Prince ever wrote, a stark, brittle funk workout.  "America" is a unique take on the patriotic tune in a minor key, and the album closes with the big and inspiring "The Ladder" (Prince would do this again two years later to great effect on Sign O the Times with "The Cross"), and the epic "Temptation", where Prince seeks advice from God, a vocodered version of himself.  Albums tended to be shorter in this period, especially from Prince, who produced many albums for his artists that contained as few as six tracks, yet this still had nine.  "Hello", "Girl", and the classic "She's Always in My Hair" were three more B-sides that came from this era, great songs that are included on his B-sides collection.

Prince was always rather experimental for an R&B artist, much more so even than Michael Jackson, and this was one of his most out-there projects.  Coming on the heels of such a successful soundtrack, this would be considered commercial suicide by many, but Prince knew that kind of crazy success could not be maintained, so he threw caution to the wind and made something extraordinary.  What this album does offer is a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of a musician without restraint, doing exactly what he wants to do without a care of sales figures, and may actually be an artistic pinnacle in a career full of them.  Prince hasn't made a truly great album in nearly 20 years, but if he wants some inspiration, maybe he should listen to this record to find a way out of his recent cold and slick mode.  When the album came out, it was an unexpected statement, and Prince was in his most confident place musically speaking, making something loose with more outside contributions.  He would be wise to do more of that today.  Still, what a fabulous legacy of recordings he made during this imperial phase, and this should be regarded as another masterpiece.

I would have posted a youtube video link to one of the singles below, but Prince still does not allow his music to appear on streaming sites and has a team of lawyers ready to remove music if it gets posted.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Album of the Week #1: July 22, 2013

We thought it was about time to start an Album of the Week post where we choose an album, new or vintage, that we wish to highlight as something rather special.  Considering the thousands of records we've heard in our lifetimes, as well as the thousands we carry in the store (not to mention the handful nearly every week that bring something interesting to the table), we hope to bring to the blog albums that we love and love to talk about.  This is a purely subjective exercise based on our personal opinions, and if you find that you are left cold by what we have to discuss, it is likely because our general tastes don't mix (this doesn't mean we can't be friends).  It does not mean that we cannot hear redemptive qualities in music that isn't generally appealing to fact, nearly everything has something to recommend it (some things more than others).  These entries are just meant to act as little love letters of sorts to albums that have had some impact in our music world, and maybe you will find or be interested in something that you never really thought much of before.

Our inaugural entry is a new release, the brand new Pet Shop Boys album, Electric.  We have already featured this album in store emails (sorry about the extra face time), but want to mention again what an extraordinary album this is.  In a year where Daft Punk is practically sainted for their retro-disco grooves on Random Access Memories (a history lesson in disco), Pet Shop Boys (that other electronic duo from across the English Channel) return with the heavily synthetic and modern Electric.  There are a couple reasons this is extraordinary:  1)Their last album, the lovely Elysium, appeared a mere ten months ago, and served as a pastoral reflection on being an ageing pop musician in a young persons' game, and 2)In their fifties, the duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been at it for 30(!) years, and not only assembled a massive catalog of incredible songs to rival catalogs of Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lennon & McCartney, but sound newly energized on this loosely structured collection of rambunctious tunes.

Rather than give a rundown of what all the songs sound like (there are plenty of reviews out there on the web, nearly all rating the album highly), we would just like to say a couple things about the general project.  The album is three songs shorter than it's predecessor, but about the same running length.  That allows the songs to stretch out more and breathe, bearing a similar resemblance to some of their earliest work on the Disco compliation and third album, Introspective.  Tapping producer Stuart Price (Madonna Confessions on a Dance Floor, Kylie Minogue Aphrodite) was a masterstroke at bringing them back to the strong rhythms and layers found in much of their early work.  Vintage equipment was used in combination with the modern to create a mixture of sounds that references older material with a wink while creating something completely new.

Of course, the subjects covered in the lyrics are typically wry and witty observations from Tennant's pen.  While a couple (mostly) instrumental tracks are present, other songs deal with moving forward after a breakup by busying oneself with extracurricular activities and shunning the prospects of future love ("Love is a Bourgeois Construct"), Thursday being the new-and-ever-earlier beginning of the party weekend ("Thursday"), and the transformative power of dance music ("Vocal").  There are a couple dark and provocative tunes placed in the middle ("Fluroescent", "Inside a Dream"), and a stunningly random cover of a recent Bruce Springsteen song ("The Last to Die" from 2007's Magic),  as well as a kooky song called "Bolshy" (something to do with being enamored with the new Russian capitalist youth).  By the end of Electric, you begin to realize that very few people in the world of dance music would ever think to write songs about subjects such as these. Tennant was a music journalist before becoming a recording musician, and continues to grow as a lyricist, while Lowe (the computer-geek half) is constantly pushing boundaries in chord progressions and song structure.  "Bourgeois" even goes so far as to using a melody from Renaissance composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695) as its main theme.  In fact, many of Electric's songs have lengthy intros, minimal choruses, verses functioning as choruses, or no chorus at all.  While they've dabbled with unorthodox song structures in the past, this liberation from rote songwriting began in earnest on 2009's Yes, produced by UK hitmakers Xenomania (Girls Aloud), who were known for placing choruses before verses, and that idea really takes hold here in a way that these guys realize they can do about anything they want structurally.  (They would be very humbled to be known as 'architects of song').

What this boils down to is Electric is a highly enjoyable summer dance-party album with an educational conscience.  It's just another fascinating chapter in the history of a band who recently ended their contract with Parlophone Records after a 28-year association and 50 million records sold when EMI was sold to Universal last year.  Instead of signing away rights to future material to join another major label, Neil and Chris decided to start their own label, x2, in association with music publishing company, Kobalt.  This has allowed them the freedom to promote the project how they see fit, and they have been so inspired by the response to the album, they are now promising a further two albums of similar material and production to function as a trilogy.  Here's hoping they get working on that idea sooner rather than later, as Electric really puts them back in touch with their energetic side, reminding us why we fell in love with their music in the first place.

Here's a look at current single, "Vocal":


Friday, June 28, 2013

Here we are at the Halfway Point...

The year 2013 is closing in on Half Over(!) and we always like to pause and reflect on what were our favorite releases of the previous six months.  This year was rather bizarre for us due to the fact that we opened a store late after closing a store and sitting in limbo for nearly three months.  However, that doesn't mean we were inactive listeners, and if anything, we were MORE active due to our reflection time. 

Lists are a funny thing.  They seem to have gotten more and more popular over the past few years as the internet has exploded with social media.  They are also completely subjective as everyone has their own idea of what their list would or should look like, and they are not really indicative of what is the best work from a musical or marketing point of view.  The reason we stress over these lists is to share our discoveries with others in the hope that they will also seek out some of these things and help the store and the artists financially through purchase of their work.  This work makes us, in effect, facilitators.  That being said, there are some truly great albums being released this year, maybe more than ever before.  Do not shut yourself off to the possibility of new art infiltrating your life and affecting your world.

So here you go, these are our favorites of 2013 as of the midpoint:

40) GOLD FIELDS--Black Sun
39) JOHNNY MARR--The Messenger
38) THE NATIONAL--Trouble Will Find Me
37) RHYE--Woman
35) EMPIRE OF THE SUN--Ice on the Dune
34) FLAMING LIPS--The Terror
33) FOXYGEN--We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
32) CAMERA OBSCURA--Desire Lines
31) VISAGE--Hearts & Knives
30) PHOENIX--Bankrupt!
29) ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER--Personal Record
28) SAVAGES--Silence Yourself
27) NEW ORDER--Lost Sirens
26) OCEAN BLUE--Ultramarine
25) LAURA MARLING--Once I Was an Eagle
24) CLUB 8--Above the City
23) YOUNG GALAXY--Ultramarine
22) DEPECHE MODE--Delta Machine
21) MARY ONETTES--Hit the Waves
20) JOSEPH ARTHUR--Ballad of Boogie Christ
19) IAMX--Unified Field
18) LITTLE BOOTS--Nocturnes
17) DAFT PUNK--Random Access Memories
16) SIGUR ROS--Kveikur
15) VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Modern Vampires of the City
14) TEGAN & SARA--Heartthrob
12) THE VEILS--Time Stays, We Go
11) YEAH YEAH YEAHS--Mosquito

10) OMD--English Electric
8) SUEDE--Bloodsports
7) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS--Push the Sky Away
6) ALISON MOYET--The Minutes
5) THE KNIFE--Shaking the Habitual
4) WOODKID--Golden Age
3) JOHN GRANT--Pale Green Ghosts
2) DAVID BOWIE--The Next Day
1) PRIMAL SCREAM--More Light

What were your favorites?  Let us know, and look for our big year end list in another six months.  More entries are going to shake up this list by then, likely including Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Nine Inch Nails, Pet Shop Boys, and Goldfrapp.  Spaces are getting tight already...

Remember, this list is purely subjective, so just because it isn't on this list does not mean it isn't great.  These are just the ones that resonated with us on a more personal level.  Thanks for reading!
--Jason@Electric Avenue

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hey music lovers!  Thanks again for tuning in to this site.  The store has been open for little more than a month, and we've had wonderful response so far.  We are still trying to spread the word, as many of our former customers are still unaware about our move and name change, so we keep telling whoever we can.  Don't be surprised if we see you innocently walking down the street and decide to flag you down and pull over to tell you about our new location (this actually happened).  Also, we have been focusing on daily operations at the store (like paying our first bills--urgh!), so the blog was feeling a little neglected lately.  Now it's time to discuss some of our favorite records that have been released in 2013, mainly because we love talking about music we love, and we want you to know about the vast amazingness of music out there currently.

David Bowie has already been mentioned a few times (The Next Day), as well as the latest from Tegan & Sara (Heartthrob).  There have been DOZENS of great records since then.  You may want to consider adding some of them to your collections.


I have already mentioned what an amazing indie pop album this is.  Male/female vocals trade off on the Swedes' most accessible album yet, and while some songs are retro in the absolute best sense, things never devolve into pure pastiche.  A catchy song like "Illusions" is indicative of what makes this record great, and "Blue Ice" is one of those warm-like-a-summer-breeze songs that I could hear a million times and not get tired.  "14th of July" and "Chasing the Sinking Sun" dance with an energetic abandon, while "Walking in Your Footsteps" and "Circles" are overflowing with hooks.  Plus it's on Merge Records, one of the best indie labels around.  What more could you want?


Karen O and the guys have done it again with this incredible record.  Veering from punk-y thrash (title track) to near-gospel ("Sacrilege"),  this album features the most number of varied styles to be found on a single Yeah Yeah Yeah's album, and they do their best to nail about everything they attempt.  Closing track "Wedding Song" is sure to end up being the go-to anthem of summer weddings for hipsters who don't want to hire wedding DJs.  My personal favorite:  "Subway", which somehow captures the emotional distance and alienation of being surrounded by strangers on a journey by rail.


I keep coming back to the new Suede album.  It's their strongest effort in years, and while most reunion albums leave you feeling something has gone missing, this one has just enough references of their history with a kick so it doesn't feel so nostalgic.  Longtime producer Ed Buller did a fantastic job capturing the sound of what made Suede such a special band to begin with.  It's rare these days to find a first side of a record where each of the five opening songs is better than the previous one.  The cover art is fantastic as well.

THE KNIFE--Shaking the Habitual

Could this be their masterpiece?  What a sprawling record this is, spread across three vinyl LPs, including one side with a 20-minute ambient instrumental placed right in the middle.  The hot pink cover with its political messages about ending extreme wealth is provocative enough.  Then there's the music!  Rhythmic and tribal, "Tooth For an Eye" opens proceedings with Karin Dreijer-Andersson's tribal method of singing, followed by the slamming techno pulse of the near 10-minute "Full of Fire", shifting her vocals toward an  electronically treated aggression.  From there, sinewy sitars, choirs of recorders, and what sound like a whale wanting to be fed make sonic appearances throughout.  Most songs are over the five minute mark, and some are more than ten.  The brother-sister team hadn't made an album for eight years, and they have returned by smashing all expectations with this monstrous behemoth of an art project.

JOHN GRANT--Pale Green Ghosts

After winning Mojo magazine's award for the best album of 2010 with Queen of Denmark, John Grant has lived another life since then, travelling to Berlin, breaking up with his lover, contracting HIV, connecting with Gus Gus for musical collaboration and Sinead O'Connor doing backing vocals.  Now it seems as though someone stole his computer last week with all his stored material gone, and Grant pleading for its return.  Pale Green Ghosts is a special work, jumping from self-effacing jokes to anger over a breakup to absolute heartbreak.  His gift for direct and intimate lyrics is reflected in songs like "GMF", "It Doesn't Matter to Him", and "I Hate This Town", which marry Aimee Mann-bitterness with sunnier melodies.  The opening title-track has a dark electronic pulse, while the last song, "Glacier", is one of the most beautifully profound songs of self-empowerment I've heard in years.  It's a sprawling affair in a different sort of way than the Knife album is, but it feels like Grant's life in song, and isn't life sometimes messy?


After decades being separated, this duo reunited in a big way for 2010's History of Modern, and while that album was a commercial solidification of their career, their latest is a more experimental record, echoing their most daring past experiment, 1981's Dazzle Ships.  Ahead of its time, that album featured a few somewhat melodic tracks mixed with found sound experiments and audio collages that left their audience scratching its head.  EE is less out-there, and smartly rides a more moderate line with lots of tunes reminiscent of their favorite fouding-forefathers band, Kraftwerk (see "Metroland" and "Night Cafe").  Longtime designer Peter Saville contributed the glorious artwork.


Not as sprawling as the previous Embryonic, The Terror sees the Lips coming to terms with much inner band turmoil and their own mortality.  It's a dark, trippy ride, and is one of their recent best efforts.  The image of Flaming Lips today is really in contrast to what their music has been trying to convey, and this is no exception, as there is nothing as perky as their Yoshimi-period work.  Still, this record proves they continually succeed to find new inspiration for their music, and seem to be entering their third Renaissance period.

SAVAGES--Silence Yourself

If you ever thrilled to the chills produced by Siouxsie Sioux's icy vocals, the debut from this British female band inhabits that same space of early Banshee records mixed with a bit of Joy Division to boot.  It could all collapse under the weight of pretension and imitation were it not for a complete commitment to the cause and a unique method of arranging the material.  When Savages commit to a song, they COMMIT, making this project feel very visceral and real.  Their thrashy sound features shades of darker melancholy, alluding to future directions they may be able to take their sound palette.  It's electrifying!

NEW ORDER--Lost Sirens

Still only an import release, New Order's latest took seven years to release, as they had recorded this music during the sessions for their previous album, 2006's Waiting for the Sirens' Call.  Bassist Peter Hook was still a member of the band then, before his more recent acrimonious fallout.  Fittingly, Lost Sirens then ends up being so much more than a collection of leftovers, as the eight songs are arguably better than the last album, and still manage to represent the band in the best way.  It's the kind of record that is reminiscent of past records like Power, Corruption and Lies and Low-Life.  On tour this summer.

STROKES--Comedown Machine

The Strokes' latest is just as experimental and full of variety as the previous Angles, but is pulled together in a more direct and assured way.  Yes, there are more keyboards than you'll find on Is This It?, but songs like "One Way Trigger" and "Happy Ending" are catchy and engaging, with a couple songs like "All The Time" and "50/50" thrown in for Strokes-ian good measure.  This is the sound of a band a decade on after being through some rough times only to find their new realm of self-assurance and confidence.  A solid effort.


What would the French be without Phoenix?  Hooky, buzzy, fizzy, and fun, Bankrupt! is akin to Phoenix strolling across the finish line.  It's hard to believe these guys were best friends with Daft Punk at one time long ago (although they may sound MORE electronic than Daft Punk at the moment).  This is sort of a no-brainer, really.  I mean, there's a song called "Drakkar Noir"!

MARY ONETTES--Hit the Waves

This great Swedish band evoke memories of groups like the Cure without ever sounding like a copy.  They have evolved from one album to the next very organically, now adding more keyboard textures to the mix.  Some of their songs are nostalgia referencing without sounding like copies either, with song titles like "Don't Forget (to Forget About Me)".  Produced by Swedish mastermind Dan Lissvik, Hit the Waves may be their most catchy album yet.

YOUNG GALAXY--Ultramarine

Another Dan Lissvik production, albeit with more keyboards and fewer guitars, Canadian band Young Galaxy is led by married couple Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless.  Her voice takes center stage for the entire album for the first time, and recalls the soul of singers like Annie Lennox.  The band actually traveled to Sweden to record this after their last record (which Lissvik also produced) had been done by computer and Skype communication alone.  Ultramarine is the sound of a band from the north searching for warmer climates with songs like "New Summer", and romance with "Fall For You" and "Pretty Boy".


For those with poppier tendencies who like a good Madonna or Kylie song once in a while, the new Little Boots album is one to get your feet going while simultaneously feeding your mind.  Opening song "Motorway" in particular is hauntingly seductive, landing in the same territory Saint Etienne trudges so well.  Much of the rest of this self-financed, self-released record is more clubby or upbeat, with closing track "Satellites" one of the most euphoric songs of the year.  This is how REAL electro-pop should be made, so take note female popstrels.

DEPECHE MODE--Delta Machine

Thirty years into an amazing career and Depeche Mode are just as dour as ever, yet they've gone further into the blues with this release.  They have also continued to use more vintage analog synths to get those abstract and unique sounds they are known for.  New single, "Soothe My Soul", is straight from the "Personal Jesus" school of blues-y stompers, while "Angel" and "Secret to the End" employ interesting rhythmic and synth textures to create something just edgy enough without alienating what their fans want from them.  "Broken" is an interesting song, channeling "My Secret Garden"-era arrangements, while opener "Welcome to My World" and closer "Goodbye" are two of the best songs here for the unexpected directions they take as songs.  Longtime cohort Flood (Songs of Faith & Devotion) lended a hand on the mix, giving the record a rootsy analog sound.  Another great record in a long line of great records.

I'm also feeling the love for a lot of other things right now, but there just isn't enough time in the day to talk about them all now.  Here is a smattering:

JOHNNY MARR--Messenger
Former Smiths/The The/Electronic/Modest Mouse/Cribs guitarist makes a great solo record, FINALLY!
Thom Yorke makes a Radiohead side project that sounds a lot like...Radiohead!  Still pretty good though.
FOXYGEN--We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
I feel giddy when I hear this record, since it feels like I've heard much of it before, but in different ways.
WAVVES--Afraid of Heights
Like Nirvana and the Beatles had a baby.  Interested?
Lush modern R&B with smooth male vocals that sound strangely feminine in a good way.
KARL BARTOS--Off the Record
Ertswhile Kraftwerk member releases first solo material in ages.  If you know Kraftwerk, you know this.
SHE & HIM--Volume 3
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward come up with their most beguiling album yet.  Adorkable!
Foster the People fans take note.  A great mix of pop and rock with a little Australian touch thrown in.
FITZ & THE TANTRUMS--More Than Just a Dream
They took some chances on record 2, with mild electronic touches, placing them in Hall & Oates territory.
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS--Push the Sky Away
What else can be said about one of the best albums of the year?  There's NO-ONE like Nick Cave.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Modern Vampires of the City
Excellent latest effort with a bit more depth and darker tendencies.  Everything in it's right place.
THE NATIONAL--Trouble Will Find Me
Simply one of the most special and glorious albums of the year.  Can the National get much better than this?
DAFT PUNK--Random Access Memories
Giorgio Moroder.  Nile Rodgers.  Paul Williams(!).  Enough said.

While there are a few more great 2013 records (actually several), and some coming up soon, hopefully this rounds up some things worthy of your time and attention now.  We've got them all in stock, so come check 'em out!  We'd like to see and hear from you!