Words About Music
Hello, all! Welcome to Jakob’s Album Reviews, where you’ll see me review the latest albums. Since I’m starting this blog thing halfway through the year, I figure I’d kick things off with an alphabetical list (by artist) of my favorite albums of the year so far. Feel free to leave your comments and/or disagree with me. Remember, this is in alphabetical order.
“Obsidian” is the sophomore LP from LA singer/songwriter Will Wiesenfeld, who first attracted buzz with his 2010 debut “Cerulean.” This project features heavy emphasis on production, which can be described as glitchy, bright, Flaming-Lips-meets-Venetian-Snares type IDM. And if “Cerulean” was Will’s “Blue Album,” then “Obsidian” is without a doubt his “Pinkerton.” Will sings about sexual frustration, loneliness, and illness, all on top of very bright, colorful synths. This album definitely certifies his place as almost the anti-James Blake. “Obsidian” is considerably darker than anything Will has ever released, and the 24-year old shows a ton of promise in the world of electronic dance music.
The Black Heart Rebellion “Har Nevo”
This one is a difficult one to categorize, I’ll be honest with you. Belgian act The Black Heart Rebellion’s sophomore release can be called psychedelic rock, post-metal, drone, experimental rock, post-hardcore, slowcore, minimal, loud rock, etc. etc. etc. But whatever you want to call it, “Har Nevo” is a moody, cathartic, loud album that takes a bit from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a bit from Sunn O))), and a bit from Isis, and combines all these influences into one of the darkest albums of the year.
Boards of Canada “Tomorrow’s Harvest”
Scottish brothers Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison have been making music together for nearly thirty years, but their debut full length album “Music Has The Right To Children” (which Warp Records released 15 years ago in 1998) is where it all started. The elusive electronic duo avoided nearly all interviews, didn’t perform live, and did not give much information about themselves in general. They still built up quite a huge audience, despite not releasing much music or making any public appearances. But the gap following their 2005 album “The Campfire Headphase” was the largest yet, and it’d be 8 years before they put out “Tomorrow’s Harvest,” an album they began advertising — if you could call it that — on Record Store Day, about two months before its release. And “Tomorrow’s Harvest” is absolutely worth the wait. The album’s 17 tracks sync up with the album cover perfectly; it feels like watching a sunrise happen over the horizon of a coastline. It’s bright yet dissonant, atmospheric yet dense, and makes soundscapes feel like landscapes. It’s an incredible release by one of the most talented groups in all of ambient music, and it should hold us over until Aphex Twin decides to release another album.
Chance the Rapper “Acid Rap”
Chicago MC Chance the Rapper was first buzzed about in 2011 when he released his debut mixtape “10 Day,” which was released following a 10 day suspension during his senior year of high school. Chance added a fresh new voice to hip-hop. He sounds like a hyperactive kid enjoying a worry-free life, and that’s pretty much exactly what he is. Well now he’s graduated from high school and the hype grew and grew for his sophomore mixtape “Acid Rap” which was released in April, not long after appearing at SXSW and being announced as a performer at his hometown’s Lollapalooza Festival. “Acid Rap” is a shining example of incredible beat selection, impeccable flow, colorful creativity, and what might possibly be the effects of acid. Each song is just as fun to listen to as the next, be it a sad song, a romantic song, or a humorous song. All of these elements help to create one of the most interesting and original mixtapes since Danny Brown’s “XXX.” You can take his word for it from the opening track “Good Ass Intro”: “Even better than I was the last time, baby / ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, I’m good.” He’s good.
If you thought Death Grips were loud, wait till you get a load of this. You press play. Some sound builds up off in the distance. Then you hear “It’s Clipping, bitch,” followed by loud static, harsh noise, explosions. All of this sets the tone for one of the most interesting hip hop releases of the year. It’s N.W.A. meets Merzbow. MC Daveed Diggs spits almost impossibly fast over non-beats composed of rhythmically placed harsh noise sounds, musique concrete, and samples of everyday objects, like slamming a car door, hammering a nail, shuffling coins, throwing a garbage can down a set of stairs. Nothing about this album is safe, and it makes one question everything he/she knows about hip hop. There are no happy songs. There’s just debauchery, drugs, alcohol, death, and an 11-minute outro track that is literally just… Well, I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Clipping were just recently signed to Sub Pop which means we can hopefully get new music from them soon, but if I were you I’d get on this album now and be ahead of the game. Because the game done changed.
Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”
Much like Boards of Canada, Daft Punk are an electronic music duo who haven’t released an album in 8 years, until now. “Random Access Memories” is the famous French duo’s fourth album, and arguably their best. After the flop that was their third album “Human After All,” Daft Punk took a break from recording studio albums to score movies, most famously the Tron sequel. But now the robots are back for their least robotic album to date, which features tons of live instrumentation and help from disco/funk OG Nile Rogers, as well as singer/rapper/producer Pharrell Williams, Strokes singer Julian Casablancas, Animal Collective animal Panda Bear, and influential Italian producer Giorgio Moroder. “Random Access Memories” is cinematic, strange, beautiful, and one of the biggest risks Daft Punk have ever taken. These days they’re certified electronic dance music legends, but they’re also some of popular music’s most abstract innovators. Who’d’ve thought that the guys who did “Around The World” would release a disco-funk album? And actually release an incredible one?
Black metal has taken one of the most interesting journeys since its creation in the early 80s. It started as an offshoot of thrash metal, and then it turned into the harsh Norwegian lo-fi mayhem that many people know it as, but it has recently gone through another change. Bands such as Krallice, Liturgy, Wolves In The Throne Room, and Deafheaven are turning black metal into a positive genre. It’s becoming uplifting and transcendental, and Deafheaven’s “Sunbather” is the perfect example of both of those. This hour-long 7-song masterpiece almost defies traditional black metal by incorporating screamo and post-rock into the lyrical content and sounds of the music. It’s beautiful, loud, and seems to have the ability to lift my spirits. It’s — I hate this word but I’m saying it anyway — epic, to say the least. Not convinced? Well it has a Metascore of 97/100 on Metacritic, which is one of the highest scores an album has ever gotten. To put that into perspective, it’s as well reviewed as Brian Wilson’s “SMiLE” album, and more highly reviewed than Outkast’s “Stankonia,” Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” and The White Stripes’ “Elephant.”
The Drones “I See Seaweed”
Australian rock band The Drones are virtually unknown outside their own country, and that’s a shame. They’ve been around in one incarnation or another since 1997, but they didn’t really come into prominence until their sophomore LP “Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By” won the first Australian Music Prize in 2005, beating out tough competition such as Wolfmother’s self titled debut. Well “I See Seaweed” is the group’s 6th album, and it’s one of the most profound albums I’ve listened to all year. The lyrics are dark, angry, sad, and poetic, which can bring to mind comparisons to fellow Aussie Nick Cave. Definitely give this one a listen. Come for the dramatic opening track, stay for the even more dramatic closing track.
Fire! Orchestra “Exit”
Fire! Orchestra is what happens when free jazz musicians Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werliin bring 28 free jazz and avant-garde musicians together to record a live album divided into two long tracks, Part One and Part Two. This album is loud, dissonant, difficult, and full of everything you probably hate about the words “avant-garde.” There are ritualistic chants and noisy instruments doing their own thing, but it’s also rather peaceful at times, veering into post-rock territory, math-rock territory, and krautrock territory. This album is not for everyone, especially if you’re not into free jazz, but otherwise it’s an experiment in sound, and outrageously fun to listen to.
Hawk House “A Little More Elbow Room”
Hawk House aren’t your average hip hop trio. These Brits combine soul, trip hop, and R&B and use these styles to bring one of the smoothest mixtapes of the year. It’s fairly short, only clocking in at a little over a half hour, but it’s worth every smooth minute. “A Little More Elbow Room” brings elements of Massive Attack, Drake, and Solange to mind, and it’s totally worth your undivided attention, although you’ll want to zone out and relax while listening.
James Blake “Overgrown”
“Overgrown” is the second album from London singer/songwriter/producer James Blake, another youngster (only 24-years old) who’s on the cusp of mainstream popularity, and for good reason. Blake combines minimal dubstep with elegant vocals, making him one of the most creative and original musicians out there right now. “Overgrown” was pretty much just as well reviewed as his self titled debut (both of which have Metascores of 81), and both are great examples of Blake’s combination of soul, future garage, dubstep, and other genres. He even got Wu-Tang’s RZA to do a verse on a song, and got some production help from the legendary Brian Eno on the song “Digital Lion.” If you haven’t gotten around to it yet, then definitely give James Blake a listen.
Jon Hopkins “Immunity”
Jon Hopkins is a versatile gent. The British producer has worked with artists such as Imogen Heap, Coldplay, and Brian Eno, but on his fourth solo album “Immunity,” it’s all about him. This 60-minute journey is a mish-mash of different electronic styles, but if I were to describe it as one particular genre I’d probably say “ambient on coke.” It’s dark, yet bright, like the cover suggests, and plays like a techno rave without the “dance” enthusiasm. Either way, it’s still a fun listen, and a true standout among other electronic releases of the year.
Kanye West “Yeezus”
“I just talked to Jesus/He said, ‘What up, Yeezus?'” Although I’d like to say that the entirety of Kanye West’s 6th solo album can be summed up into that one line, I can’t. “Yeezus” may start out with some of Kanye’s trademarked egoism, but it soon morphs into tales of debauchery, regret, alcohol, sex, breakups, late nights, and redemption. All this in what is Kanye’s shortest album to date. Loud acid house bass, minimal drum sounds, randomly placed interludes and outros, and chipmunked soul samples all pervade the album’s 10 songs. This may be Kanye’s most polarizing album since “808s and Heartbreak,” but I feel like it has potential to be one of his best ever. Excellent production from people like No ID, RZA, Mike Dean, Rick Rubin, Daft Punk, TNGHT, and Kanye himself help make this album feel like a drunken night out in a shady part of town. Starting with pure energy, to feeling like a god, to being angry, to being sad, to being in love. “Yeezus” is moody, masterful, and absolutely worth all the hype that has built up in the past month or so.
KEN mode “Entrench”
KEN mode (KEN being an acronym for Kill Everyone Now) are an award-winning Canadian post-hardcore/noise rock band whose fifth album “Entrench” is one of the loudest, most raucous releases of the year. The band are five albums into their career, but they’ve certainly not lost their sense of humor, especially with song titles such as “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick” and “Secret Vasectomy.” But don’t take this album as some silly heavy metal album. This is every bit as pummeling as Pissed Jeans or Big Black or Sonic Youth can be, while still being fun to listen to.
The Knife “Shaking The Habitual”
Swedish brother/sister duo The Knife have been mostly silent since the 2006 release of their third LP “Silent Shout,” but they’ve finally decided to come back this year with their fourth LP, the difficult, monolithic, 97-minute monster that is “Shaking The Habitual.” The Knife have decided to also opt for more live instrumentation, making them less of a synth-pop band and more of a techno/IDM/dark ambient/trip hop/experimental band. Some songs drone on for upwards of 20 minutes, others creak by in a matter of seconds, but this is one of the most challenging and worthwhile albums of the year. “Shaking The Habitual” is The Knife at their most politically charged, as well as their most angry. It’s tribal, visceral, ambitious, and absolutely insane. Not everyone will love it, but it’s certainly unlike any album I’ve heard this year.
Kvelertak (Norwegian for “stranglehold”) are a Norwegian rock and roll/black metal/hardcore punk band that perform songs in Norwegian. “Meir” (Norwegian for “more”) is their second album, and it’s absolutely excellent. It was produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou (who has produced many incredible hardcore releases the past few years), and the album cover was designed by Baroness vocalist John Baizley. While black metal isn’t usually a fun genre, Kvelertak are capable of making it very fun and uplifting by fusing it with rock and roll and hardcore punk, creating a genre that has been dubbed “black and roll.” The award winning six-piece continue to improve on their sound, and it seems like they’re having a great time doing it.
Mikal Cronin “MCII”
Singer/songwriter and frequent Ty Segall collaborator Mikal Cronin’s second album “MCII” is pretty much the best example of garage-pop to come out in a long time. It’s thoughtful, well written, catchy, and remains a great summer album without becoming too full of itself like Wavves or too hokey like Best Coast. Although I didn’t immediately see the genius of this album, I soon found myself wanting to listen to “MCII” more and more. It’s one of the best pop albums of the year, and it’s likely to go unnoticed by many people. He may be most well known as the guy in Ty Segall’s band, but he’s finally stepped out of the shadow of his pal and written a wonderful album that is full of emotion.
My Bloody Valentine “mbv”
Sometime around Christmas, the reunited yet somewhat dormant Irish/English act My Bloody Valentine announced that the new record (the one that was over 21 years in the making) was complete. Now all we had to do was wait. My Bloody Valentine redefined alternative rock in 1991 with the release of “Loveless,” which is considered the quintessential shoegazing album. They stuck around until 1997, when they officially decided to break it off after years of internal conflict tore the band apart and prevented them from releasing another album. Well, in 2007 they reunited, and for over five years the hopes that they’d finish the new album increased, until finally bandleader Kevin Shields broke the news that it was in the works. Well, come February, the semi-self titled release arrived to nearly universal acclaim. What seems to start out as a “Loveless” throwback slowly turns into keyboards, drum n’ bass, alt rock, and spacious noise rock experimentation. It’s certainly the strangest thing the band have ever put out, and it makes one wonder how old some of the songs on the album are, but it’s a worthwhile release that proves that the masters of shoegaze are still the masters.
Pharmakon is the solo project of a lady named Margaret Chardiet, and to describe her music the way last.fm does would be to use genre terms not familiar to most people. Pharmakon is described as the “power electronics / death-industrial” project of the aforementioned Chardiet, so kind of like a louder, more abrasive version of Throbbing Gristle. The project is absolutely abrasive and can be very difficult to listen to for some. It’s full of hellish screams (courtesy of Margaret) as well as seemingly improvised but allegedly planned bouts of angry noise. If you want to test yourself, then give it a listen. It’s relatively short, but if you like it then you can always listen to the 30-minute bonus track.
Queens of the Stone Age “…Like Clockwork”
California rock group Queens of the Stone Age don’t need to make more albums. They’ve pretty much certified their place in rock and roll history as one of the best mainstream rock groups of the decade, yet they keep on. And thank goodness. Josh Homme’s band are capable of combining stoner rock riffs with mystical lyrics and a desert atmosphere, while still making the music fun. But with “…Like Clockwork,” the band return after a 6-year album gap with their darkest, moodiest release yet. Sure there are some rockers like “My God Is The Sun” and “Fairweather Friends,” but it’s mostly a gloomy trip through the doom side of QOTSA. With help from previous collaborators Dave Grohl, Nick Oliveri, and Mark Lanegan (as well as Brody Dalle, Elton John, Jake Shears, Alex Turner, and Trent Reznor), Queens of the Stone Age rock through their minimalist masterpiece that rocks hard sometimes and grooves slowly other times.
Savages “Silence Yourself”
Nowadays, post-punk is a genre that is rarely done right. Even post-punk originals Wire are releasing strange dance-rock records. But some bands haven’t given up, including British upstarts Savages. The all-female group’s debut is as dark as post-punk gets, often times verging into Joy Division territory. But don’t confuse Savages for a niche act or a knockoff, because they’re as real as it gets. “Silence Yourself” is an impressive debut. It’s extremely energetic, angry, and as claustrophobic as some of the best post-punk groups out there are. Savages are taking a new spin on the “riot grrrl” punk scene of the 90s, and doing so with the elegance and ferocity of Patti Smith herself. Watch out, Iceage, you’re not the only ones who know how to do post-punk right.
This Town Needs Guns “126.96.36.199.0”
This Town Needs Guns (or TTNG) are a British math rock trio who weave emotional pop songs with ridiculously complex instrumentation. The band went through numerous lineup changes during the period between their debut album “Animals” in 2008 and this album, their second album, but that has not stopped them from creating the music they want to create. “188.8.131.52.0” is incredibly complex, but that’s what makes it so much fun to listen to. My brain hurts just thinking of some of the guitar parts on this album. Good luck trying to learn to play anything from it.
I doubt anyone expected former Suicidal Tendencies bassist Stephen Bruner to go into electronic/nu-jazz/bass music territory, but that’s exactly what he’s done. Electronic music master Flying Lotus has signed Stephen, under the name Thundercat, to his Brainfeeder label, and with that came the 2011 release of his debut “The Golden Age of Apocalypse.” Well now he’s back with a new album, simply titled “Apocalypse,” and it’s one of the strangest beauties to come out this year. Different instruments clash as Stephen sings semi-well over odd beats. It’s a truly interesting album to say the least, but one of the most memorable of the year.
Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires Of The City”
American indie rock group Vampire Weekend have made quite the name for themselves since the 2008 release of their critically adored self titled debut. They were praised for their odd yet witty lyricism as well as their choices of instrumentation which tend to veer into afrobeat territory. They received the same praise for their second release “Contra.” Well, three years later, they’re back with their least pop album they’ve released, and it’s arguably their best. Sure, songs like “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” and “Ya Hey” all have very memorable hooks, something VW pride themselves on, but for the most part, “Modern Vampires” is a dark album, and their most cohesive work yet. If the first two VW albums didn’t do anything for you, then “Modern Vampires of the City” certainly has the potential to make you convert you from an unbeliever into a believer.
The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die “Whenever, If Ever”
Emo. The word alone is enough to make some scoff, others laugh, and others angry. When people think emo, people for some reason think of acts like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte, as well as goth-oriented acts like The Cure, but none of these bands really truly embody the emo sound. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die is an 8-piece atmospheric emo/post-rock/indie rock act from Connecticut that make beautifully layered and textured music. It sounds like a summer album, but it’s not a completely fun album. It’s lyrically sound and incredibly dense instrumentally, and it’s one of the most creative emo albums I’ve ever heard. If you’re not sure about what emo is, then definitely give this album a listen.
Well, those are my 25 favorite albums of the year so far, in alphabetical order. Stick around during the coming weeks for album reviews, and at the end of the year I’ll review my Top 50 favorite albums of the year, from #50 to #1. Expect to see some of these on there.