Thursday, July 31, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for July 28

Not a very long release list this week, but still some goodies.

Jenny Lewis - The Voyager: I cheated a bit on this one, folks. My goal with this is twofold - to highlight new releases and to give a quick judgement of sorts on them. I couldn't do that with this album, as it's a pretty layered affair with a lot of moving parts, and I discuss The Voyager, Lewis's third solo album, with three listens under my belt so far. This album absolutely gets better as more time is spent with it - Lewis's crystal clear voice can be a little jarring depending on the song, and it takes a while to really settle in for what it is. In the end, this is an album that really balances out the sounds from her first two solo albums with some of the better pop sensibilities of the Jenny and Johnny project from a few years ago. There are a number of great songs here, and this is an album that's probably going to end up on some year-end lists. Definitely recommended if you like music.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye: It's easy to write off Tom Petty as a legacy act, having been going full bore since the 1970s. Is a lot of his new stuff as good as some of the classics? No, of course not, but the latest album still works as a great piece of straightforward rock music. It sounds like Tom Petty, and, ultimately, that might be all that actually matters. Because it's Tom Petty, it's worth a listen. Because it's good, you might give it a few more.

The Muffs - Whoop Dee Doo: The Muffs are reformed after an aborted situation with The Pixies to offer the grungiest grunge album you're likely to hear this year. It sounds straight out of the mid-1990s, which I'm sure is the point, and is something I really ended up liking a lot more than I thought I would. Let's be honest, the newer Pixies material we've heard of late has been terrible, so why not give some love to something good instead, right?

Stardeath and White Dwarfs - Wastoid: I know S&WD more through The Flaming Lips (S&WD member Dennis Coyne is Wayne Coyne's nephew), and the type of psychedelic experimental... whatever it is they've done has been very hit or miss for me. Wastoid is a surprise in that it is much more straightforward affair. It's different, it has a wide dynamic range, but it's also not strange while still retaining some of those qualities. I was shocked to enjoy this as much as I did, and I truly hope it has some staying power.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Mix: Best Songs of July 2014

With another month out of the way (and with the knowledge that there are a few interesting releases out tomorrow), I figured a look back at some of the better songs of the last month might be worth a look. Maybe you missed them when they first came out, and maybe we missed them, but these are 20 of the most essential songs from some of the best releases of the month. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for July 22

A pretty stacked week this week for releases.

Got a Girl - I Love You But I Must Drive Off of This Cliff Now: Got a Girl, the Dan the Automator/Mary Elizabeth Winstead project has been highlighted here at the blog before, and now that we have a full-length album, we can hear how well the initial song release matches the album. Overall, Ken is right that it feels a lot like the Lovage project, and while it may be a tad too long for my ears, there is more than enough here to really enjoy as a lounge-style electronic piece, and Winstead more than holds her own as a singer (which can be dicey for actors and actresses who try to cross over). Definitely worth putting in your rotation.

Alvvays - Alvvays: I hate their name, and there's not exactly new ground forged in the debut album from Alvvays, but there's something very pleasant and reliable here that I appreciate. Polyvinyl specializes in this sort of indie pop, and Alvvays, even with the amount of hype and buzz they're received in indie circles, delivers a pretty great first album on a whole. Reminds me of the indie rock I came to love to start, so that's always great. Certainly a good start from this band.

La Roux - Trouble in Paradise: It's been five years since we've heard new music from La Roux. Since then, "Bulletproof" became more popular, the duo went through some lineup changes, and now we get an excellent-sounding electropop album that at least made me feel like they hadn't missed a beat. "Let Me Down Gently" is an early favorite for me, but this is absolutely one of the better electropop albums we're going to hear this year, and if you enjoy this sort of thing, it's worth a listen.

The Raveonettes - Pe'hai: The Raveonettes surprised everyone this week with a new album, their first in a couple years. While they're still a long way from doing entire albums in one key or trying to ape 1950s rock music, this does feel very much like a standard Raveonettes album we've come to expect. "Killer in the Streets" in particular jumps out at me as a solid song, and it didn't feel like there was a weak spot throughout. Where this will sit in the Raveonettes discography remains to be seen, but for now, this is a welcome surprise this week.

Nightmare and the Cat - Simple: Nightmare and the Cat actually reminds me of old Feeder in a sense. It's radio-friendly, indie-rock-on-a-major-sounding music, and it absolutely has its place, but this is one of those areas where the solid songwriting and catchy hooks, at least for me, got overshadowed by the polish. I can see these guys getting moderately big at some point and us tiring of it quickly because of the production values, but in terms of what they do, the album is pretty solid. If you're looking for a left-of-center album for your cookouts that might be tolerated by your guests, this could do the trick, but know what you're getting into.

The Black Angels - Clear Lake Forest: This one came as a surprise to me this week, as this is exactly what you'd expect from a modern retro act that's playing it straight as opposed to a lot of the other retro acts out there. This seven song EP sounds like an old psych record updated for modern times, and it's really great. This is a must-listen for this week, for sure.

PS I Love You - For Those Who Stay: My pick of album of the week is the new PS I Love You, which continues what has been a really solid run of albums by the band. This one feels a lot more urgent, a lot more immediate, and is a great mix of indie sensibility and outright rock. Truly, there's nothing to dislike about this at all, and it's making me start to wonder why I don't think of them more often when I'm looking for something like this to listen to. Should be a mandatory listen for everyone this week.

Field Mouse - Hold Still Life: Ken has been following Field Mouse for a while now, and their debut album has landed. I saw one description as something like a modern Velocity Girl, and there's a lot to that comparison. The album is a nice swig of 1990s indie-pop goodness with some shoegaze mixed in for good measure. This one might end up being a grower for me, but it's good to know that they're getting better with time as well. Definitely give this a shot.

Dom Flemons - Prospect Hill: As the members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops continue to release solo pieces, I have to say that this is one of the better folk records I've heard in a while. Flemons left the group last year, and his first release as a solo artist involves some modern takes on old folk, jazz, and ragtime songs. There are a lot of gems here, and some nice surprises for those who have listened to bits and pieces of the old American songbook. It's like a really fun history lesson, and I hope this gets released on Spotify soon, before it disappears from Soundcloud.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Download Free Music From Shovels & Rope!

To prepare fans for the upcoming release of their new album (Swimmin' Time, due out August 25), Shovels & Rope have released the Swimmin' Time Primer for free through Noisetrade! The six songs come from the upcoming album, their debut (O' Be Joyful), and other previously unreleased music. It also includes the first single from Swimmin' Time, "The Devil is All Around," and their collaboration with J Roddy Walston, "Boys Can Never Tell." Based on "The Devil is All Around," the new album features even more of their hyped up rockabilly and alt-country. Plus, everyone loves free music!

To download your copy of Swimmin' Time Primer, head over to Noisetrade. It will cost you your email address, but Noisetrade is totally worth it. For more info on Shovels & Rope and tour dates (including the 2014 Newport Folk Festival!), check out their website.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Mix: Newport Folk Festival 2014 Must See Bands

With this weekend's upcoming Newport Folk Festival, we thought we'd highlight some of this year's can't miss acts. We're focusing on the bands playing smaller stages and earlier in the day. I mean, you're obviously going to see Ryan Adams and Jack White. Instead, these are the acts worth getting there early for, and seeking out the smaller stages.

Friday, 1:50, Quad Stage
Phox hails from Baraboo, WI, the winter home of the Ringling Brothers' Circus. I'm not sure if that is connected to their music or not, but Phox has an otherworldly charm and a magical feel. They come across as a more grounded St. Vincent or a less intense version of early Tori Amos. Their music is simply beautiful and uplifting. 

Friday, 2:55, Quad Stage
Truly pushing the boundaries of what can be considered "folk" are Reignwolf. Reignwolf is Jordan Cook, who sounds like a mixture of The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age, mixed with just a little hint of shoegaze. It definitely breaks the folk festival stereotype of mellow acoustic guitars, and I'm heartbroken I won't be able to attend and see his set on Friday. Let's hope for a surprise Paste Ruins appearance over the weekend, although he might be too intense for the tiny space.

Haden Triplets
Saturday, 11:05, Quad Stage
I have been a fan of Rachel and Petra Haden for decades, starting with their 90s band that dog., and their collaborations with Beck, The Rentals, Weezer, Petra's a capella work, and more. As The Haden Triplets, they team with Tanya to bring some of the most beautiful three part harmonies you'll hear all weekend. It's very traditional folk, much more on the lines of The Secret Sisters than First Aid Kit (to keep the sister band comparisons active). It's a change of pace from what we're used to from them, but I adore their debut album.

Benjamin Booker
Saturday, 1:35, Quad Stage
Last year I fully planned to catch Shovels & Ropes' set at Newport, but I got sucked into Frank Turner's. I did catch 3 songs of Shovels & Rope, and while I didn't exactly regret my decision, but I was disappointed I missed them. As soon as it was announced they were playing again this year, I was determined to see their entire set. Until they were paired against Benjamin Booker. I have become truly obsessed with the 2 songs that have been released by Benjamin Booker so far. I would literally miss any of the other acts at Newport this year to see him. His blend of Delta blues mixed with late 60s Detroit proto-punk hits me perfectly. If his set is anything less than the highlight of the year, I'll be disappointed.

Saturday, 2:50, Quad Stage
Another act I fully planned to see last year but missed at the last minute, Houndmouth are back at the Fort. I heard maybe half of "Casino (Bad Things)" last year and fell in love with their upbeat alt-country sound. It's a perfect blend of male/female harmonized group vocals with great hooks and guitar solos. They remind me strongly of Summerteeth-era Wilco. 

The Deslondes
Sunday, 11:00
The Deslondes were formerly known as The Tumbleweeds (in the playlist below they're known as Sam Doores + Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds, to make it more confusing). They play old time Sun Records era country in the most raw, edgy form possible. Their official website calls them a "New Orleans-based country-soul, swamp-boogie band," and that pretty much nails it. They are the perfect way to ease you into Sunday morning at the Fort.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Sunday, 12:40, Fort Stage
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down's version of alt-folk are so absurdly upbeat, it's my initial reaction to recoil from them. But it's just so damn catchy and fun. It's almost the danceability of the current alternative dance music, but with quirky guitar. "We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)" might end up being the must fun moment of the entire weekend.

Mavis Staples
Sunday, 6:15, Fort Stage
I know this entire post is to highlight some of the lesser known bands, and Mavis Staples is headlining the weekend, but I also know a lot of people tend to take off before the Sunday headliner. I get it, it's a long weekend and people have to start heading home. I was shocked by the exodus before Beck last year (but, then again, any time Lumineers fans leave, it can't be all bad), and you owe it to yourself to see Mavis. Under any other circumstances I hate gospel singers, but she has the most powerful voice I have ever heard in person. It's the kind of voice that makes an entire crowd gasp as she starts. Beyond the National Treasure that is Mavis Staples, it's billed as "Mavis Staples & Friends," so you know you'll miss something you'll never forgive yourself for if you don't stay.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for July 14

After a few slow weeks, the record companies are apparently back to work. Plenty to look at this week:

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Mandatory Fun: "Weird Al" is basically a musical institution at this point, so if you're into what he does, you already know it. For me, this album was an improvement over Alpocalypse in part because I (unfortunately) know a lot of the songs he's pardodying this go 'round - it's less rap/R&B heavy and it has a lot of songs that were tough to miss. The polka is, of course, superlative as well. As I said, you know what you're getting with "Weird Al," so your enjoyment will be based solely on that, but for me? I'm glad he's still doing what he's doing.

Puss n Boots - No Fools, No Fun: Norah Jones continues being a chameleon of sorts, this time collaborating with two other women to form Puss n Boots, a traditional country band. The songs are good and unexpected without being out there - it's a very traditional country album in many regards. It didn't work for me, but it's more my own personal preferences than the musicianship. Definitely something you should give a shot if you're a fan of Jones or the style.

Hercules and Love Affair - The Feast of the Broken Heart: I'm new to the Hercules and Love Affair bandwagon, having tripped up on "Leonora" from their/his 2011 effort earlier this year. The new album feels like a very straightforward electronic album, and that's not a bad thing at all, but if you're looking for something more groundbreaking or something more in line with the current electronic tastes, this won't be it. Truly, that might be why I enjoyed this so much on first listen, because it's got a solid traditional vibe to it. Worth a listen.

Bleachers - Strange Desire: Bleachers is the solo project of fun./Steel Train member Jack Antonoff. It's a little poppy in some places, a little artsy in others, so as a semi-indulgent solo project, it's a lot of what you'd expect. The good news is that, especially if you're a fan of either of his main projects, there are a lot of really solid highlights to pull out of here, and as someone who wasn't a big Steel Train guy and really didn't love fun.'s second album, I was surprised to find a lot to like here. Where this will end up, I don't know, but in terms of interesting releases this week, this is definitely one of them.

Princess Superstar - I'm a Firecracker: I had not heard of Princess Firecracker at all until this week, and I figured it would be something kind of strange, and instead I think I'm in love. I'm a Firecracker is an EP that essentially sounds like if Peaches did party rap, and it's awesome. I really liked the first couple songs, and then her version of "Chick Habit" comes on and I'm sold. I'll probably be tearing through her back catalog for the rest of the month, so if you're looking for me, that's where to find me. Highly recommended.

Trampled by Turtles - Wild Animals: Your enjoyment of the new Trampled by Turtles album will likely bank on a) your enjoyment of the earlier, almost punk-flavored bluegrass of TBT's earlier work and b) your tolerance of the more deliberate bluegrass of many other groups and artists. The new album is the latter, and if you're expecting "Wait So Long" again, it's not here. It feels a little transitional, especially taking into account their more recent output, so this is certainly worth a listen, but one with caution.

Morrissey - World Peace is None of Your Business: A few confessions, first - I'm not a big Smiths guy, and I've never truly "gotten" Morrissey or The Smiths. My favorite Smiths song is probably "Panic," and the only solo stuff from Morrissey I've really enjoyed were the first few songs off of his previous solo album. So when encountering this album, I have a lot of the same feelings I have when it comes to his latest album. It sounds good, but it doesn't move me or work for me at all. Taking that into account, it's probably a "If you like Morrissey..." thing here, with the "recent solo work from an aging artist" caveat.

Luluc - Passerby: I don't know a lot about Luluc except that this album was recommended to me. It's pretty good sleepy folk pop, and there's a lot of times that I'm into this. The final song in particular, "Star," is one of the better things I've heard in a while so, overall, a good listen.

Also out this week:

* My Brightest Diamond - None More Than You
* Anna Calvi - Strange Weather

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

King Buzzo, Dover Brickhouse, Dover, NH 7/9/14

Back in 2012 when the Melvins went for the world record for playing all 50 states in the shortest time, they played the Brickhouse in Dover, NH. Surprisingly, King Buzzo brought his solo tour to the Brickhouse on 7/9/14. It wasn't anywhere near as well attended as the full band show, but it was still memorable.

The big question of the night was answered right away with King Buzzo opening with the Melvins' classic "Boris." In fact, of the 13 songs played that night, 6 were Melvins songs, and 1 cover (Alice Cooper's "Ballad of Dwight Fry"). The rest of the set was made up of songs from Buzz's surprisingly great debut acoustic album, This Machine Kills Artists. The Melvins songs got the best reaction as these were the die hard fans.

King Buzzo was much chattier than at a Melvins show, telling multiple stories and interacting with the crowd quite a bit. He told fantastic stories of accidentally insulting Mike Patton and watching Iggy Pop react to watching Weezer. Since the show was pretty sparsely attended, you got an incredibly intimate show with an absolute indie/hard rock legend. Buzz joked at one point that acoustic shows always felt longer than they are, and he ended up right as the show felt like it dragged towards the end.

The intimate feel led to my only true complaint about the show: The crowd. I know the Melvins tend to attract a more... unique crowd. It might have been the excitement to having Buzz in their town, or trying to make sure he wants to come back despite the small turnout, but a portion of the crowd was so overly excited they crossed the line into heckling. From excitement at the song that was just played ("BORIS!!!! HE OPENED WITH BORIS!!!!") to commenting on everything Buzz said ("FUCK WEEZER!!!! FUCK THE SWEATER!!!!"), it took over the show almost completely. They seemed to think they were watching him play a private show in their own living room, alone.

For more King Buzzo dates, as well as info on his solo album, check out the Melvins' website.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Mix: An Introduction to Andrew Jackson Jihad

Some friends got me into Andrew Jackson Jihad last year. While I wouldn't come right out and call them a favorite band, they scratch a very specific itch for me the way The Moldy Peaches and many Elephant 6 bands did back in the day. They're often political, occasionally profane, and they strike a great balance between funny and musically fascinating.

To narrow down to 20 songs can be a little problematic, but they're also a band that requires some curation (at least to start). This is probably a good starting point, but just know that they enjoy the naughty language.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Drive-By Truckers & Deer Tick, Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach, NH 6/29/14

Hampton Beach is one of the biggest tourist destinations in New England. It promises everything you could want in a busy beach, complete with boardwalks, water slides, mini golf, fried dough, and skee ball. It's a favorite destination for families, teenagers, and has enough of a night life scene to attract adults, too. It's also the town where, last October, a 71 year old man murdered his roommate with a sledgehammer. In other words, it's the perfect place in the Northeast to see the Drive-By Truckers.

The Casino Ballroom is an odd venue. It boasts of it's rich history, having had Louie Armstrong, Led Zeppelin, and Janis Joplin all play on it's stage. It even has huge banners around the stage proclaiming these past glories. For all it's past glories, the Ballroom has been more a part of the nostalgia circuit recently, hosting pretty much annual visits from Huey Lewis & the News, Brett Michaels, and Jeff Dunham. This year has seen an uptick in more current bands, including the recent Drive-By Truckers/Deer Tick double bill.

Deer Tick could have played it safe with their set, opting for more of their hard rocking, drinking songs, and seemed to be, playing songs like "Let's All Go to the Bar" at the beginning of their set. Instead, they truly made it their own show, slowing down the tempo and playing pretty much they wanted. There were definitely some hardcore Deer Tick fans in the audience, singing along loudly to old classics like "Ashamed." John McCauley even had his relatively new wife, Vanessa Carlton, come out to sing on "In Our Time." I never thought I'd see Vanessa Carlton come out to sing back up at any show I ever went to, but this is what happens now. Deer Tick even had an extra 15 minutes for their set on this night, a gift from the Truckers since it was kind of a homecoming show for them. (This is how New England is: You can be 2 states away from your hometown, and it can still be a hometown show).

Drive-By Truckers took the stage with a set almost perfectly crafted for the venue. Since the Ballroom exists as a tribute to it's own past, it was fitting that the Truckers played so many of their own tribute songs ("Carl Perkins' Cadillac," "The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town," "Ronnie and Neil," "Steve McQueen") to those who came before them. The entire set took place with the two songwriters/frontmen, Patterson Hood and Mike Colley, swapping singing duties back and forth from song to song. It was one of the best of all the times I saw them, playing loosely and just having fun. This is truly shown with new-ish bass player Matt Patton. You will never see anyone enjoying themselves on stage as much as he does. DBT is such an amazing live band that even though I've seen and heard the intro to "18 Wheels of Love" dozens of times, it still becomes one of the best tales I've ever heard live. They are one of the few bands I'll do anything I can to see anytime they come around.

To keep track of upcoming tour dates for Drive-By Truckers, check out their website. You can do the same for Deer Tick, including their main stage debut at the Newport Folk Festival.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for July 8

Unfortunately, we have another slow week. Thankfully, one of the comeback releases might be among the best of the year!

The Proper Ornaments - Wooden Head: In some ways, Wooden Head is the stereotypical modern indie rock record, with accessible instrumentation and an interesting-sounding lead vocalist. That does, however, not do this album justice, as it's truly a solid record from start to finish. While no songs outright jump out at me on first listen, the very first track hooked me in within 30 seconds and I genuinely enjoyed this. Would be worth a listen on a busy week, but in a week with few significant releases, it's absolutely something you should toss in the rotation.

Braid - No Coast: Braid has been broken up since 1999 (with the exception of a quick reunion tour in 2004), and haven't released an album in close to 16 years, so tis comeback of sorts came, at least for me, with some interest as well as trepidation. The good news is that it feels like a Braid album almost immediately, and the even better news is that it's really one of the better things I've heard this year. With a lot of bands doing what they were known for over the years, the fear that they'd be lost in the shuffle is unfounded, as there's just a ton here to love. "East End Hollows" is particularly a highlight. If you have any love of the late 1990s indie rock scene at all, you owe yourself to fire this one up. Everyone else should listen to this just because it's one of the best of the year.

Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear: While I know she wasn't an official member, my affinity for Sia is rooted mostly in her work with Zero 7. Her solo work has always left me a little cold, and this new album is no different. It feels like the worst parts of modern pop music all fused into one piece, and it's thus no surprise that it's likely to hit #1 in its debut week. You'll know if you'll like this almost immediately upon hearing it, but if you're looking for solid pop albums for this year, there's better.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Mix: "Weird Al" Yankovic

"Weird Al" Yankovic, in a way, needs no introduction. He's put out a ton of albums since the early 1980s, and a bunch of memorable song parodies over the years. He has a new album out next week, so I figured we could welcome a mix of some of his best work (subjectively speaking). No commentary on this, just a good mix of parodies, originals, and polka medleys to get you through this summer workday. Toss it on shuffle and enjoy.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for July 1

Another thin week with the holiday coming up this weekend.

Beverly - Careers: Beverly is the new project from former Vivian Girls/Dum Dum Girls/Crystal Stilts member Frankie Rose. Hopefully she settles in on this project, because it's a real winner. It has a lot of the elements we've come to expect from her past projects, and has the same similar 90s-alt rock sensibilities to go along with some really catchy, poppy tunes. It feels like a great summer record in a lot of ways, and, clocking in at under 30 minutes, doesn't come close to overstaying its welcome. A solid entry and worth your time this week.

Kingsley Flood - Live at the Armory: While Kingsley Flood is a blog favorite, I confess to not having listened to much of them. This live album, for me, was an excellent start. A good, rootsy body of work that really gives you an idea of their sound, and the rootsy atmosphere translates well to a live album. It's got me interested in hearing a lot more of them now, which I suppose might be the point. A good release, highly recommended.

Also out this week:

* Old Crow Medicine Show - Remedy
* Eno & Hyde - High Life

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires - "Born in the U.S.A."

I've never really gotten the whole Springsteen thing. I really like Nebraska, but pretty much everything else I hear is just over the top, arena rock, which I pretty much universally loathe. The worst of all of this is the album loved by everyone in America but me Born in the U.S.A. This is why I'm so intrigued by the upcoming tribute album Dead Man's Town. It features more country twinged/folky acts covering the album Born in the U.S.A. 

The first, and title, track is the one I'm most interested, featuring husband/wife duo Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. Their version is downright haunting and minimalist, featuring little more than Isbell's vocals and Shires' fiddle. The result is beautiful and unsettling, much closer to the actual lyrics and the song's subject matter than Springsteen's album version.

Dead Man's Town will be released on September 16 on Lightning Rod Records. It will also feature Justin Townes Earle, Joe Pug, Holly Williams, Trampled By Turles, and more. To listen to Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires' cover of "Born in the U.S.A." just in time for the 4th of July, watch the video below.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Quarterly Report: More Albums We Missed So Far

Some of the albums we missed over the last few months...

Mr Little Jeans - Pocketknife: Mr Little Jeans has been a blogosphere favorite for a while, largely due to her cover of Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" a few years back. I loved "Runaway" when she released it as a single a while back, and we finally get a full length that is very techno-aligned along with the songs that have put her on the map. If there's a downside to the album it's that some of these songs have existed for a very long time now and thus the album doesn't feel terribly new from start to finish, but it's still a minor complaint for what is really a solid listen from top to bottom.

Future Islands - Singles: Chances are you've probably already heard of this album, or at least the single "Seasons (Waiting on You)" via their fairly incredible David Letterman performance. While the sort of dark new wave thing doesn't always do it for me, this album is really solid from start to finish and is really going to end up being a leaping point of sorts for Future Islands. Absolutely worth some of your time if you haven't heard it yet.

Arc Iris - Arc Iris: The solo debut album from Jocie Adams, formerly of The Low Anthem, is sometimes a weird 70s amalgam and sometimes a really interesting chamber folk record, but always interesting. In a lot of ways, it truly defies categorization, and that's not a bad thing for Arc Iris on a whole. Assuming you can tolerate fast tonal/thematic shifts from song to song, you might find something to love in here even if it's not the whole. For me, this really hits a lot of solid points.

Courtney Barnett - The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas: It's cheating to call this a 2014 release given that it came out in Australia last year and combines EPs released in 2012 and early 2013, but it would be lax not to highlight the solid singer-songwriter here. The album is a pretty cohesive unit and includes plenty of folk, alt-country, and even some more folk-rock type songs like on "History Eraser." Ken wrote about her Lemonheads cover earlier this year, and if you're into the folky singer-songwriter space, this is absolutely a release to check out.

Naomi Pilgrim - Naomi Pilgrim EP: I should write more about songs I'm obsessed with, because Naomi Pilgrim's "No Gun" was a really great song for me last year. Not really R&B but not really electronic either, it straddled the line exceptionally well and I've been so impatient for more music from her that the EP, while great, does nothing to satiate my desire for more music from her. It's another quick hit, includes "No Gun," and, at only 3 songs, is far from a significant investment of your time to try out. Definitely give this a listen.

Kid Cudi - Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon: Kid Cudi is doing some of the more interesting things in hip hop as of late, and while it doesn't always work (like his album before this), it's often interesting enough to at least give some time to. Satellite Flight was a surprise release that ended up being pretty successful for him, and it's certainly better than his recent efforts but still feels almost weird for weird's sake. It's very thematic in a lot of ways, so if the concept throws you off a bit, you might have a short leash with this album.

RAC - Strangers: RAC, formerly the Remix Artist Collective, put out their first real album this year. For folks who have made their fame on remixes, it's surprising how safe this album feels in contrast to what other electronic/remix artists are doing. It's not really boring, but it's certainly not anything exciting, nor is there much in the way of standout tracks to show, either. Kind of disappointing on a whole.

Water Liars - Water Liars: While it's often refreshing to hear a straightforward rock record that sounds as if it came out of the 1970s, it's often a risky proposition. Water Liars pulls it off admirably in their third album, channeling a lot of the classic rock tropes to put together a nice, shortish album that hits most of the marks. Worth a listen.

Carrie Ann Carroll - You Should Know: Given that there are a few good alt-country/rootsy albums that are really, really good, Carrie Ann Carroll's effort runs the risk of falling through the cracks, especially when it definitely toes the line between mainstream twang and the more independent-minded releases. The album is great, and has a number of great moments, but this might be something that's overlooked in the long run given its terrible cover and lack of a real hook to it. You shouldn't overlook it, though, it's a really solid album from start to finish that deserves more attention.

Fear of Men - Loom: Fear of Men definitely reminds me of something, and I can't quite place what it is. It's definitely some standard indie rock with some lighter, almost orchestral, overtones, but it always feels close to taking off and becoming something more without quite getting there. A solid release that might be worth a listen, I just hope that something can truly grab me from this one.

Sweet Apple - The Golden Age of Glitter: A side project of J Mascis, Mark Lanegan, and Bob Pollard, this is actually a pretty crunchy power pop record. Each song is pretty straightforward, very melodic, nothing too offensive at all. Truly, this seems to be more driven by Pollard and Mascis, so if you're a Guided by Voices fan in particular, you'll find a lot to like here. There's not enough great power pop being released lately, so the fact that this exists alone is reason to be appreciative, but this is definitely something that deserves a little attention.

Eternal Summers - The Drop Beneath: This is their second album, but my first experience with Eternal Summers. On The Drop Beneath, you have a hazy sort of indie rock happening on this. Reminds me of Stars in some places, but has a lot going for it on a whole. Definitely a solid release on a whole.

Kelis - Food: Kelis flits in and out of my consciousness. I remember liking "Caught Out There" a long time ago, and "Milkshake" is a decade old now if you can believe it. Food is not an album I was expecting at all, but it's actually an excellent R&B album from start to finish. Even if it's not your typical genre, it's worth a listen to give it a shot.

Davidge - Slo Light: Davidge is Neil Davidge of Massive Attack, and this is a solo album that is pretty modern drum and bassy. Not really something I loved on a whole, but it has its moments overall. Not too much to say about this one.

Royksopp & Robyn - Do It Again: Two great tastes that go great together. "Do It Again" a great dance track, "Sayit" a more challenging electro track, I expected some interesting things by this collaboration, but my only downside on it is that there are only five songs on this EP when I wish there were more. Robyn continues to be underrated in the United States in particular, and as awesome as this is, it might not help.

Roo and the Howl - Me/We: I forget how I tripped up on this, but Roo and the Howl is the solo moniker for 25 year old Bekah Wagner, and it's an indie pop delight with folk and country undertones from start to finish. A lot of catchy songs, her voice is gorgeous and haunting, there's little negative I can say about this. Possibly one of the better albums of the year.

Ariana and the Rose - Head vs Heart: A pop EP if I've ever heard it, each song feels catchier than the next. Those allergic to radio-friendly pop music will want to avoid this one, but if you're looking for someone who sounds like they're ready to break through, you could do a lot worse. Personally, it's great guilty pleasure music, so I'm recommending it anyway.

Lera Lynn - Lying in the Sun: I liked Lera Lynn's first album, Have You Met Lera Lynn, from a few years ago, and her new EP is more alt-country goodness. It feels very methodical, and the tone of the album feels pitch-perfect. Overall, a solid EP and I hope it means we're getting an album sooner than later.

FM Belfast - Brighter Days: Listen, I don't know what to make of this. FM Belfast is an Icelandic band that I don't think we're supposed to take too seriously, but they're also pretty great in their own way. They certainly aren't pulling from the Bjork/Sigur Ros playbook, but it's almost as if it's pop music for people who hate pop music. I do know that my 15 month old son loves dancing to the title track, and that the album has stayed in somewhat-steady rotation for months, so there's something here, regardless.