Thursday, January 22, 2015

First Listen: New Releases for the Weeks of January 13 and January 20

My apologies for not being able to set up coverage last week, the whole timing got away from me.

So first:

January 13:

California X - Nights in the Dark: California X is an Amherst-area band getting a decent amount of buzz for this album, a punk album that could use a little production polish to help bring out the songs. As it stands, the album does feel a little muddy and samey throughout, and I can't really say anything about it jumped out at me. As is the case with more localish independent productions, it just needs some shine to really push forward, but otherwise might be a good listen for punk fans.

Kat Dahlia - My Garden: At first blush, Kat Dahlia's debut does not look like it's going to be a mainstream rap album, but that is put to bed very quickly by the time the first few tracks roll out. This album was apparently delayed nearly a year, and comparisons are going to be made with both Azaelia Banks and Iggy Azalea for a few reasons, and they really shouldn't be. Dahlia's album does feel more authentic, but still has its share of problems and overall flow. It's not bad, but it's not necessarily what I'm looking for overall. Worth a listen in any regard.

Justin Townes Earle - Absent Fathers: Absent Fathers is a companion album to Single Mothers, Justin Townes Earle's release from last year. I confess to liking that one better than this one, but both thematically and musically they're very similar. There is also a release that has both albums as one, and I haven't had an opportunity to listen to both back to back, but that might make the entire experience. Overall, as someone who only listened to JTE for the first time with Single Mothers, I'm still a fan. It might just be worth listening to both at the same time.

Mark Ronson - Uptown Special: I've been a fan of Mark Ronson's albums for a while, so seeing this new one in the new release list was a pleasant surprise. The album itself is really a funky affair, and it's definitely trying to be a cohesive unit from start to finish. Overall, though, the strength of Ronson's retro vibe is weakened a bit by the coherency, and learning later that the Bruno Mars song here is a huge hit is hardly a surprise. I'd still reach for Version over this, although this is ultimately probably an interesting album for a specific audience that I'm not a member of.

Kingsley Flood - To the Fire: Blog favorite Kingsley Flood is back with an interesting EP. I saw them as more rootsy than this, a more indie pop affair that I actually really loved. The title track alone is an early favorite for the new year, and at an efficient 19 minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome. I'm interested to see what comes next, but this is one of the better releases this week, for sure.

Night Terrors of 1927 - Everything's Coming Up Roses: I was initially sent this album due to the song "When You Were Mine," which features Tegan and Sara, and the song is okay. The album feels like a clone of Of Monsters and Men (which we have far too many of already), and that's not what I expected when I learned that the guitarist from Rilo Kiley (and Pinsky from Salute Your Shorts) was behind the project. Truly, this just isn't very good, and I can't say I'm a fan. Pass on this one.

Future of What - Pro Dreams: Release of the week is Pro Dreams by Brooklyn synthpop band Future of What. I've been waiting for this album for quite a long time, as lead singer Blair (of my favorite album of 2010, Die Young) had announced her joining with this group a while ago. This is definitely different than the Blair album I remember, much more polished and sonically interesting, but still a quiet, independent affair. Lead track "The Rainbowed Air" sets the tone early, and if you picture them as Au Revoir Simone, but rough around the edges, you might get a good idea as to what's coming. Given how many synthpop acts there are these days, Future of What is doing a good job setting themselves apart, and while there isn't any obvious "Kittens Rainbows" lyrical play on this album, there's still a lot to like.

January 20:

The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World: On one hand, this is probably the most Decemberists album since Picaresque, which is a welcome occasion. On the other, if we viewed the R.E.M. aping on their most recent album as progress, this is a step backwards in some regard. The band sounds outright like LRP-era R.E.M. in a few of the early songs, but the album, on first listen, gets really bogged down toward the middle and fails to keep up the same way the opening tracks do. Part of this is basically my expectations getting the better of me, but I can't help but think that this is a good album that should have been great. Still, absolutely a solid listen and worth some time this week.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love: It's weird to think that most people will know this album not due to the band finally reforming, but via Portlandia. With that said, this is absolutely the album release of the week and is arguably my favorite Sleater-Kinney album on first listen. It's immediate, the band doesn't sound like it lost a step and they actually feel more like they've improved on all aspects of things musical during their time apart. Granted, it's not as if the three women weren't working on music during S-K's hiatus, but I never expected the reunion to be this good. Best release of the week, and best release of 2015 so far, bar none.

Belle & Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance: Being a Belle & Sebastian fan in 2015 (and, really, anytime in the last decade) has been an exercise in tolerance and restraint in many ways. In a sense, Girls in Peacetime is the band's best effort since The Life's Pursuit, although they haven't sounded like who we fell in love with for a lot longer. Single "The Party Line" isn't great, other songs really do work well, and there are even hints of the lo-fi, folky past in here. While I try hard to consider albums on their own merits, it's really hard to separate this band from their body of work, and that's probably the continual struggle. The verdict for me - I don't hate it? I need more time with it, but we're long past the point of expecting Sinister from modern B&S.

Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo and Youth: I can't recall exactly what it was that got me into Lupe Fiasco initially, but I know that he's gotten into some label problems, that his last album wasn't great at all, and he remains a very curious rapper for me. The latest album was one I wasn't expecting and, for the most part, is a step forward from the last two albums. It's still not upbeat (but neither is Lupe), and it's still pretty experimental in places, but there's a reason he catches my ear so often. The album itself is also a bit too long, but if you're looking for a new, solid rap album, this is worth some time.

Erase Errata - Lost Weekend: I think Ken and I, before we knew each other, saw Erase Errata open for Sonic Youth at the then-Roxy in Boston. My recollection of them then as compared to this EP is very different, as I love this EP. The opening song is addictive as all get out, and it continues being immediate and in your face through its entire short runtime. This is definitely worth a listen.

Viet Cong - Viet Cong: I didn't know who Viet Cong was prior to Ken sending this album over to me, and it's a mixed bag, to be honest. Sometimes it's noisy post punk, other times it's a really fun alt-rock act ("Continental Shelf" being a true standout). It's definitely worth a listen, although your enjoyment of the album may be directly influenced by your tolerance of some of the longer bits.

Also out this week:

* Aphex Twin - Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt 2

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