Tuesday, April 12, 2016

First Listen, Part One: New Releases for April 8

Kind of a weird week, but a lot to get through and not a ton of time, so this will be split into two posts again!

Album of the Week:

Artist: She Makes War
Album: Direction of Travel
Quick Description: Smart, interesting indie singer-songwriter rock music.
Why You Should Listen: Every so often an artist appears out of nowhere and gives you a fresh-yet-familiar-sounding album. That's She Makes War.
Overall Thoughts: This is apparently this artist's third album, but I can't say I've heard of her before, and I can't wait until I have enough time to delve into the back catalog a bit. She Makes War makes some interesting music that both sounds like stuff you've heard before, but still surprises you and stays hooked in your head. "In Cold Blood" grabbed me by the time I was interested in this album, and "5000 Miles" just did not let go one bit. When I finished, I wanted to listen again, because I feel like there are layers here that I missed on first listen. If that's not the sign of a great listen, I don't know what is. This blew me away, and it might do the same for you.
Recommendation: One of my favorite recent listens period. A must.

Artist: Peter Wolf
Album: A Cure for Loneliness
Quick Description: Latest solo album from the J. Geils Band singer.
Why You Should Listen: His solo stuff (at least today) sounds nothing like "Centerfold."
Overall Thoughts: I first opted to listen to this because I confused him with Patrick Wolf, who is pretty different. Upon hearing this, I figured out very quickly that this was different, but in a pretty good way. It's certainly well-trod ground, but Wolf's voice is very fitting for the sort of adult contemporary sound he's going for here, and the result is a really solid album. It's good enough where I want to explore his back catalog a bit too, but maybe not to the point of checking out J. Geils again...
Recommendation: A solid listen you shouldn't sleep on.

Artist: Future of the Left
Album: The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left
Quick Description: Fourth album from the post-mclusky UK rockers.
Why You Should Listen: Future of the Left is basically required listening now.
Overall Thoughts: There was some significant concern that this album wouldn't even see United States shores, so the fact that we have it at all is one thing, but I will say that this album is chaotic and strange in ways I didn't love. There's still plenty of the acerbic wit throughout, and there are plenty of great songs in here ("White Privilege Blues" is a distinct highlight), but this feels like a misstep from one of my favorite bands on the first listen through. I wouldn't say not to listen to it, but with so many new releases this might be toward the bottom of the list if their sound isn't your thing.
Recommendation: Feels like a miss.

Artist: M83
Album: Junk
Quick Description: Latest album by the retro/electro act.
Why You Should Listen: M83 has hit a pretty great stride in what they accomplish.
Overall Thoughts: My favorite M83 albums are the earlier ones, before he discovered 80s synths and the retro thing. This is not to say this little niche he's carved out is bad, but it's not really my thing. Junk is his sound perfected, at least in my mind, and I kind of love what he's done with this album. It's kind of irreverent but kind of awesome all at once, and that's a tough balance to make. A solid effort, for sure.
Recommendation: If you like this sort of thing, it needs to be on your list this week.

Artist: The Lumineers
Album: Cleopatra
Quick Description: Much-awaited second album from the rootsy buzz band.
Why You Should Listen: "Ho Hey" was your jam.
Overall Thoughts: I think it's time for some straight talk on The Lumineers. Rising in the wave of Edward Sharpe/Mumford thing, "Hey Ho" was in every movie and commercial for a time, and I feel like we all convinced ourselves that The Lumineers were a big deal. But let's be real: the first album had "Hey Ho," "Dead Sea," and "Big Parade," and beyond that? I can think of dozens of better roots albums. Cleopatra doesn't really expand on anything, and is arguably a step backward considering where it started out, and it makes me wonder if we just all collectively ignored what was in front of us. This isn't compelling, and it might be great for your mom this Mother's Day, but that's it.
Recommendation: Skip it. Very unfortunate.

Artist: Frightened Rabbit
Album: Painting of a Panic Attack
Quick Description: Fifth album from the rockers.
Why You Should Listen: They do a pretty good job with the straightforward modern rock.
Overall Thoughts: Frightened Rabbit came around for me in a time with a lot of bands with "Rabbit" in their titles, and I've confused them with White Rabbits enough over the years to get pretty frustrated by it. I feel like they're a band that's no one's favorite but anyone who likes to listen to rock music enjoys, and that's a fine niche to sit in. It also results in albums like this that are completely pleasant experiences that I might never go to again because it's just not captivating enough with so much interesting stuff surrounding it. Not a pass, but not worth putting ahead of anything else. Just solid rock music.
Recommendation: It's not bad, but it should never take priority.

Artist: Mogwai
Album: Atomic
Quick Description: Latest album by the intrumental rockers.
Why You Should Listen: It's Mogwai. Why haven't you already listened?
Overall Thoughts: If you've heard Mogwai, you already have an opinion of what they do. This album (actually a soundtrack of sorts to a BBC documentary) follows up the stellar Rave Tapes, and while their signature sound is still on display throughout, this album also takes a little longer to get off the ground. Maybe it's more complex, maybe it's just very different due to the medium it accompanies, but it's not exactly what I was expecting, and that means it's a little mixed for me. Truth be told, I'll need more time with this one, but don't sleep on it.
Recommendation: Worth a listen even if it's imperfect.

Artist: Kelley McRae
Album: The Wayside
Quick Description: Rootsy singer-songwriter channels her inner Gillian Welch.
Why You Should Listen: Kelley McRae is underrated, and you need an Americana cleanser after that Lumineers album.
Overall Thoughts: Sweet is the best word to describe this album. I compare it to Welch, but there's not the underlying darkness that seems to permeate a lot of Welch's works. Instead, we get a pretty great album that feels uplifting in its own way, even if I can't say for certain it's meant to be on a first, not-too-close listen. I have loved everything McRae has done up to this point, though, and this continues along the lines of really solid listens from her.
Recommendation: Definitely worth a listen this week.

Also out this week:

* The Dandy Warhols - Distortland (why are you not on Spotify?)
* Deftones - Gore
* Filter - Crazy Eyes

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