Tuesday, April 11, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for April 7

Some solid stuff out this week!

Album of the Week:

Artist: Diet Cig
Album: Swear I'm Good at This
Quick Description: Debut from an indie-alt duo.
Why You Should Listen: This is one of the great releases of the last few months.
Overall Thoughts: After I listened to this amazing album, I went back to their first EP because I knew I had listened to it and I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t register with me. If you were thinking “that’s nice” with the EP, then strap in, because this debut effort is a much more full affair. Lots of that great 90s-esque alt-rock sound, but with a modern indie sensibility that is just so good. The lyrics are extremely current, which provides an extra novelty factor, and the overall feel of the thing is both immediate and fun. This is absolutely a duo to watch, and this is absolutely one of my favorite recent listens.
Recommendation: Do not let this slip by.

Artist: KOLARS
Album: Kolars
Quick Description: Poppy punky duo's debut.
Why You Should Listen: Somewhat derivative, but scratches a specific itch.
Overall Thoughts: KOLARS, on first image alone, seems like it’s going to be something a little more harsh. The result is something different, though – perhaps a more toned-down idea of the guitar+drums duo that was popularized by The White Stripes and The Black Keys. I think my chief complaint is not that this is a bad listen, as it’s a pretty solid effort all things considered. Instead, it just never takes off with the amount of potential it shows. I kept waiting for the album to go into that next gear that never materialized, and kept a good album from being great. With that in mind, this is a second-tier listen in a week of a lot of top-tier efforts.
Recommendation: If you have time, check it out, but this is not mandatory.

Artist: K.Flay
Album: Every Where is Some Where
Quick Description: Indie rap gal goes mainstream.
Why You Should Listen: You like her old stuff or her new. Really, just listen.
Overall Thoughts: K.Flay will always be that independent rapper putting out free music on the internet for me. The fact that she’s matured into a mainstream artist getting actual attention is a shocker to me, but here we are with an album that is quite good, compiles a lot of her recent efforts, and is a great introduction to someone who, until recently, was flying under the radar. If you came here for “Blood in the Cut,” the full album will give you a great introduction to what she offers on a whole. I’ve found other releases of K.Flay’s more compelling, but this isn’t bad.
Recommendation: Worth a listen.

Artist: Timber Timbre
Album: Sincerely, Future Solution
Quick Description: Classic-style alt-rock.
Why You Should Listen: You like 80s Bowie?
Overall Thoughts: If I were a conspiracy theorist – and I’m totally a conspiracy theorist – I’d argue that David Bowie didn’t actually die last year. Instead, he decided to start a band called Timber Timbre who would make music that would remind people fondly of some of his mid-career efforts. Of course, this band has been around for a while and I can’t speak to any of their older efforts, but the Bowie is strong in this one, and if you’re looking for an interesting listen that will tickle a few nostalgia centers in your brain, you can do worse. But Bowie isn’t on an island with Tupac and Elvis, sorry to say.
Recommendation: A decent listen.

Artist: Cold Beat
Album: Chaos By Invitation
Quick Description: Solid retro-esque indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: You're looking for something a little different, yet familiar.
Overall Thoughts: I didn’t know this band from a hole in the ground before Ken sent this over, but this is absolutely a favorite of the week. It absolutely has the sort of modern-80s synthy chill vibe at times that so many bands are trying on for size lately, but other songs reach for a more standard rock/post-punk idea (like “Thin Ice”) which would not work outside of the context of this album. It’s a really fascinating listen from a band I need to learn more about, and they have a back catalog to explore, so off I go. Either way, if you haven’t heard this band yet...
Recommendation: ...you're in for a treat.

Artist: Various Artists
Album: Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album
Quick Description: A cool covers album from the Amazon show.
Why You Should Listen: Fun covers are always a plus, even if the result is hit-or-miss.
Overall Thoughts: A promotional soundtrack of sorts for Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, this is a bunch of modern acts covering a bunch of standards from the post-World War II era. The greatest comp for this was the Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack from a decade or so ago, and that was better. While this compilation absolutely fits the tone of the show, independent of the show it just feels boring and uninspired. There are a few gems here and there, but on a whole I can’t say I especially enjoyed it. Lots of potential lost.
Recommendation: Pull what you like from it and ditch the rest.

Artist: The Octopus Project
Album: Memory Mirror
Quick Description: Latest from the off-center indie act.
Why You Should Listen: The Octopus Project, while weird, typically offer something worth hearing.
Overall Thoughts: The Octopus Project was a band that always felt “weird mainstream” to me, but also one that I associate more with electronic sounds than anything else. So my perception absolutely skewed my enjoyment of this, which feels both more accessible and less mainstream than my perception of the group. The result?
Recommendation: Something that is far from essential in a very busy week.

Artist: Karen Elson
Album: Double Roses
Quick Description: Long-awaited sophomore effort from the singer/songwriter/model.
Why You Should Listen: The Ghost Who Walks was essential when it came out.
Overall Thoughts: It’s unfortunate that Karen Elson is probably known better for being Jack White’s wife for a time than her modeling or her music. Especially given that her first album was extremely well done, even if it carried that Third Man influence. It’s been nearly 7 years since that debut, and the new album is absolutely a different tone in a sense, but one that likely reflects the journey she’s been on. With that said, it’s decent, but far from memorable in the way her first album was in that sort of underlying, under-the-radar sense.
Recommendation: Worth a listen, but not for everyone.

Artist: Fujiya and Miyagi
Album: Fujiya and Miyagi
Quick Description: Compilation of their recent EPs.
Why You Should Listen: F&M are critically underappreciated.
Overall Thoughts: Largely, but not completely, a collection of work from their three previous EPs, this listen is up-and-down, but has enough moments to make it worthwhile. I’d still love a proper LP from them at some point soon, but for now, if you’ve been waiting to listen to the EPs, this is as good a time as any to jump in.
Recommendation: Be wary.

Artist: Future Islands
Album: The Far Field
Quick Description: Latest album from the band following their breakthrough a few years back.
Why You Should Listen: They're nothing but interesting.
Overall Thoughts: Future Islands rightfully hit the cultural zeitgeist with “Waiting on You,” which I think was just as much for the very interesting live performances on television of the song as it were for the song itself. I’ll be honest? The rest of their album did not grab me the way that single did, but sometimes bands make a bad decision in trying to replicate that moment (hi Guster), and sometimes it’s a good decision. It’s not to say this album is a dozen versions of “Waiting on You,” but the feel of it remains more friendly and accessible, and that works for me. For longtime fans, this might be a departure of the sellout variety, but I see this as a fulfillment of some really solid potential from this band.
Recommendation: Give this a listen.

Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Whiteout Conditions
Quick Description: New album from the indie stalwarts.
Why You Should Listen: As if I need to explain this band to anyone.
Overall Thoughts: I don’t know what it says when you hear a new album from a band that’s been fairly prolific over recent times, and your reaction is “man, it’s great to have them back.” This sounds like classic-ish New Pornographers. While the song structures have changed a bit, and it’s not crazy poppy the way, say “From Blown Speakers” or “My Slow Descent into Alcoholism” were from their early work, this feels a lot more essential and enjoyable than anything since pre-Challengers, which has been a long time. So if you’ve hopped off the bandwagon, it might not be a bad thing to hop back on here.
Recommendation: This is worth your time.

Artist: San Fermin
Album: Belong
Quick Description: New album from the chamber folk (is that a thing? I just made it a thing) act.
Why You Should Listen: Their music is always pretty and fascinating.
Overall Thoughts: San Firmin is one of those weird chameleon bands for me. I loved their last release but never really spent a ton of time with it. I loved listening to this new album, which is a quiet and straightforward affair with well-structured songs and a light touch. When I heard a song from it on my Spotify Release Radar later, I was like “wow, that’s great” and then realized I was already loving the album. So this album might not have the sort of staying power that you might be seeking out, but it’s so good that it’s difficult for me to dismiss it.
Recommendation: Definitely one of the better releases this week.

Artist: Arca
Album: Arca
Quick Description: Weird, wonderful electronic sounds.
Why You Should Listen: It's the strangest, most bizarre listen this week.
Overall Thoughts: I have one friend who may or may not read this who will be appalled by this comparison, but I’ll make it anyway – this album really felt like what I’d expect Aphex Twin to sound like if RDJ attempted to go mainstream. It’s weird and wonderful and challenging and fun, and it’s everything I want in electronic music that isn’t dancey Europop, which means it’s not for everyone and maybe not even for you. But I liked this a whole lot...
Recommendation: ...and I think you might as well if you give it a shot.

Quick hits:

* The Whiskey Gentry - Dead Ringer (This was strangely compelling even though it felt way too mainstream country for me to fully embrace)
* Cold War Kids - La Divine (A very disappointing listen from a band that doesn’t even feel like it’s trying)
* Guided by Voice - August By Cake (32 tracks from a band way, way outside their prime is way too many. This was a tough listen for someone who only marginally likes this band to begin with, your mileage may vary)
* Father John Misty - Pure Comedy (If Cold War Kids didn’t try enough, I could argue that Father John Misty is trying too hard here. Feels overly engineered and lacks a real compelling hook on a whole)

Also out this week:

* Miracle Legion - Annulment
* The Upper Crust - Delusions of Grandeur
* Bad Breeding - Divide
* Steady Holiday - Terror EP
* Annie Hardy - Rules

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