Artist: Great Grandpa
Album: Plastic Cough
Quick Description: More female-fronted 1990s alt-rock, nearly as good as the rest.
Why You Should Listen: Hits the right nostalgia buttons while still feeling new and fresh.
Overall Thoughts: A question I never asked until I heard this album was “what if Speedy Ortiz was trying to be more like a grungy version the 1990s revival we’ve been seeing lately?” The answer appears to be Great Grandpa (who have the best band name I’ve seen in some time). The lead track hit my radar some time ago, and I’ve been waiting for this release for some time. It’s very, very good, and I’m impressed by the choices and risks it takes musically – the band could have played things a little safe and worked toward a poppy indie rock record with some radio friendly songs ready and waiting for that breakout, and they instead went with some really interesting song structures and bold decisions. It mostly works – when it doesn’t work it can be a little jarring, which is what keeps this album from the Diet Cig/Charly Bliss/Daddy Issues echelon, but if those are the 1A releases in this space, Great Grandpa is a solid 1B and really deserves your time.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week.
Artist: Lucy Rose
Album: Something's Changing
Quick Description: Singer-songwritery stuff that feels unique.
Why You Should Listen: You're into the singer-songwriter thing with some flair.
Overall Thoughts: I don’t quite know how I tripped up on this one overall, but this falls into that somewhat-theatrical, somewhat torchy singer-songwriter space that we’ve seen a fair number of releases from as of late. This album is perfectly fine, but I can’t say it ever reaches the sort of heights or interests on a whole that I would hope or expect on a whole. There are some solid highlights – “Soak It Up” in particular is a song that should get more attention than it will – but on a whole this is an album that will be a solid listen for many people but nothing that will blow your mind.
Recommendation: Worth a listen, but it might not work for you.
Artist: Public Service Broadcasting
Album: Every Valley
Quick Description: Found audio act's new album.
Why You Should Listen: The structure of their music is sound even if it's a little weird this time around.
Overall Thoughts: Our favorite found audio instrumentalist group is back with a new album that has a bit of a dystopian feel to it, unsurprisingly. The experience is what I come to expect at this point from the group, with the actual traditional songs littered in feeling both interesting and out of place. If I’m being honest with myself, listening to this as compared to, say, their album about the Space Race a couple years back doesn’t feel the same, and I know I should be listening to this less as a “this is an album to enjoy musically” and more as an aural art project, but it’s hard to separate the medium and the message here. Worth it for fans, but this might not be the best entry point for this act or this genre.
Recommendation: Listen to The Race for Space first, and if you like that, then come to this one.
Album: Sneaker Waves
Quick Description: Blog favorite is back with maybe her best album yet.
Why You Should Listen: Tristen has mastered a mixing of genres.
Overall Thoughts: A favorite around these parts, we fell in love with her with her country-tinged folk album from a few years back, and her diversion into keyboard pop was interesting but ultimately divisive for a lot of fans. Her new album came about pretty fast given the relative silence over the last four years (save a poetry collection that was published in the meantime), but when “Glass Jar” hit, it burrowed into our brains and wouldn’t let go. The end result of this new album? On first listen, it’s definitely more country-tinged pop than electronic keyboard, but it appears that this is the sweet spot in combining all of Tristen’s influences into a tight package. The songwriting is sharp, the musicality is the best we’ve seen so far, and the result is a really solid listen that is an album I can’t wait to get back to. Absolutely a highlight of the week, and a solid way to truly kick off the second half of the year.
Recommendation: Nearly my album of the week. Find time for this one.
Artist: Charley Pride
Album: Music In My Heart
Quick Description: Country legend has a new album.
Why You Should Listen: It's Charley Pride, do I need to explain?
Overall Thoughts: a new album from an old country legend, and... it sounds like a new album from an old country legend. Pure sounds, standard stuff here. Not going to blow your mind at all, but it's a fun and pleasant listen, and it's good to hear other folks getting on board.
Recommendation: Solid if unspectacular, but it's worth a listen nonetheless.
Artist: Jasmine Guffond
Quick Description: Haunting electronica.
Why You Should Listen: The most redeemingly-challenging listen this week.
Overall Thoughts: This is very challenging, very experimental indie electronica, and I loved it. I don't know how often I'll go back to it, but this sounds like it just came out of the new season of Twin Peaks, and it has an urgent, crazed feel to it that's designed to be a little awkward.
Recommendation: If you're up for the challenge, don't miss this.
Artist: This is the Kit
Album: Moonshine Freeze
Quick Description: New album from an alt-folkie.
Why You Should Listen: Better production and better songwriting equals a solid album.
Overall Thoughts: I seriously enjoyed the first album from This Is The Kit. The new album here is a more mature, better sounding effort in many ways - all aspects of the presentation are improved, and there are a lot of highlights to point to. The first two songs, especially "Hotter Colder," really set the tone the rest of the way, and if you are into weirder folk sounds, this is absolutely something that's deserving of your energy. It's an album that sticks to your guts, and I can't wait to come back for more.
Recommendation: Make sure this hits your rotation this week.
Artist: Toro y Moi
Album: Boo Boo
Quick Description: Latest from the funky indie act.
Why You Should Listen: Toro y Moi is always interesting.
Overall Thoughts: Toro y Moi has never grabbed me, so I'm not sure what it is about this album that really caught my notice. IT's got a very 80s feel to it, almost to a fault at times, but then you get songs like "Inside My Head" that just seem to make sense. This is weird and funky at times, and it reminds me of The Weeknd in some ways, which feels both right and wrong. I think there's a lot of ambition here that's worth exploring, so I recommend that you give it a shot, but this might not work for everyone.
Recommendation: A solid listen that might not work for everyone.
Artist: Broken Social Scene
Album: Hug of Thunder
Quick Description: Return album from the indie legends.
Why You Should Listen: Broken Social Scene are super important to
Overall Thoughts: If you came into indie music at a certain time, Broken Social Scene was kind of the hipster gold standard. I regret to say that I've never quite understood the appeal - they're good, but not godly - and this revival of sorts is more of the same. If you still love them the way you did in your 20s, run with it. For me, there's better stuff out this week.
Recommendation: Skip this.
Artist: Sarah Jaffe
Album: Bad Baby
Quick Description: Sarah Jaffe's latest that finally reaches the potential of where she's been heading musically.
Why You Should Listen: Jaffe is an interesting songwriter doing her best work.
Overall Thoughts: Sarah Jaffe started out as a bluegrassy, rootsy artist, but went electronic a while back and has said that it was her intention all along, using the roots stuff as a way to advance things. Not to say I haven't liked her electronic stuff, but this album feels like a great leap forward for her on a whole. The songs are tight and interesting, and this feels like what was meant to be for her work.
Recommendation: Worth a listen for sure.
Artist: Shakey Graves
Album: And the Horse He Rode In On
Quick Description: Two EPs from a favorite here.
Why You Should Listen: Shakey Graves does really interesting folky music.
Overall Thoughts: Shakey Graves would be called an anti-folk artist were he debuting a decade ago, I think. His odd, wonderful take on folk music here is a welcome surprise from his first and more traditional release, and I think those who like slightly more adventure who read this will find something to like here.
Recommendation: A solid listen.
Artist: Chris Bell
Album: Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star
Overall Thoughts: As a general rule, I don’t like to highlight reissues or compilations of existing material for First Listen, but I did want to take a moment to point out how great this collection is. Chris Bell was a key member of Big Star, an influential rock act that seems to finally be getting their proper due in the last decade or so. R.E.M. cites them heavily as an influence (Mike Mills has even worked with members since R.E.M. split), and we’re seeing a good number of Big Star covers hitting the airwaves. This is a collection of some of Chris Bell’s pre-Big Star work, and it is great. I can’t stress this enough – this might be completely new to you, and if it is, you’re in for a treat. The remaster sounds great, the songs are awesome, and this is almost certainly going to send me down a very deep rabbit hole for Big Star/Chris Bell music next week. I highly recommend taking an hour and checking this one out, fan of Bell/Big Star or not. You won’t be disappointed.
EPs of note:
* Air Traffic Controller - Echo Papa
* DJ Shadow - The Mountain Has Fallen
* Olga Bell - America
Also out this week:
* Haim - Something to Tell You
* Melvins - A Walk With Love and Death