Artist: Stephen Malkmus
Album: Groove Denied
Quick Description: New album from the Pavement frontman.
Why You Should Listen: Stephen Malkmus has earned the right to do what he wants at this point.
Overall Thoughts: At least when Radiohead went weird, they didn’t try to alienate most listers right out of the gate. If you can get past the first track of Groove Denied, however, you’re in for a real treat. Malkmus’s output over the decades has always been a strange mixed bag even if it’s perpetually compelling, and this album is the vision of a man just spreading his wings as much as he wants and presenting the results. Sort of a Kraftwerk via the American West Coast amalgam of ideas and concepts through much-to-most of the affair, this is not going to have the sort of wide appeal of his early solo work or the indie smart takes of the most hardcore of Pavement enthusiasts. This is a bizarre record, but it’s also kind of brilliant and really works as long as you’re willing to go along with the ride. There is always the risk with a musician like Malkmus that this isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but whether it’s a serious undertaking or the first real musical trollery of 2019, it’s my favorite of the week and should be a topic of conversation for some time to come.
Recommendation: I love what is going to be one of the more divisive listens of the year.
Artist: Danger Mouse and Karen O
Album: Lux Prima
Quick Description: Frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the awesome producer do a teamup.
Why You Should Listen: I guess if Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells had a baby, it would be this?
Overall Thoughts: Danger Mouse knows what he's doing, for sure, because his collaborations over the last decade have been top-notch. This one, with Karen O? Just as good as everything else. If a song like "Turn the Light" doesn't grab you, perhaps "Woman" (which really brings what Karen O does best to the forefront) might do it instead. While there are likely many people who would prefer to see both of these acts on their main gigs, this is going to be one of the more underrated treasures of 2019.
Recommendation: A great listen this week.
Artist: Over the Rhine
Album: Love & Revelation
Quick Description: First album in four years from the folk act.
Why You Should Listen: Over the Rhine is consistently great and consistently underrated.
Overall Thoughts: I was turned onto Over the Rhine when they shared a bill with Hem way, way back, and I became an instant fan. In an era where Hem is basically gone, the band carries that mantle of lush, orchestral folk forward, and this album provides even more of what I’m looking for from this act. There are some truly beautiful songs here, some familiar-sounding choices, and overall a really nice and pleasant listen that’s unlike a lot of the folk stuff out there.
Recommendation: A must-hear this week.
Artist: The Lasso
Album: The Sound of Lasso
Quick Description: R&B/electronic producer with a solid instrumental listen.
Why You Should Listen: If you liked Elaquent but wanted more adventure...
Overall Thoughts: I talked about how much I enjoyed Elaquent a few weeks back, and The Lasso is along the same lines – R&B-infused trip-hop, instrumental-style. I’ll be honest - this is different and perhaps more ambitious than the Elaquent effort (which is not a condemnation of Elaquent’s excellent album at all), but is interesting enough where I am pretty sure there’s a whole genre of artists and albums that I’ve been unaware of until this time. This is a great listen, and maybe this might be the gateway to exploring this area of music more the way it has been for me.
Recommendation: Give this a shot.
Artist: Betty Who
Quick Description: Smart pop music.
Why You Should Listen: You yearn for your 2am club days.
Overall Thoughts: As the person on the pop beat in these parts, Betty Who is someone who should invariably be more famous than she is. Still, she’s a hit in the clubs and has broken through in more dance-friendly markets, so it isn’t shocking that she comes across as more of an outsider in the US. This album has a lot of really infectious stuff going on, and a few solidly earwormy songs throughout. If Ariana is more your taste, this might be a little too odd, but if your taste in dance pop trends more toward the club bangers, this might work for you.
Recommendation: Great for pop fans.
Artist: Sanna Hannson and the Swatchmen
Album: For the Cheap Seats in the Back
Quick Description: Caberet rock from an act fast becoming a favorite.
Why You Should Listen: You yearn for your vaudeville days.
Overall Thoughts: I loved their EP from a few years back, and this is the first full-length from this act. I wish they came out 20 years ago, as this sort of indie-cabaret-rock would have probably fit right in with the Squirrel Nut Zippers/swing revival set. This is really fun, and even with some production choices I don’t love, this is a really fun record that should get more attention.
Recommendation: Worth a listen, as you'll know quickly whether it's for you.
Artist: Five Letter Word
Quick Description: Great, offbeat bluegrass.
Why You Should Listen: This is a fun bluegrassy listen.
Overall Thoughts: After falling for Clara Baker’s album, I went looking for more and found her roots trio’s album that debuted in January. This bluegrassy effort is not world-changing (and is not trying to be), but there is a slightly skewed approach to the songwriting and presentation that sets it apart from the traditional aspects. The lead track, “Cast Iron Skillet,” chugs right along, the second song offers some great vocal efforts, and the rest of the album throws a number of curveballs along the way that keep things interesting and different. This is a roots-heavy week for us in some regards, but this is absolutely worth checking out.
Recommendation: Give it a shot.
Album: Low Grade Buzz
Quick Description: Weird, electronic-based indie music.
Why You Should Listen: You wish the XX didn't take off the way they did.
Overall Thoughts: A late find for me was this debut album from an act I didn't know anything about or from. There's a lot of interesting and strange things going on with this record, all of which I loved, and the title track is both incredibly representative and yet totally different. Which, really, seems to describe this perfectly. I loved loved loved this and want to take a lot more time with it, and perhaps you will, too.
Recommendation: A great, ambitious listen.
* The Faint - Egowerk (Never been a huge fan, but this was a fun, synthy listen.)
* The Brian Jonestown Massacre - The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Still the best Dandys-adjacent band out there.)
* CHAI - PUNK (If Puffy Amiyumi liked the Ramones more?)
* Dis Fig - PURGE (Great electronic music along the lines of Ben Frost.)
* Matmos - Plastic Anniversary (Weird electronica from the legends of the craft.)
* Keren Ann - Bleue
* Porteaeu - Water's Gate
* Bouncing Souls - Crucial Moment
* UB40 - For the Many