Review/Preview Album Highlights
By Sam Goldner
2013 seems to be the year where even the impossible has become possible. With My Bloody Valentine emerging from their 22-year slumber to release the follow up to Loveless, Boards of Canada finally putting out a new album, and Neutral-effing Milk Hotel reuniting, it seems like the motto of the year is never say never. But even outside the larger indie releases of the year, we’ve seen a ton of smaller artists coming into their own with career-defining releases, and plenty of new names carving out new niches in the musical landscape. Here’s what we’ve been pumping for Summer ’13, and here’s to finishing out 2013 strong.
Destruction Unit – Deep Trip
The punks and the hippies have become one! Destruction Unit’s debut on Sacred Bones is one of the most furious triple-guitar attacks in recent history, blending manic riffs and cosmic distortion into a new, psychedelic kind of punk. It’s rock music that doesn’t care for trappings as silly as “genre,” and exists merely to blow your brains out using any means possible.
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
It seemed all but impossible, but Kevin Shields has paid off on his promise not to follow up Loveless with something less than revelatory. Though mbv maintains the sound that the group established on Loveless, Shields pushes the group into more aggressive territory, balancing moments of serenity with walls of apocalyptic sound. But above all, mbv proves that there is only one My Bloody Valentine, and after all this time, they’re back in the conversation.
Baths – Obsidian
There are few artists who can blend the delightful with the morbid as well as Bath’s Will Wiesenfeld, but his newest release raises the focus on the later up a few notches. Death is on Wiesenfeld’s mind, whether it be that of a relationship or of the entire world, and yet through the ruminations, Obsidian contains beats as kooky as anything Wiesenfeld’s written yet. Pretty, wistful, and still restlessly adventurous, Obsidian is a great example of a young artist overcoming the sophomore slump with grace.
Blu – NoYork!
Though Blu’s magnum opus of a mixtape started making the blog rounds back in 2011, it wasn’t until this summer that NoYork! saw an official release on Nature Sounds, and god bless them for doing so. NoYork! mixes the electronic beat magic of producers like Flying Lotus and Madlib with Blu’s wide-eyed confidence, and the results are some of the most forward thinking hip-hop to be produced in recent years, as musical as it is lyrical.
Jackson Scott – Melbourne
Jackson Scott’s debut on Fat Possum tackles the dreamy bedroom pop pioneered by Bradford Cox and Youth Lagoon, but with an atonality that’s been sorely missed on indie pop records in recent years. Melbourne features enough strange ideas to reel in the unfamiliar, then lock them in with Scott’s undeniably catchy sensibilities.
Devendra Banhart – Mala
Banhart’s warbly, yodeling flower child persona seemed on the verge of wearing thin, so his new reinvention as the leader of the world’s chillest jam band is a welcome turn. Mala isn’t an album that asks much from the listener; in many ways it even functions best just as the background music for a yawning Sunday. But Banhart’s decision to cut down on the tropicalia jams and drum circles in favor of focused, melodic pop highlights what a subtle songwriter he’s become, and how valuable his place in the music community truly is.
Gold Panda – Half of Where You Live
Adapting electronic dance music to fit the album format is a surprisingly rare feat these days. Up until now, British producer Gold Panda has primarily built his name off of several strong singles, however his Trust EP earlier this year hinted that he might be capable of developing more overarching, album-spanning momentum. Half of Where You Live is an upbeat, house-based journey across the globe that balances laid back sound experiments with constantly driving beats.
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
The word ‘soothing’ doesn’t really approach the level of serenity Julianna Barwick has achieved with her music. By looping her choir-esqe vocals with pianos, guitars, and synthesizers, Barwick’s music is about as close as one can get to what the pearly gates probably sound like. Nepenthe, in addition to being her first release on Dead Oceans, is a more sorrowful affair than her previous work, yet it still courses with enough emotion and beauty to calm pack of rabid boars.
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
Guitar rock is back with a vengeance. Hailing from Northampton, Massachusetts, Speedy Ortiz fuse gnarled, confused guitar riffs with Sadie Dupuis quavering, cynical vocals to create a gang of four sound unlike anything we’ve heard in recent years. Dupuis’ outcast lyrics are reminiscent of a young Lisa Germano, and the dueling guitar lines feature enough accidentals to make any Sonic Youth fan nod in agreement. Major Arcana is a superb coming out work, and promising evidence that Speedy Ortiz’s best is still to come.