As a result, the record comes off like a culmination and an instant greatest hits, the ultimate realization of his strongest talents and divisive public persona.
Even considering his bold-name touchstones for This Is Happening, it would be shortsighted to cry rip-off; Murphy is remaking essential 70s art-rock in his own hyper-modern, self-aware image.
Halcyon Digest is a record about the joy of music discovery, the thrill of listening for the first time to a potential future favorite, and that sense of boundless possibility when you're still innocent of indie-mainstream politics and your personal canon is far from set.
Every great rap group has one MC who is-- possibly unfairly-- perceived to be slightly lesser than the other. DMC. Parrish Smith. Malice. Pimp C, at least up until he died. Big Boi's been on that list ever since André Benjamin started rocking pith helmets and neckerchiefs. Big Boi's not underrated, exactly; everyone who knows rap knows he's a great rapper. It's more that he's taken for granted. Virtually every OutKast review of the past decade and a half has posited Big Boi as the earthy, street-level anchor to André's spaced-out visionary, the guy responsible for securing the group's cred when André was trying to invent new colors. Expect Sir Lucious Left Foot to change those conversations. We haven't heard a major-label rap album this inventive, bizarre, joyous, and masterful in a long time, and it's almost impossible to imagine André putting out a solo album this strong anytime soon.
This is both the most diverse and most listenable of their three full-lengths, and yet it never seems like a compromise.
Vampire Weekend's second album starts with "Horchata", ostensibly a punching bag for people who didn't like their first one. Singer Ezra Koenig rhymes "horchata" with "balaclava", while keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij arranges the song around the polite plinks of marimbas. It's a sweatless calypso, buttoned-up and breezy. So, of course, haters will still find plenty to hate about Contra, and they'll hate it with vigor. Meanwhile, Vampire Weekend sound like they've fallen in love with what they started and are hugging it tight without shame or apology.
It was a little disturbing at first to hear that Joanna Newsom's full-length follow-up to the ambitious and polarizing Ys would be a triple album. Where 2004's The Milk-Eyed Mender was an unusual record with its share of quirks (her squeaky voice and fondness for arcane language, the harp), it also had its simple pleasures. Most of the tracks were short and the sound was spare; you pretty much liked it or you didn't based on how you felt about Newsom's sound and her ability to put a song together. Ys, on the other hand, was unapologetically dense. The five songs av eraged more than 10 minutes each, and through them Newsom sang continuously; Van Dyke Parks' arrangements were similarly relentless, seeming to comment upon and embellish almost every line. It was a rewarding album-- filled with memorable turns of phrase and impressive storytelling. Many were enthralled, and almost everyone at least admired it. But in comparison to Milk-Eyed, Ys took some serious work to crack. So when I heard that Newsom would be following it with a 3xLP set called Have One on Me, I had troubling visions of 25-minute songs with lyrics that stretched to 5,000 words.
Most people who follow Ariel Pink were introduced to him by 2004's The Doldrums, the first non-Animal Collective release on that band's Paw Tracks label. From the beginning, Pink was presented as an outsider, a recluse who obsessively recorded at home and had compiled hundreds of unheard songs. The notion that he was a supremely strange person making music in his own world was fully supported by the string of albums, singles, and EPs that followed. First, there was the music itself, which saw Pink using an ultra lo-fo recording set-up to re-imagine cheesy AM radio jingles and lost new wave tracks as surreal, art-damaged pop. His music could be bizarre and disturbing, with warped voices and dark subject manner evoking loneliness, bad drugs, and alienation; it could also be sweet and even sincere, celebrating the pleasure of a well-rendered verse melody and a good chorus.
Modern indie rock generally treats emotion as something that should be guarded or disguised. The Monitor does not subscribe to this viewpoint. On their second album, New Jersey's Titus Andronicus split the emotional atom with anthemic chants, rousing sing-alongs, celebrations of binge drinking, marathon song titles, broken-hearted duets, punked-up Irish jigs, and classic rock lyric-stealing. And through it all, they take subtlety out on the town, pour a fifth of whiskey down its throat, write insults on its face in permanent marker, and abandon it in the woods.
It's a satisfying return to form-- proof that Arcade Fire can still make grand statements without sounding like they're carrying the weight of the world.
Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid immediately dazzles you with its ambition. It's a 70-minute, 18-track epic comprising two suites, each beginning with an overture, telling a futuristic story starring a messianic android. It's not even the beginning of the saga-- the first sequence was her debut EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite. The songs zip gleefully from genre to genre, mostly grounded in R&B and funk, but spinning out into rap, pastoral British folk, psychedelic rock, disco, cabaret, cinematic scores, and whatever else strikes her fancy. It's about as bold as mainstream music gets, marrying the world-building possibilities of the concept album to the big tent genre-m utating pop of Michael Jackson and Prince in their prime. Monáe describes The ArchAndroid as an "emotion picture," an album with a story arc intended to be experienced in one sitting, like a movie. It most certainly works in this way, but at first blush, it's almost too much to take in all at once. The first listen is mostly about being wowed by the very existence of this fabulously talented young singer and her over-the-top record; every subsequent spin reveals the depths of her achievement.
Simply a sonically chameleonic, musically generous, seriously compelling record from a couple guys who've once again got all their pedals in a row.
With Body Talk, Robyn ups the ante for pop stars across the radio dial and raises her own chances of appearing on yours.
Once in a while a record comes along that makes you re-think loud: King of Rock; The Land of Rape and Honey; Nation of Millions; Super Ae; I Get Wet; Kesto. Setting aside the quality of the material-- there are classics here, along with albums I never listen to anymore-- these albums are notable for me because the first time I heard them, music just seemed bigger than it had before, like it took up more space and hit with more force and went further than once seemed possible. When I was getting into these records, I'd get a specific kind of kick just from putting them on. They felt like rides at an amusement park, and I'd get a feeling in my stomach when the first notes kicked in: Here we go. I'm adding another record to my list.
In his decade-long career, Caribou's Dan Snaith has fluidly moved between genres like folktronica, shoegaze, krautrock, and 1960s sunshine pop, assimilating their most familiar traits until they're practically in his DNA. His albums have felt warm, loose, and ecstatic (especially 2003's still-career-best Up in Flames), despite Snaith's behind-the-boards meticulousness.
How to Dress Well is to my mind the biggest breakthrough in home-recorded lo-fi in years. It feels brave, like it's going places a lot of artists in this sphere are afraid to go.
And that brings us to "Angela Surf City", the song on this album that deserves a place alongside "The Rat" and "In the New Year". It starts off tense and withdrawn, Leithauser singing about some relationship without ever letting us in on what, exactly, is going on. Underneath, there's a tense, withdrawn surf-rock beat. And when the chorus starts to well up, the music underneath keeps surging upward, becoming huger than anything the song should be able to handle, then getting even huger from there, as Barrick lets off relentless Bonham-level thundercracks.
If Broken Dreams Club is indeed an honest glimpse of what's ahead, it sounds as though Girls have much more to give.
Ever since Hot Chip started as indie kids seemingly dabbling in classic soul and modern R&B, they've been underestimated (not least of which by us). Delivering lines about "20-inch rims" and "Yo La Tengo" in a proper English accent, as they did on their 2005 debut, can have that effect. Yet on their two subsequent records-- 2006's The Warning and 2008's Made in the Dark-- Hot Chip steadily rebuilt their reputation by toughening up their sophistipop side. Their melodies began to develop an itchy, nervous twitch, and they earned dancefloor credibility through an association with DFA.
But instead of succumbing to trends, Stevens barrels through with another long-form work that requires-- and rewards-- time and devotion.
The songs may be catchy, but their intricacy and thoughtful storytelling makes them stick.
Kieran Hebden first came on the scene in the 1990s as a member of Fridge, a post-rock outfit that to me always looked better on paper than they sounded on record. Whatever you think of his first band, Hebden's subsequent career can be seen as the idea of post-rock done right. His appetite for music, on the evidence presented in his albums, singles, DJ sets, and collaborations, is voracious. But Hebden has a way of transforming and integrating influences rather than channeling them. So if his loose improvised collaborations with drummer Steve Reid captured something of the spirit of the classic late-60s free jazz records on Impulse!, they also managed to carve out a unique and identifiable aesthetic that sounds very much like today. When working with others, like the wooly free-folk unit Sunburned Hand of the Man or the dubstep producer Burial, Hebden knows when to lead and when to get out of the way. But all the while, whatever the context, he's absorbing. And when it comes to his own records as Four Tet, he has a knack for combining sounds from all over and making them his own.
The National became popular in a very traditional way: by releasing some really good albums, then touring the hell out of them. They're boilerplate indie, free of hot new genre tags or feature-ready backstories, which is something their detractors derive great joy from pointing out. If the National are important, rather than merely good, it's for writing about the type of lived-in moments that rock bands usually don't write about that well. The characters in National songs have real jobs, have uninteresting sex, get drunk, and lie to one another. They do so during the regular course of a workaday week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The National aren't "dad-rock" so much as "men's magazine rock": music chiefly interested in the complications of being a stable person expected to own certain things and dress certain ways.
But this one finds them starting to pull all those ideas into something a little more focused, something easier to digest.
The-Dream earned his respect as a songwriter who co-wrote larger-than-life pop anthems, penning "Umbrella" for Rihanna and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" for Beyoncé, as well as less-known but evocative tracks for everyone from Usher ("Trading Places") to Rick Ross ("All I Really Want"). His solo debut, 2007's Love/Hate, broke through with minor hits "Shawty Is Da Shit" and "Falsetto", whose wildly addictive hooks papered over his slight persona. The rest of that record created a constellation of characteristics that laid out his aesthetic-- the lush production courtesy of beatmakers L.O.S. and Tricky Stewart, songs that wash into each other in the mode of a DJ mix to create a miniature suite with precision sequencing.
Pesky comparisons to Bob Dylan have dogged Kristian Matsson throughout his short career as the Tallest Man on Earth. In 2006, his self-titled EP introduced a singer with that familiar croak, a songwriter with a folk-revival revival sensibility, and a guitar player with an impressively agile fingerpicking style. The next year, his full-length debut, Shallow Grave, expanded nicely on those ideas, buffing away some of the rougher edges but emphasizing fully realized and beautifully evocative songs. The Wild Hunt, the second Tallest Man on Earth album and first for Dead Oceans, makes a few specific nods to Dylan at his most earnest and bare-- including a reference to "boots of Spanish leather" on "King of Spain". Ultimately, though, Matsson interprets Dylan, just as Dylan himself interpreted Guthrie. Mor e to the point, Matsson translates him into the Scandinavian countryside, where he sings about changing seasons and quiet, lonely places far from cities. His lyrics are rough and often ragged, more concerned with evoking aching emotions than with making explicit sense. But that coded aspect only makes him sound more urgent, as if he's trying to convince you of something he couldn't possibly put into words.
Describing Emeralds' music feels a little like capping that underwater oil spill must: how do you get your hands around this stuff? The Cleveland trio may favor methodical cadences in their music, but their releases come fast and furious. According to Discogs.com, they've put out around 40 releases in just four years, most of them CDRs and cassettes. There are variations of mood and intensity, and each major release has its own particular signature, owing in part to changes in gear and technique, and in part to being a band that improvises and records non-stop. Any given album feels like a snapshot of the band in time.
If you came up as a rap fan in the 1990s, it's hard to come to grips with the fact that the Illmatic/Doggystyle/Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) ideal has become outmoded. Rappers rarely start with a fully-formed classic right off the bat. And sometimes, a guy who was underrated, underappreciated, or even considered a joke earlier in their career actually generates so much momentum that they eventually become undeniable.
Scene-famous boyfriends, a quote-generating Twitter feed, scuffles with bloggers, and the most meme-generating feline since Keyboard Cat got carpal tunnel: Yeah, it's safe to say Bethany Cosentino, who writes and records with cohort Bobb Bruno as Best Coast, is a long way away from her days as a member of drone/psych outfit Pocahaunted. Best Coast's full-length debut, Crazy for You, serves only to increase that distance from the outré-music scene; the brief record delivers on the promise of a strong string of singles released over the past year. Just as Pocahaunted loosely capture the basic feel of dub and reggae, Crazy for You is a meditation on the stickier hooks of classic indie pop, with slight detours into surf-rock ("Bratty B") and countrypolitan balladry ("Our Deal"). While Pocahaunted cover their signifiers under piles of static and delay-triggered noise, Best Coast take the opposite route, slathering honey over every song and letting them drip-dry in the sunshine.
The songs may sound more conventional, but they're no less complex. The music is hard-wired and overflowing with activity, even in the record's sparsest moments.
Delorean helped define the bright, beachside vibe of last summer's indie landscape, but they also deserve to be placed in a broader context. On their new album, Subiza, the Spanish four-piece deploys the build-and-burst tempos of 90s house and techno music, and they do so explicitly, never shying away from arms-in-the-air piano bridges or incandescent raves. This music is proudly informed by the resiliency and vigor of classic club music, and its title (named after the Basque town in which the album was recorded) recalls the famously nightclub-centric Ibiza and the Balearic dance music that originated there.
Drake sings or raps the word "I" 410 times on his debut album. Even in the realm of hip-hop-- a style famous for its unswerving solipsism-- this is a feat. For comparison's sake, noted mirror watcher Kanye West managed to work only 220 "I"'s into the verses and hooks of his big break, The College Dropout. Illmatic; 210. Reasonable Doubt; 240. With Thank Me Later, Drake attempts to enter the pantheon of those rap game-busters by the sheer force of first person singular pronouns. All eyes are on him-- especially his own. But considering this mixed race, half-Jewish, all-Canadian "Degrassi: The Next Generation" alum looks and sounds unlike any major rap star before him, betting the house on nothing but himself turns out to be a wise gamble.
From the Vines to Wolfmother to Jet, recent Aussie rock exports have been painfully indebted to arena rock-- quick to recycle a sound but rarely succeeding in revitalizing it. Perth three-piece Tame Impala play with some of the ingredients of arena rock as well but do so in aid of more leftfield, organic sounds and interesting excursions. The result is a cleanly executed and frequently dazzling debut: Innerspeaker is a psychedelia-heavy outing that toys with paisley pop, stoner vibes, and an expansive array of swirling guitars.
There were few voices that articulated the anxious, fractured state of America in the 1970s and early 80s as well as the clear baritone of Gil Scott-Heron. As a spoken-word artist and poet, he could pinpoint the fissures in the American dream and exorcise them with a wit that blended righteous anger and arch sarcasm. As a singer he could envelop those same uncomfortable confrontations in a rich, emotional tone that brought out the empathetic face of unrest. Yet except for a chorus cameo on Blackalicious' "First in Flight" and a memorable shout-out on LCD Soundsyste m's "Losing My Edge", he was rarely heard or cited in the early years of America's great post-traumatic decade, even if his pained depiction of "a nation that just can't stand much more" in "Winter in America" rang as true in 2002 as it did in 1975.
If you've followed Matthew Dear over the years, then you know he doesn't like to stay in one place for very long. Even as a primarily electronic artist in the early 2000s, Dear hopped from label to label, switched aliases often, and made everything from steely microhouse to harder Detroit techno. But his biggest departure was 2007's Asa Breed, the record where he stepped out from behind the decks and reached for the mic. Singing on tracks and leaning more heavily on song structure, he built strange hybrid music that had one foot in techno and the other in pop.
The group's sophomore effort, Public Strain, pushes forward in both directions-- the hooks are noisier, the noise is hookier, and both are fogged over with enough reverb to make Felt records seem bone-dry by comparison.
Though some of indie's brightest leading men have come through Virginia's halls of higher education (Steve Malkmus, David Berman, Travis Morrison), your average college rock band in the Old Dominion area probably sounds more like Agents of Good Roots. So if you live in a place like Blacksburg, Va., home of the Virginia Tech campus and not much else, and you want to be in a tropical punk act (Facepaint), an introspective singer-songwriter project (Jack & the Whale), or a band that covers Kate Bush instead of Dave Matthews (Wild Nothing's breakthrough rendition of "Cloudbusting"), you'll probably have to do what Jack Tatum did and start them yourself.
In the world of independent music, learning on the job is frowned upon. It's easier than ever for kids to make professional-grade records and have them heard, but any sign of weakness-- a lackluster stage show, a questionable interview, a dud follow-up-- and listeners will let you know how duped they feel. Few people know this better than Nathan Williams, who made his buzzy second album Wavvves at his parents' house and spent the rest of 2009 on a badwill tour (live disaster, canceled tour, fistfight) that earned him Lohan/Hilton-levels of derision in certain circles.