Infinite Shuffle

September 9, 2016

New Releases: March-May 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — assman41 @ 3:29 pm

Well, when I put up my first “new releases” post in April, I was about two months off the pace. As I put up my newest batch of new releases, I’m about three months behind. That means I need to listen to seven months’ worth of music in the next four months. I have faith I can pull it off, but we’ll see.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the new music that came out from the end of February through May. There are several albums here that we’ll be receiving future mentions during my end-of-the-year posts.

(Editor’s note: I intended for all of the following playlists to start on songs I mentioned in the post, but that seems to have worked successfully about half the time. So, feel free to skip through to the proper tunes in order to truly appreciate the music.)

Feb. 26

  • The 1975I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it … There’s a track early on this English band’s sophomore release called “UGH!”, and that’s pretty much how I felt throughout the entire disc. The first two songs sound like they’re channeling the worst of So/Us era (late ‘80s/early ‘90s) Peter Gabriel. The quick singing on “She’s American” reminds me of HAIM. As things progress, it’s like they changed their main influence to ‘80s/’90s R&B, with similarly appalling results. Halfway through, things take a more shoegazer turn with “Lostmyhead” and “The Ballad of Me and My Brain”.
  • Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered … The name says it all. It’s a good mix of indie-pop and shoegaze with a heaping dose of airy-fairy electro. “I Catch You Napping” and “Kiddy Pool Dreams” are standouts.
  • YuckStranger Things … The third release from this British group had some elements of their first two albums, but still definitely a departure as well.
  • Quilt – Plaza … There are a lot of different influences here throughout, but the one vibe that is most prevalent is ‘70s era AM rock. “Roller” and “Own Ways” are solid little ditties.
  • School of Seven Bells – SVIIB … This album is certainly full of pleasant, trance-inducing electro-pop. But there really aren’t any standout tracks, and, overall, it’s nothing special. It’s far from their best work. For a taste, check out “This Is Our Time”.
  • Santigold – 99 Cents … She’s always been an artist that is barely on the fringe of my musical tastes. I’ll usually like one or two singles from her albums, and that’s the case here. Opening track “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” and “Who I Thought You Were” are fun listens, and “All I Got” is above average. But the rest range from “meh” to skip-worthy.
  • Lily & Madeline – self-titled … This duo has a strong First Aid Kit vibe, but with more acoustic twang.  Album opener “Sounds Like Somewhere” is a standout that pulls you in immediately. And every song that follows is just as enchanting as the last.

March 4

  • Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – You’re Doomed. Be Nice. … It’d probably help if I had a better working knowledge of Pinback. This debut from the co-founder’s new project is difficult to describe for a Pinback novice. However, it may not be the case for a fan. Anyway, musically, the album is reminiscent of several different eras of alt/indie rock. Crow’s vocals are distinct, as is his singing style — at times it reminds me of Weird Al Yankovic at his most serious/poppy. I can’t say this album is groundbreaking, but it’s definitely worth a listen. Some of the more notable tunes were “Business Interruptus”, “Yie Air” and “What We’ve Been Up To While You’ve Been Away”.
  • Muncie Girls – From Caplan To Belsize … Musically, these Brit lasses sound like every other pop-punk act from the past two decades. Things finally change pace a bit on “Social Side”, which has a mildly enchanting guitar line throughout.
  • Carter Tanton –  Jettison the Valley … Really nice, soulful singer/songwriter in the same vein as Robert Plant without the bombast. Also comparable to a more-upbeat Sun Kil Moon and a catchier Ray LaMontagne. The entire album — which features cameos from Marissa Nadler and Sharon Van Etten — is a very chill listen, but opener “Twentynine Palms” and “330” caught my ear more than the rest.
  • Steven James Adams – Old Magick … Vocally, reminds me a bit of Ringo Starr and Johnny Flynn.
  • Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are … More of the same from the incredibly prolific leader of Guided By Voices. Nothing earth-shattering here. The lone tune that stood out a bit was “Little Pigs”.
  • Ray LaMontagne – Ouroboros … Exactly what you’d expect when you hear that Jim James is producing a Ray LaMontagne album — heavy, fuzzy guitars, plenty of psychedelic vibes and nonstop throaty whisper-singing. It’s surprisingly reminiscent of Pink Floyd.
  • Tonight Alive – Limitless … This Aussie group’s third album sounds a lot like Paramore and their ilk.. Very poppy and very positive. The most tolerable song is “We Are”.
  • Lapsley – Long Way Home … Things started out on an interesting note with “Heartless”, but after that, it just became a straight-forward dance club album.
  • Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive … A lot of different influences in this album, including funk, rap, folk, indie, pop. Personally, I’m not a fan, but I respect the band and can certainly understand why some people probably love it.
  • The Coral – Distance Inbetween … This is the eighth studio album in 14 years from these veteran UK rockers. I’d never heard of the group before now, but this is arguably the best release to date, according to some reviews. And its Metacritic score of 81 ain’t too shabby. Sonically, it has a bit of a rock opera feel to it, with some Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath inflections.
  • Polica – United Crushers … Synth-heavy dance-pop that’s begging to be remixed. Right now, it’s too dark/heavy for the dancefloor and too fast for background music.
  • Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are … Just more of what you’d expect from these indie slackers. Makes me feel like I’m lounging around outside my old off-campus apartment during the summer semester in college. Good times.
  • Miike Snow – iii … A whole lotta average electro-pop. No real hits, but some definite misses, including “Heart Is Full” and “For U” with Charli XCX.
  • M. Ward – More Rain … I feel like such a poser; I’ve never really listened to very much of M. Ward’s stuff. All I can say about this is that it sounds reminiscent to his previous work — a mix of Conor Oberst, Kurt Vile and Wilco.
  • Wussy – Forever Sounds … Much of this Cincinnati indie duo’s sixth album is reminiscent of Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt and other early alt-country — most notably on “Hello I’m a Ghost”. But there’s enough variation to help the band avoid being pigeonholed. The standout track, “Donny’s Death Scene”, hearkens back to Concrete Blonde and other such female-led alternative groups of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
  • La Sera – Music For Listening To Music To … This surprisingly pleasant discovery is brimming with nostalgia, but with a very modern take. Katy Goodman’s vocals put a modern twist on ’50s pop in the same way that her previous group, Vivian Girls, practically trademarked a decade ago. The biggest difference here are the male vocals of Todd Wisenbaker that provide a foil for Goodman. Overall, La Sera’s fourth release is a fun, relaxing listen. Top songs include “High Notes”, “Begins To Rain” and “Nineties”, which is aptly named considering the very ’90s vibe that permeates throughout.
  • Big Ups – Before A Million Universes … Alternating between thrashing guitars and shoegaze ennui, this would be a great listen on a Monday morning at work, which is exactly how I experienced it. There were no standout tunes; it was just filled with the kind of music that oscillated betwixt white noise and calming ambiance.

March 11

  • Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want … The second album from this indie pop/rock quartet based in Cambridge, Mass., is just 28 minutes of head-bobbing joy. “Realization Hits” is the most notable ditty here.
  • The KVB – … Of Desire … “Night Games” is a very gothic, synthy tune that could’ve come out of Germany in the 1980s. The rest of the album doesn’t stray too far from that template on this darkwave offering.
  • Holy Wave – Freaks of Nurture … Some very psychedelic indie rock here, particularly on “Wendy Go Round”. Favorite track: “California Took My Bobby Away”
  • Matt Corby – Telluric … A whole lotta smooth R&B.
  • Aurora – All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend … This Norwegian teenager has the firepower of Sia and Ellie Goulding and emotional quirkiness of Bjork. An ethereal voice with plenty of help from Auto-Tune, she occasionally seems to have an Irish lilt. Particularly on “Through the Eyes of a Child”, which, along with “Winter Bird”, is on the softer end of the spectrum. Meanwhile, standouts such as “Runaway” and “Conqueror” are of the anthemic variety.
  • LuciusGood Grief … The Brooklyn quintet drifted away from its folkier side on this sophomore effort. “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve” is a moving song with great lyrics. Album closer “Dusty Trails”, one of the few folk ditties, is extremely catchy with is perfect First Aid Kit-like harmonies. The deluxe version includes a few demos and covers of the ’60s tune “You Were on My Mind” and a horrible take on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. Despite a few bright spots,, this album is average at best.
  • Brian Fallon – Painkillers … Opening guitar is straight out of Born To Run. While it’s not exactly like his work with The Gaslight Anthem, it’s difficult not to make comparisons when you listen to Fallon’s distinct voice. There is nothing necessarily special here, but if you like his previous work, you’ll like this. Check out “Among Other Foolish Things”.
  • Pete Yorn – arrangingtime … Having barely listened to Yorn’s previous work, I can’t speak to how this compares to the rest of his catalog. That being said, this album is full of catchy, if not head-bobbing, indie-pop that combines the vibe of ‘90s alt-rock with the ethos of the current indie scene. Opener “Summer Was a Day” sets a strong tone, and it never wavers from there. “Shopping Mall” provides a nice change of pace midway through.
  • Emmy the Great – Second Love … Some generally pleasant soft pop. “Hyperlink” is a definite standout, and “Social Halo” is also notable. The vocals are nice, but the atmospheric guitar throughout takes this sophomore offering to another level.
  • Into It. Over It. – Standards … It’s definitely got the vibe of early ‘00s emo and pop-punk, but there’s enough of a lo-fi/shoegaze influence that it’s at least palatable. At different points throughout the album, the vocals are slightly reminiscent of Transatlanticism-era Death Cab for Cutie.
  • The Magnetic North – Prospect of Skelmersdale … Seeing this description for the band on Metacritic — Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Folk, Chamber Pop, Folk-Pop — I had high hopes for The Magnetic North. And, while they certainly aren’t bad, I was underwhelmed. The British trio’s second full-length album is full of lush harmonies and baroque pop instrumentation, but there’s just something missing here. I’m quite confident that some people reading this would love the album, but I can’t throw my full support behind it.

March 18

  • The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free … Nothing about this album is appealing. Not the faux-punk attitude. Not the jarring instrumentation. And certainly no the talk-singing vocals throughout.
  • The Goon Sax – Up To Anything … This is indie-pop/rock with a punk ethos. Lyrically and stylistically, this Brisbane, Australia, trio sound like direct descendants of ’80s alternative and punk. Much of this album could have been culled from the Left of the Dial box set. Every song here sounds like some slackers who picked up instruments and started ho-humming about their bleak existence in a semi-catchy manner. The closest thing to a single is “Telephone”.
  • Grant-Lee Phillips – The Narrows … This is the eighth solo album from this folk/alt-country/Americana stalwart. It’s nothing special, but it’s still a pleasant listen.
  • Lust for Youth – Compassion … Led by opening standout “Stardom” this album is straight-up ’80s synth-pop, in the vein of Depeche Mode and Joy Division.
  • Meilyr Jones – 2013 … Soulful and quirky chamber pop that is an acquired taste.
  • Primal Scream – Chaosmosis … Yet another prolific band that I basically know nothing about. The 11th album from this seminal group covers a lot of territory, from indie rock to ’80s synth pop to prog rock and a variety of points in between. “(Feeling Like a) Demon Again” and “Where the Light Gets In” were my personal favorites — they were also the most ’80s-influenced tracks here.
  • Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To … Good, solid alt-country. “Whitey and Me (Don’t Ride Him Down)” sounds like a Son Volt outtake.
  • Cullen Omori – New Misery … Solo debut from former member of Smith Westerns. It’s not bad. It’s a little more airy-fairy than his previous group.

March 25

  • Birdy – Beautiful Lies … This is a decent set of alt-pop in the same vein as Ellie Goulding but with less bombast and more soul. “Keeping Your Head Up” is nice. It’s not surprising that some of the producers on this album have worked with Adele and Florence + The Machine.
  • Eric Bachmann – Eric Bachmann … Pleasant piano-centric tunes fill this second solo album from the former frontman of Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers. All the songs are nice enough, but “Mercy” might be the standout.
  • Night Moves – Pennied Days … I was really diggin’ this after one listen. It’s some great psych-tinged indie rock reminiscent of Portugal. The Man in the way that they conjure up the sounds of ‘70s AM rock.
  • Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day … On his second album, this Oklahoma singer-songwriter brings an alt-country feel to what would otherwise be a straight-up bluesy bar band. He also channels his inner Tom Petty at times on the back half of the disc.
  • The Thermals – We Disappear … This is the seventh album from the Portland-based indie-pop trio. It wavers between the worlds of pop and rock and mostly gives off a boring, formulaic vibe. They are past their prime for sure. The closer, “Years In a Day”, was decent.
  • The Joy Formidable – Hitch … The Welsh rockers put a modern spin on ’80s alt-rock. The group’s third album starts strong with “A Second in White” and “Radio of Lips” — this is the standout track with some great guitar work — and continues through a variety of influences. Camera Obscura pops up early, and “Liana” sounds like something straight off a Concrete Blonde disc.
  • Kiran Leonard – Grapefruit … If you’re a fan of more experimental or avant-garde indie-rock, this sophomore effort from the Manchester, England, singer-songwriter is worth a listen. Otherwise, you might as well skip it.
  • Plague Vendor – Bloodsweat … A tolerable mix of indie-rock and punk that probably falls in the wheelhouse of many listeners. I’m just not one of them.
  • Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter … This is throwback country for a modern audience. Vocally, Price sounds like a mix of Dolly Parton and Jenny Lewis. The songs range from fun, honky-tonk to melancholy, down-in-the-dumps. The best combination is “Four Years of Chances”, where Price recounts her escape from a troubled marriage.

April 1

  • Willie Nile – World War Willie … I’d never heard of this fella before now, but this is apparently the 11th full-length studio album for the NYC rocker, so someone out there must like him. He’s what I imagine would be the result if a TV executive told a screenwriter to come up with a character that was “like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Mick Jagger all rolled into one.”
  • John Congleton and the Nighty Nite – Until the Horror Goes … Reminiscent of The Flaming Lips, but an even harder taste to acquire.
  • Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – Little Windows … With the majority of male-female duos, it’s the woman’s voice that pulls me in, while the fella provides a nice contrast. On this nostalgic country-pop offering, Thompson’s enchanting vocals stand out, even though he and Jones split the workload evenly. Jones is no slouch herself, and she offers some perfect harmonies. Standout tunes include “Better At Lying” and “Make a Wish on Me”.
  • Dinner – Psychic Lovers … Mediocre synth-pop with the most dufus-sounding vocal effects you’ll ever encounter.
  • Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp … Definitely a distinct new sound. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Some very catchy indie-pop that you should just check out for yourself. Now. “Everybody Wants To Love You” is a standout, and “In Heaven”, “The Woman That Loves You” and “Heft” are also noteworthy.
  • Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing … Opening track “Floated In” sets the tone for this laid-back album full of sing-song vocals similar to Kimya Dawson and The Moldy Peaches. It’s the second release by the alter ego of Greta Kline.
  • Lukas Graham – self-titled … Besides the big hit single “7 Years”, this album was slightly above-average. It was a lot of solid lyrics — on par with Macklemore — encased in British, white boy pop/soul.
  • Shonen Knife – Adventure … This Japanese pop-punk outfit has catchy music, but the vocals just don’t hit. Opening track “Jump into the New World” sounds like a karaoke version of a ‘60s pop song. And the rest of the album follows suit.
  • The Summer Set – Stories for Monday … Everything about this album — from the music to the lyrics to the cover art — makes me think of any number of movies involving a main character living it up one last time before the end of high school. “Jean Jacket” and opening track “Figure Me Out” are particularly wistful. This release isn’t gonna garner any awards, but it was still a fun listen. It also makes me wanna rewatch “American Pie”, which was released on my 17th birthday.
  • Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories … This was a welcome introduction to the prolific 53-year-old folk singer-songwriter. “Baby Rocked Her Dolly” is particularly entertaining.
  • Bleached –  Welcome to the Worms … Solid, catchy pop-punk in the same vein as Sleater-Kinney, but much tamer. “Wednesday Night Melody” definitely has the best hook, and “Trying To Lose Myself Again” is also noteworthy. “Chemical Air” has the best guitar solo on the album, toward the end of the tune.
  • Laura Gibson – Empire Builder … While there are plenty of women out there singing beautiful indie-folk, it’s hard to beat this songstress’s fourth official release. Although there aren’t necessarily any standouts, there also isn’t a low point anywhere on the album. Every song will grab your attention from start to finish. Musically, Gibson is a mix between Regina Spektor with her vocal inflections and Sharon Van Etten’s haunting lyrics and tone.
  • Autolux – Pussy’s Dead … File this one under “Acquired taste”. Heavy, fuzzy, psychedelic rock that would probably be pretty great while on one or more hallucinogens.
  • Teen Suicide – It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot … I had high hopes for this album after the first couple of minutes of opener “Living Proof”. But after a midpoint pause, the tune took a detour. And from there, things careened down a cliff of distorted effects-laden, lo-fi, slacker indie-rock.
  • Bibio – A Mineral Love … This reminds me of that genre of pop/R&B/soul that was big for a minute in the ‘80s. That is not a compliment.
  • Andrew Bird – Are You Serious … I haven’t listened to a lot of Bird’s music, but what I have I enjoyed. This album, however, didn’t do it for me. It had too much of an experimental and disjointed sound throughout. The title track was the most palatable.
  • YeasayerAmen & Goodbye … When you’re dealing with a band that uses a theremin liberally, the phrase “acquired taste” is an understatement. I’ve only enjoyed a couple of songs from Yeasayer’s past catalog as they tend to be too far out there for my tastes. Nothing’s changed here. “Cold Night” and “Silly Me” are the only songs worth listening to again.
  • Bombino – Azel … This album was a revelation. It’s a perfect entry point for anyone who’s interested in sampling “world music.” Bombino is the moniker of Omara Moctar, an acclaimed Tuareg guitarist and singer-songwriter. Born in Niger and raised in Algeria, he has experienced a great deal of political upheaval, turmoil and rebellion, and he lets it come through in his music. The guitar work is heavily influenced by classic rock, blues and even reggae, but there’s plenty of African flavor. Bombino sings in his native tongue of Tamasheq, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying this album, his third international solo release.
  • Black Mountain – IV … Just a bunch of psych-electro indie rock. There are plenty of people out there who would love this. Personally, I think it’s just a big wall of sound that doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself or reel in listeners.
  • The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect … Reminiscent of a lot of bands trying to channel the ‘70s glam-rock vibe. It’s hard not to constantly think of Arctic Monkeys anytime Alex Turner sings. I’ve yet to listen to this supergroup’s debut album, but it has to be better than this uninspired offering.
  • Weezer – Weezer (White Album) … So, I guess they’ve officially given up on naming their albums, huh? This is the fourth self-titled out of 10. The music is just as uninspired.
  • Lucy Dacus – No Burden … Just some great indie-rock in the same vein as Sharon Van Etten — perhaps a skosh lighter. “Strange Torpedo” is a standout among plenty of quality tunes.
  • Tacocat – Lost Time … This third album from the snarky, surf pop-punk palindrome out of Seattle is catchy and a nice distraction. But beyond that, it’s pretty forgettable. Clocking in at just under a half-hour, at least you won’t feel like you wasted much time listening to it.

April 8

  • Woods – City Sun Eater In The River Of Light … This is a mix of psychedelia, soul and a little jam that is not in my wheelhouse.
  • Bill Baird – Earth into Aether … Taking a cue from similar artists such as Conor Oberst, M. Ward and Alexi Murdoch, this singer-songwriter tends to keep things simple and spare. But he’s also not afraid to experiment with walls of sound on occasion. This is a great album to zone out to while doing menial tasks at home or the office.
  • The Gloaming – 2 … Just some straightforward Gaelic folk.
  • CFM – Still Life of Citrus and Slime … A mix of garage rock and psychedelia. It has potential, but it didn’t really do anything for me.
  • Deakin – Sleep Cycle … The solo debut from yet another member of Animal Collective, Josh Dibb’s offering sounds a little like a slowed-down version of something the mothership might put out. I haven’t liked any of his brethren’s solo efforts, and this one is no different.
  • Peter Wolf – A Cure For Loneliness … Having never listened to any of the former J. Geils Band singer’s solo efforts, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was an album filled with slow nod-inducing roots rock. It reminded me of some of the Rolling Stones slow classics, stripped down to their bare bones.
  • Mull Historical Society – Dear Satellite … This is a solid collection of indie-pop tunes that, while it won’t win any awards, will at least keep your attention throughout. Opening track “Build Another Brick” is distinct enough and gets things off on the right foot. Things sag a bit after that until “The Ballad of Ivor Punch” gives it a boost.
  • Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers … This is some prototypical folk-country that makes Nashville a worthwhile city to visit. He even mentions singing on Broadway in “Good While It Lasted”.
  • Ben Watt – Fever Dream … A cut above the average troubadour, Watt fills his plaintive songs with enough emotion to pull the listener in. There weren’t any showstoppers here, but “Winter’s Eve” and “New Year of Grace” did stand out to a degree.
  • September Girls – Age of Indignation … Kinda sounds like a poor man’s Warpaint. They’ve got the dark thing down, but they need to work on their melodies.
  • All Saints – Red Flag … My knowledge of All Saints is next to nil, but, by my estimation, they were Spice Girls wannabes (see what I did there), and their careers petered out at a similar trajectory. Now, a decade since their last release, they’ve returned with a mediocre offering that reminds me of what a reunited Spice Girls would probably sound like. Unless you have a history with this group, you should just skip this disc.
  • Future Of The Left – The Peace & Truce Of Future Of The Left … This is some barely palatable indie-punk in all its speak-singing glory.
  • Teleman – Brilliant Sanity … It’s indie-pop that teeters on the edge of being too quirky/annoying. The best comparison I can make is trying to listen to the band Spoon. While they sound nothing alike, they’re both bands that have to be taken in doses. Trying to listen to an entire album by either group can test one’s will. That being said, give this one a try. “Fall in Time” was probably the most tolerable ditty. And “English Architecture” was how Of Montreal might sound if they weren’t so weird.
  • The Dandy Warhols – Distortland … Yet another prolific band that I’ve never really listened to. This album is mostly electro-psych rock with smatterings of other influences. Judging from blurbs on Metacritic, this isn’t too far from their previous eight albums, which means I haven’t been missing out on much.
  • Lumineers – Cleopatra … Same as what you’d expect, but leaning more toward slower stuff rather than peppy tunes. The single, “Ophelia”, is definitely a keeper.
  • Parquet Courts – Human Performance … Nothing too special. A lot of the time, it gives off the vibe of half-assed punk. Other times, it reminds me of something I’d find on the Empire Records soundtrack. (Maybe that’s because one of the singers reminds me of Edwyn Collins.) Either way, this album feels mailed in. Maybe it was supposed to be released by Parkay Quarts. “Pathos Prairies” was the lone redeeming tune.
  • Frightened RabbitPainting Of A Panic Attack … This sounds exactly how you’d think it would when you hear that Aaron Dessner of The National is producing a Frightened Rabbit album. It’s everything you’ve come to expect from your favorite Scottish broods, with an extra layer of melancholy for good measure. And if it hasn’t already, “Get Out” needs to be receiving loads of radio airplay by now.
  • M83 – Junk … This is definitely one of the most aptly named albums you’ll ever find. In the past, you could always count on Anthony Gonzalez to churn out at least one super-catchy track on each release. Alas, this offering is nothing but 55-odd minutes of, well, junk.
  • The Heavy – Hurt & the Merciless … Mixing the best of rock, funk and blues, The Heavy have clearly found their sound and are sticking to it. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and the songs here are mostly palatable if not above-average. “Nobody’s Hero” probably deserves multiple spins, but that’s about it.

April 15

  • Blaqk Audio – Material … The fact that this band sounds exactly like a more electro version of AFI makes sense considering it consists of two members from said group. This is actually the third release from Davey Havok (lead vocals) and Jade Puget (keyboards, guitar), as they continue to find an outlet for their love affair with such groups as Depeche Mode, Ministry and Pet Shop Boys.
  • Lush – Blind Spot … This crew is among the forefathers of the shoegaze scene, and they haven’t missed a beat since disbanding in the late ‘90s. This four-song EP is filled with lush (pardon the unavoidable pun) vocals layered over dreamy instrumentation that harkens back to their mid-’90s best, before they veered toward Britpop.
  • The Coathangers – Nosebleed Weekend … Nothing special here. Just a bunch of slow-paced, slacker-exuding riot grrl punk. It’s not bad; it’s just bland.
  • Kevin Morby – Singing Saw … The former bassist for Woods, Morby’s songs are reminiscent to Wilco and Conor Oberst. This is his third solo album but first since departing Woods. Everything here is above average, but “Drunk and on a Star” and “Water” are particularly notable.
  • Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – PersonA … Besides the big single that they’ll forever be known for (“Home”), I think I’ve only heard one or two other songs by this band. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was woefully unprepared. The first two tracks are nearly unlistenable and sound nothing like the rest of the album. From that point, things are at least tolerable, if not barely average. “Somewhere” might be the peak, if only because it’s basically a rip-off of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”. And “Perfect Time” channels crooners of the Johnny Mathis ilk.
  • Suuns – Hold Still … Fans of textured, synth-laden, industrial post-punk should give it a spin. Otherwise, you may find yourself craving a Matt & Kim medley to help come back from the darkness.
  • Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – Love Letter for Fire … You can never go wrong with an album full of acoustic male-female duets. That being said, this is an average offering at best. There are no real standouts; it’s just 39 minutes of soothing harmonies.
  • PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project … I’ve yet to jump on the PJ Harvey bandwagon, but I’m always hoping that her next album is the one that will change my mind. Alas, I’m still waiting. This disc, the ninth LP from Polly Jean, is her usual mix of halting, off-kilter chant-singing with occasional glimpses of something catchy — but it never lasts long. Harvey is up there with tUnE-yArDs, Joanna Newsome and, to a less-annoying extent, St. Vincent in the pantheon of highly acclaimed female artists who are traveling in a totally different orbit from my own.
  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth … I’ll start by saying I don’t particularly like this album, but I do respect it. Having never listened to the Grammy-nominated Simpson, I was under the impression he was an alt-country darling. And while his previous work may have leaned in that direction, this one cannot be pigeonholed into any genre — heck, you could probably list it under a handful of big-time genres, not to mention their various offshoots. Simpson channels a slew of influences, from rock, pop, soul, blues, funk and, of course, country, into a bubbling cauldron of sound. Whereas some listeners will love the overflowing mix of sounds, I found myself wanting it to be more focused. However, I also think that, after repeated listens, this album could grow on me. The standout is “Oh Sarah”, which is the closest thing to a country song that you’ll find here.
  • Big Black Delta – Trágame Tierra … If it weren’t for its lack of focus and horrible over-production, this album has the potential to make some waves. Alas, as it is, it’s just an overload of pop and electro mishmash. One song that managed to escape only slightly scathed is “RCVR”, a collaboration with Debbie Gibson.

April 22

  • We Are Scientists – Helter Seltzer … Gone are the days of With Love and Squalor. Ever since their major label debut in 2005, We Are Scientists have gradually drifted away from what initially made them so enchanting. Now, they’re just a run-of-the-mill indie-rock group. “Too Late” had its moments, and “Waiting For You” sounds like classic Weezer.
  • The Strumbellas – Hope … The first three tracks are endlessly catchy. Even tracks 4-5 are hummable; they just pale in comparison to their predecessors. “The Hired Band” slows things down, but it’ll still get ya groovin’. Then they immediately kick things up several notches on “Young & Wild”. This was my favorite album through the first third of the year.
  • Greys – Outer Heaven … This is just some straight-up, fuzz-filled, lo-fi, indie rock with the occasional nods to the first wave of emo. There’s no pretense here, and they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s just some solid sounds to zone out to for 39 minutes.
  • Niki & The Dove – Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now … The instruments sound straight out of a Lionel Richie song, circa 1987, but the vocals have that auto-tuned echo effect that could only come from present day. If that hybrid piques your interest, you’re in luck. Otherwise, meh.

April 29

  • Britta Phillips – Luck or Magic … Pleasant mix of old and new with five originals and five covers on the solo debut from the fairer half of Dean & Britta. “One Fine Summer Morning” is a soft, serene folk-rock that is a direct descendant of Joan Baez, Karen Carpenter and Joni Mitchell. … “Million Dollar Doll” is much more modern pop with a hard edge. The covers include the Cars’ “Drive” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”.
  • John Doe – The Westerner … The latest solo release from the frontman of punk legends X is filled with alt-country and roots rock that is a perfect accompaniment to a slow morning at work. “A Little Help” is a standout.
  • Travis – Everything At Once … I’ve probably only heard a couple of Travis songs in my lifetime, so I’m definitely a novice when it comes to the former Scottish “it” band. But after hearing this, their eighth album, I’m tempted to check out more from their catalog. The vocals reminded me of a mix of Bono and Art Alexakis. The bulk of the album was solid, including such tunes as “What Will Come”, “Magnificent Time” and “Animals”. Coincidentally, my least favorite tune was “Radio Song”, and even that one wasn’t too bad.
  • Imarhan – self-titled … Another Tuareg band! This Southern Algeria crew’s debut is more laid-back than Bombino’s recent effort, but that’s fine. It’s still a very pleasant listen.
  • Rogue Wave – Delusions of Grand Fur … Pretty solid effort by a band no longer in the spotlight. Some relatively catchy tunes with some filler mixed in as well. “What Is Left to Solve” was the most intriguing track here.
  • Melt Yourself Down – Last Evenings On Earth … This frenetic mashup of jazz, punk, funk and electro is not my cup of tea. But it’s definitely a fresh sound, and I guarantee there are plenty of music fans out there that would eat this up.
  • Plants and Animals – Waltzed in from the Rumbling … This album, the fourth from the Canadian indie rock crew, feels like the result of a group who wanted to experiment and try out a variety of sounds. While that strategy could have gone horribly awry, this effort sounds cohesive throughout. Dabbling in a variety of genres while maintaining a solid base, the flora and fauna posse churned out an eclectic mix of tunes that may not win any awards but should certainly earn praise from fans and critics alike.
  • King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity … It’s a non-stop ride aboard the garage-psych train. Literally. The eighth album from this Aussie crew is an infinite loop, with every song flowing into one another, including the closing and opening track. The music itself is decent enough if not particularly earth-shattering. But it’s kinda fun to hide the playlist and guess what track you’re on at random intervals.
  • The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust … A pleasant mix of strong harmonies and solid instrumentation shows that these Minneapolis-based alt-country stalwarts haven’t missed a beat over the course of nine albums. “Leaving the Monsters Behind” was particularly catchy, mixing in some shades of Elf Power and R.E.M. (not surprising since Peter Buck co-produced the album with Tucker Martine.) “The Dust of Long-Dead Stars” was also above-average.
  • Pity Sex – White Hot Moon … This is shoegaze at its absolute finest. It’s basically a continuation of their 2013 debut LP, Feast of Love. But with the sound they’ve harnessed, they can make 10 more of the same thing and I’ll eat them up. Standouts include “Burden You”, “September” and “Plum”.
  • Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland … The debut album from this Louisiana native is like some sort of musical gumbo with the unholy piano combination of Elton John and The Band as its roux and Nate Ruess-style vocals ladled on top. It’s definitely an acquired taste. But it was released by Sup Pop Records, so, perhaps those venerable folks are hearing something I’m not.

May 6

  • The Rides – Pierced Arrow … If you’re a fan of pure blues-rock, you’ll love this offering from the supergroup that includes Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
  • A Giant Dog – Pile … This is a collection of head bob-inducing guitar rock with a huge punk influence in the same vein as what the Go-Go’s would’ve preferred to be had they not gone down the pop route. “Sleep When Dead” is both a standout tune and a microcosm for the vibe of this entire album.
  • Spookyland – Beauty Already Beautiful … Sounding like a mix between ’70s psych rock and ’90s Britpop, this sophomore effort from these Aussie lads is a solid table setter for a day spent listening to music. It won’t be winning any awards, but it’s catchy enough to keep your attention throughout. “Big Head” is notable.
  • Andy Black – The Shadow Side … The lead singer of Black Veil Brides has spread his wings and delivered a solo album. Having never heard of his main band, I don’t know how similar it is to this offering. What I can say is that this album is filled with anthemic tunes in the same vein as AFI and liberal use of Auto-Tune. If you’re into that sort of thing, then you’ll probably love this album. I do not fall into that category.
  • Little Scream – Cult Following … The second release from Montreal artist Laurel Sprengelmeyer is a haunting indie rock album, filled with dark guitars and plenty of synths. It’s one cohesive unit with few real standout tracks, but it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the music and forget how many songs deep you are.
  • Seratones – Get Gone … The debut from this Louisiana-based group sounds like the culmination for a band that’s been toiling at the county fair level for a decade. Whether that’s true, I have no idea; it just has the vibe of a group trying to mimic all their favorite rock artists and doing a passable job. Led by the howling vocals of A.J. Haynes, this crew isn’t reinventing the wheel, but its version of blues-rock/neo-soul definitely has the potential to gain a foothold. Take note of the title track, where Haynes does her best Robert Plant impersonation.
  • Kacy & Clayton – Strange Country … On their second album, these Canadian cousins churn out old-timey folk with a modern twist. Everything sounds like it must be a cover, but in actuality, all but three of the tunes are original material. See if you can guess the retreads.
  • Chris Cohen – As If Apart … Some very relaxing alt-folk, with a lazy, but serious, vibe from the former Deerhoof guitarist. There’s definitely a psychedelic influence, but it never overpowers it into feeling trippy. No real standouts here; just a very chill listen.
  • Thomas Cohen – Bloom Forever … The solo debut from the ex-S.C.U.M front man sounds like a hybrid of Destroyer and Deehunter, two bands that are very much acquired tastes. Cohen mixes the jazzy crooner of Dan Bejar with Bradford Cox’s psychedelic waif. “New Morning Comes” is definitely the most palatable and a good entry point.
  • White Lung – Paradise … Honestly, this indie-pop/rock album had a lot going for it. But I just could not get past lead singer Mish Way’s voice. It reminded me of several I’ve heard throughout the years, and it’s one that I’ve never been able to acquiesce to. That being said, you may find it highly tolerable — plenty of critics certainly did — and should at least give it a spin. Start with “Hungry”, the track NPR chose for its Austin 100 mix.
  • LUH – Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing … Ellery James Roberts’ vocals are so gravelly that they border on grating. It would take an amazing mix of instrumentation and production to make up for those pipes. But he pulls it off with the help of Ebony Hoorn on the duo’s debut album. Roberts is no stranger to ambitious projects, often burning fast and not for long. Hoorn’s haunting vocals are the perfect foil for Roberts’ gravel. And the music grabs your attention from the start. It’s one of those few acquired tastes that I actually find palatable. Notable tracks include “I&I” and “Beneath the Concrete”.
  • Dan Michaelson and The Coastguards – Memory … The final installment of an album trilogy that includes 2013’s Blindspot and 2014’s Distance, it’s the continuation of Michaelson’s slacker impersonation of Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon). The songs are pleasant and all, but they don’t exactly break new ground.
  • Cyndi Lauper – Detour … Cyndi does country! … Don’t waste your time.

May 13

  • David Bazan – Blanco … The latest entry from the former Pedro the Lion frontman is slower and more synth-heavy than his previous solo work. There are no catchy, single-worthy tunes as in the past, but that’s not to say this isn’t solid work. Be careful when listening; it has the power to lull you to sleep.
  • Kikagaku Moyo – House in the Tall Grass … This is a very heavy hybrid of psychedelic rock and acid folk — among other influences. Not overpowering, it can even be enchanting at times. The best, most accessible tune, “Kogarashi”, also happens to be the outlier in overall form and texture. And closer “Cardigan Song” provides a perfectly peaceful period to the proceedings.
  • Adia Victoria – Beyond The Bloodhounds … This Nashville-based songstress debuts with a mix of sultry, bluesy rock — and a touch of rockabilly — that gets your toes a-tappin’ from the start. Standouts include “Mortimer’s Blues”, “Sea of Sand” and “And Then You Die”.
  • Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos … This rock supergroup sounds a lot like you’d probably expect from its name — like a band that should be playing the Double Deuce in the movie “Roundhouse”. Including members of Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Widespread Panic, Great American Taxi and King Lincoln, the group’s second release is the first to include original songs. This disc is made for listening to on the open road. “Half Ass Moses” is a fun ditty.
  • Oscar – Cut and Paste … This is one of those discs where every song is an earworm, and some great tunes end up getting overshadowed by their more impressive mates. It opens with “Sometimes” and its catchy, droning male vocals that are perfectly complemented by female vocals. On “Be Good”, the chorus calls to mind “Strange Overtones” by David Byrne and Brian Eno. “Felt It Too” is very reminiscent of Diamond Rings’ “Something Else”. “Good Things”and “Only Friend”are solid. “Breaking My Phone” takes a grungier turn with plenty of feedback. “Daffodil Days” has an airy-fairy intro that leads into another solid song. Then comes “Fifteen”, which is oozing twee from every pore and is one of my favorite tracks. “Beautiful Words”and “Gone Forever”provide the album a nice send-off.
  • Fruit Bats – Absolute Loser … Combining the best of ’70s AM rock and modern alt-country, this sixth full-length release is a perfect entry point to Eric D. Johnson’s folk-rock project. Every song is captivating and will induce toe taps and head bobs. It’s the type of album that should cause listeners to delve deep into Fruit Bats’ catalog.
  • Islands – Should I Remain at Sea? and Taste … The band dropped a pair of albums on the same day. Should I Remain at Sea? is a straightforward indie pop/rock record with plenty of catchy tunes, including “Fear”, “Fiction” and “Back Into It”. Taste, meanwhile, is much more of an electro collection, on which lead singer Nicholas Thorburn does his best Chris Martin impersonation.
  • Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost … The third album from the Philadelphia quartet takes the few redeemable aspects of the emo/pop-punk wave of the Aughts and hones it into something more mature and refined. No songs stood out, but the album is decent enough and seems like one that would grow on a listener with repeated spins.
  • Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau … On the 21st release from this musical chameleon, Blau ventures into full-on cowboy mode. He injects his own modern-folk sensibilities into 10 classic country-western gems, the most recognizable being “To Love Somebody”. This album could’ve easily come out in 1976.
  • Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow … The Philly duo is back with its second album full of shoegazey goodness. “The Dead Are Dumb” and “Vertigo Flowers” are perfect examples of how amazing the genre can be. “Everyone Is Happy” is also a strong entry. The entire album makes me so wistful, which, I’ve just realized, is the sign of great shoegaze.
  • Yak – Alas Salvation … Uninspired rock with a healthy dose of punk attitude. These British lads try to begin a guitar rock renaissance on their debut effort.
  • Twin Peaks – Down in Heaven … It’s no surprise that these Chicago gents were inspired by albums from 1968 while creating their third release. Equal parts garage rock and psychedelia, they’ve clearly taken their love of the Rolling Stones and let it bleed all over these songs, particularly “Wanted You”.
  • Woodpigeon – T R O U B L E … Some generally pleasant indie-folk with a quirky edge. “The Accident” stood out — barely.
  • Arbor Labor Union – I Hear You They sound like a hybrid of Guided By Voices, Son Volt and Dinosaur Jr. This is the second release by the Georgia band formerly known as the Pinecones, and it shows that they clearly have potential.
  • Foy Vance – The Wild Swan … I can’t decide if this is folk-country or country-folk, but you get the idea. There’s also an undercurrent of blues-rock swirling throughout. There’s so much of an Americana vibe that you tend to forget he is from Northern Ireland. But he reminds you on “The Wild Swans on the Lake”. Besides that ode to the old country, “Bangor Town” and “Unlike Any Other” were the most pleasant tunes here.
  • Eagulls – Ullages … These guys are The Cure at their darkest and heaviest. “Velvet” and “Lemontrees” are the standouts, but, really, this entire album is exceedingly enjoyable for any fan of classic post-punk.

May 17

  • Wolf Parade – EP4 … It’s good to hear from the fellas from the Great White North. It had been six years since their last release of any kind, so this is a welcome offering and hopefully a sign of things to come. As for the music itself, it’s generally above-average but not necessarily anything special to behold. But I could think of worse ways to spend 13 minutes.

May 20

  • Tiger Army – V … It received mixed reviews, but the main critique is that the band’s fifth album is too much of a stretch from previous work for fans to accept. Since I’d never heard of the group, I don’t have that bias. For a newbie, this disc is surprisingly pleasant — adding some very clear ‘50s pop influences to a pscyhobilly foundation. The songs tend to stick to the same formula, mixing pining vocals with moving violin and strumming guitar. That being said, “Prisoner of the Night” and “Firefall” did manage to stand out.
  • Lonely the Brave – Things Will Matter … This band borders on that annoying type of modern rock that can be heard on radio stations across the Midwest. But it manages to come back from the brink by employing enough indie vibes to keep things interesting. It probably helps that the group is British, which just adds an extra bit of flavor to its music. This is the second album from the Cambridge lads, following their 2014 breakout debut The Day’s War. “Dust & Bones” stands out, but everything here is pretty solid. Lead singer David Jakes channels his inner Eddie Vedder throughout, nowhere more so than on “Tank Wave”.
  • Against the Current – In Our Bones … For a debut album, this New York trio comes off as quite polished. Musically, this pop-rock offering is similar to Paramore and their ilk. The songs are plenty catchy, but they really don’t stand out from a lot of stuff you’d find on mainstream radio.
  • The So So Glos – Kamikaze … The third album from this Brooklyn outfit is filled with more of its signature straight-ahead modern punk-rock.
  • Various Artists – Day of the Dead … I have no interest of sifting through nearly 5.5 hours of covers of a band I have barely ever listened to. That being said, if you’re a Grateful Dead fan, you’ll probably eat up these 59 tracks of reimagined goodness. If you’re not a Deadhead, maybe skim the list of artists and just listen to the ones that interest you. The only problem with that tactic is that there are so many great acts on this compilation that you’ll still end up spending a couple of hours on it. Among the notable entries were “Peggy-O” by the National (whose Aaron and Bryce Dessner curated this entire album), Mumford & Sons’ “Friend of the Devil” and “Mountains of the Moon” by Lisa Hannigan & Friends. J Mascis’ “Box of Rain”, “Standing on the Moon” by Phosphorescent & Friends and “Birdsong” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Friends were also solid. As was Courtney Barnett’s “New Speedway Boogie”, but it was missing the best part of her music — clever original lyrics.
  • Mutual Benefit – Skip a Sinking Stone … A very pleasant sophomore effort from New York City’s Jordan Lee. Balancing a fine line between melancholia and optimism, Lee puts listeners in a peaceful cocoon for about 40 minutes. There are no standout tracks, but the whole album is at least worth a listen.
  • Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial … This is Will Toledo’s coming-out party. His second full-length album and first with a proper backing band, the group takes Toledo’s slacker serenades to a whole new level. Angsty and apathetic, Car Seat Headrest are equal parts Cloud Nothings, Beck and Courtney Barnett. The opener, “Fill in the Blank” is a nice table-setter, but the band displays enough influences throughout that a full listen is obligatory. Right now, I think this is a pretty solid album; in a few months, I may consider it one of the year’s best.
  • Marissa Nadler – Strangers … Another strong outing from this Boston-based singer-songwriter. Nothing particularly awe-inspiring; just a pleasant listen.
  • Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle … The debut from this indie-rock/pop trio from Down Under was filled with hits and misses — but mostly hits. The lead single, “Twilight Driving”, is infectiously catchy and sounds like a cover of a very familiar song that I just can’t place. “Depth Perception” is like an homage to Beach House, while “Unbalancing Acts” is reminiscent of Animal Collective, but more palatable. “Rogues” is also solid, particularly the guitars.
  • Andy Shauf – The Party … I don’t have much to say about this one. It was certainly a pleasant listen, but it was far from inspiring or interesting. I can’t really bash it, but I also can’t trumpet it. At least it’s not death metal.
  • Saosin – Along The Shadow … I’d heard of this band but had never listened to it. Of course, now I see that I wasn’t missing anything. This group clearly belongs on a Warped Tour stage. (Is that even still a thing?) On their third album, the Cali post-hardcore/emo kids welcome back original singer Anthony Green, who left in 2004 to form Circa Survive. Whether their sound has changed over the course of three albums, I have no clue. Nor do I care.

May 27

  • Clare Maguire – Stranger Things Have Happened … Very solid vocalist who mixes the pipes of Adele with the pianist-singer abilities of Sara Barailles and Regina Spektor. This is the follow-up to her 2011 debut and comes after recovering from depression and alcohol and drug addiction. The lead single is “Elizabeth Taylor”, but that tune pales in comparison to the fun, catchy ““The Valley”.
  • Yumi Zouma – Yoncalla … Sometimes you just need some pleasant dream pop to whisk you away, and this debut from the New Zealand crew fits the bill. Loaded with plenty of synths and airy vocals, they can give The XX and Beach House a run for their money. That said, this band doesn’t necessarily stand out from the pack. That’s fine; it’s still a worthwhile listen. “Text From Sweden” is particularly notable.
  • Bonnie Bishop – Ain’t Who I Was … One site filed this under folk, while another labeled it pop/rock and referred to Bishop as a country artist. In actuality, the sixth album from this Nashville-based singer/songwriter is straight up blues-rock, in the same vein as Stevie Ray Vaughan (without the amazing guitar). It’s also no coincidence that Bishop’s style bears a striking resemblance to that of Bonnie Raitt, who she lists as an idol.
  • Sonny & The Sunsets – Moods Baby Moods … Sounding like a modern day take on classic Elvis Costello & The Attractions, this sixth disc from Sonny Smith’s group is the definition of an acquired taste. The fact that it was tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus adds to the funkiness. If you can make it past that, there are some interesting lyrics to be heard.
  • The Hotelier – Goodness … This Worcester, Mass., group received a great deal of critical praise and was heralded as one of the leaders of the “emo revival” in 2014 when it released its second album, Home, Like Noplace Is There. Chances are it will be on plenty of best-of-2016 lists with its third and latest release. The disc opens slow with some spoken word boredom on the first track and an annoying start to “Goodness, Pt. 2”, but it quickly transforms into a great song that emo purists would applaud. It’s followed by “Piano Player”, which has a lot going on and is slightly reminiscent of R.E.M. at their most harmonious. After a solid middle portion, things really take off toward the back of the album. “Soft Animal” will get your head bobbing, and “Sun” is a single-worthy track. “You in This Light”, “Fear of God” and “End of Reel” provide a solid close.
  • Real Friends – The Home Inside My Head … This band is so prototypical whiny-emo, pop-punk that on the tune, “Mess”, it even waxes nostalgic about listening to Dashboard Confessional.
  • Kristin Kontrol … X-Communicate … This solo debut by Dum Dum Girls’ Kristin Welchez is dance-pop with a dark side. It’s like Robyn trying to cover Siouxsie & The Banshees with some very catchy results. “White Street” is a stand out; and the title track reminded me a bit of Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”.
  • PUP – The Dream Is Over … Here is some unapologetically straightforward pop-punk, if that’s your thing. Definitely nothing special, other than the fact that lead singer Stefan Babcock was told before recording it that he would be risking his singing career due to a hemorrhaging cyst on his vocal cords. The Toronto lads persisted, and this is the result. I must admit that some of the lyrics and titles were amusing, such as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “My Life Is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier”.
  • Catfish and The Bottlemen – The Ride … This is a generally pleasant sophomore offering from the Welsh indie rock/pop outfit. It’s nothing special, but there are certainly worse things to subject your ears to. Opener “7” gets things off to a nice, slow-head-bobbing start, and the medium pace lasts throughout.
  • Big Thief – Masterpiece … I had to give this debut album four listens before I could even start to write a synopsis. Mostly because there are so many different influences here that I couldn’t really pinpoint a direction. So, I’ll just list some contemporaries of Adrianne Lenker & Co.: Hop Along, Warpaint, Sharon Van Etten and The Walkmen. This should easily go down as one of the best albums of the year. Besides the obvious filler tracks, there are really no lulls. The strongest tunes include the title track, “Vegas” (like a female-fronted Walkmen), “Real Love”, “Paul” (like a lo-fi cover of Bruce Springsteen) and “Animals”.
  • Daniel Romano – Mosey … Throughout this Canadian singer/songwriter’s fifth album, the music hearkens back to the ’70s and the days of “CHiPs” and “Starsky & Hutch”. Particularly on opener “Valerie Leon”, which seems like it could’ve possibly been in the soundtrack of a movie from one of that era’s famed auteurs. Romano’s voice often calls to mind that of They Might Be Giants, especially on the overly catchy pop-country “Hunger Is a Dream You Die In”.
  • Band of Skulls – By Default … Despite some pretty harsh reviews by critics, I have to admit that I was relatively pleased with the British rockers’ fourth album. The lyrics aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but the music was generally entertaining. The most notable songs were “Back of Beyond”, “This Is My Fix” and “Something”.
  • Kate Jackson – British Road Movies … Nearly eight years after The Long Blondes disbanded, lead singer Kate Jackson has finally delivered a solo debut. Admittedly, the only song I knew of theirs was “Once and Never Again”, but it was definitely one of my favorites from 2006. Only about a third of Jackson’s current album reflects the peppy tone of that track. A bigger chunk is devoted to slower, more pensive fodder. The most recognizable track is “Wonder Feeling”, which she released as a double A side single — along with “The Atlantic” — in 2011. It’s of the faster pace, as are other notable tunes “Stranded” and “Homeward Bound”. Overall, this album isn’t anything special, but it is nice to see Jackson finally return to the fray.
  • Beth Orton – Kidsticks … This is the seventh release from the British singer-songwriter who recently settled down in California. I have to assume this is a departure from previous albums, otherwise I have no idea how she’s managed to be so prolific. The songs here seem to be some sort of awful hybrid between Annie Lennox and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs.
  • Malcolm Middleton – Summer of ’13 … Man, oh man, did I want to hate this album after the first few songs. The overdone computer effects were enough to make me give up on it almost immediately. Alas, I’m a sucker for a thick Scottish accent, so I persevered. Eventually, it started to grow on me, and by the time I finished track 5, “Like John Lennon Said”, I’d officially relented. Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty to loathe here — namely all that electro junk. But there are a few saving graces, most notably just the refreshing quality of hearing that accent in a new setting. Other palatable songs were “Brackets” and “Little Hurricane”

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