THE SHINS- HEARTWORMS
Shins fifth album, “Heartworms” is a Shins album in name only. Self-recorded & self-produced, the Shins are now little more than lead singer and songwriter James Mercer and some hired guns. That said fans of the Shins should find plenty to like here as the group’s template of intricate arrangements and strong power-pop melodies is locked firmly in place. The Shins have always taken their basic sound from mid-sixties Beatles and Beach Boys psychedelic period which is certainly one of my sweet spots. There may not be an obvious single like previous albums “New Slang”, “Kissing The Lipless” or “Simple Song” but there is so much to like here that highlights will almost certainly emerge over time.
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FATHER JOHN MISTY- PURE COMEDY
“Pure Comedy”, Father John Misty’s third album, is seventy-five minutes long and in his most ambitious and grandest statement yet. Despite an incredibly strong start to the album, that does not make it his most enjoyable. It lacks the amount of strong songs and musical diversity of his last album “I Love You Honeybear”. Misty’s hipster persona, usually laden with irony, makes it difficult for the listener to discern his level of sincerity. While many people find him frustrating; an obviously crazy talented & prolific songwriter with a voice like an angel who just can’t seem to play it straight, I find the persona fresh and interesting. These are dark times both politically and culturally and Misty is not afraid to point fingers at not only our often ridiculous leaders, but the capitalist system in general as well as himself and his own audience. The first four songs on “Pure Comedy”- the title track, “Total Entertainment Forever”, “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” & “Ballad Of A Dying Man” are all among the best songs he has ever written but “Pure Comedy” can get bogged down by the amount of similar sounding, lengthy ballads- four of the album thirteen songs are over six minutes with two of them going over ten.
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FUTURE ISLANDS- THE FAR FIELD
“The Far Field” is Future Islands fifth album but first since the band’s popularity increased exponentially due to hit single “Seasons” from 2014’s “Singles”. There may not be a single track on “The Far Field” as amazing as “Seasons” but the album as a whole is a more consistently rewarding effort. Future Islands is a three pieces band driven by Peter Hook-style bass riffs, passionate, heart on its sleeve vocals, robotic drums and no guitar. Lead singles “Ran” and “Cave” as well as the gorgeous “Through The Roses” all standout but there is not a weak track in the bunch.
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THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS- WHITEOUT CONDITIONS
Seventh album by Canadian indie-rock super group is their first without group eccentric Dan Bejar who couldn’t record due to scheduling conflicts with his other group Destroyer. Bejar’s presence is missed as he is often responsible for some of the group’s best and most stylistically diverse songs. But likely due to his absence “Whiteout Conditions” is one of the band’s most focused pure power pop albums yet. As usual the NP’s are led by chief singer & songwriter AC Newman but Neko Case is now given more shine on lead vocals. The title track and “High Ticket Attractions” are early favorites.
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KENDRICK LAMAR- DAMN
Kendrick Lamar has now, by 2017, taken over Kanye West as the most exciting artist in modern music. Lamar’s influence drives not only hip hop culture but music in general. After 2015’s world conquering, heavily jazz & funk influenced “To Pimp A Butterfly”, Lamar with “Damn” brings the focus back towards pure rap, but “Damn” is as singular and unique as any of Lamar’s previous output. It sounds far more focused that the sprawling and densely packaged “Butterfly” and though fifty-five minutes long it seems much shorter. Lead single “Humble” managed to go all the way to #1- a huge crossover radio hit; it did so without compromises. The best artists set the standard and make the societal infrastructure change for them. “DNA”, “Fear”, XXX (featuring U2!!!!) and last track- the amazing “Duckworth” are all some of the best cuts of not only Lamar’s career but of 2017 in general. “Damn” will likely be on the short list of 2017’s best albums when all is said and done.
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