It’s a nod to our current niche-driven culture that a white rapper from Seattle who I had never even heard of can come on the scene and sell huge numbers, debuting on the billboard charts at #2. Though many have still not heard of him, Macklemore has been plugging away since 2000 and had obviously built up quite a large cult of fans- he currently has a #1 radio hit with his lead single “Thrift Shop”, but many people still don’t know who the hell he is. Macklemore is thoughtful, earnest, open and direct with his lyrics, fitting in our age of over sharing- though he might appear corny or self-righteous to some. He tackles subjects such as racism, homophobia, addiction & materialism head on, appealing to people with open-minded sensibilities. If you like rap but have had enough of its often violent, misogynistic and homophobic subject matter, “Heist” just may be a light in your tunnel of darkness. The ace in Macklemore’s sleeve is Ryan Lewis whose inventive production dabbles in many different styles, keeping “Heist” inventive and varied while somehow maintaining a cohesive flow throughout.
English chanteuse releases challenging third album, carrying the torch of like-minded forebears such as Kate Bush and Tori Amos. “The Haunted Man” reveals itself upon multiple listens and standout track “Laura” is one of the best and beautiful cuts of the year, period!
For a still relatively unknown indie band, Sleigh Bells has already received their fair share of hate. Their abrasive noise-pop is a turn-off for some and their style of music, like TV On the Radio, makes them vulnerable to bad mixing while playing live. Before even releasing their first single Sleigh Bells was a CMJ festival favorite and heavily hyped by the blogs. Their music can appear gimmicky on the surface- a former metal dude playing gargantuan guitar riffs, behind heavy synths and southern rap beats while a gorgeous front woman coos in a light & airy hyper feminine voice. Their sound is utterly unique but they still had flash in the pan written all over them. Well after two albums here they stay. “Reign Of Terror” may not quite reach the quality of their debut but it’s pretty damn good in its own right. Check out tracks like “End of the Line”, “Demons” and “Comeback Kid”. If you can’t handle it maybe it’s because you’re too old 😉
A bit like Janis Joplin fronting a southern rock band. Alabama Shakes garnered plenty of hype as a ‘return to real rock’ band and their debut doesn’t disappoint. Lead singer/guitarist and chief songwriter Brittany Howard is quite a belter and clearly the star of the group. “Boys & Girls” starts with four nearly note perfect songs, namely track #1 and lead single “Hold On”. Though things cool down a bit after the beginning of the album there are no total misses. Hopefully the band will deliver even more the next time out. Any fan of the White Stripes, Black Keys, Black Crowes, Stones or Faces should totallu dig these guys- balls out rock n’ roll!
“I Bet On Sky” is Dinosaur Jr.’s 3rd straight great reunion album- equaling in length and bettering in quality bassist/sometime vocalist’s Lou Barlow’s original stint with the band in the 80’s. Who would have guessed that these guys would still have so much in them after all these years. All three reunion records stand up to any other albums throughout the legendary indie band’s career. Everything you already like about Dinosaur Jr. is still there on “I Bet On Sky”- well-worn slacker vocals by singer J. Mascis with an awesome falsetto when he really wants to turn it up a notch. Some of the nastiest guitar solos in indie-rock history- no doubt inspired by the likes of Bob Mould and Neil Young and a couple of choice cuts sung by Barlow to break things up a bit. There are a few tweaks here though- gone are any really abrasive, atonal nods to their early punk days. The songs are a bit tighter with some acoustic, psychedelia and funk thrown in for good measure. Tracks like lead single “Watch the Corners”, “Pierce the Morning Rain” & “See It On Your Side” are some of the band’s best yet.
TheeSatisfaction was first heard on follow Seattle native Shabazz Palace’s mindblowing 2011 rap record “Black Up”. They are a feminist experimental hip-hop duo with free associative rhymes and song structure, politically conscious rapping and jazzy grooves nodding backwards to early 90’s rap like Tribe and Digable Planets and nodding forward to a space age future. Nearly every song is under three minutes with many under two making the album play almost like a series of vignettes. They constantly question the status quo while keeping their vibes positive throughout. The perfect music for the Age of Aquarius? These guys hopefully won’t stay too far under the radar for long.
Los Angeles’s freakiest weirdo and hero to chillwavers everywhere releases his follow up to “Before Today”, which finally put him on the map above the deep underground in 2009. Rather than trying to capitalize on “Today’s success and going more mainstream, Pink opts to make an album more warped and weird than its predecessor. “Mature Themes” is an apt title as the album is sex obsessed with titles like “Pink Slime”, “Symphony of the Nymph” & “Schnitzel Boogie”. The album’s best two songs- single “Only In My Dreams” and “Baby” (a cover of a late 70’s radio hit by cheese meisters Donnie & Joe Emerson) do what Pink does so well- take adult contemporary or outdated sounds and re-appropriate them for the modern era using lo-fi production and lots of different sound effects. If 70’s post-punk groups like Suicide and Devo embraced rather than rejected the AM radio hits of the day they have have sounded like Ariel Pink. “Mature Themes” is not quite as jaw dropping an album as “Before Today” and doesn’t have a cut as crazy great as “Round and Round” (though “Dreams” comes close) it’s still a highly recommended listen.
First full length album from this goofy eccentric twenty-something Canadian (“1” was an EP). The music on “2” is hooky, loose & spare- a nasty slide riff propels “Cooking Up Something Good”, which ends up being about this father manufacturing drugs in their basement. “Ode To Viceroy” is about DeMarco’s love for an ultra cheap cigarette brand. DeMarco comes off as a playful and inventive slacker. His simplicity and the barebones production belie an artist with real talent. Though the album sounds too cheap to be radio friendly there are hooks galore and DeMarco knows his way around a thought provoking couplet. “2” is only 30 minutes long and leaves you wanting more. He is an artist to watch.
If you can’t get enough of the eighties whether you lived through them or not, you must check out Twin Shadow. “Confess” is the 2nd album by Twin Shadow, who is the nom de plume of George Lewis, Jr., a young, talented, African-American playing new wave to the indie rock crowd. Lewis paints himself as a love ‘em and leave ‘em seductive lothario who will steal your girlfriend. He may come across as a jerk, and the front cover doesn’t help, but like his debut “Forget”, “Confess” is catchy as hell, impeccably produced and contains some truly awesome songs. “Run Your Heart”, “Five Seconds” and “Golden Light” are the true standouts here, but the whole album flows nicely.
31. FLYING LOTUS- UNTIL THE QUIET COMES
Flying Lotus has more in common with jazz than pop or rock music and “Until the Quiet Comes” is a less accessible album than his previous, the most excellent “Cosmogramma”. Most of the tracks on “Quiet” are instrumental and are not meant to be listened to piecemeal. Anyone who laments the absence of the bugged out jazz fusion of 70’s era Miles Davis or groups like Weather Report and wonder who has filled its niche should check our Flying Lotus immediately. Maybe not surprisingly Alice Coltrane (John Coltrane’s wife) is actually his grandmother. Though jazz purists may be disappointed by the lack of so called “real instruments”, I bet those ghosts of Coltrane & Davis, among others, approve.