“Slow Focus” is the 3rd full length offering from this memorably named techno duo. It sounds like it would be perfect to soundtrack a futuristic big budget blockbuster about space travel or the apocalypse. The music is slow building, paranoid and spooky but absolutely monstrous. The album is 50 minutes + with only seven tracks, all instrumental, impeccably produced with no duds. Despite the small number of tracks it’s very easy to get lost in the album and forget which track you’re on. This is one of a number of great instrumental or near instrumental albums produced last year. Fans of Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Boards Of Canada should dig this very much.
AlunaGeorge are a British R&B/Club Music duo consisting of vocalist Aluna Francis and producer George Reid. The duo is part of a wave a great post-millennial hipster R&B/Pop along with like-minded artists Robyn, Annie, Solange, Sky Ferreira & Charli XCX- artists more likely to take their musical cues from Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott or the Neptunes, than Tricky, Portishead or Massive Attack, but nevertheless don’t really fit on contemporary radio despite their pop leanings. “Body Music” is their full length debut, but they already have an EP and a slew of singles under their belt dating back to 2011. Their sound is rooted in the club but the play as like a more energetic Soul II Soul and have nearly nothing in common with the EDM scene. Aluna resembles Lily Allen a bit vocally and the production on the album is quite inventive. Though the singles are the best tracks (“Your Drums, My Love”, Attracting Flies” and “You Know You Like It” are the standouts) and the album is a bit top heavy, there are no stinkers are the album not counting and ill-advised cover of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”, which is tagged onto the end as a bonus cut.
Looking at 2013’s year-end lists, Queens seems to have either been at the top end of various lists or not mentioned at all. Several prominent sites went as far as to slag “..Like Clockwork” as a mediocre effort. Though the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Rated R” or “Songs For The Deaf”, I think it’s their best album since then and quite a different sound than anything the band has offered before, with a much greater number of ballads and slow burners. Former bassist Nick Oliveri is back in the band after being kicked out years ago. “My God Is the Sun” is a worthy first single and other tracks like “If It Had a Tail” and “I Appear Missing” rank among Queens’ best work. My favorite of the bunch is “Smooth Sailing” one of the best tracks in their repertoire.
This Danish punk band’s sophomore release is nearly good as their first, which was a top ten album for me in 2010. I guess “You’re Nothing” was docked points for no good reason- because this year was so competitive with great music and because Iceage mostly repeat the song from their debut they’ve somewhat lost the element of surprise. Iceage’s are still bleak, terse and aggressive, like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis fronting Wire. Though nearly every song is around the 2 minute mark each teems with myriad guitar hooks. The legendary Iggy Pop recently called Iceage the first dangerous band he’s heard in a long time- a heavy compliment. In an age where Punk music can bring to mind Warp tour sameyness, Iceage still sound like the future.
Perhaps the most unfairly maligned album of the year. I think “Bankrupt!” suffers mostly compared to Phoenix’s previous effort, the runaway breakout hit “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart”. “Bankrupt!” takes the same format as its predecessor but for some reason none of the slew of great potential singles seemed to stick. Lead single “Entertainment” still sounds to me like it should be all over the radio and tracks like “Don’t”, “Real People” and “Trying To Be Cool” are nearly as good. “Bourgeois” and “S.O.S In Bel-Air” are great mid-tempo tracks and “Oblique City” is an excellent album closer. The longest track on the album is the proggy title track, which is placed right in the middle of the track listing and does kill the momentum a bit, but take that one misstep away and you have a pretty great album. Though “Bankrupt!” has barely sniffed the year end countdowns, has had mediocre sales and is being passed off as a stiff, my bet is that future history is more kind to it.
‘Run The Jewels’ is the group name (also the name of the album and album’s best track) for the fantastic collaboration between underground rappers El-P and Killer Mike. Killer Mike is a long-time Atlantan rapper who cut his teeth working with Outkast and Organized Noize over a decade ago and has made minor splashes with tracks like “A.D.I.D.A.S.” but has never really made it above the underground. El-P is one of the foremost underground rappers in New York City and former head of the prominent indie-rap label Def Jux. El-P produced and appeared on Mike’s 2012 breakout album “R.A.P. Music” (one of the best albums of last year), as well as releasing his own excellent solo album “Cancer For Cure” the same month. Their collaborations worked so well that they had to continue it and “Run The Jewels” is their victory lap. Even though they are from different regions Mike & El-P fit together like chocolate and peanut butter. “Run The Jewels”, first put out as a free mix-tape, is an album for true hip hop heads. Barely 30 minutes, no skits, with banger after banger. El-P’s normally anxious, claustrophobic production is streamlined into a more accessible package. El-P’s delivery is hyper and intense, juxtaposed with with Mike’s slow, but equally intense southern drawl. In a lesser year for hip hop this could be at the top of the rap list. Even with all of the other great ones it still sticks out.
*There is a link to follow to download the album on my actual blog if you follow the below link.
Download for Free at http://www.foolsgoldrecs.com/
Buy Run the Jewels [Explicit]Amazon
Phosphorescent have been around for almost a decade but this is the first time they have been on my radar and their album “Muchacho” is a true pleasure. Phosphorescent fit right in with current mellow indie singer-songwriters like Kurt Vile and Father John Misty, mixing modern folk-rock, tradition Nashville country, 70’s Laurel Canyon scene and southern roots rock. “Muchacho” gives me a nostalgic vibe, sounding like the heavily but lovingly produced mid 70’s album by L.A. groups like Fleetwood Mac, Crosby Stills & Nash or Gene Clark. Horns, piano & steel guitars and gorgeous searing harmonies are abundant on “Muchacho” warming up a batch of songs that sound like they originate from a solitary, drunken, introspective place. “Song For Zula” is one of my favorite songs of the year and other tracks like “Ride On/Right On” are not far behind.
Sophomore release “Hummingbird” proves that Local Natives debut was no fluke. The National’s Aaron Dressner is tapped as their producer this time around and acts as a de-facto band member. In time I can imagine the Local Natives carving out their own indie rock niche and signature sound like their big brothers in the National. If you like Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes give these guys a listen. They’ve kept a similar template to their last album- beautiful, soaring harmonies and expansive drumming with a consistently great set of songs split between ballads and uptempo numbers. Though less experimental than the Grizzlies or the Foxes, they are also way more interesting than groups like Mumford & Sons, Passenger or the Lumineers. Lead single “Breakers” and the beautiful ballad “Colombia” are the choice picks on “Hummingbird” but there are no duds.
Our current decade of the twenty-teens has offered a treasure trove of neo-psych rock (see my top album pick of 2012 Tame Impala’s “Lonerism” among many others) and “Wondrous Bughouse” by Youth Lagoon may just5 be the best of the lot in 2013. 2011’s “Year Of Hibernation”, Youth Lagoon’s debut, was celebrated in the press and I found it good if a bit underwhelming, but “Bughouse” is a big leap forward. Youth Lagoon is really a one man project helmed by early twenty-something Boise, Idaho native Trevor Powers. Powers is loaded with talent and after the nice reception to the debut is now armed with more tools at his disposal. “Bughouse” sounds more layered, better produced, bigger and louder than its predecessor, delivering its greatest pleasures on headphones and repeat listens. The standout tracks are “Dropla”, “Mute” and “Raspberry Cane”, but the record is best listened to as a whole.
Boards of Canada has been a monster group for bedroom electronica aficionados since their landmark debut “Music Has The Right To Children” in 1998. Since then the group (actually a Scottish duo) have only released a few proper albums along with a handful of EP’s and nearly all of their material has been very well received, if leaving their fans wanting for more. Their last proper album “The Campfire Headphase” was issued back in 2005. Early last summer the duo released “Tomorrow’s Harvest” with no advanced warning. “Harvest” has a colder, spookier sound than anything I’ve heard prior with apocalyptic track titles like “Cold Earth”, “Reach For The Dead”, “Sick Times” and “Collapse”. It’s an album that can be either obsessed over, requiring intense concentration with headphones on, or played as background music. The album sneaked up on me more when I wasn’t trying so hard, its various hooks sinking in when I played the album on a loop while doing other things.