Aimee Mann Mental Illness
There’s so much to say about how great this album is, I think it may even be my favorite album of the year. The veteran singer/songwriter embraces a less is more mentality, keeping the instrumentation limited mainly to acoustic guitar and vocals, yet it’s outfitted with strings and light percussion (sleigh bells). Aimee was inspired by 70’s east listening music and added beds of backup vocals, that add soaring crescendos to her minimal compositions. The lyrics focus on, you guessed it, Mental Illness, whether she’s examining her own behavior or someone she knows, she offers powerful case studies into the human mind. On “Goose Snow Cone” she misses her cat and captures the feeling of homesickness and loneliness, on “Patient Zero” she’s seduced then let down by Hollywood, and on “Philly Sinks” she describes someone she calls “borderline sociopathic” with a drinking problem to boot. However, judgement isn’t cast instead it shed’s light on the motivations of those involved. Every song of this album tells a new beautiful and heart-breaking story, offering solidarity and understanding for those of us who picture our friends, family member, or even ourselves in these flawed protagonists. After a couple decades of making great music (the Magnolia soundtrack rules) Aimee Mann still finds a way to make evocative and infectious songs. Brian played her beautiful song “Goose Snow Cone” on Best Song Ever which I think may be one of my favorite songs of the year.
Tei Shi Crawl Space
Argentinian singer/songwriter Valerie Teicher a.k.a. Tei Shi released her debut full length, Crawlspace, referring to the spot where she would face her fear of the dark as a child. On this album she faces her fears whether it’s the tarantula on her face in the album cover, the fear that she won’t be a good singer, or the fear of losing a love. She delivers a rich and ever changing synth-pop sound, all held together with her soulful voice, surprising the listen with the heights it reaches. 80’s referencing synth-pop is a dime a dozen these days and I would normally be turned off to this sound. However, her shimmering compositions and soaring hooks are inescapable. She also includes audio clips of herself as a child, she starts the record with her child self describing "How To Record” and talks about wanting to sing like Britney Spears and it’s adorable. This is an incredible debut album and we can expect great things from Mei Shi in the future. Brian played the song “Keep Running” on Best Song Ever, check it out here.
Legendary English rock band Wire recently celebrated the 40th Anniversary of their eponymous debut album Pink Flag. They’ve been know for pushing the boundaries of rock and punk and their sound continues to evolve. They masterfully walk the line between noisy and atmospheric, gruff and dissonant, heartfelt and melodic. As the name Silver/Lead and the grey album art demonstrate, cryptic and mysterious lyrics paint a melancholy picture of the future, yet bursts of light and hope permeate the intentional monotony. Wire is such an influential band and they continue to add to an already amazing catalogue. Brian and I talk about them on Best Song Ever and play their song “Short Elevated Period" check it out here.
Lydia Ainsworth Darling of the Afterglow
Lydia Ainsworth makes a strange yet intriguing combination of folk influenced synth pop. Banjo licks lay in aside big wobbly bass drops, lead by Ainsworth’s pop star voice it’s a surprisingly infectious cocktail. These songs begin dark and moody before erupting into grand pop crescendos. Her sound grew on me, I was not a fan when it was first sent to me. The big synth sound can be a bit abrasive at times, but the more I listen I appreciate the bold compositional choices she makes, not to mention her melodies are glorious. if she had just stuck with folk or just stuck with synth pop, she would perhaps struggle to stand out, but with the combination of both she emerges as an original. This is an impressive sophomore album developing a truly unique sound.
Pile A Hairshirt of Purpose
Another post-punk band with a four letter name, Boston band Pile no doubt was influenced by Wire in some way. This band began as a solo act and grew into a full band and their sixth album is their finest yet. It’s equal parts harsh & abrasive and soulful & melodic. When the guys aren’t rocking with jagged punk hooks and speak-sung lyrics, Rick Maguire croons over gently strummed guitar backed by orchestration. The sound of this album is so big, yet it feels far away, all noise filling an open space. This album has enough driving force and intimate vulnerability to keep me interested, and is dissonant enough to alienate the masses
Freddie Gibbs You Only Live 2wice
The veteran MC reminds us of his influence, tells tales from the streets, comments on the political state and gives some advice to the kids. Rap music often romanticizes thug life, some of my favorite rap does this, but it is nice to hear rappers like Killer Mike and Freddie Gibbs telling the up and comers that it’s actually some heavy shit and to avoid if you can, though not everybody can. Gibbs states,”I think n****s forgot who gave these n****s this flow,” and throughout it’s clear that his flow is incredible and is absolutely imitated. The production on this album is somewhat old school, this definitely is reminiscent of 90’s and early aughts hip hop. Beats consist of looped samples and basic electronic drum beats, they’re understated yet effective.
Bleachers Don't Take The Money
For the last 5 years FUN.'s Jack Antanoff has been winning Grammys and writing songs for pop stars, and in 2014 he released his solo debut as Bleachers. Now he and Lorde are pop’s dynamic duo, with him co-writing and producing her upcoming Melodrama, and she supports him on this track, co-writing and lending backup vocals. Jack released a lengthy statement to his fans along with this song, explaining how he uses “Don’t Take The Money” to mean don’t walk away from a gut feeling you have, because usually those gut feelings lead to great things. He applies the metaphor to love, he said he wanted to reflect how difficult relationships can be and in the chorus begs his love not to walk away, repeating “Don’t Take The Money.” Antanoff was recently referred to as “pop’s secret weapon” and he certainly has a knack for writing big, bright, infectious songs. On this song his sound is working better than ever, I actually like this one more than anything on is last album so this sophomore release is looking very promising. Bleachers album Everybody Lost Somebody is due June 2nd on RCA.
Amber Coffman No Coffee
Recently Amber Coffman commented on the latest release from former band Dirty Projectors, and she kind of gave her side of the story: her and Dave broke up in 2012, he helped produce some of her solo album and then things took an “uncomfortable downturn” and she distanced herself. I thought her response was very tactful not being angry or pointing the finger she just said she’s excited to move forward and share her music. Shortly after we got the second single from her upcoming solo album, and she seems to be heading in an interesting new direction. The guitar riff that begins the song is reminiscent of 70’s soul and funk, before layering on acoustic guitar and bass in the chorus. The instrumentals here are flawless, and they perfectly suit Amber’s beautiful. unmistakeable voice. She swoons over a lover saying, "Don't need no coffee, I'm wide awake. I'm not much for sleeping when your love is at stake." This is a sweet love song and it gives us a sense of what the album will contain. I think it’s safe to say we’re going to see another side to Amber that we haven’t seen before, whether it’s the style of music of the content of the lyrics, she is entering into new territory. I feel like I don’t need coffee when I listen to this song cuz it’s so sunny and bouncy it’ll set your day off to a great start. Her debut solo album City of No Reply is due sometime this year on Columbia Records.