Oddisee The Iceberg
Last year New York MC Oddisee put out two albums and now he’s back with the best rap album of the year so far. The Iceberg is a plea for unity and understanding. The black and white dual tones on the album cover represent race, or the duality of the human mind, or the dark and light moments in life, and like a Venn diagram Oddisee’s visage appears in the middle, bridging the two sides. In these turbulent times the power of music is highly debated, but there is no denying the power of these songs. No matter what the subject matter; political, personal, or both, Oddisee attacks it with his “calm collected flow.” This album doesn’t fly off the handle, it stays smooth and even with subtle swells and crescendos. Oddisee’s elaborate writing and confident flow are impressive, but his production shines as well, with beats combining funk and jazz that can go from smooth and moody to danceable grooves. This is a rapper and producer at the peak of his power and rather than come out swinging he comes with arms open, trying to connect with humanity through shared experiences. I played my favorite song "Like Really" on the podcast check it out here.
Dirty Projectors Dirty Projectors
This new Dirty Projectors album is insane (insanely good) both are true in fact. In addition to being lovely, catchy, and heart-wrenching it’s also super experimental and innovative. Dirty Projectors began in 2002 as the musical project of Dave Longstreth, but they gained notoriety with the addition of the amazing Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. Since their fantastic 2012 album Swing Lo Magellan both Amber and Angel left the band, and Dave and Amber, who also had a romantic relationship, broke up. Though Dave has somewhat moved on and him and Amber have still maintained a working relationship, Dave felt like he needed to tell these stories and the result is this solo self-titled album, returning the band to it’s original incarnation. This album is not for everyone. It mirror’s ones mind while in the midst of the “death spiral” of the relationship. It flys off the handle then has moments of despair before reaching a sort of bittersweet serenity. The album follows this same trajectory, with horns that feel fake and over the top at times, smooth piano trills and samples, and dave’s voice that can have any number of effects on it. You can hear the influence of hip hop and r&b on this album so it’s no surprise that Dave worked on Kanye and Solange’s albums last year, while working on these songs. Dave even mentions listening to Kanye on “Up In Hudson” and this feels like his 808’s and Heartbreaks, and auto-tune laden breakup album. This album has been getting reviews essentially calling Dave a cry baby, but I hear a lot of joy on this album. While he does lament their love he also celebrates the fact that it existed at all and expresses his understanding of the harsh reality that sometimes people have to go their separate ways. If you wanna hear me and my cousin debate about this album vs. Ryan Adam’s Prisoner check out the latest episode of the podcast here.
Vagabon Infinite Worlds
This is the debut of New York singer/songwriter Laetitia Tamko under the moniker Vagabon. This album is filled with vulnerable, heart-wrenching tales of loss, regret, and “feeling small” that bloom from bare intimate confessions into crunchy punk crescendos. Laetitia's casual lyrics and heart-breaking howls make this album feel so personal and authentic, with specific names and locations that round out the stories she’s telling. She immediately reminded me of classic female singer/songwriters like Nico from The Velvet Undeground and Tracy Chapman, but then you hear her go more into the direction of bands like Pinegrove and Eskimeaux, then she takes that style to a place that both feels familiar and brand new. The production of this album is essential to it’s emotional impact and it’s even more impressive when you find out that Laetitia played all the instruments. You couldn’t ask for a more affecting debut album than this. We played my favorite song on the album “Fear and Force” on the latest episode of the podcast check it out here.
The Feelies In Between
Jangle pop pioneers The Feelies return with the fourth album of their multi-decade-spanning career. On this album we see them honing their skill for making super catchy folk-rock tunes that have such a unique simplicity, repetition with subtle changes make for a unique experience. Many songs consist of just a few chords but with ear worm melodies and emotional lyrics sang very softly these songs seem to hold more weight than they did on their first album. This is a great return for a band I love very much, a great guitar-based pop-rock album. We played their song "Gone, Gone, Gone," on Best Song Ever check it out here.
Dear Reader Day Fever
The new album from South African musician Cherilyn MacNeil under the name Dear Reader, is her finest work yet. At first Dear Reader appears to be in the vein of Fiona Apple and Jesca Hoop, with bare experimental compositions and a lovely voice over top, but what MacNeil adds is astounding choral swells and powerful string and horn compositions. She masterfully mixes electronic and orchestral elements with folk structures. Every sound on this album is flawless, which makes sense as it was produced by indie-rock production titan John Vanderslice. MacNeil’s writing in excentuated with amazing instrumentals and heavenly harmonies. This band was not on my radar before this album and I've had this album sitting in my iTunes and I totally slept on it. Now I finally listened to it and I am now in awe of what Cherilyn can do.
Peter Silberman Impermanence
If you were to liken all the albums that came out this week to television shows; many would be half hour comedies, moving quick and keeping you engaged; where as Peter Silberman’s debut solo effort would be an hour long drama, sitting on shots for a minute and giving every scene a chance to breathe. This record in fact will have substantial pauses where all you hear is silence before Peter begins to sing and play again. Anchored only by Silberman’s voice and an echoey electric guitar. This album feels like a distant cousin to Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, where gentle guitar and vocals fill and seemingly endless void. Silberman pontificates on topics of love, life, and death with a slow and steady hand. His voice can go from a mumbled hum to piercing falsetto. As the album cover, shows this is a blurry and moody album, but if you fight through the urge to get bored these are some really profound and beautifully constructed songs. Throw this on when you want to hear someone let their fear, hope, and worry drift off to the edges of the universe.
Under the name Thundercat, bassist and singer Stephen Bruner has made some really interesting music and some really interesting friends. He contributed on Kendrik Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, worked extensively with Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington, and he’s worked with so many others from Miguel to Herbie Hancock. His new album is no exception, not only does he showcase his INSANE bass skills, but he features an all star cast of collaborators including the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Kamasi Washington plus 80’s soft rock titans Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, not to mention Pharrell Williams and Wiz Khalifa. Those features are crazy and they make for and eclectic blend of styles appearing all under the swirling and canopy of thunzdercat’s belching bass, jazzy compositions, and floaty voice. Thundercat always finds a way to subvert convention yet keep the music super interesting and engaging.
Wild Pink Wild Pink
The Brooklyn based band's debut is a deep and powerful indie-rock album. This album is a person "Trying hard to understand the culture." Frontman John Ross examines his personal relationships and relates them to the world around him trying to make sense of it all. Combining folk, early aughts power pop, and emo this album is deeply affecting. Brian played their song "Great Apes" on the podcast check it out here.
Clap You Hands Say Yeah The Tourist
On his fifth album, veteran indie rocker Alec Ounsworth finds a way to push his sound further and take new risks. This album is tough to classify sometimes it’s folky, sometimes it’s electronic, sometimes it resembles echoey 80’s pop and sometimes it’s reminiscent of polished 90’s rock. This album will have sound or a style that I think will ruin the song, but then as I listen it ends up working. I’ve had this album for a while and I wasn’t in love with it, but when I gave it another listen I was super impressed with how Ounsworth throws you off the scent of what he has planned. If nothing else this demonstrates that he’s not yet out of ways to surprise and delight us with his creativity. I played the song “Fireproof” on Best Song Ever check it out here.
Hippo Campus Landmark
The debut full length of the Minnesota indie-rock band is for the most part what you’d expect from their EPs, but they’ve got some new tricks up their sleeve this time. These songs are still smooth, danceable pop-rock tunes, but they’ve got some new production techniques they’re messing with: whether it’s vocal effects or interesting electronic drum fills it adds another element to music that would otherwise fall a little flat. Certain songs begin super catchy and then get a little boring as the song goes on, but on standout tracks they will grab your attention right before you start to zone out. This really is a fantastically produced album, it sounds great from guitar to piano to vocals, soup to nuts, tip to taint, this is a very pleasant sounding record, I just feel like it’s a few songs too long. Overall this is a well put together debut, for how new this band is they’ve got their sound nailed down.