Cloud Nothings Life Without Sound
Ever since the band released the first single from this album it was clear that there was a life and brightness here stronger than any of their previous albums. 2014's Here and Nowhere Else was a fantastic album and while their follow up still possesses the melancholy pop-punk quality, Life Without Sound is even catchier and somehow it rocks even harder. This revitalized sound goes hand in hand with the lyrical content, which speaks about breaking out of isolation, joining the living, and altering your mindset. Dylan Baldi's passionate vocals are backed by sharp guitar riffs, Jayson Gerycz's intricate drumming, and occasional punk carnage that drive home the emotional points even harder. This album is so addicting and affecting, ushering a new era for the band. I played "Internal World" which is my favorite song on the album, on the podcast check it out here.
Stef Chura Messes
Local rocker Stef Chura releases her debut after years of playing DIY shows and self-distributing cassettes of her songs. This album shift from dreamy to driving throughout, with super dynamic guitar sounds and Chura's "emotional collage" style of writing, covering a wide range of topics. Fred Thomas (whose album is next of the list) contributed instrumentation and assisted in recording and mixing. Chura's twangy howl has been compared to 90's singers like Liz Phair and The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan. I played her killer single "Spotted Gold" on my podcast listen here. There's a lot of really cool background information and stories related to the making of this album that I'll be sharing in my artist feature of Stef coming up in the next issue of Ghettoblaster Magazine so subscribe.
Fred Thomas Changer
I just mentioned him as he worked on Stef Chura's album, another Michigander, Fred Thomas deliver his first solo album under his christian name. Instrumentals shift from lo-fi punk to shimmering folk rock, as Fred's smooth baritone vocals test their limits. I feel like his voice sounds different on every song, sometimes smooth and melodic and other times a frantic speak-singing style akin to Craig Finn or Nada Surf's Matthew Caws. In that same vein of storytellers like Craig Finn and John K. Samson, Fred finds depth in mundanity, telling stories of ordinary and unspectacular people and finding what's special about them. Many of these song plays out in my head like scenes from an early Kevin Smith film. These tales are punctuated with instrumental jams and the style of this album is ever evolving while still feeling like a connected whole. I love the end of "Voiceover" which, i'm assuming intentionally, nods to David Bowie's Five Years which is my favorite song of all time. Stef and Fred are old friends and I love that they gave us two amazing yet completely different albums on the same day. We also played Fred's song "Mallwalkers" on the podcast check it out here.
P.O.S. Chill, Dummy
On the Minnesota rappers fifth album, and first in 5 years, he delivers some of his most fierce and thoughtful rhymes, over inventive and impressive compositions. As the production of mainstream rap grows more lackluster and uninspired, many independent rappers are moving towards more organic production, implementing live bands as well as electronic elements and P.O.S. does that expertly on this album. For a rap album it rocks pretty hard. This is an awesome comeback from the legendary emcee.
Tift Merritt Stitch of the World
Tift Merritt is a singer/songwriter from Texas who has been making music since 1998, but for some reason I though she was a brand new artist. She does folk/country music that is more referential to 60's and 70's folk and country, with more of a subtle twang. This album's subtlety is a great asset, in fact I foolishly turned it off after I wasn't crazy about the first song, but the songs that followed were incredibly powerful and beautiful. Merritt's vocals glide over smooth, airy country compositions, examining love and humanity with lyrics that are simple yet profound. Iron & Wine's Sam Beam makes an appearance on the last few songs, bringing a lovely male vocal counterpart. These are folk songs that cut right to the core. I'm gonna play her gorgeous song "Love Soldiers On" on the next episode of the podcast so watch out for that. It's a song I think we all need in our lives.
If you've read my posts or listened to my podcast you may know I'm not the biggest fan of trap, a style that now dominates mainstream hip hop. I had seen "Bad and Boujee" as the top song on Soundcloud but when Donald Glover shouted them out in his Golden Globe speech, they became unstoppable. These guys have an album and a few mixtapes under their belt but they've definitely grown on this album. There is an energy to their music that is lacking in most trap, they also slightly nod to old school sample based beats, working in jazz and soul to add an interesting element to the otherwise minimal trap production. They got features from Travis Scott, Two Chains, Gucci Mane, and DJ Khaled. In my opinion the only purpose these features serve are to help get more exposure because they totally slow the album down, Gucci Mane is the worst rapper around, he sounds like he struggling to make sounds with his mouth and the first song I'm like oh nice DJ Khaled and then half of the song is just him screaming at me about how Migos rep the culture. I love you Khaled but let me hear the music quit screaming at me, save that for your workout business in the TurboTax commercials. Overall this solidifies this groups as titans of trap and shows that they're doing better than anyone else out there.
Pool No Bad Memories
Ok I'm a little biased on this one because these guys are friends of mine, but I honestly am blown away by this album and can't get a couple of these song out of my head. For those of you who don't know Pool, they're an experimental noise-pop band, like Baths meets Animal Collective. I first saw them play live, which I highly recommend, James jams on the guitar while Nick, Justin, and Brett all contribute vocals and fiddle with different electronics and Nick will occasionally smack a cymbal and scream. This album was recorded by just Nick and Justin and for some reason this one really stands out. This is their most infectious and accessible album yet, with warm noisey compositions, heart-wrenching lyrics and chant-able hooks. Whether the song is about trying not to drink or just trying to keep it together and connect with the world, these songs are super powerful and relateable. You can stream the album here and support some local dudes and buy the album for whatever price you want, trust me it's worth it.
Sacred Paws Strike A Match
This female Glasgow rock duo came out of nowhere with a seriously great album. They infuse laid back indie-rock with a reggaeton vibe, akin to band's like Vampire Weekend and Cayucas. Intertwining harmonies are backed by earthy percussion, trebel-y guitars, and horn arrangements. This is a such a fresh and interesting sound that I feel like I don't hear enough. Strike A Match is a super impressive debut and hopefully we'll see a lot more like it from this group.
Japandroids Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
The return of the Celebration Rockers is just what you'd expect, if it ain't broke don't fix it. On their fourth album and their first in 5 years the Canadian duo deliver high energy pop-punk tracks with bright guitars and insane drumming. They get Near to the Wild Heart of Life with stories of leaving home and entering the great unknown. This record feels like a chronicling of their career. This songs are almost too catchy every single song is so catchy and similar that they kind of blend together. This has always been the case with me and Japandroids, I could do without half of the album but half of it is unforgettable and fantastic. These guys gave a killer performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert watch it here.
Delicate Steve This Is Steve
New Jersey native and multi-instrumentalist Steve Marion has had a long career of collaborating with great musicians like Dirty Projectors, Dr. Dog, and Built to Spill to name a few. Looking like a punk rock Michael Phelps, Steve channels so many influences and style into his guitar playing. This is the most engaging and fun instrumental guitar record I've ever heard. I seriously don't know one person can make a guitar sound this diverse and eclectic. Steve is a one man rock band backed with bass, drums and sometimes cartoonish and over the top synths, although the star here is his guitar playing ability. This is Steve's third album and I hope this one gets him the notoriety he deserves. I'll be playing his insanely good single "Cartoon Rock" on an upcoming episode of the podcast.
Priests Nothing Feels Natural
Washington D.C. was the brithplace of the protest punk bands on the 80's and 90's like Fugazi, it's still delivering great punk to this day and Priests is proof of this. What really sets this band apart though is how they manipulate the punk sound. Songs begin driving and dissonant with rhythms that grab your attention, but at moments they'll inject some brightness and melody into the song taking it to a whole other level. I know I use her as an example a lot, but she is the queen of riot grrrl and pretty much the master standard of a punk singer, but singer Katie Alice Greer's voice reminds me of early Bikini Kill-era Kathleen Hanna. Brian played the titular, "Nothing Feels Natural" on the podcast, listen here, and while I liked the song I was not expecting the album to be as good as it ended up being.