Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Best New Albums in January 2015

A brand new year brings another shot for me to try writing a little bit each month about five albums I thought were exceptional and noteworthy for whatever reason. Here we go 2015.

Bjork - Vulnicura

Bjork lost me a little bit over her last few albums. A friend introduced me to Homogenic some time after its release, and it became my favourite work of hers. I enjoyed Vespertine enough, and even everything that followed, but nothing captivated me as a listener the same as her first three albums from the 90's. Vulnicura, albeit a dark record, rooted in a personal relationship break-up, also feels like some sort of aggregation of the different things she has tried over the last 15-20 years. It is very much the album she needed to make at this point in her career, thematically and artistically. The songs take as much time as they need to tell their story, without ever seeming to meander even when they push eight to ten minutes. Many of the orchestral elements are reminiscent of Homogenic, but often less plush, they seem to flow much more from themes of anxiety and uncertainty. Vulnicura is not a quick fix album. It is enjoyable on a first listen, but also offers you the chance to grow into it and hear something new each time you spend time with it. This is a powerful and ambitious recording from one of the most important artists of the last twenty years.

Viet Cong - Viet Cong

I have been reading some reviews of this record, and more often than not, even on favourable reviews, it gets relegated to the nouveau post-punk bucket. No question, there is post-punk influence on Viet Cong, new and old, but there is so much more going on here. "Newspaper Spoons" opens the album with big crashing tom drums and chanty distorted vocals, but never shifts into the obligatory Joy Division meets Interpol hook fest (not that there's anything wrong with that of course). These cats have that combo in their bag of tricks, but it never feels like the over arching intent. There are times the record feels stylized, yet it is balanced perfectly with lo-fi without ever being gratuitously sloppy or noisy. The songs are listenable, but never slick. There is also some really nice muli-track vocal layering on songs "Pointless Experience" and "March of Progress" would make the  most hardcore dark synth jammers proud. Seven tight and eclectic songs from Calgary, Alberta. Nice work lads. 

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

I was trying to recall if I have written about any of the other Panda Bear albums previously. If I have, it was likely about how I am an interested yet passive Animal Collective fan, and far more prefer the work Panda Bear produces on his solo records. This is Lennox's most focused work to date in my opinion. There are still dense layers of sound, but there seems to a much more conscious open-ness to engaging with the listener on these songs. "Boys Latin" for instance, is a pop song, plain and simple. He still uses repetition better than most, and the dreamy Pet Sounds-esque vocals never stray too far from what we are used to. This is a very confident sounding album, and like everything Panda has done on his own and with AC, most definitely not for everyone, but worth it if you are feeling especially weird and curious.

Ghost Culture - Ghost Culture

A friend introduced me to Ghost Culture in the first part of 2015. An early candidate for one of the best electronic albums we might expect this year. Some reviews have played up the album's eighties-ness. Any synth heavy recording is bound to draw Kraftwerk and Depeche comparisons I suppose, but this is a very 2000's collection of electro tracks. Most of the album is dance floor ready, yet there are none of the shiny trappings lately associated with songs that are clearly almost scientifically written to elicit certain dance behaviours and precise junctures within the song. This is a very organic sounding album that makes you bob your head because you want to, not because you are being manipulated into it by equal parts hype and algorithm. A sombre, dreamy and refreshing synth album.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love

I do not know all that many people who have waved the Sleater-Kinney flag endlessly and passionately over the last twenty years, but I also cannot say I know anyone who dislikes their music, or at a minimum does not respect what they represent or what they have been able to accomplish. I saw an online interview where a really old person described the band as "indie rock." There is a side semantics discussion one could have about music genres, but when I think of what indie rock is, was, or should be, I think of bands like Sleater-Kinney. Whatever that means, No Cities To Love feels like a quintessentially indie rock record. 

The band never ever lost their sense of urgency, but the layoff since their hiatus also did nothing to push them into complacency. These are ten compact passionate songs that burn along furiously for thirty two filler-less minutes. I always liked the balance between Carrie and Corin vocally, and it continues to work really well here. Janet is also still quite possibly the best drummer in rock music (there are some ridiculous monster fills and rolls on "New Wave"). You can hear the sound of mature contentment in these songs, without even an inkling of complacency or pandering. Sleater-Kinney are back and everything feels right. They are absolutely still the real deal. 


The Charlatans - Modern Nature
Belle and Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Love to Dance