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Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, girlJenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl

Norwegian Jenny Hval makes experimental music made up of gentle, often ethereal, synths and uncompromising lyrics focusing on sex, gender, aging, religion, and other deep personal subjects (the word “cunt” is startlingly used on multiple tracks).  This combination of the otherworldly and fully human creates an unsettling, fascinating whole.  Apocalypse, girl, Hval’s third release under her own name, she previously recorded as Rockettothesky and along with Håvard Volden as Nude on Sand, is her best work to date.  In fact, much of Apocalypse, girl merges all the above topics into one massive exploration of the female condition.  This is not music for idle listening, but requires time and focus.  That time and focus are rewarded, however, with one of the most lyrically interesting albums of the year thus far.

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Jamie xx - In CoulourJamie xx – In Colour

Electronic artist Jamie xx is best known as a member of The xx, but started gaining solo fame in 2010 with the release of his Gil Scott-Heron remix album We’re New HereIn Colour is Jamie’s solo debut and while there are moments reminiscent of The xx, especially when bandmates Romy Croft or Oliver Sim handle vocals, this is most assuredly not an xx album.  Jamie brings together all the various UK electronic styles (UK garage, wonky, dubstep, house, etc.), but adds different sounds to them (most interestingly a steel drum on “Just Saying” and guests Young Thug and Popcaan on lead single “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”) to add a rare freshness that elevates the album to a new level.  Listening to In Colour is reminiscent of the first 2013 listens to Disclosure’s Settle (in excitement much more than sound), and it seems likely In Colour will have as large an impact on popular music as Settle did.

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Shamir - RatchetShamir – Ratchet

Shamir has been the next big thing in dance pop for a minute now, going from unknown to releasing a single on small NYC label Godmode to signing with indie titan XL Recordings in the blink of an eye.  Happily, Ratchet is a worthy capstone to such a meteoric rise.  Largely made up of very of the moment synth and drum machine sounds, but highlighted by Shamir’s contralto vocals, Ratchet is sexy, smooth, laid back fun.  In other words, it’s summer party music at its finest.

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Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippWaxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Philadelphia’s, by way of Birmingham, AL, Waxahatchee is the solo project of Katie Crutchfield, who makes DIY singer/songwriter, punk.  Ivy Tripp is Waxahatchee’s fantastic third full length album, first for the like minded Merge Records, and continues Crutchfield’s exploration of feminist ideas that goes back to her pre-Waxahatchee bands P.S. Eliot and The Ackleys.  Ivy Tripp‘s lyrics use Crutchfield’s experiences, or more specifically her mistakes, to demonstrate how a strong, independent woman is formed in today’s society, but it’s clear she’s just an example and makes no claim at creating a road map.  Even if you aren’t interested in the lyrics, though, (and really, whether you’re male or female, liberal or conservative, you should be interested) there is a lot to enjoy on Ivy Tripp.

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Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & LowellSufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

If there were questions as to the direction Sufjan Stevens would take after the departure from the norm that was Age of Adz, naming his new album after his mother and stepfather (his first album since his mother’s passing, mind you) answered those questions load and clear: Sufjan Stevens is looking back, which means a return to lovely, gentle indie folk.  Carrie & Lowell strips away both the electronics of Adz and the lush orchestration of Come on Feel the Illinoise, putting the focus squarely on Sufjan’s lyrics, which come heavily from his life.  This album is going inspire a lot of reminiscing, particularly amongst those who have lost parents, and is going to cause a lot of tears.  They’ll be happy tears, though, so it’s unlikely people will be complaining.

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Purity Ring - another eternityPurity Ring – another eternity

When Purity Ring released their debut album Shrines in 2012 (my favorite album that year) it took a defibrillator to the pop system.  The duo’s use of synths, drum machine, and Megan James’ lyrics fell in the pop realm, but redirected the genre down a more experimental path.  Now that bands like CHVRCHES have followed that path, the question became whether Purity Ring would push further towards the experimental.  The answer, as demonstrated by another eternity, is that they will not.  Rather than a defibrillator, another eternity is more of a thermostat, maintaining the sound of Shrines within certain parameters, and providing a very enjoyable, if safe, listen.

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BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah - Sour SoulBADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

Combining an avant-garde, instrumental jazz and hip hop trio and a brilliant MC with a love for soul/jazz samples is a no brainer.  So, it should come as no surprise the combination of BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah works so well.  Throw in guest verses from guys like Doom and Danny Brown, and Sour Soul is an embarrassment of riches.  The album sounds exactly as you would hope, with unmistakable Ghostface rhymes (in both topic and flow) sitting on top of a bed of soulful piano/synths, live bass, and drums.  The artists all have such a wonderful feel for each other it seems they’ve been working together for years.  Sour Soul is a great album.

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Shallow Remixed

Shallow Remixed

Porya Hatami increased his profile in 2014 with a string of excellent releases on various labels. Shallow was my favorite album of the year, and I am still listening to it regularly a year after its release. (Review and stream here.) It was therefore intriguing to learn that a remix album was in the works, with contributions from notables such as Loscil and The Green Kingdom. Would it extend the listening pleasure or render the sublime mundane?

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Father John Misty - I Love You, HoneybearFather John Misty – I Love You Honeybear

If you like the sound of soulful 70’s singer-songwriters, but think their lyrics weren’t nearly sarcastic, caustic, or angry enough, I’d like to introduce you to Father John Misty.  I Love You Honeybear is the real life Josh Tillman’s sophomore album as Father John Misty, and while it replaces a lot of the anger of its predecessor with sincere sentiments of love (he met his now wife after Fear Fun was written) he hasn’t lost all of it (the lines “Save me white Jesus” and “Save me President Jesus” from first single “Bored in the USA” are early contenders for my favorite line of the year).  More importantly, there’s a rare depth to this album that takes several listens to reach.  Once it has been reached, however, I Love You Honeybear opens up and shows it is well worth the time.

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Title Fight - HyperviewTitle Fight – Hyperview

Punk bands usually age poorly.  Youthful anger often matures into adult satisfaction and neuters new music.  Happily, Title Fight seem to be avoiding this pitfall by exploring different sonic palates.  The first 5 songs of Hyperview are dreamy punk that show clear influences from My Bloody Valentine and progeny.  Track 6 and after, however, make quite the sonic switch to post punky (almost new wave) sounds reminiscent of the new direction Merchandise took on After the End.  Both halves of the album are excellent, but putting them together does make for a somewhat jarring listen.

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