Swede Kristian Matsson has been making singer/songwriter folk as The Tallest Man on Earth since 2006, but Dark Bird is Home is easily his grandest. Featuring a full band for the first time, including horns and even some electronics, Matsson has added a richness and depth to his music that often puts the album more in the vein of The Decemberists than his usual comparison of Bon Iver. His true strength, however, remains as a poet, and the album is chock full of wordplay like “And I’ve already grown up here, here I might as well grow down” (from “Little Nowhere Towns”). This combination of orchestration and lyrics makes Dark Bird is Home an absolute gem.
The sophomore release from Toronto noise rock/hardcore punk band Metz, II picks up right where their self titled album left off. It’s an Amphetamine Reptile-like mix of punk, grunge, and shoegaze with loud, fuzzed out guitars, crushing drums and bass, and emotive vocals. Basically II is the epitome of what Robert Christgau derisively calls pigfuck. As with most bands tarred (gifted?) with that label, however, there’s a melodicism to Metz that produces a true depth to their sound. It’s not music to be played around the campfire, but II is perfect for anyone who likes their rock music with a whole lot of bite.
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.
Much to the surprise of everyone (including his management at TDE), King Kendrick’s new album is out in the world a week early. There is a lot that can, will, and should be said about To Pimp a Butterfly, but it all boils down to one thing: This album is an absolute monster. To Pimp a Butterfly is essentially (and on “Mortal Man”, literally) a funked up conversation between Kendrick and his fore bearers. It is also a simultaneous declaration of being a proud black man and a declaration of war against the socio-economic situation so many face in American society. It’s the most daringly political album in some time, and it is jawdroppingly amazing.
‘Best of’ year-end lists are very subjective, being subject to the individual musical tastes of the compiler and my list, of course, is no different. Thus, the albums I have named (in no particular order) are simply the newly released ones that I enjoyed listening to the most during 2014.
Love and Gravity – Mary Fahl: This newest album by Mary Fahl recalls the glory days of her now defunct group October Project and excels them. Fahl’s rich contralto voice sounds as good as ever with no fillers here. Each track is a treasure, but a few standouts warrant special mention. It is hard to imagine a siren more spellbinding than in the song, “Siren,” and Fahl’s cover of “Both Sides Now” sounds like the song was written especially for her, infusing it with a deep emotional introspection I never appreciated before (not to take away from Collins’ timeless original). Then there is the beautiful memorial, “The Dawning of the Day,” written for the fallen firefighter heroes of 9/11. This is a stunning album from start to finish.
Psychedelic? Freak folk? Experimental pop? I’ve never been totally sure how to classify Panda Bear (or Animal Collective, for that matter), but whatever the term for it Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a definitive example. The album is all layered vocals, synth swirls and samples, and gittery percussion. Lead single “Mr Noah” is definitely the standout track, but the album as a whole is stronger than its predecessor Tomboy and almost certainly the best work from an Animal Collective member since Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Arca is a very of the moment producer (some of Yeezus and one of my favorite albums of the year FKA twigs’ LP1), and Xen is very of the moment experimental electronics. The album is hard hitting, glitchy, full of space, and in many ways harsh. It’s also safe to say it is where a lot of experimental electronic music will be going in the next year or two. This is an album to listen to on headphones when you don’t have anything else going on and can wallow in the oddness.
It might shock you to learn that the authors at Music is Good love music and listen to a lot of it, and we’re guessing you do too. One of the great things about music, are those occasions when we are struck by a particular song that resonates with us in a special way. Maybe a catchy beat simply caught our ear. Maybe it’s a particularly beautiful voice. Maybe it was a particular way the lyrics blended with the melody and the musical accompaniment, or perhaps the lyrics were especially apropos to a current experience or feeling we had at the time. Whatever the reason, that particular song had us hitting the ‘replay’ button over and over. This series spotlights some of the songs that did it for us. They will vary in genre but all will have one thing in common – that special ‘something.’
My Song of the Week is “Psalm of Life”. It is on the album Gift, the first collaborative recording by the mother-and-daughter team, Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson, who make up part of British folk’s great dynasty.
I reviewed here the most recent album by Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat. Following that review, Stakula, the band’s leader, kindly agreed to an interview, offering some insights into the processes behind the music.
Valta is an addition to what by now is a substantial body of work, and Alamaailman Vasarat has established a distinctive sound. Has anything changed on this album compared to previous releases?
The most obvious changes were in the lineup. Before the Valta sessions, our new drummer Santeri Saksala had already performed with the band for a year, much to our enjoyment. The live performances really tightened up and had a whole new level of energy. In the Valta sessions, his knowledge and passion for the drums as instruments made a huge difference to album sound, not forgetting some of the most memorable improvised moments, like in the opening track “Riistomaasiirtäjä”. His contribution has made a huge impact in the overall sound of the band and we’re very happy to have him on board.
I will admit it. At the end of each year, I attempt to come up with a “best-of” list of my own but struggle to identify even a handful. This is partly due to the fact that I am so bad about paying attention to the actual release dates of albums that I will invariably include several recordings that are older than I thought. This time, however, I had no trouble at all. 2012 proved to be a stellar year for releasing good music. Here are my picks for the best of the best, in no particular order:
O’ Be Joyfulby Shovels & Rope (Dualtone Music Group). (AMERICANA) Shovels & Rope is Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, a husband-and-wife duo. Their website says they “sing harmony driven folk, rock and country songs using two old guitars, a kick drum, a snare, a few tambourines, harmonicas, and maybe a little keyboard sometimes.” There’s plenty of that on O’ Be Joyful, plusfiddles, banjos, and some wonderful, slightly off-kilter horns that take the genre to a new level (“Hail, Hail,” and “Tickin’ Bomb”). Clanky percussion is prominent on most of the tracks. Songs like “Carnival” demonstrate the duo can dazzle with slow-tempo ballads, too. It’s just quirky enough that it may not be for everyone, but if you like an old-timey country sound with a rockin’ edge to it, this album just might be right up your alley. ( Listen to samples here.)