I’ve been racking my brain for these past couple weeks over what sort of post would best ring in 2014. “Best of” lists are everywhere, and I was hoping to do something unique, while still celebrating all that 2013 was. To this end, I am reflecting on some of the musical highlights from the year, in no particular order, and looking at some of the upcoming releases that I’m most excited for.
Los Campesinos! released No Blues in October, and it hasn’t left my portable music collection since. A friend and I were discussing the band’s progression, and this album is undoubtedly their most mature yet. Their sound is more refined, and the content seems more focused. While this growth, marked by the departure of key members throughout the years, comes at the cost of the spastic quality characteristic of Hold on now, Youngster…, it is still a highlight for the band.
Low released the followup to 2011’s C’mon, which still gets playtime on my home system, in March of 2013. The Invisible Way is melancholy in a manner that prevents overall gloominess. The lyrics are sharp and witty, and the tone is often apocalyptic, particularly in the opening track, “Plastic Cup,” but the album seems surprisingly light. Low continues to impress with their tight playing and crafty wordplay. Make sure this album is in your collection, if it isn’t already.
Lorde‘s debut album was a media juggernaut, and she certainly doesn’t need the press from another blog to ensure her continued success, but any post that looks back on 2013 is legally obligated to feature at least a brief mention of Pure Heroine. Seriously, Universal is just that powerful. In all seriousness, this album was highly anticipated, and managed to live up to the hype. Snappy lyrics, minimalist production, and dedication have played heavily in her favor. I only hope that she is able to live up to the high standards she has set for herself. And I hope that she releases a followup soon.
I would be remiss not to mention Vampire Weekend. Modern Vampires of the City provides the sort of consistency that is severely lacking in a great number of followup albums. I won’t mention names, but there are several major-label artists and bands that have simply not been able to recreate the magic of their first albums. Vampire Weekend not only continues to provide quality tracks, but they do so with a genuine sense of creativity that lacks the pretension so easily perpetuated by the genre.
2013 saw the release of several albums that fizzled out for me. Atop this list was Arcade Fire‘s Reflektor. This avant-garde production embraced a strong grasp on social media integration, and featured great substance, but simply lacked in musicality. Where The Suburbs excelled, their newest album fell short. I simply didn’t have enough drugs on-hand to enjoy Reflektor as much as possible.
Ra Ra Riot has always been an important band in my life. The Rhumb Line and The Orchard were integral parts of the soundtrack to my college experience. But since then, we’ve both grown – and lost. The band has a unique history when it comes to membership, to say the least, and Alexandra Lawn recent departure didn’t seem to provide the inspiration necessary to fuel the band’s growth within its niche. Beta Love comes across as just that: a beta effort, something that needed more time to process and develop. Changing form isn’t easy for any established band, and it’s something that is best attempted with great care.
Now that it is officially 2014, I look forward to contributing to the hype machine that will drive new music releases. Most notable for the coming year, for me, is Broken Bells‘ upcoming release, After Disco. I absolutely loved the initial effort from the ubiquitous Danger Mouse, apparently an eternal collaborator, and The Shins‘ James Mercer. While this follow up looks to embrace some different qualities, “Holding on for Life” has me hooked already.
Warpaint is slated to release the followup to The Fool this year, and I am stoked for it. Warpaint is already shaping up to be a solid effort from the band, as it features the shoe-gazing, ethereal sense that characterizes them, but with a marked musical progression. With vocals that explore a wider range and more pronounced, less lethargic rhythms, this eponymous effort will fuel a great deal of my daydreaming time.
Against Me! will release Transgender Dysphoria Blues this month, and as the first album following lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s recent gender transition, it promises to be a unique addition to the band’s library. With the success of the band’s previous White Crosses album, it will be interesting to see how they shift, and more importantly, how they continue to bond, as a group.
There will be a great deal more to come this year – of that I’m certain. But in the meantime, there is a lot to look forward to. On a more local note, Northwest musician Gallowbird will release his album The Driftless Adrift this week. I posted a review in December, and you can read it here. I was able to listen to this release early, and it was a refreshing experience. This album will be a great addition to any collection, and with a January 2nd release date, it’s a great way to start the year.