When Deerhunter first burst onto the music scene in 2007 with their über-hyped Cryptogram, I was a bit skeptical. Every review/interview focused on the back story of Bradford Cox, a young man suffering from Marfan syndrome writing songs about isolation and loss over the echoing madness within the cacophonous guitar cavern that is Cryptogram. Add to the storyline the death of former bassist, Justin Bosworth, and you have all the trappings of a music journalist’s wet dream. I had seen artists like this come and go in the blogger rat race to discover the next big thing, and I figured Deerhunter and its quirky back story would be forgotten within months.
As a true testament of Bradford Cox and company’s talent, the band returned with more focus and a more refined sound on the following two albums, Microcastle and Weird Era Cont (released together as a double album). Deerhunter were officially more than a cute little anecdote; they were the real deal. In 2010, Halcyon Digest solidified their place atop the indie rock hierarchy, proving that they could take their wandering, spacious spirit and rein it in for their most accessible album to date.
Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge
Twelve Reasons to Die
[Wax Poetics; 2013]
Rap music lends its self naturally to the narrative form, so it’s no wonder that many modern MCs have created conceptual albums focused around an overlying story. The problem is that these attempts at concept are usually failures in terms of following the traditional story arc. Tyler the Creator’s psychiatry session Goblin was a haphazard, sloppy mess; Kanye West’s mental breakdown on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was entertaining but a little bit too self-absorbed (go figure), and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city lacked any sense of character development or maturation. Maybe they could all learn a thing or too about storytelling from the legendary raconteur Ghostface Killah with his 2013 masterpiece Twelve Reasons to Die.
[Dead Oceans; 2013]
When Phosphorescent first broke onto the indie-folk scene in 2003, comparisons to Bob Dylan were a given with Matthew Houck’s knack for writing imagery-laced lyrics over jangly guitars, hints of Freewheelin’ Bob abound. 10-years later with his latest release Muchacho, Houck is still redefining one of Bob’s concoctions, but this time around his inspiration comes from a much different section of Dylan’s cookbook. No, it’s not country-fried Nashville Skyline nor is it the late night munchie snack of Blonde On Blonde. Instead, Muchacho takes on the essence of the seminal Infidels.
In late 1983, Infidels was heralded as Bob’s return from grace (a return from the “grace of God” in this case after two panned “religious albums”). Infidels is often considered his best album since 1975’s Blood On the Tracks. The album marked a definitive change in Bob’s approach. Rather than strumming away on his acoustic like he’d done for the better part of the past two decades, Bob stepped back and allowed the organs and synths to broaden space and time. With Mark Knopfler fiddling around on his guitar, the songs often feel spacious and airy. Of all of his albums, Infidels is his most 80s album to come out in the decade of post punk and new wave.
Ores & Minerals
[Fat Possum; 2013]
In Billy Collins poetic plea “Introduction to Poetry,” he asks his students to “drop a mouse into a poem / and watch him probe his way out.” Recently while reading this poem, I found myself making a connection between the lab rat metaphor and the London band Mazes. The obvious association is in the band’s name, but my connection went much deeper than the literal.
From the first time I heard Ores & Minerals, I knew I loved the band’s sophomore album. The problem was in the fact I didn’t know why I liked it so much. Like the students in Collins poem who “…begin beating (the poem) with a hose / to find out what it means,” I wanted a clear analysis of what was at the core of my enjoyment. Few of the songs feature choruses, and if they do, they aren’t instantly memorable. There aren’t any tracks on the album that beg my attention nor do the lyrics ever delve much beyond the contents of a fortune cookie. The songs seem to ramble on for long stretches of time, never really going any place. Yet, despite all this monotony, I couldn’t quit listening to the album. Like the mouse in the maze, I was lost in the music but had no real way of figuring out the answer as to why.
Chelsea Light Moving
I was beginning to think Thurston Moore had gone soft on us. Don’t get me wrong, his softer side is nothing to scoff about. His two solo albums from the past five years have been intimate, atmospheric listens, and Sonic Youth’s two releases in the past decade have been much more stripped down in comparison to the days of Dirty and Goo. But with his recent divorce with band mate Kim Gordon (and probable break-up of Sonic Youth), it seems Thurston has reconnected with his distortion pedal, stirring up the ashes of his bratty brand of disorder on his new project, Chelsea Light Moving.
My Bloody Valentine
[Self Released; 2013]
Shortly after 9 p.m. on February 4th, the indie rock universe imploded with one simple message on My Bloody Valentine’s Facebook page: “We are preparing to go live with the new album/website this evening. We will make an announcement as soon as it’s up.” As if preparing for an eminent bomb, fans raced to their Twitter accounts, all a-tizzy about what had to be a preeminent April Fool’s joke. Since the band’s last release in 1991 “Loveless,” front man Kevin Shields has been hinting at the release of a new album for over two decades, making the next MBV album the indie music equivalent of “Chinese Democracy.” But there it was, on the front page of Facebook, a promise that a new MBV album would be running through millions of ear buds and speakers within only hours.
And when the band actually went through on their word and released the album independently on their own website? Well, the fallout from the impact was instant. With so many rabid fans bombarding their website, many spent the majority of the night facing one 404 message after another, relaying the message that the website had crashed instantaneously.