Category Archives: Best New Albums

The War On Drugs “Lost in the Dream”

The War On Drugs

Lost in the Dream

[Secretly Canadian; 2014]

Rating: 8.5

In the world of music journalism, the act of writing about one’s self within an album review is frowned upon. I try to adhere to this detached, information-based approach, although I probably fail to keep my own experiences out of a review more than I’d like. Take the latest War On Drugs album Lost in the Dream as an example. I’ve sat down several times over the past few weeks to write about this album of unrestrained synth-rock, but each time the review spirals into a therapy session on how this introspective music affected me in a vulnerable moment.   Despite my inability to write about this album without bringing in my personal connection to the music, I still feel compelled to review Lost in the Dream, an album that has meant the world to me the past month.

It all started three weeks ago with a jarring text message from a friend, received just moments before the workday began: “James died last night at midnight.” My friend had been battling with leukemia for two years, and I’d already been warned that his final days were approaching. Regardless, I still wasn’t ready for the news – I guess we never are. The combination of shock and the workload in front of me helped me to quickly move on with my day, sweeping the horrible news under the metaphorical rug.

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Have a Nice Life “The Unnatural World”

Have a Nice Life

The Unnatural World

[The Flesner; 2014]

RATING: 8.5

Recently Trevor Powers (the brains behind Youth Lagoon) pleaded on Twitter, “Please, no more genres. Find a better way to classify music.” Only a few weeks prior, NPR writer Bob Boilen questioned the future of labeling sounds with a blog entitled “Can You Imagine a World Without Music Genres?” Both of them have a point. With new bastardized sub-genres popping up daily, it’s getting to the point where one will be required to use an algorithm to crack the sub-genre code laid out by the all-knowing music reviewer.

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Sun Kil Moon “Benji”

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Sun Kil Moon

Benji

[Caldo Verde; 2014]

Rating: 10

Mark Kozelek’s music has never been about the lyrics. Whether it be his time with Red House Painters, his solo work, or his latest project Sun Kil Moon, his calming tenor and intricate guitar picking always took precedence over the metaphor-cloaked lyrics. I’ve been a fan of Kozelek’s work for the past decade, and the only lyrics that stand out in my mind are not even his, rather, from his two cover albums Tiny Cities (Modest Mouse) and What’s Next To the Moon (AC/DC).

In the past few years he has released a couple lackluster albums that suggested his muse was waning, but with his latest, Benji, it looks like that imminent closing window resulted in him throwing away his tride-and-true blueprint and starting anew. In a recent interview Kozelek said of his new start: “I’ve run out of metaphors, and when you get older, you’re bothered, or inspired, by other things in life than a girl breaking up with you. Things get heavier as you get older.”

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Deafheaven “Sunbather”

Deafheaven

Sunbather

[Deathwish; 2013]

Rating: 8.5

Okay, I admit it – I was never a fan of Black Metal.  I know this makes me tragically unhip, and I know it tarnishes my credibility as a music journalist (acceptance is the first step). It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I listened two dozens upon dozens of Black Metal albums. I watched a couple Black Metal documentaries (Until the Light Takes Us and One Man Metal) and left both viewings telling myself that I had to like something that was so pure, so raw, and so brutal.  Yet, no matter what band I checked out, I just couldn’t get past the machine gun drums, grating guitars, and rasping screams.  I was doomed to be lame (in the right measure).

I guess all I needed was for someone to come along and take this jagged, bulky genre and make it more accessible. In 2010 it was Norwegian band Shining’s Black Jazz, an album that melded the core tenets of Black Metal with jazz scales and saxophones.  Of course, I enjoyed the jazz side more than the carnage, but it was a step in the right direction.

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Alela Diane “About Farewell”

Alela Diane

About Farewell

[Rusted Blue; 2013]

Rating: 9.o

The more autobiographical an artist, the more we, the audience, get to see them grow up right before our eyes.  Such is the case with Alela Diane who first gained attention with her debut Pirate’s Gospel back in 2004, the 21-year old Portland native singing innocent songs of companionless pigeons and Pirate’s prayers of “Yo Ho Ho!”

In 2009 she came into her own with To Be Still, an album that combined her tranquil vocals with lyrics that focused on the splendors of nature. The combination of the vivid imagery and the pure wonderment in her voice results in an album that would make John Muir blush. For me, the music stirs the humbling and exhilarating experience that is venturing into the wild.  On the album, Alela seems to be at peace with the world, an inner hope flowing out with each note, pure and calming like the mighty Columbia.  The production on both early albums was warm and quaint, as if you are sitting in the corner of a log cabin while Alela and her dad, who sang and played on both albums, serenade you by the fireplace.

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Fuck Buttons “Slow Focus”

Fuck Buttons

Slow Focus

[ATP; 2013]

Rating: 8.3

Recently while watching Ken Burn’s six part series on the National Parks, I couldn’t help but find myself enamored by the late, great John Muir. I’d heard the name over the years, whether it be his fervent advocacy for preservation or his theories on how mountains were formed (he was correct: glaciers), but I’d never realized the treasure trove of eloquent statements on nature that he left behind. I’ve always believed that God can be best found in his creations – the mountains, the trees, and the animals – and through the documentary, I quickly realized Muir was my prophet.

It was no accident that moments after finishing the episode I decided to listen to Fuck Button’s latest release Slow Focus.  Instantly, the connections between their music and John Muir’s life intertwined in my mind.  In the world of electronic music, Fuck Buttons are bizarre outsiders much like Muir was viewed most of his life.  Both are minimalists by nature, Muir living off what he could find in the Sierra Mountains and Fuck Buttons reliance on whatever “instruments” they can manipulate enough to suit their needs (they’ve been known to use devices ranging from outdated computer software to children’s toys).

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