Alright, so for the past couple of months since the new year, I’ve been making up lists of my favorite albums and songs at the end of each month. It’s been going pretty well so far, so I’m trying to keep up with it. For March I’ve listed a few more than I have in past months however, because this has been the most prominent month we’ve had for great music so far this year in my opinion and most of these I’m sure will stay with me throughout the year! As always, let me know of anything you guys really enjoyed that I may have missed! These were my personal favorites of the month:
1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
To Pimp a Butterfly on first listen feels like one of those albums that shouldn’t really exist. Not at this time anyways, and not even by Kendrick Lamar. Although he seems to have become the most socially and politically aware rapper of our time over a rather short time-span, good kid m.A.A.d city is still fresh in our minds as it is just over two years behind us and strikes as a very personal record for Kendrick and yet this new record is even more incredible and appears aimed at a wider crowd and towards a greater vision. Like D’Angelo’s excellent comeback with last years Black Messiah, thematically To Pimp a Butterfly couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate time. In the wake of the Ferguson unrest following the deaths of multiple black Americans at the hands of white police officers Kendrick’s new album hits hard. With funk and jazz influenced beats by Flying Lotus, groovy bass lines from Thundercat, and excellent vocal / rap performances most recognizably from Bilal, Snoop Dogg, Rapsody, Anna Wise, and even one of the Isley Brothers, this is a fantastic listen all the way through without a single weak spot. Although To Pimp a Butterfly doesn’t flow as effortlessly track-by-track as gkmc did being a concept album, it takes a much more appealing approach within the context of this record. Kendrick gradually unveils a lengthy poem he has written to accompany the album as it goes on. The poem, as it is revealed before almost every track here, presents the theme of that track it is preceding and is eventually unveiled in it’s entirety in the closing track “Mortal Man” after Kendrick pieces together a flawless interview with the ghost of 2Pac. Throughout listening to the interview, it’s easy to forget this is the ghost of a rap idol and not really him in the flesh until Kendrick breaks the silence after reading him the poem. “What’s your perspective on that?…Pac?… Pac?…PAC?!”
2. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
After The Age of Adz, a return to form was never expected from Sufjan Stevens. It seemed as though he had reached a point of no return from colorful electronic synthesizers and massive production styles. I’ll admit,The Age of Adz is just as enjoyableas some of his best work, but as great as that album was, it left me longing for the old Sufjan, the quaint folky singer-songwriter who wrote sentimental and emotional records like Illinois, Michigan, and Seven Swans. Regardless, Sufjan is back! Both sonically and thematically he is back to his roots. This album revolves around his parents, to whom the album is named after, his life growing up as a child, and ultimately the death of his mother. Sufjan has been very open in interviews since her death in 2012, stating that his relationship with Carrie was never an ideal one for a young child growing up, as she abandoned him and his brother and never really adhered to the mother figure a young boy needs, but in the end he loved and forgave her all the same. All of this shows through this record, as he never comes off as resentful towards the late memories of his mother, although he goes through many stages while mourning her death; thirsting for attention, constant regression of the past, loss of belief, and even contemplation of suicide in certain instances. The overall theme is depressing of course, however Sufjan emerges positively, regaining his faith in God and forgiving his mother after everything. His voice hardly registers above a whisper on most of these tracks but it goes along with the mood effortlessly as he sings beautifully over finger-picked guitars, lush strings, and smartly-placed synthesizers. By the end you’ll realize that everything Sufjan Stevens has done musically so far has led toCarrie & Lowell.
3. Lower Dens - Escape from Evil
It’s no coincidence that Lower Dens have been billed to play the same gigs as Beach House in the past. Jana Hunter’s voice is strangely reminiscent of Victoria Legrand’s and of course both bands making lush dream-pop tunes just goes to strengthen the comparison. Although Lower Dens definitely haven’t been as widely recognized in the ever-expanding genre of dream-pop as Beach House have been, Escape from Evil is sure to change that as they proceed in a more straight-forward direction than they did with the experimental Nootropics. Undoubtedly it is the band’s boldest effort to date which is showcased in excellent singles right off the bat with “To Die in L.A.” and “Ondine”. The direction is the same as in their past records with Escape from Evil, however the end result of this album is more clear-cut than they’ve been able to manage in the past. They’ve upped the anti on production here with help from the likes of Ariel Rechtshaid, Chris Coady, and John Congleton to make a near-perfect record. The theme here feels love-ridden. On songs like “To Die in L.A.” where she sings “time will turn the tide” as she waits for a long lost lover to come back to her, or on “Sucker’s Shangri-la” she sings, “it doesn’t help that he can see you coming and he knows how to break you like an animal” as she returns to an abusive relationship. This theme of love is almost over-bearing on some of the tracks but it only strengthens the album as a whole. Escape from Evil is overall a very spacious album with no two tracks that feel alike, gorgeous instrumentals, and above all Jana Hunter’s beautiful voice which soars over every track flawlessly.
4. Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
Goon is an intimidating title for an album so tame by such a lovelorn singer-songwriter. Ultimately Tobias Jesso Jr.’s debut album is full of what I’d call anthems for hopeless romantics. After all, maybe Goon is supposed to create an image of him as this 6-foot-something sappy songwriter living in L.A. whose gone through one too many breakups…that is what this album cover is supposed to convey, isn’t it? Regardless, Goon is filled with many great songs mainly about lost love and self-doubt most of which are filled with smart orchestration, beautiful piano ballads, and of course a crooning Tobias, which usually have a very sentimental feeling to them. The absolute stand-out track here, “How Could You Babe” comes early on in the album setting the mood and pretty much lets you know what heartbreak you’ll be getting into before you get too far in to back out of this record. It starts off with the high notes of his piano making the track feel more upbeat than it actually is, until you get to the lyrics of course, “So long my only friend. I guess we gave it a try, and then I guess we tried again, I don’t remember why. Well nothing’s as hard to do as just saying goodbye”. What’s most appealing to me about Goon is that it’s more honest and easy to relate to than what most artists are writing about these days. Songs like these are hard to find among modern music but he makes it sound so easy to do, after a whole lot of heartbreak that is.
5. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Last time I obsessed over Courtney Barnett was when she released what I’d say is her breakthrough single “Avant Gardener”. On that song we learned something about her. She over-thinks things almost constantly. I mean so does every living person I’m sure. But with her it seems almost to the point of a dreadful anxiety! “Avant Gardener” was humorous in that by gardening-which is supposed to be a form stress relief-she somehow ends up in the back of an ambulance. Sometimes I Sit… only plays off of this self-realization of anxiety found on tracks from her past EPs. If you pick up a physical copy of this record, you’ll find in the booklet a bunch of hand-drawn diagrams of different chairs with descriptions of their strengths, some you’d find in a thrift shop and also some that Barnett has drawn from her own original ideas. It’s as if she’s trying to find the perfect seat to just sit and relax. Of course as you’ll learn through listening to her music, she’s never ever just sitting. She’s constantly running her head around ideas that will make even the most stable person have an existential crisis. Sometimes I Sit… In a strangely positive outlook showcases her excellent storytelling ability and brings up multiple issues in Barnett’s life: self-doubt, insomnia, and anxiety being only a few, but she refuses to just sit down and let it all overrun her state of mind.
6. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - After
The title of Aly Spaltro’s sophomore album as Lady Lamb raises one obvious question, “after what?”. After the successes of becoming a target as one of the larger fandoms I’ve seen in internet blogging? After the end of a long and trying relationship, maybe? Or simply stating this is the next logical step after her excellent debut Ripely Pine? If the latter is the case, that kind of puzzles me seeing as this album would have felt more relevant as her debut in my opinion than the very dense and dark world of Ripely Pine. Only after I’d finished obsessing over a long-awaited studio version of “Violet Clementine” was I able to fully enjoy this album for what it is. Afteris undoubtedly more fun overall than her debut regardless of lacking the intensity that Ripely Pine possessed although it doesn’t feel like it was the next logical step. Aly Spaltro still gives the same incredible vocal delivery and depth that I’ve come to expect from her, but it all comes in the form of a brighter idea. While many of the tracks on Ripely Pine felt claustrophobic like they were most likely conceived in her moonlit bedroom, these new tracks flourish with a brand new pop sound you wouldn’t have expected to hear from her. Although it took me more time to appreciate After as a whole in the wake of the brilliance of her first album, it is just as enjoyable and is definitely more full of color as the songs here range from that great feeling you get when you make your bus to taking sides with a believer of aliens from another planet while skeptics try to rip him apart.
7. Yowler - The Offer
Before hearing this new project of hers, I’d best known Maryn Jones for her work in a band called All Dogs. With that project and with Yowler as well she makes the kind of lo-fi music that would be recorded in the confinements of her bedroom or a friend’s basement maybe, the kind of music that will probably never see a major label and will only be released on very limited quantities of cassettes. However these factors don’t deny the power of an album such as The Offer. Maryn Jones sings with a shy vocal delivery that is comparable to that of Grouper’s Liz Harris, a voice that barely reaches over a whisper over top of a finger-picked acoustic guitar. Of course there’s not much room in the world of music for a voice like this when you’re competing against countless other artists making music that’s more recognized on a larger scale. Her music however doesn’t beg for recognition but instead stays in this realm of music that might go undiscovered for a long time until she gradually makes her way out of smaller labels which harbor these artists like Double Double Whammy. Every move is a step forward though, as with her Yowler project she’s jumped onto a record label where as with All Dogs she was still self-releasing songs of the same caliber. The Offer proves as the best thing Maryn Jones has released so far and she’s only moving forward.
Free Cake for Every Creature - Moving Songs
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
Laura Marling - Short Movie
Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves
1. Grimes - REALiTi
It still comes as a surprise to me that this is one of the songs that Claire Boucher has scrapped from her long-awaited forthcoming Grimes record. Personally I think it’s one of her best songs yet! “REALiTi” has an infectious drum-beat right from the start with drone-y synths that fade in and out and probably a ton of other effects. There’s a few hand-clap moments that feel pretty unorthodox and the song has a pronounced EDM influence to it that is much milder than that of last year’s “Go!” with Blood Diamonds, although the overall result is incredible. This has probably been my most obsessed over song of the year so far and for good reason! She sings, “Baby, every morning there are mountains to climb, taking all my time”. Through seeing the kind of lifestyle she appears to live it’s difficult to remember that she’s most likely gone through just as many hardships as the average person. In just a few short years she’s gone from being a completely DIY artist to being one of the new artists signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation record label. I have no doubts that there are endless stresses there, trying to assimilate to a more mainstream influenced crowd maybe. “Welcome to reality”, she sings as I’m sure an aspiring artist would hear many times when first starting out in the music business. Claire Boucher is still turning heads as one of the most influential and unique artists making art-pop music and I’m sure there’s good reason why she’s been delaying the release of her follow up to Visions. For now however this song is tiding me over!
2. Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta
“Bitch, where were you when I was walking?”, Kendrick asks, as if it’s an attack on someone who’s now a close friend to him only because of his rise to fame. The start of “King Kunta” carries the same theme of materialization over from “For Free? (interlude)”. It’s that whole “Benz Friendz” mentality all over again. Kendrick is constantly finding people who are after him for his fame. With “King Kunta” Kendrick brings that “Game of Thrones” reality from the era of rappers like Biggie and 2Pac back into the rap game after it’s been forgotten for so long. The world of rap music isn’t nearly as competitive as it once was, now Kendrick is claiming that position at the top of the hill and is ready to fight for it. After all I’m sure he knows that he’s one of the only rappers alive right now actually making a difference with his music. He calls out other rappers at his level, “But a rapper with a ghost writer, what the fuck happened? / y’all sharing bars like you got the bottom bunk in a two man cell”, but it’s indirect who he’s attacking. Kanye? Drake, maybe? Kendrick addresses multiple things on his mind in “King Kunta” over what is for sure the funkiest beat he’s ever rapped over. To Pimp a Butterfly…To Kill a Mockingbird…the album carries many references but the most direct are his love/hate views on Judge Taylor (who can be seen on the lower left hand of the album cover). “Fuck the judge, I made it past 25″, he raps as if he sees what the judge did for Tom Robinson in that book but dismisses it as unnecessary, like Tom could have made it without the pity of a white judge. Maybe these are just his views on a novel about black oppression made by a white american novelist but they’re strong ones. What’s more interesting is how he seems to take the judge’s side on the album version of “i” saying “the judge made time” in his speech to a rowdy crowd during his live performance. The overall message is cloudy.
3. Kendrick Lamar - u
“u” is instantly recognizable as a reflection of everything Kendrick was saying on his Grammy-winning single “i”. While “I” was incredibly confident with motives of “I love Myself”, “u” goes back on everything he said and comes off as a bit schizophrenic. “Loving you is complicated”, Kendrick repeats at the beginning of the track. At first it sounds like he’s talking about someone else in his life, instinctively. What he’s actually doing is beating himself up over the entire song, “I fuckin’ tell you, you fuckin’ failure, you ain’t no leader! / I never liked you, forever despise you, I don’t need you! / The world don’t need you!” He is literally shouting at himself in anger for multiple things: not being their for his family after becoming famous, blaming himself for the misguidance of his younger sister while he was away. Midway through the song, there’s a choppy beat change-up along with an impromptu appearance by none other than his housekeeper before Kendrick slips into another stage. He continues rapping although now he’s practically in tears, you can hear the absolute distress coming through his vocal delivery as he now recounts the death of his brother. “A friend never leave Compton for profit or leave his best friend little brother, you promised you’d watch him before they shot him / You even face-timed instead of a hospital visit”, he continues. Now he’s got a bottle and he does it so convincingly that it actually sounds like he’s drinking while rapping. He finishes with, “The world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness”, and he’s never sounded more convincing.
4. Sufjan Stevens - Fourth of July
Where the excellent lead single, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” dealt with Sufjan’s state of mind after the passing of his mother, “Fourth of July” throws you right into the midst of her passing as he is sitting at her bedside in the hospital. “Well you do enough talk my little hawk, why do you cry?”, Sufjan’s mother tries to comfort him. He asks her about her experiences in life events, specifically with the famous Tillamook forest fire and the fourth of July. It’s like Sufjan is frantically trying to catch up with his mother after so much time lost since their relationship wasn’t an ideal one. He knows she doesn’t have much time left, and he is also trying to comfort her in asking about her past life. His mother continues, “Did you get enough love my little dove? / I’m sorry I left but it was for the best though it never felt right”. The whole thing plays out like a movie in your head while listening to it. Both Sufjan and his mother are trying to make up for the past in such little time, and it’s heartbreaking to listen to. All the while there are looming synthesized horns in the background inching toward her death, and it all feels too real as Sufjan repeatedly sings “We’re all going to die” as he finally accepts the reality of Carrie’s death.
5. Jamie xx - Loud Places (feat. Romy)
Jamie xx is back with a colorful new single and look who he’s brought along, none other than The xx’s vocalist Romy Madley-Croft of course! The end result is as you could expect. Romy brings her usual lovely spacious vocals to the table while mastermind Jamie xx does the rest. The setting here is perfect. As the song starts, there’s people chattering in the background over a glockenspiel-like synth as Romy sings, “You go to loud places to find someone who will take you higher than I took you” to which she reflects, “Didn’t I take you to higher places you can’t reach without me?”. It’s an intimate sentiment that is only built upon by Jamie’s build-up of flashy electronic synths, and drum machines. “You’re in ecstasy without me. When you come down I won’t be around”, Romy sings once the beat comes down making for another excellent collaboration between the two.
6. Lower Dens - Ondine
It’s often difficult to hold on to love. Jana Hunter expresses this well with “Ondine”, a sure stand-out from Escape from Evil, as her voice soars above a pronounced drum beat, electric guitar and some lurking synths reminiscent of that which you’d hear in some recent music from Wild Beasts. “You are leaving”, she sings with pain in her voice as she continues trying to hold on to a well-found love, repeating over and over, “I’ll treat you better”. This is for sure one of the better love songs I’ve heard in awhile!
7. Lower Dens - Quo Vadis
I looked it up and “Quo Vadis” is apparently latin for “Where are you going?”, which I found kind of interesting because listening to Escape from Evil this track feels as though it could be a companion piece to “Ondine” which felt like a very solitude and dead-end track on it’s own. “We don’t have time cause time is a hook on a line and we’re swimming for our whole lives”, Jana Hunter sings as if she’s still trying to salvage what’s left of the relationship that felt indefinitely over in “Ondine”. She continues, “It’s impossible what I dream of / I wanna be with you alone”.
8. Chromatics - I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
“All the dreams we had were more than what we found”, sings Ruth Radelet reflecting on a relationship that could have been more that what it actually is. The title says it all. This song chronicles a trying relationship over a bombastic drumbeat which only grows greater as the song continues, with static-filled electronics reminiscent of Crystal Castles and backing vocals from Italians Do It Better labelmate, Megan Louise of Desire. Of course Johnny Jewel is behind it all, but everyone comes together to make this excellent song what it is. Come on, Johnny…still waiting for Dear Tommy!
9. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - Penny Licks
If you’re a Lady Lamb fan, you probably already know that Aly Spaltro has a knack for taking her older demos and making them into something much greater, and that’s exactly what she’s done with After stand-out “Penny Licks”! Funny, cause the intro tricks the listener into thinking it’s still that same old demo before the song bursts into color from black and white. “We can’t seem to find a stable table so we’ll take all our eggs and we’ll be on our way”, she sings once the song really starts. The song continues the same way until a bout a minute and a half in when you get a rolling bass line which leads into a full on drum kit. “We will crane our necks” she seems to reference “Crane Your Neck” from Ripely Pine. Well done Aly, you’ve done it again!
10. Tobias Jesso Jr. - Without You
Another sad song about love. We’ve already established that Tobias Jesso Jr. does these well. “Without You” is perhaps one of the best on Goon! “Why can’t you just love me? / Should I move on or should I wait? / How’d you get so high above me?”, Tobias croons. These are questions that I’m sure many people ask themselves but can never seem to answer. They just drift there in your head until you are able to get over them. He continues, “I reach higher every day, but nothing changes, no it all just stays the same”. Danielle Haim joins in on drums as Tobias goes into the chorus, “I can hardly breathe without you.”
11. Courtney Barnett - Depreston
With “Depreston”, Courtney Barnett seems to use a day of normal, uneventful house-hunting to paint a bigger picture. “We drive to a house in Preston, we see police arresting a man with his hand in a bag / How’s that for first impressions?”, she speak-sings as the song starts to become gloomy. Everything starts adding up to make it not such an ideal day. They get to the house and she looks around realizing that the last owner probably passed there. She continues, “Then I see the handrail in the shower, a collection of those canisters for coffee, tea, and flour, and a photo of a young man in a van in vietnam”. “If you’ve got a spare half a million you could knock it down and start re-building”, she repeats, as if she’s speaking as the person who was selling the house. It’s a hard idea to think of, demolishing someone’s home soon after they pass from it.
12. Courtney Barnett - Kim’s Caravan
Sometimes I Sit… takes a dark turn with “Kim’s Caravan” as it creates an image of her sitting on the beach having a bunch of environmentally aware notions. She reflects on a dead seal on the beach, “guess it just wants to die / I would want to die too, with people putting oil into my air / but to be fair I’ve done my share”. It gets darker when she finds a note on the beach that reads a grisly quote: “The Great Barrier Reef, it ain’t so great anymore. It’s been raped beyond belief, the dredgers treat it like a whore”. All of this seems like a hell of a lot to take in for someone who just wanted to sit and relax on the beach. She slips into refrain, “I drank ‘til I was sinking, sank ‘til I was thinking that I’m thankful for this view”.
13. Yowler - Yowler
I’ve seen self-titled albums many times, but it’s not often I hear of a self-titled song. This is weird to me, like is the name of the project based off of the song, or the song based off of the decision to name the project Yowler? Regardless, “Yowler” is the stand-out track from Yowler in my opinion. Maryn Jones sings beautifully over a finger-picked acoustic guitar. “You’ll lose me in the trees, but I’m alive”, she sings as if she’s a child about to runaway from home. It’s a selfish thought really. I really don’t know what to make of this song to be honest.
14. Kanye West - All Day (feat. Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London, & Paul McCartney)
Alright, so I still don’t have any idea how Kanye’s new album is going to completely come together, but so far all of the singles have sounded pretty incredible! With “All Day” Kanye West is back to going hard and full-on rapping! Although it may not have all of the flare that the live performance at the Brits had it still sounds awesome! This is definitely not a simple track by any means, it throws you for a loop with a ferocious beat, some vocals from collaborator Theophilus London, some chopped-up beat change-ups and a whistling Paul McCartney. I don’t think anyone can predict what Kanye is going for next.
15. Tame Impala - Let It happen
Tame Impala are back after almost 3 years after they turned heads with the very impressive and game-changing Lonerism with a single that is just short of 8 minutes! They go for a distinctly electronic sound this time around while still sticking to their classic influences. “I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming around”, Kevin Parker sings before repeating the title in refrain. It’s a bold first single and it definitely threw me for a loop! I was scrambling for my computer mouse the first time I heard this song to stop it from skipping when really it was just more of Tame Impala’s tricks.
Beach House is a band that knew what they wanted: they wanted to go out to the middle of nowhere and record, they wanted to record on tape and they wanted a co-producer, not a producer, because they wanted to be hands-on on the production side. They came with the most complete set of demos that I’ve ever gotten. The album was completely mapped out, from the beginning. All we had to do was do a really good job recording it. There are a lot of bands who don’t know what they want and they hire a producer to help them figure it out. This time, we did it totally based on what the artist wanted and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
the record will be engineered and/or produced by chris coady, who’s worked with a bunch of great bands including beach house, tv on the radio, yeah yeah yeahs, and smith westerns. seriously, open up the liner notes of a recent record you like and he’ll probably be on there in some capacity.
they’re recording up at dreamland studios in the catskills in upstate new york for three weeks. beach house’s teen dream was recorded there!
hopefully, according to that timetable, the album will be released before summer’s over. or early fall.