1. BE (2013) by Beady Eye

    BE, Beady Eye’s second album, is a great collection of Lennon-influenced rock tunes.

    After the break-up of Oasis, the brothers Gallagher split into two camps and released their own albums. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds surpassed his brother’s Beady Eye release Different Gear, Still Speeding. Regrouping with producer Dave Sitek who has worked with TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Foals. The pairing might sound a little out of step, but it is a smart move. The problem with Different Gear, in my opinion, suffered from a rushed production. With BE, the band took it’s time in crafting great songs with interesting production.

    Like any Oasis and related projects, the Beatles is close behind. Liam is turning into a great songwriter, but still has the Lennon fixation. The nods to Lennon are a little cheap and juvenile. Brother Noel has gotten past and developed his own writing style that’s extremely Beatles-influenced, but Liam uses it as a crutch to write songs. While I’m listening to Don’t Brother Me, Soon Come Tomorrow and Ballroom Figured I think Give Peace a Chance, or Norwegian Wood. At this point, Liam should be stretching beyond quasi-pastiches and onto something deeper. Flick of the Finger, Second Bite of the Apple, and I’m Just Saying are extremely good. Just Saying is like a bizarre, lost Morning Glory track, while Flick of the Finger and Second Bite are a great step in the right direction songwriting and sonically.

    Overall, BE is a good listen and the start of a musical direction for the group. Beyond the Lennon goofs, Beady Eye is turning out to be a cool, little project.

    Essential Tracks: Flick Of The Finger/ Soul Love/ Second Bite Of The Apple/ I’m Just Saying

     

  2. Lonerism (2012) by Tame Impala

    With their second album, Lonerism, Tame Impala continues the spacey psychedelic sound from their first album and simultaneously expands their sound.

    Tame Impala is one of the better psychedelic indie bands to come out in the 21st Century. Recorded nearly all by Kevin Parker, he approached the second album as if it wasn’t the second Tame Impala record. This freed up Parker to expand the sound without the threat and hang up of the sophomore slump. The end result is a pleasantly, psychedelic record that surpasses it’s predecessor. Lonerism features more keys and synths than Innerspeaker. It’s more reliant on the strong melodies and far out production. Tracks like Enders Toi, Apocalypse Dream, and Feels Like We Only Backwards, have melodic flourishes that are both pop and indie influences. The scope is widened with the use of keys. Much of what held back Innerspeaker from being a better album was the sonic dimension.

    When one writes on the guitar or writes on a keyboard, each instrument dictates how the song travels. I believe that it’s superior to write on a keyboard rather than a guitar due to the blank-page quality that keys provides.

    Where MGMT have failed to meet standards, Tame Impala has now become my new favorite modern psychedelic band. Marrying intense sound, pop influenced hooks and maddening chord structure, Tame Impala has quite possibly secured a place in Music that the Flaming Lips one inhabited.

    Essential Tracks: Be Above It/ Endors Toi/ Apocalypse Dreams/ Mind Mischief/ Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

     

  3. Lousy with Sylvianbriar (2013) by of Montreal

    Kevin Barnes is one of the best songwriters of the 21st century. He is Indie’s equivalent of a Lennon or a Cobain. He can translate his emotions easily into music. All his demons, dreams, desires and afflictions are documented in his work as of Montreal. Eleven albums in, of Montreal have covered a lot of ground.

    The main problem I have with bands reaching twenty albums, and there’s a sure-fire guaranteed that the band will reach twenty albums before his decade is over, that there is tons of material to digest and understand. Like U2 or R.E.M., the internet, and access to all these songs, it’s easy to divide the discography into phases. Of Montreal is one of the few bands to have transitional albums. What I mean is that there are ideas not fully formed or fleshed out towards the end of the album that are explored and then usually exhausted on the next two releases. This is the start of a strictly organic, rooted Americana sound that will get developed. It’s a wonderful change. The production value is perfect. What you want from Barnes and the band is there from track 1, Fugitive Air, and introduces new instruments not heard on a Montreal album. Like other releases, Barnes is completely self-indulgent, but that’s ok. The songs are melodic, easily to get distracted by. The chord structures are brilliantly constructed.

    Raindrop in My Skull is the best track on the album, and if you’re only going to listen to one track that is the one. Sung by Rebecca Cash, it’s one of the few tracks not with Barnes on lead. It doesn’t matter, Cash delivers a emotional performance and sends us to a strange, non-existant west coast concert in the 60’s.

    Recorded straight to an 8-track, and digitally mastered and tampered, this is how music should be treated. The utilization of modern and classic tech is what music should be doing, but we don’t see that happening do we? The vocal tracks are definitely tuned. There are digital movements, but it’s still organic and fresh.

    The album is a welcomed addition to the discography. Check this one out. 

    Essential Tracks: Fugitive Air/ Obsidian Currents/ Belle Glade Missionaries/ She Ain’t Speakin’ Now/ Raindrop in My Skull

     

  4. Pure Heroine (2014) by Lorde

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    Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, with it’s minimalist production, pop hooks is a clever, alternative look at what could be considered mainstream popular music.

    Opening with the superb track, Tennis Court, Pure Heroine is a snapshot of popular music at this space and time. It gives the songs a lot of credit for how good most of them are. The lyrics are very dark and smart. Lorde, aka Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, writes well beyond her years. Upon multiple listens, I have grown skeptical about the lyrics. Is Lorde something of a lyrical genius or surrounded by someone who has his or her thumb on the pulse of the youth.

    The fusion of hip hop beats and sparse production make the songs stand out compared to the everything-and-the-kitchen sink productions belonging to Katy Perry, Gaga and every other starlet. It’s refreshing to hear less. The minimalist beats start to sound like classic Depeche Mode or Yaz beats after a while. Traces of dub-step is sprinkled, but not enough to make the album dated and overworked. Mega-hit Royals, is a complete standout. Covered by nearly every artist, parodied by Weird Al as Foals, and most painfully by the Boss, is a return-to-form three-chord power pop song. There isn’t any production on Royals; it solely relies on it’s chorus and lyrics to propel the song.

    I find this album, overall, a great listen and alternative to most overblown Top 40. It’s probably a good guess that much of this album is designed to setup the hit Royals and Lorde for a long career. How much of that is calculated? How much of is genuine? I can’t say I know.

    Essential Tracks: Royals/ Tennis Court/ Glory and Gore

     

  5. Sunbathing Animal (2014) by Parquet Courts

    It’s awesome when you read a great summary of an album. A good writer can pinpoint the essence of the album and get the reader excited. With Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts’s fourth release, just the description alone was enough for me to check out the album.

    This is one of my favorite records of 2014. The album can be summed up as if Johnathan Richman fronted 1995 Pavement with members of Wire and Television. Andrew Savage’s vocals are somewhere between Richman and a sluggish, stoned Scott Walker. On Raw Milk, I could easily trick someone into thinking it’s a lost Modern Lovers track. 

    Sunbathing Animal’s wonderful punk mess is a dead ringer for the CBGB’s crowd. The production is based on vocals, guitar, bass and drums, which is fine considering that many of the songs are strong enough to support the out-of-date setup. There isn’t reverb. It isn’t needed. Tracks like Bodies, Black and White, What Color is Blood are instant hipster romps.

    Not as slick and contrived as the Strokes (yes, the Strokes are contrived), Parquet Courts is another fine example of a band outside of the popular music lexicon. It’s so out of place, as is album number two, Light Up Gold.

    This album plays as it’s from two generations before me. It’s a wonderful listen that slides between art-punk and stoner punk. This is a band totally in control of their sound. Sunbathing Animals is worth skipping a meal and going to the shop to buy this record.

    Essential tracks: Bodies/ Black & White/ What Color Is Blood/ Vienna II

     

  6. Bloom (2014) by Beach House

    Indie duo, Beach House, reach new heights on their fourth release, Bloom. Adding subtle new intrumentation, Bloom is a wonderful record, bursting with sonic ideas.

    After signing to the major indie record label, Sub Pop, Teenage Dream, their third release stepped up their game. Produced Chris Coady, who also worked with TV on the Radio, Grizzly Bear, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Teenage Dream was an more adult and sophisticated album. On Bloom, the same returns to churn out another album of the same caliber or surpass Teenage Dream. Continuing many of the same themes and sounds, Bloom is a complete album from start to finish. Songs progress without stops, indeed making it an overall listen.  Unlike their other albums, the songs don’t stick out much as if it’s a suite of sonic tunes. The instrumentation used on the album is broader.

    On further albums, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for the duo to enlist a full band a la My Bloody Valentine or Portishead. There are hints of hip-hop on tracks New Year and Wishes that could make the songs bigger. This is a band that, in two or three albums, will permeate the mainstream with their own, distinct sound. If not, us music fanatics will have some of the best indie dream pop since Joy Zipper.

    Essential tracks: Myth/ The Hours/ New Year/ Wishes/ On the Sea/ Irene

     

  7. Warpaint (2013) by Warpaint

    The second, self-titled release by all-girl Warpaint is an undeniable masterpiece.

    Following-up 2010’s The Fool, the band went into the studio without material written. Within the studio they created drug-enduced music that is moody, brooding, and beautiful. Opening with Keep It Healthy and the stand-out track Love is To Die, Warpaint plays like a soundtrack to a moody art fim. The album is hard to crack on first couple of listens. Once I got passed it and dived into the sound, I found each track amazing. Love is to Die is the only immediate track, other take a while to gestate for the listener. The way the album was simultaneously written and recorded gives it this live feel that most records that want that effect don’t achieve.  The album brilliantly produced. The spacey vocals are mixed perfectly. They aren’t overpowering the instrumentation.

    The album reminds me of Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Joy Zipper’s work on American Whip. The emphasis is solely on the sound of the record, overall, much like Loveless. The tracks sound amazing. The thing that I find that brings the album down is the vocals aren’t tuned. I can understand the artistic decision not to use auto-tune, they’re an indie band! But I feel it could add a lot to the vocals. The album is a bit long, but that isn’t a bad thing, it requires multiple listens to get through and absorb all the information.

    This is possibly the best album of 2014 so far. There are a handful of great releases this year, but to my ears this is pretty top notch indie. Go buy this record.

    Essential Tracks: Keep It Healthy/ Love Is To Die/ Disco//very/ Go In/ Son

     

  8. Trouble in Paradise (2014) by La Roux

    Returning after five years. La Roux, aka Elly Jackson, releases an album that’s full of pop hooks, infectious beats and memorable choruses that is sure to bypass the dreaded sophomore slump.

    After touring for her eponymous debut record, Jackson was suffering from panic attacks and it resulted in her not being able to sing in her falsetto. She was diagnosed with residual muscle tension caused by the anxiety of performing. With the new style of singing and relying on difference influences, Trouble in Paradise is a wonderful listen. The classic disco/New Wave influences are quite apparent. Tracks like Uptight Downtown, and Kiss And Not Tell are perfect for the British dance floor scene. Jackson has employed more of an emotional presence on Trouble in Paradise. The emotional components of Paradise Is You and Let Me Down Gently are reflected in the shimmering string and pads.

    The only grip I have with the album that is that the songs could be stronger and her voice could use a little tuning her and there. Five years between albums is a long time to work on songs. Given the medical problems that she’s had and loss of her collaborator Ben Langmaid, I could understand that she couldn’t devote all her time to create strong songs. With her voice, Jackson has a distinct timbre that would sound fantastic tuned and computerized. It would certainly up the overall product of La Roux and bring her into the running with megastars St. Vincent, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga.

    Trouble in Paradise is a great listen. With all the nods and flections of classic New Wave and disco, this is the perfect album for kids stuck on the 80’s looking for something new to check out.

    Essential Tracks: Uptight Downtown/ Kiss And Not Tell/ Paradise Is You/ Let Me Down Gently

     

  9. Education, Education, Education & War (2014) by Kaiser Chiefs

     

    Kaiser Chiefs are one of my absolute favorite bands when I was in high school. I bought their first album, Employment, on a whim. I read a favorable review in the NME and found it in physical CD form at Barnes and Noble. It was a great album, a little slow, but it was a great bridge from Britpop to the Neo-New Wave scene that was taking place in the UK.

    On their fifth album, the Kaisers sound a little tired. After the pick-your-own-track-listing debacle on The Future is Medieval and it’s US equivalent Start the Revolution Without Me, the suffer a major loss loosing songwriter, occasional singer and original drummer Nick Hodges to other projects. The regrouped Kaisers release an album that contains the classic Employment/Off With Their Heads sound, but I find that I’m ready for the band to move on. The Factory Gates is a spectacular openers, a welcomed addition to Never Miss a Beat and I Predict a Riot. The Kaiser’s know how to pump out a badass chorus, and there’s a handful here. The album suffers from just being a repeat of what they’ve already done before. It’s very long as well. There’s only three songs under 4 minutes. It drags the album down. The loss of Hodges cannot be more exaggerated. He was the driving force behind the band. It’s totally understandable why he jumped ship. Ricky Wilson seems a little lost without his collaboration.

    Overall, the album is good. There are some hidden gems in classic Kaiser style, but there isn’t much of the band testing themselves. It’s still Britpop inspired rockers, but this time in the band’s career they should be changing it up. Maybe this is Kaiser’s The Great Escape and next up they churn out a genre-bending album like Blur? I’d like to hear the Kaiser’s do something outside of festival anthems. I’m stopping, I’ve heard this all before.

    Essential Tracks: The Factory Gates/ Coming Home/ Misery Company

     

  10. Random Access Memories (2013) by Daft Punk

    Daft Punk is one of the best crossover bands of all time. With four albums, they’ve managed to conquer the world with their idiosyncratic Kraftwerk influenced techno/rock.

    On Random Access Memories, Daft Punk regresses into late 70’s and early 80’s funk. Its quite refreshing to hear organic dance music in the age of digital everything. DP creates a smooth, revisionist version of funk that bands like Roxy Music, and Chic pioneered. There is no heavy reliance on synthesizers and drum machines, freeing-up DP to experiment with more organic, smooth sounds. It does get a little long in the tooth and slightly one dimensional, reverting back to their older sound towards the end.

    The album is transitional and a good change for the band to take. There are some really great tracks, Instant Crush, Lose Yourself to Dance, Fragments of Time, and the massive hit Get Lucky. The song structures are really tight and formulaic, making them very accessible. Some of the more experimental stuff falls a little flat sometimes, but that’s easy to get past.

    The third track, Giorgio by Moroder, is a cool little easter egg for music snobs. It contains a sound byte of legendary record producer, DJ, and songwriter Giorgio Moroder about his attempt to ‘make the sound of the future’ with the synthesizer. RAM features other artists such as Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas (of the Strokes), Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers (of Chic, producer of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album). Hopefully this will get fans of theirs to check out artists from the past.

    Overall, the album is a step in the right direction. The next album is the one I’m looking forward to.

    Essential Tracks: Giorgio By Moroder/ Instant Crush/ Lose Yourself To Dance/Get Lucky/ Fragments of Time/ 

     

  11. Ultraviolence (2014) by Lana Del Ray

    What to say, what to say? Lana Del Ray is quite a person. Without a doubt, she’s absolutely beautiful, enigmatic and has daddy’s checkbook to command the musical press. Yet… she doesn’t have the goods. On her second release Ultraviolence, she’s projecting a image of a self-confident woman who in my humble opinion believes that it’s contrived to the point of hilarity. Let us jump in…

    The album has a great production. Helmed by one half of the Black Keys, it’s as if John Barry spent his time listening to beach boys records, got crazy and stuck his orchestra in a trashcan for the next James Bond film. It’s spacey, moody and epic. There isn’t much variation across the tracks, making not a single one standout. The songs are ok for the most part; there are some ‘cool’ bits here and there. West Coast is a pretty infectious track, I’ll give her that. She’s too concerned about being cool and being associated with cool. By the time the cool wears off, I felt the album making me think of times I was depressed. The time we live in, there is no such thing as underground. We can thank the internet for the rise of nerd culture and the diminishment of underground status. So all these references to Lou Reed fall flat and edge on the side of snobbish.

    Clearly this chick can’t sing. Del Ray is all over the place vocally. The trashcan effect is extended to Lana’s vocals to keep the listener from switching over to something sonically better.

    Maybe I didn’t get this album, I’m sorry if I insulted anyone, but this is pretty bad. The competition in the girl singer category is pretty fierce with contenders like Adele, Lady Gaga, and my favorite St. Vincent who are pretty much doing the same thing just ten times smarter, more extravagant and better. I’d rather listen to a Katy Perry record that this. I won’t be pining for razor blades after listening to Hot ‘n’ Cold, that’s for sure.

    Essential Tracks: West Coast

     

  12. Mandatory Fun (2014) by Weird Al Yankovic

    Oh, Weird Al. One of my all time favorite artists is Mr. Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al was a gateway into the 80’s while also making laugh my ass off. On his most recent release, Mandatory Fun, he brings back the same, lovable humor and mocks the hits of ‘today’.

    Let’s be honest for one second, Top 40 music has gotten to a point where is horrendous. The last few releases, Mr. Yankovic has had some leeway with choosing hits. On Mandatory Fun, the hits are mediocre so the material that he’s working with is weak. The insta-hits of Iggy Azalia, Lorde, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams are mehh to say the least. The humor is clever, his singing is amazing, but the original songs aren’t good enough to warrant them parody. The songs are tracks based on production so when there isn’t a strong melody to latch onto they fall flat. The pool of hits are not there. The production value of the record is spot on. Lots of auto-tune, but its easily to dismiss. Now that we can easily “A” “B” tunes in iTunes, Weird Al is still the ultimate artist to music bomb someone. The original material, reserved for music snobs are hilarious. My Own Eyes satires Foo Fighters down to the vocal effect that Dave Grohl has. First World Problems’s Pixies satire could easily be mistaken for a Doolittle outtake. The only saving grace is the style parodies. Now That’s What I Call Polka! is clever, but it falls victim to the same problems of the parodies, poor source material. Weird Al is a musicians’ musician. All the references to pop culture, TV, food and other music is perfect for those media nerds. This is not Weird Al’s fault! Don’t take it the wrong way.

    It’s the sad state of popular music. Mandatory Fun’s title perfect alludes to this. Top 40 is guaranteed, mandatory fun. When it comes time to make fun of it, it’s not funny, it’s just uncomrfortable. Listen to Running with Scissors or Dare to Be Stupid and laugh like you used to. Long Live Weird Al!!

    Essential Tracks: Handy/ Word Crimes/ First World Problems/ Tacky