Four Tet: There is Love in You
I've been a big Four Tet fan since it was considered a Fridge side project and have loved everything I've heard Kieren Hebden do. Rounds is his best, still, and Pause and Everything Ecstatic are excellent as well. When he released the Ringer EP last year I was glad to see Hebden stretching into new territory, even if more overtly danceable music veers away from where my tastes typically lie. I really liked that EP anyway, and I like a lot of There is Love in You. Not all, though. For me it gets off to a rough start with "Angel Echoes" and "Love Cry," both of which feature female vocals. Repetitive vocals of this nature, placed over dance music, is just a flavor I don't like. Past those two songs Love gets going, hewing closer to the sound of Ringer—still dancier than his older output but also as head-centric as ever. For most of the album, Hebden strikes the right balance.
- Four Tet: Circling
Emeralds: Does it Look Like I'm Here?
Emeralds: What Happened
White Rainbow: New Clouds
Jason Urick: Husbands
I dipped into a phase this year in which I've become enamored of ambient, or drone, or whatever it is acts like Emeralds or White Rainbow are. It's not really ambient in the sense I'd previously thought of the genre. In contrast the spacious elegance of Mountains, for instance, Emeralds' music is dense. Every song is packed with distorted synths, guitar solos, discernible chord progressions, layered and layered and layered until the cacophony becomes a kind of drone. I bought last year's What Happened back in January and picked up the latest, Does it Look Like I'm Here?, a couple of weeks ago. Both albums have a lot of sonic similarities, the main difference being Does it Look Like I'm Here's shorter tracks. The abbreviation helps, I think. I like both albums but inevitably during What Happened I find myself zoning out to the building layers and then, a few minutes later, snapping to attention and realizing the track is a big mess. On the newer album the architecture of each track feels more focused, even if still busy. White Rainbow's New Clouds, from 2009, similarly gets busy busy busy and somehow turns it all into a peaceful and fascinating atmosphere. Like What Happened, New Clouds is comprised of just a few extremely long songs. New Clouds however seems more composed, like each track is built of different movements. Finally, Jason Urick's 2009 album Husbands is less dense than these other albums, yet still fights against a genre tag like "ambient." His pieces are all static and distortion, meshed together into a gritty atmosphere.
- Emeralds: Double Helix (from Does it Look Like I'm Here?)
- White Rainbow: Major Spillage
- Jason Urick: The Eternal Return
Air: Love 2
Air have gotten to a point where I don't really expect much from them other than a pleasurable album I can listen to on a Sunday morning. Love 2 is a fine album with a few really nice songs and of lot of songs that... sound like Air. I'm not surprised and I'm not complaining.
- Air: African Velvet
Raymond Scott: Soothing Sounds for Baby Vol. 1
I went on about this album a bit back in January. I admit I don't listen to it much (nor do I actually try to soothe my baby with it) but I do enjoy it.
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Stone Flower
Hoping to add another classic bossa nova album to my collection, considering how often I listen to Elis & Tom, Getz & Gilberto, and Astrid Gilberto's Verve Jazz Masters, I took a chance on Stone Flower, an album I knew nothing about beyond the artist. It's a good album, and it's been growing on me, though it's more jazz and more instrumental than I was hoping.
- Antonio Carlos Jobim: Children's Games
Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record
Every Broken Social Scene record is messy and too long, and this one is no exception. Also, every Broken Social Scene record has at least a few fucking outstanding songs, and this one is no exception. I was ready for Forgiveness Rock Record to finally put me over quota for the number of BSS songs I could reasonably need in my iTunes library, but it has actually grown on me over the last few weeks. It starts strong, dips a little in middle, gets really strong for the third quarter, and then peters out with a trio of average tunes. Of course I don't look to BSS for consistency; I look to them for knockouts like "Sweetest Kill."
- Broken Social Scene: Sweetest Kill
New Pornographers: Together
I was so baffled by the tepid reaction received by the last New Pornographers album, Challengers. Sure, it didn't gallop and bounce quite like their earlier albums, but to me that was its strength. Where I can put the first three NP albums on shuffle and be quite happy with whatever comes on in whichever order, I found with Challengers an album I could ride from beginning to end with some purpose. Feeling that the band was actually on the upswing, I was excited for Together... only to be let down. Strange, because so many reviews I read seemed to say the band had bounced back with this album. All I hear is a supergroup going through the motions of being super, as if their presence on record was all that was needed. Together lacks the zeal that pumped their early records with energy and it lacks the maturity that made their last album so compelling. Don't get me wrong: New Pornographers songs are like pizza—even a bad one is still good. But Together is Pizza Hut where the rest are Mozza.
- New Pornographers: Silver Jenny Dollar
Bear in Heaven: Beast Rest Fourth Mouth
Bear in Heaven is a band with great potential but they don't quite nail it on this album. I like individual songs but become tired by the whole record, partly because the singer insists on staying up front for the whole record. I think the band would be a lot more impressive if he'd step back occasionally and let the music stretch out on its own.
- Bear in Heaven: Deafening Love
Bark Psychosis: Hex
As with the Talk Talk album I mentioned yesterday, I picked up Hex after reading about it for many years as a seminal post-rock album. In fact I'm pretty sure I heard this back when it came out but it just didn't grab me. Sixteen years later, it still doesn't really grab me. I like it but I'm not knocked out at all. Hex feels a little lifeless to me. (Actually it reminds me of a less compelling Doves.)
- Bark Psychosis: The Loom
The Antlers: Hospice
Like Bear in Heaven I think the Antlers have a lot of potential. (And speaking again of Talk Talk, I hear some influence here.) However, I find Hospice to be such a colossal downer that it becomes almost interminable. I guess it's a concept album—seems that way based on the lyrics I'm picking up—populated by ill or recovering patients. As such I think Hospice fails because every song seems to hit the same note of lonliness and despair with not much uplift or depth. It works within individual songs but becomes overbearing by album's end.
- The Antlers: Kettering
The Ruby Suns: Fight Softly
Part of what I loved about the last Ruby Suns album, Sea Lion (one of my favorites of 2008, for the record), was that it felt kinda like a terrific mixtape. Some 80s-ish songs, some world influence, some spacey shit. They even swapped out a singer for one song. Fight Softly, by contrast, finds Ryan McPhun locking in on one style—more electronic, more languid. That makes for an okay album but ultimately I'm disappointed. It's less surprising, less of its own world. Too, McPhun seems to be trying to be a better singer this time around but he comes off more often like a David Longstreth wannabe, which is deflating.
- The Ruby Suns: Cinco
Holy Fuck: Latin
Don't ask me to identify exactly what it is that separates an average Holy Fuck song from an outstanding one. Do ask me how many outstanding songs were on their last album (seven) and how many are on Latin (zero). This album is not bad but it often sounds like the soundtrack to a Jason Statham film.
- Holy Fuck: Stilettos
Midlake: The Courage of Others
Disappointment of the year. How it pains me to say that after loving The Trials of Van Occupanther so much. Courage is maudlin, dour, sour, limp, cowardly. Where the vocals on their last two albums were often the highlight, here Tim Smith delivers the same tired moan on song after song, rarely buoyed by the beautiful harmonies we all know Midlake are capable of. Gone are the keyboards, which added some dimension to their 70s-isms. I read in a few places that Midlake had ditched their love of Fleetwood Mac for the inspiration found in British folk acts like Fairport Convention. I guess I can hear it but where is the musicianship? Midlake are a band of music school grads; why not let the flag fly here and there, a la Fairport's "A Sailor's Life"? A little epic-ness—frankly any ambition at all—would have gone a long way. Toss this one in the proverbial used bin.