April came and went the fastest out of all the 2016 months, leaving some really great music along the way: gripping electronic music from Andy Stott, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Tim Hecker; lovable indie rock from Frankie Cosmos & SALES; and some folk & country jams from Kevin Morby & Sturgill Simpson. Had a few surprise releases that were not so great, but that surprise new James Blake album will definitely be in my May list. I wonder if Radiohead will be? We’ll see, but for now let’s get into what April had to offer.
Andy Stott – Too Many Voices – Modern Love
Although I’m not totally enthralled by Andy Stott’s Too Many Voices, it’s still a great release from one of my favorite current electronic musicians. Stott changes his sound up a bit here and keeps things relatively safe, his usual brand of murky, dubby electronic landing much softer here than previous albums. Overall there’s a lot more room to breathe and move around here, compared to the bludgeoning, crushed sweat lodge sound he’s been known for. In this extra sonic space, Stott is able to add in specks of highs in the mix, adding an element of melody and light into his tracks. Like I said, I’m not crazy about it but I still dig this dude a lot, so check out his previous albums if you like this.
Deakin – Sleep Cycle – My Animal Home
The first solo release from Animal Collective’s enigmatic ghost member Deakin is the long awaited product of his 2011 Kickstarter. The goal was for him to record an album in Mali with local musicians along with donating to a charity to help abolish slavery in the area. Five years later, the result is the best solo AnCo member album since probably Person Pitch or Tomboy and all donated money going towards the charity. The album is instrumentally rich and has a really honest, homespun feel to it that I really love. It’s a refreshing taste amongst the recent AnCo camp slog, but also manages to effectively use some of the same songwriting devices that other members have been using on their works. I feel pretty okay about giving this dude $20 five years ago. Thanks, Deak.
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing – Bayonet
Next Thing is all about taking pleasure in the simple things. Hanging out with friends, dogs, long car rides and finding out your place in the world. Wait, well that last one isn’t such a simple concept. But here, Greta Kline makes these philosophical musings we all have seem like simple math, thanks to her personal, approachable touch. She talks about real life events with charm and eloquence. On my favorite track “Embody” she mentions how her friends are friends with each other and that it makes her happy just thinking about them. Who doesn’t do that? All it means is that the world is yours to create. You have the tools to make it how you want! Let’s do it! Woo!
Holy Ghost! – Crime Cutz – DFA
The main goal for bands like Holy Ghost! is to make me feel as cool as possible while listening, because I clearly don’t feel cool otherwise. Put me in any situation: I’m running late for my train and I’m sweatily speed walking down the platform, looking for an open seat. Don’t feel very cool there. Slap on some Holy Ghost! Crime Cutz? Holy hell, now I’m strolling to my limousine after getting back from Miami. What’s my job? Data entry slave? Not anymore – I’m an exotic art seller. With a helicopter. Ha ha ha! Money! This is a good EP.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS – Western Vinyl
Former traditional classical composer turned modular synth virtuoso, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith strikes one of my favorite balances in music on EARS: the rich combination of organic and synthetic textures. Smith uses gorgeous modular synth patches to create a setting for additional wind, brass and vocal accompaniment to interact with one another, blurring the lines of what is real or not. There are so many little sounds hiding among bigger ones here – it’s so much fun discovering them and each of their stories on repeated listens.
Kevin Morby – Singing Saw – Dead Oceans
Kevin Morby definitely seems like a good old boy. His songs are straightforward, his voice ain’t nothing flashy but gets the point across, and everything just feels right on Singing Saw. Previously a member of Woods, Morby’s music fits into a similar vein of slightly psychedelic modern folk rock. That might be a mouthful, so I’ll just say it’s folk rock, with heavy takeaways from the heroes of the genre like Bob Dylan. It’s an album to not only look inward to, but something to use to augment the beauty of nature and every day events. A peaceful album that helps you get through life a bit easier, just like a good old boy would.
Moderat – III – Mute
Electronica group Moderat is the combination of German electronic acts Apparat and Modeselektor. I actually prefer them in this form rather than as separate acts – they complement eachother quite well. I guess they understand that as well, considering this is the third album they’ve done together. It’s moody and bombastic in the same breath, instrumentals violently blossoming during choruses, but retracting back on the verses. The balance between the two moods is held well, which is one of the reasons why Moderat has me coming back for a third time. I know I can trust them with making some dynamic, nuanced electronica time and time again.
SALES – SALES LP – self-released
The lovable Florida duo SALES’ debut album is one that accurately encapsulates their current state of being; an honest to goodness bedroom pop group.The songs here are very simple and they succeed by not trying too hard. The band uses what they have and they do it well, making them approachable and romantic-sounding. The flashiest thing on the album is probably the last track, where both members give shout outs to their fans and their moms over a cool, laid back beat. It will be interesting to see how their sound develops once a label inevitably scoops them up.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Atlantic
Not sure I would have ever thought a country album would be one of my favorites of the year, but here we are with Sturgill Simpson’s fantastic new album. I was a fan of his last, more straightforward album, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, but this one raises the bar so high with lush, extravagant instrumentals and passionate vocal performances shining strong on every single track. Vibrant horns and strings accompany the soulful band made up of Sharon Jones’ Dap Kings make the album not ultra-orthodox country, but something new, exciting and extremely pleasurable to listen to.
Tim Hecker – Love Streams – 4AD
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Mr. Tim Hecker is very good at his job. What’s his job? To create real nice ambient electronic tracks that make me feel all hollow inside. Hecker earns a full paycheck yet again on Love Streams. Utilizing a live choir, Hecker mutilates voices and tones to create billowing specters of sound, contracting and expanding at the brush of a stray current. At times it feels like it lacks purpose, but that’s sometimes my favorite part of ambient music. It’s an expansive soundscape for the listener to explore and make their own narrative. What story will be formed out of each consecutive listen? This album leaves plenty of room for imagination, which is why Mr. Hecker once again succeeds at his job.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:
- Ash Koosha – I AKA I : One of my most-anticipated releases of this year coming into 2016. Glitchy, distorted beats but lacks consistency and hair-raising moments like his last project.
- Babyfather – BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow : Another project from enigma Dean Blunt. Deep, woozy, harsh and an interesting critique on political matters.
- Brian Eno – The Ship : We’re getting a ton of different Enos here. Spoken word Eno, ambient Eno, electronic Eno, pop Eno… lots of different Enos. Reminds me of the Akira soundtrack at points.
- Cate Le Bon – Crab Day : Welsh puzzle-piece pop on Drag City is spindly and feels like a slightly melted dream of a fairy tale.
- Charles Bradley – Changes : Old soul dude tugs at your heart strings while also getting ya moving. There’s also a fantastic Black Sabbath cover on here.
- Colin Stetson – Sorrow – A Reimagining Of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony : A post rock cover of Polish composer Gorecki’s third symphony. Wish it had more Stetson sax on it, but I’ll live.
- The Field – The Follower : Minimal, loop-based techno, atmospheric in parts and more grooving in others. Not anywhere close to my favorite from them.
- Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp : Excellent, jangly indie pop. Really big sounding, which is cool. I can see them getting picked up by a big indie label.
- King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity : Garage rock album builds upon one long groove that acts as an endless loop. Pretty impressive album, but gets a little stale after a while.
- Leon Vynehall – Rojus : Ecstatic, glistening house music. Tons of great, danceable grooves and enough variation to keep it interesting.