Ok February was real nice, real good. I really liked February. It’s always good when it’s hard narrowing things down to just 20 records for the month. From November 2016 to January 2017, it was a struggle to find even 10. But as usual, the first ten are my top favs of the month and the second ten are still good and worth listening to. Everything is listed alphabetically, but Hand Habits was my favorite from the month. Jens Lekman was probably my second-favorite. I hope you find something you love or achieve gratification for liking the same things I like (if you’re into that).
Chris Eldridge & Julian Lage – Mount Royal [Free Dirt Records]
Two guitar boys duke it out in a battle of epic proportions. Just kidding, but only about the battle of epic proportions. These are definitely guitar boys, but it’s more of a enjoyable jaunt through a national park rather than a battle. Mount Royal is a sweet little collection of mostly instrumental acoustic guitar tunes from two masters of the craft. Both come from a jazzy bluegrass background and that’s pretty much what you get here. It’s not often I sit down with a pure, traditional folk record since they come across my radar so infrequently, so I’m really glad this one came along. Oh yeah and Chris Eldridge is a member of Punch Brothers, if that gets your GOAT motor running.
Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) [Woodsist]
Did you know that there’s a book of self-care instructional exercises in this dang Hand Habits record? Well, there isn’t really, but it’s so luscious and mellow that it almost feels like participating in self-care rituals from simply listening. Running a bath, going to the beach alone on a cloudy day, reading by lamplight, writing a letter to a friend, listening to a record (woah, meta), watering plants, sunbathing, crossing things of an easy to-do list… whatever makes one feel at ease. These feelings have been expertly distilled by Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy into a dreamy syrup that feels just plain good to wrap yourself up in. The songs are slow and deliberate, with many swirling layers of guitar creating a comfy nest to roost in. Speaking of the guitar work; it’s great and comes in many different forms. Duffy is a guitar wizard. Guitar here functions as a pleasant friend, a passionate driving force or a free-flowing force of nature. Natural is a great word to apply to this record as well. It just feels right and real. In 2017, the year of never-ending pain, experiencing something this natural helps alleviate the sorrow in everything for a good fifty minutes. It’s my favorite record of the year so far [as of March 3, 2017] and I’m very happy it exists right now.
Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]
On Life Will See You Now, Jens Lekman continues the trend of Swedish musicians making some of the happiest, deeply striking pop music in the world. In this case it’s unabashedly bright and borders on extreme cheese, pulling up mental associations of the lamest cruise ship house band in the world, but once you start really listening to the lyrics and pairing them with the blindingly carefree instrumentals, you’ll realize Lekman’s genius. Steel drum and handclaps soundtrack a song about being haunted by smells associated with an ex (“What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”). A chipper beat with a vocal choir soundtracks a song about a guy carrying around a 3D printed copy of a tumor he had previously (“Evening Prayer”). The concept of falling in love is always paired with the absolute end of the world, as in like, planets colliding with each other and destroying everything. It’s just like, you can’t not smile to some of these songs. It’s not often that you can let your guard down these days, but with something this sincerely cheesy and witty and lovable, it’s hard not to. Imagine it as a tropical island getaway with a miserable, yet poetic Swede.
Jonwayne – Rap Album Two [Authors Recording Company]
Jonwayne doesn’t make any grand statements or pick any needless fights, he just wants to make a record that’s mad dope. With plenty of J Dilla worship, interesting electronic experimentation and masterful wordplay, Jonwayne’s return to the hip hop world with stories of battling addiction makes for a mad dope record. This dude is a regular guy just like the rest of us and is able to touch on some real world issues in a way that’s relatable and witty. It’s very easy to get immersed in the tragic universe of his from the past few years. Just some great rapping over classic beats. Can’t get much better than that.
Lowly – Heba [Bella Union]
Looking for some slower-tempo synth pop record a la Beach House that actually offers up some separations from all the other Beach House clones? Look no further than Lowly and their debut album Heba, a record that consistently provides small, yet effective twists on a familiar formula to excellent results. They get things started off on a great note with opener “Still Life” by making an already epic, cascading chorus bigger with garbled Boards Of Canada/early m83-esque computer speak and echoing classical voice. Or on “No Hands,” the muted morse code fluttering between woozy synthesizers enhances the spacey ambiance already set by the other instrumentals. Not to mention a bunch of really innovative guitar and synth work on here as well, it ain’t just gimmicks pushing things along. These little details add up, helping a relatively young band stand out amongst a bunch of other pop groups.
Mega Bog – Happy Together [Nicey Music]
Mega Bog’s Happy Together doesn’t really fit into any one musical category; it evades all pigeonholing by expanding and contorting itself with whatever whim leader Erin Birgy sees fit. Have it be with irritating a buzzing hive of saxophone on “Diznee,” or weaving a complicated maze of mantra and guitar in “Marianne,” or casting some sort of reality-melting spell in “Black Rose,” Happy Together maintains a constant presence but keeps listeners on their toes. It’s like the most entertaining fever dream. A bizarre fairy tale in a jazz universe. I don’t want to go into the Alice In Wonderland cliche, but it’s something like that.
Mozart’s Sister – Field Of Love [Arbutus Records]
Now this is pop music. Mozart’s Sister’s Field Of Love is pop music that’s fun, bouncy, bubbly and instantly gets stuck in your head. I’ve had plenty of these songs stuck in my head all week and I’m not too mad about it. At first glance it reminds me of PC Music’s hyperspeed bubblegum approach, but with a bit more tact. Sure, there’s so much sound all happening at once, but there a bit more silence and balance than a PC Music record. Also “Who Are You” reminds me of Kelela’s “Rewind.” “Eternally Girl” is essentially a perfect pop song. “Baroque Baby” has a great synthesizer that Dntel uses often. There are a lot of things I like about this thing. I hope it lasts throughout the year.
Sampha – Process [Young Turks]
Finally, finally the 2010’s favorite guest vocalist strikes out on his own for a debut album and thank goodness it’s actually quite good. We all know he’s a great singer, but can he stand out enough on his own? The fear with usual guest vocalists is that they would overstay their welcome on their own album, but that doesn’t happen here. Instead Sampha mixes the sound up enough between the tracks and serves up a nicely varied, yet still consistent and satisfying listening experience. The heart-tuggers are here in “…Like The Piano” and “Take Me Inside,” the immediate, poppier hits like “Under” and “Blood On Me” are present, and the electronic-focused “Kora Sings” and “Reverse Faults” shine bright. Like I said earlier: this is a well-rounded, consistent and satisfying listen that you’ll undoubtedly find something about it to like. Even my mom likes it.
Thundercat – Drunk [Brainfeeder]
The string of albums from February that not only sound amazing but also function as a salve against 2017’s bullshit continues with Drunk, a super psychedelic, goofy, mind-bending cosmic journey through a night of drug-infused tomfoolery. Known for funky bass work in his collaborations with Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, Herbie Hancock & other Brainfeeder affiliates, Thundercat’s skill is pretty unparalleled in the scene. He brings this insane talent and pairs it with some of the silliest lyrics I’ve ever heard, talking about playing Diablo and Mortal Kombat, brushing your teeth, “LOL JK,” and other things I can’t remember right now. It’s goofy, but, it feels good to buy into this weirdo universe for a bit and forget about the weirdo universe we’re currently living in. Or maybe they’re the same, just different vantage points… Hmm, now this is getting interesting.
Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage [RVNG Intl.]
Super brainy, formless new age ambient tracks go ham all over my subconscious on this one, baby. It turns your brain into some sort of futuristic computer, with lights blinking and programs opening and closing in no certain order, each with their own unique jingle. Reality bends and fades along with the music, blending in subtle winds and percussion with the electronic synthesis. It reminds me a bit of Emeralds’ Does It Look Like I’m Here, where I compared it to “what android dreams sound like.” The same scenario applies here, but it seems like every new sound yields a massive sensory stimulus, like the android is discovering how the world works. I have no idea what I’m talking about, if you couldn’t tell. This thing’s brainy and way smarter than me. But I like to call it my friend because it makes me look cool. How’s that for accepting our new android overlords?
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES::
- Bing & Ruth – No Home Of The Mind : Pleasant and soothing piano-based ambient music. Good for working & relaxing to, but there are rewards to be gained through active listening as well.
- Communions – Blue : Strokesian rock that has all the ingredients to make a really catchy and fun record, but something I haven’t been able to pin down is holding it back the whole time. Still a fun rock n roll time with a lot of killer hooks and cool ideas.
- Half Waif – form/a : Hypnotic and immersive synth pop. Another great addition to Cascine’s killer collection. Proving to be one of the most consistently good labels out there with this one.
- Kingdom – Tears In The Club : Fade To Mind producer tones obtuse characteristics down a bit to make some pretty accessible, albeit a bit spooky, club music.
- King Woman – Created In The Image Of Suffering : One of my most anticipated albums of 2017 fell a bit flat – still a very good doom metal record with unique female vocals. Absolutely crushing in some moments. Definitely check out their 2015 EP.
- Molly Burch – Please Be Mine : Wistful, reverb-drenched retro pop with many similarities to Angel Olsen at the beginning, but distances itself apart as the album progresses. Music for swaying in the kitchen. That’s what I did to this. Swayed in my kitchen.
- Peter Silberman – Impermanence : The Antlers frontguy makes some emotionally and musically bare tunes of just his voice & guitar. I honestly like it more when it’s just guitar.
- Sevendeaths – Remote Sympathy : Beatless experimental electronic music. Parts of it remind of modern classical music. Harsh textures, a dense listening experience.
- Vagabon – Infinite Worlds : Probably gonna get signed by a Beggars Group or Secretly Group label after this one. Very Hop Along + Cat Power-esque indie rock.
- Xiu Xiu – FORGET : Loud noise slithering boys in Xiu Xiu made another lurching, unsettling record that’s still really pleasant to look at. You feel me?