05) Frightened Rabbit- Pedestrian Verse
Sample Track: The Woodpile
Scott Hutchison, Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer, has been churning out his heartbreak wrapped in four minute rock songs for three albums, continuously mining his personal life for his art. On this years Pedestrian Verse, Hutchinson looks to the world for his inspiration with thrilling results. Keen observations on lifes smaller tragedies and beauties— social interactions, questioning religion, self-loathing introspection — are paired with some of the bands most playful and energetic music. Sparse when the narrator wants to hide, lush and driving when the narrator is most anxious, the relationship between lyrics and instruments is top notch. Grant Hutchison’s (Scott’s brother) drums have always been a powerful force in their music, but on Pedestrian Verse, the reverb-laden guitar steals the show, sneaking in syrupy riffs at precisely the right moments. Yet back to Pedestrain Verse’s beating heart: those observations. Hutchison’s lyrics paint characters that are painfully human, not giving a damn how ugly or desperate they seem, which makes us love them even more. Pedestrian Verse perfects the juxtaposition of energetic, soar to the heavens, rock music with lyrics that ground you right in the here and now of humanity.
04) Burial- Truant/Rival Dealer EPS
Sample Track: Come Down To Us
It takes a special artist for me to love them to unconditionally, so devotedly that the second I hear about a new release I immediately pre-order it from wherever it can be found. Burial is one of these artists. Burial has always lived in the corners of dark alleyways, honing his original idea of dubstep, using his tinny, jungle beats under twisted, melancholic vocals. His music was emotional dance music for electronic music cynics. In a stunning left-turn, Truant and Rival Dealer are the boldest and most earnest songs he has created thus far. Burial has infused his music a very warm heart. Each song transports you to its specific domain, welcoming you and nourishing you for the long night ahead or offering you a place to escape from the dampeners of our world. There is some traditional Burial to be found (skittering snares and ocean-deep bass) but we also are treated to a piano ballad, a lovely chorus of bells, crashing drums and cascading synthesizers. Burial has always been somewhat of, well, a genius and he sounds like the most fun he has had with his music yet. With Truant and Rival Dealer, Burial not only has outdone himself musically, he opened up his arms for a embarrassingly affectionate hug we never saw coming.
03) Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Sample Track: Hannah Hunt
Vampire Weekend, somehow, have captured the essence of what it is to be a millennial (whatever the hell that means) since their inception. The Columbia boys have made a name for themselves with whip-smart, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and interesting, if not always pleasurable, instrumentation. The music seemed second to the overall image they projected: an insufferably hip band that sound-tracked Williamsburg in addition to countless art-student’s lives. Modern Vampires of the City changes all of that. For starters, singer Ezra Koenig is pushing his voice farther than ever before, singing along to rather lovely melodies, while the band, helmed by multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, ditches most of their world music influences and creates a sonic palette distinctly their own; in short, these songs have the muscle needed to earn them a headline ticket at the Barclays Center. More importantly than the new-found musicianship, however, is what’s being said; Vampires of the City has lyrical content to match its grown-up music. There is not one song about the luxury life of breezy, summer days in the Northeast to be found. Rather, the album deals with two main questions: what am I doing with my life and who (truly) cares if I find out? Everyone, be it a 20-something millennial or a successful businessman halted by a mid-life crisis, asks these questions, aloud or to themselves, making Modern Vampires of the City an album everyone can relate to and, likely, cherish.
02) Autre Ne Veut- Anxiety
Sample Track: Play By Play
After a year since hearing his debut single “Counting,” I can safely say nothing else right now sounds like Autre Ne Veut. Arthur Ashin, the man behind the moniker Autre Ne Veut, doesn’t ever really sing, rather he bleats, reaches, moans and wails his way through Anxiety’s ten tracks. The production is a fusion of over-the-top RnB rhythm’s with New Age flourishes, which may sound sappy and corny yet compliment Ashin’s vocals perfectly. Everything about this album begs you to crank it to ten and sing along, yet you may find you want to sing these songs alone. Ashin’s songs are wracked with worry about death, unanswered phone calls and finding love; singing along may become a deeper experience than you intended. That said, Autre Ne Veut’s biggest strength isn’t’t his voice or production— it’s his earnestness, his willingness to share. Anxiety is an album where Arthur Ashin holds nothing back from us,: he wears his wants, desires and flaws for all to see. When an artist is willing to go to such an emotionally vulnerable, naked place it’s a rare privilege to be able to listen. Treat yourself.
01) Arcade Fire- Reflektor
Sample Track: Afterlife
Tracking Arcade Fire’s history, we find many interesting dichotomies. Their classic debut, Funeral remains one of indie rock’s untouchable Holy Grails, yet it didn’t break the mainstream. Neon Bible, their darker, sexier yet flatter second album, then started the rise to the top, giving them an appearance on SNL and their first shot at big awards (namely the Canadian Polaris Music Prize). Finally, 2010 saw their mainstream take-over with career-low The Suburbs, a bloated double album with some absolute stunners, yet dragged heavily down by a ton of fat. It seemed like everyone just wanted to like Arcade Fire, rooting for them on the basis their obvious talent but their products weren’t living up to their potential. This year, we are blessed with Reflektor, the album, at least for me, that leaves all their other work in the dust.
Arcade Fire’s lyrical themes remain present, songs about solidarity, fighting against the laziness of night and normal people are aplenty. More interestingly, they find exciting new topics rooted in history, detailing their own versions of Joan of Arc and the Orpheus and Eurydice myth to magnificent result. More importantly, Arcade Fire has increased its musical vision to widescreen, finally letting their music breathe, evolve and excite. With James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem,) steering them, Arcade Fire are able to luxuriate in the concept that more is more. Their giant line-up finally seems to serve a purpose, the songs are filled with many different instruments and none of them seem like fat, likely due to a larger influence of different genres. Usually confined to folk, classical and rock music, Arcade Fire looked to the Caribbean (where member Regine Chassange’s parents were born) to incorporate dub, reggae and other Latin American music into their tunes.
I’ve heard many fans not liking this album as much as their others. I plead, for your own enjoyment, GIVE IT TIME. I wasn’t that impressed with “Reflektor” as a single, yet in the context of the album, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s a grower, but given time, its beauties truly shine. Arcade Fire finally have their ornate, stunning crown to proclaim to all that they are the true kings and queens of indie rock deserved. Hail, Reflektor.