music mondays: what’s coming in 2014

I started writing a post about Columbus band Old Hundred, but decided to stop midway and wait until they release their new album. That decision inspired this post about albums coming in 2014!

Locals:

Old Hundred is releasing a new record that I am eagerly anticipating. A music monday post will be dedicated to them once the album is available for listening.

Maria Levitov is a Columbus singer-songwriter whose music I was just introduced to. She has an album release show this Thursday, for $5, or free if you preordered the album. Check out this video for her single “Brother”:

Allyse Huey, who I’ve written about before, is releasing her first EP this June. (Now you have to release it in June, Allyse, LOL.)

Nationals:

There’s so much hip hop coming out this year: Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and of course, the HIGHLY ANTICIPATED NEW ALBUM FROM OUTKAST.

Frank Ocean is picking the mic back up to deliver a follow-up to 2012’s Channel Orange. If I were Frank Ocean, I think it’d be really easy and tempting to leave Channel Orange as my one studio album and let my solo career be remembered for that. Glad he wants to keep pursuing his solo career.

Grimes is releasing her fourth album this year. I know that Grimes is not for everyone, but I’m a fan. I’m excited to see what kind of stuff she’s doing now. I recently learned that Grimes is a Dolly Parton fan, which surprised me, but makes me like her even more. In case you forgot what Grimes is about:

Robyn. Fun fact about Robyn. For my 5th grade music class talent show, I sang along to Robyn’s “Show Me Love”. Which means that I was too chicken to just sing by myself (because I can’t actually sing) but Robyn will always hold a special place in my heart. Looking forward to some more solid pop music from her.

Solange is putting out her third album some time this year. She moved to New Orleans in 2013 for her music (as she said), so I’m hoping there will be some good jazz and blues elements in her new stuff. Her video for “Losing You” remains one of my favorites.

Nickel Creek. Rumors have been circulating that Nickel Creek reunited to make another album, due out this spring. Nickel Creek was the first bluegrass/folk band that I fell in love with, so I hope the rumors are true.

Looks like 2014 might just be able to follow up the great year in music that was 2013.

Update:

I forgot to add Lost in the Trees. LITT’s third full album comes out next month, and I’m pretty interested by the changes they’ve made. This album doesn’t have the heavy strings presence that has been a major element in LITT’s sound, not to mention one of my favorite parts of this band. Like others, they are moving to a more electronic sound with this new album. For a sneak peak, check out this episode of All Songs Considered from a couple weeks ago, which features one of the new tracks.

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the undocumented favorite albums of 2013

Better late than never, right?

Everyone has already put out their Best of 2013 lists, and while I’m not doing that exactly, I did want to mention a few albums that I didn’t write about in 2013.

In no particular order:

London Grammar – If You Wait 

The synth-pop extraordinaires. I was a little late to this album, but am totally in love with it. I unashamedly love pop music, but top forty pop is so lacking lately, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, “Wrecking Ball” is actually a really good pop song, but because the video is now seared into my brain, I just can’t vibe with it. Anyway, for the past few years I’ve found myself moving further toward the synth end of pop. London Grammar is a British trio made of Hannah Reid, Dot Major, and Dan Rothman. If we lived in England we could call them a trip hop group, but sadly we don’t and I don’t think anyone in America uses that term.

London Grammar creates this powerful ambient sound that grows incredibly with Hannah Reid’s raspy, brooding voice. The biggest thing this album has for me is balance. It has the slow build and quietness of the xx, but the strength and complexity of Reid’s voice lifts the whole album to another level. A few favorite tracks (though I love the whole album):

  • “Strong” showcases LG’s balancing act, especially as the lyrics mention the tensions of being caught in the middle.
  • Sights” is a perfect soundtrack for winter as Reid sings, “keeping your strength when it gets dark at night”.
  • “Wasting My Young Years” is the kind of song where you go, Damn, I’m glad no one wrote this about me.
  • “Metal and Dust” does a great job exhibiting this group’s instrumentation.

And finally, Hannah Reid crushing this cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone 

The country soulstress. I realize this isn’t a country album, strictly speaking, but it’s pretty country for me. That said, I am a big Valerie June fan. There are some parts where the album gets too country for me (“Tennessee Time”) but overall I really enjoy the whole thing. Dan Auerbach co-produced the record and co-wrote some of the songs. (Sidebar: are The Black Keys over? I wouldn’t mind if Dan Auerbach just keeps producing solid records.)

Valerie June does a great job at blending many genres: blues, folk, jazz, rock, it’s all in there. And it works. It’s gonna be hard to choose only a few tracks to highlight, but here we go:

  • “Workin’ Woman Blues” is the opening track and one of my favorites. It might be because June’s lyrics feel familiar (as a working woman), but it could also just be that I fucking love when those horns come in. (Sorry for swearing. Watching Weeds and The Wire simultaneously makes me feel like a badass combination drug dealer/gangster/self destructive cop who says fuck a lot.) The music video is kinda lame, in my opinion, but don’t fault the song.
  • “Somebody To Love” is a beautiful song to break your heart.
  • “You Can’t Be Told” shows off June’s gritty, deep-down-in-your-soul sound.
  • “Pushin’ Against A Stone” is the title track, and opens with this in-your-face guitar reverb.
  • “Shotgun” is a haunting ballad that features June slaying on slide guitar. That live version isn’t great quality, but I think it’s worth seeing her perform this one.

In the year of Yeezus, I say this album has real swagger.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

The indie rock band has proven its worth. Not only did I have fun listening to this album, I was impressed by it. Ezra Koenig showed us he could write lyrics with depth that were littered with spiritual questions. Plus he wrote that hilarious review of Drake. Some favorites:

  • “Everlasting Arms” – This song is deceptive. It’s packaged in upbeat, poppy sounds, but the subject matter is a serious consideration of serving a master (God) and that master’s benevolence. The chorus, “Hold me in your everlasting arms” is a pretty obvious play on the hymn “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”. Then there’s the line, “I hummed the Dies Irae as you played the Hallelujah”. The Dies Irae is a centuries old hymn about Judgment Day. Make of that what you will.
  • “Finger Back” is sort of a throwback track to me; it has that old VW sound a la “A-Punk”. And yet it still features the new contemplative Ezra Koenig as he recounts a story of an Orthodox girl who falls in love with a falafel shop employee, who we assume is not Orthodox. The Internet will suggest the employee is of Arab descent, and this song is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (because, you know, the first two stanzas are obviously about torture and fighting) buuuuuut I’m not signing my name on that yet.

Overall, really enjoyed this album and applaud this band’s growth.

Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

I was playing this album at my Halloween party and some of my friends were all, “This is weird, what is this.” So I was all, “IT’S JANELLE MONÁE, AND IT IS WEIRD AND AWESOME.” Janelle Monáe is a post-modern pop, R&B, soul sensation. My favorite track:

  • “Dance Apocalyptic” is a great example of why Monáe succeeds at being both weird and awesome. I often lament the fact that I live in a time when dancing = grinding and dance music = badly remixed pop songs. Even though the tempo is fast when compared to Motown, “Dance Apocalyptic” brings a Motown feel to the 21st Century, especially when Monáe sings, “Smash smash, bang bang / Don’t stop / Chalangalangalang”. The album version doesn’t have the apocalypse news break that the video features, but there’s an extra dose of weird for you.

My one complaint about this album is the interludes. Never been a big fan of them, and this album is already pretty long without adding three interludes. But overall, what a fun album.

Here’s hoping 2014 can be an even better year in music.