Living legends, comeback stories, shimmery dream pop, good old Americana and rising pop stars. This week we’ve got a little bit of everything in store for you.
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
If you know anything about me, you probably realize that I’m a fan of Damon Albarn. During my sets on Turntable.fm in Indie While You Work, I’d often sneakily play four Damon Albarn songs without sounding repetitious. Luckily, I could do this with Damon Albarn as each of his projects has a unique sound. That is, one can tell the difference between a song from Blur, Rocket Juice and The Moon, Gorillaz, and The Good, The Bad, & The Queen. The same can be said of Damon’s first “official” solo album – Everyday Robots. Everyday Robots is a somewhat strange album as it is an album of contrasts. For the most part, the underlying melodic theme throughout the album is consistent, though a contrast within itself: a mixture of the old and the new. Tracks like “Everyday Robots” and “Lonely Press Play” are especially characteristic of this. In both tracks you get a somewhat sad, yet cautiously optimistic minor-chord piano progression accompanied by an electronic drum machine track. On most tracks, you’ll hear the raw analog feeling associated with instruments that need to be transitioned into the digital – whether it be a piano, brass, or string instrument. However, the percussions are almost exclusively digital.
Lyrically, Damon conveys his subjective philosophical opinion on several tracks. Of course, the track “Everyday Robots” expresses this with verses like “We’re everyday robots in control/In the process of being sold,” however “Heavy Seas of Love” conveys this impression too. This particularly optimistic track is deceiving in it’s blatant positive vision of our future. With lyrics like “When the world is too tall/You can jump you won’t fall/You’re in safe hands/What the day will now give/How those seeds will now live/It’s in your hands,” you may initially feel like everything is going to be alright until you realize that everything IS in your hands. All of the Heavy Seas. The Seas that make up 3/4 of the Earth’s surface. That’s on you buddy. It’s off-putting. On the other end of the spectrum is “Mr. Tembo” – a story about an orphan elephant Damon encountered in Tanzania. It’s lyrics are more grounded, more objective: “Mr. Tembo is on his way up the hill” “Just like the TV in Mr. Tembo’s room” and “The 264 is gulf, bungalow, styles, canals, cows, haybells/Telegraph wires, pylon power/Farmhouse over chimneys still used/Stone, satellites, football, pictures, favorite flags, and lots of dogs/Neon cross on top of a block of slates on a church, not as usual.”
Lastly, this album is both brief and enduring. Two tracks clock in at a minute or less. These short snippets don’t necessary represent a transition in the album. They are more like amuse-bouches – a nice little delicious surprise thrown in by the artist. Contrastingly, “You & Me’ takes up around 15% of the entire album’s run time and really feels like the center holding two opposite ends of Everyday Robots together.
All in all, Everyday Robots is an album of contrasts. Combining the old and the new -the subjective and the objetive – the brief and the verbose. For only having a 46-minute runtime, this album is incredibly dense. It represents a culmination of Damon’s various experiences and if his life is as rich as this album – I’m insanely jealous. -Christopher
Hollow & Akimbo – Hollow & Akimbo
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Mich., Jon Visger and Brian Konicek deliver an infectious blend of indie pop sensibility, tight rock-inspired rhythms, and electronic injections. The duo delivers a solid debut LP that draws from a wealth of influences. It kept me plugged in from start to finish. During a week of several quality new releases, I still find myself coming back to this album. Give it a spin. I think you will enjoy it. -Jeremy
The Hussy – Pagan Hiss
I’ve been revisiting a lot of stuff before going to shows lately. Local hyphenated-punk duo The Hussy just joined up with The Faint for a few dates, so I saw them open for that show not all that long after seeing them play a bar a few weeks prior. Their record from last year is full of catchy riffs and I just found myself listening to it a bunch of times in the last couple weeks. -Andrew
Jamie XX – “Girl” b/w “Sleep Sound”
Jamie XX will release his first solo work since “Far Nearer” (2011) on Young Turks next week. The bad news is, it’s only two tracks. The good news is, those two tracks are awesome. Jamie evolved and experimented, and much like Burial, got to a softer and lighter sound. The vocals on the A-side somehow remind me of Euro chart hits from the Eighties, but the real star is the ascending and descending bassline. The B-side builds slower and eventually turns out to be something like a Beach Boys garage track, if that were a thing. All in all, something for fun days on the beach this summer. -Henje
John Newman – Tribute
Certain things are inevitable. One can basically write it in stone that on an annual basis an impossibly young pop star will emerge from the island of Great Britain and take over the UK charts with a soulful voice beyond his or her years. Frequently, that artist will rightfully gain a following across the Atlantic as well. Adele, Craig David, Amy Winehouse, and now, Sam Smith. And yet for every British crooner who makes it to the Billboard Hot 100, there are others who don’t quite make the transatlantic jump. 22-year old John Newman released his debut album in the UK last year and has enjoyed immense success in the British charts with an appearance at #1 on the singles and album charts. Like Sam Smith, Newman capitalized on an appearance on a wildly successful British dance act’s album (Rudimental’s “Feel The Love” went to #1 in 2012). Unlike Smith, however, Newman hasn’t seen as much success on this side of the pond.
Undeservedly so. When Tribute finally saw US release in January 2014, it arrived with little in the way of press. Many of the biggest US media outlets didn’t even offer a review, and it went largely unremarked-upon in independent music blogs as well. But like Smith’s output thus far, Tribute is a showcase for a tremendous vocal presence. Featuring orchestral arrangements, elements of the UK garage scene, and pure R&B aesthetics, Newman delivers a mature and remarkably cohesive album. Those eagerly awaiting Smith’s first full-length LP later this summer could do far worse than to spend time with Newman in the interim. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll be the next Brit to arrive stateside. -Jeff
Linda Perhacs – The Sound of All Natural Things
I saw this album was getting a lot of buzz lately, and picked it up on a whim on vinyl last week at a record store going out of business sale. Rarely do I buy an album without previewing it first, but really, $11 is not gonna break me, and I’m glad I took the plunge on this one.
Astoundingly, this is only Perhacs’ second album — the first coming out 44 years ago. You can read about her roundabout music career elsewhere, and it’s a nice comeback story for the 70 year old dental hygienist.
There’s a shimmering, mystical beauty to Perhacs’ music that makes it sound simultaneously from the past and the present. I’m finding this album to be a good way to ease into the morning complete with a mug of coffee. If you’re a fan of Julia Holter, Devendra Banhart, or Beck’s latest release, you should check out this gem. -Qbertplaya
Phil Cook – This Side Up
Listening to Rocky’s pick this week made me yearn for some more of that William Tyler sound. I stumbled upon Phil Cook’s EP from last year – This Side Up. It’s a Ramble Jamble ride that recalls some of his early work with Megafaun, but captures some of the beauty they put forth when they play stuff like this live. Repetitive chords and tones of acoustic beauty take you on 4 separate trips that all wind you down the same path. A great listen when the new William Tyler proves to be too “Rock and Roll” for ya! -Chris
William Tyler – Lost Colony EP
William Tyler’s Impossible Truth was in my Top 5 of 2013. It was his second solo album and a solidly crafted jewel steeped in modern Americana. With his new EP titled Lost Colony, Tyler has brought in a backing band to further develop his raga-tinged brilliance. I am excited to see where this project goes. I hope it leads to me standing in front of a live performance. Get hype. -Rocky
Woman’s Hour – “Her Ghost”
This week I wasn’t really in the mood to listen to full albums. Instead I wanted to listen to single songs by as many artists as possible. I have heard some really fantastic stuff and I started making a playlist of my favourites for May. It already has about 70 songs on it and since my monthly playlists usually only have about 25 songs on them, this is either a sign that I hit the jackpot and found a lot of really great music, or I’m not being picky enough.
One of the artists that stood out for me was a London four piece band called Woman’s Hour. Their sound could probably best be described as atmospheric, minimalistic, dream pop with memorable melodies and soaring vocals. So far they have only released a series of singles, but their debut album Conversations will be out on July 15th.
They have made a few videos for their songs that are simple and wonderful. I think watching them is a good way to experience their music so I made a playlist on YouTube with all of their songs that I could find. My favourite is the first one, “Her Ghost”. The video for their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” is also not to be missed. -Christine