The album is not endangered, but it certainly hasn’t been as interesting to me as EPs this year. That’s not because people aren’t making good albums, but because people have been seriously upping their EP game. Still, there are a bunch of great albums that came out this year that rightly deserve praise.
10. Talker – Dear Blanca. Frantic alt-country with unusual instrumentation (saxophone!) and influences.
9. Third Generation Hymnal – Venna. Passionate, female-led modern folk that balances earnest performances and high-quality songwriting deftly.
8. Forty Bells – Brave Baby. This is what indie-rock sounds like in 2013: chiming guitars, pushing rhythms, yawping vocals, and a great sense of atmosphere to cap it all off.
7. Ripely Pine – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. In the best debut of the year, Aly Spaltro has crafts whole worlds in her songs. Her winding, unexpected, sensational arrangements are matched with her powerful, even shocking voice. Incredibly unique, incredibly strong.
6. Wolf Eggs – The Parmesans. Three guys in a room playing easygoing, charming bluegrass/folk. All the trapping you’d expect in bluegrass are here (harmonies, solos, riffing, goofy asides), and they bring poignant, romantic lyricism to the tunes as well.
5. The Weatherman – Gregory Alan Isakov. Gentleness that doesn’t fade away into blandness is rare, and Isakov has crafted a wonder of a quiet album here. These songs just make me smile.
3. Everything All at Once – Jonny Rodgers. Jonny Rodgers uses the ethereal tones of tuned wine glasses as the basis of his indie-pop sound, but the rest of the arrangements and Rodgers’ high, soaring voice complete the beautiful sound. I’ve not heard anything like this before. Throw in intimate, personal lyrics and you’ve got an impressive work.
2. The Beast in Its Tracks – Josh Ritter. Ritter is a master lyricist, and he turns his pen to the fine details of his divorce. But instead of weeping, he celebrates what life comes thereafter. It’s a rare look inside the life of an artist from an unusual perspective. The fact that he’s one of the best folk songwriters working today helps: the songs here are light but not insubstantial, upbeat but not flippant, and romantic without being maudlin. This is Ritter’s first must-own work since the amazing The Animal Years.
1. Chronographic – Filbert. As a reviewer, I have set expectations of genres. Filbert blew up my frameworks for folk, singer/songwriter, indie-pop, and hip-hop, which resulted in a breathless review that I still fully believe. “Modest Mouse + Jeffrey Lewis + backpack rap + Bon Iver = Filbert” is a reductive way to say it, but it’s still true. This was easily the most inventive album of the year.
And now, for the Run Hundred Top 10 songs of the month! –Stephen Carradini
This month’s top 10 is dominated by duos. There are two songs by M83 and Imagine Dragons that have been out awhile but are just now getting their due from gym-goers. There are a couple tracks by Capital Cities and Bruno Mars that cracked the top 10 already and are re-entering in remixed form. Lastly, there’s a pair of dueling singles from Lady GaGa and Katy Perry’s forthcoming albums.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn
James Younger’s video for “Monday Morning” is a tribute to VHS culture in the ’80s and early ’90s. As a kid who grew up in that era, I am all about this, from the goofy subtitles to the white noise that intermittently drops in, to the overall fuzz of the video. Thank you, James Younger.
While we’re on the topic of media cultures, here’s a video from The Gorgeous Hands about cell phone culture. It’s less a tribute and more a critique of said culture, but it’s still pretty fun. Also, “Generator” the song is pretty awesome if you’re into Spoon but have approximately twice as much give-a-rip as Britt Daniel.
Wampire’s “Orchards” starts out as a piece about car culture and then becomes something, uh, completely different.
< And, rounding out our cultural journey, Post-Echo Records has commissioned a five-video project called "Passage," which celebrates the sort of culture that makes you think about what you're watching. Post-Echo, home to IC faves Pan and Dear Blanca, has my attention.
The saxophone is an oft-maligned instrument in indie rock that recently received some out-of-nowhere street cred by being the thing that Colin Stetson chose to blow minds with and the centerpiece of the masterful “Midnight City” by M83. But “Midnight City” only re-appropriates a past meaning of the saxophone: it’s hard to imagine that Anthony Gonzalez honestly believes in the smaltzy sound of the saxophone as much as he believes in turning that goofy sound into something revelatory through contrast with its surroundings. (Maybe he’s earnestly all up in it, I don’t know.) But using the saxophone for effect is vastly different than conceiving it as a whole part of your sound, which is what makes Dear Blanca‘s repeated use of the saxophone the most surprising and intriguing part of a very surprising and intriguing album.
First off, the genre of Talker can be described as Conor Oberst-esque alt-country hysterics, making this album an unusual place to deploy saxophones. Secondly, the level of saxophone integration into “Griping,” “No Protector,” and “King of Salters” strongly implies that the instrument was not a late addition, but an actual consideration in the songwriting process. It’s not just surprising that saxophone appears; it’s even more surprising that it’s awesome.
“Griping” is the best example of Dear Blanca’s work on the album. The tune opens up with a 20-second alt-country solo guitar riff before dropping into a groove with tight drums, distant saloon piano, and steady bass. It’s effectively a pensive Old ’97s song until 0:33, when saxophones come swooping in with a completely unexpected layer of atmosphere. They transform the song into something different: perched on the edges of what I know and expect, but putting a foot outside it as well. Dylan Dickerson’s passionate, ragged voice comes in and spins the mood in another direction again, creating an altogether unique listening experience for me. The breakdown in the middle of the song feels like a car speeding up inexorably towards a cliff, with the choppy drumming and staccato blasts of saxophones pressing Dickerson’s anguished wailing ever forward. Then the band stops abruptly and leans back to the pensive mood (except for the vocals). It’s one of the most engaging songs I’ve heard all year.
The rest of the album keeps up the unexpected directions. “Comrade” brings in a cello to contrast against Dickerson’s roaring voice, which works beautifully. “No Protector” might be the best pop song of the bunch, relying on great bass contributions, a strong saxophone bit, and a compelling vocal melody from Dickerson. It might also be “Havana Tonight,” which has a more folky arrangement (harmonica!) but amps up the vocal melody to “I’m singing along? When I did start singing along?” levels. “Hunny (Don’t Mind If I Tao)” closes out the album with a wiry, buzzy post-punk tune, which is a little out of character but enjoyable after a whole album of emotionally and sonically involving alt-country.
Dear Blanca’s Talker features clever arrangements of intriguing sounds and memorable melodies. If you’re a fan of bands that lay it all out on the line in vocal and instrumental performance, you should be all up in this. If you’re into restraint, well, you may look elsewhere. Oh, and if you love saxophone, this is your jam. I expect to be listening to Talker for a long time, and I look forward to what Dear Blanca will put out in the future.
February-April is Spring release season, and there’s always more than I can cover as a single man. However, I can mitigate this partially through mixtapes! Today I’ve got a folk/country one; tomorrow I have an indie-pop-rock one.
Alt Your Country Are Belong to Us
1. “You Don’t Know Better Than Me” – Luke Winslow-King. Easy-going folk/country vibe hits some New Orleans swing with gorgeous results.
2. “Beneath the Willow Tree” – The Lonesome Outfit. This yearning, gospel-inflected country tune features great vocals.
3. “Grandstanders” – Sunjacket. Carl Hauck is in a band? Of course it’s wonderful. Fans of Animal Collective and My Morning Jacket will enjoy this moody, rumbling, intricate tune.
4. “Ramona” – Night Beds. Everyone’s all up in Night Beds. They are totally right.
5. “Fall With You” – Mikaela Kahn. Snare shuffle, a beautiful voice and a strong mood: yup, you’ve sold me.
6. “Griping” – Dear Blanca. The horns and vocals in this song are absolutely excellent.
7. “Secret” – Time Travels. If there is clapping and singing in your song, I will cheer. This jaunty, indie-pop by way of alt-country tune makes me cheer.
8. “Junior Year” – Case Closed. A little bit country, a little bit pop-punk, a little bit The Format.