There wasn’t a ton of new music in January, but each week I had an album or two that I couldn’t put down and I listened to multiple times a day, at times. The first five albums below are all classics that are sure to appear fairly high on my year-end list that is…really far away! A lot of prolific stalwarts put out their best releases in a while, as well as a few newcomers.
Run The Jewels - Run the Jewels
If this had been released a couple weeks earlier, it probably would’ve beat out Danny Brown for the hip hop album of 2016. Now, I have to wait a whole year to remember how enthusiastic I am about this record. It’s so good! It’s exactly what you want out of these two! El-P’s beats are as ridiculous as ever, and I actually think he out-brags Mike on this one. All of that, along with amazing guest stars, and a few songs at the end that convey emotional meaning make for a great listen.
Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
I think about Pink Moon when I listen to this often, though it is as much that record’s opposite as it is its companion. It is fairly stark, short enough to be pithy, and obliquely confessional. However, it is an album of “Natural Blue” instead, about living life in the daylight with the same struggles that Drake experienced with his last release. Byrne’s voice and guitar work are as beautiful as any American folk singer. Her songwriting is a bit inconsistent for me: at times, I think she poetically describes something in a really unique way, and at other times, it feels like she’s cramming poetry into meter it doesn’t quite agree with. This quibble is a small one, though, and doesn’t make this anything less than a beautiful listen.
Ryan Adams - Prisoner
A really heavy-handed breakup album in one sense, but in another, a really great natural next point on Adams’ trajectory into songwriting legend. This is as good as his self titled and 1989 records of this decade and, if you’re looking for a really Ryan Adams-sounding album, this is definitely the place to look. There are a dozen really good earworms to be had here and more than a dozen listens for me already.
Priests - Nothing Feels Natural
I was admittedly not expecting much from a young DC-based post-punk band right now, and maybe you should go in with low expectations too. Maybe this whole positive writing thing I do is actually a terrible anchoring mechanism for people to not enjoy the music that I’ve so enjoyed. This observation, and many other pointless observations, feel very appropriate to this record, which is wordy, clever, naive, and impassioned as punk rock should be. The spread of influences is broad and smart for this kind of record: Priests switch between no-wave of “Appropriate” and “No Big Bang” to power pop on “JJ” and “Suck” to post-punk of “Nicki” and and the title track. Melody trades with intensity often enough to feel like a well-written whole and not a rock record simply unified by energy. Definitely the rock album of…the year. So far.
The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody
What a comeback! There’s been so much meandering in the last decade for Coyne that I really wasn’t expecting this to be such a barn burner of a psych album. I’m pretty sure this is being underrated by Lips fans but lauded by weirdos who think having songs about unicorns and Myley Cyrus sing on your record are acceptable and normal things, or at least, not too far from the centroid of good taste in 2017. There’s just so much satisfying synth and sound design to go along with these mystic meanderings! In particular, “How?? > There should be Unicorns” is my favorite psych couplet in recent memory and should not be missed.
Ty Segall - Ty Segall
A lot happens with Ty, so when he releases what feels like a proper album, even though his last proper album was just a couple years ago, it feels like a comeback. I have a sense that he’s going John Dwyer right now and releasing only every other album with a full band and full concept. This, then, is a proper Ty release, and maybe the best since Slaughterhouse. The songwriting is spot on, the shredding is satisfying, and there are some pretty psychedelic detours in between.
Abstract and Weird
Emptyset - Borders
Not quite as enjoyable for me as Recur, but surely less enjoyable than anything that you enjoy listening to. The best sound art of t he month for sure, and an interesting step forward compositionally. It still seethes and feels like it’s ripping apart sound itself, which is what I need from this duo, who have become an important reference point in heavy electronic music. Definitely worth a listen if you are crazy in the head.
mmph - Dear God
A small, densely packed EP from a Boston based producer who has an ear for sonic experimentation. This bounces around between Bass music, Emptyset-style post-industrial, and IDM style meandering. Keep an ear out if you’re around Boston and you see these four letters together on a sign or wherever.
Suzanne Kraft - What You Get for Being Young
Really gorgeous slice of analog-heavy Progressive Electronic. Borders on ambient and IDM at times, but maintains a solid emotional core all the way through. This technically came out in December, but for some reason, the world kept it from me until a few weeks ago. This could easily soundtrack a Terrence Malick film or be the first thing you listen to on a spring morning.
Bing and Ruth - No Home of the Mind
This is the first B&R release that I’m on board with, but it’s probably pretty similar to the others. The chiming piano pieces split up by ambient washes seem to be a winning formula whose only downside is that it is a formula. Still, a very timely and lovely release from this ambient collective.
Varg - Nordic Flora Series Pt.1: Heroine
I think the closer Northern Electronics leans towards techno, the better. This is a four track 12” of cold, swedish techno that will sound good to whoever likes that sort of thing.
Tall Juan - Taller than Ever
Really fun Ramones aping from a Rockaway-based Argentinian transplant who I guess is pretty tall. I don’t know how tall.
Leather Jacuzzi - Monsters, Narcs, and Idiots
Young Canadian punks hit hard with their first release, which will come out on April 20th, 2020 according to their band camp page.
Leather Lungs - Are Humans Too
Thee Oh Sees style garage bangers that are somehow louder than seeing a live garage gig. Good times.