March was a good month of listening for me. At one point it felt like I wasn’t into anything, but I can stand by all of these picks as firmly as ever. Maybe there was nothing mind-blowing, but these are all worth returning to.
I’ve got a slightly different format for March for the reason of trying to include more meta-data to entice you to listen to a certain kind of thing in particular. Let me know if it works!
Songwriter album of the month:
Haley Heynderickx - I need to start a garden
The only album this month to really get under my skin in a personal way, which is not necessarily transferrable to you. So, probably sorry, but maybe not! Heynderickx spent years coming up with how to record this album to make it feel raw and live to represent the nature of her songs, and she did a great job. The centerpiece “Worth It” brings this into sharp focus, with its meandering form and sudden energy shift halfway through. The arrangements are spacious and bring special attention to the lush touches around Haley’s guitar, which is often strummed plainly in contrast. The best aspect of this record is the songwriting, though, which is top notch for all of the brief 31 minutes.
Art Pop album of the month:
U.S. Girls - In A Poem Unlimited
The iconoclastic psychedelia of Meghan Remy has finally morphed into something interesting. This is a funky, weird pop record, with tons of hooks and unexpected turns. The melodies are from the. 60s, the funk from the 70s, the vocals from the 80s, and the distortion from the 90s. There’s a threat the whole time that it’s going to become a little too arty, but it’s more of a fun flirtation than a a misunderstanding of appropriate aesthetics. The twilight driving song “Incidental Boogie” is a highlight for me, as is the gospel funk of “Pearly Gates” and the epic closer.
Psychedelic album of the month:
Insecure Men - Insecure Men
My entry point with Fat White Family was a sleazy psych pop video called “Cream of the Young”, which serves as the basis for the sound of this album in a great way. This is the new project of Saul Adamczewski of FWF “fame”, and it’s the most consistent record that the extended family has ever put out. The songs are lounge dirges or relaxed psych poppers that encompass a broad range of sound inspiration, including tropicalia, carnival melodies, classic rock bangers, and even some grooves from modern R&B. The whole thing feels like a trip directly into the mind of Adamczewski in a slightly more terrifying way than FWF, or other artists who are generally less deranged. But I mean all this in the best way possible.
Hip Hop album of the month:
Black Milk - FEVER
Easily the best hip hop album from the first quarter. Black Milk conjures up the glory days of Stones Throw now more than ever with his full jazz band arrangements, neo-soul hooks and soothing, even flow. The production is creative and is far less indulgent than a jazz rap album would suggest. The band arrangements serve to make a coherent whole that match really well with the world that Black Milk is creating right now. I also haven’t heard him getting much praise as an emcee in particular, but he has honed his style and his lyrical aesthetics match his skill set really well.
Indie album of the month:
Yo La Tengo - There’s a Riot Goin’ on
I think it’s easy to be underwhelmed by the YLT studio albums from the last decade, but this album leans into the idea of creating something quiet and understated, and I think it works. This is the most ambient Yo La Tengo album (proper) to date, and it’s’ a really nice listen all the way through. It’s closest relative might actually be Summer Sun, which is one of the biggest growers in their discography. This has the same kind of sweetness, charm, and strange moments of dipping into unexpected musical styles. It has one song that’s clearly more of a rock song than the rest (“For You Too,” in the “Sugarcube” spot), which always leaves me wanting a bit. The whole album reminds me of their first sets when they do two set shows, which is always quiet and mostly acoustic with brushed drums and mellow vibes.
Slowcore album of the month:
Loma - Loma
This has a lot in common with Emily Cross’s last project “Cross Record,” in fact, you can think of it as the same continuous musical thread. This album also highlights Cross’s enchanting voice by surrounding it with loud/soft dynamics and a sort of haunting beauty. The way that the songs are composed maximizes the catharsis and drama that Cross wants to explore, though some of my favorite moments are the more lighthearted ones, such as “Joy” and “Relay Runner.” The highlight for me may be the misty “Sundogs,” though, with its Johnny Greenwood inspired guitar melodies.
Post-Punk album of the month:
Iceage - Beyondless
European post punk continues to be a strangely fun thing to listen to this year. This time it’s Denmark’s Iceage who are back with a more accessible and more artsy approach to the form. This fits really well on the stalwart indie label Matador, which is no stranger to heavy, groovy music. Beyondless has punk anthems, horn-led rave-ups, and wild ballads, sometimes all at the same time somehow. The climax of the album starts with the breakdown in “Catch It” and continues through to the string arrangement in highlight “Take it All” Rønnenfelt’s vocal performances are equal parts unhinged and intentional, which fits really well into the heavier end of the post-punk canon, from The Birthday Party to The Fall to Husker Du.
Progressive Electronic album of the month:
Remember - City is my Friend
It’s a post vaporwave world out in the heap of audio files that is Dream Catalogue, and this is a landmark release for the transition. This takes some of the best aspects of the label’s past: weird processed ambience, trap beats, and eerie melodies, and combines them with sub bass tones and synth arpeggiation to make something that most closely resembles progressive electronic. “Your Dreams are in the Lights” uses a guitar lick in between distorted synths in a Mark McGuire new age style. The second half of the album builds to the epic closer “Let Yourself Go Into Me,” a romantic swirling epic of synthesizer sounds.
Ambient Techno album of the month:
Facechain - Accensor
This is another left turn from Dream Catalogue, in perhaps even a larger way than the new Remember release. This is a techno record with a range of influences, including vaporwave, but more so dub techno, dubstep, idm, and ambient. It’s a forward thinking amalgam of things, especially seen in the two longer pieces that build and release like a standard techno track might. In between, there’s the kinetic highlight collaboration with Blank Body before the moody Visage suite takes over. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I’m reminded of Demdike Stare and the way that they shifted, not seamlessly but convincingly, between abstraction and beat-driven mayhem.
Abstract Electronic album of the month:
Rafael Anton Irisarri - Midnight Colours
Irisarri goes full-on tape manipulation while contemplating the end of the world, which is a now-classic move for certain musicians, it seems. The result of the fuzz and hiss texture isn’t actually all doom and gloom, as there is quite a variety to the ambient storytelling here. Highlight “Oh Paris, We Are Fucked” has a more ominous frequency range, crescendo, and, well, name, but much of the album sounds like more of an exploration; the kind of thing I listen to when I’m alone and outside walking. The end of the album is perhaps my favorite suite, with the epic “Drifting” segueing into the powerful “A Ruptured Tranquility.”
Techno album of the month:
John Tejada - Dead Start Program
It’s hard to find good tech house that has a healthy respect for electro. This is amazing coding music: mixing mechanized structure with synth melodies that roll out and change throughout a track to tell little stories along the way. The composition is simple and precise and built around harmony-laden grooves like the ones that drive highlights “Detector,” “Hypochondriac,” and “The Looping Generation.” It’s a consistently fun listen for a genre that is usually held back by regimentation.
House EP of the month:
Peggy Gou - Once
Some nice lo-fi to deep house tracks with vocals from Peggy Gou herself! This is the first time she’s done vocal performances on her tracks and I think it’s a great direction and works with this style of music really well. I’m excited to hear more and see if there’s a bridge to be built between this type of house and the packaged-as-indie world.