BY PETER LILLIS
It’s always surprising how many great records get released in the first two months of the year, given the popularity of End of the Year lists. Similar to Oscar season, most high profile records receive a late autumn release in order to make the biggest impact on the ears of the buzzmakers. But year after year, January and February find some absolutely fantastic releases, that for better or worse get shafted by the time the lists get made (James Blake, anyone?). Today, we’re starting early. We’ve already featured several great albums, including Jamie Lidell’s self-titled release, Foxygen’s We are the 21st Century…, Camper van Beethoven’s La Costa Perdida and Yo La Tengo’s Fade. Here are 10 more albums that are totally worth your time, and worth remembering 10 months from now.
This Chicago alternative hip hop veteran is certainly an enigma. While technically a hip hop record, Saal has more in common with Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs or even The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, than it does with releases of any of his contemporaries. On the surface, it’s certainly strange. What end up lingering are the engaging and lovelorn characters Serengeti creates over a surprisingly weighty 25 minutes, all wonderfully complemented by the freak folk production of Sicker Man.
An early entry to The 10 Best Psychedelic Albums of 2013, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sophomore record—and their first for Jagjaguwar—is a fantastic piece of Beatles-esque jams that further solidifies the psych revolution. Complete with tape loops, distorted harmonies and timeless hooks, II is a more than solid return for this New Zealand/Portland band. While their funky debut was an excellent introduction, II stands above thanks to its assured melodies and consistent themes.
More revivalism, this time of the emo-punk vein. Not much is known about The Exquisites, other than that they were formed by Jason Clackley, they are from Seattle, and they fucking rock. Their soulful self-titled debut—now streaming on Punk News—is another quality release from Asian Man Records, the home of Joyce Manor, emo’s current ace in the hole. If you’ve ever hoped that emo could be more like the first two Chicago records, The Exquisites is worth your time.
See: “Sad Bastard Music”
What first drew me—and many others I imagine—to Psychic Ills is their ability to sustain a supremely slow burn over minimal space rock. While One Track Mind—their second full-length on Sacred Bones—opts for a more pub rock sound with gang vocals and (almost) toe-tapping tempos, Psychic Ills haven’t sacrificed any of their foreboding edge or their stoned glacier sensibilities.
“What makes Mountains unique members of the drone music scene is their work’s painstaking balance between acoustic and electric instrumentation. But while in the past Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg have rendered acoustic sounds by using electronic modulators, their new album, Centralia, combines the two, layering acoustic guitar, cello, and organs on top of synthesizers and other electronic instruments, suggesting a melancholic and peaceful journey between two sonic worlds. Close your eyes and you might simultaneously see both skyscrapers and the sweeping landforms after which the band named themselves.”
Yes, what he said.
What’s really special about Brokeback and the Black Rock is its traditional approach to post-rock. While that may sound like an oxymoron, just one song into the newest record from Doug McCombs (of Tortoise fame, their first in 10 years), it’s clear that their touchstones are less Young Team or Millions Now Living, more Once Upon a Time in the West and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. Guitar purists, look no further than this record.
On their first release in nearly five years, Swedish metal scholars Cult of Luna return with a newfound interest in krautrock and German engineering. Don’t take that the wrong way, the record still slays, but with repetitive tangents and an underlying concept that apparently mirrors Metropolis, Vertikal shares similarities with Kraftwerk’s seminal The Man-Machine. We’ll let you find the differences.
We first stumbled upon Guards last March at Brooklyn Vegan’s three-stage SXSW extravaganza, whose fuzzy, smoke-induced pop made the ideal comedown off Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s bonkers 10 minutes set. As of then, Guards were virtually unknown, with only a lackluster self-titled debut and a covers EP to their name. In Guards We Trust is the perfect companion to the live show, however, stricken with the same effortless cool and easy psych-jams as their live performance. Clearly we weren’t the only ones taken by their set, as they’re currently on tour with Menomena, following that up on tour supporting The Joy Formidable.
Known for his adventurous and excellent compositions, the uniquely voiced José James exists somewhere on the jazz/soul/hip hop three-dimensional continuum between D’Angelo, Flying Lotus and Robert Glasper. No Beginning No End is a more organic and natural approach, substituting the unabashed electronica of 2009s BLACKMAGIC with live drums, a backing choir, affirming bass lines and one damn beautiful Fender Rhodes. The result is a record that works just as well for a relaxed Sunday morning, as it does for a busy night in the bedroom.
Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. Spotify is his drug of choice.