(Every other month on Frontier Psychiatrist we round up the best records from the previous 60 days that we weren’t able to review. Staying current in the modern musical landscape can be a Herculean challenge, particularly if one also wishes to stay employed. We hope to make it a little bit easier for you. If you missed our January-February roundup, you can read it here. We hope you enjoy the more-or-less new music.)
After something of a slow start to 2011, the last two months have witnessed an explosion in great new records. From indie stalwarts (TV On The Radio, Panda Bear, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) to new stars (Frank Ocean, tUnE-yArDs, The Weeknd), we at FP have been overwhelmed with fantastic new music from across the genre map. Inevitably, some things passed us by on initial release. Below are some of the best records from March and April that passed us by. When you’ve finished, make sure to check out our Best of Mar/Apr 2011 Mixtape on Grooveshark.
J Mascis – Several Shades of Why/Bill Callahan – Apocalypse/Cass McCombs – WIT’S END
With new records on the way from luminaries like Fleet Foxes and Bo Iver, 2011 is shaping up as a fantastic year for the acoustic guitar, and all three of the above entries celebrate the glory of said instrument. Mascis is famous as the genius behind late-80s/early-90s indie giants Dinosaur Jr., for whom his titanic electric guitar work inspired a new generation of would-be guitar heroes. Despite his predilection for shredding, however, Mascis is an inveterate disciple of the lilting folk of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and it is that quartet’s influence that is most striking on this rarest of records, the pleasurable solo album.
J Mascis – “Not Enough” (feat. Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew, and Ben Bridwell)
In fact, the last two months brought us two such records. Bill Callahan, formerly head of the massively underrated lo-fi pioneers Smog, has been crafting dark, foreboding, gently experimental music for the last 20 years. His latest record Apocalypse is yet another masterstroke, a collection of seven back-alley mini-epics filled with introspection and humor. This is Callahan’s 14th record and, stunningly, among his very best.
Bill Callahan – “Riding for the Feeling”
One of Callahan’s most talented 21st-century heirs is Baltimore’s Cass McCombs, whose 5th LP WIT’S END (double meaning alert) is due for official release on April 26th via Domino Records. McCombs’ latest and best LP is a song-cycle on the profundity of loneliness in the tradition of greats like Nick Drake and Scott Walker. It is a powerful record and you are unlikely to receive it lightly, which is to say don’t bring it with you to the beach. Dim the lights, pour a glass, and shed a tear; you’re unlikely to hear music so moving again this year.
Cass McCombs – “Country Line”
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, vol. 2: Judges
Montreal’s Colin Stetson is a bass saxophonist whose work you’ve heard whether you know it or not: he’s recorded for the likes of Arcade Fire, The National, TV On The Radio, and LCD Soundsystem. He is far from your ordinary session musician, however. His solo recordings have to be heard (and seen) to be believed; With one saxophone, two lungs, and no loops, he manages to craft compositions that defy human physiology. His work is far from immediate, but it deserves your time.
Akron/Family – Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT/Ponytail – Do Whatever You Want All The Time
From The Velvet Underground to Slint, many of our more adventurous bands tend to be ignored during their primes, only to be “re-discovered” when their influence seeps into more accessible music. In an effort to break this nefarious cycle, we bring you the new records from Akron/Family and Ponytail. Both bands are among the most unique, innovative, and bizarre in present-day rock music. Akron/Family counts itself in the “freak-folk” camp of far-out Americana typically associated with Devandra Banhart, but if their tripped-out acid rock has any true predecessors, they come from Germany (Amon Düül) and Japan (Boredoms), which is all to say they’re really weird. As for Ponytail, their records are the aural equivalent of an amphetamine ice-cream cone. Consume with caution.
Akron/Family – Islands
Ponytail – Beyondersville//Flight of Fancy
Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer/A I A: Dream Loss
Grouper is the nom de reverb of Liz Harris, a Portland, Oregon based artist who has been recording haunting compositions of ambient electronics since 2005. Her inspiration lies in the work of Chicago-based record labels like Thrill Jockey and Kranky, and her work has been compared to that of contemporaries Julianna Barwick and How To Dress Well (note: if you are not a shameless music nerd, feel free to ignore the preceding sentence). A I A, a separate-release double-album issued this month, may very well contain the most beautiful music you hear all year. Fragile, gorgeous, haunting.
Grouper – “Atone”
1. tUnE-yArDs – “My Country”
2. Frank Ocean – “Songs For Women”
3. Panda Bear – “Last Night at the Jetty”
4. The Weeknd – “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”
5. Kurt Vile – “Jesus Fever”
6. Pusha T (feat. 50 Cent and Pharrell Williams) – “Raid”
7. Colin Stetson – “Judges”
8. Lykke Li – “Get Some”
9. Burial – “Street Halo”
10. Bill Callahan – “Drover”
11. Akron/Family – “Island”
12. Cults – “You Know What I Mean”
13. Cass McCombs – “Buried Alive”
14. Grouper – “Alien Observer”
15. The Mountain Goats – “Damn These Vampires”
16. tUnE-yArDs – “Doorstep”