It is no secret that, like sports, fashion, and fruit, the arts are seasonal. The music release schedule in particular tends to follow such a pattern, with major releases appearing in spring (just in time for wallets to recover from the holiday season), disappearing in summer (when money is more likely to be spent on concerts), and reappearing in autumn (with just enough time to gain buzz before people start buying gifts). As a result, September and October tend to overflow with great new records, and this year was no exception. We at FP spent the month reviewing everything from folk to synth-pop to progressive metal, but of course there were numerous great albums about we did not have opportunity to write word one. As always, we try to make good with our bi-monthly Albums We Missed column. We hope that you find something you enjoy.
St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Immediately prior to the release of her third full-length Strange Mercy, several videos of Annie Clark performing Tom Waits covers appeared on music sites across the internet. It turns out that Clark’s fascination with Waits was more than just a passing fancy, as his imprint is all over this outstanding LP. No one simultaneously inhabits pop’s ivory tower and its seedy underbelly quite like Waits, but Clark makes quite an attempt here, with grimy guitar solos and menacing drums underlying wistful horn arrangements and ghostly vocals. One of the year’s best to date.
While last year saw the release of modern classics from Kanye West and Big Boi, as well as underground sensations like Odd Future’s Bastard and Earl, the hip-hop world of 2011 has been populated predominantly by disappointments. In the last two months, however, a slew of excellent releases have emerged, largely of the free online variety. While mixtapes from Danny Brown, Nacho Picasso, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire all have their virtues, the two tapes above stand out as the year’s best. ASAP Rocky comes to us with a lot of hype and a three million dollar deal in hand, while Lushlife has flown largely under the radar. Both rappers, however, show similar stylistic sensibilities, rhyming over the hazy psychedelic beats of Clams Casino and the like. Just when you think hip-hop is dead, it bursts back to life.
In an era in which artists record two or even three releases a year, there is something refreshing about Jens Lekman, whose 5-song EP emerges 4 years after his breakthrough full-length Night Falls Over Kortedala. For my taste that record provided the perfect balance of literacy and kitsch, and An Argument With Myself picks up right where the LP left off. If only it had five or six more songs.
Justice’s debut was a massive success, somehow mixing noise rock with disco in an endlessly listenable (and danceable) way. It’s no surprise then that the French duo’s follow-up, which moves away from disco in the direction of even more derided 70s phenomena (glam, prog), was rather coolly received. Spin the disc a few times, though, and you’ll hear a baffllingly complex yet continually catchy stylistic gumbo, filled with hot riffs, gigantic drums, and lots and lots of sexiness.
Selling a solo saxophone record that’s indebted to the squalls of Albert Ayler and the minimalism of Steve Reich is rather difficult. I tried once earlier this year, and if I wasn’t successful then, I’m unlikely to sell you on this two-song, twenty-minute EP now. Stetson will be ok regardless: he continues to tour with Bon Iver and Arcade Fire. But, a man of such enormous talent deserves to have his original creations heard, so take just 10 minutes out of your day and listen to the title track below.
Full disclosure: there are a few closet metalheads on the FP staff, yours truly included. I understand if, dear reader, you don’t care for 11-minute epics, searing guitar solos, and lots of growling, but if you do, I encourage you to find your way to Arkansas’s Rwake and their latest LP Rest. It will melt your face.
Nick Ray (a.k.a. Speculator) makes music that is hard to describe: impressionistic and collaged, yet somehow instantly recognizable as pop. If you don’t believe me, just listen: the entire record streams below
White Denim is a rock n’ roll band, plain and simple, and it baffles me that their audience remains so small. I have listened to their LP D as much as any record this year, and this four-song EP provides an excellent coda to the band’s 2011 output.