Best Albums of April 2017

16

1Domino

meeting-of-the-waters

Yes, it’s true. This is the best Animal Collective release since 2009.

“Meeting of the Waters” is a 4 song live EP that was recorded back in May 2016 in, no kidding, the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. It comes hot off the trail of Animal Collective’s Painting With LP and The Painters EP, two of the group’s most poorly received releases in years. Luckily for us though, this has more in common with guitarist Deakin’s solo album “Sleep Cycle” than either of those, despite being recorded by only Avey Tare and Geologist.

The EP harkens back to the styles of much earlier AC works by combining the exotic forest musings of “Here Comes the Indian” (while not getting quite as abrasive or alien) with the sweet guitar melodies of “Sung Tongs”. Furthermore, even the lyrics in “Meeting recall the days of yore: the line “I’m afraid to forget the smell of you” on stand-out track “Man of Oil” brings to mind the lyric “I’d like to spread your perfume around the old apartment” from “The Purple Bottle” on 2005’s “Feels. On “Man of Oil,” the simple guitar and Avey’s surprisingly sincere croon make for one of AC’s best melodies in a long time (sorry “Jimmy Mack,” but you were a cover) while its simple rhythms and occasional ghostly coos create a raw sense of magic, closer to “Young Prayer” than “Campfire Songs”. However, this time around, much of the atmosphere comes from real field recordings of the rainforest flora and fauna around them (a picture I saw of the sound crew holding a mic up to a slithering anaconda comes to mind), making it difficult to tell where natural sounds end, and where Geologist’s electronic musings begin

For the most part, all the tracks follow a similar structure, starting with an instrumental intro that sounds like a dive into a (friendly) game of Jumanji, then Avey’s guitar and vocals are introduced. Opener “Blue Noses” sounds like it could be an acoustic demo from “Strawberry Jam,” while the last 2 tracks are a bit more explorative, with “Amazowana/Anaconda Opportunity” being a mostly instrumental track, accented with tribal woodwinds. Closer “Selection of a Place” meanders in the best sense of the word, with Avey’s earnest repetition eventually catching a hold of you.

Though far from their most groundbreaking release, “Meeting of the Waters” is nonetheless a unique and impressive one. Being a live recording, the sound quality is impeccable, and despite taking place in the world’s largest rainforest, it feels incredibly intimate. This may not be “Merriweather Post Pavilion” or “Fall Be Kind,” but it’s the first time in awhile that I’ve found myself humming an Animal Collective song. – Justin Schofield

Recommended if you like: Dirty Projectors, Panda Bear, of Montreal

Listen to: “Man of Oil”

2

52HZ

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For many of us, news of an upcoming solo saxophone album may not be the most exciting event of the day.  Colin Stetson, however, has earned that excitement.  Aside from his already extensive solo career, his list of collaborators includes such names as Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Tom Waits.

Such a varied list doesn’t give us much of a clue as to what his solo work might sound like.  Going into this album, that’s totally fine – whatever expectations one may hold beforehand (save for those who are familiar with his solo work), they’re probably blown away by the end.

“All This I Do for Glory” is so many things over the course of its 44-minute runtime.  It is calm and self-reflective, it is aggressive, it is ominous.  The instrumentation and recording is fascinating, with Stetson often employing the clicks of his own saxophone keys as percussion and using innovative mic placement to make music that moves around whatever space it is in (headphones are recommended).  Most, if not all, of the album is also recorded in one take with no overdubs, making the depth that it reaches even more impressive.

Standout tracks include “Between Water and Wind,” which is slow burning and deeply intense.  Stetson makes unbelievable use of his instrument’s lower range to give us an encompassing cinematic sound.  Lead single “Spindrift” is another standout as a constantly rotating and shifting trip of nostalgia.  This song is perhaps the most immediately transportative on the album, with its ultra-fast arpeggios backed only by a soft kick drum and atmospheric background singing.  The gem of the tracklist, however, doesn’t come until the end with “The Lure of the Mine.”  It’s a 13-minute epic that spans almost as much emotional and narrative territory as the full album up to this point.  It’s as stunning as any multi-part long track I’ve heard before and deserves listen after listen to appreciate all that’s going on in it.

This album is one worth diving into headfirst.  You are bound to surface wanting another listen. – Patrick Larsen

Recommended if you like:  Sarah Neufeld, Matana Roberts, Animal Collective

Listen to: “Spindrift”

3

Sub Pop

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“Pure Comedy” is singer-songwriter Josh Tillman’s third album under the moniker Father John Misty and it is his most expansive and fully realized release yet.  Delving into themes of entertainment, consumerism, and fame, the album becomes a self-examination of Tillman himself and the human experience as a whole.  It’s a grandiose ambition but “Pure Comedy” largely delivers.

Lyrically, this album is a continuation of the songs “Holy Sh*t” and “Bored in the USA” off of Misty’s last album “I Love You, Honeybear.” While many have chastised this album for being too similar to those tracks and lacking variety, “Pure Comedy” is able to shift focus and magnify different issues enough on each track where I rarely lose interest when listening.  “Total Entertainment Forever” is a clever and punchy critique of escapist entertainment, John Carpenter-esque dystopia ripples throughout “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” and “The Memo” features text-to-speech vocals that tackle self-esteem and self-reflection in the social media age.  

Many will be and have been off put by ostentatious nature of the album (music publication Noisey referred to the album as “if a wine bar started a podcast”). However, tracks like “Smoochie” and “Leaving LA” emotionally ground the album giving it a sense of authenticity that cures it of its potential pretentiousness.  It is strange to think that “Leaving LA,” the 13-minute, “10-verse chorus-less diatribe” as Tillman puts it on the song itself, is the genuine and modest song on the album but that’s the case.

“Leaving LA” is not without its fair share of absurdism though as he sings “It’s like my father said before he croaked/”Son, you’re killing me, and that’s all folks.” However,  that all shifts on verse nine as Tillman details his first memory of music being from when he was choking on a watermelon candy in a JCPenny’s. It beautifully and despairingly encapsulates the narrative of the album as he croons “That’s when I first saw the comedy won’t stop for/ Even little boys dying in department stores.”

All of what has been discussed so far has been about the lyrics and it is unfair to not mention the impressiveness of the instrumentals.  Lush orchestral arrangements back nearly every song on the record.  They build on the complexity of what was found on “Honeybear” without sacrificing any of its catchiness.  The explosion of brass after a four minute built on the title track is by far one of my favorite musical moments this year.

The album is very long at 75 minutes and perhaps should have been cut by a track or two to make it more accessible and listenable. Yet, Tillman’s bold aspirations on this album are mostly met. While it is too early to say how it holds up against his other two albums under the name Father John Misty, “Fear Fun” and “I Love You, Honeybear,” the latter of which is in my top three of the decade so far, I believe that “Pure Comedy” is a wonderful addition to his catalogue and will be one of 2017’s standout albums. – Thomas Coogan

Recommended if you like: Weyes Blood, Elton John, Conor Oberst

Listen to: “Pure Comedy”

4

Columbia

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John Mayer doesn’t disappoint with his seventh studio album “The Search for Everything.” After a three-year hiatus full of touring with the Grateful Dead in Dead and Company and hiding out on his Montana estate, the guitarist is back and ready to get back into his pop-rock roots. The album starts out strong with “Still Feel Like Your Man” a tune with smooth guitar runs and strikingly specific lyrics. In the song, Mayer sings “I still keep your shampoo in my shower, in case you wanna wash your hair.” The album then moves on to what is my favorite song from the entire album, “Emoji of a Wave.” In this song, Mayer sings about riding out the wave of a relationship, seemingly one-sided at times. The song is personable yet relatable and is paired with a beautiful acoustic melody. Also notable on the album is “The Theme From ‘The Search for Everything,’” a completely instrumental song that encompasses the entire mood of the album. This is Mayer’s first purely instrumental song on a studio album and it shows off his guitar talent.

Overall the album once again shows off not only Mayer’s guitar skills but also his songwriting skills. Mayer said in an interview with Rolling Stone that this is his most personal album yet, which is especially clear listening to tracks such as “In the Blood” about the long-lasting effects of his parents fighting on him and “You’re Going to Live Forever in Me,” a piano ballad about letting the love of your life move on without you.

This album once again shows how much Mayer has matured both as a musician and person from his yikes-interview days. If you’ve ever been on the fence about who Mayer is, listen to this album and learn more about the man he’s become. – Katherine Wolter

Recommended if you like: John Mayer, John Mayer Trio

Listen to: “Emoji of a Wave”

5

Loma Vista

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Sylvan Esso is arguably comprised of the coolest couple out there. Made up of Amelia Meath’s vocals and Nick Sanborn’s production, they create clean, catchy tracks that are the opposite of mainstream and absolutely unmatchable.

Though the duo dropped three of their tracks over the past few months, the entire album has been highly anticipated. From the dancey track of “Radio” to the impeccably-produced “Signal” to the slow, mostly vocals “Slack Jaw,” this album keeps the original Sylvan Esso sound while keeping a high variance track to track.

If you ever get the chance to see them live, do it. Meath’s vocals are mesmerizing and have the ability to put you to sleep with their gentle lull, while Nick’s production makes you want to dance, kick, jump and twist. Altogether, they are still the best show I have ever been to and hope everyone gets a chance to experience their sound, live, at some point in their lifetime. – Myra Johnson

Recommended if you like: Marian Hill, Alina Baraz & Doja Cat

Listen to:
“The Glow”

6
7Polyvinyl

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Just under two years after White Reaper’s debut LP ‘White Reaper Does It Again’ saw its release, the band is back with their brand new LP ‘The World’s Best American Band.’ The Louisville, KY natives (composed of Tony Esposito, Ryan Hater, Nick Wilkerson, and Sam Wilkerson) possess the ability to sonically distinguish their work through their natural knack for musical innovation.

Something about their body of work feels inherently relatable to listeners, and this is because in each and every song in their body of work, the music tells the story just as effectively as the lyrics. They are equalized agents of communication, coming together as a single sonic unit to bring an enriching auditory experience to fruition. The result? Pure absorption. Listeners cannot help but feel entirely engulfed in the world or message of the song; as they are receiving it from a musical and lyrical standpoint, the potency of the work and thus the emotional response it generates can only be increased within. Any artist can generate enjoyable music, but it takes a truly talented artist to generate music that is enjoyable but makes people feel. White Reaper does just that, and it is one of the many facets that make them rock and roll strongholds.

This skill is detectable before a single note is even played or sung on the opening, self-titled track of ‘The World’s Best American Band’, as it begins with audio of a cheering crowd. This sets the track’s invigorating nature from right off the bat; the energy from the cheers and chants is so palpable to the point that listeners are already fully engaged by the time the music and lyrics come in. This successfully encapsulates the sense of raw electricity that is reminiscent of a live performance, and this prevails throughout the song’s entire duration. A notable aspect of “The World’s Best American Band” is that each and every musician exudes sonic power. Drummer Nick Wilkerson is the first musician to begin to play, and does to with a sense of rhythmic gusto that feeds into the song’s infectious energy. Bassist Sam Wilkerson stands out and holds his own on the song’s verses, playing a line that is so rhythmic and catchy to the point where it becomes indelible in the minds of all who have the pleasure of hearing it. Vocalist/guitarist Tony Esposito fills the song with vitality with grand power chords and an impassioned vocal performance. The song is an audible shot of adrenaline, and is brimming with electricity in only a way “the world’s best American band” could.

Ryan Hater (“MVP”) rounds out White Reaper’s unique sound on keyboards. It can sometimes be difficult to integrate keyboards into a more traditionalized rock sound simply because the contrast between the individual sounds can be too stark. However, White Reaper is able to create a successful auditory nexus between the two musical entities to generate a sound that is inventive and individualistic. Hater’s masterful work adds a layer of style and flair to White Reaper’s sound, making them sonically distinguishable from other artists who are working to achieve a similar sound. He stands out not only through his blatant talent as a musician, but also through his ability to experiment with a variety of sounds and styles that both complement and enhance the band’s sound.

One track on the record through which his talents most prominently stand out is “Little Silver Cross.” The song opens with ethereal keyboard work that sets its transfixing and tenacious nature. The song then gradually undertakes a slow sonic build, layering instrument after instrument, until it it explodes at the chorus with an incredible sense of electricity.  The ease at which White Reaper transitions through  dynamic changes, as they do in “Little Silver Cross,” speaks volumes about their technical abilities as artists.

The world got its first taste of all White Reaper had to offer with ‘The World’s Greatest American Band’ after the album’s seconds track, “Judy French,” was released in January. Dripping with charm, “Judy French” is the ultimate auditory hybrid between goodness and grit. The jaunty opening riff captures the ears of listeners in the same way a good book can capture the mind. It’s irresistibly charming, and is something of the audible manifestation of the sensation of having butterflies in the stomach; it encapsulates anticipation and fascination in a delectable three minute and twenty-six second package. It was the perfect track to give listeners a taste of the innovative full album that was to come.

For White Reaper, the most exciting element of the release of “The World’s Best American Band” is knowing that others are enjoying their work. In January, the band gave the following statement to the author via Facebook message: “We just couldn’t be happier to have people hearing our music right now. That’s easily the aspect of this next record we are most proud of.”

And they certainly delivered material worth waiting for. – Lindsay Teske

Recommended if you like: The Replacements, Together Pangea, Bass Drum of Death

Listen to: “Judy French”

Be sure to check out our Best of April Spotify Playlist which features all of these artists and many more!

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