Best Albums of December 2016 and January 2017

11

1Secretly Canadian

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“Apocalipstick” is the second LP of rock power trio Cherry Glazerr, fronted by Clementine Creevy-a true rocker in her own right at age 19. The album serves as the more musically and lyrically audacious foil to the band’s first LP, “Haxel Princess,” which had a heavy artistic focus on the nuances of teenhood. The higher level of artistic sophistication is immediately evident upon hearing the first notes of the album’s opening track, “Told You I’d Be With the Guys.” The song’s hallmark gritty, addictive guitar hook can’t help but linger in the minds of listeners long after it has reached its conclusion. Worthy of mention is the lyrically masterful “Nuclear Bomb,” a track that can’t help but truly make the listeners feel. The nexus between the music and the lyrics generates nothing short of the ultimate auditory experience.

Over email, Creevy revealed that to her, the most rewarding aspect of creating “Apocalipstick” is Cherry Glazerr’s dedication to their craft: “I’m proud of all the energy and heart we put into making music together. Always will be.” The band’s devotion to and love for the creative process has been a constant throughout their career and is completely palpable to the listener in each and every song. Whether Cherry Glazerr be singing about Power Puff Girls and pizza (as in Haxel Princess’ “Bloody Bandaid”) or the importance of female unity (“Told You I’d Be With the Guys”), Cherry Glazerr is a band that gives it their all, and that was again wholeheartedly evident with “Apocalipstick.” – Lindsay Teske

Recommended if you like: Bleached, The Pink Slips, The Growlers

Listen to: “Nuclear Bomb”

2Glassnote

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This ain’t your average Childish Gambino record. Channeling the likes of D’Angelo and psychedelic rock gods Cream et. al, the man is known as Donald Glover explores a multitude of vocal range whilst experimenting with live instruments, a backing band, and a slew of musical styles to give us a new side of Childish Gambino that fans and casual listeners have never heard until now.

As expected, “Awaken, My Love!” is a polarizing work in Gambino’s collection, and it is surely one that will divide the casual fan from his diehard fanbase. The former (casual fans) will notice from the opening track “Me and Your Mama” that Gambino does not rap at all, a start of a trend and shift of genre in Gambino’s music. This is surely a turn-off to fans who know him as a rapper who made hits off of his raps in the likes of “Bonfire” and “Sweatpants.” However, those who stick it out through the entire album and still appreciate Gambino’s stylistic change of heart are his true fans.

The album reeks of psychedelic and funk-rock influences emphasized in the guitar parts and backbeats of songs like “Me and Your Mama” and “Riot,” yet the album also delves into genres like reggae (“California”), and a heavy influence of R&B and soul music (Redbone, Terrified). Of course it is weird to most of those who listen to this album that Gambino does a complete 180 on his music in this album (as stated before as a “turn-off”); however, to me it is the complete change in style that shows off a versatile range of creativity by Gambino that gives “Awaken, My Love!” its strange appeal.

Throughout the album, it is as if Gambino takes us, the listeners, through a journey of exploration, both in his genres of music and his real life exploration into acting and writing shows (such as the critically acclaimed Atlanta on FX). This does hinder the album, which is far from perfect sonically, in the first half of the album. Songs like “Zombies” and “Boogieman” are respectively precursors to the hit “Redbone” and the successor of jam opening track “Me and Your Mama.” This is to say that the first half of the album spends time taking one step forward in a new style and two steps back into figuring out what “Awaken, My Love!” will become. However, it pays off in the rewarding sense of completion that this album has become in songs like “Redbone” (which personally is one of my top ten songs of 2016), “Terrified,” and “Stand Tall.”

Overall, “Awaken, My Love!” is an album that will divide the Childish Gambino fanbase, but it is the audacity and risk-taking that Gambino creatively dives into that starts from a shaky beginning of an experimental album to a new side of Childish Gambino’s music with a rewarding finish line of what the journey of Gambino’s music (and perhaps his future projects) will have become. – Andrew Vendelis

Recommended if you like: James Brown, Chance the Rapper, D’Angelo

Listen to: “Redbone”

3Carpark

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You heard it here first, garage rock is making an unusual comeback. It is a lost art of a genre that has only been experimented with by the very artists that pioneered the genre: bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. However, in their latest album, Cloud Nothings delivers with nine tracks of everything alternative rock and garage rock.

The opening track “Up to the Surface,” is the only track that incorporates elements such as ambient pads and piano. “Life Without Sound” is one crescendo that gets louder and prouder throughout the album. Based on a very tight band dynamic with melodramatic vocals, “Life Without Sound” is not your typical type of garage rock. It is aggressive, but it puts the brakes on in songs like “Up to the Surface” and “Modern Act.” This reflects on the vocal performance, for singer Dylan Baldi’s voice almost resembles “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory”-equse Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. His voice blends the perfect amount of broody restraint and raspy emotion. This vocal halt is complimented by strong garage rock guitar riffs that are present in songs such as “Enter Entirely” and “Darkened Rings.” The album’s lead guitars are much like the record itself: short, sweet, and to the point.

Life Without Sound is another step in the evolution of up-and-comers Cloud Nothings, and they are bringing back garage rock in a completely reinvented form. As someone who was relatively unfamiliar with their music before the release of “Life Without Sound,” I look forward to hearing these guys on Alt-Nation radio stations and open up for garage rock legends like The Strokes (and maybe so if Oasis ever decides to reunite) in the future. – Andrew Vendelis

Recommended if you like: Phoenix, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Death Cab for Cutie

Listen to: “Modern Act”

4

Jagjaguwar

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“Hang” is Foxygen’s fourth and most ambitious album so far.   It is a complete change of direction compared to their previous release, “…And Star Power.” Not only in terms of style but also in regard to how much they have refined their sound.  The rough around the edges lo-fi style of Foxygen has vanished given that this is their first release actually recorded in a studio.  However, this doesn’t mean Foxygen isn’t as sporadic as they’ve always been.  One listen to the lead single “America” is sure to throw any listener off by how many different movements the song goes through in five minutes.

It’s hard to believe that this is Foxygen’s first time working with a 40+ piece orchestra as it is flawlessly incorporated into their songwriting.  At this point, Jonathan Rado has really nailed the vintage 70’s pop sound and having the orchestration to back songs like the opener, “Follow the Leader,” complement and flesh out their already impressive songwriting.  Oddly enough, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this album is how lame it is.  The infectious melodrama of “Upon a Hill,” the backing vocals on “Avalon” and the call to arms on “Rise Up” are all so abundant and over the top, they are hard not to be entertained by.  Foxygen never try to be cool on this record. They stay true to themselves and make a fantastic soundtrack to a 90’s Pixar movie that doesn’t exist. – Thomas Coogan

Recommended if you like: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Jacco Gardener, of Montreal

Listen to: “America”

5Mexican Summer

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Ariel Pink recently collaborated with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering to create a very brief EP. Classically unpredictable, Ariel’s work is no different. The recent PR campaign of Ariel being racist, misogynist and just overall offensive hopefully ended with this EP, because it seemed like he has been trying to help his friends recent. Merging being one of them. The opening track begins with a quiet, slow synthesizer based verse. When I was listening for the first time, I turned my speaker up to hear the details. I was shocked at the jarring noise level of the chorus, as Mering’s seemingly operatic voice comes in with timpanis and orchestra instruments that were meant for a great performance hall. The juxtaposition of the verse sung by Pink and the chorus by Mering is unforgettable and somehow catchy. The rest of the EP slows down with 80’s synths droning in and out of echoey guitars. The only thing predictable about Ariel is that he is unpredictable. The EP ended like a good Netflix binge: I was really expecting more content, but I think that’s the point. – Jake Keisler

Recommended if you like: R. Stevie Moore, Deerhunter, Grimes

Listen to: “Tears On Fire”

7

Sister Polygon

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On their debut album, “Nothing Feels Natural,” Priests harness the raw power showcased on their EPs and create one of the most biting punk debuts in recent memory. The album starts out with “Appropriate” which is the most experimental song in the tracklisting as it devolves completely in its second half only to build itself back up with snarling vocals mixed with a fury of drums, noisy guitars, and a disorienting saxophone line.  Priests immediately change pace with the lead single “JJ” which is a fun surf rock tune but there is an underlying anxiety that is persistent throughout the album which fits the title, “Nothing Feels Natural.”  The range of Katie Alice Greer’s vocals is one of the most intriguing parts of the record. Her performance on “No Big Bang” is spoken word, on “JJ” she’s frantic and impatient and then she’s completely calm and soothing on the title track.  The wide scope of styles Priests put forth on “Nothing Feels Natural” is nothing short of impressive for a single album and even more so given that this is their debut. It’s as meditative as punk rock comes and I expect myself to come back to this album throughout all of 2017. – Thomas Coogan

Recommended if you like: Crass, Downtown Boys, Screaming Females

Listen to: “Nothing Feels Natural”

8Drag City

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If you think Ty Segall’s second self-titled album is a self-portrait, you are mistaken. Teaming up with producer Steve Albini, Segall seemingly puts on an album that is cleaner, more polished and is wearing a suit. Keep in mind there is nothing wrong with wearing a suit, and in fact, it compliments Segall’s well-rounded works. The opening track, “Break a Guitar” sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is reminiscent of the 70’s early metal and glam bands with squealing guitar fill, super reverb and speakers turned to 11. For a garage rocker like Ty Segall to use the acoustic guitar on the majority of his tracks may be off-putting for faithful Ty Segall fans who admire “Reverse Shark Attack” or “Melted.” However, it seems Ty is going in a trajectory away from the traditional garage punk that started his fame. Besides “Emotional Mugger,” which was technically “Ty Segall and the Muggers,”  he released “Ty Rex,” “Mr. Face,” and “Manipulator.” All of these albums are pointing towards a glam rock that T. Rex must have inspired in him. Overall, this record is one to remember. Sonically, it is a really beautifully captured. – Jake Keisler

Recommended if you like: Black Sabbath, White Fence, T. Rex

Listen to: “Break a Guitar”

9

Young Turks

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The xx make a powerful return with their album I See You and claim their spot as one of the must-see indie pop bands around. Carried by an active backbeat, ambient sounds, and powerful vocal performances from singers Jamie xx and Romy Madley Croft, I See You is a quiet explosion of the best sounds that indie has to offer. From the opening track “Dangerous,” which carries a calypso indie-house vibe, and a dual-vocal broody performance accompanied by horns, it is the opening track that will grab the attention of both diehard and casual fans.

Throughout the album, I couldn’t help but notice and praise the control of dynamics both provided by the group’s performances and their production skills. A consistent trend that is present in most songs is that there is a very ambient feel in the forefront of songs like “Say Something Loving” and “Brave for You” that is juxtaposed by an active backbeat present in the drums and percussion. However, the album does simmer down, particularly in the song “A Violent Noise.” A misleading title at first glance, the song features little-to-no drums or percussion, which could be the irony of the title. However, towards the end, there is a fitting crescendo and change in dynamic as the end of the song reaches a climax brought about by powerful melodies and a reverberating guitar. The whole pattern of the song resembles a wave that rises up through the change in dynamics and then softly crashes ending with an ambient ring.

Along with the album’s strengths in dynamic changes, the album also features great vocal performances from Jamie xx and Romy Madley Croft. On this album, it seems as if Jamie and Croft have mastered the art of finding the perfect balance of trade-off vocals. This is no coincidence as to why they choose to trade off vocals, for the trade-offs come with the change of pace and style in each song; likewise, the singers’ voices match whatever mood the song may have. Jamie fits the low melody and low plucked ambiance in songs like “I Dare You,” where Croft picks up with powerful performances in songs like “Hold On.” The reason that trade-off vocals work so well for The xx is that each singer fills in the gaps that the other one may leave, and I See You is full of many sounds that make sure each song is filled to the brim with indie essentials and pop hooks and beats. Overall, I See You puts The xx on the map as real players in the alternative/indie-pop scene along with juggernauts like The 1975 and The Wombats. Along with being on-par with these mammoths, I See You offers a wide array of indie music that transcends the underground level of fandom that will catapult them to stardom in the next few years. – Andrew Vendelis

Recommended if you like: The 1975, Florence and the Machine, Two Door Cinema Club

Listen to: “On Hold”

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

 

 

 

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