10. These New Puritans-Field of Reeds
These New Puritans have shaken up their sound with a slightly different new line up and their new album Field of Reeds. Much inspiration here comes from the likes of Miles Davis (in particular his album In A Silent Way), Talk Talk’s final two albums, David Bowie’s ambient tracks (the title track beginning with what sounds like an homage to Subterraneans) and even Björk (the horn arrangements sound incredibly similar to those on her album Volta). It doesn’t matter who they channeled in the end; This new sound is all them. They’ve mastered the size of a symphony within the arrangements of a much smaller ensemble effortlessly. Despite a great sense of spiritual unity, each song is very much an individual project. Organ Eternal has a reoccurring melody that withstands the onslaught of shifting musical cues. The Light In Your Name never really gets progressively darker, yet it ends on an explosion of drum rolls. Fragment Two concludes with a breathtaking vocal harmony of which seems to echo throughout the remainder of the album despite never being reused. These New Puritans know how to apply subtle brushstrokes to a painting, and their attention to detail will serve them well in the future.
Nicolas Jarr and Dave Harrington’s project Darkside is tough to label. Their mix of psychedelic swirls with electronic ambience is quite a remarkable one, and it shows how well it can be done on their debut album Psychic. How else can you describe this music? The album starts off with the longest song on there, which is usually used for the very end. The song, Golden Arrow, visits all rooms within a household and makes use of as many sounds and waves as it can without overstaying its welcome. It leaks into the rest of the album, which works almost like a ghost let out of said house. From there on, we get a haunted jam track with Heart, an invasion of the night scene with The Only Shrine I’ve Seen, and the album’s final track Metatron, which almost sounds like the evil entity’s final heartbeats. As sinister as this abstract album is, it is as deep as the ocean floor in both sound and symbolism. It really is an album you can make your own. With music that should be challenging, the duo at Darkside have made each and every unsettling sound, invasive rhythm, unusual line and haunting vocal one you can warm up to within seconds. Perhaps their project name comes from the idea that we could all reflect on our darkest desires here and there.
8. Kurt Vile-Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile’s been around for a while now, but his exposure is only being spread now thanks to his dream folk album Wakin On A Pretty Day. His voice is very 60’s and can be compared to the voices of Lou Reed and even Bob Dylan to an extent. The cover art has Vile standing in front of a huge mural dedicated to this very album. He could be waiting to hitch a ride. I’d like to think so. It reflects the feel of the album very well, especially with all of these thoughts running through his head (and on the wall) wherever he goes. Like both Reed and Dylan, this journey peruses is within himself and the human mind as much as it is one of distance. Vile graces us with gifted guitar playing (which shines on songs like Pure Pain and Shame Chamber) and a large palette of styles (KV Crimes is a garage song splurge, Girl Called Alex is a shoegaze-like daydream, and the title track is a Grateful Dead-like jam shoved into space). He is as knowledgeable as he is vulnerable. We hear his woes and curiosities, yet we hear his wisdoms of learning from his mistakes too. Wakin on a Pretty Daze has opened many new listeners to Kurt Vile, so we have his older catalogue to check out until his next road trip across the American Dream comes out (which can’t be soon enough).
7. Fuck Buttons-Slow Focus
Well, this certainly isn’t the most inviting album of the year. So it’d seem. With drums and bass distortion that were too heavy to top this year (even by Kanye West, M.I.A. and Death Grips), UK electronic drone duo Fuck Buttons have returned with Slow Focus which is a very appropriate album name. Each song will start off with an initial idea that will live throughout the entire song (and these ideas never ever get stale, even when songs go for over ten minutes). These songs just get more and more layers the longer they live, as if they are monsters growing in size and in strength. Even the two intermission songs, Year of the Dog and Prince’s Prize, are unorthodoxly uncomfortable rather than assuring. The guitar fuzz (or what sounds like a guitar, anyways) roars throughout almost every song the longer they sit, and you won’t know if you can be able to withstand these attacks. With all of this negativity being said, Slow Focus is actually the most inviting album of the year (contrary to my beginning line of this paragraph), and my initial statement is exactly what it is: The beginning thought you will have. What Fuck Buttons do here isn’t push you away, but instead get you to find something worth clinging onto through nightmarish songs. The music itself may be difficult, but the intentions of each song will get you through to the end each and every time. You’ll be wanting to go through each scary path all over again until you show this album to your friends until they discover the same surprising accessibility.
6. Vampire Weekend-Modern Vampires of the City
I never got Vampire Weekend before. Yeah, their songs were pretty likable, but I never truly loved most of their songs (save for Diplomat’s Son). When Modern Vampires of the City received a lot of praise, I was a bit hesitant to check it out. This was the same praise that followed Contra and their self titled album, which never truly clicked with me. I decided to check it out anyways, as a reviewer can’t turn down an album outright. Boy, was my quick-to-assume ass kicked. Modern Vampires of the City is nothing like their old material, and is a huge leap ahead of many other indie bands of our time. Vampire Weekend still have a huge passion for Paul Simon, yet here they drop Simon’s world-pop music found on Graceland and instead remark on his older styles with partner Art Garfunkel. That’s just vocally and stylistically, anyways. The production here is very daring, with voices being played with like play doh, equalizer settings being played for the exact same sound clip to subtly shift a song into new territory, and lushes of melodies being tampered with and put back together. The amount of double meanings here is worth noting, from the obvious Diane Young (“if Diane Young [dying young] won’t change your mind”), to the most complicated of song interpretations already made by fans. Modern Vampires of the City is an album for any music lover despite your preconceived notions of the band and their previous capabilities (of which they have beaten by light years here).