By Spencer. In this month’s edition of The Consumer, we feature Alabama Shakes, plus a slew of under-the-radar releases from Villagers, Courtney Barnett, The Wombats, Say Lou Lou, and The Staves.
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color: You already know Alabama Shakes as 2013’s Best New Artist at the Grammys and one of the most buzzed-about indie bands in years. But on their follow-up, Sound & Color, it’s pretty clear we didn’t know Alabama Shakes at all. Not content to just ride the Jack White-meets- Adele, retro-soul sound that got them here, Brittany Howard and company are apparently out to prove they can’t be fit into a box. Sound & Color is shadowy and complex, taking on a sound that sometimes recalls the late-70s eras of Led Zeppelin or the Stones without ever sounding like a mess. The songs become more ambitious as the album plays on, highlighted here by “Gimme All Your Love,” which goes from a slow groove to a speedy prog-rock romp by the coda. And then there are quieter moments like “Guess Who” that show that a band willing to do far more than just rock out. It’s an album that’s all over the place, without sounding all-over-the-place.
Alabama Shakes – “Gimme All Your Love”
Villagers – Darling Arithmetic: On the opposite side of the spectrum comes the new one from Villagers. Dublin songwriter Conor O’Brien has put out two Mercury Prize-nominated albums to date, but those were more grandiose affairs. Darling Arithmetic is more intimate—O’Brien personally recorded each and every instrument in his own home—and much more searing, examining questions of self-identity in romance both from the universal perspective and through the lens of a man newly open in his sexual identity. Lyrically, “Courage” and “Little Bigot” most starkly speak to the album’s theme, but I love two other tracks, “Dawning On Me” and “The Soul Serene,” even more—for the way they speak to everyday feelings with deceptively simple songwriting.
Villagers – “The Soul Serene”
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit: Australia’s Courtney Barnett may be the cynical millennial’s answer to Bob Dylan. Another rising star in indie circles, Barnett’s 2014 “double-EP” album earned her plenty of praise on this site and elsewhere. That was just a warm-up, though, because Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is a complete breakthrough. Still marrying her trademark smart-ass storytelling with driving early 90s guitar sounds, you’d expect a certain slacker aesthetic to it all—and don’t worry, there’s a bit of that. But underlying that is a fine-tuned attention to craft that signals Barnett may be destined for greater things. Full of humor, bitterness, and subtle wisdom, there’s just too much to love about Barnett’s music. Keep an ear on her.
Courtney Barnett – “Small Poppies”
The Wombats – Glitterbug: God knows this site loves Britpop. So the timing is perfect to take a first listen to Liverpool’s The Wombats, who are doing their best to put the “pop” back into the genre on Glitterbug. With an obviously teen-friendly sound, you’ll just have to forgive them for track names like “Emoticons,” “This Is Not A Party,” and “Your Body Is A Weapon.” This isn’t music for the Oxford and Cambridge crowds, and it doesn’t aspire to be. It’s just high-energy party music for those who still think there’s a place for guitars underneath all the sugary beats. And hey, there are far worse ways to start your career than being a bubble-gum pop band from Liverpool.
The Wombats – “Emoticons”
Say Lou Lou – Lucid Dreaming: Staying in the pop vein, Say Lou Lou come from a slightly different lineage. Twin sisters Miranda and Elektra Kilbey-Jansson are the daughters of members of the cult 80s alternative band, The Church, and the Swedish new wave group, Pink Champagne. If that sentence weren’t confusing enough, it actually goes a great way toward describing their sound: indie synth-pop with a heavy melodic flair and just the right amount of darkness. You’ll hear notes of everything from My Bloody Valentine to Coldplay on Lucid Dreaming, but unlike The Wombats, this one won’t leave a sickeningly sweet aftertaste in your mouth.
Say Lou Lou – “Beloved”
The Staves – If I Was: I dismissed The Staves after one listen to their 2012 debut, Dead & Born & Grown. They felt like just another bland acoustic folk band, the kind we must inevitably suffer through in the wake of The Civil Wars and The Lumineers. Then I heard If I Was, and I take it all back. Both the songwriting and the production have taken huge strides on this sophomore effort, and no doubt some of the credit for that lies with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who produced the record. But give credit also to the talents of the three Staveley-Taylor sisters, who definitely show the ambition to be something greater than the sum of their parts, with fuller instrumentation and songs that take surprising turns away from just folk and into a broader musical palette. If only I were wrong this often.
The Staves – “Blood I Bled”
7 thoughts on “The Consumer: Picks For April”
I was actually just thinking this weekend that someone should write up a “spring picks” list. I feel like there’s been a lot of things worth listening to and not enough time to give them a full write-up. I’m obsessed with the Villagers and The Staves. I still don’t know about the others…I’d definitely add Laura Marling. It’s a bit quieter than her last one, but truly fierce in its storytelling.
Laura Marling was deleted for space, but I do like her album. Everyone’s hyping it as her “Marling goes electric” moment, but I don’t really hear much of a difference to be honest. The spirit of the music is still the same. If anything, she’s a victim of her own success, since it doesn’t even seem noteworthy to me when she puts out a good album; I mean, that happens, what, once a year?
The Villagers caught me on a rainy Saturday and it was perfect now I dig it. Absolutely love the Alabama Shakes, in contention for my favorite of the year. I would add Sufjan to the mix. That album floors me everytime. I also love Tobias Jesso Jr. Antony, curious to your thoughts on the Ryley Walker and Lord Huron? I’ve tried on both but they both lose my attention fast.
I know you love the Sufjan album, Biff, but I honestly found it to be pretty boring. Looking back, he’s an artist he seemed like he had so much promise, and yet I can recall maybe three songs of his I even like anymore.
Now I’m completely with you on Ryley Walker and Lord Huron, though. The Walker album kind of dragged for me. And Lord Huron — what a disappointment! Their last one was one of my absolute favorite albums of the past half-decade. This one sounds like a watered-down version of it; exact same sound, but with less charm and less catchiness to the melodies. It felt like a band trying to emulate itself but not quite getting it right.
Agree to disagree on Sufjan, let’s just say I almost lost my dad two weeks ago to a heart issue and while I waiting for test results and surgery this album was solace.
What about Ryan Adams at Carniege Hall and his new EP? or the new Blur( which I love).
I didn’t think much of the Ryley Walker and I really dug his first one. I know a few people who really have connected with the Sufjan. Unfortunately, I haven’t. The Lord Huron is better than I expected, but yeah, there’s something a bit too close the last one. “The World Ender” I think adds something to the formula though.
I still haven’t listened to the Blur but expect to love it. And the Ryan Adams EP is awesome. I feel like it captures him in an unguarded moment as if the song is pouring out of him rather than being crafted or thrown off. His string of EPs has been hit and miss. This is a hit. All three songs are great. You?
Great Villagers interview: http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4148948-villagers-discusses-homophobia-death-and-darling-arithmetic