Lightfoils—‘Hierarchy’ (Saint Marie)
I often find myself wincing a little on the inside when I’m introduced to a new band that self-assigns the term ‘shoegaze.’ Perhaps this is a holdover from when I first became obsessed with that first wave of shoegaze and quickly found a legion of lackluster bands identifying under that umbrella as well—it was usually made up of half-assed my bloody valentine copyists that cheapened the descriptor and trampled upon everything that made it a distinctive and special type of music to begin with. As such I’ve always been a little cautious when first listening to local band Lightfoils. With ‘Hierarchy’ they’re doing what I’ve always hoped later wave shoegaze bands would do—take those sounds from that first wave as a jumping off point to build upon rather than to merely imitate. ‘Diastolic’ is the perfect example of what I’m talking about here—it’s a fantastic song with great melodies, awesomely trippy guitar sounds that don’t sacrifice clarity in their stacked effects held up by a great beat plowed through with gusto by an able-bodied rhythm section. There’s also plenty of sighing, mysterious beauty on this album, but above all else there’s a diversity of sounds that flies in the face of copyist complacency. It’s inspiring to hear and even more inspiring to have found an entire subculture of similarly-minded bands bubbling under the surface on the very strong online shoegaze movement.
thelightshines—‘Now The Sandman Sings’ (Great Pop Supplement)
A very last minute addition, thelightshines does an incredible job of walking the tightrope between jangly, psychedelic pop and some incredibly out-there trippiness. Initially available only as a self-released limited edition LP and digital download the colored vinyl version that came out on Great Pop Supplement has already sold out. I'd do almost anything to hear a full-length version of the three part ‘Kaleidoscope‘ without the fades. The record builds nicely, never delving too deeply into jangly brightness and never losing itself in self-indulgent layers of effects. Closer ‘God is a Gun‘ ties the whole thing together and leaves you wanting more, which can be acquired via a digital download of older material on the band‘s website called ‘Before the Sandman Sung.‘
Ex Hex—‘Rips’ (Merge)
‘Rips’ is the best thing Mary Timony’s done in years—probably since ‘The Golden Dove’ if you ask me. Even better, it’s nice to see her getting some positive feedback for it lately as she tends to get raked over the coals unfairly (and really always has been if you look at a lot of what was written about her during her days in Helium). It’s well-deserved—this is an air-tight album of hard-hitting power pop with just enough of Timony’s requisite jaw-dropping ability to shred paired with her take-no-shit lyrics. It’s great to hear her sound this invigorated after so many years and so many bands.
Sharon Van Etten—‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)
While I didn't get as sucked in by this self-produced effort as I did with 2012‘s ‘Tramp‘ this is still a very strong album. The songs are far more consistent and the production is very controlled and disciplined—it was a wise decision to make the album with the band that spent two years touring with her for ‘Tramp.‘ There is less of a schizophrenic palate of sounds than on the previous album, which would have to do with the fact that it was made almost entirely with guest players and spread out over the course of a two-year period. These performances are very crisp and the mixes are bright and organic. ‘Tarifa‘ has always been the highlight for me, but there are a few decent intense offerings on here like ‘Break Me,‘ ‘You Know Me Well,‘ the suitably dramatic ‘Your Love is Killing me‘ and opening statement-of-intent ‘Afraid of Nothing.‘ A lot of the songs have a more optimistic tone, but one that is fragile and genuine. As a cycle of songs they are all tied together by the beauty, wonder, fragility and danger of giving yourself over completely to falling in love. It can be surprisingly uplifting when someone has the guts to tell it like it is and Van Etten has laid herself bare here.
Goat—‘Commune’ (Sub Pop)
I still have never heard Goat's 2012 album ‘World Music‘ so I have no basis for comparison. The general consensus I‘ve heard is that ‘Commune‘ is less concerned with accessibility than ‘World Music.‘ This album gets an awful lot done in its fairly short duration—it‘s the sound of a band going for broke with reckless abandon. Closing track ‘Gathering of Ancient Tribes‘ is my favorite here—it nails the intensity that the album has spent every second building up to. I’ve heard a lot of talk about what a spectacle the band is to witness live, I am curious to see if they spend as much time touring this time around. It seems that they’ve done a good job of translating their live intensity onto tape on ’Commune.’ It’s the type of record that sounds like it was made less than a week after returning from a lengthy and grueling touring schedule—the point at which a band is beyond exhausted, but when they pick up their instruments their instincts and emotions take over and run the show completely.
Thee Oh Sees—‘Drop’ (Castleface)
I feel kind of bad that I didn’t give this album the attention it deserved when it first came out. On first listen all I noticed was that it wasn’t as strong as ’Floating Coffin,’ which was probably the best of the many Oh Sees releases preceding it. It came out during what John Dwyer referred to as an ’indefinite hiatus.’ When most bands make this announcement it’s code for ’break-up.’ Dwyer moved to LA, reformed his previous band, the garage punk Coachwhips, reissued a few of their records and then headed to South-by-Southwest with them to play a million shows in a weekend, returned home, formed a new trio version of Thee Oh Sees and within a few more months they were right back to normal. I still haven’t witnessed this new iteration of the band live (both of their November shows at the Empty Bottle sold out well in advance) I’m guessing that this album is a good indicator of what they are aiming for live. What’s most fascinating about this set of songs to me is that they somehow sound polished and raw all at the same time. The title track is something that wouldn’t be out of the question to hear on the radio. Then there are the supremely out-there and fuzzed-up beauties like ’Transparent World’ and ’Savage Victory’ mixed with the slight menace and beauty of the strings and horns embellished ’The Lens.’ It’s a supremely weird record, even in the context of Thee Oh Sees.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre—‘Revelation’ (A Records)
As a record ’Revelation’ doesn't flow quite as well as 2012’s excellent ’Aufheben,’ but there are a few more standout tracks that manage to take that familiar 60s pastiche that the Brian Jonestown Massacre is known for and push it into unfamiliar territory on this newest offering. ’Memory Camp’ has that deliriously hooky, snaking, chunky melody building up through it until it fades out to the sound of it repeating for ever and ever. There is also ’Days, Weeks and Moths’ which builds on the dreamiest ’Aufheben’ track ’The Clouds are Lies’ and then there’s the title track of the preceding EP ’Food for Clouds’ which features Anton Newcombe pulling off his finest Ian McCulloch impression mixed with some infectious synth melodies and layered, driving acoustics. It seems that ’Aufheben’ may have been a launching pad for the newest phase of the band since it signals the return of a guitar and band-driven sound for BJM that many longtime fans have been hoping for since the release of 2010’s ’Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ While it is the return of that familiar template the make-up of the music and the songs couldn’t possibly be more different than it had been before 2005’s mini-album ’We Are the Radio.’
The Raveonettes—‘Pe’ahi’ (Beat Dies)
The Raveonettes continue a nice run with this self-released offering, many of the songs were inspired by a near-death experience that singer/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner had while surfing on the Hawaiian island that the album takes its name from. The songs are suitably dark, uncontrolled and unapologetic for such an inspiration. It’s one of the first albums I’ve seen to sport a ’Parental Advisory’ sticker since their prevalence in the early 90s. It matches the fury and noise of their debut EP ’Whip It On.’ Tracks like ’Sisters’ introduce a quickly-shifting dynamic element as the squalls of noise are broken into short bursts by stark, melodic breaks of sampled harp flourishes. ’Killer in the Streets’ moves with the urgent push of its sleazy electronic beat underneath its ever-shifting layers of vocal harmonies, guitar melodies and noises—it’s a great indication of how a majority of the album’s tracks have been carefully constructed.
Mogwai—‘Rave Tapes’ (Sub Pop)
While I wasn’t as impressed with ’Rave Tapes’ as I was with last year’s ’Les Revenents’ soundtrack it's still a testament to the fact that Mogwai are still capable of making a strong, bold move so many albums and years into their career. Tired and uninspired is definitely not what I hear when I listen to it, it’s more the sound of a band that isn’t afraid to take chances even if it means occasionally falling on their faces. What’s more this record features some of the band’s most distinctive-sounding tracks in years—’Heard About You Last Night,’ ’The Lord is Out of Control’ and ’Hexon Bogon’ are all to die for and outshine the finest moments on 2011’s formidable ’Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will.’ I also really love the bonus track that came with my download code—’Tell Everybody That I Love Them’ would fall under that category as well.
Foxygen—‘...and Star Power’ (Jagjaguwar)
Interestingly a lot of what I find off-putting about this record is reflective of what I love so much about it—it’s beyond schizophrenic, completely uneven, at least half of it sounds carelessly tossed-off, but it’s a proper 70s style double LP in every possible way (and more). While I haven’t listened to it that much pieces of it come to me randomly at almost any time—for instance I caught myself singing the multiple hooks that make up the glorious weirdness that is ’Cosmic Vibrations’ multiple times today. What’s most surprising is that this is a record where even at its weirdest almost any moment on this record has the potential to inspire a similar moment.