It’s been a great year for music. As we roll into the second half of 2016, we’ll keep sharing some of the best albums that roll past our radar. Thanks for reading and listening!

a0278585314_10Andy Shauf – The Party [Anti-]

You’ll get no complaints out of me regarding the growing trend towards “smooth” music. Born on Miles Davis and reared on Steely Dan, my affinity for relaxed rhythms and warm tones runs deep in my blood. So when I hear an album like Andy Shauf’s The Party, there is a visceral reaction that is not unlike a warm blanket that has a vice like grip on me, leading me to indulge in these (somewhat) guilty pleasures under the privacy of headphones. In my weaker moments, I might even throw on some Christopher Cross to chase that leisurely dragon. However, with this trend gaining traction over the past few years, there has been a lot more focus on style over substance. Many bands seem to be riding the waves with merely a facade of laidbackedness, neglecting the heart of any song, which is just that…the song, itself! That isn’t to say that something real and substantial can’t rise above all this soft noise. Andy Shauf brings a level of songwriting and structure that has you wondering if this isn’t some lost gem of the 70s, only to confirm its place in modern music with ideas that could have only been born by someone exploring the last 20 years of music. The vibe is rich and goes down easy, but the songs are just as impactful and relevant as the sounds they are supporting.

5-20-car-seat-headrestCar Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial [Matador]

Escapism and angst have seemingly always been a factor in popular music. Throughout history you’ll find great movements of music and art born out of great tragedy or hard times. This art is often a great reference point for the culture it was born out of and telling of where our focus is at these times. In more modern times, this has been mostly evident in punk and its many iterations. Car Seat Headrest is continuing that time honored tradition of upbeat, catchy rock tunes covering heavy subject matter, relevant to today’s youth. Teens of Denial fits right into place with our modern focus on self and the abundance of information we pull from, leading to a more introspective view of who we are and how we work. Songs of youthful angst are nothing new, but instead of pointing fingers at oppressors and authority figures, we now hear and see all sides of the arguments and look more inward for the source of our angst. Teens of Denial is a first account of the subject’s depression and personal relationships, all the while including the point of view of the other players in their lives. The music takes on an almost impressionistic quality, shifting mood and dynamic to fit with more introspective lyrics and moods. All faux Freudian analytics aside, this is just a real beauty of a rock album. Fans of power pop and punk will be instantly hooked.

a0223797556_10Tangents – Stateless [Temporary Residence]

When I was working towards being a more studied musician, I kept running across a concept adopted by many players regarding rehearsal: spend time on scales and theory, but leave time for exploration of sounds. Listen to the colors your instrument is capable of and try to manipulate those colors. Don’t just play notes. I feel like this sort of thinking is integral to discovering new ideas in music. For me, the combination of an experienced understanding of music mixed with a true love of sound and discovery makes for some of my absolute favorite recordings. Tangents is the complete embodiment of this idea. Listening to this isn’t dissimilar to reading a good adventure book or even science fiction. Almost everything is new and intriguing. Music evokes many thoughts and emotions, but one of the most rare would be the sense of curiosity, perhaps only achieved if the musicians are acting out of curiosity themselves. This entirely instrumental album uses a mix of electronic and organic sounds, however skillfully blurring the lines between the two, creating a sort of limbo between the tangible world of resonance and vibration and the ethereal world of manipulated electrical currents. The genres in which this could be defined are, themselves, broad and vague. It’s jazz, in that jazz is just a word; it’s post rock in that “rock” instruments are used; it’s electronic in that electricity is used to create many of the sounds. The ground that Stateless covers is too unfamiliar to be strongly categorized, but we are a record store and it is our job to wrap things up in a nice bow. So, once again, we will apply a term and put it out into the world. Taking a cue from the brilliantly ambiguous title Stateless, I deem this music to be Amorphous Bop. Do what you will with that.

a2505388722_10Big Thief – Masterpiece [Saddle Creek]

Speaking of genres we just make up because we can, I would like to talk a little bit about Slacker Rock. This is something I’ve really been excited about for a couple years now. If you’ve kept up with us, you’re probably familiar with this term and maybe some bands it applies to. If not, well, it’s pretty cut and dry. Slacker Rock is any band or album that has a general ambivalence to its sound. These bands aren’t concerned with sounding cool or angsty or well-rehearsed. They don’t give a shit and it shows. This isn’t to imply that they aren’t great musicians with chops and talent, they just don’t lean on them the way some folks do. What you get is pure human interaction. You almost feel like you’re sitting at a bar, having a beer with them, riffing on some bullshit you read online. To make a more clear distinction; think Courtney Barnett, Houndstooth, Parquet Courts, etc. I am adding Big Thief to this ever growing list of irreverent rockers. Adrianne Lenker’s voice, lyrics and melodies are strong and concise, but so seasoned as to seem effortless in their delivery. The band backs this vibe up, pounding out chords and simple melodies that jangle and crunch. This album has a lot of charm that the musicians don’t seem too interested in exploiting. That’s something to admire with all the shininess and posturing that goes on in rock n roll.

37d9b510Anohni – Hopelessness [Secretly Canadian]

Anohni (Formerly Antony of Antony and the Johnsons) creates the most beautiful and sad music I’ve ever heard. Her voice has the forlorn timbre of Nina Simone with a melodic range that dances like a cello. On Hopelessness, she teamed up with producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, blending their respective abilities to create dark, ambient electronic pop and more experimental soundscapes. Their contributions are apparent throughout the album, but Anohni is always the focus. Being no stranger to the sadness of an unjust world or the pain of living as someone you feel you are not, Anohni is not vague with her words. Every song on Hopelessness addresses her feeling towards an injustice she feels towards the world, some of which many of us can relate to. This is a beautiful album that is a joy to listen to and celebrate as a true work of art. Anohni is a rare artist, with a catalogue of music that is as timeless as it is current and relevant. For me, she has more than earned to right to bring us with her, down the darker paths of life and share some real feelings, even if they are sometimes hard to handle.