There is a winter lull between mid December and early January. The steady stream of stellar releases freezes over, as consumers turn their attention to holiday gifts, travel and the transitioning from one year to the next. But, if you wait a couple weeks into January, you are always rewarded with an amazing Friday of releases. Where our “Five Favorites” for any other month might often include releases that came out the month before or some set to release on the following month, January often gives us plenty to work with.
Our picks for this month are all new releases available this Friday and next. Enjoy!
Pedro the Lion – Phoenix [Polyvinyl]
It’s understood that we love a good sad song because we can relate to emotions. Inside the writers experience, we look for the similarities. We can relate to being a certain age, being in a certain kind of relationship, being alone in a certain kind of place. For those of us from the “valley of the sun” we are given the rare gift of relating to the geography of these sad songs. David Bazan’s childhood was a series of uprooting, moving from town to town, every few years. With every move, he had new experiences, but those experiences were influenced by this lack of attachment to any one place. Because of this, new places take on a personality that might be taken for granted by those of us more rooted in our home towns. Phoenix was David Bazan’s home from birth till his early teens. Phoenix explores those early experiences and what it meant to be that kid on a bike, in our desert suburbs, only to have that pulled out from under you. It was on a tour through Phoenix where Bazan decided to revisit some of those old ghosts and found an album hidden in those memories. This visit has given us an album of beautifully sad songs and the return of Pedro the Lion, after years of releasing solo albums.
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between [Matador]
There’s an unpretentiousness to Steve Gunn’s music that is very satisfying. I’m not going to call out any particular artists, but let’s admit it, A LOT of what we love to listen to can be a bit contrived. But, the lack of any affectation in Gunn’s voice or music makes for something like a musical vacation from ourselves. This isn’t to say that the music isn’t “cool.” It’s plenty cool, which is apparent on the album cover, depicting Mr. Gunn wearing a jean jacket and shades, crouched next to his sticker adorned guitar case. That’s about as cool as it gets. But, like his music, this coolness comes naturally. Like his contemporaries, Kurt Vile & War On Drugs, this is undeniably jean jacket music. But, there’s a slightly nerdier approach to the instrumentation. Gunn is undeniably a great guitarist and he shows this with great restraint, only allowing those chops to show up in a well executed finger picked melody or in the occasional extended “jam.” There are elements of folk, jazz and classical well woven into these folk rock tunes. The Unseen In Between is simply a comfortable listen, with just the right amount of braininess.
Eerie Wanda – Pet Town [Joyful Noise] (Out 1/25)
This is a well needed return to the innocence of that 90s, early 2000s sweet sound of folk pop/twee, well represented by pioneering labels like K Records and Sub Pop. We can all turn our noses up, but deep down, we all miss the days when ukuleles reigned the musical landscape and there was nothing weird about your band having a hurdy gurdy player or a drummer that played a suitcase. This is the music born of thrift stores, where you buy an old casio keyboard for $10 and a handful of 50s “popular music” LPs, drink a 6 of PBR and pour your heart out into tape cassette recorder.
Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared [4AD]
Depending on how you listen to this one, this is either Deerhunter’s most optimistic or most bleak album, yet. There is an apparent shift in their sound, shedding much of the weighty distortion for sunny keys, fuzzy guitars and quirky arrangements. There’s a playfulness that I haven’t heard on previous Deerhunter albums, with a lot of toys being implemented. Perhaps this can be attributed to producer, Cate Le Bon, who was never afraid to explore the symphonic potential of the studio, with her own music. This is all offset by the bleakness of doom and gloom lyrics, pondering a burning world that seems to have no relief. Bradford Cox was never one to write cheery lyrics, but there’s an obvious emotional purging that adds much weight to this new, uplifted sound the band has found. On my first few listens, I would say this is my new favorite for Deerhunter. It’s a wholly mature sound that maintains the freshness of a debut album.
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow [Jagjaguwar]
Like Deerhunter, this is another album released well into a career that has found new breath and a fresh approach. We were all hooked on SVE upon her first couple releases and she has definitely kept our attention. But, Remind Me Tomorrow offers a lot of new ideas to sink our teeth into. With every SVE release, you can expect heartfelt songs sung with all the pain, love and emotion they warrant. Remind Me Tomorrow takes the music in many new directions, with a wealth of sonic soundscapes. Sharon Van Etten mastered the art of timeless song writing from the beginning. I could imagine it would be easy to fall back on classic tropes when putting those songs together as she often does with great success. This album almost sounds like a complete rejection of that impulse. The songs are still as classic and timeless as ever, but the ideas are wholly modern.