Album Roundup, Music

Album Roundup: Summer 2013

By Jack Evans

You may have noticed that we’ve been a bit short on content here at Smash Cut recently, and a lot of that is my fault, as music editor, for not writing enough stuff. But that’s going to change, and we’re hoping to knock out a big run of stuff here in the next few weeks before school kicks back in. To start, since it’s been a while since our last album roundup, here’s a rundown of some of this summer’s notable releases (most of the ones with write-ups are some of my favorites of the season). Since I’ve listened to a lot of stuff recently, at the end of the article are just some numerical ratings for the rest of what I’ve heard. Also keep an eye out for more Tracks of the Week, full-length reviews, music opinion pieces, features and interviews, and keep in mind that we’ll be presenting Milo’s headlining show with Safari Al at the Relix Variety Theatre with further support from Black Atticus, SoCro and MC Vague. That’s Saturday, August 10, all ages, $10 at the door or $7.50 in advance. But I digress.

Baths – Obsidian: One of the most striking things about Will Wiesenfeld’s sophomore effort as Baths is that it’s not nearly as much unabashed fun as his debut. In a way, though, that’s a good thing: Obsidian is an undeniable progression from 2011’s Cerulean, one so great that most indie artists would be afraid to make the leap. Whereas Cerulean was heavily instrumental with sparse vocals chopped up and whisked into the mix, Wiesendfeld uses his voice heavily on Obsidian without filter, and the songs’ structures lend the album more of a “pop” tone, despite the dark musical undertones. Wiesenfeld’s lyrics have similarly darkened to match, tackling subjects like anxiety, depression, and failed relationships. So even though Obsidian isn’t as immediately catchy as its predecessor, it’s at least a success in taking a risky career move and pulling it off. [7.5]

Bosnian Rainbows – Bosnian Rainbows: For better or worse, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the musical mastermind behind The Mars Volta and a member of post-hardcore pioneers At the Drive-In, has become known as a bit of a recording arts control freak. Bosnian Rainbows, a “supergroup” that also includes former Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and Le Butcherettes vocalist Teri Gender Bender, is the result of both TMV’s dissolution and his desire to work as a band member rather than a band leader. The project’s self-titled release isn’t quite like anything Rodriguez-Lopez has produced before – it keeps some of his progressive tendencies and his love for genre-bending but incorporates more elements of alternative rock and synth pop. Not to mention, him toning down his erratic playing and song structures to build something more straightforward is an accomplishment in itself. [8.0]

Brave Bird – Maybe You, No One Else Worth It: One of the cardinal sins of music is offering nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake; likewise, it’s inversely wonderful when a band can put out a record that invokes nostalgia while still offering something fresh. Michigan trio Brave Bird pull of the latter on their new album, Maybe You, No One Else Worth It, with great success. The pop-punk aspect of their music offers a somewhat familiar taste and an energetic bounce, but it’s made more interesting by heavy incorporation of classic Midwestern emo and more accessible indie rock. [8.5]

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories: Lose yourself to dance. [8.5]

The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer: The Dillinger Escape Plan have never released a bad album, but One of Us is the Killer is especially notable. It’s here that future heavy music aficionados will point to Ben Weinman’s transformation into a full-fledged guitar god, and it’s easily the best performance yet from mega-muscular frontman Greg Pucciato, be it in the form of harsh screams or the alluring croons on the title track. And it’s a perfect representation of everything DEP stands for, down to the wording of the title, dark and morbid but also playful and blackly humorous in a way. Most importantly, though, this is their best album yet. In toning down their traditionally challenging mathcore-isms just ever so slightly (without losing any of the intensity), they’ve made their most accessible record, one that allows them the full range of their complex, impressive songwriting ability. [9.1]

Disclosure – Settle: The much-buzzed-about debut from the much-buzzed-about British fraternal duo of Guy and Howard Lawrence has, like many recent high-profile releases, generated controversy in some corners of the internet for a ridiculous reason: the question of exactly what genre it is. But regardless of its label, Disclosure’s mixture of house music with more accessible pop and R&B – provided in part by guests including Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge, and Jessie Ware – provides a much needed injection of new energy into the stagnating (especially in America) popular electronic music scene. [8.2]

Listener – Time is a Machine: Despite the title, there’s nothing mechanical about the latest from the Dan Smith-led post-hardcore/talk music outfit Listener, an album which sees them at their most musical and Smith at his most poetically potent, delivering his verses with a conviction and desperation that’s nearly unmatched in music. [8.5]

The Ocean – Pelagial: One part Andrei Tarkovsky, one part marine ecology, and one part thinking man’s sludge reminiscent of Mastodon and the like, the sixth full-length release from fast-rising European metal collective The Ocean is a conceptual journey exploring psychology, autonomy, and the subconscious. The song titles are taken from the layers of the ocean (the first track being the shallowest, twinkling with piano, the last being the darkest, most crushing depths of the abyss), and the composition follows suit, allowing for the group, led by guitarist Robin Staps, to incorporate both the thick heaviness of their earlier work and the lighter prog of their more recent releases, making for their most musically varied and interesting album to date. [8.5]

Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana: One of the bands that Sadie Dupuis, frontwoman of Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz, cut her teeth in was called Babement – you guessed it, an all-female Pavement tribute band. That provides some indication of the content of Speedy Ortiz’s full length debut, which harkens back to the indie-guitar-rock of bands like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. Dupuis’ lyrics are often thoughtful and personal but also clever and playful, like on “Fun,” where she juxtaposes educated insults with the, erm, cocky boast of “I’m getting my dick sucked on the regular.” And while Major Arcana’s fuzzy guitar leads recall another era of alternative music, it’s a wholly fresh addition to today’s musical landscape. [8.7]

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City: The third album from the scholarly New York indie artists shows a remarkable evolution, both in terms of their sound and in terms of quality (and that’s not to say they were bad in the first place). They’ve sharply transitioned from the Paul Simon worship of their first two LPs to an impressive musical range that hones in on everything from rockabilly and alt-country to electronic and hip-hop. As breathtaking centerpiece “Hannah Hunt” and lead single “Step” show, Ezra Koenig has grown into a lyrical storyteller deserving of high regard without sacrificing any of his wit or literary leanings – but that’s just one of the things that makes Modern Vampires so spectacular. [9.7]

The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation: Partially due to its vast oversaturation in the early part of the century and partly due to the refusal of many to take it seriously, pop-punk is seldom a genre that offers something truly great. But The Wonder Years’ lyrically poignant fourth album is the genre’s best in recent memory, one that puts the band in the same territory as Brand New when it comes to pop-punk mastery. [9.0]

The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Whenever, If Ever: Over the last couple of years, TWIABP have somehow made themselves into the biggest (literally and figuratively speaking) name in emo music while taking forever to release a full-length. Their debut LP is a joy to listen to, overlain with blankets of post-rock and strains of synth, and the album’s perfect end makes the wait undeniably worth it. [8.3]

Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here [4.6]; Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury [8.3]; August Burns Red – Rescue and Restore [4.5]; Bibio – Silver Wilkinson [7.3]; Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark [7.2]; Bonobo – The Northern Borders [7.2]; Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap [8.6]; Date Palms – The Dusted Sessions [6.4]; The Dear Hunter – Migrant [6.4]; Deafheaven – Sunbather [9.5]; Deerhunter – Monomania [6.3]; Dirty Beaches – Drifter/Love is the Devil [7.5]; Full of Hell – Rudiments of Mutilation [6.8]; Kanye West – Yeezus [8.7]; Kylesa – Ultraviolet [7.2]; letlive. – The Blackest Beautiful [5.9]; Mac Miller – Watching Movies with the Sound Off [7.2]; Michael Cronin – MCII [7.0]; milo – Cavalcade [8.0] Misery Signals – Absent Light [8.3]; Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth [7.4]; Mouth of the Architect – Dawning [8.3]; Nails – Abandon All Life [7.7]; The National – Trouble Will Find Me [8.2]; Old Gray – An Autobiography [7.8]; oOoOO – Without Your Love [5.7]; Palms – Palms [6.5]; Pity Sex – Feast of Love [5.7]; Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends [7.9]; Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork [8.4]; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels [8.0]; Savages – Silence Yourself [8.3]; Scale the Summit – The Migration [8.3]; Set and Setting – Equanimity [8.1]; Shining – One One One [6.5]; Sigur Ros – Kveikur [8.2]; Tera Melos – X’ed Out [7.4]; Their/They’re/There – Their/They’re/There EP [7.6]; Weekend – Jinx [8.2]

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