Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising at this point, but it still feels surprising… Cage the Elephant have really turned out to be a treat among the hit-or-miss indie rock scene. Even if their stuff is a bit sugary at times, the band’s latest album delivers the savvy grooves that first surfaced throughout their debut and truly blossomed around the time “Shake Me Down” started rippling across college radio. “Hypocrite” is a certain highlight on this new one; dig the laid-back charm of the guitars and Matthew Shultz’s lyrics.
Essentially dropping the Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City of 2013, Danny Brown certainly cemented his status as a contemporary rapper worth keeping on your radar. Dropping (some of) the dick jokes from his earlier work, Brown approaches Old with a measure of clarity and maturity (kinda). “Lonely” is a high-water mark here, given Brown’s balancing act of rendering a slick, autobiographical rap over the most sublime beat he’s ever thrown down. This is an album about Brown’s life. At times it’s harrowing; elsewhere it’s jubilant and hilarious. Dig in.
Days Are Gone
Blowing up the blogosphere more than any the album this month (save for Danny Brown’s latest, perhaps), Haim’s electro-sweet debut does what it sets out to do with aplomb. Infectious hooks do not make an album excellent on their own, but Haim’s dexterity on the synth boards shines through so brightly, it’s just impossible to ignore the goods.
Tremendously hyped on personal levels, The Dismemberment Plan’s first album in more than a decade is more than a bit shaky. But Uncanney Valley earns a spot on this month’s list for its revival of Travis Morrison’s much-needed input on modern society. Whereas his mid-20s angst filled in desperate voids as the new millennium ticked into uneasy existence, Morrison’s more mature - and maybe contented - perspective on life might help usher even the most detached souls into a new future. “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” stands out for its lyrical cream, while "No One's Saying Nothing" gets in the goofball humor Morrison has always been known for (though it may be a bit less witty these days...).
The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Tip o’ the hat to Stereogum’s Tom Breihan for this one. I hadn’t heard of Courtney Barnett prior to this, but, goddam, she’s got the goods. Patient in her songwriting, Barnett ambles her way through reflective tunes that reveal much about who she is. And that Aussie voice! Fantastic stuff. Album opener “Out of the Woodwork” is a gently flowing river of images.
Interestingly, this is not a *jubilant* album. But it’s a delight, nonetheless. The melody of “18th of December” hits just the right spot. On a different note, the jangly shuffle of “Red, Red Rose” accomplishes the more danceable feats of the album (and dig that organ!).
“Atmospheric,” for whatever that term’s worth, in all the right ways… Darkside’s latest cruises the ocean depths, presenting listeners with something closer to a biological entity than an album. It’s minimalist, and the musicians choose to revel in their sound-making capabilities rather than pursue classic song structure. “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen,” for instance, wriggles among shadows for a while before making way for a delightful, bluesy guitar riff. Check it out.
The Blind Boys of Alabama
I’ll Find a Way
Legends of gospel already, The Blind Boys of Alabama have managed to propel their own legacy by leagues with this latest album. And with Justin Vernon helming the production, there’s plenty here to draw the listener in. “I was extremely excited to be in a room with these guys who have been doing it for decades and decades,” Vernon said. From opener “God Put a Rainbow in the Cloud” to the powerful “Every Grain of Sand” and everything in between, this album (and all its guests) is another badass contribution to the Blind Boys’ canon.