The week after the Grammys is always hard for music lovers. Trying to hold faith in new music despite a night of celebrity mash-ups and ill-deserved awards can prove nearly impossible. Times are bleak. But here's group of empathetic records that whisper condolences while reminding you the Grammys are irrelevant. Fittingly, so many of this week's newest arrivals are an unsettled lot. The presence of uncertain grounding or just general seasonal bleakness is like what Game of Thrones warned us of: winter is coming. Variations in subtlety are about the only difference between album themes; whether it's creating shaky atmospheres or just being outrageously aggressive. This group of albums is perfect for a morning of staying inside while dealing with sub-zero temperatures and sub-par award shows. Ease yourself back into good music with some of these musical offerings.
On Fifth, the fifth album from the Wilco side project, the Autumn Defense, John Stirratt and Pat Sansone re-embark in their easy-grooving, good-vibes rock tunes. After a four-year break in between albums, it's always nice to hear the guys put out a new set of songs. The single, album-opener "None Of This Will Matter," showcases the duo's decades of solid songwriting maturity and fortitude. Smooth, cascading harmonies contrasted with sharp repetition make a solid musical backing for the getting-over-it-and-moving-on lyrics. Lyrically, it's a sincere and completely irony-free statement; like the duo lives in a world without the Internet. Warm and welcoming, the track treks through well-trodden territory but in a skillfully precise manner. They prove not every great song needs to be groundbreaking; sometimes just a bit of talent and honesty can do the trick.
This is also the case with Brooklyn indie-poppers, Hospitality. On Trouble, they adapt a clearer, more pop-sensible tone than in their 2012 self-titled debut. More focused and firm in creating catchy hooks with precision timing, they filtered and refined their style. Though they fall in line with other indie-pop acts rehashing the '60s (i.e. Cults, Vampire Weekend, etc.), it's not without some good and intriguing merit. The single, "I Miss Your Bones," makes great work of asymmetrical rhythms. They create memorable little grooves out of questionable foundations like a beautiful portrait made out of toenail clippings. The track's main theme is a fully synchronized bit, showing off the band's skill and Ivy league music education. Vocals lock into the groove but with enough natural flow as to not come off robotic.
One problem displays itself on this album: either Hospitality stole Vampire Weekend's drum kit or indie producers only know one drum tone. The fat and reverb-less snare drums, reminiscent of late '70s kits, are so prevalent in indie pop today it's beginning to sound like there's just one very busy drummer. Admittedly, it's an inherently cool sound: laid back; behind the beat; nostalgic. But when every song's 2 and 4 drops with a "fud," it gets old. Hopefully in the rest of 2014 we can leave behind the homogenous drum sounds.
In a raucous, "innocence lost" answer to boring drums, Pontiak's new album, INNOCENCE, is an aural punch to the face. The single "Innocence" starts and ends loud, heavy and aggressive. The track reeks of beer-soaked sweat with an endless supply of youthful aggression. While it'd be a gregarious track regardless, the drum patterns directly following the guitar lines give it that extra push it never needed. The song basically consists of two riffs, both loud and both repeated to death. And for a two-minute song, it certainly feels long. The shouted vocals reverb into space and give it a little extra character. Given the rest of the song's punk-basement atmosphere, it wouldn't matter much if the vocals weren't there. The album makes a surprising turn about four songs through. The track "Wildfires" is an unexpectedly lovely song. Trading in electric for acoustic (with some electric backing), "Wildfires" is a beautiful, chanting, folksy ballad where the guys show off their Virginia roots. The album mixes these two worlds; aggressive rock and sensitive folk. Bouncing back and forth, sometimes mid-song, the album creates an interesting genre mash-up.
On the electronic end of things, in Ghettoville, by British musician Actress, we're treated to a lo-fi, grungy yet calm world. The track "Our" brilliantly loops soft and low bit rate synthesizers alongside clicking and sparse drums. There's a lot of repetition, but the phrases are long enough and so full of character it doesn't tire out. In doing so, he creates highly mechanized worlds that leave the listener with an intrigued uncertainty. The album gets dirty. Debris and rust coat the once polished metal of Actress' synths from 2012's R.I.P. Ghettoville paints a special kind of post-apocalyptic scenario; feeling very inhuman it carries a robotic sense of peaceful solitude. For die-hard fans, along with this album Actress also released a vinyl box set entitled Ghettoville/Hazyville, which includes Ghettoville along with his 2008 debut LP, Hazyville.
On the naturalistic and nostalgic side of the electronic spectrum, Bibio's The Green [EP] is a beautifully gentle little record. The track "Dye The Water Green," which previously appeared on last year's release Silver Wilkinson, embodies Bibio's use of guitar-laden harmonies and, like most Bibio tracks, develops into almost a completely different song. A folk aesthetic takes over his style in this EP, which we saw some of in Silver Wilkinson, but not to this degree. More in line with his less electronic works, new tracks like "Dinghy" and "A Thousand Syllables" rely on vocals and guitars instead of synths and samples. In this album that sounds like Wes Anderson produced it, kitschy and nuanced production takes the forefront, ultimately making it a "cute" record. Its overly vintage-styled production at times can get in the way of the great composing taking place.
Wrapping this week's round-up of new releases is Dum Dum Girls' Too True. This album makes the heart swell. Lush layers of guitars and vocals fill their sound with an incredible warmth. Skillfully employed reverb and splashy, diffused drums brings their wall of sound to life. The track "Under These Hands" has the catchiness of a rock anthem but with the sensitivity to score the parting shot of an emotional indie film. Taking definite stylistic cues from '80s production techniques mixed with solid songwriting and orchestration, the album feels familiar like a long lost mixtape from an old flame.
It's probably a safe bet that none of this week's artists will ever feel compelled to apologize to Kendrick Lamar or wear strange Smokey the Bear hats. And that's probably for the best. The albums released this week are, and will probably remain, under the radar. Though, that speaks nothing to their overall quality. Whether it's The Autumn Defense's incredible songwriting or Actress' sound manipulation, these records bring life to music when it's most needed.