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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Releases from January - March 2013

Well we're a quarter of the way through 2013, so I thought I'd compile a list of a bunch of my favorite releases so far this year.

My favorite albums released January - March 2013

1) Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside - Untamed Beast

I wrote about this album a few weeks ago and I still cannot get enough of it. I had the pleasure of seeing the band perform this week, and they didn't disappoint. The band is a bit of a throwback to good old fashioned rock and roll, with several of the songs having a surf-rock vibe. Regardless of what they're playing, Sallie Ford's commanding vocals and no-nonsense lyrics steal the show. This is almost certain to remain one of my favorite albums of the year.

2) Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

After releasing maybe my favorite album ever in 2008 and releasing my second favorite album of 2010, my expectations were set extremely high for Pedestrian Verse. While that could have left me in danger of being let down by this record, Frightened Rabbit delivered yet again. I wrote more about the album when it came out, but the Scottish indie rockers have continued to impress. Scott Hutchison remains one of my favorite lyricists and that voice of his is just wonderful. I also got to see Frightened Rabbit perform a few weeks ago, and they were great. Hutchison prefaced the song "Oil Slick" by telling the crowd that it was written as sort of an apology for all of the things he had said about someone in previous songs. Lines like "How can I talk about life and warmth? I've got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm" show that he can do self deprecation with the best of them. If you're unfamiliar with the band, Pedestrian Verse is probably a pretty good entry point, but make sure you go back and check out Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks after.

3) Small Houses - Exactly Where You Wanted To Be

I've been meaning to write about this Small Houses (aka Jeremy Quentin) album for a while now and just haven't found the time to do it. Despite being a relative unknown (fewer than 1,000 likes on Facebook), he does alt-country / indie folk as well as anyone. I'm always a sucker for harmonica in songs, but everything works here. You can stream / download several songs including the incredible opening track "Oh, Hiding Out" here, but if you like it I highly recommend helping out an artist (hopefully) on the rise and buying the whole thing. If you listen to it even a fraction as much as I have/will you will more than get your money's worth.

4) Local Natives - Hummingbird

I wrote a bit about this album last month. The album marked a bit of a sonic change from Local Natives' last album, this time seeing the band eschew the more catchy tunes for something more atmospheric and dreamy. The vocal harmonies that helped carry the last album are still present, just now wrapped inside something new. While the last album was enjoyable, this album seems much better as an album to me and is a big step forward for the band. That's also not to say there aren't songs that stand out on Hummingbird. "Heavy Feet" is one of my favorite songs released so far this year. "Breakers" and "Ceilings" are other standout tracks.

5) Hey Marseilles - Lines We Trace

The Seattle based band picked up right where they left off with this album. Their Facebook page uses the wonderful term "folkestral" to describe their brand of folk music performed with a cello, viola, accordion, and mandolin along with the standard fare. I got to see Hey Marseilles perform at Sasquatch Music Festival last summer and they just seemed like a band that loved doing what they do. While that's probably true for most bands that warmth and enjoyment seems to come through in their music.

6) Wooden Wand - Blood Oaths of the New Blues

While everyone else was waiting until a few weeks into the year to release their music, Wooden Wand was nice enough to throw me a bone with his album in early January. I wrote about it when it came out at the beginning of the year, and it still remains an album I'm returning to. "Outsider Blues" might be my favorite track of the year. I love a good story song, and this is one, which chronicles a trip to the Outsider Blues music festival, is one of the better ones. He can paint such a vivid scene of what's going on that it feels like I'm watching everything unfold while listening to the song.

7) Pascal Pinon - Twosomeness

Pascal Pinon is a pair of Icelandic twins who craft some pretty great indie pop tunes. Some of the songs are in English while others are in Icelandic. Having no idea what the Icelandic songs are saying, doesn't stop me from enjoying them just as much as the English ones. The lead track "Ekki Vanmeta" (which Google tells me means "do not underestimate") might be my favorite of the bunch. I actually haven't listened to this as much as the albums above it, but listening to it right now while writing this is telling me that may be a mistake that needs to be rectified.

8) Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - Ripely Pine

I was first exposed to Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (aka Aly Spaltro) when she opened for Kaki King here in Iowa City several months back. You don't see many solo artists playing electric guitar, but what she was able to do by herself on stage was impressive as was the confidence on display in both her singing and playing (all the more impressive since she's only 23). After several years of self-releasing home recordings, her first studio album does an excellent job of capturing the energy and confidence on display that night. It's certainly an impressive "first" release that sees her effortlessly passing between all different types of songs and vocals. Check out the track "Bird Balloons" to get a taste of what she can do. It'll be exciting to see what the future holds for the young songwriter.

9) Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God

This is the first proper solo album by My Morning Jacket front-man Jim James, and it is very much a solo album as he played all of the instruments, did all of the vocals, and produced it on top of that. On the album, James continues to explore spirituality (as you may expect based on the album title) as he has been in recent releases such as the one with Monsters of Folk. Most of the time Jim James the instrumentalist gets out of the way and lets Jim James the vocalist shine with that haunting voice of his. This is best carried out on the excellent track "A New Life." While the album lacks the rock / punch of a My Morning Jacket release, the album does quite well forging its own path.

10) Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Rounding out the top ten is Foxygen. The band seems to be a divisive one among music blogs, but putting away any pretensions of what bands should sound like or anything like that, they just flat out made an enjoyable record. The California artists where their influences on their sleeves with tracks that sound straight out of the 60's and 70's pop scene (albeit with modern day production). Listening to the album you'll hear shades of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and plenty of others. The argument in the blog community seemed to be why you should listen to Foxygen's homage to those artists when you could listen to those artists do their own thing. If that's your mindset, you can probably pass on this release, but otherwise I'd say it's worth checking out.

Others I've enjoyed that I need to listen to more

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II ("So Good At Being In Trouble" is a great track)
Hollis Brown - Ride on the Train
Kingsley Flood - Battles
Night Beds - Country Sleep ("Ramona" is a great track)
Ivan & Alyosha - All The Times We Had

And I couldn't decide on where to put some of the EPs amidst the full-length albums, so here's a separate group for them.

My favorite EPs

1) I Build Collapsible Mountains - Carousel EP

Continuing the trend on this list of solo artists recording under band names, longtime blog favorite I Build Collapsible Mountains (aka Luke G Joyce) throws his hat in the ring. This EP follows up on last year's "Songs From That Never Scene" with the lead track coming from that album accompanied by five new tracks. It's just another solid release from I Build Collapsible Mountains doing his indie folk thing that he does so well. I can't exactly put my finger on what it is that separates Joyce from other artists, but there's something about the guitar and vocals in these songs that feels like home despite coming from all the way over in Scotland.

2) Wake Owl - Wild Country

Vancouver based singer/songwriter Colyn Cameron has put out a really catchy alt-country EP that keeps finding itself stuck in my head. It sounds like Cameron has been making music for a while, but this is the debut under the name "Wake Owl" and it is an excellent start. I can't wait to hear a full-length at some point in the future.

3) Miracles of Modern Science - MEEMS

Much like Hey Marseilles, Miracles of Modern Science (or MOMS) has a bit of a non-traditional lineup featuring cello, violin, mandolin, double bass, and drums. While Hey Marseilles writes what the call folkestral music, MOMS is more indie rock played with classical instruments. One of the highlights is the song "The Singularity," which sings of a skepticism that we will all have to die someday due to science reaching the singularity where we can fix things like neural decay. This decidedly nerdy subject shouldn't be surprising from a band that formed while the members were at Princeton. While this all may seem a bit gimicky, the music more than stands on its own, and the EP is a lot of fun. The EP is currently "pay what you want" here, so really there's no reason not to go check it out!

4) Indianna Dawn - Rookie

Indianna Dawn wrote one of my favorite albums of 2011. Unfortunately, I didn't discover the album until 2012, so I didn't get a chance to put it on my year end list. I wrote about the Danish indie folk/alt country group a bit here if you want to check that out and listen to a couple tracks from their full length. I haven't listened to the new EP much yet, but it seems pretty enjoyable and a good way to tide me over until their next full length is released. Maybe in the meantime I can learn Danish so I cant actually understand the updates on their Facebook page.

Some of my favorite songs from January - March 2013 releases

I can't very well tell you about this much new music without sharing some of it with you, so here are two playlists of some of my favorite songs released in the first quarter of 2013. The Spotify playlist is a bit bigger since it doesn't have to be songs I own, but the 8tracks playlist also has some things that aren't available on Spotify (like an awesome Alabama Shakes song that the band released for free online). You can probably just choose whichever service you're more comfortable with and get the gist of things though. If you don't use Spotify and don't want to create an account, anyone should be able to stream the 8tracks playlist below. Anyhow, enjoy and let me know if there are any albums or songs I seem to be overlooking!

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