The First Sounds of 2014

May 27, 2014

Can you believe that May is on its way out and summer is upon us? If you’re a music junkie like me, it’s easy to overlook the amount of time that passes as new albums are released at lightning speed. Musicians and bands do a stand-up job of keeping me distracted, and with that thought in mind, I’d like to share some of the music that's been keeping me occupied. Don’t worry, I’m keeping the list short, but definitely sweet, with some of my top releases so far for 2014.

Lost in the Dream / The War on Drugs:  Nearly three years removed from their last album, Philly natives have returned with Lost in the Dream, and it seems like they’re really hitting their stride.  Slave Ambient brought them major acclaim, but this new one is something special. The album is grounded in loneliness and melancholy, products of front man Adam Granduciel’s experience while touring in support of their last album, Slave Ambient. It’s callous to say, but this tumult provides much delight as he's channeled those emotions into his craft. It’s also charming to understand that Granduciel had Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks on his mind, a legendary album that parallel’s Lost in the Dream in terms of lyrical themes. Vocally, there's a delivery and phrasing that respectfully demands us to not forget that the influences of musicians can be stronger than we realize. Don’t let that sway you though, there is something very original here. Sonically, this record is thick, with layers of atmospheric guitars, synthesizers and a healthy serving of reverb that rounds out the ethereal presence that the band has. The melodies and emotions revealed in the musical composition accompanies Granduciel’s lyrics beautifully. I’ll be the first to admit that I could very well be jumping the gun with my next declaration, but here it goes: Album of the year. Because at this moment, in my opinion, this is the shining star of the lot that we’ve received so far. 

The War on Drugs were recently featured on Studio 360 for an interview and in-studio performance, and also laid down a killer performance at Seattle’s KEXP.

Too True / Dum Dum Girls: Appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, being the spotlight of NPR Music's First Listen in January, and having retailer H&M premier Too True’s first single, everything seems to be coming together for the indie pop darlings from L.A.  Too True is the band's third album in four years and has been receiving loads of acclaim. Perhaps the group’s leader, Dee Dee Penny, feels the same way I do in that this album seems like a real milestone for the Girls, an effort that breaks them loose from their previous releases. They’re still steeped in a retro sound and stylized presentation, but Too True departs from its predecessors in terms of production. It’s got more of a “whoa” factor to it in its clarity.  Reverberation is a wonderful touch for these gals, and so is their utilization of layering their trademark guitar fuzz on a foundation of fat bass tones. The beats found in a newly employed drum machine give the tunes some good stability, and those gorgeous female vocal harmonies emphasize the “dream” in their brand of dream pop.  It’s easy to hear the comparisons that have been made with this record to The Stone Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Siouxsie & the Banshees, but there are also sounds of punk and pop.  Clocking in at just seconds over a half hour, the album is finished, but there isn’t a dull moment. It’s really a smart move. Because once it’s done, you’ll most likely find yourself hitting play on the first track to start the indulgence all over again.

Check them out performing the single “Rimbaud Eyes” on the Late Show.

The Take Off and Landing of Everything / Elbow: When you’re approaching the age of 40, and beginning to face all of those questions and thoughts that can only come at middle-age, what better to do than to write an emotionally overflowing album? I don’t think Elbow had any other ideas. Like much of Elbow’s lyrical display, The Take Off and Landing of Everything is an assemblage of more of Guy Garvey’s heartfelt, poetic musings. This time, though, about inevitable life events: living in the wake of heartbreak, acknowledging needed lifestyle changes, and reflecting on memories of the fond past to get through the more challenging present. There are analogies aplenty on this record, maybe even the title suggests the creation and conclusion of events that make up the itinerary of the journey of life. I really enjoy this album: it’s deep, moving and entertaining all in one. Garvey’s impressive diction (“tarantella,” “apothecary” and “profligate” are all words that sent me searching for my dictionary) and his stout English accent make listening to him purge his feelings a pleasure. The band themselves have written lovely compositions to accompany his outpour, and the use of orchestral instruments makes the melodies equally expressive. Most of the record has a somber sound, but I think that is where Elbow really finds success. Somebody has to accept the job of playing the heartstrings, asking us to really listen and feel in order to appreciate the emotions that it takes to write such absorbing songs. The happy part of all of this is that they’ve found some job security.

Morning Phase / Beck: Finally. It’s been six years since Beck released an entire album of new songs, and with his reappearance, he’s returned to the more acoustic, immersive atmosphere that he flourished in nearly a decade ago when he released Sea Change.  While Sea Change is accurately referred to as a “break-up album” (Beck wrote the album in the aftermath of his nine-year relationship ending) word around the campfire is that this is a companion piece to that record. There are plenty of comparisons to be made. The covers of both albums share a resemblance: “Morning”reminds me of “Golden Age” and ultimately what connects the two is the majestic and grand presence within the music. There are differences between the two, though. Appropriately titled, this record does sound like the morning; a musical sunrise finally bringing warmth and light to a side of Beck that, until now, has lived in introspection and melancholy. What’s going on in Morning Phase is more maturation and rejuvenation, with lines of wisdom from a guy who’s been through a lot, personally and professionally. Since Sea Change, Beck got married and has become the father of two kids, he endured a serious spinal injury, and he's released albums with material influenced by 60’s music, hip-hop and electronica. Morning Phase is still very emotive, much like Sea Change, and it’s definitely a moody creation: strings swell up and down on songs like “Wave” and “Phase” and the keys of a piano and Beck’s harmonization inspire on “Blue Moon” and “Waking Light.” A great album from a great artist, Beck truly is a master of his craft, and is building on his status as the ultimate musical chameleon. Even if we have to wait another six years, whatever he does next will be something to look forward to.

Check out Beck’s recent visit to All Songs Considered to chat with Robin Hilton and Bob Boilen.

David Childs is a Farmington, Utah native, now residing in Salt Lake City. David currently hosts The Sunday Blend on KRCL (Sundays, 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.). When not in KUER's Development office, David enjoys travel, trekking any of Utah’s hiking trails, attending concerts and talking music, lacing up for a pick-up game of hoops, and home brewing.

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