It was another slow week for new releases, and though I listened to a lot of new stuff there was little I felt compelled to share. So rather than write about albums that only seemed to touch me in passing, I decided to recap my favorite 2014 releases of the year...so far. I know that people don't get to visit every Sunday, and may have missed a few highlights. Also, it's nearly the half way point of the year, so it's always good sort out my thoughts as I do every mid-summer. I always enjoy looking at this post in December and seeing what has stuck with me, and what fell off in favor of Fall releases. But even if none of these albums stick around for the end of year (highly unlikely), you can't go wrong checking out these albums. The reviews are the ones I previously wrote for the Roundup, with a few possible additions. Albums are listed in no particular order. Enjoy.
Beck - Morning Phase: This Beck's 14th album, and first in six years. Though I haven't always liked everything he's done, I've always admired his willingness to take chances and try something new. This album is a return to his contemporary folk style, which I much prefer over his electronic style. This album opens with the beautiful Slowdive sounding "Morning" which pulled me right in. This is a haunting and quiet album that manages to sound fresh even though many others have made music like this over the past few years. "Turn Away" is an absolutely brilliant song and my favorite on the album. It would feel at home on a Nick Drake record.
Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence: Lana's follow-up to her stunning 2012 Born to Die album. This album is stunning in so many ways. There's a tragic beauty to every song, reminiscent of "Dark Paradise." Gone are the uptempo, trip-hop influences that dominated much of her last album, which might have actually been my favorite part of that album. But as soon I began to listen to this one, it didn't take long before I didn't miss that aspect of her style. There's an incredible richness to the music on this album, mixing slowcore and jazz elements, creating a mood that feels like a Mazzy Star album if it were produced for a David Lynch film. A lot of people have complained that the songs all kind of sound the same, but I disagree. They are certainly connected, but not replicated. And perhaps it might grow boring over time, but for now it simply sounds hypnotic and brilliant. There are too many great songs on here to pick favorites, but I suppose "Cruel World," "Sad Girl," "West Coast," and the title track stand out for me. The digital release contains three tracks not included on the physical releases.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything: The seventh album from the Montreal post rock band is the follow-up to 2010's Kollaps Tradixionales, and the first 2014 release that I listened to. It has the grand scope I've come to expect from them and reminds me of the more introspective parts of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. This album is a journey that one must commit to in order to appreciate. I have no problem making that commitment. "What We Love Was Not Enough" is perhaps the most brilliant song on this wonderful album.
Warpaint - Warpaint: An L.A. based dream pop band, this is Warpaint's second record. It's ethereal sound, with psychedelic undertones, works beautifully with the vocals to give the entire thing the feeling of listening to a dream. They manage to capture the effortless appeal of The XX and Mazzy Star, while adding a hint of Joy Division eeriness. "Feeling Right," "CC," and "Son" are my favorites in this atmospheric masterpiece. The rare sort of album that can work for early morning, late night, or any time in between. It always seems to match my mood.
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots: The first proper solo album from the legendary Blur, Gorillaz, and The Good, The Bad, and The Queen frontman. Though he's released several soundtracks, two operas, and an awesome album of demo sketches, this is really his true debut solo record and it's pretty spectacular. The songs on here represent the softer, more personal side that he's always shown here and there in his other bands. With each listen, I love this album more. There isn't a single bad song on here, once again proving that Damon is one of the best songwriters of his generation. "Hollow Ponds," "Lonely Press Play," "The Selfish Giant," and the title track of among my favorite.
Big Blood - Fight for Your Dinner Vol. 1: The Portland, Maine freak folk band's eighteenth full length album, all of them from the last decade. Their unique blend of psychedelic folk has propelled them near the top of my list of best bands currently around. This is another stellar performance, sounding like an artifact from an alternate reality where phonographs and traveling oddity shows still reign supreme. Fun interludes of wrong number answer machine recordings and one of a child making a mix tape in the 80's add to the surreal aspect of the record. "Well Water Pt. II," "Song for Herb," "2+2=? (The Bob Seger System)" and the title track are among the best. (Their second album of the year was the one new album from the past week that I loved...review to come new week)
Sivert Höyem - Endless Love: Since the demise of Madrugada, Sivert Höyem has been better than ever. On his fifth solo album, the Norwegian singer songwriter seems to have recaptured the demon that gave Madrugada their unique edge. His last album, 2011's Long Slow Distance was a brilliant moody album with spiritual undertones, but on this record, he returns to the bleary eyed indie rock of Madrugada's crowning achievement, 2001's The Nightly Disease. "Enigma Machine," "Wat Tyler" "Little Angel," and "Görlitzer Park" are among my favorites.
Neil Young - A Letter Home: For the second time in two years, Neil has released an album of all covers. Crazy Horse rejoined him for his previous covers album of old-timey Americana folky tunes, but this time he is flying solo. Recorded in the lo-fi studio Jack White built inside a telephone booth, the very nature of the production of this album creates the illusion that it's a very old piece of vinyl. Some have said it's gimmicky, but I actually love the crackle quality...and it's not really gimmicky if the effects are a natural result of the recording process. Anyway, on this record, Neil covers songs that inspired him early on, and even later in his career. His voice is vintage Neil, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and the occasional piano. My favorites include "Needle of Death," "Girl From North Country," "On the Road Again," and "If You Could Only Read My Mind." This is a must for fans.
Robert Ellis - The Lights from the Chemical Plant: This is the second album from Robert Ellis. His sound has a country folk feel with a nod to 70's rock. His songs are straight forward and very well done. These are traditional country tales of lonely life that have a musically modern feel, somewhat like My Morning Jacket though less grandiosity. "Good Intentions," "Houston," "Only Lies," and a wonderful cover of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" are stand out tracks on a solid album. I've really been loving this as the weather gets warm.
Noah Gundersen - Ledges: This is the first full length album from the Seattle singer songwriter. This is a folk album with a country twinge. It sounds like an album Ryan Adams would make if he made a scaled back acoustic album. There is also a sadness to it that reminds me of Jason Molina's work. This is one of those albums that makes me excited about new acts as already I can envision years of wonderful music from Noah. "Poor Man's Son," "Separator," and "Cigarettes" are among my favorite tracks, though there really aren't any that I don't like.
The Black Angels - Clear Lake Forest: The Austin neo-psychedelic band released this 7 song EP on colored vinyl for Record Store Day, their first release since last year's Indigo Meadow. Since their 2006 debut, they have released four consistently good rock albums that are just the right blend of psychedelic and garage. This is no different, and is perhaps their freshest sounding release in years. There isn't a bad song on here, but "Linda's Gone" is perhaps the most interesting and different from the rest of their catalog.
Songs: Ohia - Journey On: Nearly a year to the day after Jason Molina's untimely death, this box set of five 7" records was released for Record Store Day. It includes 18 brilliant songs collected from singles released during the contemporary folk band's nearly 20 year career. Now that Jason has passed, his songs have even more of a haunting feel than they've always had. In many ways, he was a modern day Neil Young, writing songs of incredible beauty and emotion that have an immediate connection. Every song on here is unforgettable. It's truly a wonderful release to honor a songwriter whom I dearly miss. If you don't know the band, or Jason's other work in Magnolia Electric Co. then this would be a great place to start. Or, if like me, you are quite familiar, then this is a fantastic way to celebrate his tragic career.