I spent much of this week melting in the ungodly heat of summer. When it's sweltering like this, I find I have little energy to get excited about much of anything. So I confess to having listened to less music than is typical. Luckily I still have a collection of albums from the past few weeks that I hadn't fully digested and was finally able to catch up on them today for this week's roundup. This list is mostly indie and folk stuff, but a lot of nice surprises among them. Enjoy.
mewithoutYou - Ten Stories: Released in May, this is the Philly indie rock band's fifth album. I think it's a step forward from 2009's It's All Crazy showing an greater depth in storytelling. This is one of those albums that you can hear so many other bands within it, yet can never quite pinpoint who it sounds like. While some songs veer a little too strongly toward emo rock for my taste, overall this has been an album I've enjoyed quite a bit lately. Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of moody indie rock or haunting elaborate folk.
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel is Wiser...: I fully admit to having very little knowledge of Fiona's previous work coming into this record. It's her fourth album, and first since 2005 and I have to say, it's quite exceptional. It is an incredibly complex folk album, much like the work of Joanna Newsom. And like Joanna, it's not something one can listen to all the time, but when you're in the mood for it, it's brilliant. This was a very pleasant surprise for me this week.
Nas - Unreleased & Rare: When I came across this bootleg, I had been hoping to hear some early freestyle work by one of the most dynamic hip-hop artists of his generation. It's not completely that, but there certainly are some raw gems on here. Nas excels when he's just spitting rhymes over a hard beat. Highlights here are "It Ain't Hard to Tell," the original demo for "On the Real," and the unreleased "Fast Life." But just as with Nas's catalog, there are a fair number of weaker club tracks. But the good tracks make it worth checking out.
Soap&Skin - Narrow: The Austrian born singer songwriter returns with her second album, another mixed language art pop effort. There's a definite Nico sound to her work. Minimalism combined with high moments of orchestral pomp are all accompanied by the deep sadness of her voice. Then there are moments of electronic chaos reminiscent of Bjork. Individually, each song is interesting, but as an album, I find I have a hard time getting through it. It's definitely something you have to be in the mood for and I simply don't find myself in that mood often enough to truly love this record.
Rocky Votolato - Television of Saints: This is the seventh solo album from the Seattle (via Dallas) singer songwriter and his best since 2007's The Brag and Cuss. There's a country influence to his beautiful style of folk that gives his songs their impact. Rocky reminds me of A.A. Bondy or Jason Molina, but with a more radio friendly structure. There is very little not to like about this album, even if there isn't much to make it terribly unique either. All in all, a solid country folk album.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana: The godfather of grunge teams up with his old band Crazy Horse and like hanging out with old friends, it just seems to click. For this album, Neil mines the classic Americana folk songs such as "Oh Susannah," "Clementine," and "Wayfarin' Stranger." His variations on these songs is quite brilliant at times. In his hands, they become contemporary Neil rockers. Easily his most enjoyable album in years, in my opinion.
Amanda Palmer - Several Attempts to Cover Songs by The Velvet Underground: When she's on top of her game, Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls and Evelyn, Evelyn) can be one of the most interesting singers around. She has an amazing voice and a perfect sense of eclectic taste. This isn't a proper album by any means, but still interesting. Taken from a series of concerts, leading up to her husband Neil Gaiman's birthday, she performs a different cover each night for him. Some are better than others. "Waiting for the Man" and "Perfect Day" are my two favorites. There is also a lot of fun banter between songs which adds a sweetness to the concept. Not something I think I could listen to too many times, but definitely an enjoyable experience.