Given that summer is coming to an end, I figured I'd use this weekend to look at some of my favorite releases so far this year. I find it's always good to do this around this time of year, because usually by the time December rolls around, the Fall albums have pushed a lot of these aside. So before your ears are lost in the wave of new sounds, here's some not-so-old sounds to make sure you check out. They are in no particular order. Enjoy.
Kurt Vile - Wakin On a Pretty Daze: The Philly native follows up 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo with another masterpiece of psychedelic folk. This double album plays like a mellow Dinosaur Jr. album washed in a haze of a lazy day. The entire album keeps a consistent groove throughout, making it almost feel like one continuous song. With each album, Kurt seems to improve, and he's well on the way to becoming one of the best songwriters of the moment.
Samantha Crain - Kid Face: For the past several years, ever since I saw her perform live, Samantha Crain has been one of my favorite singer songwriters. Her voice is easily one of the best around and her songs tell beautiful stories. This is her third full length album, and first since 2010's You (Understood). On this album, there's a return to the gloom that hangs over her first EP, and which works phenomenally well with her voice. This is a powerful album and hopefully will finally give her the wider audience she deserves. Stand out tracks are "Taught to Lie," "Paint," "Kid Face," and "Sand Paintings."
Cancer Bats - Bat Sabbath: Bastards of Reality: There are five Black Sabbath covers on this EP; "Children of the Grave," "Into the Void," "Iron Man," "N.I.B.," and "War Pigs." While they stay true to the original versions, the band brings their trademark energy to the songs, transforming them into slightly heavier tracks that flat out rock. Of course, I have a weak spot for covers, but this was fantastic.
The Bevis Frond - White Numbers: Since 1986, Nick Saloman has been releasing his neo-psychedelic rock as The Bevis Frond. Criminally unknown here in the States, he ranks as one of my favorite songwriters of all time. There is a Neil Young quality to his work mixed with an indie rock sensibility. This is his first album since 2011's phenomenal The Leaving of London. Like that album, this is another double album of fantastic rock. There isn't a bad song among the 24 tracks, and the album ends with a 42 minute monster of a jam. No need to be familiar with his previous work, feel free to dive right into this one and work your backwards if you like.
Beady Eye - BE: Their second album opens with the phenomenal "Flick of the Finger" and proceeds with two remarkable Monkees-esque psychedelic pop gems "Soul Love" and "Face the Crowd." The mild "Second Bite of the Apple" follows, but is buoyed by the amazing "Soon Come Tomorrow," a very Ride sounding number. There are a number of beautiful soft tracks like "Ballroom Figured" and "Start Anew" that are balanced with an appropriate number of rockers. Over the course of 17 songs, the band has finally found it's identity beyond Oasis. This doesn't sound like Oasis, it sounds clearly like a Beady Eye record. The band has moved on, and without Noel on board, the other members seem to be hitting their creative stride, quite impressive for musicians with such amazing careers.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Mind Control: As long time readers are aware, I absolutely love this heavy psych band out of London. Their last album was my favorite of 2011 and now this is poised to become one of my favorites for this year. While it lacks the manic frenzy of Blood Lust, it makes up for it with heavier droning riffs that harken back to Black Sabbath, yet keeps the relentless guitar and haunting vocals of a ghost hidden in the music. The opening two songs "Mt. Abraxas" and "Mind Crawler" set the tone from the beginning and it never really lets up.
The Flaming Lips - The Terror: This is the first true follow-up to 2009's spectacular Embryonic for the dust belt kings of neo-psychedelic indie rock. Much like its predecessor, it spins a darker mood and seems to sink inwardly deeper with every track in the same way as the best of Pink Floyd's albums such as Meddle. The wonderful thing about this record is how it captures the terror of feeling insignificant and yet manages to make it beautiful at the same time. "Be Free, A Way" is a real stand out track for me on album that feels much more like an entirety than a series of songs.
Kanye West - Yeezus: The long awaited follow-up to 2010's triumphant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Though Ye definitely kept busy between releases, releasing Watch the Throne with Jay-Z and showing up in a million other places. But for the first time since his last solo record, it feels as though the artistic innovator has returned. It would be so easy for someone of Kanye's stature to simply repeat himself and play it safe, which is one of the reasons why it's so commendable that he continues to push himself to give people something they've never heard before. This record, like his last, is the sound of an iconic artist given the space to experiment and succeed. Tapping into an industrial electro rhythm, he adapts his flow to fit the dark mood of this record, and still delivers insightful lyrics that continue to tear apart the culture of celebrity and wealth to reveal the sinister workings that lie beneath the surface. Quite brilliant.
Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends: Ever since their first EP in 2005, this psychedelic indie band has been releasing one amazing album after the other, coming one a year like clockwork. For the first time, there's been a two year gap between this new record and their last. The time off was well spent, because even though they have become one of my favorite bands of all time in just the short while they've been around, I must confess that 2011's In the Mountain in the Cloud was a bit of a let down. Well, with Evil Friends, they have erased any fear of a downward trend. This is definitely one of their best efforts to date, showcasing their catchy sound at it's best. Definitely one of my favorite albums of the year so far.
The Icarus Line - Slave Vows: Back in 2004, this L.A. band released one of my 10 favorite albums of the decade, Penance Soiree and followed it up in 2007 with another great album. And that was the last I heard from them until this album showed up in July (though there was a 2011 album released that seems quite impossible to find). With only a few listens, it has rocketed its way up on my favorite albums of the year so far. There is something about their music that captures that seedy L.A. vibe, dark and dangerous and irresistible at the same time. Fantastic stuff.