Welcome to the first roundup of 2014! This week I'll be reviewing some albums that I listened to over the last month and a half, as well as the first releases from this year that I'm super excited about. At the beginning of the year, there is always a level of intrigue as to what the musical landscape will be in the coming months. As is usual for the winter, the year is starting off with eerie folkish releases, which always seem to match the weather in a perfect way. Enjoy.
Ed Harcourt - Time of Dust: Releasing this week is the eighth studio album from the East Sussex singer songwriter. I was initially exposed to Harcourt's haunting style with his suburb 2000 debut EP, Maplewood and have followed his career sporadically ever since. After several albums that left me on the fence, this short album has really impressed me. It opens with the beautiful "Come Into My Dreamland," a Tom Waits piece of gloom folk. From there, it is populated with sad and beautiful songs, with nice piano work that livens up the bleak spirit. A solid release to start the year.
The Mars Volta - B-Sides: Sometime last summer, this 15 track bootleg surfaced online. Despite the title, these are not B-Sides. According to posts by Cedric Bixler-Zavala (singer), at least some of these are tracks that were apparently intended for an upcoming album before the band disbanded last year. A lot of it is composed of spanning instrumental pieces that feel like Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's solo work, while others feel like more developed songs. Though it's still sad to see them go, it's nice that we were left with this glimpse into what might have been.
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left: For my birthday last week, I made a trip to the record store and picked up a few of my favorite albums on vinyl, including Nick Drake's 1969 debut masterpiece. Though I've had this on CD for 15 years, it's fragile beauty sounded fresh and immediate coming through the speakers from the 180 gram pressing. The stories within the songs are amazing, expressing insight far beyond the 21 years of age that he was when recording this record. One of the most haunting verses comes in "River Man" when he sings "Betty prayed today, for the sky to blow away, or maybe stay, she wasn't sure." The imagery in his music is unequalled.
The Warlocks - Skull Worship: The L.A. psychedelic rock band's sixth album came out in the end of November, their first release in four years and best since 2007's Heavy Deavy Skull Lover. This album takes a stoner feel, even more so than previous albums. The mellow drone influences create wonderful soundscapes and the slow drawl lyrics make the entire thing feel like a strange dream. Truly one of the best albums I heard in the mad rush to wrap up the last year. "It's a Hard Fall" is my favorite track.
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. I only wish Reflektor was anywhere near this good. "What We Love Was Not Enough" is a brilliant song on a wonderful album.
Nacho Picasso - Trances with Wolves: Starting on the first of the year, the Seattle rapper began offering his new EP on his bandcamp page for a name-your-own-price download. In my opinion, he's the greatest current rapper around who solidified his presence with two albums with Blue Sky Black Death. The beats are still strong even without BSBD's touch, and Nacho's flow is as impressive as ever. "Red Ridinghood" is one of his finest moments and highlights the darkness that he has grown to do so well. A fun album, even if not completely essential.