Best Albums of 2015 (So Far)

In lieu of an album review today, I thought I’d share some of my choices for the best albums of the year (so far). 2015 has definitely proven to be a wonderful year for music, and with the upcoming releases later on in the year, it might even be one of the best yet.

Dutch Uncles – O Shudder 

OShudderDutchUnclesDutch Uncles and their wonderfully unique, quirky sounds have grown on me since the release of O Shudder, their fourth studio album. The themes of sex (or lack thereof), narcissism, and the overall fear of growing old and incapable run rampant throughout the album, and the vocals of frontman Duncan Wallis match in tone. It’s a highly underrated album for sure, simply because it takes a few listens for  humorous, melodic social commentary on today’s problems with anxiety and technology to sink in.

Essential Tracks: “Babymaking,” “Upsilon”

Crushed Beaks – Scatter

CrushedBeaks_ScatterCrushed Beaks are definitely one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year, and it’s all because of their irresistible post-punk sounds, or as they call it, “noise pop.” Scatter is a beautiful nightmare – a wonderful frenzy and fury expressing everything from the raw connection to another human being to the feelings of being insignificant. However, it’s the brief feelings of vulnerability that makes the album a winner for me, and the warm instrumentals that sometimes envelop the cold, dissonant guitar is nothing short of a treasure.

Essential Tracks: “History,” “Overgrown”

Title Fight – Hyperview

Title-Fight-HyperviewOut of all the artists on this page, no band has changed their overall sound more than Title Fight. Formerly brash, hard, and impenetrable, Hyperview shows off the calmer, more shoegaze inspired sounds that the band spent ample time perfecting. The punk foundation is still there, however, but the vulnerability has evolved into something almost sentient. It’s hazy, gauzy, and even angrily romantic at times, but considering it’s coming from Title Fight, there’s a darkness that’s still absolutely beautiful.

Essential Tracks: “Your Pain Is Mine Now,” “Chlorine”

Jamie xx – In Colour

Jamie-xx-In-Colour-560x560Until recently, I never really favored instrumental tracks, much less a mostly instrumental filled album. But with In Colour, I can undoubtedly say that Jamie xx has released one of the best albums of the year, with multi-textured tracks that ring true to the album’s title. It’s intelligent and highly evocative of feelings of euphoria and instant gratification. It’s dance music for people who despise dancing collectively, and that sort of complex contradiction adds an irresistible tension that elevates each track to the stratosphere.

Essential Tracks: “Girl,” “Loud Places”

Tame Impala – Currents 

tame-impala-currents-artworkI recently awarded Currents the highest score that has ever been given on kidwithavinyl so far, and it definitely deserves all the hype. Kevin Parker and his addictive personality ridden with perfectionist tendencies pays off here more than ever – not only because of the highly skilled techniques that are repeatedly heard throughout the album, but because of the pure honesty and passion that practically oozes out of each track. At times, it’s difficult to comprehend the fact that one person could be capable of producing such beautiful, psychedelic sounds, but the lucid daydream that is this album makes your mind wander and eventually become content with what is around you and evict this notion from your mind completely. It’s meticulously crafted for sure, and Currents is the physical interpretation of a person changing with the times and still managing to stay sane.

Essential Tracks: “The Less I Know The Better,” “Let It Happen”

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Mating Ritual – “I Wear Glasses”

Mating Ritual, the solo project of Pacific Air’s Ryan Marshall Lawhon, has recently released a brand new single entitled “I Wear Glasses.” Despite the fact that Pacific Air is no longer active, Mating Ritual still embodies the same sort of vibes but in a more smoothed out, luxurious package. The new track is upbeat and textured, with references to a hookup with a strong, confident person and letting all those cheesy lines fly (check out Ryan’s blog post here). Overall, it’s a nice tease for what’s in store for the still relatively new project.

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photo courtesy of artist/ LIZZY LAND

Disclosure – “Omen” (ft. Sam Smith)

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Electronic dance duo Disclosure have announced that Caracal, their sophomore album, will be released on September 25th. They recently released “Holding On,” their first single and part one of their video series directed by Ryan Hope, and now, the brotherly duo is teaming up with Sam Smith once again for their second single “Omen.” It’s no doubt a stellar dance track, but what is worth mentioning is the fact that the moody, dark nature of the instrumentals interact so well with the stark dystopian landscape that the video contains. Smith’s voice goes through the same gorgeous emotions and feelings we heard in “Latch” so long ago, and it’s so wonderful to hear them work together again.

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photo by Tom Spray

Album Review: Ducktails – St. Catherine

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As the guitarist for New Jersey based band Real Estate, Matt Mondanile has shown his particular set of skills in the vast, shimmering realm of nostalgia driven indie music. At first glance, Real Estate and Monadile’s solo band Ducktails seem similar in nature, but in his fifth album St. Catherine, it’s clear that this is absolutely not the case. As the follow up to 2013’s The Flower Lane, St. Catherine further explores the tortuous feelings of yearning and absolute desire, all wrapped up in a warm, comforting package.

While Real Estate houses a more uniform, organized sound evocative of maturity, Ducktails proves to be more flexible and emotional. Perhaps this is because Mondanile is an emotional person himself, and what couldn’t be expressed in his more professional ensemble is on full display in St. Catherine. First being a Real Estate fan, I first heard of Ducktails’ beautiful, nostalgic sounds back in when The Flower Lane was released. It’s standout tracks “Letter Of Intent” and “Assistant Director” opened my ears more towards this style of guitar-based indie pop that bands like Toro y Moi and Wild Nothing have worked so hard to achieve. St. Catherine evokes the same sort of feelings as its predecessors, although more relaxed and inhibited in nature. Opener “The Disney Afternoon” is a hazy, woozy instrumental track that’s dripping in synth alterations and lo-fi sound. Although it is glorious in and of itself, it sort of starts the album off on a shaky note that makes the listener lose their footing. However, Mondanile makes up for it by placing stunner track “Headbanging in the Mirror” right afterwards, which is a track that journeys into nostalgia just as wonderfully as the listener does. In fact, that’s something that Mondanile does incredibly well. His songwriting takes you with him into his pastel-colored, sun dappled world and spins you around until you are filled with nothing but a newfound contentment, and whether that feeling is forced or eased doesn’t really seem to matter. “Into The Sky” is another gorgeous track with obvious rhyming lyrics and a sense of childlike innocence in the vocals that seems to run rampant throughout the album, while the title track swoons and swells with intense, yet subtle trepidation. However, on first listen it’s easy to see the flaws in St. Catherine, and most of it lies mostly in the actual nature of the tracks. In the last half of the album, the songs seem to grow weary of themselves and droop accordingly, with the exception of “Medieval,” which actually seems to be the edgiest, sharpest track on the record.  While the instrumentation and vocal tracks are as lovely and warm as ever, the content seems to drag and get caught up in its own listlessness. However, this doesn’t bother me too much, considering there’s also a redeeming playful sound that exists in St. Catherine. Tracks like “Surreal Exposure” and “The Laughing Woman” broadcast that firsthand, and it’s actually quite tasteful and refreshing to include this sort of track into the repertoire, since it shows another side of Ducktails – one that doesn’t float listlessly by, but instead dances across with excitement.

Ducktails is, after all, an intensely personal expression of multiple emotions, and Matt Mondanile has done a terrific job of bringing those emotions to light through gorgeous, guitar-driven indie pop. Throughout it’s hazy echoes and shimmering instrumentals, one begins to see the appeal in drifting towards and living inside the very idea of nostalgia, and over the years, I’ve found that this idea never loses it’s sense of fulfillment.

7.8/10

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photo courtesy of artist

Foals – “Mountain At My Gates”

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Last month, Foals announced that their fourth studio album What Went Down will be released on August 28th. Shortly after, they released the gloriously intense, brooding title track, giving the anticipated album the feeling that it will be different from Foals’ unique, angsty sound, and instead more filled with rage and anger. Yesterday they released the beautiful track “Mountain At My Gates,” which changes that assumption just slightly. The new track is softer and more mellifluous, and fortunately for fans, sounds more reminiscent of their past work. Frontman Yannis Philippakis’ voice reverberates throughout brilliantly, and everything from the stunning instrumentals to the simple, poetic lyrics point towards a highly successful album that I absolutely cannot wait to experience.

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photo by Neil Krug

Szymon – “Medusa”

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As soon as I heard the first five seconds of Australian musician Szymon’s new single “Medusa,” I knew I had found something absolutely amazing. The shimmering, warm guitar instrumentals that open the track mixed with Szymon Borzestowski’s falsetto croon evoke all kinds of pleasant feelings, and showcase a lot of beautiful, skilled techniques. The track comes from his debut album Tigersapp, which will be released on August 21st.

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Tame Impala – Currents

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Tame Impala’s first two records expertly attempted to mask the feelings of isolation and induced loneliness with modern, skillfully crafted psych-rock in a newer, fresher package. Five years ago, we were gifted with debut Innerspeaker, and two years later came Lonerism, its companion and expansion into the world of cosmic, colorful, lucid daydreams. Of course, these melodic, paranoia and melancholia inspired albums come from the brilliant mind of Kevin Parker, who is just as much a perfectionist as he is a dreamer. There’s no doubt that the vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and overall mastermind places the feelings and emotions that come with loneliness and anxiety into these fantastic works, but on his third album Currents, it sounds less like a pity party and more like a cognizant nod to the effects of change and a celebration of one’s own flaws. Perhaps this is why Currents is flawless in and of itself, and may even be the best Tame Impala record ever released.

What’s worth mentioning about Currents immediately is that it is worlds different from its predecessors. While there still is that hazy, other-worldly effect that appeared all throughout Innerspeaker and Lonerism, it’s a bit more clear and pronounced on Currents. The last two albums resisted pop in a sense, and almost had an irresistible elitist attitude in delivery. Currents, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It embraces the best parts of pop while also including psych-funk and soul in a flawless, effortless way, even though we know that it wasn’t this way for Parker to express. It’s true that Tame Impala’s music is more for the intellectual – one that has become comfortable in their own introspection and introversion – but now, Parker, being the perfectionist that he is, has created something so emotionally thick that it can now spread evenly across all musical palates. This is perhaps because it’s an album intensely propelled and inspired by change and fluidity, and considering this, it makes sense why the near eight minute track “Let It Happen” opens the album. Thankfully, Parker hasn’t lost his signature croon that still some people say is reminiscent of John Lennon – a person that Parker can’t seem to not sound like – but is now more vivid and vibrant than ever before. The funk inspired instrumentals swirl around it and merge together in such a way that doesn’t smother, but rather enhances the beauty of the lyrics, which narrates the fact that Parker wants to let ideas and inspiration flow instead of watch them perpetually spin. A repeated, constant melodic interlude rages on while intensity builds, and towards the end, the self-titled “gibberish” that appears doesn’t even come as a surprise.  From here we see the change into something more structured and clear in its intentions, considering that the last two albums covered them up with complex instrumentals and hazy, smudged vocals. Here, it’s more lucid and lovely, and you’re almost able to hear every emotion individually and therefore soak it in more efficiently.

Even better, Kevin Parker’s technical skill has not diminished in the slightest, heard clearly in the albums’ instrumental tracks. “Nangs” has more finesse and meticulous construction in its synths and effects than some bands do in entire albums, and it’s truly amazing how many individual techniques Parker has managed to include. “Moment” and “Reality In Motion” contain classic Tame Impala bass lines – the same ones that made “Elephant” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” so amazingly popular and malleable across all platforms. Parker’s intense skill in creating something memorable is impeccable, but his way of expressing his own feelings is even better, especially in Currents. “Yes I’m Changing” and its slow, swirling haze of vocals is the clearest example of Parker’s intense theme of alteration and maturation, and merges beautifully into “Eventually,” the first of the several tracks infatuated with the idea of love and relationships. Each instrumental seems to be commanded by Parker’s own voice, and lock into place accordingly. The lyrics show more of the feelings of isolation and loneliness, but in a more sympathetic way (‘Cause I know that I’ll be happier/ and I know you will too/ Eventually). It’s one of the best on the album for sure, all because it’s honest and vulnerable. “The Less I Know The Better” is a rapid continuation of that idea, but with its funky, groovy bass line and falsetto croon, you would have never known. Again, it highlights those repeated themes of loneliness and desperation, but its execution is absolutely brilliant and evocative. There’s also the gorgeous single “’Cause I’m A Man,” a more tongue in cheek sort of song more than anything else. Parker’s silken voice caresses the idea that men have no sort of explanation for their actions other than their gender, and the fact that this makes them pathetic and incredibly childish in their emotions. The way the instrumentals and effects counteract that idea is contemplative, yet fascinating all the same, which makes the track such a stunner. Closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” sums up Parker’s remaining feelings on his change into something more comfortable in its skin, and ends the album on a content, introspective note.

Currents is a meticulously crafted album, and it shows. I like to think of it as a kaleidoscope. Each colorful stone is placed with such focused precision and devotion, but when spun and played with, these stones become one gorgeous image that morphs and changes with the mere flick of a wrist. Often times, it’s hard to enjoy an album when its creator has gone through so many lengths to make it as parallel with his own feelings as possible that he himself often forgets to enjoy it. However, Currents is a masterpiece simply because of this exact struggle. Change is something we all go through as human beings, and it’s refreshing to see an artist so in tune with his own sense of forced adaptation that something truly beautiful grows from it. It’s clear that Tame Impala has found the path towards evolution, and from here, it seems like Kevin Parker can only go forwards.

9.7/10

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photo courtesy of artist

Legs – “Top Of The World”

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Brooklyn indie band Legs mixes together the best parts of nu-disco and soul to create a certain kind of feeling – one that they call the musical embodiment of extroversion. It’s a solid way to describe their particular set of sounds, considering that it makes you want to get up and move. Their new track “Top Of The World” has smooth, pure vocals and a highly infectious, addictive, and unfettered dance beat that stands on its own.

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photo by Catalina Kulczar

Day Wave – “Headcase”

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Day Wave, the solo project of Carousel’s Jackson Phillips, thrives on sunny, warm instrumentals and gauzy vocals, and his debut EP Headcase dives head-first into the giant world of surf-pop. Last year, I reviewed his fantastic track “Nothing At All,” and now, the title track “Headcase” is grabbing my attention. The lo-fi, gauzy, guitar based music is absolutely infectious, and the vocals are equally as simple and ethereal. At it’s core, surf-pop is supposed to bring nostalgic feelings towards the light, and Day Wave is certainly living up to that expectation in both this dreamy track as well as his others on the EP. You can stream Headcase now on Day Wave’s soundcloud page in preparation for it’s release on July 17th.

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photo courtesy of artist (twitter)

Memory Maze – “Wounded Eyes”

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Memory Maze, the alter ego of London-based producer and artist Gavin Ellis, is one highly steeped and inspired by borderline intergalactic, psychedelic sound. His new single “Wounded Eyes,” is a good example of his overall aesthetic, where hazy, gauzy vocals become caught in between supersonic, metallic instrumentals. The track comes from his new album From The Outside In, which will be released on August 14th.

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photo courtesy of the 405