Year in Review: The 25 Best Songs of 2017

While 2017 was one of the absolute shittiest (yes, this is the first time we’ve cursed on here – we’re not apologizing) years on record politically, socially, and just about everything else-ly, the songs and albums that were released either in direct and indirect response or in complete indifference to it were on a completely different level of artistic ambition and passion for the delicate art form that is pure, unadulterated music. It was a distraction at the very least, an expanse to lose yourself completely and forget all the indecencies of the world at the most, and there was something for everyone, although we chose to go with the deeper, denser tracks, the ones that weren’t afraid to show emotion despite the call to remain stoic and detached due to the nature of society, to express vulnerability in every sense of the word. And, while doing best of lists this time around, I realized just how lucky I was to have started this blog when I did, because it has allowed me the chance to understand just how much music can change with the times as the years go by, as well as how much it stays the same – the twenty-five tracks presented here are honest, sincere, and gorgeous in their own respective ways, a playlist that kept us sane during a torturous whirlwind of a year.

25. Garbanotas Bosistas, “Last Summer’s Day”

The dreamy psychedelic sounds of Lithuanian band Garbanotas Bosistas were further realized with Room for You, released earlier this month. “Last Summer’s Day,” the first official single for the album, is one of the most gorgeous, a highly textured ballad devoted to the end of the daydreaming during the warm months and the embracing of new ideas. Lead vocalist Šarukas Joneikis asks the universe to bring him back to his good graces, to “bring back [his] heart, reunite with [his] mind,” but also understands that its ultimately up to him, lamenting “Lord, I really need to get moving on,” his voice lingering with something between desire and fear. The instrumentals, slow and saccharine sweet at the beginning, are perfectly in step with the vocals like a delicate waltz, only to quickly condense and explode in a cacophony of sound towards the end, a last hurrah both passionate and reverential in nature.

photo courtesy of artist

24. Peach Pit, “Tommy’s Party”

“Tommy’s Party,” the six minute closer to Peach Pit’s stunning debut Being So Normal released back in September, is perhaps the most minimal and sparse of its nine tracks, and yet, it just might be the most sincere the group has ever composed. Though highly specific in its narrative – frontman Neil Smith explaining upon release that the song is from the perspective of his roommate Tommy the night after a wild party where everyone seemed to have a bit too much to drink – the emotion in Smith’s voice amongst the bright, shimmering flourishes of guitar is what makes the track nostalgic and oddly relatable, especially if you’ve ever grown apart from one of your closest friends due to a new relationship or new life experiences. There’s hints of sadness in Smith’s voice as he tells us everything Tommy told him the morning after the party, that ultimately he was hurt that Smith brought a girl along with him and therefore ignored him the entire night. Tommy says in the last verse that when they were younger they thought that they’d only have each other to rely on, “but now she’s knowing you, just like I used to,” Smith lingering on the last two words as if introducing a painful surge of guilt, the guitar solo that follows afterwards a means to simultaneously suppress and acknowledge it.

photo by Lester Lyons-Hookham and Kelli Lane

23. St. Vincent, “Pills”

Masseduction, Annie Clark’s fifth album as St. Vincent, is something eerily close to post-pop, if we can be so bold as to even suggest that as an actual genre. There’s flashy neon colors, dramatic outfits, scripted, comic interviews, and yet the music itself has no gimmick – its pure, unadulterated St. Vincent as she has built herself up as over the years. “Pills,” not about the overarching presence of the pharmaceutical industry, but instead a brief look at a moment in Clark’s past, where she had once relied on sleeping pills. It’s also a wonderful example of the multi-faceted nature of the album as a whole, seein it feels like two songs in one. After the barrage of hallucinatory nursery rhyme choruses (“Pills to wake, pills to sleep/ Pills pills pills every day of the week”) the track comes down from the high, Clark’s voice melting into a passionate croon before a smooth sax solo. It’s reality in the style of fantasy, a surreal, out of body experience set to music.

photo by Nedda Afsari

22. Tennis, “I Miss That Feeling”

Tennis might be one of the hardest working couples in the indie music industry, as well as one of the most passionate due to the sheer amount of music they have released over the past year. While potentially any track from their fourth album Yours Conditionally could appear on this list, including the ethereal “Modern Woman” as well as the bright and cheerful “Fields of Blue,”  “I Miss That Feeling” from their more recently released EP We Can Die Happy deserves the spot, with its lush, atmospheric choral interludes as well as Alaina Moore’s clever songwriting – we still can’t get over her rhyming of “trembling” with “EKG.” But as always, the duo’s contribution is in constant balance, with Patrick Riley’s signature shimmering guitar melodies lying dormant underneath before erupting into its stunning closing solo.

photo via noisey

21. The Drums, “Heart Basel”

The Drums have always presented their albums with a certain mood in mind, and it feels like they’ve done almost everything with the classic indie sound  – their self titled debut was breezy yet complex in technique with hints of surf rock, Portamento was giddy but considerably darker in overall tone, and Encylopedia was the strange, yet oddly charming experimental outlier – and with Abysmal Thoughts, their first album in three years, it was as if all of those moods had seamlessly converged into one – even the hints of surf rock – with an added newfound aura of confidence. “Heart Basel” is somehow both breezy in composition and piercing in frontman Jonny Peirce’s vocal delivery, fighting the two separate feelings of infatuation and apprehension. He repeatedly asks a faceless, nameless entity in each chorus to “call me and tell me that you want me,” but its clear in the verses that he doesn’t really mean it, later telling him that “the tropical weather must have softened your heart,” that he “don’t make no sense.” Despite the frustration, the track still sounds bouncy and energetic, the pinpricks of guitar hopeful rather than dismal in nature.

photo by Moni Haworth

20. The xx, “On Hold”

I See You was, no doubt, the brightest xx record ever released. Each of its tracks, though still housing that signature heaviness equivalent with the trio’s sound, had an airiness about it, a glimmer of hope amongst all the despair. No other track really expressed this more than “On Hold,” also the first official single for the album. Romy Madley-Croft’s vocals hovered above her echoed guitar melodies, and even Oliver Sim’s signature deep drawl sounded just a touch lighter than usual. Though the narrative is about letting go of love (“and every time I let you leave/ I always saw you coming back to me”), the vocals, as well as the electronic compositions courtesy of the incredibly talented Jamie xx, point to something bright and hopeful, the result of learning from mistakes in life and love.

photo by Laura Jane Coulson

19. Temples, “I Wanna Be Your Mirror”

Volcano might be one of the most overlooked and underrated albums released this past year, and we found that to be an absolute travesty, considering the amount of work and passion that went into its creation. Perhaps it is because some believe Temples’ ambitious compositions emulate classic psychedelic rock just a little too perfectly, or that the complex instrumentals and often inscrutable lyrics make the Brit quartet’s music a little too much to take in all at once. However, what these critics miss out on is the passion and color that Temples place into everything they release, as well as their genuine love for the genre, and the album, to us, was a perfect continuation of everything they introduced with Sun Structures. Among the bubbly, high energy tracks, “I Wanna Be Your Mirror” was our absolute favorite off Volcano, mainly due to  the brilliant ways it melded together the energy of rock with the tenderness of a love song. Frontman James Bagshaw allows his vocals to both soar and condense, sometimes surrounded by walls of sound, but they are most stunning when they crumble down towards the chorus, accompanied only by shimmering guitar.

photo by Ed Miles

18. Rhye, “Taste”

Mike Milosh’s voice is, by far, Rhye’s best instrument. Both his control over it as well as the perfect way in which the instrumentals rush to surround him are absolutely mesmerizing, as heard in the Los Angeles duo’s debut, Woman, released back in 2013. “Taste,” one of the first teases of their upcoming album due next year, pointed to a slightly different, more experimental sound, with Milosh’s relatively deeper, yet still delicate falsetto at the center of a vortex composed of bass and synth, playful and eerie all at once. There’s also a distinct, simultaneous heaviness and playfulness, heard more in the accompanying tracks “Summer Days,” “Please,” and the most recent “Count to Five,” but it is most tantalizing here, the complex mixture of synth, metallic effects, and orchestral interludes conjuring an aura of mystery that Rhye will no doubt have fun with come next year. They’ve always been sensitive and vulnerable, but with these new tracks, they prove they can be a little dangerous as well.

photo by Dan Monick

17. Gorillaz, “Saturnz Barz”

Although Humanz was incredibly ambitious in its creation – complete with various collaborators, a lengthy tracklist, even a new plot and new art style for each fictitious band member (Murdoc’s was especially jarring – who told Jamie Hewlett to get rid of the green skin?) – we think we can all agree that it wasn’t Gorillaz’s best. However, there were moments of brilliance on the album, little melodies and earworms that seemed to linger well after the final note. “Saturnz Barz” was one that harkened back to that classic Gorillaz sound, and we also just had to include it based on how effortlessly cool it sounds. Glitchy synth and bright, metallic effects introduce distorted bass and drums, the sharp vocal delivery from Popcaan the cherry on top, the soft vocals from Damon Albarn peeking out underneath as well as towards the end another damn cherry on top of that one. It’s an absolute masterpiece of a track, proving Albarn’s continued excellence in composition. There never has, and never will be, a band that so perfectly pushes the limits of just about anything music can be – from its “band members” to what sounds go with others, to its incredibly creative music videos – and not even a so-so album can topple that.

photo courtesy of artist

16. Marika Hackman, “Boyfriend”

I’m Not Your Man was yet another incredibly overlooked and underrated album, again with no good reason behind it – Marika Hackman’s take on guitar pop was deliciously fresh and inspired, and the songwriting was impeccable – we couldn’t even decide on a favorite for this list without agonizing over the decision afterwards. Despite the soft fluidity of “Cigarette” and the stunning guitar melodies of “My Lover Cindy,” ultimately we had to go with the bouncy, energetic “Boyfriend,” a gorgeous song that isn’t what you first expect from the title. Though she admits she’s got a girl’s boyfriend “on her mind,” he isn’t the one she wants, instead confessing to stealing her away from him (“I held his girl in my hands/ She likes it ‘cause they’re softer than a man’s”). However, she doesn’t apologize, instead injecting everything from the tone of her voice to her meticulous guitar melodies with a healthy dose of sarcasm, making fun of him while commenting on how she isn’t taken as seriously. It’s the perfect introduction to her unique personality and writing style, showing that instead of feeling sorry for herself, she’ll have fun and steal your man in the process, just because she can.

photo by Pip for Dirty Hit Records

15. Tim Darcy, “Tall Glass of Water”

Ought frontman Tim Darcy took on a different persona in the the composition of his debut solo album Saturday Night, swapping out his mile-a-minute cynicisms with softer, lovesick serenades and sprawling, esoteric narratives. “Tall Glass of Water,” the first track released in anticipation for the album back in February, leans more towards indie rock in it’s heavy, balanced guitar melodies, but Darcy’s signature croon still hovers above, with his lyrics both asking and answering questions about his own abilities to muster on and understand himself as an artist (“If at the end of the river, there is more river, would you dare to swim again?” Surely I will stay, and I am not afraid / I went under once, I’ll go under once again”). These sorts of musings come complimentary with the singer/songwriter, it seems, regardless of what name or group he releases them under. However, rather than only bathe them in tension and angst, there’s also a sense of peace in his conveying himself, which makes the track all the more satisfying.

photo courtesy of artist

14. Japanese Breakfast, “Road Head”

The soft, mesmerizing guitar melody that courses through the entirety of “Road Head” was more than enough to grant it a spot on this list, as well as the fact that it was one of the many stunning tracks on Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Michelle Zauner’s sophomore album as Japanese Breakfast. It lived up to its namesake, each track expressing something otherworldly and ethereal, Zauner’s vocals its own instrument of despair and euphoria. Despite the brevity of its lyrical narrative, the emotion is still vivid and sincere, with super-sensory instrumentals – the guitar and bass the steady rolling of tires along the highway, Zauner’s voice whispering “run,” cooing towards the end, emulating the red and white flash of headlights through the dark as it soundly dissipates into the thick void of synth. It’s a surreal, almost hyper-realistic experience, and considering the short amount of time between projects, proved both Zauner’s passion and immense skill for her work.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

13. Gus Dapperton, “Miss Glum and the Pursuit of Falling”

Gus Dapperton was one of our absolute favorite musical discoveries of this past year, with his Yellow and Such EP offering up a different chunk of his quirky, yet highly intellectual writing and performing style. Working off his love of cinema, each track had a robust, full-bodied aura to them, heavy with thoughtful instrumentation and poetic, often witty and esoteric lyrics. “Miss Glum and the Pursuit of Falling” showed a more eclectic side, piecing together different techniques and moods into one cohesive track. There’s a colorful, yet muted menagerie of sounds – pinpricks and swelling flutters of synth, soft swells of melancholic guitar, a brilliant orchestral interlude that sounds as if it’s on a rocking boat, swaying from side to side – all floating underneath Dapperton’s echoed, ominous vocals. However, it is the implicit sadness evoked in the last minute of the track that makes it especially irresistible, a hotbed of sound where every delicately chosen note can combine and grow in focused succession.  

photo courtesy of artist

12. Alvvays, “Not My Baby”

There were a few tracks within Alvvays’s gorgeous sophomore album Antisocialites that sounded like two or three songs rolled in one, and “Not My Baby” was one of its best, not to mention its unapologetic narrative. Everything about it is soft yet visceral – the drums explode on impact, little flourishes of synth flutter underneath like sparks before swelling to the size of boulders. Molly Rankin’s voice changes right along with the muted, muffled instrumentals in tone, but remains static in her indifferent mood, only growing in power as the track plays on. TIt becomes especially enraptured towards the bridge, where she tells us all the things she did to get over someone from her past, trading her “rose colored shades for a wide lens,” how she used to make noise but now she “much prefers silence.” It’s a song about maturing and elevating your own perception of yourself for the better, and empowerment never sounded so saccharine sweet.

photo by Arden Wray

11. Alt-J, “In Cold Blood”

Relaxer was Alt-J’s shortest, most bizarre album yet, chock full of experimental instrumentals and insane references that, while more than anticipated due to the inspired nature of their past work, would undoubtedly take months to decipher. “In Cold Blood” was one of the most accessible of the bunch, the shallowest of the deep dive that is the three minds of its creators, but not without its individual merits that makes it that classic, albeit strange Alt-J song with an even stranger, specific narrative. “In Cold Blood” begins with a slew of binary, arresting, piercing and esoteric. While the track sounds bright and energetic, a deeper listen and brief glance at the lyrics reveals that a man has been killed during a pool party, and that same positive energy turns frantic and chaotic, the horns and glitchy keyboards mingling together in some sort of demented, violent menagerie. And yet, with it’s addictive “la-la-las,” it also sounds sunny and bright, but its ultimately its multifaceted nature that keeps us in the pool.

photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

10. Porches, “Find Me”

Aaron Maine returned this year with news of his upcoming third album The House, the two singles shared in anticipation hinting at a project even more personal than his past work. “Find Me” had Maine foregoing instrumentals and instead used synth exclusively, stacking the varying layers on top of each other thoughtfully to create a stable, unwavering foundation for a minimal, yet highly emotional narrative that expounds the torturous nature of anxiety. Maine, through a jungle of tense, earth-shattering synth, desperately begs a faceless, nameless being not to let “it” find him. Despite his attempts to resist, “it” eventually finds him just before the chorus, and with it comes a powerful wave of bouncy, glitchy synth that washes over as Maine succumbs to the influx of thoughts and emotions. Yet his voice towers over the surge in acceptance, and he explains that he’ll go “somewhere else, where I can sink into myself,” and asks those around to watch him go, to watch him try and escape from the most unforgiving entity – himself – to attempt to find peace through internal chaos.

photo by Jason Nocito

9. King Krule, “Dum Surfer”

Archy Marshall’s sophomore album as King Krule was definitely more of a grower than his debut, but surprisingly, that ended up working in his favor. The Ooz steadily diverged from any trace of softness that showed its face now and then in ballads like “Baby Blue,” and instead embraced the deepest, darkest parts of Marshall’s already jagged, twisted musical persona, amplifying nearly every part of his aesthetic to the point where it truly became unparalleled – as if it wasn’t already before. In “Dum Surfer,” one of the highlights of the album, you can hear the signature sneer and snarl in Marshall’s voice so clearly its almost tangible, delivering a perfectly rhymed, snarky narrative about the hellish, alcohol soaked night he and his friends were in the process of enduring. He’s only accompanied by bass and guitar at the beginning, that is, until a glimmering guitar melody gradually slithers its way out of the heavy carpet of percussion, seemingly crawling into the open mouth of a saxophone that adds even more texture with every sultry blare. And yet, even Marshall can’t pull off a track that’s all grime and growl – towards the middle we get a brief moment of introspection, an indication that the zombie he portrays himself to be in the accompanying video has a heart himself.

photo by Geordie Wood

8. Cloud Castle Lake, “Twins”

We will never stop talking about, nor will we ever apologize for our unwavering love for Cloud Castle Lake, as well as their absolutely stunning track “Sync” – a track that, despite being almost three years old, continues to grow in brilliance every time we listen to it. Just when we thought nothing could rival that track in the feelings of transcendentalism and euphoria, the Dublin quartet released “Twins,” the first teaser for their upcoming debut album Malingerer, out next year. They’ve mentioned that the album will pull away from the experimental post-rock aesthetic they began with and instead lean more towards the raw complexity of jazz, and, according to the band, “juxtaposes lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis.” Though that could be said for their entire discography up to this point, “Twins” seems like the true epitome of that statement, with McAuley enduring what seems like every human emotion to an incessant, brawny menagerie of bright, colorful jazz instrumentals. It’s colorful, explosive, and so wonderfully unique its easy to get lost within it, but after the first minute, you’re almost glad you are.

photo courtesy of artist

7. The National, “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”

Sleep Well Beast was an album that, ironically, we slept on until the beginning of December, where we finally gave into The National’s inevitable darkness and listened to lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” originally released back in May. As you can probably imagine, one listen to the arresting, aggressive instrumentals and we immediately regretted all the time we could have spent diving deep into the vast world they’ve slowly been cultivating over the past four years. Matt Berninger’s voice is completely different from the deep drawl it took on during Trouble Will Find Me, even sometimes entering a vocal register we weren’t aware he could deliver. It’s a whirlwind beginning to end, chock full of little surprises on equal caliber with Berninger’s newfound vocal energy – Aaron Dessner’s guitar solo in the middle is smooth and calculated, an outburst of power that sounded as if it was held captive for far too long. Berninger repeats “I can’t explain it any other/ any other way,” an unapologetic tone that stays constant throughout the entire album.

photo by Graham MacIndoe

6. Sufjan Stevens, “Wallowa Lake Monster”

It seems like it has always been Sufjan Stevens’s mission to make anything painful sound beautiful beyond what is humanly possible, and that was exactly the case with “Wallowa Lake Monster” from this year’s release The Greatest Gift, the supplemental album filled with outtakes, remixes, and demos from Carrie & Lowell. The track follows the same narrative of love, loss, and regret potent within the album, offering another otherworldly, almost transcendental narrative on the death his mother, as well as their troubled, strained relationship. Both piano and voice are somber and delicate, each trying not to overshadow the other, conveying a sense of mutual respect and admiration in signature Sufjan Stevens fashion. Though the track exists as a continuation of the solemn nature of its larger work, its clear that this is perhaps the most solemn of all, due to Stevens’s absolute acceptance that “no oblation will bring her back,” that he has seemingly understood everything within the span of its seven minutes. His breathy vocals periodically rise into a beautiful falsetto during certain parts of the verse, strained and tired in response, but beautiful all the same, greeted with a cacophony of angelic wails that seem to carry a lovely weight towards the heavens.

photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records

5. Ought, “These 3 Things”

Art-punk quartet Ought surprised us all with news of their upcoming third album Room Inside the World, due out early next year. The first track from the album “These 3 Things” was noticeably different from the grit of their past repertoire, and instead leaned towards the gorgeous instability and unpredictability of post-punk, complete with synth and dulcet orchestral tones. Darcy’s voice sounded different as well, more mellifluous and elastic than ever, only occasionally returning to the brooding, acerbic tone he emulated in their past work, the unique vocals that immediately and unmistakably identified them as Ought. However, despite the stark differences in tone, “These 3 Things” stayed true to the feelings of suppressed turbulence and anxiety and instead sounded like a seamless progression for the band, an evolution that still thankfully takes advantage of their unique recording style – where it constantly sounds as if, through the separate energies of every component involved, that something large, potent, and powerful is brimming just underneath the surface, gaining energy, yet only to stay trapped, smoldering and hot to the touch, that tension more coveted and gorgeous than if it had burst.

photo courtesy of artist / merge records

4. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”

There’s immense power in being soft and somber, two emotions that Mike Hadreas has mastered throughout the years in his attempts to both constantly and brilliantly oppose a grossly ignorant society denying him the right to exist because of all the ideas he represents – homosexuality, androgyny, male vulnerability – as well as unapologetically embrace his own merits at the same time. In “Slip Away,” Hadreas’s first release from No Shape, his fourth album as Perfume Genius, he fought back against those who denied him the basic right of humanity, and embodied the idea of love over hate, explaining to his partner that “they’ll never break the shape we take,” to “let all them voices slip away” amongst bombastic, pastel-tinged synth blossoms that exploded with each note. It’s enamored, luxurious, and yet with a wonderful message of love in both its romantic and platonic forms.

photo courtesy of artist / Matador records

3. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara”

Crack-Up contained some of the most gorgeous, dense, sprawling narratives ever written by Robin Pecknold, with lead single “Third of May/ Odaigahara” basically being the thesis statement for the entire album. The nine minute epic is nostalgia epitomized, a track whose first half is more for Pecknold himself than for anyone else, given the amount of breathtaking introspection about himself, his friendships, and his career – which is okay, given its energy and vivid imagery in as well as how much honesty and genuine emotion oozes out of every second. It is essentially a track detailing the close friendship of Pecknold and band co-founder Skye Skjelset, and details of him are everywhere, including the title (Skjelset’s birthday falls on May 3rd). Pecknold explained the song’s poetic narrative in full soon after it was released: “It addresses our distance in the years after touring that album, the feeling of having an unresolved, unrequited relationship that is lingering psychologically. Even if some time apart was necessary and progressive for both of us as individuals, I missed our connection, especially the one we had when we were teenagers, and the lyrics for the song grew out of that feeling.” It’s an anthem for their friendship as well as what Pecknold believes to be his personal responsibility as an artist as well as a human being, made especially clear in the second half, dramatically different from the first in tone. He practically grabs us by the collar and lectures that every day is a gift, that “life unfolds in pools of gold,” and that we “are only owed this shape if [we] make a line to hold,” that with the gift of life comes “the responsibility to transcend solipsism and offer connection beyond yourself.” When combined with the stop-and-go instrumental explosions and the echoes that Pecknold’s voice transforms into, the track showcases something close to divine intervention, given the way in which these elaborate, enamored instrumentals that rush to raise his speech up. It ends softly and sweetly with medieval sounding orchestrals that will soon make up most of the rest of the album, a nostalgic reminiscence, a respectful, mutual admiration, and a hopeful premonition rolled into one.

photo by Sean Pecknold

2. Grizzly Bear, “Three Rings”

Painted Ruins was Grizzly Bear’s most introspective album to date, filled with moments of heartache, hope, and epiphany, and lead single “Three Rings” managed to express all three to near perfection. The instrumentals at the beginning are composed of Christopher Bear’s relatively minimal, yet chunky percussions and Chris Taylor’s steady bass drone, only to later be met with a wave of techniques and styles that wash over to fill the space near the bridge, where Droste begins to question the emotions long since buried deep inside. He asks through the midst of experimental, industrial sounding guitar melodies courtesy of Daniel Rossen if this is “the way it is,” before sinking into a somber, teary-eyed “Ready, Able”-esque bridge of desperation and anguish, begging his beloved “don’t you ever leave me,” promising he can “make it better,” to supposedly make himself better too, if he can fit it in. It’s a desperate plea for acceptance that sounds more like a shout into the impenetrable void, but with an added aura of dignity in Droste’s vocal delivery that strips it of any futility that might come supplementary with such yearning. We root for him to succeed in the end, for him to become the best version of himself, although we can’t help but save a little bit of that pride for ourselves as well.

photo by Tom Hines

1. Baths, “Human Bog”

Though it was released less than two months ago, Romaplasm was one of the most gorgeous albums of the year, not to mention Baths’s most gorgeous album to date, mainly due to its genuine honesty and complex, fantastical compositions. In a similar regard, “Human Bog” was among the most stunning tracks Wiesenfeld has ever released dealing directly with personal identity, and contains a heartbreaking lyrical narrative that begins with the outside world and steadily retreats inward, the mind finding an respite within the heart – an ill respite, as we soon realize, but respite nonetheless. Wiesenfeld states his grievances of both night and day, day including seeing people “positioning pearls on younger girls who couldn’t be bothered” and “buttoning poise on younger boys avoiding their fathers,” minuscule at first glance, but holds a deeper meaning with every listen – by emphasizing the importance of outward appearance, superficial or not, the more he “conducts [himself] invisibly” due to his differences in how he chooses to spend his time, where he finds solace, who he decides to love. He cannot even find peace “by moon,” where he tells us in softer tones just how pathetic he feels he is, whispering “the lengths I go to get held onto” like a secret he’s held in for far too long. Wiesenfeld continues to admit in an increasingly fraying, porous voice between puddles of murky, treacherous synth that he’s “queer in a way that works” for whoever he’s with, but ultimately “queer in a way that’s failed [him], the instrumentals afterwards introducing soft orchestral flourishes that again allows the track to be both sad and beautiful, self-indulgent but honest. He claims before a glitchy, exasperated sigh that “everyone alive live fuller lives than me,” repeating “lie lie lie” before falling in a falsetto laden pit of self-deprecation. It’s incredibly hard to listen to if you or someone close to you, like us, has ever had these sorts of torturous feelings, feelings due to the inability to accept who they are due to the polarizing nature of society, or if you, also like us, wish nothing but peace and happiness for Wiesenfeld – but in the end, its an incredibly important message for others blessed enough to not go through these sorts of social indecencies need to understand. And, though it may hurts, it pays to stay true to yourself, to be honest with your own thoughts and feelings, because if you’re lucky, you’ll create your own sort of peace, or even, as Wiesenfeld has, art of the highest caliber.

photo by Mario Luna

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Year in Review: The 10 Best Music Videos of 2017

Considering we’re a one woman operation here at kidwithavinyl (even though I tend to refer to myself as a hive mind or collective consciousness here as well as on social media for some reason), writing out end of year lists always pose itself as an arduous task. And this year, we’ve (there I go again) decided to make things even more difficult and add another category besides songs and albums: music videos. But, considering how many incredible ones there were this year, we couldn’t just ignore them. Though music videos can sometimes exist as sort of double edged sword – some can completely destroy an interpretation of a brilliant song, and some can breathe new life into an otherwise uninteresting track, confusing its purpose – the ten presented here are beautiful examples of how the right visuals can transform a song into something more substantial, carving out a space in time in order truly experience every feeling, every mood, every hidden sentiment the track has to offer. That, as well as the fact that they are nothing short of art in their own right.

10. Washed Out, “Hard To Say Goodbye” (dir. Jonathan Hodgeson)

Ernest Greene’s third album as Washed Out definitely stayed true to its name. Not only was the music delightfully mellow and charming in nature, but so were the images that accompanied every track, considering Greene’s desire to release a “visual album” as well as an auditory one this time around. Colorful and playful in tone, the use of live action, jumpy graphic designs, and hyper-realistic effects border on everything from the quirky to the unsettling, and yet, none of them feel randomly thrown together – in Mister Mellow‘s stunner, “Hard to Say Goodbye,” the movement of various images, colors, and shapes are orchestrated in such a way that they are able to perfect synchronization with both the synth and orchestral melodies as well as Greene’s gauzy vocals. The “redacted” protagonist moves through his complex world without a care, a white glowing orb in a sea of color, a ghost among people. It is also slightly reminiscent of both A-Ha’s “Take on Me” in its pacing and speed, as well as The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” in its cut and paste visual style – all three videos examples of reality and reverie coexisting in perfect harmony.

9. Moaning, “Don’t Go” (dir. Michael Schmelling)

New Sub Pop signees Moaning recently announced that they will release their self-titled debut early next year, releasing first official single “Don’t Go” as a teaser for their own specific brand of post punk. The accompanying video for the track is both minimal and chaotic, due to its monochromatic color scheme and sporadic cuts to the trio and friends performing various random actions – applying makeup, dancing, giving impulsive haircuts – and yet it all feels seamless, the feeling of each moment absorbed into the clash of guitars and drums. In its short duration, the video houses tenacity and humor, angst and euphoria, aggression and softness, and those contradicting energies fit incredibly well with the similar nature of post punk, where calculated unpredictability suddenly becomes entirely possible.

8. The Lemon Twigs, “I Wanna Prove To You” (dir. Nick Roney)

Last October, brothers Michael and Brian D’Addario released their debut album Do Hollywood, a stunning project made up of colorful chamber pop and psychedelic rock. After releasing the videos for “These Words” and “As Long as We’re Together” shortly afterwards, they released the video for opener “I Wanna Prove to You” at the beginning of this year, and arguably remains their best video yet, mainly due to its humorous narrative. Director Nick Roney breaks the fourth wall at the beginning, explaining that he brought the “Twigs” to his grandparents’ house in Utah to live with them in the hopes to show them what true love looks like, and it begins on a whimsical note. To his surprise, however, what follows is the brothers slowly being assimilated into the family – playing board games and having dinner, even getting baptized – and Roney slowly being cast out, the jaunty nature of the song the perfect little ironic soundtrack to it all. In the end, a broken Roney leaves with his crew, his grandparents and their new grandsons the “Twigs” waving goodbye, smirks stretched across their faces.

7. Tim Darcy, “Still Waking Up” (dir. Meg Remy)

Ought frontman Tim Darcy released his debut solo album Saturday Night in February, with tracks leaning more towards rough, coarse indie rock rather than the poetic, intellectual art punk he’s brought to life in Ought’s first two albums (with another on the way next year). While Darcy tends to embody various personas throughout the album – the intellectual protagonist, the enraptured existentialist, the hopeful cynicthe video for “Still Waking Up” shows him as what he really is underneath it all – the hopeless romantic. Directed by U.S. Girls’s Meg Remy, the video shows a lovesick Darcy standing outside a girl’s window, serenading her. After a grainy, muted interlude of various blooming flowers, it focuses on the girl’s unimpressed, empty stare, afterwards showing her slowly closing her blinds and shutting her door, leaving Darcy alone in the cold, with only his guitar to keep him warm. Maybe it’s because the lyrics to his serenade are more piercingly forthright than starry-eyed and romantic, but the implicit, heartfelt nature of them mixed with the overall simplicity of the video assure us that his effort wasn’t entirely in vain.

6. SZA, “Drew Barrymore” (dir. Dave Myers)

SZA’s debut album Ctrl was a delicate balance of aggression, sensuality, frustration, and vulnerability, and offered up a treasure trove of singles – “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” are two in particular that are sure to be played with the same level of adoration for years to come, . Yet we couldn’t stop returning to stunner “Drew Barrymore” due to its soft yet eerie instrumentals, the direct, textured vocals, and, most of all, its honest and sincere emotional transparency. The video is sentimental and playful in tone, shot in a vignette style that casts a soft, nostalgic veneer on everything she and her friends are up to in the city – partying, pretending to walk on airport conveyor belts, hanging outside laundromats, sledding –  yet its clear there’s also a sadness somewhere deep inside her, especially when it gets to the chorus, asking her lover if its “warm enough” inside her, clear that he doesn’t care about anything other than his own comfort. However, the video doesn’t show a disparaged or weakened SZA, rather the opposite – the people that care about her well-being are still there for her, the ending scene on the rooftop something all friends need to do at some point in their relationship. Meeting the actual Drew Barrymore isn’t bad either, but one thing at a time.

5. Alt-J, “3WW” (dir. Young Replicant)

The creative vision behind Alt-J’s entire discography has always been thoughtful and respectful to the people and concepts that appear within it, and the vision for their third album Relaxer was absolutely no exception. Each of their carefully crafted videos for “3WW,” “In Cold Blood,” and “Deadcrush” had its own separate plot and mood, with that signature confusion that Alt-J has trademarked over the years. “3WW” is perhaps the most ambitious of the three, with a dense, monochromatic color scheme and convoluted plot line left up to the viewer to understand. Set in Real de Catorce, Mexico, the video also features stunning villages and deserts, the backdrop to a love story that goes beyond the grave. The repetitive nature of the introductory instrumentals provide an eerie soundtrack to the village people carrying one protagonist’s coffin up into the desert, where another protagonist, the boy she fell in love with, takes on the task of carrying it the rest of the journey, fending off any predators that come his way. There are moments, like the scene with rabid wolves, where everything is in slow motion, yet still feels immediate in the way the camera pans in and around the action –  a brilliant move, considering those little bursts of adrenaline appear numerous times throughout Relaxer.

4. Japanese Breakfast, “The Body Is A Blade” (dir. Michelle Zauner)

Michelle Zauner’s sophomore album as Japanese Breakfast strayed somewhat from the bittersweet, sentimental nature of her debut Psychopomp, a beautiful project inspired by and dedicated to her late mother. Soft Sounds From Another Planet was just that – a collection of otherworldly, eccentric tracks that, thankfully, still contained that giddy, energetic Japanese Breakfast sound while at the same time experimenting with new techniques and effects. It was incredibly difficult to pick from the videos released for the album, due to “Machinist”s futuristic aesthetic and “Road Head”’s quirky narrative, but we decided on the nostalgic visuals for “The Body Is A Blade,” simply because it is the one that directly connects the debut and the sophomore albums in subject matter. Old pictures of her and her mother phase in and out while Zauner swims in a lake, climbs jagged rocks by the ocean, and traverses fields, blade in hand to cut the tall grass in her way, all with a smile on her face. The video becomes especially powerful towards the middle, where the song falls into its menagerie of shimmering synth flourishes, seeming to swell and grow in power as the child and adult Zauner repeatedly swap places on screen. It’s a surreal video in many ways, but it is also ultimately one of hope and positivity, as Zauner acknowledges her past as something that has made her stronger today.

3. Porches, “Find Me” (dir. Nicholas Harwood and Aaron Maine)

When regarding it in relation to the torturous nature of anxiety disorder, the visuals for “Find Me” – the second single from Aaron Maine’s upcoming sophomore album as Porches – become both illuminating and a touch surreal, both especially true if you or someone you love suffers from it on a daily basis. In some cases, you wouldn’t even know for sure if that person was suffering from it at all, due to the lengths they go to hide it or make it less troublesome for the people they love. Maine frantically gels his hair, shaves, brushes his teeth, and works out before he leaves, though its clear that he’d much rather “stay inside” in bed, readying himself for something that seems immensely important. He repeats, however, that he is not really going anywhere, but he can’t let “it” find him, and we see him in various places regardless – he becomes a tiny red dot in the middle of a lush green field, a lone wanderer in a dark supermarket parking lot, a static figure while two other similarly dressed characters flail around him. However, it’s clear when listening to the lyrics (“think I’ll go somewhere else where/ I can sink into myself”) that explode through the dense wave of synth and glitchy effects, that he doesn’t want to truly escape from the affliction – maybe from a deep rooted fear that it may be impossible to do so – but instead escape to a place in order to allow it to consume him for a little bit without completely inconveniencing the people around him. The cinematic quality of the video, also seen in the video for “Country,” should be noted as well, for everything from the colors to the pacing of each scene point to something done with immense care and consideration for the specific feeling they chose to evoke.

2. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away” (dir. Andrew Thomas Huang)

No Shape, Mike Hadreas’s fourth full length album as Perfume Genius, is the first in his repertoire to completely abandon the ideas of fear and remorse, instead marked with a blaze of confidence for the life he has fought for time and time again, with a stream of unapologetic love and rapturous passion coursing through each track. The gorgeous video for “Slip Away” portrays the album’s overarching theme of love over hate, as well as the intimacy of close friendship, all expressed with a menagerie of baroque and modern instrumentals as the soundtrack. Hadreas, hand in hand with a female friend, dances, runs through fields, eats handfuls of peaches, and runs from demonic creatures, immersed in a Victorian inspired fantastical world matching the track in both grandeur and hazy iridescence – the colors are incredibly vibrant and saturated, and yet still somehow muted in tone, emulating everything from a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream to a Grimm’s fairy tale. It’s a beautiful, unique take on love’s ability to conquer every opposing force, and Perfume Genius has made it clear that it doesn’t matter if that love is romantic or platonic – both can empower you in countless ways.

1. Fleet Foxes, “Fool’s Errand” (dir. Sean Pecknold)

Fleet Foxes only released one official music video for their stunning third full length album Crack-Up, which was odd considering the lush imagery and dense poetry expressed in each of its eleven tracks. However, the ambitious and gorgeous set up for “Fool’s Errand,” directed by Sean Pecknold (brother of frontman Robin Pecknold) was the entire reason why we decided to make this list in the first place, so maybe one was more than enough. While the scenery is absolutely breathtaking – showing everything from grassy hillsides, desert sands, dense forests, as well as a rocky shoreline with jagged cliffs that could very well be the image on the album cover itself – it is the casting, costume design, and the unique choreography that makes this video exceptional, proving what a video for such an evocative track should be. Main lead Jane-Lorna Sullivan stands along the most aggressive and unpredictable environment of the bunch, as well as the most complicated of choreography, yet her sharp, powerful gyrations are in perfect balance with the nature of her surroundings, with a stoic determination seen each time we are placed in front of her piercing blue eyes, unable to look away. Sullivan even appears to be possessed by the music just as the sky begins to grow darker, falling to the ground in defeat and resignation. The video holds such suppressed, contained power that if the lyrics, music, and visuals are all taken in equally and simultaneously, what results is something close to transcendence, where human and nature can both be evoked in each other effortlessly.

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photos by Sean Pecknold, Jason Nocito, Ebru Yildiz, Shawn Brackbill

Album Review: Alt-J – Relaxer

If there was a singular detail that separates Alt-J from their modern contemporaries, it would have to be the immense thought and care that goes into crafting their specific narratives, often times only immediately accessible to a certain few. Their music is not designed to be a fleeting, faded sound to be heard in the background, but exclusively reserved for those who wish to isolate themselves, peirce its thick, compact flesh, and let the juices freely flow down their chin. Relaxer, the trio’s third full length album, offers the chance for this savage practice tenfold, perhaps even more than their past work. But, true to its name, it also takes the time to release some of the pressure in order to tell wonderfully dense and detailed stories, most of which deal with how people perceive the idea of love and lust, satisfaction and sadness, either as individual concepts or how they interact simultaneously.

Relaxer might be the most obscure and experimental album Alt-J has ever released, as well as the most sensual; it’s almost as if it exists as a perfect amalgamation of their first two albums, taking the moody unpredictability of An Awesome Wave and the delicacy and romance of This Is All Yours. The sensuality, however, is at times placed not in a forgiving landscape, but instead an glitchy, savage wonderland where all rules go out the window, and somehow, Alt- J more than manage to get away with it. In fact, it’s the blatant, brilliant contradiction of their graphic, emotion soaked narratives to the fantastical, effect laden sounds that keeps the madness from gaining too much momentum – their thoughtful minds stabilize their feet that so desperately wish to float into the ether.  Of course, that doesn’t mean their more bizarre thoughts don’t bleed into their creations every now and again, and the ones they’ve chosen to include this time around are their most perplexing and arresting to date.

“In Cold Blood” begins with a slew of binary, arresting, piercing and esoteric, as is their want. While the track sounds bright and energetic, a deeper listen and glance at the lyrics reveals that a man has been killed during a pool party, and that same positive energy turns frantic and chaotic, the horns and glitchy keyboards mingling together in some sort of demented, violent menagerie – and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. “Adeline” is, literally, about a Tasmanian devil that falls in love with a woman after watching her swim, but from the amount of care and passion in both the smooth, milky guitar and piano instrumentals as well as Joe Newman’s vocal swells, you’d think the devil were a complicated being with a highly sensitive, bleeding heart, able to feel such complex emotions as mankind. Again, the listener sees and hears the contrast and concurrent communication between the savage and delicate as the creature must turn away from the object of his desire, for their lives are far too different. At the end of his journey through his emotions, he wishes her well as the urges in his head and heart battle each other, expressed through a thick, dense forest of vocal samples and grandiose instrumentals. The trio even messes around with the Animals’ 1964 hit “House of the Rising Sun,” where instead of a man chained to the world of gambling and alcohol, his father is chained instead, and his mother can’t help but sew jeans to pay for his addiction. As a result it sounds even darker, completely furloughing the miniscule shard of hope the original managed to secure.

The focus on differing perspectives on love and lust is also very much prominent throughout Relaxer, in both its blatant and subtle forms. “Hit Me Like That Snare” is very much in the former category, and exists not only as the British trio’s most bizarre and uncomfortable tracks, but perhaps one of the strangest tracks in the history of alt indie music. After what seems like a cowbell induced orgasm, Newman delivers a vocal line that resembles a drunken, hysteric drawl, with as many euphemisms for sex you can imagine. “Deadcrush” exists in the middle, where Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton tell us about their “dead crushes,” photographer Elizabeth “Lee” Miller and Anna Bolina, referring to Anne Boleyn. It’s a narrative that hasn’t been touched on much in the past, but this as well as the long, drawn out “Last Year” and “Pleader” are tracks that will only immediately make sense to a certain few, and at first glance, may be far too overwhelming to fully embrace like the others.

The magnum opus of the album must be “3WW,” as it seems to utilize Alt-J’s unique composition style found in Relaxer the most eloquently. Much like the idea of love itself, it is multi-faceted, sounding like a love song one moment and a glitchy, eerie nightmare the next, as it focuses on two separate, but intertwining perspectives. The plucks of guitar simulate the “wayward lad’s” soft, anxious footsteps as he leaves the comfort of his pastoral life to discover love, or at least offer a love “in his own language.” He wishes for something more substantial, for the words “I love you” have become worn with overuse like the “rubbing hands of tourists in Verona,” referring to those who have ruined the patina of the statue of Juliet in Verona, wanting luck in love. The instrumentals become more industrial and sterile as he learns the hard way that others’ ideas of love are not as sincere and meaningful as his – the girls that take advantage of his purity leave him a note the morning after their encounter, asking him with a laugh if it was his “first time.” The instrumentals become quiet and ashamed, but the boy repeats his desire to love another the way he thinks is the most substantial, his morals remaining the last pure, quiet breath into the corrupt world he left everything to experience.

Relaxer is at the least a deep dive into the highly functioning minds of three incredibly talented musicians and songwriters, at the most a strange, yet rewarding third installment of a musical project that will never be replicated.

8.7/10

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photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

Alt-J – “Adeline”

Early next month, Alt-J will release their third and highly anticipated full length album Relaxer. The trio have already shared two stunning tracks from the record – the sensual and evocative “3WW” as well as the glitchy, horn and synth heavy “In Cold Blood.” Today, they’ve shared “Adeline,” a soft, atmospheric addition to what might be their most experimental album to date. Much like their entire discography, the track tells a specific story in carefully chosen, tender language, this time according to the band about a Tasmanian devil who falls in love with a woman after watching her swim. Of course, the lyrics can be taken literally or metaphorically, the latter perhaps easier to relate with considering that at its core, the track is about a lost or never realized love. Amidst swirls of mesmerizing, sorrowful piano, the Tasmanian devil, communicated by Joe Newman’s soft voice, wishes his love well, and watches her swim away, his inconsolable, bleeding heart expressed through the slowly expanding closer.

Relaxer will be released on June 2nd.

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photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

Alt-J – “In Cold Blood”

Earlier this month, Alt-J announced the release of their third album Relaxer, and shared the glitchy, industrial inspired first single “3WW.” The newest from the upcoming full-length is just as electrifying as the first – in fact, it sounds like the perfect marriage between their first two albums, intertwining the lyrical obscurity and melodic unpredictability of debut An Awesome Wave with the erotic, sensual nature of sophomore This Is All Yours. It bursts forward with intense immediacy and frontman Joe Newman yelling binary, going on and on about summer and pools, and constantly asking for a kiss. The instrumentals are complex and the timing is almost perfectly askew, with horns and synth somehow in perfect harmony. The best part, however, is that the signature Alt-J “la-la-la’s” are back, with even more power than ever.

Relaxer will now be released on June 2nd, a week earlier than previously stated.

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photo courtesy of artist/ press

Alt-J – “3WW”

Three years after their absolutely stunning sophomore album This is All Yours, Alt-J have returned with news of the upcoming release of their third full-length album Relaxer, as well as shared the first intoxicating single. “3WW” has the band more experimental than ever, with a menagerie of light, bouncy guitar pierced with frontman Joe Newman’s signature flinty, cracking vocals, communicating a frustratingly esoteric, beautifully poetic, and here, surprisingly sensual lyrical narrative. In true, unbearably unique Alt-J style, it somehow gives off a bulky, industrial feeling as well as a dream-like haziness, communicating a powerful message in just a few abstract images.

Relaxer will be released on June 9th.

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photo by Gabriel Green/courtesy of artist

Portico – “101” (feat. Joe Newman)

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In their debut album Living Fields, electronic band Portico explores dark, sullen, yet absolutely gorgeous worlds that evoke all kinds of different, beautiful images. They definitely take the ambient genre very seriously, and it’s shown in the breathtaking track “101.” After a tantalizing, metallic sounding intro that slowly reaches a peaceful void, vocalist Joe Newman from experimental band Alt-J takes over. His soft, whispering voice embraces the sharp beats and textured synth, giving the track an almost celestial and and divine feeling. It mentions Gene Kelly and his role in Singing in the Rain, making it fit well with Joe Newman and his lyrical aesthetic of including references from books, movies, and prominent figures throughout history. It’s definitely a track that begs to be played over and over again, and it’s already extremely close to making my list of the top songs of 2015.

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photo courtesy of the artist

Album Review: Alt-J – This Is All Yours

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A few months ago, I did a Band Appreciation Friday on English alternative/experimental band Alt-J, where I reviewed their debut album An Awesome Wave. That post was before the release of their sophomore album, This is All Yours, however, which deserves a review all it’s own.

When I heard “Hunger of the Pine” for the first time a month or so ago, I could hear the vast difference in Alt-J’s sound. This was not at all surprising, however, considering that bassist Gwil Sainsbury had left the band a couple months prior. I could tell the band had slowly started to embrace the darker, more evocative sides of their experimental music, and that theory only grew stronger when their single “Every Other Freckle” was released. The instrumentals are heavier and deeper than their last album, or it was as if they borrowed the bass line for “Fitzpleasure” for all of their fast-paced tracks. This wasn’t a problem for me, however, considering I enjoy that sort of change. “Intro” sounds like it could go hand in hand with “Intro” from An Awesome Wave, and it’s similarities brought a smirk of appreciation to my face when I first heard it. However, where the album goes a bit askew is the long, slow tracks that take up the first and last parts of the album. These chronological tracks, including “Arrival in Nara,” “Garden of England” and “Leaving Nara” could be mistaken for instrumentals, considering you only really hear real vocals a portion of the time or not at all. Also, “Left Hand Free,” their most popular single, was no doubt a parody for something. The western swing style of that track was so bizarre and didn’t match anything the band had done before. While it is catchy, I was annoyed when I kept hearing it on the radio, when there were so many other tracks from them to choose from.

Critiques aside, there are moments where I felt the same sort of infatuation that I felt with Alt-J’s debut. Joe Newman has not skimped on his songwriting, something that I was grateful for. I thrived on his words and the odd, yet sensual ways they were placed together, touching on everything from love and lack thereof. Yes, there were some strange lyrics, but that’s what makes the band unique and wonderful. Tracks like “Bloodflood pt. II,” “Nara,” and “Warm Foothills” highlight those familiar vocals and instrumentals, and they are the best on the album, hands down. “Warm Foothills,” especially, was so wonderful in the fact that it introduced something I had never really heard that much of before: spliced vocals. The construction of this was so seamless and absolutely beautiful. I also enjoyed the continuation of their track “Bloodflood” into “Bloodflood pt. II,” where I was pleasantly surprised to hear some of the vocals from “Fitzpleasure.” It was a great treat for all the listeners, for sure.

I loved An Awesome Wave so much more than This Is All Yours, simply because I felt there was more connection with the words being sung and the music behind it. Each track was a journey into another world, but they still managed to have fluidity, where each track would seamlessly merge into the next. Don’t get me wrong though. I still very much enjoyed This Is All Yours and it’s calming, introspective tracks, and appreciate the fact that Alt-J is attempting to broaden their horizons and experiment more with their sound. Because, after all, a band is nothing if they’re not open-minded and willing to change, which is the idea that Alt-J and the infamous triangle symbol their name is based on symbolizes.

Best tracks: “Warm Foothills,” “Bloodflood pt.II”, “Nara”

8/10

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Alt-J – “Hunger of the Pine”

cover_largeSince the departure of their bassist Gwil Sainsbury, the members of Alt-J admitted that it was difficult to return to their songwriting and brainstorming at first. However, the remaining three members of the band breathed a sigh of relief with the completion of this brand new song, and it somehow reassured them that they would be just fine. I’d have to agree. Even though this song sounds quite different from the songs on their last album An Awesome Wave, it’s still classic Alt-J. There’s minimalist instrumentals where the synth is the star, incredibly meaningful lyrics, and, of course, Joe Newman’s gorgeously unique voice. It rises and falls in the most perfect places, and swells with every beat. The instrumentals, lyrics, and vocals all showcase the overall feeling of this song, and tries to elaborate on the physical pain of pining for someone. Overall, it sounds eerie, ominous, and mysterious, but also has the tone of bitter romance. Alt-J is proving with this song that they are just as strong as they were before, and it sounds magnificent. “Hunger of the Pine” is from Alt-J’s new album This Is All Yours, which will be released on September 22.

 

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Band Appreciation Friday – Alt-J

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Alt-J is one of those bands that constantly has me on the edge of my seat. Every single time I listen to their music, I find something completely new, whether it’s meaning in the lyrics, a hidden piano or guitar riff, or a variation in the vocals. They can either be described as indie dream pop as well as experimental pop, both of which I absolutely agree with. The music is quirky, odd, innovative, and incredibly fresh. Of course, like all experimental music, it helps to ease in gently rather than throw yourself in. Alt-J is an acquired taste – it takes repetition and a patient ear to really understand why their music is absolutely incredible.

The band started in 2008 under the name FILMS, but then changed to Alt-J, which is the process of making a triangle on a mac computer (▲). The triangle is also the symbol delta, which also means a certain change or alteration. The members (Joe Newman, Thom Green, Gus Unger-Hamilton, and Gwil Sainsbury) met at Leeds University, and spent over two years writing, rehearsing, and recording before signing with Infectious Records in 2011. There is a tight chemistry between the members of the band, and you can really hear it in their music. Unfortunately, it was announced this year that guitarist Gwil Sainsbury would no longer be a part of the band. Alt-J explained that while they will miss Gwil, they wish him the best and assure that the music will not falter. However, Gwil Sainsbury was part of the debut album that made them famous in the indie music world, and that album is absolutely remarkable and deserves every praise.

Alt-J_-_An_Awesome_WaveAn Awesome Wave, Alt-J’s debut album, was released in 2012. As before mentioned, the songs are strange at first listen – complex melodies, quirky, bewildering lyrics, and confusing subject matter – and that might turn the simpleton away immediately. It’s the second listen that makes the album extraordinary, and the second listen reminds you not to take everything so literally. Take, for example, their single “Breezeblocks.” The lyrics throw reference to a love that’s expired, and one person holding on to the scraps of their lost love for dear life. Joe Newman directs the almost lover with his gorgeously unique voice to “hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks (tie her down to the relationship) if she attempts to leave. He’s scared of her leaving him, but also fully aware of the situation, and the pain is too much to take. He pleads for her to not leave him, but also realizes that ultimately, she must break his heart. It’s an incredibly emotional song, and the guitar and bass melodies create this sickly, eerie ambiance that radiates throughout. “Tessellate” is one of Alt-J’s finest songs, and it pays homage to the whole triangle motif. Stark piano chords give that indescribable, geometric tone that is simply amazing. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant, and it’s such a sweeter way to say the obvious. Vibrant guitar riffs power the exotic sounding “Something Good,” while things immediately slow down a touch in their more romantic song “Matilda” and “Ms” in which soft vocals and simplistic instrumentals take place. One of my favorites from An Awesome Wave would definitely have to be “Dissolve Me.” It’s energetic, electronic, and propelled by these fantastic drums and innovative synth. It speeds up and slows down perfectly, and it’s truly the anthem for a day where you feel invincible. Speaking of invincibility, that’s exactly the way I describe the empowering track “Fitzpleasure.” The bass in this song is absolutely mind-blowing, and the strange, almost incomprehensible lyrics make it even better for some reason. The album ends with “Taro,” which is an excellent finisher because of it’s slow, exotic, yet sleepy sounding instrumentals and vocals. Also, the album showcases an intro as well as three interludes sprinkled throughout, in which they do not exceed more than two minutes. They serve as openers and a sort of backstory into the song you are about to listen to, and they really make a difference. In fact, these four tracks make An Awesome Wave more well rounded, and show off a different side of the band. I really enjoyed this album and continue to enjoy finding the little bits and pieces of what creates the distinct ambiance that is cultivated so beautifully.

What I love about Alt-J is that they are such intellectuals and the music they create is complex and modernist, but they are still quite accessible. There’s a reason why they are so popular, and I’m happy to say that I’ve definitely gotten a grasp of why that is. They spend so much time perfecting their unique sounds, and it really shows. Each track on this album perfectly and effortlessly fits together, and it flows with such grace and distinction. The vocals both make you shudder, shiver, and fall in love all at once, and the fact that it’s so different and wonderfully odd from all the rest is something I really appreciate. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for their audience next time.

 

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