By Sean Titone
October 31, 2015
Beach House – Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars
If there’s any band that evokes Mood with a capital M upon immediate listen, it’s Beach House. Their languorous Casio drumbeats, swelling keyboards and soaring vocals transport you to a place that feels nostalgic yet expectant about what the future might hold. The Baltimore duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally must have been in a particularly prolific mood over the past year, because they just graced us with not one, but two new albums in the span of a month: Depression Cherry and the unannounced release of Thank Your Lucky Stars. It will be hard to top 2010’s Teen Dream as my favorite Beach House record (it might even be a top 20 all-time for me), but Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars both continue to mine the dreamy and beautifully haunting reverb-drenched pop sound they have refined over the last decade. The songs from both albums were recorded during the same session but the band felt the need to separate them due to tone and content, and as bands are wont to do in 2015, they wanted to shake up the music industry’s traditional method of releasing an album. As a fun bonus, Somewhere Tonight, the last song on Thank Your Lucky Stars, has a guitar riff reminiscent of Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk, probably the most classic riff of all time. So what’s old becomes new again with these indie rock stalwarts.
David Wax Museum – Guesthouse
Guesthouse is David Wax Museum’s most sonically adventurous album to date, but it should still please longtime fans of the band while it endears itself to first-time listeners. On their fifth studio album, the core duo of David Wax and wife Suz Slezak pair their rich harmonies and lively rhythms with newfound synth sounds and often distorted or processed vocals, a far cry from their early acoustic, Mexican-Americana vibe. While the Son Mexicano influence can still be heard on several songs from Guesthouse– if only in riffs, rhythms or brief musical ideas, it’s more subtle as they flex their studio muscle, tinkering with more complex arrangements and digging deeper into the indie rock well. The New York Times even referenced Unknown Mortal Orchestra in describing their sound on Guesthouse, which is not something I’m sure anyone could have predicted two albums ago. After several listens, this one has easily carved out a spot on my year-end list of favorites.
Big Grams – Big Grams (came out 9/25 but will squeeze it in)
The seed for Big Grams was planted when upstate New York’s futuristic trip hop band Phantogram appeared on three tracks recorded for Big Boi’s solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. The alliance proved to be so fruitful that they recorded an entire self-titled album together as Big Grams. Since Outkast disbanded, Big Boi has continuously pushed the boundaries of hip-hop while his lyrical style remains quintessentially ATLien. Phantogram brings a woozy, dance-friendly production to the album along with catchy female choruses sung by Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel. Sometimes it sounds like a new Phantogram album with multiple guest verses from Big Boi, and other times it sounds like a Big Boi album with even more left-of-center production than we’re used to from his solo proceedings. Ultimately, it feels like a true collaboration from two forward-thinking artists who go together surprisingly well.
Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks
If there’s a more joyous performer than Josh Ritter out there, I’d like to see him or her. I’ve seen Ritter play live several times, and his stage presence is always infectious. Whether he’s playing a happy or sad song, he just looks like he’s always having so much damn FUN playing his songs for an audience. His eighth studio album, Sermon on the Rocks, captures that electric energy in ways his previous album didn’t. In a way, it makes sense. The Beast in Its Tracks was a more personal, somber affair that loosely chronicled the dissolution of his marriage. On Sermon, Ritter gets his mojo back. The music is uptempo and falls under a category that Ritter describes as “messianic oracular honky-tonk.” A writer not just of music but fiction as well (he has a fan in Stephen King and has been compared to Ray Bradbury and Cormac McCarthy), his songs often include clever wordplay and lyrical turns of phrase that will send you Googling their origins or meaning, and Sermon is particularly chock full of literary gems containing religious imagery, feel-good stories of returning home to loved ones and cautionary tales about the apocalypse.
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
John Grant is a strange bird. A master of his craft, he dazzles his audience with dark, yet witty, self-deprecating lyrics set to baroque arrangements that will sometimes make you laugh to keep from crying. He has a voice reminiscent of Nick Cave’s wisecracking younger brother or a more playful and bellowing Leonard Cohen. Songs on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure jump from orchestral pop songs (the title track) to funky, electronic spoken word rave-ups (Snug Slacks) to his best mid-90s Chris Cornell impression on the chorus of Guess How I Know. His third solo release, Grey Tickles is an album that sounds like it is beaming from some kind of extraterrestrial jukebox. Synths and dance beats are omnipresent throughout, like on the track Voodoo Doll, which could be a sister song to St. Vincent’s Digital Witness with its nervy vocal delivery and jittery rhythms. This is a head trip of an album but if you’re willing to go along for the ride, the rewards are numerous.