You’ve been introduced to Conant Neville and his Kenyan experience and to Josh Cameron and his rugby passion. Here, our third summer intern, Claire Woodcock, introduces herself to you through her love of music. –Ellen
Last week, NPR Music announced their 25 Favorite Albums of the Year (So Far). So naturally, I’ve spent the last several days (in and out of my tiny little intern corner) listening to these albums.
First, let me take a moment to gush about what an awesome assignment this has been. I come into work at 8 A.M., plug in my headphones and start jammin’ out to the warped synths and distorted bass lines in Disclosure’s new album Settle, or the complex moody sentiments behind The Flaming Lips latest album The Terror.
I hail from the indie/alternative/folk realm, but I found myself particularly attached to some of the experimental rap albums, such as Chance the Rapper’s AcidRap. But while I found some great picks on NPR Music’s list, I also found some complete duds, and then there were some albums that didn’t touch me one way or the other. But here’s the rundown… the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Bombino- Nomad. The more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy it. Goumar “Bombino” Almoctar’s sings in his native language and addresses the geopolitical struggles of his homeland, the nomadic Tidene, Niger. You can tell that the album was produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach when you listen to Bombino’s guitar riffs. I found his album to have a ‘Black Keys’ meets Jimi Hendrix meets the world vibe. Meditative and earthy, Nomad is a great new album.
Chance the Rapper- Acid Rap. As Frannie Kelley of NPR Music says, “He was highly anticipated, and he came through.” Chance’s raps are really solid. Because he’s up and coming, his sound could be mistaken for Lil’ Wayne or Kendrick Lamar. However, he’s the same age as I am and this is his first album. His album is rude and ‘in your face,’ but knows when to back off and chill. Chance’s album is fresh.
DJ Koze- Amygdala. I loved this album because the sound was so weird and unpredictable. First, the album artwork vaguely reminded me of Neil Patrick Harris riding the unicorn in the second Harold and Kumar film, which made me laugh. But the techno beats are juxtaposed with velvety-toned vocals, creating this brilliant and relaxing vibe. The bass lines and drum beats get pretty sporadic as the album goes on. It’s a bubbly little gem of an album, and I’m obsessed.
The Flaming Lips- The Terror. Over the years, The Flaming Lips have produced over 10 albums and taken on some weird side projects. (The 24 hour song?) Nothing ever quite achieved Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ status. But then The Terror came along, an album that sounds secure in itself. With an eclectic blend of vintage synths and soothing vocals, the ‘Lips’ experimented with a more soothing sound, and succeeded. But let’s be honest: The Terror never came close to trumping ‘Yoshimi,’ but The Flaming Lips made a comeback that only truly experienced and talented musicians could even attempt to make.
A side note: The Flaming Lips recorded The Terror at my university (SUNY Fredonia). Naturally, I’ve seen Wayne Coyne in Starbucks a few times.
Disclosure- Settle. This album is like a really energetic dog with a lot of endurance that always wants you to throw the tennis ball for him. Seriously, Guy and Howard Lawrence, use their synths to no end. Hailing from Surrey, England, Disclosure has topped charts all across England. Settle remains upbeat throughout and the baseline has one level- hyperactive. This album has gotten a lot of hype lately, and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve jumped on the bandwagon.
Jeremiah Jae & Oliver the 2nd– Rawhyde. I’m a sucker for Clint Eastwood, so the excerpts from his 1960’s TV show Rawhide dusted over the album completely won me over. Jae and Oliver combine alternative psychedelic synths with fresh and gritty raps. They are bound to have listeners flabbergasted, asking “What was that?” That, my friend, is the art of genius and experimentation. Jeremiah Jae and Oliver the 2nd’s album is genre bending adventure.
Savages- Silence Yourself. It’s gritty, it’s raw and it’s unapologetic. It’s courageous, and I admire that. The post-punk band has a rough sound similar to The Runaways. Each song starts with this rough ambient noise from the guitars, it’s almost eerie. This could be the soundtrack to The Craft. I haven’t listened to anything so wild and unshakable in a while. I applaud NPR’s pick.
Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City. Vampire Weekend is always a pleasure. On the right day, upbeat and preppy Afro-pop inspired melodies and rhythms can fill me with pure joy. When I listened to Obvious Bicycle, I imagined myself drinking a fresh cup of Columbian coffee at five-thirty AM and sitting on my deck, watching the sunrise. Modern Vampires of the City is more amped up in comparison to their previous albums. Thank you Vampire Weekend, for continuing to deliver.
The Bad: (or, the indifferent)
The Knife- Shaking the Habitual. When I first listened to this album, all I could think was Crystal Castles and I wanted to quit. But as I continued to listen, I realized that the brother/sister duo from Stockholm, Sweden delivers a playful yet powerful blend of synthetic pop mixed down on electric fast-paced beats. The vocals sound creepy, making the album a wild and bizarre ride. The album was alright, but I wouldn’t willingly listen to it in its entirety again.
Deafheaven-Sunbather. This album took me back to a time when my hair was less red and more purple and I listened to a lot of screamo. I think I would have eaten this up when I was 16. Alas, I’m 20 and if I wanted to be reminded of my awkward teenage self I would open up an old yearbook. This album just hit too close to home.
Glen Jones- My Garden State. Glenn Jones’ acoustic banjo and guitar is bittersweet. Sometimes the melodies of his fifth album are simple, other times they seem confused and conflicted. The album was a soothing listen, but didn’t stick with me.
David Lang (Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Owen Pallett & Shara Worden)- Death Speaks. This is a classical music project inspired by Franz Schubert. When I realized that Bryce Dessner from The National was on this album, I gained even more respect for him. (I included The National’s new album, Trouble Will Find Me on my own list of albums) The melodies and harmonies are hauntingly beautiful and I appreciate this album for what it is, but I probably won’t listen to it again.
And the Ugly:
Justin Timberlake- The 20/20 Experience. I will admit that album is more sophisticated than his other albums, and Justin has developed a more mature sound. However, I thought the single Suit & Tie(and many of the other songs on this album) were weak. I acknowledge and respect his growth as an artist, but I disagreed with NPR Music’s pick.
Kacey Musgraves- Same Trailer Different Park. Kacey sounds like a younger Taylor Swift… you know, before she turned punk pop. In general, I enjoy music that challenges me. This album did not challenge me. I thought it was pretty bland.
There are about 10 albums that I did not write about that may be worth checking out. After I gave these albums a listen, I felt that NPR Music left out a lot of really great albums. This inspired me to create my own list of my favorites albums that I’ve been jammin’ to since January. It’s all pretty indie (go figure) but there’s also some rap and techno.
Oh, and if you were wondering, the new Fall Out Boy album is NOT on this list.
Claire Woodcock’s Top 25 Favorite Albums of 2013 (So Far):
DJ Koze- Amygdala
Chance the Rapper- Acid Rap
Savages- Silence Yourself
The Flaming Lips- The Terror
Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
Jeremiah Jae & Oliver the 2nd– Rawhyde I like rap that experiments.
David Lang (Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Owen Pallett & Shara Worden)- Death Speaks
Glen Jones- My Garden State
The Knife- Shaking the Habitual
Laura Mvula- Sing to the Moon
Wayne Shorter- Without A Net
So tell me, did I miss anything? Are there any albums that you’re absolutely crazy about? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you! Let’s swap recommendations, shall we?