To get a feel for how I want to do these posts, and for readers to get a feel for the records that will be profiled here, here’s a list of my record picks for each month of Asa’s life so far. Some explanations, the first two bits of info are answers to questions my wife, Christina, likes to ask me about bands I want to see, those being “Now how do I know them again?” And the next one is how I would go about explaining that act if I didn’t think she would have heard of them, so here goes nothing.
James Blake – Overgrown
Critic Scores: Metascore 82, AMG 90, Billboard 84, Pitchfork 80, CoS 80, Rolling Stone 70, Spin 70, Paste 64
How You Know Him: James Blake had a well received self-titled debut a few years ago, featuring the indie hit “Wilhelm Scream”.
How to explain it to Christina: dub step meets R&B meets pretty indie pop.
My thoughts: This record is a more cohesive album than the previous record. It’s one of the few records to get repeat listens in this project. James is one of the few male artists that I would give that “hauntingly beautiful” label. One of my favorite new artists of the last few years.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Critic Scores: Metascore 84, Pitchfork 93, CoS 90, Rolling Stone 90, Billboard 88, Paste 87, AMG 80, Spin 80
How You Know Them: Vampire Weekend had a hugely successful selftitled debut back in ’08, highlighted by the songs “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma”. Formed at NYC’s Columbia University, Vampire Weekend is known for clever indie pop with notable Afro-pop influences.
How to explain it to Christina: the new Vampire Weekend album.
My thoughts: a beautiful album filled with introspective looks into life, death, religion, money, and power, Vampire Weekend has made a masterpiece with the final album of their career-opening trilogy.
Deafheaven – Sunbather
Critic Scores: Metascore 92, AMG 90, CoS 90, Pitchfork 89, Spin 80, Rolling Stone 60
How You Know Them: This is a band I hadn’t heard of until this one, although I went to an event they played at, ha. I tend to stay away from metal of any kind (not my cup of tea), and that’s the genre they get tagged with, although many metal heads hate them. They already had a strong debut EP with 2011’s Road to Judah, when they started to redefine black metal.
How to Explain It to Christina: Black Metal meets Sigur Ros.
My Thoughts: This is a beauty. An immersive, engaging, and enthralling record that you can really dive into. A game changer for the genre, if it’s not its own genre.
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
Critic Scores: Metascore 81, Pitchfork 84, CoS 80, AMG 70, Rolling Stone 60
How you know them: Unless you were familiar with the Brooklyn band, Quilty, Sadie Dupuis’s previous band, you probably were, like me, unfamiliar with this group, but “Major Arcana” proved a stellar debut album.
How to Explain It to Christina: a retro-throwback to grungy 90’s indie rock.
My Thoughts: This is a cool throwback record that takes you back a couple decades. Fuzzy, chunky and distorted guitars play off Dupuis’s sweet, tender vocals and sharp, witty lyrics.
Jagwar Ma – Howlin
Critic Scores: Metascore 79, CoS 70, AMG 80, Pitchfork 77
How You Know Them: This is yet another debut record, but Jagwar Ma is an Australian psych rock band similar to Tame Impala, but a little more pop-oriented.
How to Explain It to Christina: a poppier Tame Impala, but I think I just said that.
My Thoughts: Swirly, echoing, and textured synth rock, “Howlin” is a very enjoyable record. Helplessly catchy, you’ll find yourself unwittingly singing along. The album may not be as cohesive as it could be, but it is a debut, so hopefully they’ll have a more collected record next time around.
CHVRCHES – the Bones of What You Believe
Critic Scores: Metascore 80, CoS 90, Pitchfork 85, Spin 80, Rolling Stone 80, AMG 80
How You Know Them: One of the biggest breakout artists of 2013, Lauren Mayberry and the Glaswegian CHVRCHES were named outstanding new international act at SXSW in March, ahead of their smash debut record and hits “Recover”, “Mother We Share”, and “Lies”.
How to Explain It to Christina: You know “Cha-Vurches”.
My Thoughts: One of the most accessible records of the year, Lauren Mayberry’s soft, sweet vocals and humble, friendly demeanor made her an indie sweetheart in 2013. Her vocals lay perfectly over synth-laden pop soundscapes.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Critic Scores: Metascore 80, Pitchfork 92, CoS 90, Rolling Stone 90, Billboard 87, Spin 80, Paste 72, AMG 70
How You Know Them: 2004’s “Funeral” was considered a cornerstone of indie music from the 00’s, and 2010’s “Suburbs” won a bunch of Grammys. This one is produced by James Murphy, another name you probably know.
How to Explain It to Christina: that group we saw at ACL that wore the giant paper mâché heads on Colbert.
My Thoughts: Being produced by Murphy, it does kind of have a LCD Soundsystem meets Arcade Fire feel at times, and not being a big LCD fan, it’s not as appealing to me as their previous efforts, but they still put out a solid, enjoyable record.
Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
Critic Scores: Metascore 76, Pitchfork 85, Spin 80, CoS 70, AMG 70, Rolling Stone 70
How You Know Him: Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes was formerly in the group Test Icicles, and has previously recorded under the name Lightspeed Champion. This is his second album under the Blood Orange moniker. In recent news, Hynes recently lost his belongings and his puppy, Cupid to an apartment fire. You can donate to help him out here.
How to Explain It to Christina: the British Frank Ocean
My Thoughts: Hynes does a good job lining up collaborators on this record, and produces a slow, smooth, melancholic jam record. A genuinely fun listen.
Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond
Critic Scores: Metascore 84, CoS 90, Paste 89, Pitchfork 85, Rolling Stone 70
How You Know Him: Mutual Benefit is the project of singer/songwriter Jordan Lee and a rotating cast of band members. This album was the first BandCamp release to be named Best New Music by Pitchfork.
How to Explain It to Christina: I don’t know if I’m close to base on this or not, but I kinda wanna say a cross of Balmorhea, Patrick Watson and Freelance Whales.
My Thoughts: At its core, Love’s Crushing Diamond is a jangly, layered, and lovely pop record. Very laid back and mellow, a pleasant chamber pop record.