Forest Swords- Engravings
Sample Track: The Weight of Gold
Engravings plays as though it has been used as ritual music for hundreds of years. The music is beautifully lived in, sounding as though it will play on with or without your attention. Rhythms are beaten with intention and the voices echo through the songs like cries of a lost city. While the drums and vocals do wonders for the atmosphere (listen to the cathartic minimalism that is “Onward”), the real star on the album is the guitar work. Matthew Barnes, aka Forest Swords, guitar work is hypnotic, richly textured, a fine paintbrush with the colors changing track by track. It’s an electronic album that will intrigue the guitar purists as well one of the more unique albums of the year.
Sample Track: The Fall
Let’s get on the same page here: that is a man singing these songs. Yes. A Male. I couldn’t believe it either. That soulful, sexy croon is half the allure of Rhye, the other being the tastefully subdued production, blended together perfectly, creating an elegant martini for a lover’s night in. Seriously, this album makes me want to describe it like that. With lead single and standout track “The Fall” starting with the words “Make love to me,” how could I not? Woman is stuffed with lush songs, some that you can lazily spend an afternoon cuddling on a lawn, others that have enough groove to get your body moving. Woman is this years make-out album for the indie crowd.
Earl Sweatshirt- Doris
Sample Track: Hive
While Tyler has been making a ruckus anywhere he can, Frank has been dominating the pop charts, the rest of the crew (yes, there’s another handful of musicians under the Odd Future moniker) releasing mixtapes and LPs, Earl was sitting in some boarding school in Samoa, doing who knows what until his 18th birthday. When he got back to the States, Earl wasted no time, appearing on Odd Future highlight “Oldie,” and Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids.” In the wake of his proper debut LP, Doris, it all seems like warm-up. Over fifteen tracks of beats coated in grit and grime (save for album highlight “Sunday,” which could easily soundtrack any lazy morning), Earl rambles off verses packed with vivid images, fierce storytelling and raw emotion with the ease of a twenty year veteran. There are no other rap collectives that are as prolific nor sonically bold as Odd future, and with Doris, Earl has just proved himself the best out of the bunch.
Iceage- You’re Nothing
Sample Track: Wounded Hearts
When I first saw Iceage,I hadn’t listened to many of their songs, but based off my love of punk and hearsay about four 20 year olds making one helluva racket, I knew I had to seize the chance. It was an 11 P.M. slot at, now defunct Emo’s in Austin. There were probably a hundred of us there, bubbling with energy, waiting for these guys to show us what’s what. When they exploded on stage, practically at war with their instruments, the room erupted into a punk orgy; garbage cans being throwing, bodies flailing. However, the tunes on their debut, New Brigade, relied heavily on that ferocious energy and didn’t hold up quite so well on studio recordings. This year’s You’re Nothing finds the band with the same fury augmented with stronger songwriting: drums rouse, guitars slice and singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt yawps anthemic chants without losing steam for 28 and a half minutes. The real magic of these guys, however, is that they don’t leave you feeling exhausted, they leave you feeling revived.
Sample Track: Paper Trails
The past couple of years have seen the rise of Nicolas Jaar from South American obscurity to indie darling. He’s made a name for himself making slinky, jazz-influenced tunes that turn music nerd stiffs into hip-shakers. His latest project, Darkside, a collaboration with guitarist Dave Harrington, looks to expand his subtle dance domination even further. I was skeptical at first as guitars are not the first instrument that pops to mind when discussing minimal jazzy electronic music, but the duo have created something alien and magnetic. Jaar handles cavernous spaces that Harrington fills with sleek, funky guitar licks. Aptly titled, Psychic feels like diving into the mind of two musicians that are laying a new blueprint for what music sounds like.