Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band - Landmarks
A decent jazz record from an ensemble led by the Louisiana-born drummer with the title track being a particular highlight of the album.
Ty Segall - Manipulator
Here we are regaled with a nifty blend of garage rock and psychedelic pop. Not bad at all. Curious? Try listening to The Singer or The Clock. Sadly, not all the songs are as gripping as those two.
Bohren & der Club of Gore - Piano Nights
Since the band's conception, Bohren have have tried to fill a small doom/dark jazz niche and have pretty much been sitting there all by themselves. I don't know any other band which would be stylistically similar (I adore The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, but they are a different tinge of dark). As always, Bohren's tracks blend together perfectly, offering a certain type of delightful decadent mood more than anything else. The German quartet may be considered as one of the less surprising bands around (not necessarily a bad thing), but the truth is Piano Nights is their most peaceful and positive album to date. One can feel they reached their peak somwhere inbetween Sunset Mission and Black Earth, but nevertheless this is yet another great additon to their discography. The more the merrier - how funny it sounds considering the atmosphere Bohren usually weave.
Sun Kil Moon - Benji
I don't feel competent enough to try getting into the lyrical side of the album and ponder over how each song is a well-told tragic story - that's for long-time fans of Mark Kozelek to evaluate and elaborate upon. But I will say this: I'm deeply moved each time I hear Richard Ramirez or Pray For Newport. It's all about Kozelek's disillusioned voice and the equally sombre tone of his acoustic guitar. He basically talks over an unchaning guiatr riff and tells you those very personal stories in the most frank way. I rarely listen to acoustic guitar singers nowadays, but I found Kozelek's style and songwriting refreshing and entertaining in the artistic sense. The record is, however, painfully erratic and for me it comes down to four songs (the two mentioned above plus Truck Driver and Dogs). I almost never listen to the album from start to finish - I'm not really impressed with Sun Kil Moon's more positive, nostalgic side (the Mom and Dad songs). Large parts of the album feel mawkish and seem completely uninteresting. In spite of this the record is surely worth checking out.
Skalpel - Transit
This might be the first time I mention a Polish artist in my yearly recapitulation! Transit is far from remarkable, but it well deserves my recommendation this year. Skalpel have always leant more towards hip-hop and electronic music than jazz and that's probably why I don't come back to them nearly as often as to Hidden Orchestra or Portico Quartet. Still, this is great when you're in a mood for some jazzy breakbeat sounds that won't disturb you or interrupt the flow of your day. I'd say the album is totally on par with the widely acclaimed debut - slightly more upbeat perhaps. It has that lounge, chillout ambience which is definitely good - I don't remember vibraphone being used in Skalpel's earlier work. Quality stuff.
The Phantom Band - Strange Friend
This one should be short because I literally don't know anything about this band besides the fact that they're from Scotland and play rock music. If I had to quickly name some artists who bear a styllistic resemblance to The Phantom Band I would probably fail miserably - the only names that spring to my mind are Django Django, of Montreal and Deerhoof (the experimental shenanigans plus the psych-pop mix of guitars and synths). Strange Friend is indeed strange, but in a good way - it's fresh, unassuming and entertaining. Sadly, it shares some of the flaws of the aforementioned Sun Kil Moon record. I'm yet to be convinced by everything that happens after Doom Patrol (epic guitar riff somewhere halfway through, by the way), the third song of the album. I remain sceptical, but I'll surely reserve my time for the album to grow on me as whole - that's more than what most get these days.
Spoon - They Want My Soul
Spoon are a true rarity. They don't feel the need to reinvent themselves every record and surprisingly this works out for them pretty well. Each album is a solid dose of the same, yet it never feels like the ever-present old stuff rehash. Spoon just keep on producing good music and never go below a certain standard. Now, how many artists share a similar trait? I recall praising Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga in 2007 (I was fulsome in my appreciation now that I think of it - the record didn't age that well) and underrating 2010's Transference (their best one I believe, undoubtedly a Top 10 album that year), so as you can see Spoon have often been a companion in my musical journey. I can happily announce that They Want My Soul continuous the trend and will vastly contribute to increasing my Spoon playcount (802 and counting, they've just surpassed the Overall Top 50 mark). The album features less piano than I've come to except from the band and has them experimenting more with the sound (although still within their usual stylistic conventions), but these are definitely not drawbacks. Spoon cement their place as one of the most interesting and mature rock ensembles around and will remain my go-to band whenever I'm in the mood for intelligent and less conventional indie rock entertainment.
TV on the Radio - Seeds
After the disappointing Nine Types of Light TVOTR came back last year with a much better release. This doesn't quite top Return To Cookie Mountain, but I would be inclined to agree that this is their best record since 2006. It's basically vintage TVOTR (a little bit more accessible, perhaps) - a mix of art rock and synth-pop. Some pretty good tunes here: Quartz, Careful You and my favourite Lazerray - a worthy successor to their most vigorous hit song Wolf Like Me.
Todd Terje - It's Album Time
I'm rarely into strictly electronic music (with chillwave genre being possibly the only exception) and I'm amazed how much I really like this album. Calling Todd Terje the modern Piero Umiliani would probably be far-fetched, but I can't help it how much it reminds me of the latter's To-Day's Sound. It's Album Time is a neat electro-lounge concotion perfect for partying or just chilling out with a tasty beverage in your hand. It's retro and futuristic at the same time. Nu disco? Space disco? Whatever the tag, it does feel as if Todd Terje invented a whole new genre by himself. The album has its flaws - I dislike when Terje strays too far into house areas and I'd call the vocal track a miss, but similarly to Toro y Moi's Causers of This I've found myself coming back to this more often than I would imagine.
Hans Zimmer - Interstellar
For those who speak Polish, please refer to my Inception Soundtrack review. It's basically the same story here: Hans Zimmer teams up with Christopher Nolan to produce yet another breathtaking piece of cinematic entertainment. This time however Zimmer is more minimalistic in his approach and rightly so - writing music for a movie which mostly takes place in the outer space requires a subdued, free-flowing compositions rather than rousing, over-the-top arrangements. This obviously does not mean that the soundtrack is missing its emotional charge. The pathos is still there, especially when the script calls for more dramatic instrumentals. All in all, Zimmer delivers once again and his music plays a huge part in the overall Interstellar experience. The soundtrack is quite long (90 minutes) and makes a heavy use of piano, so it may appear as too repetitive at times, but if you found the film to your liking as much as I did that won't bother you at all. If you want to see the movie and hear Zimmer's grandiose work please do yourself a favour and do not download a crappy copy from the Internet. Anything below BluRay quality just won't do and the music deserves much more than just your laptop speakers. On another note: how Gravity gets seven Oscars while Interstellar receives just one is beyond me.
Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast
Last year's most memorable rock/guitar record. Gritty, serious and artistically mature work, but surprisingly radio-friendly at the same time. Dulli makes it happen.
Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here
To put it simply: a brilliant jazz fusion record with lots of funk and progressive rock influences. We Like It Here was recorded live, so I guess it is safe to assume that the album features some improvisation, which speaks a lot about the collective's level of musical craftmanship. But don't be mistaken here - this is not art for art's sake, the kind of compulsive, boastful show-off where music isn't actually a part the process - Snarky Puppy are genuinely fun and will satisfy both the sophisticated, seasoned jazz listener and the pop enthusiast who is just looking to have a good time. Not going to Snarky Puppy's concert last year would have been a huge mistake, I surely got my money's worth and believe me - I'm not that easily satisfied. If you consider music a big part of your life, We Like It Here will be an experience you'll cherish.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Atomos
A clever and engaging interplay of ambient and classical music. Not much use for words here - that's far beyond my area of expertise.
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