We’re nearly a third of the way through the year. There’s already been some great music. Since my year-end focus is always on singles, I thought I would use this opportunity to share some of my favorite albums of the first four months of the year. I’ll try to repeat this again in the fall.
Lost In The Dream – The War On Drugs
Ahh the breakup album. I do love them, when done well. And this ranks right up with the best, although it takes a different tack than others I’ve loved.
As with all WoD music, there is the sense of travel and escape. After six weeks of listening to it, and digesting the combination of despair in the lyrics and almost celebratory tone to the music of the best songs, I think I finally have a handle on what the escape is from. It’s about coming to the realization that it is time to move on from everything that comes after the end of a relationship. Let the person go, and all the pain and memories associated with them. Open your eyes, look around, and open the next chapter. As another great breakup album stated, “Take your life, give it a shake…”
A quick note about the band. I’m kind of fascinated in how and why I enjoy this band so much. I loved their 2012 album Slave Ambient. I find this to be an even better piece of work. Which is odd, since they can draw a straight line back to classic Springsteen (which I do like), Petty (which I can take in small doses), and Dylan (which I’ve never liked). There is a strong jam band influence (something I hate), but thanks to the structure of their songs, they don’t come across as a jam band. And there are heavy notes of late 70s/early 80s AOR music, which flies directly in the face of the indie/alt rock I’ve been listening to for the last 20-plus years. It doesn’t make sense for me to like this band. Yet I do, tremendously.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
The meaning of rock and roll has been debated since its earliest days. In general, though, I believe that at its core, rock is the music of rebellion. Often rock music has been used as the soundtrack to dramatic political or social upheavals. But often when we speak of rebellion, we are talking about the simple act of a younger generation carving out a position in society that undercuts the social mores of the previous generations.
By that definition, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is about as rock and roll as you can get.
It tells the story of lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s ongoing transformation/reassignment from a man to a woman. Even in our era of wider acceptance of gay people, some kick ass rock music that tells the story of a transsexual person moving from one gender to another is pretty revolutionary. Not everyone will be comfortable with it. But for those who listen with an open mind, it is an amazing journey.
Burn Your Fire For No Witness – Angel Olsen
There is a whole swath of women in the indie rock world who have big, powerful voices who are immediately labelled as “Patsy Cline-esque”. Neko Case is likely the most famous. Bethany Cosentino is right there with her. Olsen is the latest entry into that group, and at her best, she can hang with anyone else in the neo-Patsy world.
This is a moody, uncomfortable album. It reminds me of a middle point between Case and The Cowboy Junkies, as Olsen often lets her songs simmer but never quite boil over.
The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas – Courtney Barnett
Technically this is not a 2014 release. Some of the songs were first released, in Barnett’s native Australia, in 2012. Then this package was released digitally in the States last fall, when I first fell in love with it. But it finally got a physical release in the US earlier this month, and has been riding a wave of airplay on SiriusXMU and positive press.
Barnett’s music is really like no one else’s. At first listen, it’s revamped early 90s indie rock for stoners. I love this description of her vocal style from this week’s Grantland feature on her:
Courtney Barnett sings songs like curlicues. They start straight before bending up and around, messily and unmanageable, loose swirls gathering up around the edges of a page, spindling beyond the margins. They’re full of non sequiturs or contorted aphorisms, and they lope along with all the eagerness of grazing cattle.
But after a couple listens, you begin to realize that her lyrics are really quite brilliant, and her mellow style makes them even more so. She’s in no hurry to share her genius and only offers it to those who put in the time to mine it.