Mi & L'au – Limouzine: I once saw this band play in a treehouse. Technically I guess it was a room situated around a huge tree, with a bar situated around that. Still, there was a tree! And their songs sounded like the kind of music you might hear in a treehouse (treehousewave?). If Beauty Is A Crime is the first new album they've put out in a while and at moments it retains an isolated-in-the-woods vibe, here Mi & L'au are branching out into lots of new territories. This track, with its pulsing, sparkling synths is a great example of those explorations.
Chairlift – I Belong In Your Arms: Caroline Polachek must be taking cues from those she's collaborated with (Washed Out, Guards) in the interim between releasing Something and 2008's Does You Inspire You? Or perhaps it's just the difference between putting some thought into making a record instead of slapping one together because one of your tracks has been featured in an iPod commercial and you need to capitalize on it instantly. Either way, Chairlift's new record is a gem filled with soaring new wave declarations, but far less naïve and hokey than its predecessor.
Lapalux – Moments: On this crackling beat collage, female vocals (provided by Py) coo “I keep thinking of you”; likewise, this track is just the kind of earworm that sticks with you all day. Cascading drum machines, dissonant bells, spacey synths, and tweaked, slowed effects blend seamlessly. It might not get a party going, but acts as a perfect anthem for those still coming down after the majority of the crowd has shuffled off.
James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream: After seeing a live rendition of this at Carnegie Hall last month, I've been listening to this track incessantly. Its slow gorgeous build behind Blake's velvety crooning is almost too much to handle. It seems so sparse on first listen, but every time it slips into the rotation, I hear something new come out of it, proving its density and depth.
School of Seven Bells – Scavenger: We'll always wonder if this scathing track is about the departure of half of SVIIB's singing twin duo, but it could just as easily be about an ex-lover, or an animal that feeds on carrion, I guess. They're doing just fine without any or all of the above, as new album Ghostory and the live shows they've played to promote it prove.
Xiu Xiu – Smear The Queen: I am ecstatic that this band is still putting out amazing albums after twelve years of making records. The first single from Always, entitled “Hi” is as bold a flirting anthem as they come, and almost made it onto this mix – until I heard “Smear The Queen” and was blown away by the dual vocals, haywire beats
Hanne Hukkelberg – My Devils: If you're still confusing Hanne with her Scandinavian counterpart Lykke Li based on the extraordinary prevalence of the letter K in their names, please take a moment to realize that this is where the comparison ends. Featherbrain is far more experimental, representing Hukkelberg more as an artist than provocateur. Listening to this track is like opening a creepy haunted music-box, her vocals a yearning Pandora struggling to be free of her demons.
Frankie Rose – The Fall: I seriously can't stop listening to or talking about this song. The other day I was walking through the park at dusk with this on my headphones, trying to decipher the ethereal layers of lyrics. Every time I pinned down a line, the next popped up in its place, a mirage shimmering on the aural horizon, superimposed by the next hallucination.
Grimes – Vowels = space and time: Visions is an amalgamation of everything that is awesome about Claire Boucher – bizzaro bedroom pop with Chippettes-esque vocals, long-lost Goth Olsen twin look, deep philosophical musings disguised by a half-baked twitter feed, a not-so-secret obsession with divas of the early 90's R&B scene. Check out my video below of Grimes performing “Genesis” last July in an opening set for Washed Out.
Shlohmo – wen uuu: With last year's Bad Vibes, L.A. Producer Henry Laufer strayed from the staid hip-hop beats of his earlier work and live shows and began exploring more atmospheric sounds and experimental textures. On his three track EP Vacation, we can hear him coming through static and into his own with undeniable success.
Still Corners – Don't Fall In Love: Tessa Murray has a voice like honey, making her forlorn love songs (or anti-love songs?) that much more heart-rending. This noise pop slow-burner isn't going to do much to warn me away from falling in love with this band, no matter what the lyrics recommend.
Phèdre – In Decay: This whole album is brilliant. You know that sexy orgy party that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman attend in Eyes Wide Shut? Parties similar to those actually exist, except everyone is as creepy and lonely as you'd expect, and therefore it isn't at all sexy. If those parties were that sexy, but also more hip, this album would be the soundtrack.
Tennis – My Better Self: Much like Chairlift, husband-and-wife duo Tennis have truly matured with the release of their second album. Last year's Cape Dory was fun, but with Young & Old, Tennis have gotten more introspective while retaining that carefree pop sound.
Sharon Van Etten – Magic Chords: When Because I Was In Love was released in 2009, almost no one knew who Sharon Van Etten was. Two albums later, all that has changed. It makes sense, considering that Sharon has one of the most gorgeous voices I've heard in quite a while. Her songwriting skills continue to improve with each effort, though the heavier production on 2010's Epic and her newest, Tramp, is a bit of a detriment to some of the intimacy and grittiness from her first record.
Tropics – Sleepless: Tropics is the project of Chris Ward, who at 22 has been steadily self-releasing an onslaught of party-ready jams and remixes. This track is a bit more mellow than most of his offerings but it the signature lushness of Ward's beats are still present. If most of his tunes signify summer, Sleepless unfurls just the way spring does – suddenly you look up, and there are buds in all the trees and birds are chirping.
Cate Le Bon – Put to Work: Le Bon's impeccable new album Cyrk is exemplified by lead single “Put To Work”; it's lilting guitars and insistent drums perfectly anchor the commanding mystic quality of Le Bon's vocals. The lyrics fit handily into Le Bon's work as well - the idea that while one can't help but crave human intimacy, love is a total drag that turns us into awful drones. But the beauty of this sentiment is that she's resigned to this fact, never chiding or bitter, and the song rolls on with a fluid, perfect grace.
Yann Tiersen – I'm Gonna Live Anyhow: Perhaps best known for his original soundtracks to films like Amelie and Good Bye Lenin!, last year's Skyline saw Tiersen reinventing himself once more. Ever the pioneer, these tracks feature quirky electronic moments and unique vocal rhythms reminiscent at times of acts like Animal Collective.
Songs of Green Pheasant – Teen Wolf: I've long been a fan of Songs of Green Pheasant. The somber brass in this track really puts it over the edge for me, though I don't know what it has to do with teens, wolves, or teen wolves.
Sleigh Bells – End of the Line: With Treats, Sleigh Bells were poised to take over the world (and pretty much did so) and on Reign of Terror, the only thing they really have to contend with is the curse of the sophomore slump. With their trademark fearlessness, Alexa Krauss and Derek Miller have done something completely unexpected – they've scaled back the in-your-face guitar blitz and badder-than-though posturing and crafted something that still manages to pack quite the punch. This track is the perfect example of that new vision, wherein Krausss is no longer striving to remain cool or detached but is actually reaching out to the listener, or at least the person to whom the song is addressed, in an engaging way. Reign of Terror is studded with similar moments of realness, and it's the most brave, refreshing move they could have made.
Shhhh – Bonus Track: This is what she heard in the bathtub. RIP.