The Round-Up: The Best Albums of March & April

I skipped last month’s album Round-Up to bang out the My Favorite Tracks of the First Quarter list. So this month’s album list features my picks from March and April. Possibly the strongest batch of the year so far, 2017 is shaping up to be another incredible year in music.

mounteerie-600-5Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked At Me
P.W. Elverum & Sun
I can’t remember two albums released back-to-back that provide such stark, unflinching looks at death as Mount Eerie’s incredible, A Crow Looked at Me, and Sorority Noise’s brutal You’re Not As ____ As You Think.

And while I can relate to some of the tragedies that color the Sorority Noise LP, I cannot even begin to fathom the loss that Phil Elverum chronicles on his ode to his late wife Geneviève Castrée, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the impossibly early age of 35. Elverum was always crafted deeply affecting songs, but he was also an intensely private figure who seemed to craft albums from some faraway galaxy.

Well, on A Crow Looked At Me, Elverum eschews every inch of that privacy. He lets us all into the deepest crevices of his life — from their bedroom to moments with their daughter to uncomfortable conversations at the grocery store to the life they shared deep in the Washington woods. Though the arraignments are skeletal in the extreme — mostly consisting of Elverum’s strained vocals and meandering, nylon string guitars — each of the eleven tracks are incredibly rich. Not with just information about the characters, but with legitimately insightful, universal wisdom that only this kind of grief can leave behind. An absolute masterpiece.

Listen to it on Spotify.


sorority-noise-pr-photo-pat-nolanSorority Noise
You’re Not As ___ As You Think
Triple Crown
While Elverum penned his record about losing the one you love, the Sorority Noise album is about the especially unsettling feeling that takes place when you are young and lose multiple friends in quick succession. When you feel like every time the phone rings, you will be confronted by another tragedy that you won’t be equipped to deal with. When you start to believe that death is around every corner.

“Just this year I lost a basketball team to heaven” sings Cam Boucher on “Disappeared.” Artists tend to wrap loss in metaphor to soften the blow, but Boucher (like Elverum) is not here to make you comfortable. There are a number of moments on the record that are physically unsettling, as if you are reading someone’s deeply personal journal behind their backs.

It’s not a walk in the park, but as the album moves, little rays of hope start to cut through the clouds. Much of that comes from their raw, yet tuneful riffs and Boucher’s sneaky catchy choruses. It also comes from the knowledge that as the days go by and the shock wears off, it becomes easier to remember your friends as they were in life, not in death.

Listen to it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 4.58.22 PMMr Mitch
Devout
Planet Mu
On the total other end of the spectrum comes the longtime TP-favorite’s second LP. Absolutely teaming with life, the disc is bookended by two gorgeous love-letters. The first is to his partner, which features Mitch’s young sons on vocals. And its heartfelt closer sees Mitch singing to his second son while he was still in the womb.

These are just two of the truly heartfelt, affecting moments on this special album. Mitch has always been a master of building hyper-melodic, emotional soundscapes that drive miles beyond the parameters of grime. But the songwriting on Devout far surpasses anything else he’s put out in his already glittering, genre-redefining career. Probably my favorite album of the year so far.

Stream it now on Spotify.

1161441Arca
Arca
XL
Another wizardly producer who surprised me with his singing, Alejandro “Arca” Ghersi’s ghostly, dramatic vocals bring his unique arrangements to new heights. Over thirteen penetrating tracks, the Caracas native pours his heart out in his native Spanish, exploring intimacy, heartbreak, and his home with a newfound directness that brings us so much closer to the man behind the music.

Powerful ballads like “Anoche,” “Sin Rumbo,” and “Coraje” actually remind me of the Ranchera music that my parents used to play. And those heartrending cuts are beautifully balanced by the experimental electronic music that he’s best known for. The result is a sonically unique project that is rooted in the past but firmly focused on the future.

Stream it now on Spotify.

Sevdaliza-photo-1-1200x630Sevdaliza
ISON
Twisted Elegance
Don’t let its sprawling length put you off. The Iranian-Dutch vocalist’s long-awaited debut LP is a sharp, cohesive collection that digs so much deeper into the sound she’s been developing since her early EPs. Few match the digital with the physical as seamlessly as she does, from the stirring strings of lead track “Shahmaran” to the mechanical drums of “Libertine.”

Though I’m still unpacking it, it has a number of standout moments — none more than a pair of crushing ballads “Hero” and “Hubris.” They are both microcosms of what makes her such a fascinating artist, as both the arraignments (which she writes and co-produces) and her voice just have this aqueous quality that is so affecting. They undulate effortlessly, receding just as naturally as they arrive.

Stream it now on Spotify.

kendrick-lamar-beyonce-radiohead-headlining-coachella-2017Kendrick Lamar
DAMN.
Top Dawg
When it comes to Kendrick, I’ve learned not to trust the “listens to new Kendrick once and declares it a classic/trash” person. And since I frankly haven’t quite listened to it enough to make any declarations about it, I’ll just say that the second half of it is absolutely ace.

I tend to start the disc at his ultra-slick Rihanna collab, “Loyalty” and struggle to turn it off before its storytelling masterpiece of a closer, “Duckworth” cuts off. As we’ve learned with the 29 year-old, these records really take time to sink in. And though it doesn’t seem quite as dense as the seminal To Pimp a Butterfly, just about every layer that I’ve peeled back has revealed something new and insightful.

Stream it now on Spotify.

imagesJacques Greene
Feel Infinite
LuckyMe
The Jacques Greene record that his longtime fans have been waiting for, Feel Infinite distills all the euphoria of his live sets and early EPs into one coherent, emotional statement. Greene is one of the rare producers who doesn’t need a guest vocalist to craft a dance song with real pop hooks, and I’m constantly finding myself singing along with the tiny vocal fragments that he masterfully twists up. I missed his record release show in Brooklyn, but I can’t wait to see how well this record comes across in its natural habitat.

Stream it now on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 5.11.12 PMRaeLynn
WildHorse
Warner
While it probably doesn’t have the truly “wow” track that it needs to properly break through into the greater pop conscious, the 22 year-old’s debut LP is an impressively consistent collection. RaeLynn penned most of the disc’s 12 tracks alongside talented songwriter Nicolle Galyon. And while it’s impossible to know who did what, WildHorse feels like a great balance of youthful spirit and veteran know-how.

Stream it now on Spotify.

featureRyuichi Sakamoto
async
KAB
Though he’s crafted a couple of fantastic soundtracks in recent years, async is the living legend’s first proper LP since he was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer back in 2014. Its sonic versatility is perhaps its most impressive feature. Though the arrangements are mostly quite sparse, he does a fantastic job of balancing warm, aqueous synths (“solari,” “stakra”) with harder and chillier textures (“ubi,” “garden”). I can’t say for sure, but it certainly feels influenced by his struggle with the disease. And its 14 tracks seem to illustrate both moments of despair and doubt and the relief of a positive resolution and a hopeful future.

Stream it now on Spotify.

o-JEAN-MICHEL-BLAIS-CFCF-facebookJean-Michel Blais x CFCF
Cascades
Arts & Crafts
A fascinating blend of styles, Cascades pairs Jean-Michel Blais’ nimble piano playing with CFCF’s synth work. It’s fascinating to hear two artists who take completely different routes to get to a similar sonic space come together like this. And though it feels like Blais’ careful piano work tends to take the lead, the more you listen, the more you appreciate how seamlessly the two intertwine.

Stream it now on Spotify.

9-89y78y8y8y8y-715x400Drake
More Life
Young Money
I get it. More Life is bloated, uneven, and occasionally uninspired. But Drake deserves credit for venturing out of his lane and collaborating with a global swath of artists. Not every hat Drake tries on quite fits him, but that’s not really the point. Drake is basically panning for gold at this point — swiping right on everybody he comes across and hoping for a couple of matches. And there are quite a few on More Life.

“Passionfruit” and “Get it Together” are delicious pop songs with light island influences, and “Since Way Back When” and “Teenage Fever” are slabs of the romantic/fuccboi Drake that I love so much. And though it’s unlikely that anybody will enjoy every track on a record this varied, I’d bet there’s even fewer who won’t be able to find anything they like. And when you are at Drake’s level, that’s more than good enough.

Stream it now on Spotify.

Photo-on-10-11-2016-at-00.51-2-copy-3-1024x683Various Artists
Mono No Aware
PAN
For the last few years, Berlin’s PAN records has been putting out some of the most progressive, interesting electronic releases around. Home to artists like Visionist, M.E.S.H., Yves Tumor, Lee Gamble, and Objekt, the label has consistently signed artists who push boundaries and defy categorization. Their most recent compilation captures that spirit and features a wide array of ambient-leaning electronic tracks that all feel unique but fit well together.

Stream it now on Spotify.

fjmmainFather John Misty
Pure Comedy
Sub Pop
One of the best parts of Josh Tillman’s excellent last LP, I Love You, Honeybear, was it’s sharp narrative structure. Each of the song’s eleven tracks told an essential piece of the story; there was no filler. Pure Comedy is a lot of things, but it ain’t that. Like the Drake record, it is severely bloated, and many of its songs tread the same intellectual and sonic space.

Tracks like “Birdie,” “Smoochie,” and “The Memo” are all well-crafted and well-sung 70’s-style ballads, but their similarity softens their impact. The chorus-free, 14-minute “Leaving LA” works much better than it should, but it’s still a 14-minute ballad about moving away from fucking Los Angeles. The disc is quite good, but it’s just too much. It’s too soon to know if FJM has officially entered his “Black Sheep” Dewey Cox faze, but it’s definitely on the table.

 Stream it now on Spotify.

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