We’re midway through the year in music and liking what we’ve heard so far. We’re excited for what’s to come, but here at the midpoint, we’re taking pause to talk about our favorite releases of the first half of 2016.
Here’s Chad’s picks:
1. Money – Suicide Songs
2. Sasha – Scene Delete
3. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
4. Marissa Nadler – Strangers
5. eLDopamine – Sounds Like a Reasonable Thing for a Band to Play / Sleepy Seahorse – Frienditions / Thomas Paul – Singalongs
1. Money: Over the past 40 years, British songwriters have developed and refined their own unique strand of navel-gazing existentialism — equal parts wide-eyed wonder and gray-skied gloom. In song, they walk around a lot, folding inward as they peer outward, attempting to reconcile the two. It’s usually raining.
This dichotomy colors Suicide Songs, the second album from Manchester’s Money. Imagine if Conor wrote Lifted after an all-night bender of the Smiths, Stone Roses and the Verve. Emotive but not emo, serious but self-aware, Suicide Songs is the sound of a young person sorting out his shit against a backdrop of acoustic/electric guitars and velvety strings.
Like Lifted, some of the songs (the 8 1/2-minute “Night Came”) and song titles (“A Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year”) are long because every word counts. It’s one of those records. And it’s the best thing I’ve pulled off the promo pile in a long time. Listen to “All My Life” here.
2. Sasha: The shelf life of a DJ/producer is similar to a tennis player — they typically peak young and retire early (or sadly hang on and fade away). Sasha, christened the “son of God” by a British music magazine during his ‘90s acid house heyday, is a rare exception, having stayed in the game for decades and maintained his relevancy.
In a career dotted with highlights, Scene Delete may be Sasha’s crowning achievement, but not for reasons you might expect. It hasn’t thrust him back into the superstar DJ realm or endeared him to the brostep-worshipping American EDM muggles. Instead, the album — released through the highly-regarded LateNightTales series — explores the cerebral, emotional side of Sasha’s aesthetic like nothing else in his catalog.
Though very much in the spirit of LateNightTales with its emphasis on noir beats, ambient textures and subtle melodic continuity, Scene Delete isn’t a DJ mix but rather 21 new Sasha tracks that function as a soundtrack to a contemplative post-club comedown. The album demonstrates that, like Radiohead, Sasha is adept at absorbing contemporary influences without coming off like a creatively-drained copycat. Enjoy a few tracks here.
3. Parquet Courts: That moment a band you believe in delivers the album you thought they had in them…
It doesn’t happen often. Potential, unfortunately, is rarely realized. But Human Performance feels like one of those moments when a good band becomes great, when they affirm their place in it all, when they’ve “arrived,” as it were, and delivered the album by which all past and future efforts will be judged.
I’ve been listening to Parquet Courts since 2012’s Light Up Gold, a wonderfully ramshackle record bristling with slacker-philosophy wit, art-punk energy and telling nods to Modern Lovers, Malkmus and many more in between. They’ve released an EP and/or full-length every year since (all of which are good or at least interesting in their own way), and Human Performance coalesces and distills the best bits of those records into one fantastic, fully-realized album. Check out “Berlin Got Blurry” here.
4. Marissa Nadler: Certain music, by virtue of its intimacy or obscurity (or both), feels like a secret. Some secrets you want to share, some you want to keep. It depends. On the album, on the artist, on the day.
We’ve been playing Marissa Nadler’s music in the store for nearly a decade now, yet an air of hushed tones stubbornly remained until she played a Thursday afternoon in-store in early July.
We told our friends, we told our customers: Don’t miss this one; you’d be foolish to miss this one. And afterward, they responded in kind: How did I not know about her before?!, etc. Having seen her first-ever Boise show the night before at Neurolux, we knew the in-store would be special, knew we’d be saying see, told you so afterward. But even our familiarity with Nadler couldn’t prepare us for how good it was.
Nadler’s new album Strangers, her seventh, is similarly affecting. Touted as a less-insular, more outwardly-looking album, Strangers favors character studies over personal reflection, the imagery no less evocative than Nadler’s goth-folk confessionals. Musically, Nadler colors the arrangements with electric guitar and synths, but still leaves space for moments of striking interplay between her 12-string acoustic and arresting mezzo-soprano.
Before Nadler hit the road, we snagged copies of her two self-released (and hard-to-find) albums to stock in the store. Here’s a secret: They’re worth hearing, too.
5. eLDopamine/Sleepy Seahorse/Thomas Paul: Not a three-way tie for last, mind you, but a means of cheating/grouping releases to wedge a couple more titles into my Top 5.
Though disparate in sound and style, there are personal connections in play here: John O’Neil of eLDopamine and Joey Corsentino of Sleepy Seahorse are coworkers (and coworkers of mine) at The Record Exchange; Thomas Paul is in eLDopamine and a Record Exchange alumnus. I see all of them nearly on a daily basis. All of this, of course, is beside the point when it comes to the music.
O’Neil reignited eLDopamine for Treefort and recorded/released a new 7-song EP in conjunction with their festival appearance (a Top 5 of 2016 in its own right). As a purposeful EP (as opposed to a thoughtless collection of castoffs to satiate the marketplace), it leaves you wanting more, until you realize this brief blast of Crazy Horse country-punk is just right. To steal from one critic, “it’s nimble, kinetic and to the point, like the sudden whirl of a street fight.”
Sleepy Seeds’ self-titled album was one of my favorites of 2014. Sleepy Seahorse is a sister act of sorts, an outlet for Corsentino’s solo work that kinda sorta turned into a full band (at least briefly) for Treefort this year. Joey and his wife had a baby last year, and he’s learning what that means for a songwriter and performer. Judging from Frienditions, he’s striking a good balance. Recorded at home in his “spare” time (i.e. while the baby slept), it features nine inventive reworkings of some of his favorite songs from Idaho musicians. These sorts of things rarely work. But Frienditions does. Very, very well.
Thomas Paul has the type of voice that makes doves cry. As a self-imposed challenge, he decided to silence it for Singalongs, his first full (winkingly-titled) instrumental album. Recorded live in a hotel room during the 2015 Modern Art (no overdubs!), Singalongs is captivating mood music, cinematic and noir, that showcases Paul’s oft-overlooked talents — composing and arranging.