Friday, December 27, 2013

Three Pop Albums I have Enjoyed in 2013

Have you ever watched one of those major network New Year's Eve shows where millions of people gather in the streets of New York to listen to some old fart talk about the news and scream at pop singers who grow more and more ridiculous with each passing year?  I know, that was a long sentence, but try to follow me here.  I'm the only one?  No, I'm not, because I don't watch them.  I have better things to do. 

If you are a regular reader here, you know that we don't cover much pop music.  Mainstream pop is a particular genre where singers try to outdo each other at ridiculousness.  They have to do that, because that's the only way to keep people talking about them so people will buy their records so they can pay off concert bookers, PR people, agents, and dancers.  This is, of course, in my own biased view.  I'm not a big fan of pop music.  But sometimes an artist releases an album that really grabs me.  Three such albums were released this year.

1. Black City Lights-Another Life
These New Zealanders impressed with their debut EP a couple of years ago.  In 2013 they released their debut full-length album.  Surprisingly, this album contains all new tracks, carrying nothing over from the EP.  This is as good as dream-pop gets.  The vocals are must impressive, as are the underlying atmospheric synths.  Simply put, they don't make pop albums like this anymore.   Here's why.

2. Sarah Brightman-Dreamchaser
Our regular readers had to know this was coming.  Easily the most anticipated 2013 pop release in my view, this album didn't quite live up to its predecessors.  Sarah Brightman continues to pit operatic singing with undertones of symphonic music against pop hooks.  The first disappointment was that none of the tracks are original pieces.  All of them are cover songs and some are better than others.  The other disappointment to me was that this material crosses too far into mainstream pop territory than I care to venture.  Still, there are some exceptional vocal melodies, as Brightman is the world's best operatic vocalist.  That is a bold statement, but it is in they ear of the listener, after all.  That's why I'm sharing it here.

3. Io Echo-Ministry of Love
Southern California's Io Echo impressed with their debut album, Ministry of Love.  This was a surprising listen, as it borders between dream pop and shoegaze tones.  I categorize it on the pop side due to the strong poppy hooks that permeate much of the music.  The singer may not be the best pop singer in the world, but the vocals are far from bad.  This music is just weird enough for me to enjoy.  Check out a track from the album below.

Because I don't believe there were enough good pop releases in 2013 to warrant a top of the year list, there will also be no honorable mentions. 

As always, thanks for listening and enjoy! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Top 5 Electronic Albums of 2013

Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, one and all!  Or if you don't celebrate anything this time of year, Happy Antipathy Month! 

It has been a good year for all genres of music.  Perhaps less so with electronica, but there were still several solid releases.  Since electronics seem to be the only holiday gift that matters, I present to you our top 5 electronic albums of 20013.  This list is varied between the different schools of electronic music.  You won't find house or EDM in this list.  What you will find is some other great stuff.  Here they are:

1. Trentemoller-Lost
Before the later year release of this album, it would have been difficult to predict Trentemoller even making this list, let alone coming in at number one.  That's because we didn't know this Danish composer was working on new material until late August.  It would have been even more difficult to predict what kind of flavors were on order with this album.  Unlike his previous album, Lost incorporates a wide variety of vocals from a number of gifted singers.  Instead of breaking away from tradition, however, Trentemoller simply seeks new musical territory.  The result is nothing sort of astounding.  The deep pulses and electronic rhythms against a sea of blurry undercurrent still remain, as do the heavily distorted guitar lines.  What is new sounds almost like dreamy pop, delivered in spectacular doomy fashion.  This album grabs you from the first track and does not relent.  Speaking of which, here is that first track.

M83-Oblivion (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Normally, soundtracks do not count for album of the year awards.  Unless said soundtrack is a collection of compositions by one artist.  This doesn't happen extremely often.  When you think of electronic artists making movie soundtracks, you immediately think of Daft Punk's excellent work for Tron: Legacy.  In that same vein is the new work for Oblivion, which stars Tom Cruise.  This is a major departure in sound for M83, a French nu-gaze artist with some excellent talent.  With Oblivion, M83 trades in the guitars and pedals for an entirely symphonic electronic production.  In this album every sound you hear is being produced synthetically.  The album's closer is probably closer in style to normal M83 work, and it is the only track on the album with vocals.  You need to hear both.

3. Ulrich Schnauss-A Long Way to Fall
The first solo work released by Ulrich Schnauss in quite a long while is as good as any of the work he's done.  His latest works have been his collaborations with Jonas Munk and Mark Peters.  That should give an idea of what Ulrich Schauss sounds like.  What you hear is a deep, chill-wave style of music with some random infusions of jazz over long, soaring synths.  This album sounds darker than his previous work.  It is a very solid release.  You can listen to some of it here.

4. The Luna Sequence-The Day the Curse Grew Stronger
If you are in the market for some good old-fashioned electronic synth rock, this album should be right up your alley.  The Luna Sequence unveiled their debut album two years ago.  That was a very good effort.  This release lays down razor sharp, computer-enhanced guitar lines to create a metallic frenzy of rock and electronic.  This is a somewhat odd style, less mainstream than Celldweller, less metallic than Blue Stahli, and less industrial than I Will Never be the Same.  Also of note: There are no vocals, which really allows the music to shine.  Jump into some of the chaos here.

5. Klaus Schulze-Shadowlands
How often do you come across a double album that contains only five tracks?  That is just what German composer Klaus Shulze has done with his airy, ambient electronic new album.  As you would imagine, the tracks are very long, so this is not music for short attention-spans.  It works best as background music for when you are playing solitaire, writing a music blog.  This music is dreamy, atmospheric, and beautiful.  One of track on this album is a shade under 42 minutes long, while another falls just short of an hour, a hefty 55 minutes.  The track you will hear below is the shortest track on the album. 

Of course, this list would not be complete without some honorable mentions.  Here they are in no particular order.
Cosmo's Midnight-Surge
Public Transport-Dark Days
Boards of Canada-Tomorrow's Harvest
Daft Punk-Random Access Memories
The Knife-Shaking the Habitual
Logos-Cold Mission

As always, thanks for reading, and enjoy!