Belle and Sebastian, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance: If you know what to expect from Belle and Sebastian- twee, peppy instrumentals combined with dark, dreamy lyrics- then, by and large, you know what to expect from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. What sets Girls in Peacetime apart from B&S’s past work is a greater appreciation for synths and what they can do for Stuart Murdoch’s twisted stories. Bandleader Murdoch has characterized Girls as his most personal record yet, and it’s easy to hear why. The synths add a depth and a weight to the songs that their most recent records have lacked. Favorite song: “The Party Line”
Dawn Richard, Blackheart: Dawn Richard’s Goldenheart was one of my favorite albums of 2013, as well as one of the most ignored. You’d think one year after channel ORANGE that the culture would have had more of an appreciation for alternative R&B, but almost no one was listening. Then Danity Kane reunited last year, released a terrible album, and broke up again in the midst of rumors of a physical fight between Richard and another member of the group. Richard’s back with Blackheart, and she’s pissed. Blackheart leans on EDM stylings more than Goldenheart, which may sound like selling out, but the glitchy, wall-to-wall production fits her anger. Goldenheart was a more melodic record, but Blackheart gets under your skin. Favorite song: “Phoenix (feat. Aundrea Fimbres)”
Rae Sremmurd, Sremmlife: Remember when rap was simple, and it was just verses with a hook, and we didn’t have all these rappers trying to sing and using AutoTune? Didn’t those days suck? Maybe you prefer your rappers rapping, but I prefer them doing as much with their voice as possible to express themselves well. Rae Sremmurd are a rap group, and they spend a lot of their debut, Sremmlife, speak-singing. There’s rapping, too, of course, but nothing too technically impressive. What’s impressive instead is the vast range of what these two brothers do with their voices. From low croons to high squeals, RS give every song their all. Their shtick gets a little old after listening to 11 songs worth, but pull any one song off this album and you’ll find a hit every bit as strong as my favorite, “No Flex Zone”.
Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper: Panda Bear has always exuded a sort of calculated beauty; Noah Lennox’s songs are pleasant, but he shows his work. In the past, his music has been peaceful enough to transcend whatever 0s and 1s were involved, but Grim Reaper finds Lennox exploring more complicated themes, and the tension between his style and his subject matter creates a wall that I couldn’t get past. He gave off vibes in recent interviews that he might be looking to retire the Panda Bear name, and Grim Reaper sadly seems like just the time to do it.
Under the Radar
The Sidekicks, Runners in the Nerved World: Emo holds a special place in my heart. One of the first bands I discovered when I began listening to music was My Chemical Romance, who are well-known for The Black Parade, but who were even more super-emo before that record, which is a more straight-up rock opera. The Sidekicks sound nothing like MCR, but they have a similarly emo sensibility, especially in their pained vocals. The music, however, adopts a more jangly, indie-pop vibe, making Runners in the Nerved World like Jimmy Eat World meets Band of Horses. Favorite song: “Deer”
Off the Grid
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: Here’s the thing: I’ve never heard a Sleater-Kinney record before. I’m not really ashamed to admit this, since their entire career took place before I started listening to music, but it does make it hard to participate in the excitement over their reunion. No Cities to Love has an appealing rock groove running through its center, but every song sounds about the same to me. I’ll bet if I went back and listened to their old albums, I’d have the proper context for this one. But right now, there’s no way I can decide if this is a hit or a miss.