Don't work out while lending your ear to Ants From Up There for the first time. That's what I did, and let's just say my opinion today is vastly different from where it resided during that session about six weeks ago. The second album in as many years from Black Country, New Road just may be my favorite of 2022. Music for exercising, this is surely not. Less certain is what comes next for the now sextet.
The announcement that lead singer and guitarist Isaac Wood was leaving the band is what initially caught my attention. Not for the fact of his departure, but rather the timing: four days before the album was set to drop. While there may be another example of a group's leader quitting so close to their new record's release, I struggle to find an analog. Even Lou Reed was gone months before Loaded hit the shelves.
Given the growth between LPs one and two, there may be a sense of "what could have been" following Wood's exit. Ants From Up There is a significant progression from their solid and appropriately named 2021 debut, For the First Time. Both an eclectic mix, no doubt due in part to the saxophone and violin, the latest is more dialed in, despite half the songs crossing the six-minute mark. A gentle melancholy intertwines with energetic fits to produce a beautiful, and occasionally rapturous, masterpiece.
More than an hour and a half of music spread across For the First Time and Ants From Up There portended a bright future for the English ensemble. The remaining six members say they will forge on with or without Wood. Where their new road leads remains to be seen.
"Go big or go home" may not be the official slogan for Gang of Youths, but it is undoubtedly their, or at least leader David Le'aupepe's, M.O. angel in realtime. wastes none setting the stage for what will unfold over its 13 tracks. The nearly seven-minute opening "You In Everything" incorporates the cornerstones the Australian quintet have built their career upon: lush soundscapes from a range of instruments, including strings, and Le'aupepe's powerful baritone both cooing and passionately belting out the earnest storytelling of his unabashedly personal lyrics. As could also be said about the album's predecessor, this one is even more boldly ambitious than the last.
Gang of Youths' third LP does not disguise its inspiration: Le'aupepe working through his father's death and reconciling the choices the deceased elder made to do what he saw best for his family. The intent is catharsis, and if listeners are in the mood for the grandiose, angel in realtime. may land as one of the finer albums of this young year. If not, the 67-minute runtime and anthemic U2-esque elements can serve as an easy disconnect. I'll admit, I've entertained thoughts in both of those directions, largely dependent on my attention given. That said, Gang of Youths usually do the trick of leaving me feeling better than before I pushed play.
I will always remember a one John Cooper for (at least) three things:
1) The way that Brit could strike a football. Seriously, that mofo could kick.
2) The "Tamla Motown" shirt he gave me (which I think came from his brother) that I still own and wear to this day
3) "My Girls"
During my former life as a TEFL teacher, one evening in 2009 I found myself sitting in a high rise apartment in Xi'an, China, and while the legendary Rob "Potato" Ansell lurked about, Mr. Cooper and I were sharing musical preferences with each other. During the exchange, Animal Collective's recently released Merriweather Post Pavilion was given the spotlight. The aforementioned "My Girls" caught my attention, but the rest of the album was captivating enough to maintain my intrigue. I've been waiting for an effort from the band to match it since. Whether under the collective (no pun intended) name or via solo offshoots, the members of Animal Collective have continued to pump out music since that 2009 LP. Most of it has done little for me. The announcement of each subsequent release has been the pairing of piqued interest followed by disappointment. Rinse and repeat. Until Time Skiffs.
I am more surprised than anyone to be writing about the eleventh, (or seventh, kind of) release from the Baltimoreans, given that the output following Merriweather Post Pavilion has largely left little worth re-listening to. Unfortunate, yes, but it also makes Time Skiffs that much more of a treat. This latest will most certainly not be for everyone, but it incorporates the best of Animal leaders Avey Tare and Panda Bear, while embracing the occasional Brian Wilson influence, along with moments of early 70s Grateful Dead, Syd Barrett-era Floyd, and even a certain aquatic animal, all of which results in the most cohesive effort from the band in a dozen years. While I may undertand where those other artists come from, I make no such proclamations for Animal Collective. There's is a different wavelength, yet my curiosity will continue, much like it has this past decade. Time Skiffs.
I was excited to stumble upon a new release from what I thought was a French group I have previously written about called Husbands. It quickly became clear that Full-On Monet, despite the title, was not crafted by the same band, and minimal research (thanks, google) informed me that the album I was hearing was from an entirely different Husbands, this one being a duo out of Oklahoma City. (The French trio appear to have fallen off the earth since 2015.)
As someone who isn't typically drawn to synths, the reliance on them in the opening tracks made me question whether to carry on. Yet those keys combined with a DIY nuance made the catchy vocal melodies and quirky lyrics all the more infectious. Ultimately, Full-On Monet will be worth revisiting as a perfect relaxer in the dog days of summer, but plenty of year-round intrigue is on display on this January release.
Since I first heard "It's Over" back in 2016, I've been fascinated by the London-based quartet Palace. While the fourth track from their debut drew me in, both So Long Forever and the 2019 follow-up Life After left me feeling like I was witnessing a band searching for their own sound, stuck somewhere between visions of Jeff Buckley and early Coldplay, yet headed in the right direction and only in need of just a little more time to wholly manifest themselves as a musical entity.
Shoals may not be the foursome fully realized, but it is a leap forward and easily their best LP from top to bottom. As with much of their previous work, a melancholy lingers over this 12-song set, but here it seems to cut deeper, the songs and arrangements more dialed in, a band nearly eight years into their recording career putting the pieces together into something more grand and exquisite than ever before. The January release date is likely no coincidence; Shoals is perfect for this time of year, or whenever you're feeling blue and want a moment to indulge in lament. A fine album that has grown on me with each listen, it also leaves me with nothing but optimism about the future of Palace.
Color me amazed by the frequency with which Broken Social Scene has been putting out music since 2017. Schubert they are not, but for a group that dropped three albums between 2001 and 2005, then proceeded, more or less, with a five-year break, followed by an even longer one of seven, the last four and a half years have been a godsend for fans of the Canadian collective. Hug of Thunder was a welcome return, and 2019 saw the release of two EPs, the first of which was thoroughly enjoyable.
Here we are in the early days of 2022, and while Broken Social Scene celebrates its latest release, the title most certainly does not belie its components. Old Dead Young: B Sides & Rarities is exactly what it says it is. That said, the record is far more impressive than the post-colon portion of the title might lead one to believe. By no means perfect, overall, it largely feels cohesive, more like a collection of songs written in the same album cycle and less like the career-spanning project it is. Diehard Scenesters (I don't think anyone calls them that, but why not) may find little novelty here, but for those less well-versed, Old Dead Young: B Sides & Rarities represents something between a catalogue completer and a decent introduction. Color me even more amazed if they put out an LP of new material before 2024. The way their career has unfolded, who the hell knows.
We're kicking off our foray into 2022 music with an album that is straight up lazy summer vibes. As it should be, when 'tis the season for Angus Stone aka Dope Lemon, the Sydney, Australia native.
On his third LP, Dope Lemon does what he's always done under the moniker: create mellow soundscapes that set a mood and are in no hurry to move on. My only criticism of the record is that arguably none of the songs need to be stretched past the four-minute mark, which nearly all do, and this is coming from someone who has the patience for 20-minute versions of "Tweezer" and lengthy "Eyes of the World." Shit, now I just kind of want to go listen to the Dead. But I digress.
Anyway, Rose Pink Cadillac is the follow up to albums titled Honey Bones and Smooth Big Cat, which, collectively, kind of explain the aesthetic the Aussie is going for. "Stingray Pete" and "Every Day Is a Holiday" recall previous Album Notes artists Balthazar and Glass Animals, respectively, but overall, Cadillac is Angus Stone through and through. The record just might hit you right, provided you've got some time and a relaxed mind.
We're starting off 2022 with an album from this past October, one I intentionally didn't include in my "enjoyed but didn't send out" in 2021 list last week, but nothing says "Happy New Year!" like a big ass tuba, am I right? Well, no, I don't think anyone has ever said that, but c'est la vie. Or literally not.
Anyway, you may or may not know the name Theon Cross, but the sounds of his brass have been popping up in many places in recent years, most notably as a member of Sons of Kemet, but also backing Jon Batiste and Emeli Sandé, as well as Makaya McCraven and Little Simz, two artists previously featured in Album Notes.
Cross' sophomore effort is rooted in the Londoner's jazz instincts, but the electronic, dancehall, and hip hop leanings create a canvas that's so far removed from expectations of the tuba as to render the instrument imperceptible at times. All of which is to say Intra-I is an eclectically cohesive wonder.
Previously, I've used the last Album Notes each year to reflect on the preceding 12 months in music. The easy take is that the return of live music was undoubtedly welcomed and served as a cathartic release. Unfortunately, we find 2021 concluding in a manner far too similarly to where we were a year ago, and as 2021 comes to a close, I am left with a broader feeling of, "Wait, what really happened this year?"
Music aside, last New Year's Eve feels like it was half a decade ago. The events on the January 6 seem as if from another lifetime. Or reality. Did the Tokyo Olympics actually take place this summer? What a blur. I find it almost unfathomable that we're about to turn the calendar over to 2022. With that, I have no grand observations and will attempt to make no pithy summaries on this current state of life. Too much retrospection leaves my brain feeling little more than a "wow" of disbelief. Thank goodness for music.
And on that note, here are my ten favorite albums of 2021, in alphabetical order:
Cheeckface - Emphatically No.
Aaron Frazer - Introducing...
Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Butterfly 3000
Lord Huron - Long Lost
Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
Ol' Buger Beats & Vuyo - Dialogue.
Turnstile - Glow On
Typhoon - Sympathetic Magic
White Denim - Crystal Bullets / King Tears
If I had to pick an absolute favorite from the above list, I would go with the one I've found myself spinning the most: Long Lost. Not only did Lord Huron's fourth album fail to leave my rotation following its May release, but it made me dig out their previous three LPs, all brilliant, and listen more intently than I have in years, which led me to conclude that these guys just might be my favorite thing in music over the past decade. There's a simplistic charm in their Americana stylings that is classic without being retro. Maybe that's why I find their music so enchanting when we're living in a time warp.
While we're at it, for more listening pleasure, here are ten other records, in alphabetical order, I enjoyed but didn't feature in Album Notes:
The Artisanals - Zia
Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last
Lee DeWyze - Ghost Stories
Douglas Firs - Heart of a Mother
The Felice Brothers - From Dreams to Dust
Mustafa - When Smoke Rises
quickly, quickly - The Long and Short of It
Andy Shauf - Wilds
Silk Sonic - An Evening with Silk Sonic
Yola - Stand For Myself
Finally, as has become tradition, below are two mixes of some of my favorite tunes of the year from albums not featured in this space, in no particular order other than the one I listen to them in. Part 1 is the more rocking, upbeat collection, part 2 more chill.
This Also Happened in 2021 - Part 1
Tracklist (Artist - "song" - Album)
La Femme - "Paradigme" - Paradigmes
Altin Gün - "Yali Yali" - Âlem
Grouplove - "Scratch" - This Is This
Carpool Tunnel - "Forget My Name" - Bloom
Good Morning - "Depends On What I Know" - Barnyard
Holiday Ghosts - "Told My Baby" - North Street Air
Jon Batiste - "I Need You" - We Are
Teleman - "Simple Like Us" - Sweet Morning EP
Inhaler - "Cheer Up Baby" - It Won't Always Be Like This
The Limiñanas and Laurent Garnier - "Promenade oblique" - De Película
Silk Sonic - "777" - An Evening with Silk Sonic
Islands - "Closed Captioning" - Islomania
The Bamboos (feat. Durand Jones) - "If Not Now (Then When)" - Hard Up
This Also Happened in 2021 - Part 2
The Notwist - "Into Love / Stars" - Vertigo Days
quickly, quickly - "Shee" - The Long and Short of It
Nick Hakim and Roy Nathanson - "Small Things" - Small Things
Monster Rally - "Imaginary Palms" - (Single)
Run River North - "Spiders" - Creatures In Your Head
The Wallflowers - "Maybe Your Heart's Not In It No More" - Exit Wounds
The Dodos - "Annie" - Grizzly Peak
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills - "Ekuté" - Notes With Attachments
The Artisanals - "Way Up" - Zia
Balthazar - "On a Roll" - The Sand Castle Tapes