Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety (February 25)

Anxiety-cover

Anxiety is a burst of passionate electric meditation, bookended by two of the best songs of the year, “Play by Play” and “World War.” Both songs end with brilliant codas – the former’s final minutes are a rush of neo-soul crooning, with Arthur Ashin desperately singing, begging, “don’t ever leave me alone,” and the latter’s ending minutes finish the album beautifully, like Whitney Houston meets Prince meets James Dean cupping his hands to light a cigarette.

There’s a warmth to much of the album, full of worries (“I’m gonna die”) and sexual pleas (“Ego Free Sex Free”), and it’s layered under a certain harshness that makes it all the more cathartic when the warmth finally comes out. All in all, Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety shows that heavy electronic pop, full of scattered drum beats, heavy snares, and twirling synths, can be made into an impassioned display of desperation, heartbreak, and love. Anxiety is all of those things, done anxiously and perfectly. -DK

Rhye – Woman (March 5)

rhye-woman

Mike Milosh, the man (yes, that falsetto is the sound of a man) with one of the most beautiful voices ever, came out of a strange seclusion with 2013’s Woman, bringing comparisons to Sade and Marvin Gaye with him. To be honest, Woman is not necessarily a great album, as it is full of many weak throwaway tracks, but it is full of such unbelievable talent that is impossible to ignore.

Of all the albums here, it is the one that is the most like sex. It drips with longing and sweetness. “Open,” “The Fall,” and “Last Dance” are the main standouts, all pared down minimally with string arrangements to let Milosh slowly tear your heart away and separate you from consciousness. On “Open,” he sings, “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs.” On “The Fall,” he sings, “Make love to me one more time before you go away.” Mike Milosh wants you. And on Woman, he makes a case for himself that is undeniably hard to resist. -DK

Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse (March 5)

Wondrous-Bughouse

Has anyone seen Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon lately? With his plethora of necklaces, his horn-rimmed glasses, and out of control hair, he looks like a strange hybrid of Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Albert Einstein. Wondrous Bughouse takes on that same development, adding rich and luscious textures to Youth Lagoon’s more minimal and quiet debut, Year of Hibernation. Much of that is due to Ben Allen, the producer behind Wondrous Bughouse, who has worked with artists such as Washed Out and Animal Collective before, which makes the added fullness more understandable.

At its heart, though, Wondrous Bughouse still contains the same fears and emotions brought out in the brilliant Year of Hibernation, and Powers’ songwriting is still full of beautiful imagery, like in “Third Dystopia,” where he sings, “Evil is in the air, I’m not coming out / Bundled up scared, huddled on the corner of the couch.” This is the same Powers, full of detailed visions and vivid depictions, and though the music might not capture its listeners as intensely as Year of Hibernation, it still grows and suits the emotions perfectly. Not to mention, early singles “Dropla” and “Mute” are two of the best songs of the year, full of rising and falling musical action and stirring codas (“you weren’t there when I needed you” / “you’ll never die you’ll never die you’ll never die”). To those who are saying that this is a different Trevor Powers, I say: this is the same Powers; he has only left the confines of his bedroom. -DK

Phosphorescent – Muchacho (March 19)

muchacho

Matthew Houck, the man behind Phosphorescent, has had a tough time making it in the music world. His brand of alt-country, highlighted by his dark lyrics and gnarled, grizzly voice, has been hard to sell, making each successive album a little deeper, a little darker. But 2013’s Muchacho is his breakthrough, and it’s one of my early choices for the album of the year. “Song for Zula” might be the best song I’ve heard all year, and possibly ever, with Houck tackling beautiful questions of love and personhood (while borrowing from Johnny Cash a little) underneath a pulsating and staggered rhythm and swirling organ sounds. Listen to it and let yourself be placed alongside some Great Lake, running for your life and dreaming.

From the first song to the last, Muchacho is everything that is honest and authentic, and it’s portrayed that way. It pulls no punches. It emits glorious yelps. It cries. It laughs. It is the undulating rhythm of life. As folk music has come back into the popular obsession, with often-generic meanings and stereotyped personalities, Phosphorescent has offered a genuine counter, a true display of what actual folk music stems from. These are gritty, hard earned stories, ones that hit the listener as hard as they most likely hit Houck himself. It is a triumphant testament to Houck and Phosphorescent’s tenacity in an unforgiving world. If I were you, I’d put away your Head and the Heart album and pick up Muchacho and let it grow on you, punch you, and bring you up and down and all along the way. -DK

James Blake – Overgrown (April 5)

james-blake-overgrown

If James Blake was James Blake’s coming out party, Overgrown is his first barbecue.  The work that lets us know he’s not desperate to impress the cool kids to remain at the top.  Despite his undeniably big sounds, the twenty-four year old has designed his short but stunning career around understatement — even a guest appearance from RZA fits seamlessly (and modestly) into the sonic atmosphere.

Fans will no doubt enjoy Blake’s filled out falsetto layered on, under, and through a bizarre and deceptively varied orchestra of synthetic sounds.  The eerily sexual “Retrograde” is a clear standout, but Overgrown might have even more depth than Blake’s self-titled album.  -JP

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