Behind the scenes here at Beats Per Minute, we staged a huge debate about whether or not we’d throw a recommendation on The xx’s new record, Coexist. Our review was published today and, if you’ve seen it, you’ll see that it fell short of that label. But personally, I’ve found it to be one of the most thoroughly enjoyable records of the year. Is it a bit simplistic and formulaic? Sure. Does it move slowly? Absolutely. I can certainly understand where detractors are coming from. But I’ve been enjoying it immensely. It reminds me in some ways of James Blake’s 2011 debut: subtle, powerful, and resoundingly beautiful.
If you haven’t already checked out NPR’s First Listen of Shields, what are you waiting on? As much as I’ve enjoyed Yellow House and Veckatimest, I’ve never been completely head over heels for Grizzly Bear. I’m not sure Shields is the album that will make me take the leap. But without a doubt, I’m enjoying the new record — “A Simple Answer” is a track I’ve come back to again and again — and feel like it could end up ranked among the year’s best. And, yeah, we’re discussing privately whether or not we want to bestow a recommendation upon it. Rare is the big release that doesn’t come with reasonable dissension.
I finally got around to listening to We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, the live compilation The Decemberists put out in March. The verdict? I’m not that impressed. The live recordings certainly sound great and I could listen to Colin Meloy’s stage banter all day, but the track list just doesn’t impress me very much. Sorry, but I just can’t get down with a 20-cut live album that completely omits The Hazards of Love. And where is “Sons and Daughters”? Come on.
The more I listen to God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise, the more I love it. Ray LaMontagne’s first self-produced record — and his first with The Pariah Dogs backing him — initially felt like a bit of a step backward to me. I quickly adopted it as another great addition to his discography, but it’s only since become warmer with time. We don’t give this artist nearly enough (if any) recognition here, so I’m obliged to use this minimal space to urge you to spend some time with his catalog. There’s a hell of a lot more to LaMontagne than “Trouble,” the song featured in numerous television episodes and that cute dog food commercial. He has one of the most soulful voices in music since Sam Cooke. How’s that for a recommendation?
Is this guy ever going to drop another album?
Earlier this week, I got my very first taste of Lonerism, Tame Impala’s forthcoming sophomore record. At first listen, I can say with certainty that it’s an album worthy of repeated listens. It is clearly a progression. But I’m not ready to anoint it as Innerspeaker‘s superior. The one thing urging my restraint is the seemingly unnecessary layers that occasionally crop up on the new record. You know how Animal Collective and their many impersonators sometimes go one sound or instrument too far? Lonerism has a bit of that going on. Though clearly, one listen is hardly enough to draw wide conclusions.
If you haven’t already exposed yourself to Josh Ritter’s immense catalog, you should. I can’t tout his voice in the way that I did for LaMontagne, but I can say that Ritter’s songwriting is widely unapproached by modern music. If you need proof, give “The Temptation of Adam” a listen with the lyrics in front of you. It’ll knock you off your feet. And that’s barely scraping the surface.
Having seen these guys put on a killer performance in support of My Morning Jacket recently, it’s safe to say I’ve been on a bit of a Band of Horses kick recently. I’ve even dug a little back into Infinite Arms, which, though widely viewed as a disappointment, was certainly not without a hand full of standout individual tracks. This week, I got my ears on Mirage Rock, the band’s fourth album. And here’s the bottom line: if you were disappointed by Infinite Arms, you’re going to question your faith after hearing Mirage Rock. Singular disappointment has now become a trend, and I’m not sure any popular band has fallen as quickly as Band of Horses have from 2007’s Cease to Begin to now.