Cloud Nothings—Attack On Memory
The second album from indie rock band Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory is an assault on the ears in the best way possible. Masterfully engineered by Steve Albini, it’s a gritty, charging masterpiece, a blast of fury and power that recalls early post-punk bands like Wire and the Buzzcocks. But it’s the mastermind behind the album, songwriter Dylan Baldi, who shines on Attack on Memory with a deeply vicious, angry, troubled lyrics. On “Wasted Days,” Baldi’s howl bursts through themes of lost life and fulfillment, and on “No Future/No Past,” it’s as if Baldi’s voice is barely holding itself together. It’s a record that balls up anger and releases it in bursts of unbridled, infectious ferocity.
Frank Ocean—Channel Orange
In a rare case in which buzz and hype are surpassed, Frank Ocean puts out an R&B classic with Channel Orange. It’s an album that sets up Ocean as a profoundly confessional songwriter and a musical innovator, rocketing neo-soul into the future. Whether the hedonistic tales of “Crack Rock” and “Super Rich Kids” or the radio-ready pop of “Thinkin’ Bout You,” Frank Ocean establishes himself as one of pop’s most fascinating songwriters. By the time you’ve hit “Pilot Jones” and “Pyramids,” two cosmic pieces on the album, Ocean has thrown you across the musical landscape to the very limits of innovation. Then comes “Bad Religion,” a gorgeous, emotional piece about the confusion of sexuality and an impossible love, is so beautifully raw that it throws you back down to Earth. Channel Orange bleeds emotion and creativity, and no album innovates so expressively.
It’s tough to follow one fantastic album with another. Yet with Shields, Grizzly Bear rides the wave of acclaim from 2009’s Veckatimest and release their best work to date, an album filled with layered complexities and lyrical beauty. In which Veckatimest was airy and spacious, these compositions somehow feel more claustrophobic and yet more lush, whether the frenetic “Speak In Rounds,” the barren “The Hunt,” or the masterfully wrought “Yet Again.” It’s an album that rewards repeated listeners, as each revisit brings some sonic secret to the forefront. Singers and songwriters Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste supply tortured, haunting lyrics across the album, yet by the time the epic “Sun In Your Eyes” has closed, you’ve come out of Shields feeling strangely—and rightly—fulfilled.
You want no-holds-barred rock music? Look no further than Canadian punk duo Japandroids. From start to finish, it’s an adrenaline-fueled romp that never slows down. Even at its most contemplative, Celebration Rock is a record that speeds ahead with a devil-may-care attitude. Yet for all of its speed and fuzz, it’s a record that touches on the joy of youth and the uncertainty of the future in the hedonistic “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and the nostalgic “Younger Us.” The album’s heart and highlight, “The House That Heaven Built,” is a glorious, grandiose song that inspires and thrills, the type of song that could blow the roof off of Madison Square Garden. Celebration Rock couldn’t be more apt a title.
Don’t dismiss the bubbly indie-pop that Passion Pit concocts on Gossamer, the follow up to their 2009 debut Manners. It’s more than meets the ear. Gossamer boasts varied, complex compositions that alter vocals and seem to be endless in his sonic depth, like the chaotic “I’ll Be Alright” or the R&B-tinged “Constant Conversations.” Yet under these bright melodies, songwriter Michael Angelakos confesses to some of his greatest anxieties, fears, and struggles in life. Troubles with love, self-doubt, sanity, and anger define this album, taking all of these worries and transmuting them into irreversible joy. For anyone suffering from life’s overwhelming problems, Gossamer proves that music can be a form of therapy.