The Needle Drop

Jeremy's Mid-Year Faves 2017

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Hello good folks, Jeremy here, lead video editor for The Needle Drop. It’s one of those times again when Anthony’s underlings step out of his melonheaded shadow for a brief moment of sunshine. This time it’s for a mid-year list. Basically, here are fifteen albums from the first half of the year that I enjoyed the most and am still listening to – including while they play on repeat in my head – as June comes to a close.

I want to point out that this is an alphabetical list. It is unordered. I did not want to ascribe numbers yet, because some of these opinions could shift up or down come the end of the year, and it just didn’t feel right to rank these albums quite yet. Instead, it’s an even field here; just fifteen records I have loved from the first six months of this year that I think you should give a listen.

Hope you find a pick or two you like, or maybe even one you hadn’t heard of yet. Enjoy!


Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]

Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]

Celebration have been one of my favorite bands for almost as long as I’ve been actively listening to and seeking music. They are also one of the most criminally overlooked and underrated. Crafting rollicking pieces of organ-drenched rock and roll, with frontwoman Katrina Ford’s deep, expressive voice anchoring the occasional cacophony. On this, their 5th album, they continue to show their stripes, one glistening, groovy, fun song after another. Don’t let their unGoogleable name deter you - listen to this band. Listen to this album


Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52HZ]

Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52HZ]

Avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson has earned a reputation over the past few years that acts as both a blessing and curse. He’s released a few albums since his breakout New History Warfare Vol. 2, and to be honest, at first glance, they all feel almost too similar to elicit much excitement. I’m always impressed by him, but sometimes I err on the side of shrugging complacency. I felt this way at first with his new one here, but after a few spins, the intricacies come out, the technicality becomes almost blindingly awesome, and when it’s all over, I can only smile and say, “Well, damn. He’s done it again.”


Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

Feist returns after a very long break, and the world is all the better for it. Continuing down the path she started toeing back on Metals, Feist has given us perhaps her most challengingly spare and unpredictable songs yet. After the PJ-influenced title track comes to a halt, we get a mix of tender ballads (“I Wish I Didn’t Miss You”, “Baby Be Simple”), some eerily placid cuts (“Lost Dreams”), and even a couple rockers (“Any Party”, “Century”). Little Feistian touches like the Foley recordings at the end of “Any Party” (which includes a humorous blip of the album’s title track coming from a passing car), the minimalist bluesy touch of “I’m Not Running Away”, or the Mastodon sample that closes “A Man is Not His Song,”pepper the album’s cobwebbed corners. This is maybe the purest Feist record yet, and also possibly her strongest.


Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

Anthony may have been cold on this one, but goddamn do I love this Jens Lekman record. It’s bright, fun, colorful, weird, silly, groovy, and insanely catchy all at once – basically everything I look for and hope for in a Jens record. That “do do do” refrain on “Evening Prayer” will be stuck in my head until the day I die, and the breathless chorus of “Wedding in Finistère” is the kind of thing only Jens Lekman could ever get away with. More pensive cuts like “Postcard 17” (with its deeply satisfying “Fucking ridiculous” ending) and the aching“How Can I Tell” fill out the tracklist, giving us one of Jens’ most varied and instantly satisfying efforts yet.


Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

Jesca Hoop has been on my radar since her debut Kismet back in 2007, with its knotty song structures and odd vocal tics. It was a strong debut, but it wasn’t until her sophomore LP, Hunting My Dress, that she really hit her stride. Now on this, her fourth solo album, she has more or less struck gold. A set of profoundly spare songs, Hoop shows off her intriguing lyrical skills, her strange structures, and her flexible, passionate vocals more than ever. Her singing and songwriting sound better than ever, especially on cuts like “Memories Are Now” and “The Lost Sky” where her harmonies come piercing through, and “Songs of Old” where she hits her impossibly high notes. It’s the most impressive singer-songwriter album of the year, and one that reiterates the vitality of the genre.


Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed]

Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed]

And now for a very different singer-songwriter. Argentina’s Juana Molina has been cranking out records for more than 20 years, and yet she still flies woefully under the radar. Perhaps she prefers it that way. Halo, her seventh album, continues her pattern of crafting weird, otherworldly, unpredictable electro-acoustic songs. Molina’s music is so dense and complex in its webbing of ideas that I can still find new intricate subtleties on my fifth or sixth listen. From the as-bare-as-can-be (and as-slow-as-can-be) “Lentísimo halo” to the upbeat “Cosoco”, from the made-up words of “A00 B01” to the chilly opener “Paraguaya.” Yes these songs are sung in Spanish, but that doesn’t stop Molina’s music from being as surprising and enthralling as ever.


Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]

Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]

OK. Anthony’s gonna give me crap for this, but hear me out. When I first heard this album, I liked it a lot. Then I listened a second and third time, and I fell to a place of indifference. But then, slowly, it inched its way back in, and now I can’t help but feel drawn to its warm and peaceful compositions. The opening track, “Follow My Voice”, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this year, and when Byrne sings, “To me this city’s hell / But I know you call it home,” with her deep, smooth voice giving way to the emotion just a tiny bit, it’s piercing and heartbreaking. Yes, the album tends to blur together, but it’s such a tranquil, warm 32 minutes, that I really don’t mind. Despite the low-key nature of this album, I am actually pretty excited to see what Byrne does next.


Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]

Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]

Seems that long breaks are a running theme on this list. Land of Talk took a 7-year hiatus, during which a lot of shit happened, which you can extensively read about elsewhere. I’m just here to tell you how awesome it is to have Liz Powell back. Her band’s second album, Cloak and Cipher, is one of my favorite indie rock records of this current decade, and though this new album doesn’t quite hit those heights, it comes close. It’s a record of loss and pain, but also of optimism and new horizons, with some lovely electronic instrumentation and some surprising melodic turns. Powell is a distinct, emotive voice in the oft-tired genre of indie rock (and one of the genre’s best guitarists, which is on far deeper display on past LPs). And though her tunes certainly don’t sound too out of sync with her Saddle Creek labelmates, there’s something there – some indefinable quality – that sets them apart, and this record attest to that.


Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]

Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]

Experimental singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm has a couple pretty great records under her belt (especially her sophomore LP, The Last Tree, which boasts one of my all-time favorite songs, “Little Weeper”), and now she’s given us another one. Chasing an Illusion is at once her darkest and also brightest album, fusing her feelings on motherhood, abuse, love, and life. The sprawling opener, “Ah, Love Is Oceanic Pleasure,” sounds like something Jackie-O Motherfucker might’ve come up with, and the comparatively catchy and upbeat “Beautifully Alone” features a very satisfying melody. Moodier cuts like “I Don’t Believe You,” which are beautiful and heart-wrenching (“I wish that I could die / I wish that you would die too”), are contrasted with lovely, bittersweet ruminations on being a mother in this scary world (“Keeping You Alive”). It’s a strange but ultimately very satisfying album, one of her most cohesive and affecting to date.


Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]

Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]

What can I say? I’m a sucker. (I’m tempted to just leave it at that...) Laura Marling has given us her most stripped back album in a while, and it’s pretty glorious. It’s a velvety, beautiful record, featuring some of Marling’s most tender vocal deliveries. I admit, the opening track “Soothing” is a bit of a feint, and I would actually sort of love to hear an album of hers sound more like that on the whole, because it’s a slinky, eerie, gorgeous song. “The Valley” is all countryside prettiness, and “Don’t Pass Me By” is sort of a Beach House-meets-Portishead thing that shouldn’t work, but does. For all the little accents, it may be “Nouel” – the sole track that consists of just voice and guitar – that takes top honors. But all in all, this is another solid – if at times too patiently paced – album from Laura Marling.


Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

This one’s tough in that it’s a hard album to listen to and hard to recommend, but it also can’t be denied for what it is musically and lyrically. An album of songs this personal, this intimate, this frighteningly upfront about the death of a loved one, is inevitably going to be a rough sit, especially with lyrics about “bloody end-of-life tissues” and scattering ashes. A couple moments of utter beauty sneak in, such as “Seaweed”’s “I don’t think of that dust as you / You are the sunset,” but mostly it’s an album that makes Carrie and Lowell look like a Brady Bunch singalong. It’s a gorgeous document of grief, and for that alone, it belongs here, despite the fact that I’ve probably only heard it three or four times.


Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

While I maintain that Put Your Back N 2 It is still my favorite Perfume Genius record, it now feels miles away from what we get on his fourth, No Shape. A wild, blissfully scattered and careening ride, this album has no idea what it wants to be, which is exactly how Mike Hadreas wants it to be. We get explosives (“Otherside”), pensive acoustic cuts (“Valley”), slinky duets (“Sides”), and droning love songs (“Alan’), among many other things. This feels like a step in a new direction – or two or three – for Hadreas, which is nice coming after Too Bright inched a little too gingerly away from PYBN2I’s spare balladry. Hadreas is in full force, now, and I am here for it.


Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

This one took me by surprise. I barely knew who Sampha was before this. I knew he popped up on a few tracks here and there, but it wasn’t until he dropped a whole album that I started to take notice. A beautiful piano player, singer, and songwriter (as evidenced by the insta-classic “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”), he also knows when to up the frenzy (the crazy-passionate “Blood on Me”, the quasi-drops of “Reverse Faults”). Sampha has given us a singer-songwriter album that feels both timeless and also of its time, supplying hooks aplenty and heartfelt writing. I don’t know why I didn’t take much notice before now, but this is a powerful album, from a powerful singer, and I am excited for what comes next.


The xx - I See You [Young Turks]

The xx - I See You [Young Turks]

I’ve always been a fan of The xx, but never to the extent some people are. Their debut was minimalistic and infectious, but it was also a little meek. Their sophomore album continued this path. Finally, though, I feel like I’m 100% on the bandwagon, because their third album is their strongest to date. Beefier arrangements, including an increased bass and beat presence (probably a result of Jamie xx’s breakout as a producer in his own right), and more complex songwriting push this album in the right direction for the band, a step they needed to take to avoid what I will mostly-lovingly call Beach House syndrome. The emotional twinned vocals of Romy and Oliver, along with Romy’s reverb-drenched icicle guitar licks, still fill out the picture, but it all feels more rounded, but complex, a little denser. Rollicking, catchy songs like “Replica” and “On Hold” (which features a perfect Hall and Oates sample) sound like they could’ve only been on this record, which is a good sign for this young, talented band.


And that’s it, y’all. Fifteen albums I love. I hope you like some of them too. Thanks to Anthony for letting me get this list up here. It’s nice to get to reach out directly to some of you who don’t hear from me (though perhaps unwittingly witness my handy work on a near-daily basis). It’s been a pretty good year for music so far, and some albums (like Melodrama for example) are currently growing on me, so don’t be surprised to see albums from the first half of the year ranked higher than these come year’s end. Speaking of which, see ya then!

Austen's Mid-Year Faves 2017

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Let's get the introduction out of the way: I'm Austen, the managing editor of TND's website and channels, creator of the It Came from Bandcamp segment (which we swear isn't dead), and most recently, Anthony's collaborator on the Stinkpiece series. You guys generally don't hear from me until the end of the year when I drop my year-end lists, but I've decided to get in on the mid-year action this time.

At the halfway point of last year, there just weren't enough releases I dug to come up with a top ten. Thankfully, 2017 has been a lot more front-heavy, and if I'm honest, I think the batch of albums here might already stronger than the one on my 2016 list. Just for the record, only studio albums made the cut. Considered putting Swans' new live album Deliquescence on here, but most of that material was pulled from The Glowing Man, and I've sung that album's praises enough. With that shoutout out of the way, let's get into the actual list:


The Top 10

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

I've had Oxbow's Thin Black Duke in near-constant rotation since its release and I still haven't found the words to express my love for this album. I believe it's the greatest orchestral rock album since Lou Reed's Berlin; maybe that says enough. But recently I came across an interview the band did with TeamRock, wherein vocalist Eugene S. Robinson pointed out a reference to the Joseph Losey film The Servant in the song "A Gentleman's Gentleman," and that made everything click. My introductory film theory class a few years ago had the (mis)fortune of watching that film four times over a short span of time, and I had to have been the only student who came away from that experience not hating the movie, let alone loving it. Losey's twisted baroque vision is very much alive in Thin Black Duke, so I'm pretty much conditioned to love it too. Picking up on the album's cinematic reference points certainly adds to the enjoyment factor, but even in the vacuum of music, this is a must-listen for anyone interested in the artful side of rock music.


2A. Sun Kil Moon - Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood [Caldo Verde]

2A. Sun Kil Moon - Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood [Caldo Verde]

My streak of Koz stanning continues! Common as Light... marks Mark Kozelek's 50th year on Earth and is miraculously his most ambitious and experimental release since his early days as an unwitting slowcore and post-rock pioneer. For the longest time, Mark has been seen in the shadows of songwriting/guitar titans like Neil Young, Nick Drake, and Andrés Segovia. That's fair - those influences were certainly on his sleeve, but now there's not much of a precedent at all to what he's doing. The swagger and crude compositions (due to him mostly working with unfamiliar instruments) are sort of evocative of Lou Reed, but that's about it. In a way, I see Common as Light as the antithesis to Scott Walker's Bish Bosch, an album that pushed the concept of the singer-songwriter to a point of radical abstraction. Mark, instead, has produced something radically concrete, and I can see how that poses a challenge to some listeners. But through all the minutiae, there's love, sadness, anger, fear, and comedy to be found. Frankly, I can't think of another album that so perfectly reflects the human spirit/condition.

2B. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth [Caldo Verde]

2B. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth [Caldo Verde]

30 Seconds... is essentially an addendum to Common as Light, covering the remainder of the Koz's 2016. As far as the instrumentation goes, it's a step up from the previous Jesu collab. I'm loving the icy electronic soundscapes Justin brings to the table this time, especially on the track "Wheat Bread." That track is practically a folksier version of one of Robert Ashley's spoken-word electronic operas. The album is also bookended by two of Mark's most moving tracks; the opener in particular, which I'm not too proud to admit gets me teary. But at other points, it does seem he's spreading himself thin - case in point "Hello Chicago." It's a very heartfelt tribute to John Hughes and Leonard Cohen, but is underwritten even by modern Koz standards. Also, I've never shared the cynical music writer notion that Mark has begun reading fan letters in his music for ego-stroking purposes, but the one that closes this track does kind of border on being a testimonial. Still, the disc is a worthy follow-up to Common as Light; let's see if the Koz can go 3/3 with Yellow Kitchen later this month.


3. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

3. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

The phrase from A Crow Looked at Me's press release that stuck out to everyone was "barely music." It's true, the album manifests such a brutal reality that listening to it feels like experiencing real life (or rather death), not a conventionally enjoyable singer-songwriter project. Phil has gone on record as saying that this is his least atmospheric effort, but I have to respectfully disagree; A Crow Looked at Me is more evocative of a mental and physical place than any field recording ever could be. The album sounds like living in an empty house - you can hear the room tone and some incidental floorboard creaking throughout the record, the sound of a door shutting at one point, and to me even the gentle percussion more resembles a dripping faucet than an actual musical component. This truly is the soundtrack of "unimaginable domestic obliteration," the most potent quote from that press release. My condolensces, Phil, and thank you for the achingly beautiful (non-)music.


4. Graham Lambkin / Taku Unami - The Whistler [Erstwhile]

4. Graham Lambkin / Taku Unami - The Whistler [Erstwhile]

One of the most exciting pieces of music-related news I saw last year was that Graham Lambkin and Taku Unami were working together on an Erstwhile release. My excitement diminished a bit when I learned they'd be editing their discs independent of one another, but at least the sounds had been recorded together. So, when I put on the first disc I was pretty taken aback and thought, "Wow, Graham actually did take his style down a few notches to complement Taku." It turns out I was listening to the latter's piece after all and that the credits on the album are reversed. Yes, as one might expect, the onkyo artist's side is quieter and sparser, and the sound collagist's is more densely layered and "eventful," although I'm not used to hearing quite so much silence from Graham. According to some notes he scribbled on a napkin, neither he nor Taku came into this project with many materials and he described the album as being recorded "on the edge of nothing." That said, I do think The Whistler is an enjoyable listen and that the two artists ended up complementing each other well. The album might seem "empty" compared to, say, Salmon Run and Community, so I guess this is more for people who hear untapped mystery and sonic potential in a quiet day at the park.


5. Tomutonttu - Kevätjuhla [A L T E R]

5. Tomutonttu - Kevätjuhla [A L T E R]

The latest release from Kemialliset Ystävät ringleader Jan Anderzén is apparently the soundtrack to one of his recent sculptural installations. But it functions perfectly well as a standalone aural experience, refining Jan's unique blend of psychedelia, instrumental hip hop, free folk, and exotic electronica. And as a continuation of last year's Trarat, which was commissioned by a classical music festival, Jan in his own way seems to be thinking more like a composer. That's the sense I get from the closing "Kuteen valoon" suite, anyway.


6. Arca - Arca [XL]

6. Arca - Arca [XL]

Not sure why Anthony hated on this one. I haven't been a huge fan of Arca's previous work either, but the addition of his voice really helped his aesthetic click with me for the length of an entire album this time. Right from "Piel," I was taken back to my first time hearing James Ferraro's NYC, Hell 3:00 AM; Arca is right up there in terms of captivatingly vulnerable vocal performances. Granted, he's technically a much better singer than James, with operatic moments like "Sin Rumbo" being my favorites, although he also holds his own on the poppier tracks like "Desafío." It helps that the album has a much tighter tracklist than its predecessor, Mutant, too. I dig Arca's alien production style a lot, but over an hour of just that is a bit much for me.


7. Babyfather - 419 [Self-Released, 2016]

7. Babyfather - 419 [Self-Released, 2016]

This dropped shortly after I posted my 2016 list, but I didn't pay it much mind until the start of the New Year because Dean Blunt is more miss than hit when it comes to mixtapes. 419, however; is easily his most substantial tape since The Narcissist II. The stretch from "FOR SHAKILUS" to "penelope freestyle" is what really keeps me coming back. The sampling is next level, from the triumphant guitar soloing of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" on "SKYWALKER," to Dean at one point singing along with the Marine Girls on "Snakeman freestyle," to Kelis getting the vaporwave treatment on the nostalgic "penelope freestyle." I wish I had as many nice things to say about the more recent Cypher...


8. Xiu Xiu - FORGET [Polyvinyl]

8. Xiu Xiu - FORGET [Polyvinyl]

Xiu Xiu's previous (original) album Angel Guts: Red Classroom found the outfit breaking a string of pop-oriented albums with a set of dark, Suicide-inspired synthpunk vignettes. I love the album and think it's their best work since A Promise, but I wasn't disappointed to hear they'd already be heading back to a poppier sound as soon as I heard FORGET's lead single "Wondering." The song forecasted Xiu Xiu's best pop album yet, and that's what we got. "Wondering," "Jenny GoGo," and the underrated "At Last, At Last" rank among the band's stickiest earworms, and the droning "Faith, Torn Apart" has to be their most powerful closer yet. Never thought I'd say this, but Vaginal Davis' ending monologue really made the album. Gives me chills every time.


9. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

9. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

I get it - this is a bunch of samey piano ballads that give off "Don McLean on r/atheism" vibes. To be honest, I think Josh's targets are a bit safe nowadays too, especially when it comes to religion. But I understand his upbringing was a lot more oppressive than my own, and as in the case of the new Sun Kil Moon albums, I don't mind hearing perspectives I disagree with or think are "out of touch." Also as a Mark Kozelek fan, I have a hard time not being moved by tracks like "Leaving LA," "Smoochie," and "So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain," which find Josh getting more personal and sentimental. Fuck it, I think every track on this album is great. FJM pulls off the cynical piano man thing. Don't @ me.


10. Toby Driver - Madonnawhore [The Flenser]

10. Toby Driver - Madonnawhore [The Flenser]

Madonnawhore is maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot frontman Toby Driver's first solo album since 2005's In the L..L..Library Loft. That wasn't even a "solo" effort per se, relying heavily on other members of Kayo Dot, but I bring it up because it's such an incredible testament to Toby's abilities as a contemporary composer. Library Loft found him crafting four uniformly horrifying and mysterious pieces while adhering to strange compositional and performative limitations/gimmicks. Madonnawhore is essentially the polar opposite, a willful move towards traditional songwriting. He has dabbled in the type of atmospheric balladry on this album before, namely the bookending tracks of Gamma Knife, so if you want to hear a cohesive project done in that style, do not let this one go under your radar.


Honorable Mention

Keith Rowe - The Room Extended [Erstwhile, 2016]

Keith Rowe - The Room Extended [Erstwhile, 2016]

I gave a spot on my 2016 year-end list to The Earth and Sky, a triple-CD set from composer Michael Pisaro and pianist Reinier van Houdt, but was unable until more recently to listen through last year's other monolithic Erstwhile release. That would be The Room Extended, a late-career masterpiece from experimental guitarist Keith Rowe. Keith is one of my greatest inspirations as a musician; he was pushing the electric guitar into unfathomable sonic frontiers before just about anyone. In fact, this album coincided with the 50th anniversary of AMMMusic, a landmark recording for improvised music released by his original group AMM. Those days of freewheeling cacophony have long since passed, so what we get on The Room Extended is a beautiful and funereal amalgamation of the sounds that Keith has worked with for decades. The abstract, staticky drones formed by his prepared guitar and electronics are often backed by passages of Western classical music weeping in the distance, played through a radio. I could imagine a fan of GY!BE being moved by these moments. Unfortunately Keith was diagnosed with Parkinson's around the time of this album's production, hence the album's preoccupation with mortality, but I hope he's got many more years of music in him. This month he released a double album called 13 Thirteen with Michael Pisaro, which I'll also recommend.


And that has been my 2017 mid-year list. Here's hoping the year ends as strongly as it began! As always, thanks for reading; hopefully you got something out of it.

But I also want to say thank you for helping us get to one million subscribers on YouTube. I started working for TND in 2013 when the channel was around 170k subs, so since then I've watched that sixth digit roll over all but one time. Reaching that 1M milestone meant a lot to me too, so thanks. Anyway, see you again in November/December.

FOREVER

STINKPIECE: The Beatles Are for Men!!!

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Today I'm responding to a wonderful thinkpiece Salon published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which claims that the seminal album forever ruined rock music for women. Brace yourselves, this might just be the foulest stinker yet.