Young Turks/ Remote Control
The debut album from SBTRKT is first and foremost compellingly beautiful and moving. Genre classification comes as an afterthought.
There’s a strong portrayal of the human condition that flows through, with all but one of the tracks featuring vocals.
The Future is Medieval
Kaiser Chiefs once claimed that they never missed a beat. On 2008’s Off With their Heads, however, the Leeds lads lost the momentum created by rabble-rousing rippers Oh My God, I Predict a Riot and Na Na Na Na Naa on their Mercury Prize-nominated 2005 debut Employment. They now predict that the future is medieval, pre-empting our return to the Middle Ages by distributing their fourth album via their website, allowing peasants — I mean, fans — to harvest a 10-song “album” from a crop of 20.
Here in Australia the Antlers’ last album, 2009’s Hospice, was one of last decade’s most criminally underrated gems.
A concept album set in a children’s hospital, it was a morbid masterpiece that weighed the human spirit’s capacity for caring against a futile fight for life that, ultimately, ends badly.
Past Life Martyred Saints
Self-destruction is a common theme for Erika M. Anderson, aka EMA. Following the implosion of her cult band Gowns, Anderson has put destructive impulses to good use on a solo debut that opens with two of the year’s most compelling tracks.
Seven-minute marathon Grey Ship is a gradual calling to the abyss set to a muted post-grunge strum that’s oh-so-90s, before erupting in an unforgettable climax.
SEEKER LOVER KEEPER
Seeker Lover Keeper
When this much talent gets together, can the whole be greater than the sum of the parts?
Last year gal pals Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby decided to take a break from their busy solo careers and record an album together, decamping to New York City to lay down a 12-song suite of demos (four each) they’d traded via email and polished in Throsby’s backyard.
If it was possible to get Simon and Garfunkel, Ziggy Stardust and Grizzly Bear jamming some tunes together in a forest — let’s make that a forest in gypsy lands like Romania or Hungary — it might explain a little of the interesting sound of WIM.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
Codes and Keys
After the largely disappointing Narrow Stairs in 2008, Death Cab for Cutie return in fine form on Codes and Keys, their best effort since Plans or perhaps even Transatlanticism.
Unified by progressive, often electronic-oriented production and consistent subject matter usually involving disaster of some description (natural or otherwise), it’s also, individually, Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla’s best work in years.
The Golden Record
Little Scream, aka Iowa-born Montreal resident Laurel Sprengelmeyer, may not be known to many, but those who do, hold her in high esteem. They include Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld, The National’s Aaron Dessner, and Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Beccy Foon, who all contribute to this album.
I Am Very Far
Success has transformed Austin rockers Okkervil River from a ramshackle alt-country act into a tight and uncompromising unit. Mastermind Will Sheff is still the focal point, writing and producing I Am Very Far, but their hectic live schedule has undoubtedly gelled the band. This has had an impact in several ways.
Dot Dash/Remote Control
As most would know by now, Perth’s own Snowman split at the start of the year, making their third album, Absence, the quartet’s swansong; yet this is much more the sonic equivalent of a long, farewell embrace than storming out and slamming the door amid a torrent of spite as far as break-ups go.
Fleet Foxes’ second album finds the band in an expansive mood. There’s no escaping the feeling that, while sticking to their signature group harmonies, acoustic guitars and fashionable folk, they’re also looking outward towards unorthodox song structures, variations in mood and different instruments to keep things interesting.