Our best indie rock releases, with accessible singles from each, for January include must-have, ground-breaking and notable EP and LP releases by Cloud Nothings; The xx; Half Japanese; Japandroids; The Flaming Lips; Ty Segall; Brian Eno; Bonobo; Foxygen; William Basinski; The Molochs, and The Proper Ornaments, among others.
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
One of the most anticipated new albums of 2017, Ohio indie rock band Cloud Nothings deliver again in a big way with the drop of the band’s fourth full-length release, Life Without Sound.
The album is a blast from start to finish, full of upbeat and blazing songs all of the way through; we love the cheery, excited, fuzzy, lo-fi guitar riffs and impossibly seductive hooks, accompanied on sing-a-long choruses, backed by booming drums and crashing cymbals, and more bright guitars on songs like the riveting opener, “Up To The Surface,” the big and excited melodies “Modern Act,” and the irresistible power pop radio hit “Sight Unseen.”
The seven and eight-minute noise jams of yesteryear’s Cloud Nothings has been replaced by more, shall we say, radio-friendly (alternative radio) songs that are more neatly packaged and disciplined. The results are remarkable.
Other standout tracks (we love almost all of them!) include the Cheap Trick-like, potential summer anthem, “Things Are Right With You,” the punk/power pop drive of “Internal World” and the Nirvana-like urgency and fuzz guitars on “Darkened Rings,” and the slow burn to full throttle of “No Known Drink or Drug,” among many others.
Cloud Nothings’ new album shows a band that is earnest and maturing; they are more confident and focused on what they want and where they want to go than ever before on Life Without Sound – it’s triumphant, clever, surprising, unassuming and a fucking blast from start to finish; long live rock and roll!
Album Stream: Listen to Life Without Sound via Bancamp
The xx – I See You
Of course one of the most anticipated releases of this past January, The xx‘s first album in four years, the stunning I See You, is also one of the best of the year, and it doesn’t matter that it’s “so early to say that.” Trust us – by the end of the year, it’ll be one of the top albums of the year, regardless if a waterfall of epic new albums are dropped in the next ten months.
This time around the band emerges with a more nuanced and upbeat sounds on songs like the unforgettable “Say Something Loving” and the kaleidoscope sonics of the genre-bending, “On Hold,” while stripped down tracks like “Performance” and “Brave For You” sound like classic xx songs of yesteryear.
The perfection with which they craft amazing songs without minimal instrumentation and the exceptional, wonderfully paired vocals of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft, on top of poignant and intimate lyrics.
I See You may just be The xx’s best album since the London trio’s groundbreaking self-titled debut. It’s more indisputable evidence to reaffirm the band’s top tier status worldwide in the indie music world. The wait for I See You was well worth it. On repeat.
MP3: “Say Something Loving” – The xx from I See You
Album Stream: Listen to I See You on Spotify
The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
The Flaming Lips’ new album, Oczy Mlody, is more nuanced, progressive and experimental than perhaps any of the previous 14 Lips’ releases. It’s also refreshingly eclectic with strata of hip-hop, orchestral pop and prog rock interlaced throughout the album.
Flourishes of strings, harp, and woodwinds abound on “Galaxy I Sink” and dashed hopes of a world brimming with love on “Almost Home.” And then there is the unsettling and apocalyptic, “There Should Be Unicorns,” with the humming of ominous machines, while the beguiling melodies of “The Castle” and “Sunrise,” add some much needed levity. The title of the album is not gibberish – it is in fact Polish for “the eyes of the young,” although the album itself is anything but innocent and new.
Album Stream: Listen to Oczy Mlody on Spotify
Half Japanese – Hear The Lions Roar
While they may not have the name-recognition of The Sex Pistols or the commercial success of The Clash, the musical bro duo of Jad (the main player recently) and David Fair – better known as Half Japanese – are punk legends. But they are not just punk, or garage rock, royalty, they pioneered the lo-fi and and DIY movements like almost none before them, and have influenced everyone from Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth to Neutral Milk Hotel and Daniel Johnston.
Now with their 16th album, Hear The Lions Roar, dropped last month, the brothers – with predominance, per usual, by Jad – (and the latest bunch of contributors) have once again reaffirmed their high status, and solidified reign of their domain with tracks like “Attack of the Giant Leeches” and “It’s Our Time.”
Album Stream: Listen to Hear The Lions Roar on Spotify
Foxygen – Hang
The alternative rock/pop band Foxygen, headed by musical duo San France and Jonathan Rado, dropped their fifth studio full-length release, Hang, in January to wide praise from the music press and fans.
A full symphony orchestra – reminiscent of the bombastic orchestral style of Queen – was assembled for the recording session conducted by Trey Pollard and with contributions from Matthew E. White, Steve Drozd (The Flaming Lips) and The Lemon Twigs.
The compositions are sparkling, grandiose, even over-the-top, pure pop pastiche entertainment. Standout tracks include the lavish “Avalon;” the show biz-like pomp, Tin Pan Alley and jazz-infused transitions of “America;” the pop-crazed “Mrs. Adams,” and the title track, among others. Hang, which may prove in time to be a pop masterpiece, is Foxygen’s most bombastic, eclectic, decadent and must-have release yet.
Album Stream: Listen to Hang on Spotify
Ty Segall – Ty Segall
One of our favorite San Francisco garage rock bands, Ty Segall, has dropped yet another self-titled album (this time distinguished from the first self-titled album drop in 2008 by simply being subtitled 2017) with this one having been recorded live in the studio with past collaborators like Ben Boye, Mikal Cronin, Emmett Kelly, and Charles Moothart.
Those that love Segall’s garage rock talents, that’s here, but unlike his last album, there is more melody and bliss expressed, but there is still plenty of chaos and grit.
We like how reviewer Zoe Camp summed up Segall’s second self-titled album: “Ty Segall’s resultant din sounds streamlined, a conscious callback to the tightly-controlled chaos found on the Kinks and T. Rex records he devoured as a Laguna Beach youngster, all adenoidal harmonies and glam breakdowns.”
It may also prove, in time, to be one of his best overall projects yet. Standout tracks include “Thank You Mr. K,” “Freedom,” “Warm Hands,” and “Orange Color Queen.” Shine on you crazy diamond.
Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Near to the Wild Heart of Life is the third full-length release from one of our favorite Canadian noise rock duos, Japandroids, with songwriting, recording and production skills of the intrepid Brian King and David Prowse.
The album, produced by Jesse Gander (who produced their previous two albums), is overflowing with loud, wild noise; fittingly earnest and melodic guitar hooks accompanied by towering riffs; passionate, evocative vocals and thunderous, aggressive drumming and apolitical lyrical content – the formula Japandroids’ fans have come to expect.
Fans are already celebrating the duo’s latest release, which may be Japandroids’ best album thanks to songs like “North East South West,” “Arc of Bar,” “I’m Sorry For Not Finding You Sooner,” and the acoustic lo-fi of “In A Body Like A Grave.”
Album Stream: Listen to Near to the Wild Heart of Life via Bandcamp
Brian Eno – Reflection
With a career as long as many veteran rockers of the 60s and 70s, ambient wizard, Brian Eno, perhaps more prolific than ever, returns with Reflection, an album of masterly engineered, simplistic, and yet intricate, ambient rock art; the entire album is, after all, simply one long 54-minute track that was recorded in one uninterrupted live take.
Simply put: Reflection is yet another masterpiece from the Father of Ambient. In his four-plus decades creating an entirely new genre that is forever linked to his namesake, and genius, Eno reigns more than ever in his very own domain, and Reflection is yet another resounding affirmation of just that.
In the CD notes, Eno writes: “It’s the music that I later called ‘Ambient.’ I don’t think I understand what that term stands for anymore – it seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows – but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements.” Sweet dude. Thank you.
Album Stream: Listen to Reflection on Spotify
William Basinski – A Shadow In Time
In a related release to Eno, New York City avant-garde/ambient artist William Basinski released his latest album, A Shadow In Time, in late January, and has received praise from critics and fans.
The album, with only two tracks over 15 minutes long, is a serene, expansive and absorbing collection of compositions that beckon the listener to start at the beginning again to soak up the experience yet again, and again. Would have been nice, though, to have a one or two more tracks; feels a little thin, but still well worth it. Blaze with headphones.
Album Stream: Listen to A Shadow In Time via Bandcamp
The Molochs – America’s Velvet Glory
Combining psych rock guitar sounds, insanely catchy hooks and Kinks-like verve, Los Angeles indie rock band The Molochs‘ debut album, America’s Velvet Glory, is more reminiscent of the post-British Invasion southern California jangle rock than modern day garage rock, on songs like “Ten Thousand,” the Byrds-esque “The One I Love,” the more traditional, “You and Me,” and the tongue-in-cheek, “Charlie’s Lips,” where vocalist Lucas Fitzsimons sings from the POV of a Charlie Manson follower sitting on an old Vox amp with an analog clock and manual typewriter. The Molochs recently completed a January residency at LA’s famous Echo.
Album Stream: Listen to America’s Velvet Glory on Spotify
The Proper Ornaments – Foxhole
Foxhole is the second full length release from the rising London indie rock band, The Proper Ornaments, led by James Hoare and Max Oscarnol. The album was recorded on an 8-track for quality.
It’s an album of reflective, mellow, and exploratory guitar-dominant songs like the irresistible slow burn hooks of the pop-rock track, “Memories.” At times, you’ll swear you hear the whispery voice of Elliott Smith sneaking in between the notes.
Album Stream: Listen to Foxhole via Bandcamp
Bonobo – Migration
Los Angeles-based British electronic artist Bonobo (aka, Simon Green) has done it again with his latest album, Migration, featuring brooding, pensive and expansive tracks like the title track and the haunting, “Break Apart,” featuring singer Rhye.
This is perhaps one of Bonobo’s best album of his 15-year career. It may also be a groundbreaking electronic album of 2017; it’s too early in the year to make that determination.
Album Stream: Listen to Migration on Bandcamp
Quick Picks – Worthy Listens
“Tycho” – Epoch from Tycho
“Contact” – Mick Harvey from Intoxicated Woman
“Dean’s Room” – Allison Crutchfield from Tourist in This Town