Empire of the Sun – Ice on the Dune
EOTS has created the best pop album I’ve ever heard. I was already a fan of Walking on a Dream. I didn’t think they could top that wonderful album. But they nearly buried it with Ice on the Dune. In true Australian pop fashion they rip off all their hooks from some pretty discernable places. But they do it so well it’s not bothersome at all (as opposed to Robin Thicke’s wholesale rip off of Marvin Gaye, or that band The Royal Concept who, dare I say, probably sound better doing Phoenix than actual Phoenix). But back on topic, Ice is the kind of album you crave. Not that common, unfortunately, in 2013. That’s what this list is about. Albums you can’t stay away from. Looking forward to getting this one on vinyl so I really have it. The hooks are just impeccable. Matched with pristine production. Not a critique, but I sometimes feel like a 4 on the floor beat is too easy (guilty as charged of course). But with Ice, I just don’t care. I think every song has the disco beat, and it works so that the dance groove is maintained and the songs shine through.
Young Galaxy – Ultramarine
I first came across Young Galaxy when I was playing bass in the Kent Odessa band. I loved what I heard. They released a new album this year and it’s more of that stuff I love. I really dig when bands combine an experimental groove with pop hooks. It’s the magic formula for me. Just keep doing what you do Young Galaxy.
Tesla Boy – The Universe Made of Darkness
Another band I came across live who was headlining for a friend’s band I came to see at Glasslands earlier this year. We stuck around and were floored by the chops and finesse of this group’s show. On paper I’m not sure I would have ever given this a chance. They’re a dance pop band from Moscow. I would have probably written it off as some kind of glossy Eurodance that doesn’t connect with me (on paper). But it’s just good. The vocals recall George Michael (and no one can resist that) and the music is deliberately an approximation of celebratory, early 90s dance music (kinda love that too in retrospect). I think it’s a political statement because the band is Russian. I’m still scratching my head how just three dudes were able to flawlessly pull off that kind of music live. WORK. And the album is great too. Ok…three dance pop records on this list. I should change pace.
David Bowie – The Next Day
I respect David Bowie as much as the next art rocker. Admittedly I don’t find myself going back to his records that much. Maybe it’s that syndrome where you’ve played it so much at one phase in life every sound is already etched in the brain (Led Zeppelin, Doors, Hendrix…). I can’t say I’ve loved much of what the man has put out in the last 30 years. But this new record. It really sticks. But it’s weird. Because on first listen it doesn’t quite stick. But the seed stays in the brain. And then you’re thinking about those songs and you’re thinking you need to hear it again. You crave it. And it’s that kind of album. It really grows on you. I’ll gladly keep going back to this album.
Jamie Lidell – Jamie Lidell
I only discovered Jamie Lidell this year and I can’t believe it. Lidell is a funk genius. The things he can do with just his voice and a sampler put him in the freak-of-nature category. After loving his newest LP I went back and checked out his back catalogue. Really great, but the new LP is his best so I can see why it’s self-titled. Artistically I can’t help but admire that Lidell just goes all the way with his sound. He’s tapping into sounds from what sounds like My Prerogative era Bobby Brown. That doesn’t sound like it would work on paper, but Lidell follows his muse without compromise. The funk he creates becomes entirely his own because its so eccentric.
CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
I’m going to guess you’ve heard of this album and you already know it’s great. Sometimes two seemingly disparate things come together and it becomes special. The crisp girlishness of Lauren Mayberry’s voice with the hard edged, perfectly formed synth hooks of those two older dudes makes for something irresistible. I’m a songwriting first kind of guy, so I’m kind of floored how they pulled off an album like this—where the songs/melodies are fully formed and the synth work is on par with New Order. Some people are just gifted.
Natureboy – The Sweep
I’ll take a major detour from indie dance pop and present to you Natureboy’s The Sweep. This is a very dark work of deep emotion. It sticks because it feels so real. This is not a pop record. It’s more like a fully realized work of art. You need to sit with it and experience it. I’ve seen Sara Kermanshahi play a few times and her transfixing performance is just as compelling as her recordings. There’s so much mystery to her and this record it will make you want to learn more about where this strange, beautiful melancholic sound is coming from.
Ok, that’s IT. I wanted a list of 10 but I can’t find 10 albums that I’ll be going back to (yet). That doesn’t mean they’re not out there though—still listening. I’ve got some honorable mentions, artists who made albums I haven’t spent enough time with to make the call (and some I considered putting on the list—so some honorable mentions): Lorde (I don’t want to like it, but it’s not possible to resist), Blood Orange, POLIÇA, The Naked and Famous, Cut Copy, Delorean, NIN, Deltron 3030, Oddissee, When Saints Go Machine, Mayer Hawthorne, The Irrepressibles, The 1975.