Did you ever read those Young Adult books that let you pick the path of the story? They made for a fun, interactive twist on some otherwise cliche Sarah Dessen-esque plots. So in that spirit, I've decided to forgo the usual list format and present my favorite albums of the year (so far) in a "choose your adventure" style.
The records are paired by time of day for optimal listening potential. At each point you'll pick "A" or "B," depending on which experience suits your fancy the most. When you reach the end you will have created a sunrise to sunset soundtrack made just for you.
So late at night that it's early in the morning.
Right now you’re either contemplating pulling through the night sleep free or trying to figure out if you can muster the strength to get out of bed.
A. Majical Cloudz - Impersonator (Matador): Comparable to a strong cup of black coffee, this record wrestles you awake. But it’s not a jolted rousing, Impersonator envelopes you in its sparse, natural elements as it wins you over. These subtly repetitive sounds create a humble yet gorgeous background for Devon Welsh’s rich, even toned vocals. Intensely personal and shockingly beautiful, it’s the perfect companion at midnight or three in the morning.
B. Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish): This record feels like an anomaly, it shouldn’t be real. But yet we have in front of us this modern day classic. The best way I know to describe listening to this record is that it’s like climbing up a mountain during an avalanche amidst heartbreak/loss, only to reach the summit as the sun is rising. Sunbather plunges down into raw black metal only to resurface amongst prettier guitar tones. This record is an adventure, one that will bring you through the darkness to the dawn.
It's sunrise and your hangover has faded to a dull buzz.
As the sun takes its place in the sky you’re finally on your feet. Should you venture out or take up refuge indoors?
A. Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple (Merge Records): Heather McEntire knows what it means to live in a small college town. Miracle Temple is a case study in nostalgia, wide open summers, and the quiet that comes with fall. You’ll find echoes of Springsteen amongst the steel pedal guitar and Dolly Parton-esque vocals. This wonderfully restrained, beautiful record hits right where you want it to, home. So throw on a chunky knit sweater and watch the sunrise from your front porch, you’ve got all the time in the world.
B. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (XL Recordings): Throughout their career Vampire Weekend has gotten the flack that most of us experience as millenials, plus some extra grief for their rich/preppy aesthetic. Modern Vampires of the City is certainly a more mature record, both sonically and lyrically. Band members Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij ( appear to be totally in synch, pulling from their inspirations to create something deeper than a simple throwback record. They’ve found their sweet spot, and how sweet it is. You’ll want to wander the shore of Williamsburg solo on your way to brunch while listening to this one.
Want a one stop shop for all the references in the record? Check out this glossary via Vulture!
Mid-morning is basically brunch o’clock.
Do you take a drive through the countryside on your own? Or would you rather join your friends for a lakeside hang?
A. Peals - Walking Field (Thrill Jockey): Take a look at the album artwork, really look closely. That is the best impression I can give you of what Walking Field sounds like. It’s starlit water making it’s way down stream, nothing impeding it’s gentle yet determined movement. This record is drop dead gorgeous. William Cashion (Future Islands) + Bruce Willen (Double Dagger) hypnotically layer textured guitar, but not without purpose. This album deserves an immersive listen in the midst of a rural drive.
B. Sonny & The Sunsets - Antenna to the World (Polyvinyl): These chameleons sure know how to charm. With their latest record, Sonny & The Sunsets have taken us to outer space on a magic carpet of glittering guitar pop. But the genre jumpers don’t stop there. Throughout the record you’ll find flecks of garage and psychedelic rock, not to mention some layered synths. It’s one of their most solid releases to date, partially thanks to their top notch story telling. Antenna to the World is the best backdrop for a shore party that has the potential to get a little weird. (Go for it)
The afternoon arrives.
It’s a beautiful summer day and you’ve got a choice to make: go on a day date with a friend (who’s sort of more than a friend) or go on an adventure in the woods?
A. Veronica Falls - Waiting for Something to Happen (Slumberland/Bella Union): Teen angst has been known to yield fairly dark albums this, however, is not one of them. Themes of unrequited love, longing, growing up are sprinkled throughout Waiting for Something to Happen. But Veronica Falls forego the gloomy for sun soaked jangle pop and charming lyrics. It’s a fairly charming combination. No matter what age you are you’ll find something to identify with here. It’s a bright soundtrack for anyone who’s trying to figure out where to go next.
B. The Men - New Moon (Sacred Bones): If you know anything about The Men, then you know New Moon is a departure from their previous punk efforts. But that mentality is still present, they’ve just mixed in a good measure of alt country. The result is surprisingly refreshing. We got a glimpse of this mixture with their track “Candy” off of last year’s Open Your Heart. On this record there’s a healthy spectrum of rollicking numbers and full throttle/wall of sound head bangers. If you’re looking to romp through the woods while throwing back some PBRs, this is the album for you.
Dusk finds you driving through the city.
A simpler decision: keep things casual or ramp them up?
A. Alex Bleeker & The Freaks - How Far Away (Woodsist): At long last it’s been done. Someone has finally been able to combine hippie and hipster to an irresistible effect. The laid back/sun drenched lethargy that pervades How Far Away recalls the Grateful Dead and Pavement simultaneously. You’ll catch glimpses of the glimmer present in Real Estate’s record too (Bleeker’s their bassist). This breezy record is a charmer, one you’ll invite over for a few drinks on the porch while you watch the sunset.
B. Rhye - Woman (Republic/Loma Vista/Innovative Leisure): The mystery surrounding the members of Rhye has been well documented. While intrigue is a useful additive in popularity, talent accounts for the true success of Woman. It oozes with charisma, but not in a cavalier way. Woman is gentle, seductive, and soothing. While at times it comes across cheesy, the record is incredibly intimate. I for one, could not withstand its charms. It’s a record you’ll fall in love with, hell it might even bring some magic to your love life.
As night falls you have one final choice to make.
You’re not staying in tonight, that’s just not an option. So the question is: how big are you gonna go?
A. BAMBARA – Dreamviolence (Arrowhawk Records): BAMBARA isn’t messing around. Their highly anticipated follow up to their 2010 EP, Dog Ear Days, is laced with pummeling, grimy noise and a heaviness that’s fairly inescapable. Amidst the dark come lush, ambient waves that dip into manic punk breakdowns all the while maintaining a chaotic, dense beauty. DREAMVIOLENCE, recorded in the band’s Bushwick basement apartment, is a seething torrent of sound that’ll rip through your headphones (and mostly like into your brain). As Pitchfork said, “this outta fuck up your sunny day.” Give in to the gale force that is BAMBARA, it’s a welcome kick in the teeth.
B. Disclosure – Settle (PMR): Few acts have been able to balance critical acclaim and commercial success in their late careers, let alone with their debut record. Disclosure have charmed the charts in the UK as well as heavyweights at Pitchfork, and with good reason. For starters, Settle is absurdly and irresistibly catchy. (Sidebar: I have listened to “Latch” on repeat for entire car trips) It also features high caliber guest spots: London Grammar, Jessie Ware, Aluna George, just to name a few. Beginning to end the record is stacked and the sequencing is damn near perfect. To hear someone well versed in the language of dance music break this down check out Larry Fitzmaurice’s review. In the meantime, bribe the DJ to play this record in its entirety. You won’t regret it.
Thanks for playing along! Hopefully you had fun reading (I certainly enjoyed putting it together). Here’s to enjoying the second half of the year’s promising releases!