What Am I Listening To? – January 2014

2013_ArcticMonkeys_AMArctic Monkeys – AM
Started the new year off with a pair of suggestions on the topic of more “mainstream” rock albums that I had missed out on. Arctic Monkeys have never really been my style because they seem to put cocky swagger above all else and not think too deeply about their lyrics… but I will admit there are a few fun songs here.

2013_QueensoftheStoneAge_LikeClockworkQueens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
A little more dark and cynical than I’m usually willing to go, but I like the heavy “stoner rock” sound that these guys have honed over the years, and the group’s willingness to experiment. “Smooth Sailing” is incredibly addictive in much the same way as Elbow’s “Grounds for Divorce”, and normally, there’d be no reason whatsoever to compare those two bands.

2013_DerekWebb_IWasWrongImSorryILoveYouDerek Webb – I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You
Derek Webb has an annoying habit of exciting me with a few songs that seem to hint at a new direction, and then playing it too safe for most of the rest of an album. Stockholm Syndrome remains the only album of his where this hasn’t been true. But I appreciate this one as a sort of career retrospective, and it’s a stronger album overall than Ctrl. The title track and “Eye of the Hurricane” are easily a few of his best songs.

2013_Chvrches_TheBonesofWhatYouBelieveChvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
With a haunting undercurrent beneath their deceptively chirpy exterior, the debut from this Scottish synthpop trio makes a solid case for the validity of laptop-driven music.

2013_Haim_DaysAreGoneHaim – Days Are Gone
Sort of the DIY version of the ideal early 90s R&B/pop album. The Haim sisters’ songs may be a bit on the fluffy side, but their attitude is infectious and their work ethic is admirable.

2013_Owel_OwelOwel – Owel
It’s probably unintentional, but in the course of creating an album full of epic, meandering progressive rock tunes with a few peppy pop tunes in between to break the tension, Owel seems to bring back the specters of several indie rock bands I used to love who have since vanished into the woodwork. They could use a band name that doesn’t result in their immediately being confused with a dorky synthpop outfit, but that would be a stupid thing for me to hold against them.

2014_RosanneCash_TheRiverandtheThreadRosanne Cash – The River and the Thread
I respect Cash as a songwriter, and she paints some lovely word pictures on this mostly mellow ode to the American South, but musically, she played it a bit too safe here. Then again, I only got on board relatively recently with 2006’s Black Cadillac, which was definitely geared toward more of a pop/rock audience, so what do I know?

2014_Switchfoot_FadingWestSwitchfoot – Fading West
Disappointingly predictable, for an album that’s supposed to be the soundtrack to its accompanying film and that evidently changed up Switchfoot’s usual recording process. They’re playing cultural catch-up here, and at times it’s enjoyable, but more often than not it’s generic, if not downright embarrassing.

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