Lucius – Wildewoman
Strong debut effort from this dual female-fronted indie band, who gets billed as something of a cross between Haim and Arcade Fire. Sure, it’s a good blend of smooth folk/rock with gorgeous vocal harmonies and a bit of a “girl power” vibe, and even the guys in the band help out on background vocals so the sound is rich and urgent. But I’m not really getting the Arcade Fire connection. Not that it matters – they may have come up with a more consistent and delightful record than either of those bands. (Purposefully provocative cover art notwithstanding.)
Kimbra – The Golden Echo
One of my most anticipated records of the year, in a genre I wasn’t even really sure I could get into before first hearing her debut album Vows in early 2013. I was late to that delicious throwback R&B party, so I’m glad to be on time to this one. It’s her first chance to follow up on her stateside success with “that Gotye song” with some of her own material, and the US re-release of Vows might have briefly tricked me into thinking she was aiming for radio-friendliness at the expense of intimacy due to the songs that had been replaced with completely different ones. But this, contrary to my expectations of this genre, is a highly experimental record that doesn’t go down easy. it’s smooth and soulful in expected and unexpected ways, vacillating wildly from instant favorites (the disco anthem “Miracle” and the quirky mutant sound collage “(0s Music” are early frontrunners) to bizarre tunes that seem to delight in their endlessly reflecting layers of samples and oddball chord progressions. She might be overdoing it at times here – this is an exhausting record to get through. But I’m thrilled that she chose to take the road less traveled rather than capitulate to the needs of American radio and/or club playlists.
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Having tons of fun when I don’t understand what the hell’s going on. That’s pretty much my reaction to every New Pornos record, though this time they’ve upped the “fun” quotient in a way that I haven’t heard from them since Twin Cinema Glitzy synthpop accents light up their already vibrant brand of offbeat indie pop. While I’m a bit bummed that Kathryn Calder (the least visible of the band’s four lead vocalists, but in my personal opinion the band’s secret weapon) only gets to sing lead on a half-song this time, I still enjoy the camaraderie apparent in how all four vocalists seem to come in at unexpected moments on one another’s songs. There could be a lot of competing egos in this band, but somehow A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar (the primary songwriters, whose styles are equally bizarre yet drastically different) manage to pull those disparate ideas together into a unified whole. Everyone involved sounds like they were having a total blast here.
Jason Mraz – YES!
I already know that my review title for this one – should I ever get around to devoting an entire blog page to this dull monstrosity – is going to go for the obvious joke. NO! Because that’s how I feel, track after track, as Mraz continues to squander the clever charisma that he once won me over with, trading it in for the most generic freshman year philosophy lessons he can think up, and keeping the musical gears downshifted to somewhere in between “Hippy-Dippy Cruise Ship” and “Jack Johnson”. The unbridled optimism of it gets tedious without any real imagination behind most of the lyrics, and I can’t help but feel that he’s pandering through and through, even when he does take an interesting left turn such as his cover of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. Taking on a song popularized by an R&B group with genuine vocal prowess makes it obvious that he’s way out of his wheelhouse on this one, but at least it shows some personality. Album closer “Shine” seems to continue the trend started by “The World as I See It” on his last album, in that it’s the only track I have any interest in listening to ever again.