Pitchfork tells me that my preferred genre is Contemporary Adult Indie. And Pitchfork should know. So, here are five albums from some of my favourite purveyors of Contemporary Adult Indie that were released this year.
The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
It was tough to follow Lost In The Dream. And A Deeper Understanding was always likely to be received as Lost In The Dream Pt. 2. Was it less thrilling? A little perhaps. Was it slightly mellower? The chances are. Was it a deeper understanding? Undoubtedly.
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Five years between albums is a long time. And Grizzly Bear returned to a very different world. For that reason if no other, Painted Ruins didn’t have quite the same impact as Yellow House or even Veckatimest. But there were some great tunes and some great titles. ‘Systole’, that point in the heartbeat process when the heart is contracting.
Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
From The Creek That Drank The Cradle through to Ghost On Ghost, Sam Beam’s trajectory seemed perfectly linear. From spare and plaintive songs through to rich, multi-tracked arrangements. But with Beast Epic there was a return to somewhat simpler musical times. The result was a real gem.
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
The anticipation is always better than the event. And Crack-Up conformed to that general rule. But this was still a fine album. The figurative Crack-Up was perhaps taken a little too literally on some of the tracks, notably the opener, whose whole was not the sum of its parts. Yet, rejoice nonetheless. For Fleet Foxes are back.
Conor Oberst – Salutations
In more ways than one, Salutations was Ruminations plus. With the welcome addition of Ian and James Felice among others, Conor Oberst transformed 2016’s stripped-down set into a full-on band experience and added some new tunes for good measure. Next year, expect the arrival of the version for orchestra and massed choir.
Day of the Dead
This is the second all-star indie charity album produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Both have benefited the Red Hot Organisation, which is an HIV/AIDS not-for-profit. The first, Dark Was The Night, appeared in 2009 and featured some great tracks, including ‘Brackett, WI’ by Bon Iver and a lovely version of ‘Lua’ by Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch. This time the format is different. Clocking in at approximately three-and-a-half weeks long (only a slight exaggeration), Day of the Dead is a 59-track collection of Grateful Dead covers. The performers comprise a who’s who of contemporary indie royalty. There’s Courtney Barnett, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kurt Vile, Local Natives, and many, many more. With such a stellar cast of characters, it’s difficult to know how to parse the contributions, not least because the running order varies as a function of whether you’re listening to it as a download or CD. There’s some slightly wearying experimental work on the second half of CD 4, but there are also some real revelations, ‘Black Muddy River’ by Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison being one, and, hard though it is to believe, ‘Friend of the Devil’ by Mumford and Sons. What’s really nice, though, is that the vast majority of the tracks sound just like you’d want them to. Whether it’s The War on Drugs, Phosphorescent, Bill Callahan, or The National themselves, they inhabit their respective covers really well. Some people will bemoan a certain lack of noodling, choogling, and general guitar boogying. And others will be dismissive of the fact that there isn’t more experimental excess, though there’s always The Flaming Lips. But by generally paring back the potential for unbridled extravagance, the Dessner brothers and Josh Kaufman have produced a much more cohesive album than might be expected. So, support Day of the Dead. It not only helps a worthy cause, it’s also, whisper it, a really good listen.
Well, here we are. The culmination of yet another musical year. And the great thing? Next year’s only just around the corner. Can’t wait.
Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Released on her own record label, Lucinda Williams returned with a new-found freedom. The songs were strong. The lyrics were stark. The band was tight. And there was a great JJ Cale cover at the end.
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
After a period of musical self-doubt, Jenny Lewis returned with her first release in six years. And it was well worth the wait. Voyager was chock-a-block with foot-tapping melodies and grown-up lyrics.
Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence has been largely overlooked in end-of-year, best-of lists. Perhaps it’s unsurprising. Slowing things right down, LDR managed to alienate most of the people who loved the dance-floor anthems of the last album. What a relief! Let’s hope she’s got the strength to explore the altogether darker nooks and crannies of her current musical space.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
By contrast, TWOD are a seemingly obligatory inclusion in everybody’s end-of-year list. But it’s a no-brainer as to why. This was an old-fashioned sort of album. Full of great build ups, long wind downs, and thrilling middle sections. (Don’t tell anyone, though, but it ran out of steam a little bit towards the end of side 2).
The Antlers – Familiars
Familiars was full of slow but irresistibly funky songs, most of them led by a trumpet or two. It was the sort of party you’d have if you were stuck in a funeral procession. Against your better nature, you’d be really enjoying yourself.
The War On Drugs – Lost in The Dream
Thrilling. That moment before a track plays for the very first time. When you just know it’s going to lift you up and sweep you along. And it starts. And it does. And it’s thrilling. And the new album by The War On Drugs is chock full of those utterly thrilling moments. It’s built on a simple foundation. There’s always a solid backbeat. More often than not, it’s an almost monotonously solid backbeat. Creating the energy, but not getting in the way. Allowing everything else to play off around it. And over the top there’s always a guitar line. Sometimes it barks at you in a Neil Young-like angry way. Sometimes it weaves its way carefully in and out of the song. It’s a dizzyingly simple foundation. And then the beauty begins. Simple piano melodies. Shimmering synths. Plain keyboards. More guitars. Both simple acoustic and effected electric. Saxes. Saxes? Yes, saxes! And, most of all, huge, magnificent, majestic, transcendent chord changes. It all combines to create a resolutely earthy and yet totally trippy sound. A blue-collar fiesta of an album. An album to get lost in. MH370 lost in. Only once does it take a misstep. Three tracks in and ‘Suffering’ brings you right down. It’s not the only slow track on the album, but it’s the only miserable one. Otherwise, this is an eyes-closed, head-wobbling, foot-tapping, mind-cleansing collection of songs. On Lost in The Dream Adam Granduciel has created this year’s first and, who knows, perhaps only masterpiece. An album full of tracks you don’t want to end because they’re so good. Tracks you want so much to end because you know the next one is going to be even better. It’s thrilling.
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