10.) Shone - Heat Thing
This album got a lot of crap because it was (a little) overhyped with a massive viral marketing campaign, full of mysterious videos with hidden clues and codes, backwards music, spooky letters and packages dropped off at people's houses, citywide scavenger hunts, and more, all at the (slight) deception of the rabid Brand New fan base. What we got was a spinoff record by a side project called Shone, with Brand New's drummer Brian Lane, guitarist Vinnie Accardi, his brother Andrew (of Robbers fame), and some other friends. All that aside, I enjoy this quirky, alternative, jazzy, enigmatic, sometimes aimless and flawed rock album for whatever it is. With spacy synth and keys, double drum sets, and some heavy fuzzed guitars, Heat Thing charges along in pseudo-conceptual style, matching the dark tone of the viral campaign with grisly lyrics about murder, vengeance, and a man with a "brain not screwed on tight enough" who wants to rid the world of all of its ills....by any means necessary. If you're looking to be in a chipper mood, this isn't the record for you. But, for a unique half hour listen, Shone brings the energy by a talented cast of musicians.
9.) Cloud Cult - Love
I love Cloud Cult. I'm not sure they could ever disappoint me with a record. Nearly their entire discography as a band is well-listened on my computer/in my car/on my home stereo. While this new offering isn't Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus part two (swoon), Love is hopeful, shedding any small traces of melancholy from their early history. They take the questions and searching from 2010's Light Chasers, and attempt to answer them with as much joy as possible. Craig Minowa and company stretch their eclectic folk indie rock prowess to bring encouragement to a broken heart and broken world. I don't think their ambitions are that high necessarily, but I don't doubt that the members want to illuminate in their listeners a sense of wonder of this world, a sense of place, courage, and gumption to continue on fighting the good fight despite any setbacks and get in their way. If you can find a more determined and optimistic band, I would love to hear it. In the meantime, listen to Love and fall in love.
8.) Streetlight Manifesto - The Hands That Thieve
Hot on the heels of their previous album.... haha, I couldn't finish that sentence, even as a joke. Before Hands..., Streetlight Manifesto hadn't released an album of original music since 2007. I was a sophomore in college! I get that they have a lot of members, perfectionist tendencies, and an ongoing quarrel with their record label, but seriously, six years! But, it was well worth the wait. The ska punk pirate gypsies from New Jersey put together another stellar set of songs. While they didn't reinvent the SM wheel, they didn't have to because they are the only band who does what they do. Tomas Kalnoky is the leader, weaving fast-paced tales of resistance, strength, and victory. However, the true might of SM lies in their drums and horns. The brass here is as sharp, focused, and aggressive as ever, while the drums have quite the chore keeping up with the frequent time signature and dynamic changes. Each gets their turn to shine, with plenty of the signature breakdowns and solos. I hope it isn't another 6 years before we see more music from Streetlight.
7.) Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
I love most everything about Janelle Monae. I love the myriad of influences that pepper each of her releases, from funk, rock, rap, r&b, pop, gospel, and jazz. I love the science fiction concept series following Monae's alter ego Cindi Mayweather's robotic adventures in a futuristic cityscape. I love her gender shattering fashion choices. I love her voice. I love her dance moves. She just exudes originality and poise, while not trading in her artistic integrity for what's popular. The Electric Lady is bold and grand, with suite pieces of layered strings, ballads that showcase Monae's remarkable range, pop songs that keep my head bobbing, and guest artists from the likes of Erykah Badu and Prince (!). Each song is different from the next stylistically, while somehow being cohesive in the world in which it is set. Janelle Monae deserves much more credit than she gets, but I wouldn't want her to change to sell more records. Do what you do, Mayweather.
6.) Typhoon - White Lighter
Portland, Oregon's Typhoon has been around the scene for a minute, forming in 2005, but they really haven't much burst through the scene until this year with their full length White Lighter. Many of their songs dwell on mortality, dreams and hopes from boyhood, with the inspiration often stemming from the band's leader Kyle Morton's childhood struggle with Lyme Disease. However, Typhoon's music is anything but defeatist or mopey. With soaring choruses, gang vocals, layered harmonies in choir, the band builds anthems with indie rock mentality and orchestral arrangement. While many songs begin with the typical light folky guitar and drums, they often evolve into bold territories with horns, strings, and fun time signatures brimming with floor drums, handclaps, and more. The band boasts 11 members, so they are many hands of many talents, almost a collective making playful and catchy triumphs. With a cheerful vibe of long summer days throughout White Lighter, Typhoon sun is certainly nowhere near setting.