If you haven’t heard Deerhunter’s brand of indie noise rock before, there’s no better time to start than right now. Fading Frontier is the most accessible album they’ve ever made, starkly standing out amongst a discography of mildly esoteric, sonically untamed, and wholly abrasive projects. Particularly 2013’s theatrically laced Monomania.
Their raucous run of manipulating multifaceted rock music into claustrophobic and dizzying, psychosocial freakouts seems to have braked to a sudden, screeching halt. Sadly perhaps this is credited to frontman Bradford Cox’s injurious involvement in a car crash last year, but this record marks a very real turning point both sonically in their music and in Deerhunter’s journey.
Choosing to not entirely forget the sound that has defined them thus far, Fading Frontier displays a different manifestation of the familiar in more relaxed rhythms and grooves. Deerhunter’s adventurous tendencies seem tamer and more realized in these tracks rounding out the central signature of this record to be only one: focus.
This is evident in the tightly controlled songwriting and concise instrumentation. Fading Frontier‘s preferred sturdier melodicism makes for a refreshing listen and a welcome breather for the band and their fans. Deerhunter’s new sense of straightforward, unpretentious ease creates an experience that is just as engaging as their past endeavours, perhaps even more so.
Jayceon Taylor, more commonly known as Game, is a West Coast rapper who had his first breakout just over a decade ago with his debut and most successful album The Documentary to which, as you can already tell, he has just put out a sequel double album split in two. An enormous project by any measure that mostly pays off in ways one would expect from an early Dr. Dre protégé.
Like the Doc, Game is also Compton raised, which pretty much means his music is a natural progression on the hard hitting, gun-under-dungarees style of West Coast hip-hop that he grew up listening to in the late ’80s and golden ’90s.
However, since his debut Game has been putting out largely underwhelming material. It wasn’t that he was making bad music, but he didn’t seem particularly inspired either. And although sequels are traditionally ill-advised, when The Documentary 2 and The Documentary 2.5 were announced I expected the original’s bar by bars standard to light something in Game that hasn’t been seen since.
He didn’t disappoint. There is a pointed hunger in Game on these records that lends to a more visceral turn of hip-hop than we are used to from him, which is saying something. Particularly The Documentary 2.5 is a straight up monster. On production these records have the usual dream team with the likes of Jahlil Beats, Boi-1da, and DJ freaking Premier reiterating the lush, cinematic pop-gangsta sensibilities that made up the better half of this year’s West Coast releases. These albums also boast an impressive feature list, consisting of the big names and even some lesser known West Coast rappers Game apparently wants to shine on.
Working features, swerving beat switches, and a bit of that Blood nostalgia makes The Documentary 2 and 2.5 another strong outing from the West Coast hip-hop landscape in a year already dominated by it. And as for Jayceon? It’s mfing gametime.
Just wanted to get this out of the way in case you were wondering (you weren’t), my album of the year for 2013 was Julia Holter’s last full length Loud City Song. Quite frankly one of the best written and well produced pop albums released in recent years.
An LA singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Julia Holter’s sound has thus far been a glorious ménage à trois of complex ambients, ethereal instrumentations, and subtle but sharp lyricism, culminating to become the magical and serene Loud City Song. Which begged the question of every listener of that album: what now?
Well, Have You In My Wilderness is what’s now. Almost literally so. Holter’s burgeoning interest into the immediacy of pop music could not be keener as on this record. The songs teasing up to this album’s release were some of the most upfront, brightest, and boldest Julia Holter has put out in a long while.
Upon my first listen, Have You In My Wilderness turned out to be aptly titled. Although I’ve enjoyed her music tremendously in the past, this is the first time we get a true sense of who Julia Holter is. Up until now her personality as a songwriter had been shrouded in the ambience of her surroundings and riddles of poetic intrigue. Which makes Have You such a special listen, being the most personality driven work possibly of her entire career.
The record turns in steadily paced piano pop, chamber jazz flourishes, eclectic ’60s avant-garde all the while remaining mellifluous in its diffusion. Lyrically captivating, emotional and yet keeping with her usual poetic obscurity, she says enough to communicate a mood leaving you in her wilderness (hey!) to contemplate the narrative and discern its translucently unclear meaning. And in the process, Julia Holter appears before us more clearly than ever.
There’s a real joy in being able to talk about both Joanna Newsom and Julia Holter in the same breath. Because like most of Holter’s work, classically trained harpist and true indie darling Joanna Newsom’s styles of classical and baroque era folk music coupled with her unusual yet alluring voice makes for a more esoteric experience than one is used to.
Even after her last watermark 2-hour behemoth of an LP, 2010’s Have One On Me, she remains content producing independent music that is by any measure an acquired taste, but in no way inaccessible. This continues into her long-awaited new project Divers. Musically not as grand as Have One On Me, with its more direct delivery of her world Divers is no less special.
This album also sees the return of the mysticism from Joanna’s early work melded with the newer, more modern musical flourishes of her last record. Binding themes of constants in the passage of time, time itself, death, and love in the face of all those things, Joanna wormholes through multiple territories of wars past and future; diving (uhuh) to the depths of ocean floors; and a perpetually awake New York City. As a result she’s crafted what is possibly the first real concept album of her decade spanning career.
The usual piano and harps manifest in lush orchestrations, joined by an effective addition to Joanna’s repertoire in subtle synths. In fact, while she never lets go of her trusty harp, Divers is surprisingly more piano driven than her previous efforts. Joanna Newsom’s songwriting on this record stands as some of her best work in that regard as well. Still very opaque and esoteric, eschewing viscera for a very subtle approach than one is used to hearing from the thematic material on this album.
Needless to say at this point no one is going to be usurping Joanna Newsom’s throne as the oddball queen of experimental and eclectic folk music any time soon.