February's Best Albums
There were plenty of good albums released in February, but I'm not sure if there were any great ones. Well, the first one on this list is a great one, but it first saw the light of day 30 years ago. So here's my list of five for February. What did I miss?
Nick Lowe - "Jesus of Cool" (reissue) Thirty years after its release Lowe's debut solo album is still a document of pop songwriting perfection. (The American version of this album was called, quite appropriately, "Pure Pop For Now People.") It's not even all that a homogenous affair, either. "Music for Money" is a big riff rocker; it's immediately followed by the light, airy disco-pop of "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass"; then comes the multi-layered vocal harmonies of "Little Hitler." Later on there's Thin Lizzy soundalike "So It Goes" and reggae-flavored "No Reason." There's not a dud to be found, including the handful of extras tacked on at the end. A must for any collection.
Beach House - "Devotion" There are some albums that are just made to be listened to with your eyes closed. The second album from this Baltimore duo certainly qualifies, so this is one you'll want to save for the home stereo instead of at the office or in the car. Beach House succeeds because it makes music that's appealingly sleepy but never boring. The songs are organ-heavy dirges highlighted by Victoria Legrand's dreamy vocals, the same formula that made those early Nico records so mysterious and intriguing.
Die! Die! Die! - "Promises Promises" I'm always a sucker for some Kiwi rock and this young New Zealand trio doesn't disappoint, even if their sound doesn't much resemble the jangly pop of bands like the Clean, the Bats or the Verlaines. The band creates a harsh sonic landscape that's reminiscent of another New Zealand band, noise rockers the Dead C, and songs like "Britomart Sunset" and "Throw a Fit" have the same low-end rumble that made Welsh rockers Mclusky such a formidable act in the early 2000s. And while I'm throwing out random reference points, here's one more - late, great, D.C. agit-punks the Monorchid.
The Mountain Goats - "Heretic Pride" Like Ted Leo, you can always count on John Darnielle to deliver a heartfelt collection of songs that will leave the listener with plenty of words to memorize. Personally, I miss the lo-fi, recorded-through-a-boombox hiss of his earliest work, when he would sing like a man possessed while bashing away just as ferociously on his acoustic guitar. But his more refined performances and nuanced songwriting on recent records fits his new sound well, and there's still something very intimate about his indie-folk story songs.
Hot Chip - "Made in the Dark" The soulful electro-rockers certainly sound like they are having fun on this album - sometimes a little too much fun. Songs like the special effects-heavy "Bendable Positions" and slow jam "Wrestlers" were almost certainly a blast to make, but they aren't a pleasure to listen to. Hot Chip is at its best when it delivers irresistible, gently pulsing elecro-pop gems like "Ready for the Floor" and "Hold On," but the band shows its dexterity with ballad "We Are Looking for a Lot of Love" and the more aggressive beats used on "Don't Dance" and "One Pure Thought."
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