St. Vincent – St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic Records; 2014)
With its choppy melodies, electronic distortion and synthesized instrumentation, St. Vincent‘s eponymous fourth studio album draws a clear influence from Love This Giant, her recent collaboration with ex-Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne. Thematically, the album focuses on power, faith and our increasingly digital lives—themes that perfectly contextualize her most confident and experimental release to date. Sporting a new bold silver hairdo, Annie Clark explained at the album’s press release, “I wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral.” Expect a departure from St. Vincent’s previous sound, with elements of funk and art-rock, all within her distinct pop sensibility. Clark has become one of the most innovative guitarists in indie rock, and though St. Vincent may be a challenging album, it should be praised for its originality, style and progressive sound.
Trial Track: “Digital Witness”
The Fray – Helios (Epic Records; 2014)
Helios is pop/rock band The Fray’s fourth studio album. The first single off the record, “Love Don’t Die,” is an edgy, foot-stomping track that marked a change in the band’s sound. Compared to The Fray’s signature piano-driven ballads, Helios is significantly more upbeat than their 2012 release, Scars and Stories. The Fray takes risks on this record, with a gospel choir featured on the opening track “Hold My Hand” and the funk/retro-inspired “Give It Away.” Yet the band has not strayed too far from its roots, with songs like “Same as You” and “Closer To Me,” which are sonically similar to some of its older songs, but with a happier subject matter. In an interview with Fuse, band member Joe King attributed their more upbeat and positive record to being in an all-around better place as a band, as well as in each of their individual lives. Overall, the risks paid off and showcase the band’s growth over the past decade.
Trial Track: “Hurricane”
Beck – Morning Phase (Capitol Records; 2014)
Last June, Beck announced that he was in the process of recording two albums to be released around the same time: one acoustic album and one with a greater emphasis on electric elements. Morning Phase is the acoustic half and his first studio album released in over five years. This newest release does not stick to what has worked for the artist in the past; Beck does not attempt to rehash the formula of his previous hits, but instead treads into modern indie territory. That is not to say that Beck is emulating current artists, the father of indie is showing newcomers how it’s done. Musically, the new album is stripped down; Beck’s previous work seems overcrowded by comparison. The tone of the album is also much more relaxed than the artist’s previous releases. The lack of variety presented in Morning Phase is its biggest downfall, tracks begin to blend together about halfway through leaving the listener craving something different.
Trial Track: “Blue Moon”
Lo-Fang – Blue Film (4AD; 2014)
Blue Film is L.A. native Matthew Hemerlein, a.k.a Lo-Fang’s, full-length debut album. Hemerlein’s vocals are sultry and smooth, making it almost impossible not to draw comparisons to the likes of singer/songwriter and producer extraordinaire, James Blake. “Look Away” starts off the album with an upbeat kicker; the track combines Hemerlein’s suave pipes with classical cello and violin instrumentation blended with borderline-psychedelic electronic beats. Blue Film then dives into some darker territory with “Boris,” setting a somewhat gloomier tone for much of the album. Lighter notes are felt throughout though, especially on “When We’re Fire” and “Animal Urges,” the latter providing exotically space-age electronic sounds. Showcasing his natural vocal talent and classical training in piano, bass, cello and violin to name a few, Blue Film is organic and fluid. An overall strong debut for Lo-Fang.
Trial Track: “When We’re Fire”