Last month I had the pleasure of viewing the documentary “Nothing Can Hurt Me.” It follows the Memphis band, Big Star, as they recorded their few seminal albums in the early 1970s. It was soft rock with an edge. They were just a group of guys who loved Led Zeppelin, but also shared a unique capability to capture the Americana sound of Tennessee. Essentially, they were a variation of the Eagles that could be loved by a bunch of late eighties Sonic Youth fans. Big Star is arguably the greatest band that no one has ever heard of. Each of their albums have been referred to as classics in the past forty years, but not when they first released them. Why? Because it wasn’t until the decade after that people started to pay attention. For the following two decades, Big Star would be cited as the inspiration for founding members of R.E.M, the Replacements and Wilco, and finally they would gain a major cult fanbase.
The point is this: music publications give the impression that they can sense the cultural significance of an album within days of its release. Some use terms like “instant classic” or “seminal” not long after they’ve had an opportunity to listen, trivializing the quality of the job experience. How can they use this language and still accurately survey the state of popular and alternative music? If common sense has anything to say about the matter, classics take time to be recognized. They aren’t always stand out from the very beginning.
Should we then wait a month before reviewing an album? A year? A decade? As disappointing as I find this, it’s impossible. It’s no longer a difficult task to produce one's own music, though it can be tedious at times. We live in a society completely saturated with media, and we need to discern what is worth listening to from what is simply wasting our time. That’s why for the rest of my time as Arts & Entertainment editor, I will no longer be writing what not to listen to. For that matter, I will no longer write about what you should listen to. I will simply be making suggestions. I’ll simply nudge you towards what you might like. Here are five albums from the past year that you should maybe check out, but only if you want to.
Malibu – Anderson .Paak
Summer releases from Miguel and the Weeknd set the tone for a darker R&B. While these Top 40 artists are embracing the night, Anderson .Paak invokes the tones of a sunny day. He layers his D’Angelo-esque vocals on top of smooth synths and funky guitar and horn riffs, and he does so with the intensity of James Brown. I recommend the album and his live performances.
Primatives – Bayonne
I waited for this album for a year. Seriously, a year ago Bayonne had one single on Spotify. When the album came out, I was very far from being disappointed, and the one-man band of Roger Sellers created a work that makes transient psychedelia very catchy. It’s calming. It's Animal Collective if they were produced by Phil Collins. This will be a name to look out for in the future, so get a head start and listen to his debut album.
Art Angels – Grimes
A lot of critics have been praising this album, noting that Grimes is finally settling into a sound that she can call hers. I hope this isn’t true. Don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite release that she has made to date. Its wild mix of synth-pop and experimental power pop rushes you through the mind of a true artist in our lifetime. With any luck we’ll just see her keep growing.
Cardinals – Pinegrove
Americana driven emotional punk. It may very well be my favorite genre, and Pinegrove really scores big here. It really doesn’t take a special talent to imply a Ryan Adams like attitude to lyricism that attributes the qualities of contemporaries like Modern Baseball and Into It. Over It. However, it takes immense talent to draw the personal connection that I would have to a Ryan Adams album. This band has passion, and I can’t recommend a new band more than Pinegrove.
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It – The 1975
What can I say, it’s pure ear candy. No band today writes hooks catchier than the 1975 does, and they really should be celebrated for this talent.