First Quarter Report: Best Albums of the Year So Far

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 27, 2011

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Yellow Humphrey play Johnny Brenda's Friday.

Young Widows
In and Out of Youth and Lightness
(Temporary Residence)

When Louisville, Ky., noise-rock three-piece Young Widows formed from the ashes of Breather Resist in 2006, it seemed as though they were on a mission. Indie rock, by and large, had morphed from the churning, swelling, stinking noisy beast it was in 1990s into a very prim, always proper pop that no longer sought to be an alternative to whatever mainstream radio was playing, and instead wanted to join it. Young Widows were interested in exactly none of that, and their debut, Settle Down City (2006), was all bombast and cigarette smoke, weight lifting and beer chugging. This was the music you imagine Henry Rollins hears in his head when he’s busting squat thrusts in his home gym after taking his third Myoplex protein supplement of the day intravenously. Pure fury. Brooding Rock. Young Widows were re-igniting the long snuffed-out torch of bands like Jesus Lizard, Lubricated Goat, Scratch Acid and Big Black mixed with a twinge of Federation X’s guitar-tone. Call it nu-pigfuck, if you will. Just don’t call it soft.

They switched labels in 2008, from Jade Tree to Temporary Residence, but continued the trend on Old Wounds, where their only desire seemed to be to blow your goddamn speakers out. Now, on In and Out of Youth and Lightness, the trio has cooled a bit. Surprisingly, that’s not a bad thing. The album was produced by the band with assistance from Kevin Ratterman (My Morning Jacket), and it’s more atmospheric and bluesy than its two pedal-to-the-metal predecessors. They’ve stopped living in the red on every track, and instead explore many different moods, most of them dark and filled with tension. It’s as great as it is surprising. These three have already boxed your ears. On In and Out, they give you something to think about while they ring.

Gucci Mane
The Return of Mr. Zone 6
(Warner Brothers)

Gucci Mane is a misogynist. He’s possibly insane. He can’t rap very well. Or at all, actually. No one will mistake him for Biggie. His style is a blatant rip off of Young Jeezy. He sounds like he might have a mild case of Down syndrome. The production on this album sounds canned, like some teenager with Timbaland dreams got his first sampler and synth and gave his best go at making placid Dirty South beats. Most everything about this album is atrocious. But damn it if, after listening to it just once, it won’t stay in your head all day. And so you’ll listen to it again. Then again. Soon, you’ll know the album front to back, rapping along with Gucci as he shits on cowards, blows kush smoke on his haters and tells the lady friend in his life he “still don’t love her.” (Though he appreciates the way she sucks and fucks him.) The key to all this, of course, is Gucci’s unparalleled knack for easy, slow repetition. You say “THIS IS WHAT I DO” enough times, slowly and clearly in a song, and it’s going to drill its way into the listener’s brain like an earwig. Throw in some unquestionably R Kelly-sized absurd lyrics, and you can file this thing under Comedy. The worst best album of the last four months.

Kurt Vile
Smoke Ring for My Halo

And here it is. This is an alt-weekly newspaper in the city of Philadelphia. Did you not think this album would be here? Still, typical though it may be to list it, it deserves it. Vile gets better and better with each record, exposing an otherworldly Hessian-folk depth that’s atmospheric and, at times, down right somber. Smoke Ring for My Halo is the perfect music for your early morning comedown, the soundtrack to the last hour of that long, beautiful drug-fueled night, just as the sun comes up and you realize it’s time to call it quits. If you told me I could only listen to opening track “Baby’s Arms” for the rest of my life, I’d fine with it.

James Pants
James Pants
(Stones Throw)

Danceable Suicide-influenced dirges on Stones Throw. Unforgettable stuff.

Yellow Humphrey
(Self Released)

The album is out this week, but the band—made up of Philly locals Gretchen Lobse, Rick Flom, Steve Quaranta and Alec Meltzer and more—made the whole thing available for download on its Bandcamp page a couple weeks back, where you could cop it Radiohead “Pay what you see fit” style. So I paid $1,000 (SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!) and, in the interest of getting my money’s worth, gave the thing about six million spins. It’s light and sexy and fun, and the album’s first single “Low Roses” is an early contender for track of the year. It has a bit of an East Hundred thing going on, but I may just be saying that because both bands have female vocalists, and I’m a Gucci Mane like that. The album was mixed by Nick Krill of Spinto Band, and now is as good a time as any to tell you that Krill himself will be opening for Yellow Humphrey at their Featherweights release show at Johnny Brenda’s this Friday, April 29. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and will cost you $10. Eliza Hardy of Buried Beds and Mike Quinn of And the Moneynotes are also on the bill.

The War on Drugs
Future Weather
(Secretly Canadian)

Yes, yes. You’re right. This album did come out late last year. But here’s a completely thrilling story about me: Future Weather was sent to me on vinyl. My record player is in a back room of my house that gets no sunlight. It stays cold all winter, and as such, I rarely go in it over the frigid months. As it has warmed up, I’ve made my way back there and looked at the many records I’d yet to even open. I popped on Future Weather and fell instantly in love. War on Drugs’ main dude Adam Granduciel is in Kurt Vile’s Violators, and Vile used to be in the War on Drugs. There’s a bit of a melding of ideas and sounds going on between the two groups, and both Future Weather and Vile’s Smoke Ring are better for it. If you told me I could only listen to kinda-opening track “Baby Missles” for the rest of my life, I’d be fine with it. And then if you told me I was already only listening to Kurt Vile’s “Baby’s Arms,” per an earlier agreement, I’d ask you why you were hounding me so gotdamn much.

Bass Drum of Death
GB City
(Fat Possum)

“In no particular order” ... Well, that’s a lie. (I do that sometimes.) Because GB City is definitely top of the heap in albums released in the First Quarter. Ironically, it’s a great summer album, all hot and sweaty. Bass Drum of Death is a garage rock duo from Oxford, Miss, comprised of howler/guitarist John Barrett and thunder drummer Colin Sneed, and the GB City is a fuzzed out, fast and furious chase on a highway only stocked with muscle cars. It’s an aural ’69 Camaro, powerful and sleek.

Barrett was, at one time, Fat Possum’s worst employee. (Could that be why I feel an affinity for this album? Discuss.) He wrote and recorded the GB City himself using just a drumset, a guitar, a USB microphone and a computer. The songs, he says, “are about drugs, trying to make it with religious girls, panic attacks, stealing stuff, mild to severe depression, Elvis appearing in your dreams and giving you advice, gravity bongs and the devil living inside your brain.” Sounds about right.

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