Ariel Pink – Pom Pom
There are many words that accurately describe Ariel Pink: asshole; sociopath; weirdo. Add “genius” to that list with this, his finest album and the one that most deftly combines his studio-pop present with his lo-fi, tape hiss-laden past. Pink treats the world as his musical oyster, borrowing from every sort of genre you can think of: surf rock, bubblegum pop and proto-metal are all present on Pom Pom, filtered through his unique, warped perspective. Despite being a double album, not a single song on Pom Pom is a throwaway; even jokey little ditties like the Kim Fowley-assisted “Plastic Raincoats In The Pig Parade” have melodies that will be stuck in your head for days. Alternately silly, disgusting, and heartbreaking, Pom Pom is an experience to be had, and an unforgettable one at that.
Real Estate – Atlas
Atlas is admittedly not a great, dramatic leap forward for Real Estate, but when a band has such a perfectly realized sound and style, constant reinvention isn’t really all that necessary. Of course, you have to have the songs to back it up, and Atlas is more than set in that department. Elements of folk burst through on songs like the sweet “Talking Backwards,” while the intricate guitar work of Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile is ever-present. Even bassist Alex Bleecker gets a few turns at the mic, and he makes the most of them with the excellent “How Might I Live.” Things may not be getting different for Real Estate, but they’re great and only getting better on Atlas.
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Yes, this album shares a name with the final release from hardcore punk legends Minor Threat. Mac DeMarco’s music couldn’t be anything further from hardcore, though; Salad Days is a decidedly relaxed affair, filled with languid, flowing guitar lines and vocal performances from DeMarco that don’t indicate much effort. Salad Days shouldn’t work; instead, it works brilliantly thanks to the tossed-off brilliance of DeMarco’s songs. The Canadian songwriter can play the parts of the jester and romantic equally well, and the end result recalls the finest moments of John Lennon’s solo career. As it turns out, there’s more to that goofy slacker than meets the eye.
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
There’s something beautiful and despairing about Sharon Van Etten’s music; it sometimes sounds as if her world is about to come crashing down around her, but the grandiose sweep of her songs. Her albums have always had a good amount of space to them, allowing her to achieve a level of intimacy crucial to making her best songs work. Are We There fills that space, creating the sort of epic, heartfelt songs that Van Etten seems to have been working towards for most of her career. It’s a brash, confident move from a songwriter who frequently struggled with her self-confidence early in her career. I’m guessing that’s not as much of a problem now.
Comet Gain – Paperback Ghosts
Indie pop has gotten a bad reputation for being too soft, and most of Paperback Ghosts isn’t going to change that. Comet Gain have always performed with more guts and gusto than most of their contemporaries, though. On their latest, the band add even more layers to their well-defined sound, adding soft, melody-driven songs to complement their driving rock tunes. This added dimension only serves to emphasize the band’s considerable talent, from the light (“Sad Love And Other Short Stories”) to the heavy (“All The Avenue Girls”). Softness may not be such a bad thing after all, it seems.