James Blake – “James Blake”
Following a widely-hyped series of releases in 2010, James Blake finally seems to have solidified his status as a production wunderkind on his self-titled, full-length debut. These are certainly Blake’s most conventional songs to date, as they give his impressively soulful vocals a chance to surface. That is, until he manipulates them with loops and effects and proceeds to wrap them in sounds ranging from jazzy piano chords and dynamic atmospherics to the shuddering bass and clipped beats of dubstep. Ultimately, the resulting soundscape is what gives movement and direction to his songwriting, not the other way around, and this mastery of production enables Blake to convey emotion in a way lyricism never really could. “James Blake” is the sound of a promising young artist boldly realizing his ambitious vision.
Recommended if you like: Mount Kimbie, D’Angelo, Justin Vernon
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 6, 11
— Peter Gill
A Classic Education – ‘Hey There Stranger”
Straight out of Bologna, Italy and fronted by a Canadian expat, A Classic Education indeed sound like they got their musical education by listening to classical music from the last 50 years. Their hazy recording quality seems ripped out of a shoegaze album, while their instrumentals sound, at times, like a ’60s French pop star’s backing band, a post-punk band with mandolins and a mellow version of a ’90s indie rock band. Though their style is more than a bit jumbled, there’s a possibility that these are all just growing pains for an indie band from a country more known for techno and electronic music that’s trying to break out internationally. If they can achieve the excellent synthesis of styles seen in tracks like “What My Life Could Have Been,” this bodes well for their future, and for you, the listener.
Recommended if you like: Los Campesinos!, Yo La Tengo, Deerhunter
Recommended Tracks: 3, 4, 6
— Allison Porambo
Imaginary Cities – “Temporary Resident”
This debut album from Manitoba’s Imaginary Cities is difficult to assign to a genre. Created by multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas (of the Weakerthans) and singer Marti Sarbit, the 11 tracks on “Temporary Resident” range from delicate soulful pop, to modern takes on blues and jazz. While each song may seem different, the album as a whole is held together by Sarbit’s powerful voice, which seems lost 60 years in the past. Because this is a debut, it might seem that Imaginary Cities are just trying everything to see if it works. Luckily, it all does.
Recommended if you like: Adele, Florence and the Machine, Young Galaxy
Recommended Tracks: 2, 4, 6, 8
— Nico Chapin
Childish Gambino – EP
Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is an indie rapper. He’s not an independent rapper or an indie artist who makes rap covers. He’s just an indie rapper. Just in the first couple songs of “EP,” he’s already dropped Ariel Pink, Pitchfork and “Freaks and Geeks” references. Known best for his role as Troy on NBC’s “Community,” Gambino is stuck fighting these criticisms of whether he’s an actor-turned-rapper or a rapper-turned-actor. Truthfully, he’s neither. He’s on his James Dean swag. Like a kid on too many Pixy Stix, Gambino just spazzes through his verses and still comes up with some of the most quotable punchlines of the year. Better than Kanye tweets (maybe).
Recommended if you like: Das Racist, Domo Genesis, “30 Rock”
Recommended Tracks: 2, 3, 5
— Kevin Kunitake
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Here We Rest”
Picture a dance hall in the Deep South, a jamming piano, a stand-up bass, a tambourine, a fiddle and a mandolin. Now listen to this album and smile real wide. This is straight up, home cooked, battered and deep fried, awesome twangy Americana roots music, from the poignant and sincere to the rocking and soulful. Former guitarist of Drive-By Truckers Jason Isbell writes with pure Southern style, focusing on the plight of various areas of his native northern Alabama. How could you not love lyrics like, “I’m eatin’ like I’m out on bail / Collard greens and chicken wings and oysters by the pail”?
Recommended if you like: Drive-By Truckers, Centro-Matic, AMURIKA
Recommended Tracks: 1, 11
— Clare Teeling