I’m calling it now: April will be the biggest month of 2014 for indie rock releases. The competition was stiff, and my ears are tired. No time to waste on an intro, let’s get into this.
Mac DeMarco — Salad Days (April 1)
Mac DeMarco is a dude in the utmost sense of the word, whose music does not sound like what you think it would sound like if you met him (which would probably happen in a scummy Brooklyn bar). That’s to say, his music is beautiful. I’ve decided to call it Bushwick Schmaltz. Salad Days, his third LP, is a near-flawless collection of easily digestible, guitar-driven jangle-pop about his girlfriend, friends, family, and life. It sounds terribly rudimentary, but there’s this way DeMarco has of turning the basics on their head with one small, discordant tweak.
Kelis — Food (April 22)
Kelis returns with a food-themed LP that contains nary a whisper of milkshakes. Since her breakthrough more than a decade ago, the singer has cycled through a number of phases, from hip hop-pop diva to EDM futurist. Now, just as she’s debuted a new Cooking Channel show, she’s winking at her culinary-influenced past as well as nodding towards the golden eras of soul and funk. With the help of TV on the Radio member/indie producer Dave Sitek, Kelis has taken up a mature tone on topics including love, family, and sex, with touches of Afropop and bursts of brass offsetting the vintage sheen. She’s charmingly real, though that could just be the soul food talking.
Todd Terje — It’s Album Time (April 8)
People are far too quick to toss around the phrase “highly anticipated” when it comes to albums — but Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time is, in fact, highly anticipated. More than ten years after he burst onto the scene as a remix savant, the Norwegian producer unleashes a debut that represents his vast musical mind. The word “disco” also gets tossed around a lot when it comes to Terje, but from the sounds of It’s Album Time, that’s a clear disservice. He pulls from all genres of dance music and plenty that has little to with electronics (tropical sounds, Robert Palmer covers alongside Bryan Ferry, a cappella), much like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. But unlike the French robots, Terje aimed for 12 songs to keep you moving all summer long, instead of just the one. (You can listen to the album now via NPR.)
Damon Albarn — Everyday Robots (April 29)
Damon Albarn has not stopped for nearly 25 years, and yet he’s just getting around to releasing a proper solo debut. His last decade spent producing legends like Bobby Womack, experimenting with artforms far removed from Britpop, and generally supergrouping his life away has left him full of wide-ranging ideas that don’t work for his numerous other projects. All of these ideas find a home on Everyday Robots, an album that manages to comment on our society’s technological obsession while still showing a more personal side of Albarn. The music serves as an extension of this lyrical dichotomy: Eno-assisted electronics meets big piano and strings meets acoustic guitar and ukelele, drum machine slathered atop all of it. The whole kitchen sink works for Albarn, someone who’s usually entirely locked in to a specific vision with his projects.
White Hinterland — Baby (April 1)
On Casey Dienel’s third album as White Hinterland, she’s a bit all over the place — in the best possible way. R&B is typically thought to be sensual music, but Dienel makes it sort of awkward, clunky in a start-stop way thanks to sax and brass bursts and subtle electronic glitches. The latter are a creation of Dienel herself: she built her own studio and spent years teaching herself production skills so that she could make Baby on her own, in order “to subvert the existing power structure of male producer as svengali and female artist as figurehead.” The music itself carries forth this kind of singular vision, one that peeks through most frequently on Dienel’s stripped-down piano ballads in the style of Fiona Apple. A beautiful, intimate cacophony of sounds unlike anything Dienel has produced previously.
EMA — The Future’s Void (April 8)
On her second album under the moniker EMA, Erika M. Anderson takes us on a noise-pop journey to the deep web that’s as emotionally jarring as it is thoroughly listenable. Though much of the album’s musical references recall early- to mid-’90s alternative, there’s something in The Future’s Void that recalls the latter part of the decade’s obsession with Y2K. Even the title — we can’t be certain what will come next. What’s here now, as EMA’s songs suggest, ain’t much better. (You can listen to the album now via NPR.)
Cloud Nothings — Here and Nowhere Else (April 1)
Four albums in and Cloud Nothings are starting to sound like a band with a plan. While 2012’s Attack on Memory rightfully thrust the Cleveland rockers into the spotlight, it’s an album that ultimately falls into the pop-punk category — a genre that still seems like the butt of a joke to certain circles (thanks, Blink-182). But their fourth album, Here and Nowhere Else, drops the pop and goes straight for the jugular. It’s downright assaulting, as if the band made a concerted effort to increase the speed of all their songs by at least 25 BPM. Frontman Dylan Baldi’s voice borders on a death growl at times, and the hooks are buried. And yet, this feels like it could be a permanent state for Cloud Nothings.
Ramona Lisa — Arcadia (April 15)
Fresh off a writing gig alongside Beyoncé, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek releases her promising solo debut under the moniker Ramona Lisa this month. She’s dubbed it “Pastoral Electronic Music,” seeing as it’s a MIDI “concept album of love songs that are nature allegories.” It was made entirely on a laptop, with Polachek’s haunting vocals recorded wherever she could fit them in (dressing rooms, airports, bathrooms). It’s hard to believe she could conjure so much desperation in her voice in these semi-public or completely public spaces, and the result is an electronic pop album unlike anything I’ve ever heard. In a good way.
Afghan Whigs — Do to the Beast (April 15)
When the Afghan Whigs reunited for live shows two years ago, frontman Greg Dulli in particular returned as energetic and charismatic as ever. It’s that vibe that propels Do to the Beast, AW’s first album in 16 years. The Afghan Whigs’ evolution is on display here, from the punk thrashers of their early career (“Parked Outside”) to the soulful troubadour grooves (“Algiers”) to the sad-dude jams (“Can Rova”). That final category — slowed-down, introspective songs by depressed rock dudes — has experienced a renaissance in Dulli’s lifetime, so it’s interesting to contextualize the new Afghan Whigs material from that perspective. Somewhere, some kid is tweeting that the new Afghan Whigs album sounds like The National. But hey, at least someone under 25 is listening to Afghan Whigs!
TEEN — The Way and Color (April 22)
The second album from TEEN is an about-face for the Brooklyn sister band. Their previous incarnation as a psych-pop act is seen only in mere touches, replaced instead by vocally-driven R&B. But it’s these previews of the past that save The Way and Color from falling into pure Dirty Projectors territory. The angular energy borders on St. Vincent-esque spazz (“Tied Up Tied Down,” “Toi Toi Toi”). All in all, a fresh amalgamation of recent trends in indie rock.
Also out this month:
Jessica Lea Mayfield — Make My Head Sing (April 15) Never has an artist moved from alt-country laced with classic rock to ’90s revivalism laced with sludge metal — and actually pulled it off.
Iggy Azalea — The New Classic (April 21) It only took two and half years, but Iggy’s debut is finally here.
Timber Timbre — Hot Dreams (April 1) Dramatic folk-rock from Arts & Crafts Canadians that’s as silly as it is haunting.
Wye Oak — Shriek (April 29) The beloved Baltimore duo made a guitar album without guitars, and it’s kind of incredible.
Avey Tare — Enter the Slasher House (April 8) The Animal Collective co-founder makes the most thoroughly listenable experimental album of 2014, thanks to a hearty helping of ’60s psych-pop cutting through the noise.
Woods — With Light and With Love (April 15) You will have a great summer if this is your soundtrack.
Pixies — Indie Cindy (April 29) The classic band (sans the classic lineup) compiles their three EPs over the last eight months into a proper release. You already know if you will like this or not, seeing as the songs have been released.
Manchester Orchestra — Cope (April 1) Though they could now be considered vets of a certain indie rock circle, Manchester Orchestra are still playing with their sound — and to some success. Their fourth album finds them showing their teeth in a way that already has, and will continue to, earn them new fans in the alt-rock arena.
Rodrigo y Gabriela — 9 Dead Alive (April 29) While non-lyrical guitar music is not for everyone, if it works for you, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest is quite moving.
Broken Twin — May (April 29) Melancholic piano folk from a Danish ingenue to watch.