Spoon. Photo credit: Tom Hines
It’s August, and we’re all just trying to squeeze out the last little bit of summer. You may just find your late-season personal pick for Song of the Summer in this month’s top albums. I know I did: Spoon’s “Do You,” Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” the New Pornographers’ “Brill Bruisers,” Basement Jaxx’s “Unicorn,” Merchandise’s “Enemy,” Cymbals Eat Guitars’ “Warning,” and FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks.”
Spoon — They Want My Soul (August 5)
One of rock’s most consistent bands returns after a four-year hiatus, this time with outside producers (Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann) and a new member (Alex Fischel, who played in Divine Fits with Spoon frontman Britt Daniel during the break). The album, however, is quintessential Spoon, on par with Girls Can Tell or Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: as tight as those button-downs Daniel sports onstage, as catchy as their most-synched singles of all time, and as brilliantly frivolous as Seinfeld. Most bands lose their taste over time, but Spoon are classic cool. (Stream They Want My Soul now.)
Adult Jazz — Gist Is (August 5)
It’s funny that Adult Jazz named their debut Gist Is because they dance around coming to one all record long. But that’s sort of the appeal of their manic rock, which layers on polyphonic percussion, world music, ambient electronic, and yes, jazz all at once. At times they stop altogether in bold sweeps of restraint. The Leeds indie rockers make brainy tunes that are thoroughly illogical, and unlike anything you’ve heard before. (Stream Gist Is now.)
Christopher Denny — If the Roses Don’t Kill Us (August 5)
There aren’t any characters like Christopher Denny left in the family-friendly world of mainstream country music. Multiple drug addictions, poverty, stripper girlfriend, neck tattoos: Denny’s done a whole lotta hard living. So while it’s easy to find the beauty and sorrow in his songs, this is outsider music through and through. The Arkansas native mixes proto-country hillbilly blues with modern folk, vintage rock, and timeless gospel. Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom guests, but with a voice like that — androgynous and articulate — Denny don’t need no help. (Stream If the Roses Don’t Kill Us now.)
FKA twigs — LP1 (August 12)
On her debut full-length, the artist formerly known as Twigs offers us a wider view of her unique vision: sensual, spacious R&B that doesn’t soothe. Her woozy bangers about cam girls and fucking with the lights on are ambient and harsh simultaneously, and at times disorientingly creepy. It’s hard to find a groove when you’re being ambushed by a tangle of ticking drum machines, but the results are entrancing nonethless. Twigs worked with a number of big names on the album — from Sampha to Adele producer Paul Epworth — but this is a self-assured sound that bridges the wide gap between Aaliyah and Aphex Twin.
Ariana Grande — My Everything (August 25)
Perhaps Ariana Grande’s Yours Truly was a little too sugary for you, or too nostalgic for Mariah Carey in her prime. The former Nickelodeon star continues her transition towards full-fledged adult pop star domination with her second album in the last year, this time diversifying her portfolio, so to speak. While Mac Miller guested on her last effort, My Everything is filled top to bottom with rap assists, from Iggy Azalea on the Song of the Summer contender “Problem” to Big Sean to A$AP Ferg. Grande’s going harder, but also going wider and weirder alongside Childish Gambino, Cashmere Cat, Nile Rodgers and The Weeknd. But you’ll still find plenty of conventional dance-pop too, from the likes of Max Martin, David Guetta, and Zedd, who helps make second single “Break Free” stand out from the pack.
Cymbals Eat Guitars — LOSE (August 26)
I’ve seen this with more than a few buzz bands: their first couple albums show promise of what they could be down the line instead of what they are right now. With third album LOSE, Staten Island rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars have gotten to where they were going all along. This album should be a comfort to those of us who loosely subscribe to an indie rock mentality (whatever that even means in 2014) but grew up listening to second-wave emo and pop-punk. Like their past records, the lyrics are meticulously detailed, but the words feel heavier on LOSE, as if the big-picture emotions about growing up and losing people you love have finally been revealed. A more direct album all around. Hits you hard.
Merchandise — After the End (August 26)
On album number four, Tampa punks Merchandise reinvent themselves as a full-fledged pop act in the rock’n’roll tradition. Whereas their past albums sounded informed by Morrissey and Marr’s book of maudlin, the band’s D.I.Y. ethos showed through with gleaming grit. Now there are big hooks and harmonies, cleaner production, and even an early Springsteen vibe (“Life Outside the Mirror”). These are anthems for people who are skeptical of anthems on principle.
The New Pornographers — Brill Bruisers (August 26)
Indie rock’s most impressive and long-standing supergroup returns after a four-year hiatus in which a few members released beautifully bummer solo albums (looking at you, Neko Case and A.C. Newman). With its energetic bursts of riffs and synths, Brill Bruisers is not that, not that the New Pornographers ever really were. But for a collaboration that always seemed like an excuse for friends have a good time making power-pop, this new album may be the most fun they’ve had in a long while.
Basement Jaxx — Junto (August 26)
On their first new album in five years, longtime duo Basement Jaxx take dominant trends in electronic music — i.e. Disclosure’s modernization of house and UK Garage — and turns them on their heads. They’re a long way removed from their mainstream breakthrough, 2001’s “Where’s Your Head At,” but Junto shows that they haven’t skipped a beat when it comes to creating dance-pop that balances joy and soul without losing its weirdness.
J Mascis — Tied to a Star (August 26)
Three years ago, Dinosaur Jr. leader J Mascis surprisingly traded his distortion pedals for an acoustic guitar on Several Shades of Why. He follows up that album this month, with another relatively stripped-down record called Tied to a Star. Cat Power, Mark Mulcahy, and more lend a hand, and yes, there are still some of J’s brilliant electric guitar solos, but these are beautiful tunes for solitary listening.
Also out this month:
Naomi Punk — Television Man (August 5) Essential punk that splits the difference between its seedy ’70s beginnings, ’80s post-punk, and grunge’s darkest corners. Be afraid, be very afraid. (Stream Television Man now.)
Willis Earl Beal — Experiments in Time (August 5) A lo-fi blues fever dream goes retro futurism. (Stream Experiments in Time now.)
Kimbra — The Golden Echo (August 19) Former Gotye collaborator throws her quirky hat in the pop star ring.
Sinéad O’Connor — I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss (August 12) An entire album of open letters.
Wiz Khalifa — Blacc Hollywood (August 19) Proof that some people who aren’t Amber Rose still care about Wiz.
The Rentals — Lost in Alphaville (August 26) Original Weezer bassist Matt Sharp revitalizes his band the Rentals with fresh blood including the Black Keys’ Pat Carney.
Ty Segall — Manipulator (August 26) Fun fact: Miley Cyrus and co. wrote “We Can’t Stop” about Ty Segall’s record release schedule.
The Wytches — Annabel Dream Reader (August 26) The link between Link Wray and Black Sabbath that you never knew existed.