Join Joe for the final part of his series, looking at 2013 to 2017!
2013: Savages – Silence Yourself
Savages arrived with Silence Yourself as one of those bands that’s fully formed on arrival. From the opening bass riff of ”Shut Up,” they lead you on an abrasive post-punk groove that never lets up. Full of angular notes and distorted tones, the album was one of those debuts that forces everyone to take notice. Jehnny Beth’s voice, heavily inspired by Siouxsie Sioux, is a powerhouse of yelps, howls, gasps and speak-singing, moving fluidly through syllables. The rest of Savages attack their instruments with controlled fury, letting the songs spiral into chaos at a moment’s notice. On this album’s best songs, like “Husbands” or “She Will,” they ride the line between melody and noise. But closer “Marshall Dear,” with its gentle, jazzy piano flourishes shows that the band’s power doesn’t solely come through in volume.
2014: EMA – The Future’s Void
On her second album, EMA did the impossible: wrote an album about the digital age that doesn’t cause eyerolls! Instead, The Future’s Void served as a warning against the dark side of a life online, one that became more apparent in the last few years. EMA’s lyrics don’t come off as a lecture, but rather a warning about what the Information Superhighway could be doing to our brains. Recalling William Gibson’s concerns on the same subject, the words are carried by music that’s abrasive, but also melodic. “Satellites” moves from static to an industrial banger, “So Blonde” is a smash hit from 1994 and “Solace” builds off a jerky riff that feels like an electric current. Just like her debut and the social media that consumes our lives, this album feels impossible to resist.
2015: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
It’s rare that an artist’s debut is so fully realized. Every song on Courtney Barnett’s first full-length had something that grabbed my attention, whether it was a turn of phrase, Barnett’s shredding or just melodies that get trapped in your head. Some of my favorite lyricists of recent years have been those who use their wit to get to the core of a character. Gareth Campesinos is a master at this, but Barnett does it to humorous and devastating effect in equal measure. Everyone talks about the storytelling and minute details found in the incredible, moving “Depreston,” but she seems to put the same effort into the quick numbers like “Aqua Profunda!” If you need to pick one song though, go with the upbeat, self-deprecating, ego-bursting “Pedestrian at Best.” Still one of my most listened to albums years after its release, this is a stunningly good record.
2016: David Bowie – ★
From the title track onward, it was clear that ★ was something special; an album that felt equally singular and powerful in its vision. Who else but Bowie can combine arty jazz beats with Gregorian chants, have it evaporate into a swampy blues vibe and then reform where it started? It will be impossible for any fan of David Bowie to listen to ★ the same way we did before his death. It’s only after his passing that tracks like “Lazarus” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” were revealed for what they are: an epitaph, a funeral march, a goodbye. And if there’s a gift for this visionary to leave us with, it’s fitting that it would be ★, giving all of us one more strange, fantastic voyage before he took his own journey into the unknown.
2017: St. Vincent – Masseduction
MASSEDUCTION is not what people expected from St. Vincent and that’s why it’s great. Rather than repeated herself with another album of distorted guitar work, she tries her hand at corrupted pop. The result is a masterful album from a songwriter at the top of her game. Songs like “Sugarboy,” the title track and “Fear the Future” combine creative synth tones with guitar shredding. More direct and emotional than any of her records to date, Annie Clark digs deep into her own insecurities and personal relationships on tracks like the sad “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and the stunningly powerful “Young Lover.” But the centerpiece of the album is the piano-based “New York,” a song that’s a tribute to lost love, lost heroes and the namesake city she must leave behind. It’s a beautiful anthem that proves that St. Vincent still has further heights to reach.
Thanks for joining me on this journey through the last 30 years! Here’s to the next 30!