Every week there are about a thousand new albums released on CD, and countless more released on digital downloads, streaming, free with your phone or any other way people can think to market their music to you in an astonishingly over-crowded marketplace. Each week we highlight some we are interested in hearing, and at the end of the following month we will be publishing what wound up as our favorites.
By my estimation, I listened to about a hundred new albums that were released in January 2014. These are my five favorite songs of the month.
1. Death Metal and Disco by Alex Dezen (from The Bedhead EPs 1/4)
If it’s true, as I mentioned in my discussion of the film Enough Said, that every important relationship in our lives leaves scars, this song seems like it was written before those wounds were even closed up. “There are too many sad songs in the world”, he begins, and while he doesn’t want to write another one, that’s exactly what he does. This song is filled with allusions to so many things I went through during my divorce, including metaphors of war, telling the truth, being honest, wanting to give up on future relationships, infidelity, and the toughest one of all: past thoughts of having a child with this person.
I saw Alex Dezen with his band, The Damnwells, at the peak of my divorce sadness. It had been eight months of being separated, while still living in the same house, and it was the week of my 10th wedding anniversary. I went up to him after the show, and I told him how much his music meant to me, especially during these tough times. I asked him something stupid in the vein of writing such sad songs while being married. I don’t remember his reply, but I do know that it was the second time I asked that question of someone I thought was a great songwriter, who would wind up divorced within two years.
When I hear Death Metal and Disco, I am usually thinking that I hope Alex had something to listen to that helped him through that time as much as his own songs
Death Metal and Disco appears on Alex Dezen’s Bedhead EP 1/4, titled because he plans to put out four EP’s this year of solo work this year, as well as a new Damnwells album featuring the original line-up.
2. Battle Cry by Angel Haze (from Dirty Gold)
The last few years have seen an influx of female rappers, mostly led by Azealia Banks, Angel Haze, and Iggy Azalea, none of whom had released an album until Angel Haze dropped hers last-minute on December 30th, 2013. I’m going to cheat and include it here. (Battle Cry was released as a single on January 9th) Up until now, Angel has released most of her music for free through the streaming site Soundcloud. They have included remakes of Eminem’s Cleaning Out My Closet and Macklemore’s Same Love, both of which have topped the originals.
Angel has been very open about her personal history: raised in a cult, sexually molested starting at age 7, a cutter, eating disorders, etc. Her strongest work uses these hurdles as fodder for her music, which often celebrates her being able to overcome these obstacles. Her lyrics often go back and forth between first and second person, attempting to show those listeners that might be going through similar hardships as her that they can do the same things that she has.
Battle Cry is co-written by Sia, who also sings on the choruses. It is also co-written and produced by Greg Kurstin, the mind behind Geggy Tah, the fantastic funky super-group Action Figure Party and synth-pop duo The Bird and the Bee. Kurstin is also a frequent collaborator with Sia and Lily Allen. It appears on the album Dirty Gold.
3. I Got The Moves by Habibi (from Habibi)
If you have 2 minutes, you have time to enjoy these peppy little ditty from Habibi. This album is filled with no frills, Ramones-ready drum beats, bouncy bass lines, clean angular guitar lines, and 60′s girl group vocals. It’s a little bit Vaselines, a lot Shangri-La‘s, and a dash of Dub Narcotic.
I could have listed any of the songs from this perfect and perfectly short album – average track length is under three minutes – on this list, but I thought this one was the most groovy.
4. Stranger To My Happiness by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (From Give The People What They Want)
For over a decade, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings had been at the forefront of a soul and funk revival, both through their albums and singles, playing with other artists (most notably with Amy Winehouse) and through the Daptone Records banner, which has also released albums by The Budos Band, Menahan Street Band and Charles Bradley, among others.
On Give The People What They Want, their sixth album, they give the people exactly what they want: another shot of R&B that sounds like it was recorded in the 70′s. Held together by a driving, thumping bass drum, sexy background singers, this song has two leads, Jones’ ferocious vocals and some fantastic horn lines.
5. Wish I Didn’t by Elizabeth and the Catapult (from Like It Never Happened)
What can I say, between this and Death Metal and Disco, I must have a thing for quiet songs that use swear words.
Opening with some great harmonies, and switching between a very sparse sound, and lush arrangements, “Wish I Didn’t” struck me on the very first listen.
I’m including a live (in studio) version of this song instead of the album version, which has no video.
And thanks for this! (I'll watch the YouTube playlist later, but I know you were talkin' Spotify a while back...if you HAVE Spotify playlists or links, I know I wouldn't mind if you'd go ahead and throw 'em in.)
Aaaaand here's my personal top 100 of the year. Only requirements were to be on an album released during 2003 or to be a single sometime during the year. 100. Idlewild - A Modern Way Of Letting Go - The Remote Part 99.