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AUX’s Top 10 albums from July 2014

August 1, 2014

Each month at AUX, we have it out behind the scenes to bring you a trim, alphabetical, genre-representational list of the Top 10 Albums of the Month. Here were our favourite releases from July.

By: Jeremy Mersereau (JM), Mark Teo (MT), Nicole Villeneuve (NV), and Aaron Zorgel (AZ), Chayne Japal (CJ), Jesse Locke (JL)

Alvvays
Alvvays
(Royal Mountain)

While Alvvays have earned of ears as a twee-pop band—beyond Canadian borders, the maritime-turned-Torontonian act has received Slumberland and Flying Nun comparisons—to our ears, Alvvays still sounds like the sum of their parts: The project is still helmed by Molly Rankin (of, like, the Nova Scotia Rankins, natch) and ex-Two Hours Traffic axeman Alec O’Hanley. Rankin’s the clear star of Alvvays, with her self-deprecating, quarter-life-crisis lyricism balanced by her deadpan vocals; she brings much-needed sarcasm to a genre celebrated for its earnestness. (To wit, “Archie Marry Me,” “Party and Police,” and the hilariously-titled “Agency Group,” whose guitar line riffs on “What If God Were One Of Us,” all possess a marvelous tongue-in-cheek quality.) O’Hanley’s spindly, fret-climbing guitar work adds an element of athleticism to the songs: His frenetic picking defined Two Hours Traffic, and he’s imported it to Alvvays, though in a supporting role, as on “Adult Diversion,” where his treble-laded picking intertwines perfectly with Rankin’s vocals. A wonderfully cohesive debut from an indie-pop act with—quite amazingly—a singular aesthetic. (MT)

 

The-Dream
Royalty: The Prequel
(Contra Paris)

In 2007, Terius “The-Dream” Nash started a streak of penning monster pop hits with Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” He was able to parlay his songwriting success into a deal at Def Jam and, that same winter, quickly released his pivotal debut Love Hate. He proved himself to be a worthy star in his own right with a prolific work ethic, starting a hip-hop/soul renaissance along the way. After seven years of ups and downs with his label, he’s venturing out on his own. To celebrate his newfound freedom, he’s done this seven-track EP, Royalty: The Prequel, and released it on July 7th at 7 p.m., as a 77 MB download from his own “culture” label website, Contra Paris. The numerology obsession stops once the music starts as The-Dream gets to his sleazy wordplay immediately with first track, “Duet,” crooning “Put that Monica on my biggie, baby…Get it juicy for me like I’m Biggie, baby” over the rich layers of simple synth melodies that have been his calling card. Aside from an added air of edginess, the EP falls in line with much of Terius’ previous work—his unmistakable sound alongside his brilliantly ironic sex-crazed persona—and doesn’t suggest much will change, except for maybe more secretly coded release dates. (CJ)

Every Time I Die
From Parts Unknown
(Epitaph)

Every Time I Die’s seventh album opens like a kick to the teeth and spends its next 30 minutes lecturing you about it. Their best since Hot Damn! and heaviest since Last Night in Town, From Parts Unknown is largely unrelenting; even the mostly minimalist piano-clank of “Moor” has its avalanche of breakdowns. But more than just a flurry of noise and aggression, Keith Buckley & co. have released an impeccably dynamic album that in just half an hour goes from daring you to “blow your fucking brains out” to inviting its listeners to hell. “There we can be free and learn to love ourselves,” screams Buckley. And with his convincing invitation to chaos, Every Time I Die have never been more dangerous. (TM)

Joyce Manor
Never Hungover Again
(Epitaph)

When Joyce Manor released their sophomore album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired in 2012, their reactionary shift from scrappy So-Cal leaning punks to more tuneful, Smiths-inspired jangle-pop songwriters was well underway; on Epitaph debut Never Hungover Again they both stick with that approach (“End of the Summer,” the post-rockish “The Jerk”) and dig back in on some of their earlier Bay Area and hardcore influences (“Heart Tattoo,” “Catalina Fight Song”). It’s the most refined and confident they’ve ever sounded—and even though Joyce Manor will probably never make an album over 20 minutes long, the Torrance, CA punks will continue to subtly challenge and inspire their freak diehards while wrangling new blood too. Never Hungover Again keeps them in the top tier of their lyrical, melodic, just-dirty-enough pop-punk ilk. (NV)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl9POATpEn0

Kiesza
Hideaway
(Island / 4th & Broadway)

After stints as a forgettable singer-songwriter and Ke$ha-esque LOL-pop singer—on the latter point, check  “Oops,” an early track whose chorus was “you didn’t use a rubber and I think we made an oops”—Calgary-born, Brooklyn-residing Kiesza Ellestad has finally struck gold. With two singles (and their corresponding videos) charting in both Europe and North America, Kiesza’s four-song Hideaway comes heavily anticipated, but more than being a cohesive statement, it’s more a preview of what’s to come. Openers “Hideaway”—which is perhaps the song of the summer—and “Giant in My Heart” are forceful statements, framing Ellestad’s crystal-clear, soulful vocals with squeaky clean beatmaking; it’s a clear throw to the early ‘90s, when house was dominated by forceful singers. Hideaway’s back half, though, are where Kiesza diverts: They aren’t smash successes like the EP’s first half, but her forays into pitch-shifted R&B (“So Deep”) and minimal vocal exercises (as on the stark, smoldering cover of Haddaway’s beloved Jock Jam, “What is Love”) prove that Kiesza certainly isn’t one dimensional. The only problem? At four tracks, we’re left wanting more. (MT)

Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs
Gates of Hell
(Southpaw)

Although the Iron Lungs are often portrayed as a Toronto garage supergroup — fair play, considering they count Ketamines, Cheap Girls, and Beliefs among its ranks — it’s worth remembering that their leader, Sam Coffey, has roots that extend beyond the genre. Indeed, Coffey initially dabbled in country, and while Gates of Hell first reveals itself as a brassy garage-punk album, there’s more at play below the surface: Between suds-soaked sing-alongs, Coffey dabbles in dirty-faced twang (“Hold Me Close”), devil-driven riffage (“Get Pumped Up”), snot-nosed pub rock (“Heavy on Queen Street”), and organ-driven French psych (as on the jaw-dropping “Brides of Satan,” a track that could easily be a blown-out Gainsbourg or Bardot number). It’s an impressively well-blended stew — especially considering its myriad ingredients — but Gates of Hell is most defined by its anthemic quality: “Calgary Hill” and “Hold Me Close” are such earworms, I knew the song well before I’d heard them recorded. One of the year’s essential punk records. (MT)

Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty
(Sub Pop)

Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces’ sophomore effort Lese Majesty features a song called “MindGlitch Keytar Theme,” which does well to describe the sonic experience you’ll be treated to throughout its 18 tracks, seven “suites,” and 45 minutes of atmospheric, experimental hip-hop. It’s easy to get lost in the duo’s “anything goes” approach to production, and a cryptic, sprawling lyrical designation does little to ground the listener. The artist formerly known as “Butterfly” of Digable Planets fame, Ishmael Butler and collaborator Tendai “Baba” Maraire craft expansively weird lo-fi masterpieces, and while eighteen tracks might seem daunting, a hyperactive tracklist allows their experimentation to dodge stagnation. Their avant-garde, genre-warping attack makes it impossible to compare Shabazz Palaces to any other hip-hop group—hold up—any other musical group, period. If you embrace the mind glitch, the result is surprisingly satisfying. (AZ)

Sia
1000 Forms of Fear
(Monkey Puzzle Records/RCA)

When Australian indie darling turned Billboard hit factory Sia Furler released her last solo record We Are Born in 2010, her pop songwriting career had only just begun. In the wake of chart destroyers “Diamonds,” “Titanium,” and “Let Me Love You,” there was a certain level of pressure for her sixth studio album, 1000 Forms Of Fear, to deliver. Sia quickly rose to the occasion with the monster album-opener “Chandelier,” which is her only solo single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, currently sitting at #11 and rising weekly. Thankfully, 1000 Forms Of Fear doesn’t sound like a batch of Rihanna rejects; in fact, there’s no way any of these songs could have been sold to other artists. This is a collection of incredibly personal songs with jarring emotional heft, and jaw-dropping high notes mingling in the stratosphere. No other vocalist could come close to doing them justice. (AZ)

Tonstartssbandht
Overseas
(Arbutus/Company Etc.)

In recent years, brothers Andy and Edwin M. White have shapeshifted through many forms and monikers, from the daffy raps and boogie-rock rave-ups of Tonstartssbandht (TAHN-starts-bandit) circa 2009-today, to side projects such as Sugar Boys and High Rise II, to the ever-evolving solo offshoots of Andy Boay and Eola, gleefully dabbling in 12-string trip-outs, devotional pop, and angelic a capella. Their latest guitar/drums guise, Overseas, compiles a gob-dropping grab bag of onstage recordings from April-May 2013, capturing moments of headbanger transcendence in Paris, Warsaw, Berlin, and beyond. A double-live LP may sound like a dicey proposition, but this set serves as both a young person’s guide to Tonstartssbandht and quite possibly the best bottling of their spontaneous lift-offs to date. Alongside fan favourites like “Midnight Cobras,” “Hymn Our Garden” and “Shot To La Parc” (Jane’s Addiction in a fever dream), they stretch out on several lengthy medleys, and pay tribute to likeminded longhairs of yore with covers of International Harvester, the Stones and Steppenwolf. Even at 80 minutes, Overseas is a drop in the duo’s ocean of jams that won’t be drying up any time soon. (JL)

[bandcamp id = “2747615977”]

Venetian Snares
My Love Is A Bulldozer
(Planet Mu)

Musicians are constantly updating their core sound to show ‘growth’ or ‘maturity’ or whatever, and usually it sucks. Sometimes, there’s no shame in pandering to your base. In case the title didn’t give it away, “10th Circle of Winnipeg” makes it clear that this isn’t a huge deviation from Venetian Snares’ usual hyper-speed break madness, and that’s definitely a good thing. My Love Is A Bulldozer’s title track could be a remnant from the Calvacade of Glee sessions, and “Amazon” sounds like the break-jungle he was making on 2008’s Detrimentalist. What elevates these tracks past warmed-over retreads is the fact that Aaron Funk actually tries to sing over them. Despite sometimes coming across like a tenth-grade art school student just givin’ it (see ‘Your Smiling Face’), for the most part his vocal efforts add an extra layer to a sound that, while still the dictionary definition of ‘inaccessible’, is on the verge of becoming assembly-line. Still, My Love is a Bulldozer proves that sometimes all you need to innovate your sound is that one extra element. (JM)

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