What have you been listening to lately?

Album artwork

We’ve all been there. You’re getting to know someone. Things are going great. You bond over a mutual appreciation of Stephen Fry and the undeniable superiority of waffles over pancakes.

And then they ask that dreaded question, “What kind of music do you listen to?”

What are you supposed to say to that? They might as well ask what kind of food you eat. Usually I’ll just uncomfortably mumble something about being all over the board. Maybe it would be better to give a standard answer: gospel metal. Yes, all I ever listen to is gospel metal.

“What have you been listening to lately?” Now that’s a question I can get behind.

So let’s do this. I’ll go first. Here are some of my favorite picks so far from 2014.

Lostin in the Dream – The War on Drugs

Let’s start with some meat & potatoes. And it doesn’t get any meat & potatoesier than Lost In the Dream by The War On Drugs. This band keeps getting better with every release. Pretty impressive seeing as how founding member Kurt Vile left after the first album to pursue a successful solo career. This is by far their best effort yet. It’s all about pace. Set it early and ride the wave. There are obvious parallels to Dylan & Springsteen and it works perfectly.

Future Islands – Singles

Another “go to” album of 2014 has been Singles by Future Islands. I recommend a lot of music to people. Some by request and some by force. A fairly common response is, “Thanks, man. But that was freaking terrible.” And I get it. People have different tastes and ideas of what constitutes good music. But I’ll tell you this, if you don’t like Future Islands I’m not so sure we’d be able to get along. It’s so good and so heartfelt. Don’t believe me? Check out this clip from Letterman and feel the passion these dudes have for their music.

If you like these, you might also dig: Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots, Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos, Hospitality – Trouble

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Midnight Sun

Next we’re going back to future. Like MJ Fox ripping up Johnny B. Goode? No. We’re talking Sean Lennon’s project, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. I don’t pretend to have any magical insight into the psyche of Sean Lennon, but it sure feels like dude has finally found his groove. His earlier works often sounded like he was trying too hard not to be the son of music royalty (and Yoko, too). On the new album, Midnight Sun, he (along with talented & super-hot girlfriend Kemp Muhl) embraces the past and carves his own niche at the same time. It’s a little bit The Beatles, a little bit Pink Floyd, and a lot awesome.

If you like this, you might also dig: Quilt – Held In Splendor, Jon Langford & Skull Orchard – Here Be Monsters

Dylan Shearer – Garagearray

Now that we know each other, let’s get weird. Some of the best albums can leave you utterly unconvinced at first listen. The music doesn’t feel familiar or the beats seem arrhythmic. But sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone. As the kids say today…FROYO! That means you only live once. Life is delicious. And so is Garagearray by Dylan Shearer. This album changes speed often and indiscriminately. It’s like there’s a cat absentmindedly cleaning itself a little too close to your record player. It keeps leaning over and making your vinyl drag. Finally you yell, “Hey, cat! Get your hairy butt off my record.” The cat just looks up and shrugs with that “what are you gonna do” attitude. Yeah, it’s like that.

Les Big Byrd – They Worshipped Cats

Another way left of center album worth a listen is They Worshipped Cats (cat theme!) by psychedelic rockers Les Big Byrd. This one has it all. Great band name. Awesome cover art (http://tinyurl.com/omwzwoq). And an album that delivers a badass mix of noisy low-fi hooks and driving instrumentals. Get some.

Broken Twin – May

Looking for something more on the chill side? Check out May, the debut album from Broken Twin (aka Danish singer Majke Voss Romme). She has a voice that strains to get out, but when it does it’s a powerful, haunting blend of Ane Brun & Tracey Chapman that you can feel in your bones.

If you like these, you might also dig: Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra – F#*& Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything, Ought – More Than Any Other Day

Phantogram – Voices

Quiz time: What’s the difference between pop cheese crap & quality pop music? Trick question. I have no idea. But one of them triggers a gag reflex and the other makes me rock out in the shower. Voices by Phantogram is a perfect example of the latter. This is how you make a pop album.

Mr Little Jeans – Pocketknife

Another one that should be on the radio, but probably isn’t, is Pocketknife by Mr Little Jeans. Although for all I know it gets all kinds of radio play. I don’t say that to out-hipster anyone. It’s just that the only radio stations I listen to are NPR & KXUA.

If you like these, you might also dig: I Break Horses – Chiaroscuro, Broods – Broods EP

Vampire – At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse

Okay, that got a little too comfortable. I’m going to cancel out all the coziness above with one word: Vampire. Listening to this death metal outfit’s self-titled full length debut is like eating a plate of mango habanero hot wings. You know it’s going to burn and you’ll feel guilty later, but you just can’t stop. And I’ll be damned if you don’t order them again next time. To take the analogy a step further, this album will rip you a new one. Okay, that’s probably far enough.

Black Monolith – Passenger

Keeping with the heavy, Black Monolith is a one man band from Oakland well worth checking out. The best way I can describe the style is super heavy, punk, black metal. The music is complex, bouncing between layers of all out thrash, speed metal, & ethereal dark metal. I’ll go ahead and give the obligatory warning: Do not listen to this (or Vampire) if you’re not into real metal. It’s some heavy shinola.

If you like this, you might also dig: Kyng – Burn The Serum (not nearly as harsh), Down – Down IV Part II (much better than Part I), Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite

Charlie Parr – Hollandale

If you’re looking for bro country, you’ve wandered into the wrong corner of the interwebs. That’s not my bag. And what’s the deal with all the embroidery butt jeans? It’s out of control. This is a call to arms, dudes. A call to butts, if you will. Man up! I don’t care what your girl wants. Ask yourself, WWJCD? (What Would Johnny Cash Do?) I’ll tell you what he would do. He’d sit on the porch and listen to Hollandale by Charlie Parr. This epic 42 minute instrumental album takes us on a journey through fields & tunnels, heartache & salvation. This is a guitar & banjo pickin’ masterpiece.

Old Man Canyon – Phantoms & Friends

If you prefer your music with vocals (weirdo), maybe Phantoms & Friends by Old Man Canyon is more your style. OMC delivers catchy folk tunes straight out of Vancouver, BC. This is foot-tapping, road trip music.

If you like these, you might also dig: I Am Oak / The Black Atlantic – Black Oak (split EP), Old 97’s – Most Messed Up, Varjen – Against The Country.

Young Fathers – Dead

For dessert, a little hip hop flavor. I can’t get enough of Dead by the Scottish group Young Fathers. This band brings a bit of everything to the table: rap, soul, funk, reggae. Their sound is Outkast, TVOTR, & Marley all rolled (no pun) into one.

Sylvan Esso (self titled)

I don’t think Sylvan Esso really counts as hip hop (folk hop?), but they put out a really fun album and I don’t know where else to put them.

If you like this, you might also dig: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata, Ratking – So It Goes, Chuck Inglish – Convertibles

Well, that’s all I have for now. Now you tell me. What have you been listening to lately, Fayetteville? All my picks above are 2014 releases, but don’t feel obliged to follow suit. I need new artists to check out. It’s time to feed the monkey.