These days it’s hard to find an actual musical underground where something new is truly discovered, as virtually every release gets some amount of exposure from writers online and in print. There is a lot of good music out there, it just takes time to wade through it all. So after ten months of wading, these are some of the best, and by that I mean these are the albums that have staying power; the ones that I continue to come back to over and over, the ones that are solid from front to back, the ones that made me actually feel something, the ones that didn’t lose steam or relevance after multiple spins. Like everything else on ACL, these releases are judged on quality, durability and style. Shouldn’t those always be the deciding factors, even with music? Everything listed below is available on download and streaming services, but also at your local record store on LP. – AJ
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
With a voice halfway between Willie Nelson and Will Oldham, Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent has made the best and most even album of his decade long career. With the openness and sprawl of Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, Houck’s voice hiccups and hollers along the way as he wrestles with the doubt and terror of love. The second track “Song for Zula” will be a tough one for Houck to ever better.
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
First available online in 2012, this LP was properly released early in ’13 and it feels more like a classic album with each listen. This post-post punk band (or whatever you want to call them) came to New York via Texas, but you’d be hard pressed to find any twang left in their sound. On Light Up Gold it’s all Television-inspired jabbing guitar lines and dry, cutting vocals that recall The Modern Lovers at their brattiest.
Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose
The title track of Monroe’s second album is one of the best songs of the year in any genre so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that legendary songwriter Guy Clark helped coax it out of her. The rest of the album follows suit with tasteful production and bittersweet songs that bring to mind Allison Krauss or Dolly Parton at their best. This is the kind of modern country music album that we all wish was coming out of Nashville on the regular.
Thundercat – Apocalypse
This is futuristic head music, but there’s a soul buried deep in the layers of sound. Even though Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat) has done time with heavy metal acts like Suicidal Tendencies, Apocalypse is new age rhythm and blues inspired by the off kilter funkiness of 70s jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and the melodies of Stevie Wonder at his most experimental.
Pure Bathing Culture – Moon Tides
After a groundswell of interest in their self-titled EP, this duo of Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille quickly returned to the studio to record their first full length album. Working with producer Richard Swift again, they picked up right where they left off, creating another collection of romantic reverb drenched songs in the vein of Talk Talk, Prefab Sprout and Cocteau Twins.
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Earl is arguably the most conflicted and sensitive of the Los Angeles based Odd Future family and he’s far and away the most talented rapper. The best tracks on his official debut Doris are built with simple, clean beats and samples that allow his brooding delivery to take center stage. So on “Chum” when Earl delivers a thought like, “His sins feeling as hard as Vince Carter’s knee cartilage is.” you can process the brilliance of the line just in time for the next one.
Lucius – Wildewoman
This is wicked smart music, but its intelligence, thankfully, never gets in the way of good songwriting. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, two Berklee School of Music alumni, anchor their strong and beautiful voices to an inventive backing band that construct their arrangements with driving percussion and guitar minimalism. Imagine the spazzed-out Lindsey Buckingham tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk with gorgeous female harmonies soaring over the clatter and you can start to understand the appeal of Wildewoman.