By: Alex Wood
The biggest month for music yet this year, our capsule reviews for April combine 31 excellent releases that should be on any music fan's radar.
Father John Misty- Pure Comedy [4/7]
With Pure Comedy, Father John Misty continues to be one of the most clever, brilliant songwriters in modern times. It’s immediately less accessible than his past work, slower in tempo with lengthier songs, yet fans will still embrace the songs wholly, mostly for the lyrics. Modern, sardonic, satirical, humorous and astonishingly true, the songs cover the ups and downs of life in 2017 from the viewpoint of a man that almost seems too intelligent. The songs are primarily built around piano, which fits the lyrics’ somber tone, giving it a gorgeous, simple overarching feel. Pure Comedy may be somewhat self-indulgent, but the sheer talent behind it makes it easy to embrace.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 5/15 @ Chicago Theatre & 9/20 @ Auditorium Theatre
The New Pornographers- Whiteout Conditions [4/7]
Indie supergroup The New Pornographers returns after three years dormant with Whiteout Conditions. Consisting of a straightforward indie-rock sound, the album doesn’t break any barriers, but doesn’t seem to want or need to. The album continues to benefit from the collaborative writing of its members, though Destroyer’s Dan Bejar isn’t present. It’s a consistent set of songs that falls perfectly in line with their older work, which is enough to keep fans coming back for more.
Guided By Voices- August By Cake [4/7]
With 32 songs in a little over an hour, August By Cake is pure Guided By Voices. The prolific band’s 24th album also happens to be one of their most consistent in years, sticking to a clean alternative-rock sound that suits them best. The songs range from triumphant and catchy rock songs to noisy jams to acoustic ballads, offering the full spectrum of rock ‘n roll as they go. The band’s strong songwriting and classic rock sensibilities leave plenty to love for both fans and newcomers alike.
Future Islands- The Far Field [4/7]
Easily amongst the best albums out this month, The Far Field takes Future Islands’ dramatic sound to a point that’s nearly perfect. Passionate, distinctive vocals meet complex and equally unique musical arrangements, making the record an absolutely enthralling listen. The Far Field feels intentionally excessive, but the band embraces it with complete conviction. It’s dark, sad music, but somehow strangely simultaneously uplifting. Future Islands remain one of the most interesting bands releasing music today, and The Far Field is another excellent addition to their catalog of music.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 6/6 @ Riviera
JC Brooks- The Neon Jungle [4/7]
With The Neon Jungle, Chicago soul mainstay JC Brooks abandons his longtime band The Uptown Sound to pursue a slightly more modern sound. Keyboards offer a definite 80s vibe while electric guitars and a tight rhythm section provide a rock and funk intensity throughout. Gone are the 60s, horn-laden R&B jams, though the catchy hooks are here to stay. It’s a strong album that, predictably, focuses more on the songwriter himself and less on the band, which could make The Neon Jungle a divisive album amongst longtime fans.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 6/2 @ Joe’s On Weed St.
The Sextones- Moonlight Vision [4/7]
West Coast funk outfit The Sextones spent a year in post-production, fine-tuning their debut record, Moonlight Vision, and you can certainly tell. The record is a set of 11 sexy, old-school R&B tracks, with a powerful, bass-heavy rhythm section, gritty guitar solos, and a ripping horn section. Though the overall sound may sound nostalgic and derivate, the sheer rocking nature takes it to heights that few other bands have hit. Fans of funk, R&B and good-old-fashioned rock ‘n roll with almost certainly fall in love with this record. Great things are on the horizon for this young band, and their debut should be on your radar this month.
V/A- Resistance Radio: Man In The High Castle [4/7]
Danger Mouse and Sam Cohen produced and curated the compilation Resistance Radio as a soundtrack to an Amazon series that reimagines the world had the Nazis won WWII. Aimed to recreate the 60s sound in a darker style, the album pulls 18 songs from 1962 and a number of high-profile guests, including Beck, The Shins, Norah Jones and Angel Olsen. With the assistance of Danger Mouse’s flawless production, the songs find a consistency in sound and quality that makes Resistance Radio such an interesting listen. A fascinating project executed wonderfully, there’s much to love for all music fans in this compilation.
Joey Bada$$- All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ [4/7]
Joey Bada$$ carved out a piece of the hip-hop scene by sticking to a nostalgic 90’s throwback sound, but really reached his height with All Amerikkkan Bada$$, where the songwriter truly has something to say. The rapper mixes the political climate in the country with his day-to-day life to create one of the most unique rap records of the year, his delivery mixing chorus hooks with free-flowing verses to truly stand out amongst peers. It’s a timely record that every hip-hop fan needs to own, a truly intelligent record of current times.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 6/6 @ Lollapalooza
Leslie Mendelson- Love & Murder [4/7]
Love & Murder is a tender folk record, its delicate acoustic compositions and heartfelt vocal delivery spotlighting Leslie Mendelson’s songwriting. The record is everything one could ask for from traditional folk music, ranging from upbeat, strummed songs to slower, finger-picked ballads. With a guest appearance from Bob Weir and an intriguing Bob Dylan cover thrown in, Love & Murder is a remarkable listen that shouldn’t float under your radar.
Kendrick Lamar- DAMN. [4/14]
Yet again, Kendrick Lamar returns with what will certainly wind up being one of the best records of the year. DAMN. abandons the ambitious jazz and funk influences of To Pimp A Butterfly, but without losing any artistic or creative drive. The music is straightforward hip-hop, derivative but original, simple but deliberate, unique yet familiar. Yet, as always, the true merit lies in Lamar’s lyrics, which are amongst the best of not only his career, but the entire history of the genre. The words often come off as pure poetry, delivered at a dizzying pace that requires multiple listens to even begin to register them. DAMN. is an ambitious but successful whole, and may be just the record the world needs right now.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/27 @ United Center
The String Cheese Incident- Believe [4/14]
Believe found an especially inspired String Cheese Incident debuting songs from studio tracks instead of live, a rare choice for the band. An overwhelmingly positive album, Believe is clearly intended to be a cheery, hopeful listen, both due to its idealist lyricism and the music itself. Ranging from a straightforward jam-band sound to funk, folk, dance and country influences, it’s a record that explores every corner of the band’s eclectic back catalog. The recording itself is potentially a little too clean, placing a focus on the songwriting instead of the musicians themselves, which can get exhausting given the silliness within the lyrics. Regardless, it’s sure to keep fans satisfied, while likely not encouraging newcomers.
Talib Kweli & Styles P- The Seven [4/14]
New York MCs Talib Kweli and Styles P teamed up for an EP titled The Seven. The seven songs feature a nostalgic brand of hip-hop, with dense, sample-heavy beats that flaunt both artists’ experience. Both trade verses with smooth flows, working together on infectious choruses between. Though short, The Seven is hip-hop done right, and a hard one to dislike.
Chris Greene Quartet- Boundary Issues [4/14]
Those looking for talented and relevant modern jazz need look no further than Chicago saxophonist and bandleader Chris Greene. His quartet’s newest record, Boundary Issues, flaunts both his talents on sax as well as his band’s abilities. A tight rhythm section keeps songs moving, with keyboard solos offering variety throughout. Yet the strength of Chris Greene Quartet comes in their refusal to play within the lines of one genre. Whether incorporating the use of samples, reggae influences, funk, rock or simply changing instrumentation and personnel, the band keeps listeners on their feet throughout the entirety of Boundary Issues.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 5/20 @ Winter’s Jazz Club, 5/27 @ Chop Shop, 5/30 @ The Promontory, 7/5 @ Shedd Aquarium
Little Dragon- Season High [4/14]
Swedish electronic group Little Dragon returns with Season High, an extremely mature dance record. The songs are minimal at heart, yet show a wide range, switching from a spacious, ambient art piece to an almost club ready dance track in a moment of seconds. The vocals and lyrics always fit the music, smooth and exotic, and very controlled. Though Season High isn’t doing anything particularly new, it’s still a fresh sounding blend of electronics that few others in the scene are capable of.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 8/4 @ Lollapalooza
The Black Angels- Death Song [4/21]
Few bands truly embody the modern psychedelic scene as the Black Angels do. Consistent in sound and ambition for more than a decade, the five-piece continues to combine layers of dark guitar riffs over odd noises and droning vocals, creating a sound somehow classic yet refreshing at once. Death Song doesn’t change the group’s formula, but instead embraces it to become one of the band’s most consistent sets of songs to date.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 5/11 @ Thalia Hall
Woods- Love Is Love [4/21]
Recorded shortly after the presidential election, Love Is Love finds Woods exploring a different sonic territory than most of their past work. Though still remaining in the indie-folk meets psychedelic realm, the album sounds particularly inspired. Songs like the title track revisit the band’s well-developed sound, with multiple tempos and sections giving the guitars room to jam, an upbeat bass line holding it all together. Yet the strangest moments come in later songs, which include a ten-minute psychedelic noise jam, building and releasing as though a living, breathing being, an ultimately difficult task to write or record. It sounds like a record Woods not only wanted to make, but needed to, and finds the band flaunting its experience and expertise in a way that should satisfy any psychedelic music fan.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/10 @ Empty Bottle
V/A- Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live [4/21]
When Big Star songwriter and guitarist passed away two days before the band was scheduled to perform at SXSW in 2010, a multitude of famous friends and collaborators traveled to Texas to perform the show in his honor. In 2016, many of the same musicians came together again for a set of Big Star songs in a theater in California, but this time joined by even more big names. Members of Wilco, R.E.M., the dB’s, Yo La Tengo and more took the stage for a mesmerizing set of 27 songs that brought the beauty of Big Star’s music alive once more.
Ray Davies- Americana [4/21]
The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies returns with a new solo album, Americana, his first in a decade. Perhaps due to this break from the studio, the guitarist sounds refreshed and excited, creating a smooth but well-crafted set of songs that, predictably, stick to the Americana genre. Slide guitars, twangy electrics and organs create the sonic bed on which his lyrics lay, his occasionally gruff voice only adding character to the songs. Though the songs occasionally take on a whimsical, Kinks-esque sound, Americana shows the talent that Ray Davies both always had and still has.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band- So It Is [4/21]
No band encapsulates the joy of New Orleans like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. An institution in the city since the 60s, the band remains alive throughout the generations, and their music is better than ever. So It Is, amongst the group’s only albums of entirely original material, finds the band exploring Cuban influences, which may be more similar to those of New Orleans jazz as many would think. From laid-back jazz songs to upbeat dance numbers, So It Is is recorded with a sense of confidence and pride, the horns blasting and bass lines funky. A terrific listen from start to finish, this is an album that is literally impossible not to enjoy.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/18 @ Thalia Hall
The Flaming Lips- Onboard The International Space Station Concert For Peace [4/22]
Released for Record Store Day, Onboard The International Space Station Concert For Peace is a cheesy, faux live release from the Lips. Yet despite the silly concept, the album manages to capture the enticingly far-out nature of their most recent material, at times more so than the studio recordings themselves. Dense layers of synthesizers and fake strings are met by psychedelic guitar tones, each song giving the spacey nature that the title would imply. If it’s clear that the Flaming Lips are going to do whatever they want to anyways, this isn’t their worst idea to date.
The Cranberries- Something Else [4/28]
90s alternative favorites The Cranberries return unexpectedly with Something Else. The record re-records ten songs from their career featuring acoustic, orchestral arrangements. Surprisingly, the band manages to make these extremely interesting, with gorgeous arrangements that used the Irish Chamber Orchestra and the vocals sounding as pristine as ever. Though its certainly not essential listening in the band’s discography, it will be a much-welcomed addition for longtime fans looking for a little more.
Feist- Pleasure [4/28]
Coming six years after her last record, Pleasure continues to explore new territories for Leslie Feist, the songwriter never having been one to stand still. The record is a sparse yet conscious set of songs, recorded with a warm, lo-fi sensibility. The music is straightforward rock, but the downbeat nature keeps it from seeming as such. Gone are the layers of excess, be them horns or harmonies or production tricks, instead focusing on the songs themselves. It’s an interesting move for the artist’s return to the music scene, but feels heartfelt and intentional, making it a reasonable next step.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 6/14-15 @ The Vic
Willie Nelson- God’s Problem Child [4/28]
Even at 83 years old, Willie Nelson’s distinctive country swagger is as fresh as ever. God’s Problem Child finds Nelson switching between an upbeat, twangy outlaw style and slower ballads, maintaining a consistency and sense of expertise throughout. Yet the record really shines for its lyrics, which range from internet rumors of his death to post-election drama, remaining relevant and earnest. For his age, Nelson’s vocals still offer a soothing croon, with a sharp sense of melody. God’s Problem Child is classic Willie, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/14 @ Ravinia
Colin Stetson- All This I Do For Glory [4/28]
On All This I Do For Glory, experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson creates rhythmic textures using waves of loops, resulting in one of the strangest one-man-bands you’ve ever heard. The songs are long, stretching horizontally, building with the addition of noises, harmonies and upward dynamics, each track a small piece of the ambitious whole. Though certainly not for everyone, it’s an album packed with artistic ambition, and guaranteed to be like nothing else you’ve heard this year.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/16 @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Sylvan Esso- What Now [4/28]
Electronic indie duo Sylvan Esso returns three years after their self-titled debut with What Now. Though less minimal than its debut, the album features the same mature sense of space and gorgeous vocals as before, the artists simply building on what they established prior. It’s an album that is absolutely accessible on the outside, but rewarding upon multiple listens thanks to its inner complexity. Feeling both conscious and natural at once, What Now sounds like Sylvan Esso continuing to do what they do best.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 8/5 @ Lollapalooza
Trombone Shorty- Parking Lot Symphony [4/28]
New Orleans songwriter and trombonist Trombone Shorty leads his band through another triumphant set of songs on Parking Lot Symphony, his sixth full-length studio record to date. The songs straddle the borderline of funk, jazz, hip-hop, pop and rock, all delivered with smooth vocals and a laid-back nature. It’s cool, sexy music met by passionate horns and a solid rhythm section. Accessible yet technically proficient, Parking Lot Symphony offers a little bit for everyone, bringing the New Orleans feeling to listeners with every song.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 10/21 @ Riviera
Thurston Moore- Rock N Roll Consciousness [4/28]
Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore returns with Rock N Roll Consciousness, a five-song, 43-minute record that lives up to its name. In many ways comparable to what made his original band so influential, the album is centered on the electric guitar, layering eclectic but clean chords atop one another to create a dense web of background music. The songs grow slowly but naturally, and are typically driven home by shredding solos. His vocals, often more spoken than sung, tend to be secondary to the dark music beneath them. Moore’s music has an intensity that few rock musicians have mastered, keeping Rock N Roll Consciousness an interesting listen throughout.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/14 @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Gorillaz- Humanz [4/28]
Damon Albarn’s animated band Gorillaz returns with a highly anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Plastic Beach. Despite the seven-year gap, there isn’t a massive change in the band’s recording approach. The record is still a star-studded affair, using nearly 20 guests over the course of the record, giving the album a kaleidoscopic, dizzying sense of eclecticism. Ranging from hip-hop to heavy electronic songs to pop and alternative, the album stays rooted in Albarn’s sense of craftsmanship, utilizing a massive number of studio tricks, keyboards and electronics to create the dense beats. The songs sound more extreme than on its predecessor, Albarn perhaps willing to take more risks this time around. It’s certainly a fun listen, if not the groundbreaking record that many had hoped for.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 7/8 @ Northerly Island
Old Crow Medicine Show- 50 Years Of Blonde On Blonde [4/28]
50 Years Of Blonde On Blonde is a recording of Old Crow Medicine Show from a performance at the stage of the Country Music Hall Of Fame last May, where the band first covered Bob Dylan’s classic 1966 album in full. An obvious influence for the band, the group sounds invigorated and inspired throughout as they recreate the ambitious originals in a way that fits their bluegrass roots. It’s an exciting listen that doesn’t simply remake the timeless songs, but using them as a blueprint for further inspiration. Fans of the band and of Dylan’s original will both find much to love in this recording.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 6/8 @ The Vic
Sufjan Stevens- Carrie & Lowell Live [4/28]
Sufjan Stevens’ 2015 Carrie & Lowell tour promoted his excellent last record of the same name. The tour featured a blend of delicate ballads and dramatic electronic rockers, utilizing a wide variety of instruments to create a spectacularly massive sound. Carrie & Lowell Live features 15 recordings from the tour, predictably focusing on newer material. The performances are truly gorgeous, with the grandiose sensibility that few of his peers in the scene could ever pull off. It’s a must-listen for fans, and definitely an interesting spin for those unfamiliar with his live shows.
JMSN- Whatever Makes U Happy [4/28]
Michigan producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist JMSN returns with Whateever Makes U Happy, a collection of smooth neo-soul songs that sound both modern and timeless. Fat bass lines, spacious drums and organs make up the majority of the musical backing, with clean production allowing each to truly pop. His voice is characterized by a sexy, mid-range, soulful croon that has a careful sense of control in its melodies. Even if the sound has been a staple since the late 90s, Whatever Makes U Happy sounds fresh and energized, and may deservedly set the stage for bigger things to come for the artist.
Upcoming Tour Dates: 5/21 @ Bottom Lounge