Listening Ahead: Upcoming Music Releases for April 2014

Matthew Fiander and Arnold Pan
Photo: Composition of headphones. Image via Shutterstock.

April's "Listening Ahead" offers some early impressions of the month's most intriguing albums, including new releases by the Afghan Whigs, Wye Oak, and Cloud Nothings.

Over the past few years, Record Store Day has established the third Saturday in April as a date to mark off on the musical calendar. Appropriately enough, this month's releases reflect the virtues championed by Record Store Day, particularly eccentricity and adventurousness. Some of April's most intriguing albums are new efforts by oddball troubadours Mac DeMarco and Chad VanGaalen, as well as works by emerging artists willing to take chances, from Wye Oak's guitar-less take on indie-rock to EMA's art-scarred diva-pop. Familiar favorites who've inspired and deserved your loyalty also stand out for seeking out novel contexts for themselves, be it long-awaited returns by the Afghan Whigs, Nickel Creek, and, um, the Pixies, or pioneering artists like Damon Albarn and Animal Collective's Avey Tare breaking new ground for themselves. And of course, Record Store Day is about the rarities, though the treasure trove of the month -- a deluxe boxset of Slint's influential Spiderland -- comes out earlier that week.


April 1

Artist: Cloud Nothings

Album: Here and Nowhere Else

Label: Carpark/Mom + Pop


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Cloud Nothings
Here and Nowhere Else

No, the Cloud Nothings' latest album Here and Nowhere Else may not be the quantum leap that 2012's breakthrough Attack on Memory was, but how many bands have multiple didn't-see-that-coming moments up their sleeves, much less on back-to-back efforts? Rather, Here and Nowhere Else represents the next step in the natural development of Dylan Baldi's songwriting, as he continues to hone and polish his headlong punk-ish indie sound to draw out its more tuneful elements. So if Attack on Memory stood out for expanding Baldi's early lo-fi nuggets into something more muscular, Here and Nowhere Else stretches out things out even more, letting more melody seep into his songs. That might have something to do with trading Steve Albini for John Congleton as producer, but the change in inflection is more likely due to Baldi's constantly changing and ever curious outlook as a songwriter, now experienced enough to be proficient in his craft, while still precocious enough that the unabashed yearning of his songs rings true. "Psychic Trauma" beefs up the three-minute underground-rock ditties that have been Baldi's specialty with a heft that brings Sugar to mind, while the single "I'm Not Part of Me" is both as dynamic and catchy as Cloud Nothings have gotten. When you put it that way, maybe Here and Nowhere Else is a pretty big jump ahead for Cloud Nothings on its own terms. Arnold Pan


Artist: Mac DeMarco

Album: Salad Days

Label: Captured Tracks


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Mac DeMarco
Salad Days

Don't let appearances fool you with Mac DeMarco: Aided and abetted by his rambunctious live shows and raunchy fake videos, there's an impression that DeMarco's a frat-boy performance artist, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many traces of that in the Jonathan Richman-esque jangle-pop songs on his new album Salad Days. What's more, Salad Days is only deceptively simple and laid-back, lulling you with its go-with-the-flow attitude so that you notice the sneaky intricacy and maturing perspective of his tunes only as they're about to pass you by. Maybe DeMarco doesn't seem to mind looking like he's shrugging it all off, since he's got an uncanny knack for striking complex tones in a way that would be work for everyone else, but comes easy to him, like with the melancholy camaraderie of "Brother" and "Treat Her Better" or the surreal poignance of the lo-fi psych-pop of "Passing Out Pieces". More unexpected, given DeMarco's reputation, is how Salad Days reveals the multifaceted persona of someone who's young enough to sound genuinely defiant, yet also worldly wise beyond his years -- on the title track, the 23-year-old DeMarco frets that his salad days have passed him by, even as he scoffs at his mother "acting like's my life's already over". Mac DeMarco need not worry, though, because Salad Days suggests he's only getting better with age and experience. Arnold Pan


April 15

Artist: The Afghan Whigs

Album: Do to the Beast

Label: Sub Pop


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Afghan Whigs
Do to the Beast

It's been over a decade-and-a-half since there's been an album credited to the Afghan Whigs and even longer since the band achieved its Platonic ideal on 1993's Gentlemen, but you wouldn't know it with their back-with-a-vengeance return on Do to the Beast. While 1996's Black Love simmered too much to come to a boil and 1998's 1965 overcompensated in the other direction, Do to the Beast recaptures the snarl and swagger of Greg Dulli's songwriting at its most dramatic and imposing, something that's hard not to notice from the sinister riffs and Dulli's soul-man howl intro'ing the album at the beginning of "Parked Outside". That's not to say, though, that Do to the Beast simply revisits the Afghan Whigs' earlier triumphs, since there's a broader scope to Dulli's seamy narratives and a more expansive sound to match it -- the new effort brings aboard varied collaborators like Mark McGuire and Usher's musical director Johnny "Natural" Najera, among others, to soup up the Afghan Whigs' already formidable presence. There's a searching quality both thematically and musically to Do to the Beast, like with the prowling strut of "Matamoros", punched up with electro texture, and the imploring torch-song "Algiers", which builds from flamenco-like atmospherics to Dulli crooning at his most desperate. All in all, Do to the Beast finds the Afghan Whigs at the crossroads in the best way, branching out and doing what they do best at the same time, a prime case of a band knowing itself well enough to not be afraid to try something new. Arnold Pan


Artist: Banner Pilot

Album: Souvenir

Label: Fat Wreck Chords


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Banner Pilot

Over four records, Banner Pilot has been refining its punk-rock approach, and with Souvenir they honed and expanded on the sound of 2011's excellent Heart Beats Pacific. Here, the band still buzzes through power chords and crashing drums, but they dip into a more varied palate of moods, from the overcast chug of opener "Modern Shakes" to the harder edge of "Dead Tracks" to the shadowy, bass-focused expanse of "Letterbox" and the ever-growing borders of the epic closer "Summer Ash". The album is a document of a youth just about past, one that can sometimes feel resilient in the face of a long past or coming future ("Hold Fast") and sometimes feel completely lost ("Springless"). There's a recognizable coming of age feel here, but Banner Pilot's best trait is the unique sense of place Souvenir builds. There are many cracked and broken roads in these songs, but they never feel anonymous. Instead, you get a glimpse of the personality of the band's hometown, Minneapolis. You get the feeling they know every rut and pothole that inspired the terrain for these songs, every endless sky over which these songs stretch out underneath. For all the blistering, clustered-up energy of these songs, their greatest trait is how they spread out, emotionally and sonically, lasting long after the record ends even as, moment to moment, these songs stick deep in your head. Matthew Fiander


April 19

Artist: Thee Oh Sees

Album: Drop

Label: Castle Face


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Thee Oh Sees

Drop is the final album from Thee Oh Sees before John Dwyer takes his band on hiatus. Considering the nine-song, 31-minute runtime, you might think this a slight, temporary farewell, but you'd be wrong. If the album runs short on time, it's never short on ideas. Each song creates a unique space, as distant keyboards lead us into heavy riffage of opener "Penetrating Eye", a song that borrows as much from the Flaming Lips as it does from Black Sabbath. That combination of atmospheric noodling and deep hooks keeps the listener on his toes throughout. "Savage Victory" is a subtle rumble, with Dwyer' watery, treated vocals deep in the mix, but it erupts in buzzing guitars. Meanwhile, the title track twists that song's shadowy elements into a sunburst of jangling chords. Even the adventurous synths of "Transparent World", the album's strangest offering, straighten themselves out into tight-wire riffs around melting vocals. This (for now) final album from Thee Oh Sees is full of epics writ in miniature, big sounds condensed down and distilled into a potent dose. It reminds us of all the strengths the band has honed over its massive discography, yet still gives us some new surprises. Drop makes one thing clear: this is no victory lap. And when the band does return, we can be sure the surprises will keep coming. Matthew Fiander


April 29

Artist: Chad VanGaalen

Album: Shrink Dust

Label: Sub Pop


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Chad VanGaalen
Shrink Dust

Chad VanGaalen claims Shrink Dust is both a soundtrack to a sci-fi flick he made and a country record. If you know VanGaalen's work, you know neither of these claims is exactly true. There are acoustic guitars and pedal steel, but this record is on VanGaalen's terrain more than any country road, and it needs no visuals as companion. And yet, maybe the album is a bit filmic, as VanGaalen once again sets every song on a Dutch Tilt, each tune just off center. There is a folk-pop base at the bottom of this great record, but these songs chisel at that foundation at every turn. The intimate acoustics on opener "Cut Off My Hands" are beset on all sides by distant oddball carnival sounds. "Where Are You" explodes into a gauzy space-pop epic. The pedal steel in "Weighed Sin" wobbles along bleary eyed and yields to dissonant guitar fills. "Leaving on Bells" is all slashing garage rock, while "Weird Love" is a string-laden haunt. These may seem like disconnected parts, but in VanGaalen's musical world he provides sonic throughlines, making Shrink Dust simultaneously his most adventurous and cohesive album to date. For all the work he puts in rendering the recognizable alien, the brilliance here comes in the very human heart at the center of it all. The sounds are jarring, but the emotions here, and VanGaalen's warbling voice, are achingly recognizable and heartbreaking in their beauty. Honesty and oddity collide on Shrink Dust, and whatever you call it -- country, soundtrack, etc. -- it's one of the finest pop albums of the year. Matthew Fiander


Artist: Wye Oak

Album: Shriek

Label: Merge


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Wye Oak

Wye Oak's last two albums, especially the excellent Civilian, were full of Jenn Wasner's giant guitar riffs and Andy Stack's crashing drums. They were astral in their effect but the elements -- guitar, drums, some keys, vocals -- were elementally basic. So the band has taken a big risk on Shriek by essentially cutting out the guitar. The album instead focuses on the interplay between keyboards and bass guitar. If it's a huge, scary shift, it's also one that pays off. The band still smartly builds around Wasner's wide-open and emotive singing, but they approach the keys much in the way they approached guitars before. Airy phrasings set up the dreamy searching of "Before", while punctuating chords emphasize the tilted structure of "The Tower". Stack and Wasner provide interesting shifts in mood and texture here, moving from the insistent shuffle of "School of Eyes" to heartier stomp of "Despicable Animals" to the more expansive borders of songs like "Logic of Color". It would be easy to let these synths and keys drift up and away, but Wasner's basslines -- deep and funky throughout -- work with Stack's drums to tether these songs down. And so Shriek pulls, delightfully and troublingly, at its restraints, and the album exists beautifully at that moment just before it snaps, that moment of pristine tension that ripples out in all directions. Matthew Fiander


Selected Releases for April 2014

(Release dates subject to change)

April 1

Adanowski, ADA

Arc Iris, Arc Iris (Anti-)

Architecture In Helsinki, NOW + 4EVA (Casual Workout)

The Bamboos, Fever in the Road (Nettwerk)

Band of Skulls, Himalayan (Kobalt)

Jeff Black, Folklore

Black Pistol Fire, Hush or Howl (Modern Outsider)

The Body, I Shall Die Here (RVNG Intl.)

Hannibal Burress, Live from Chicago (Comedy Central)

Busman's Holiday, A Long Goodbye (Joyful Noise)

Carolina Calvache, Sotareno (Sunnyside)

S. Carey, Range of Light (Jagjaguwar)

Dan Croll, Sweet Disarray (Capitol)

Cute Heels, Spiritual (Dark Entries)

Charlie Daniels Band, Off the Grid -- Doin' It Dylan (Blue Hat)

Carlos Franzetti, In the Key of Tango (Sunnyside)

Hans Chew, Life & Love

HTRK, Psychic 9-5 Club (Ghostly International)

The Infamous Stringdusters, Let It Go (High Country Recordings)

Inventions, Inventions (Temporary Residence)

Jamaica, Ventura (PIAS)

The Jones Family Singers, The Spirit Speaks (Arts+Labor)

Jonny Two Bags, Salvation Town (Isotone / Thirty Tigers)

Kaiser Chiefs, Education, Education, Education & War (ATO)

Lacuna Coil, Broken Crown Halo (Century Media)

Jon Langford, Here Be Monsters (In De Goot)

Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual 30th Anniversary Celebration (Legacy)

Mica Levi, Under the Skin Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Milan)

Malachai, Beyond the Ugly Side (Domino/Double Six)

Manchester Orchestra, Cope (Loma Vista)

Mobb Deep, Infamous Mobb Deep

Next Stop: Horizon, The Harbour, My Home (Tapete)

Nickel Creek, A Dotted Line (Nonesuch)

Nux Vomica, Nux Vomica (Relapse)

Pattern Is Movement, Pattern Is Movement (Hometapes)

Pilgrim, II: Void Worship (Metal Blade)

Pure X, Angel (Fat Possum)

Pyrrhon, The Mother of Virtues (Relapse)

Nathaniel Rateliff, Falling Faster Than You Can Run (mod y vi)

Leon Russell, Life Journey (UMe)

Saintseneca, Dark Arc (Anti-)

John Sieger & Greg Koch, A Walk in the Park (Faux Real)

Small Black, Real People EP (Jagjaguwar)

Smoke DZA, Dream.ZONE.Achieve (RFC)

Split Single, Fragmented World (Inside Outside)

Thievery Corporation, Saudade (ESL)

Timber Timbre, Hot Dreams (Arts & Crafts)

Toadies, Rubberneck remastered reissue (Kirtland)

Various Artists, Looking into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne (Music Road)

Vondelpark, Seabed Remixed (R & S)

Weaves, Weaves EP (Buzz)

WV White, West Virginia White (Anyway)

White Hinterland, Baby (Dead Oceans)

April 8

Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, Enter the Slasher House (Domino)

Boozoo Bajou, 4 (Apollo)

Brown Shoe, Lonely Beast I

Chat Noir, Elec3Cities (RareNoise)

Colormusic, May You Marry Rich (Memphis Industries)

Karol Conka, Batuk Freak (Mr. Bongo)

Denney and the Jets, Mexican Coke (Burger)

Donavan Wolfington, Scary Stories You Tell in the Dark EP (Topshelf)

EMA, The Future's Void (Matador)

The Faint, Doom Abuse! (SQE)

Liam Finn, The Nihilist (Yep Roc)

John Frusciante, Enclosure

Doug Gillard, Parade On (Nine Mile)

Girl Talk and Freeway, Broken Ankles EP

Greyhounds, Accumulator (Ardent)

Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball (Nonesuch)

Heathers, Kingdom (Big3)

Katie Herzig, Walk Through Walls

Eric Hutchinson, Pure Fiction

Incan Abraham, Tolerance (White Iris)

Kronos Quartet, A Thousand Thoughts (Nonesuch)

Little Racer, Modern Accent EP (PaperCup)

Man Forever + So Percussion, Ryonen (Thrill Jockey)

Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Band, Que Viva Harlem (Jazzheads)

The Mary Onettes, Portico (Labrador)

Martina McBride, Everlasting (Alliance)

Mean Creek, Local Losers (Old Flame)

Nømads, Free My Animal (Mecca Lecca)

OFF!, Wasted Years (Vice)

Joan Osborne, Love & Hate (Entertainment One)

Protomartyr, Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)

PUP, PUP (SideOneDummy)

Ratking, So It Goes (Hot Charity)

Linda Ronstadt, Duets (Rhino)

School of Language, Old Fears (Memphis Industries)

Screaming Females, Live at the Hideout (Don Giovanni)

Kendra Shank and John Stowell, New York Conversations (The Montreux Jazz Label)

Shook Twins, What We Do

Shy Hunters, O, That I Had Wings

The Skull Defekts, Dances in Dreams of the Known Unknown (Thrill Jockey)

Sohn, Tremors (4AD)

SoMo, SoMo (Republic)

Squarepusher x Z Machines, Music for Robots EP (Warp)

Teebs, E S T A R A (Brainfeeder)

Todd Terje, It's Album Time! (Olsen)

Thus Owls, Turning Rocks (Secret City)

Tweens, Tweens (Frenchkiss)

Your Friend, Jekyll/Hyde EP Domino

April 15

August Alsina, Testimony (NNTME/Def Jam)

Amps for Christ, Canyon Cars and Crows (Shrimper)

Bobby Bare Jr., Undefeated (Bloodshot)

The Bee Gees, The Bee Gees: 1987-1991 The Warner Bros. Years (Warner/Rhino)

The Both (Aimee Mann & Ted Leo), The Both (SuperEgo)

Chet Faker, Talk Is Cheap (Downtown)

Cloud Cult, Unplug (Earthology)

Crookes, Soap Box (Modern Outsider)

Rodney Crowell, Tarpaper Sky (New West)

Cult Leader, Nothing for Us Here (Deathwish Inc.)

Moot Davis, Goin' in Hot (Crow Town)

Deleted Scenes, Lithium Burn (Park the Van/Nevado)

Demitasse, Blue Medicine (Bedlamb)

Jason DeRulo, Talk Dirty (Warner)

Armen Donelian, Sayat-Nova: Songs of My Ancestors (Sunnyside)

The Drip, A Presentation of Gruesome Poetics (Relapse)

Duck Sauce, Quack (Fool's Gold)

Heartsrevolution Ride or Die (OWSLA)

Japanther, Instant Money Magic (Seayou)

Jessica Lea Mayfield, Make My Head Sing... (ATO)

Ingrid Michaelson, Lights (Cabin24/Mom+Pop)

Stanton Moore, Conversations (Royal Potato Family)Nas, Illmatic XX (Legacy)

Needtobreathe, Rivers in the Wasteland (Atlantic)

Odonis Odonis, Hard Boiled Soft Boiled (Buzz)

Orcas, Yearling (Morr)

Daniel Pearson, Escape Acts EP (Saint in the City)

Pharoahe Monch, “P.T.S.D.” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) (W.A.R. Media)

Plague Vendor, Free to Eat (Epitaph)

Ramona Lisa (Chairlift's Caroline Polachek), Arcadia (Terrible)

Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin', Decisions (Silver Talon)

The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down (Universal/Republic)

Slint, Spiderland boxset (Touch & Go)

Spottiswoode and His Enemies, English Dream (Old Soul)

Tiny Empires, Weird Headspace (Null)

Vaudeville Ettiquette, Debutantes & Dealers (Sunyata)

Chuck E. Weiss, Red Beans and Weiss (Anti-)

Dan Wilson (Semisonic), Love Without Fear (Ballroom)

Woods, With Light and with Love (Woodsist)

Wyrd Visions, Half-Eaten Guitar (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

April 19

Selected Record Store Day releases; see here for a full Record Store Day release list

A Minor Forest, Flemish Altruism and Inindependence reissues (Thrill Jockey)

Bored Games, Who Killed Colonel Mustard? EP (1982) reissue (Flying Nun)

Breadwinner, Burner EP reissue (Merge)

Hollis Brown, Hollis Brown Gets Loaded (cover of Velvet Underground's Loaded) (Alive Naturalsound)

Cardinal, Cardinal reissue (Fire)

Creepoid, Wet 12" (Graveface)

Green Day, Demolicious 18-track demo collection

Glenn Jones, Welcomed Wherever I Go (Thrill Jockey)

Merchandise/Milk Money/Destruction Unit, USA '13 (540)

The Moles, Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Complete Story of the Moles (Fire)

Mudhoney, On Top: KEXP Presents Mudhoney on Top of the Space Needle (Sub Pop)

Pissed Jeans, The Very Best of Sub Pop 2009-2013: Live at the BBC 12" (Sub Pop)

Songs: Ohia, Journey On: Collected Singles (Secretly Canadian)

Spoon, Love Ways EP reissue (Merge)

Tame Impala, Live Versions EP (Modular)

Alexander Tucker, Alexander Tucker reissue (Thrill Jockey)

Various Artists (with the Chills and the Verlaines), Dunedin Double (1982) reissue (Flying Nun)

Various Artists (with Speedy Ortiz's Sadie DuPuis, Potty Mouth), Faux Real (Father/Daughter)

April 22

Syd Arthur, Sound Mirror (Harvest)

Bailiff, Remise

Black Prairie, Fortune (Sugar Hill)

Careful, The World Doesn't End (Circle into Square)


Different Sleep, Conflict EP (Friends of Friends)

EELS, The Cautionary Tale of Mark Oliver Everett

Fear of Men, Loom (Kanine)

G. Love & Special Sauce, Sugar (Brushfire)

Grand Analog, Modern Thunder (Jillionaire)

Curtis Harding, Soul Power (Burger)

Iggy Azalea, The New Classic (Virgin)

Keb' Mo', BLUESAmericana (Kind of Blue)

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, Sling Shot to Heaven (Mariel Recordings Company)

The Menzingers, Rented World (Epitaph)

Neon Trees, Pop Psychology (Island Def Jam)

Patrick Park, Love Like Swords

Pigeon John, Encino Man (On the Telephone/MRI/RED)

Purling Hiss, Dizzy Polizzy vinyl reissue (Drag City)

Asher Roth, RetroHash

The Shackeltons, Records (TLE)

TEEN, The Way and Color (Carpark)

To Kill a King, Cannibals with Cutlery (Xtra Mile)

Tourist, Patterns EP (Monday)

Turchi, Can't Bury Your Past

The Whigs, Modern Creation (New West)

April 29

Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots (Warner Bros)

Archspire, The Lucid Collective (Season of Mist)

Nat Baldwin, In the Hollows (Western Vinyl)

Broken Twin, May (Anti-)

Calaita, Flamenco Son (Riverboat)

Death, Leprosy (Relapse)


Echo & the Bunnymen Meteorites (429)

Elephant, Sky Swimming (Memphis Industries)

Embrace, Embrace (Cooking Vinyl)

Ex-Cult, Midnight Passenger (Goner)

Floor, Oblation (Season of Mist)

Frameworks, Loom (Topshelf)

Klaus Johan Grobe, Im Sinne der Zeit (Trouble in Mind)

Howlin Rain, Live Rain (Silver Current)

Johnnyswim, Diamonds (Big Picnic)

Johnossi, Transitions (Universal Sweden/Caroline)

Kelis, Food (Ninja Tune)

Harvey Mason, Chameleon (Concord)

Movement, Movement EP (Modular)

Mystic Braves, Desert Island

Okapi Sun, Techno Prisoners (Phaedra)

Old 97's, Most Messed Up (ATO)

Ought, More Than Any Other Day (Constellation)

Pink Mountaintops, Get Back (Jagjaguwar)

Pixies, Indie Cindy (Pixiesmusic)

Rodrigo y Gabriela, 9 Dead Alive (ATO)

Lindsey Stirling, Shatter Me

Will Stratton, Gray Lodge Wisdom

William Tyler, Lost Colony EP (Merge)

Ben Watt (Everything But the Girl), Hendra (Unmade Road)

Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish Inc./Glitterhouse)

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