The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten-The Gaslight Anthem has quickly become one of the biggest bands in the world. Their unique brand of Springsteen-meets-The Clash-rock has already begun to influence bands of today as well as tomorrow. Four albums into their career, and each has been stronger than the last. Handwritten serves as proof that these New Jersey boys haven't lost a step. Brian Fallon's voice might soar to polished new highs on songs like 'Howl', but the songwriting is still classic Gaslight. Fans and first-timers alike owe it to themselves to pick this album up.
Knife Party: Rage Valley EP-If there is a dirty word in popular music today, it's 'dubstep'. The mere utterance of this electronic sub-genre has sent DJs and producers running. Even world-famous Deadmau5 issued a formal apology for dabbling in this hilariously over-blown trend. However, there are those who have proved that dubstep can be a viable option for the dance floor. One act on such a quest is Knife Party. The Australian duo's latest EP, Rage Valley, is only four songs long. By removing the homogenous 'wub-wub-wub' created by combining lazy DJs with low frequencies and replacing them with precise house-style cuts, they've managed to create something instantly heavier and intensely more beautiful.
Mystery Jets: Radlands-A wobbly, lo-fi guitar starts this phenominal album in a slight, unassuming kind of way, and that's exactly what kind of album Radlands is. It is unassuming, but powerful. It is quiet, yet heavy. Before long, just as Mystery Jets kicks into songs like 'Someone Purer', which is nothing short of get-up-and-dance, you realize the simple beauty of the album. There is a ballad or two that might fall a little flat, but this is expected, expecially from an album that clearly spans and celebrates the last 50 years of rock. Fans of The Flaming Lips, Cat Stevens and the Avett Brothers would be doing themselves a huge favor by diving into this stellar disc.
POP ETC: POP ETC-The Morning Benders had it all; a growing fan base, perfectly tuned indie-pop sensibilities, two solid albums and a handful of EPs under their belts. So, why the sudden and complete change in their name and sound? One listen to POP ETC will give reason enough. From the sorrowful intro of 'New Life' to the dance floor hooks of 'Halfway to Heaven', it is evident that this is a band that simply wants to do something different. Even though much of the album falls prey to radio repetition, it manages to breathe new soul into auto tune and many of the other lame bells and whistles we hear today, at least in the mind of this music fan. Many blasted The Morning Benders of 'selling out' for becoming POP ETC, but whether this is a permanent change or not, this album is full of glorious hooks that any fan of serious pop music can get behind.
AESOP ROCK: Skelethon-It's been five long years since Aesop's last album None Shall Pass, which is widely considered to be an underground Hip-Hop classic. The rap game has changed a lot since 2007. Beats have grown heavier, artists have gotten younger and popular tastes have simply changed. On Skelethon, none of this appears to matter to Aesop Rock. It's nearly impossible to listen and not hear irreverence to the natural rap world. It's hard to assign a radio-friendly single, even with the hooky 'ZZZ Top'. With quick, deep rhymes and Aesop's signature growl, it's nearly impossible to ignore Skelethon. Is this the future of rap? Probably not. But, when a great rapper makes a great rap album and refuses to succumb to the pressures put on the hip-hop world, it deserves to be noticed. That's what Skelethon is, from 'Zero Dark Thirty' to 'Tetra', it delivers a great hip-hop album like nothing else coming out this year, even from some of Aesop's talented colleagues like EL-P and Killer Mike.