Meet the Exec Board – Jeff Holland (’19)

by on July 31, 2017

Posted in: Music

Hey, I’m Jeff (he/him) and I’ll be one of the two music directors for the fall semester. Feel free to ask me for new music to play on your show if you ever need some; it’s our job to encourage you to play new songs! I’m from Cleveland originally, but currently I’m at Middlebury’s Arabic language school, hosted at Mills College in Oakland, California.

The (in)famously laid-back California culture—infectious in the San Francisco and Oakland cafés, where leisurely folk in business casual attire sip cold brew, listen to Sylvan Esso, and daydream about starting an online delivery service exclusively for avocado-based skin rejuvenation cream—fails to penetrate the gates of Mills. I enjoy learning Arabic, but nonetheless I find it difficult to maintain tranquility of spirit while struggling to decode the Arabic conditional tense, interpreting a dense passage of Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar, or writing a summary of a guest speaker’s lecture having understood maybe ten words, at best, of that lecture.

Of course, we all have our coping mechanisms. Mine include drinking 4-5 cups of coffee each day, organizing my meme library when I should be studying, crying alone in the middle of the night, and of course, keeping up to date on the newest albums. These are the top 30 albums I’ve loved the most this year so far. Be sure to check out the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the list, and stay tuned for more Meet the Exec Board posts in the coming weeks.

 

30. White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band

Stop, read my message and tell me what you think

Oh girl, let me lean close and listen to your heart beat.

The album title might be a bit of an exaggeration for this ‘80s-rock throwback band, but some of these songs are just too damn fun to refuse (especially Judy French, which, to be honest, is the main reason this album made it to this list). You can enjoy 31 minutes of feel-good rock music with catchy hooks, and feel especially good about it because ‘80s nostalgia is hip right now, or something.

Best tracks: The World’s Best American Band, Judy French, Little Silver Cross, Party Next Door

RIYL: Sheer Mag, Ty Segall, Wavves, King Tuff

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

29. King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering

Who do you think you are?

You and all your suffering?

The best metal albums of the past few years have been the ones that spit in the face of genre conventions. These albums receive criticism from metal purists, a vocal minority who apparently just want to go back to a time when metal was exclusive to racist Norwegian men who burned churches as a weekend hobby. While the purists are busy whining, the rest of us can enjoy the boundary-pushing doom metal of King Woman, fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, whose ethereal moans, sludgy guitars, and emotional lyrics create a haunting atmosphere.

Best tracks: Utopia, Deny, Hierophant, Manna

RIYL: Thou, The Body, Bell Witch, Pallbearer

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

28. Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love

I been reading the news and you’ll surely regret

If you don’t give us the ballot

Expect the bayonet.

DIY protest music that thrives on juicy hooks, anti-establishment lyrics, and the raspy voice and charismatic personality of singer Tina Halladay. If you saw them play the Gamut Room last year, you’ll be happy to hear that their raucous energy is captured well on this new album.

Best tracks: Need to Feel Your Love, Just Can’t Get Enough, Expect the Bayonet, Pure Desire

RIYL: Cayetana, White Reaper, Priests

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

27. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors

Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast

And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2Pac, drinking a fifth for my ass

I’m just up in Hudson, bored and destructive, knowing that nothing lasts.

Maintaining a lighthearted balance between digital pop ear candy and glitchy, chopped-up production, the latest Dirty Projectors album is in-your-face and addictive. Dave Longstreth, one of the few indie artists with enough nerve not only to name-check Kanye in his lyrics but also disparage almost every other indie artist as “both bad and bougie,” delivers bitter lyrics about his recent breakup in an impressive variety of vocal styles.

Best tracks: Death Spiral, Up in Hudson, Winner Take Nothing, Cool Your Heart

RIYL: Animal Collective, tUnE-yArDs, Deerhunter, Destroyer

Stream or download: Spotify | Other services

 

26. Lorde – Melodrama

They say, “You’re a little much for me, you’re a liability

You’re a little much for me”

So they pull back, make other plans

I understand, I’m a liability.

The New Zealand pop icon’s newest is full of anthems for the lonely and the rejected. Taking many risks, the album gracefully covers a particular kind of melancholy emotional territory that most pop artists either decimate or avoid entirely.

Best tracks: Green Light, Homemade Dynamite, Liability, Hard Feelings/Loveless

RIYL: Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift, Adele

Stream or download: Spotify | Apple Music

 

25. Tinariwen – Elwan

Ténéré sastanàqqàm

Indek immik was mad nàrti

Nàkk d- kàmm wàr nànmàksàn.

(Translation: Tell me, O Desert, / how you and I / Can remain united, with no hate for each other.)

Infectious, complex rhythms and melodies and rough, dry guitar tones characterize the newest album by these Malian rebels. As on past releases, they fuse traditional Tuareg music with western rock, proving that excellent music transcends cultural boundaries.

Best tracks: Sastanàqqàm, Hayati, Ténéré Tàqqàl

RIYL: Ali Farka Touré, Rachid Taha, Mashrou’ Leila

Stream or download: Spotify | ANTI-

 

24. Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage

An abstract arrangement of ambient textures and chopped-up melodic fragments, with palpable Japanese influence and an intriguing exploration of the beauty of the digital world. Just don’t call it vaporwave, or a white male music journalist will come to your house and write a thinkpiece in his own blood on your front door.

Best tracks: Screen, Valve, Terrazzo, Neume

RIYL: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, Nmesh

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

23. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Poor little sister, I hope you understand

The babe in the woods will be taken by a wolf.

Ulver began in the ‘90s as a black metal band, but they quickly went through several drastic transformations. In the past they’ve incorporated electronic, jazz, orchestral, chamber, ambient, avant-garde, progressive, and noise influences into their work. Their new album is best described as dark, dancey synth-pop rock, with lyrics that reference ancient Rome.

Best tracks: Nemoralia, Rolling Stone, So Falls the World, Coming Home

RIYL: Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp, Queens of the Stone Age

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

22. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

Come on palm trees, come on soft seas, come on vacation, come on SUV

Oooh baby my American dream, oooh baby my American dream.

A raging, confrontational post-punk album that explores cynical, nihilistic, and anti-establishment themes with sharp lucidity and imposing delivery from vocalist Katie Alice Greer. In Trump’s America, this kind of raw anger can be therapeutic and necessary.

Best tracks: Appropriate, JJ, No Big Bang, Pink White House

RIYL: Preoccupations, Protomartyr, Savages, Ought

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

21. Perfume Genius – No Shape

Don’t hold back, I want to break free

God is singing through your body

And I’m carried by the sound.

Characterized by emotive vocals, poetic lyrics, and heavy reverb, Perfume Genius’s newest album is a grandiose, romantic, defiant achievement of pop music with a shining personality.

Best tracks: Slip Away, Go Ahead, Wreath, Choir, Alan

RIYL: Weyes Blood, St. Vincent, Sharon van Etten

Stream or download: Spotify | Soundcloud | Other services

 

20. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

Now, back in our town as a castaway

I’m reminded of the time it all fell in line, on the third of May

As if it were designed, painted in sand to be washed away.

Fleet Foxes’ first new album since 2011 explores different approaches to mellow, Simon and Garfunkel-style folk rock. The arrangements are complex and interesting, with a tendency to reward you with a pleasant, drastic change just when they seem to be falling into a conventional pattern. The dense lyrics consist of both social commentary and personal reflection.

Best tracks: I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar, Third of May / Odaigahara, On Another Ocean (January / June), Fool’s Errand

RIYL: Simon and Garfunkel, Grizzly Bear, Iron and Wine, Andrew Bird

Stream or download: Spotify | Nonesuch

 

19. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

Take a look at your life, tell me to what do you aspire?

I want to know how far you’re willing to go

Can’t stop the force of ruin, this world will run through you

If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

From the consistently excellent metal label Southern Lord comes a tight, powerful, anthemic thrash record, with inspiring lyrics that spit in the face of all kinds of oppression, including and especially self-oppression.

Best tracks: Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe), Nightmare Logic, Waiting Around to Die, If Not Us Then Who

RIYL: Metallica, Iron Reagan, Behemoth, Wolves in the Throne Room

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

18. Mac Demarco – This Old Dog

Look in the mirror, who do you see?

Someone familiar, but surely not me.

For he can’t be me: look how old and cold and tired and lonely he’s become.

Not until you see there’s a price tag hanging off of having all that fun.

On his new album, Mac sounds as laid-back as ever, but that doesn’t prevent him from showing vulnerability and growth. His straightforward lyrics and minimal arrangements are refreshing and enjoyable.

Best tracks: My Old Man, Baby You’re Out, Still Beating, On the Level, Watching Him Fade Away

RIYL: King Krule, Kurt Vile, Real Estate, Ariel Pink

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

17. The Mountain Goats – Goths

Nobody ever gets away

Even the best of us come back someday

To the unmarked rooms, where the dry dust breeds

Andrew Eldritch is moving back to Leeds.

Do you like songs with mellow keyboards, witty lyrics, and occasional jazz breakdowns? Do you think guitars are generally overrated? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you’ll probably like the Mountain Goats’ newest offering, a concept album about goths (hence the title) that proudly includes “no comped vocals, no pitch correction, [and] no guitars.” If the concept seems gimmicky on paper, just know that it works well in practice, simply because these are the Mountain Goats. Telling unconventional stories is not only in their wheelhouse, it’s the material from which their wheelhouse was built.

Best tracks: Rain in Soho, Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds, Unicorn Tolerance, Stench of the Unburied

RIYL: Andrew Bird, The Magnetic Fields, The New Pornographers

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

16. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens

The colors, the beauty, and the motion

Dancing through horrors.

Kelly Lee Owens’s low-key, hazy techno is a refreshingly minimalist trip through a range of textures and ideas. It eschews the pretentiousness of typical IDM in favor of a sound that feels more human, but is still thoughtful and complex. Owens’ voice, heavily processed and placed as a subtle but noteworthy part of the mix, is a key element of the album’s misty atmosphere.

Best tracks: Arthur, Anxi., Evolution, Cbm

RIYL: Jenny Hval, Yaeji, LCD Soundsystem, Huerco S.

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

15. Bing and Ruth – No Home of the Mind

This electroacoustic, minimalist, ambient album is evocative and beautiful, full of droning piano, layered textures, and heartbreaking melodies. Listen to it while in the right mood, think about childhood memories or lost loves, and tears are guaranteed to flow.

Best tracks: Starwood Choker, As Much as Possible, The How of it Sped

RIYL: Brian Eno, Tim Hecker, Julianna Barwick, William Basinski

Stream or download: Spotify | Other services

 

14. Sampha – Process

No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home

You would show me I had something some people call a soul.

Featured on tracks by Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Solange, Sampha has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of R&B. His debut full-length showcases his skillful production, emotive vocals and lyrics, and strong sense of thematic cohesion.

Best tracks; Plastic 100 C, Blood on Me, (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, Timmy’s Prayer

RIYL: SBTRKT, Solange, James Blake, Mount Kimbie

Stream or download: Spotify | Other services

 

13. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

I got, I got, I got, I got

Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA

Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA

I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA

I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA.

Kung Fu Kenny’s newest is ambitious and politically nuanced, as we’ve learned to expect from him. However, it doesn’t hold up to the grandiose brilliance, anthemic power, and unique experimentality of 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Still, even if the album is not on the level of Kendrick’s previous work, it is overall excellent on its own terms, despite a few tracks that fall flat (LOVE FEAT. ZACARI in particular).

Best tracks: DNA, ELEMENT, HUMBLE, LUST, XXX FEAT. U2, DUCKWORTH

RIYL: Chance the Rapper, ScHoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky

Stream or download: Spotify | Apple Music

 

12. Jlin – Black Origami

If you want to hear dense arrangements of intricate, complex polyrhythms assaulting your ears like an army of breakdancing robots, this is the album for you. Indiana footwork producer Jlin works with pristine drum machine hits, as well as harsh vocal samples that are chopped up and treated as just another percussive element, to produce a mesmerizing tapestry of rhythm. These tracks might be too complex for the dance floor, but they make for an exhilarating listen.

Best tracks: Black Origami, Nyakinyua Rise, Hatshepsut, Carbon 7 (161), 1%

RIYL: DJ Rashad, DJ Paypal, Death Grips, Holly Herndon

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

11. Blanck Mass – World Eater

“As humans, we are aware of our inner beast and should therefore be able to control it.” So begins the Bandcamp description for Benjamin John Power’s newest album as Blanck Mass. Insistent, pounding rhythms, distorted synthesizers, aggressive samples, and epic-scale compositions suggest an apocalyptic future in which humans have let go of our empathy and self-restraint and succumbed to our inner beasts.

Best tracks: Rhesus Negative, The Rat, Silent Treatment

RIYL: The Haxan Cloak, Oneohtrix Point Never, Tim Hecker, Forest Swords

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

10. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

The only thing I learnt in a year

Where I didn’t smile once, not really:

Nothing matters more than love, no,

Nothing, no, not nothing, no, not nearly.

At the age of 26, Laura Marling has released her sixth critically acclaimed album. It’s no wonder she sounds so confident and relaxed. She knows what she’s doing, and she has a lot to say. This mellow, rootsy album is full of witty lyrics, crystal-clear arrangements, and subtle shifts in tone that keep things interesting and keep the story moving.

Best tracks: Soothing, The Valley, Wild Fire, Nothing Not Nearly

RIYL: Johnny Flynn, Feist, Julie Byrne, Sharon van Etten, Joni Mitchell

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

9. Big Thief – Capacity

You have a mythological beauty

You have the eye of someone I have seen

Outside of ordinary situations

Even outside of dreams.

This reflective, wistful indie rock album at times shines its spotlight primarily on the precise lyrics, mature songwriting, and breathy vocals of singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker, whose songs tell intimate stories of love, youth, and trauma, often drawing directly from Lenker’s extremely interesting past.

Best tracks: Shark Smile, Capacity, Mythological Beauty, Mary

RIYL: Angel Olsen, Beach House, Wye Oak, Jay Som

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

8. Xiu Xiu – FORGET

Rough and ready to be never awake

How do you feel? I say pretty okay.

Queen of the losers!

Take it, take it away.

Whenever the critics say that a Xiu Xiu album is “accessible” compared to their other works, you should always take it with a grain of salt. Sure, this might mean that at least half of the album’s tracks have a tempo and a melody, but it certainly doesn’t mean the album will be an easy listen for everyone. I’ve never heard a Xiu Xiu album that didn’t leave me feeling bewildered, as if I’d just witnessed some kind of surrealist car accident. That said, Xiu Xiu’s newest is an excellent pop album for those who like their pop music spontaneous, abrasive, intense, and unwilling to compromise.

Best tracks: Queen of the Losers, Wondering, Hay Choco Bananas, Forget

RIYL: Liars, Have a Nice Life, Blanck Mass, Arca

Stream or download: Spotify | YoutubeBandcamp

 

7. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

I felt things I cannot express

But I lost my way, I made a mess

I’ll clean it for you if you want me to.

Alex Giannascoli’s newest, and his first since 2015’s Beach Music, is difficult to categorize. It’s sometimes rootsy, sometimes lo-fi, sometimes abrasive, and often melodic, but always inscrutably charming. The great songwriting and lo-fi/folksy charms will lure you in, but the dark lyrics and surprising detours will retain your interest for much longer.

Best tracks: Proud, County, Bobby, Sportstar, Powerful Man

RIYL: Teen Suicide, Elvis Depressedly, Car Seat Headrest, Frankie Cosmos

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

6. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Move your body if you came here to party

If not then pardon me

How I’m supposed to have a good time

When death and destruction’s all I see?

With production that tastefully balances experimental tendencies with club-banger structures and other diverse influences, Vince Staples continues to provoke and challenge listeners with his boundary-pushing hip hop. His phenomenal new release has managed to overshadow every other rap album so far this year, up to and including (dare I say it?) His Majesty, King Kendrick, who himself is featured on “Yeah Right.”

Best tracks: Crabs in a Bucket, Big Fish, Love Can Be, Yeah Right, Party People, Bagbak

RIYL: Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Isaiah Rashad, A$AP Rocky, SOPHIE

Stream or download: Spotify | Soundcloud | Official website

 

5. Clark – Death Peak

We are your ancestors.

British producer Chris Clark is an expert in contrasts. His newest album is full of intriguing juxtapositions between structure and randomness, harmony and dissonance, darkness and light, death and rebirth . . . almost any contrast you can think of could be applied to this abstract, addictive work of textural, melodic, percussive, emotional beauty. Check out Clark’s track-by-track breakdown for more details.

Best tracks: Butterfly Prowler, Hoova, Slap Drones, Catastrophe Anthem, Un U.K.

RIYL: Arca, Oneohtrix Point Never, Tim Hecker, Radiohead

Stream or download: Spotify | Bleep

 

4. Arca – Arca

Yo te siento por dentro

Mira que reviento por dentro

Listo o no, hay un abismo dentro de mi.

(Translation: I feel you inside / See that I burst inside / Ready or not, there is an abyss inside me.)

Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi, a.k.a. Arca, took inspiration from Björk and used his own vocals for the first time on his new self-titled album. Like Björk, he sings with a wide dynamic range, evoking fragility, intimacy, and intensity. He makes use of sounds and themes that most people would consider unpleasant, but he also brings out the beauty from within that unpleasantness. The real essence of Arca’s talent—and something few other producers can pull off so effectively—is infusing artificial sounds with living, breathing, sweating, bleeding, weeping humanity.

Best tracks: Anoche, Urchin, Saunter, Desafio, Fugaces, Child

RIYL: Björk, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, Clark

Stream or download: Spotify | XL Recordings

 

3. Richard Dawson – Peasant

In the morning we march across the sea

To the sunken monastery, to face our faceless enemy

I am tired, I am afraid, my heart is full of dread.

Richard Dawson’s newest is a concept album taking place in a medieval English fantasy world. The ambitious songwriter’s unique take on British folk music twists beautiful melodies together with ugly sounds and rough, twanging guitar strings. Peasant showcases his talent in its most accessible form yet, with memorable melodies, narrative lyrics, and epic arrangements that feel rickety and unstable, as though they could collapse under their own weight at any moment, but instead barrel onward through incredible songs and truly riveting stories.

Best tracks: Ogre, Soldier, Weaver, Scientist, Masseuse

RIYL: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, The Microphones

Stream or download: Spotify | Other services

 

2. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude

But I long for you now even when you just leave the room.

The word “sublime” is one of many tired cliches in music journalism, but when I hear Julie Byrne’s smooth alto voice bringing these nine quiet songs to life, drifting slowly like tide along the shore, I can’t think of any word that fits better. Reminiscent of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, Julie Byrne channels the voices of the past while adding her own unique voice into the mix. Her understated compositions emphasize the tranquility in simplicity, and they act as potent medicine for the troubled soul.

Best tracks: Follow My Voice, Sleepwalker, Natural Blue, Morning Dove, All the Land Glimmered, I Live Now As a Singer

RIYL: Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Waxahatchee, Sharon van Etten

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp

 

1. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

Death is real. Someone’s there and then they’re not

And it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art.

Geneviève Castrée Elverum died of pancreatic cancer on July 9, 2016. Her husband, Phil Elverum, wrote this album as part of his grieving process, recording in the room where she died using mostly her instruments. The result is a spare, acoustic album that achieves its heart-wrenching power by zooming in on the small, quiet details of processing the loss of someone who meant the world and more. Brace yourself emotionally before listening.

Best tracks: Real Death, Seaweed, Ravens, Forest Fire, Swims, Emptiness Pt. 2, Soria Moria, Crow

RIYL: The Microphones, Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith

Stream or download: Spotify | Bandcamp