Mining for Beauty Within the Noise

Remembering both my grandmother, Mary Bradford, and Low’s Mimi Parker — two women who operated unconventionally within their shared faith — through the lens of challenging music.

My grandmother, Mary Bradford — writer, poet, editor, and teacher — also happened to arguably be one of the greatest Facebook commenters of all time. A few years ago, I shared a YouTube link on Facebook to the song “Heaven” by the Walkmen, calling it “triumphant,” “epic,” “magnificent,” and “a top 5 song of the decade.” The song’s main refrain implores the listener to “Remember, remember / all we fight for.” My grandma commented:

“EXCUSE me — what am I to remember? Being attacked by this noise?”

In classic Mary fashion, she had responded with a takedown as epic as the song itself, eviscerating it in just 12 words.

My grandmother’s comment surprised me. I wouldn’t characterize “Heaven” as a challenging or inaccessible song. After all, it did soundtrack the finale to one of the most popular TV shows of the last decade, How I Met Your Mother, so it has the potential for mass appeal. But I guess, sometimes to the ear of a listener, a song’s inherent beauty or power might fail to emerge from behind a particularly loud guitar, a strained vocal, a deluge of sound effects.

Mary, or “Nama” as she was known to my cousins and me, passed away this month at the age of 92. It’s sad to be without her, but I am heartened by the fact that she lived a full and meaningful life, and I’m incredibly grateful for the 33 years I did have with her.

Notwithstanding her distaste for what I considered to be a beautiful song, in other, more important contexts, Mary Bradford knew how to exist in difficult environments. She made a habit of digging into and reveling in the beauty sometimes hidden in those environments. As a lifelong intellectual and feminist in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (widely known as the Mormon or LDS church), she often seemed like a walking contradiction to more traditional, conservative members of the faith. (Her life and work were expertly captured in Peggy Fletcher Stack’s Salt Lake Tribune obituary.)

“Some people thought I was a little uppity,” Mary said later on in life. “I should’ve been having more kids instead of trying to write things, you know. I loved the church… I was happy in the church.” Despite operating outside of the traditional norms of the church, she still made a place for herself within its literal and figurative walls. In one of her essays, she wrote, “I formed the notion that the church was ‘my’ church, that it belonged not only to its leaders, but also to me.”

Already a writer, poet, editor, and teacher, Mary served as the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in the late 1970s, an independent publication that, at times, generated controversy among church members by publishing scholarly articles that addressed progressive topics such as the place of feminism within the church. She would work with the Dialogue staff to compile the next issue in the downstairs of their house in Arlington, Virginia, while her husband, Charles (“Chick”) would conduct business related to his position as bishop of the local ward in the upstairs of their house. Both provided leadership and engagement with Mormonism, but it was wryly acknowledged within the family that the authorized, church-sanctioned version occurred upstairs and the more tendentious version took place in the less exalted downstairs realm.

In 2015, Mary published a collection of the personal essays she had written throughout her life. In Dialogue’s review of the collection, Joey Franklin aptly summed up my grandmother’s worldview: “[Bradford’s essays read] as a reminder that authenticity depends a great deal on one’s willingness to engage with all aspects of one’s self, and that between the poles of sanctimony and cynicism, there is a hopeful place where art and faith can thrive, not in spite of, but because of each other.”


My grandmother’s death happened two days after that of Mimi Parker, a core member of Low, one of my favorite indie bands. She passed away at the age of 55 from ovarian cancer. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much in common between Parker and my grandma, but when you think of them as Mormon women living unconventionally within their worlds, the similarities start to click.

Mimi (pronounced “MIM-ee”) Parker, and her husband Alan Sparhawk, met in elementary school in northern Minnesota and started dating in high school. Sparhawk grew up Mormon, and actually attended BYU for a year before returning to Minnesota with Parker, who joined the church as an adult. Sparhawk and Parker moved to Duluth and formed the band Low in the early 1990s, serving as the band’s main members for almost 30 years — Sparhawk on guitar and vocals, Parker on percussion and vocals — along with a rotating cast of bass players. They toured the world and gained critical acclaim, but always returned to their humble home base, raising two kids together and growing their deep roots in Duluth.

Parker’s death hit like a ton of bricks, as anyone’s would at her relatively young age, but especially since she was fairly quiet about her diagnosis. She was mourned widely by the music community, including by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney.

Though Low’s sound evolved over time, the foundation of their music was always Parker and Sparhawk’s entwined, lockstep harmonies. When it comes to vocal harmonies, Low is up in the rafters with the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, and the Beatles. On “What Part of Me,” perhaps my favorite Low song, no note or sound is out of place.

Some singers need the help of a studio to tune their voices, but not Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. When they performed live, their vocals were just as powerful as on their records, if not more so. (It certainly helps when you’re singing in a neo-gothic church.)

Low released 13 albums over the course of their career, and on the group’s last two projects, their sound took a much more distressed turn, as they dialed up the distortion and ran their instruments through filters to the point of making them almost unrecognizable. On the most recent album, last year’s HEY WHAT (my favorite album of 2021), they excelled at letting the beauty of their harmonies and songwriting shine through the static.

If my grandmother didn’t care for the alleged “noise” of “Heaven” by the Walkmen, I can guarantee you she would not take a liking to HEY WHAT. Take “Disappearing” as an example. I think it’s an absolutely gorgeous song, but you might think I’m crazy. I can hear the skepticism now — “How can a song that sounds like a Boeing 777 pulling off a runway be construed as ‘gorgeous?'” It’s because through it all, the backbone of the song is still Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals. The onslaught of processed airplane-hangar guitars that enter halfway through are accompanied by the duo’s celestial harmonies ascending, all amping up to form a cathartic, satisfying climax that makes my hairs stand on end.

“More”, the album’s penultimate track, is an even more extreme example of beauty becoming disguised as it’s caked with production. It’s a song “dominated by a ragged, glitchy, all-consuming guitar riff,” as I wrote last year, naming it the third best song of 2021. “Parker’s hypnotic vocal harmonies make it more than just a droning hard rock song — it’s an alluring, transportive experience… [‘More’] deftly juxtaposes aggressive noise with striking beauty.” In Rolling Stone’s review of the album, Kory Grow summed it up best: “Few bands have stared into the abyss quite like Low, parsing the frailty of the human condition, testing listeners with glacially slow tempos, encrusting beautiful melodies in sparse textures or dissonance. And no band has done so with the same beatific grace as Low.”

Low’s more recent inclination to fill their songs with noise and distortion makes the moments of pure beauty all the more impactful. The process of unearthing these moments as you listen, and feeling their sweet release amid the chaos, is immensely rewarding.

My grandmother would have hated HEY WHAT, but the key to loving the album is not dissimilar to the central tenet for how she lived her life — mining for beauty within the noise.


Mimi Parker always felt like a real person — unassuming, humble, authentic, just like my grandmother. Parker was a midwestern, Mormon mom with a passion for baking, who happened to also possess a subtly stunning voice and use it in a creatively adventurous, renowned indie rock band. Mary Bradford was a small-statured Mormon mom and grandma who loved the color purple and reveled in everything her progeny did, who also happened to be a prominent and influential writer and thought leader for many church members. They both had creative sparks — Parker through music, Mary through essays and poetry. They both seemed demure, but never hesitated to tell it like it is. If we went out to eat and my grandma wasn’t a fan of the food, make no mistake, she would say so. And Alan Sparhawk, Parker’s husband and bandmate, said of Parker, “She did not suffer boring music. She did not suffer mediocrity.”

It’s not outlandish to think that traditional Mormonism doesn’t necessarily mesh well with intellectualism and exploring challenging ideas (in the case of my grandmother), nor hitting the road to play and record indie rock music (as Parker did). But Mary and Mimi both shared a view that the two seemingly incongruous worlds they each embraced were not only not at odds, but both of them were incredulous at the idea that they couldn’t exist and flourish in both worlds.

It came naturally to Mary to be both an intellectual writer and a Mormon. “In the mind of some, piety and publishing don’t mix—especially independent, scholarly publishing in a church context,” she wrote. “But our response was: They do too mix!”

To Parker, she openly wondered earlier on in her Low career why being Mormon was considered such a peculiarity: “I wonder where the Mormon fascination comes from? In England, that was all any journalist could talk about. And it’s starting to become a bigger deal over here [in the U.S.]. But we don’t get particularly upset about it. People just like to say that we’re this quiet band from Minnesota that is two-thirds Mormon, but hey, you know? We write some songs, too.”


Whether Parker felt it or not, there is no getting around that being a practicing Mormon in the music business is extremely anomalous. Brandon Flowers is not the norm. I almost teared up while reading the Minnesota Star Tribune and Duluth News Tribune’s accounts of Parker’s funeral, held at the Mormon church in Duluth, because of how familiar the little details of it sounded to me, also a lifelong church member.

Granted, the funeral sounded as familiar as it could be while having dozens of acclaimed musicians sitting in the pews alongside members of the Duluth Ward congregation, but still… a printed recipe for Parker’s famed cream puffs was included with the programs, with some of those cream puffs made and provided by Relief Society members for the service; a photo of the aforementioned rotating cast of bass players in what is very clearly a Mormon church foyer; a tale from David Gore (the Star Tribune labeled him as the “church president,” so knowing that wasn’t true, I verified that he was the Duluth stake president) about the first day he attended church in Duluth when in town for a job interview and hearing Parker and Sparhawk singing “Silent Night” from the pulpit; “How Great Thou Art” being mentioned as one of the hymns played; post-service refreshments in the cultural hall.

If these sound like mundane details, maybe they are, in a vacuum. But it’s not often you hear about an indie musician’s funeral containing elements like these. It’s poignant for me, as both a Mormon and a big fan of Low.

Parker was open about her Mormonism, but never put it front-and-center. Low’s songs often touched on spiritual themes, but were never blatant or preachy — they simply reflected the couple’s own experiences with spirituality and religion. On “Holy Ghost,” Parker examines her inner turmoil and the peace that a spiritual being can bring: “Some holy ghost keeps me hanging on, hanging on / I feel the hands, but I don’t see anyone, anyone / Feeds my passion for transcendence,” Parker sings.

“Now I don’t know much, but I can tell when something’s wrong, and something’s wrong. But some holy ghost keeps me…” She doesn’t finish her sentence at the end, tailing off into “oohs,” but the warmth of the closing chords gives the impression that this holy ghost did its job as a comforter. In an interview on SHEROES Radio, a show that focuses on spotlighting women in music, Parker discussed finding solace in prayer in light of her cancer diagnosis.

Ultimately, especially going through the cancer diagnosis, I really relied heavily on [spirituality]. I would pray, and I really felt like I did receive comfort, and I received help because of those prayers. And I had so many people — friends that were close to me — that were praying for me every day. And I really feel like that made a huge difference.

It seems kind of magical in a way, and it kind of is. But I think we need some magic. We need some magic in this life.


It’s heartening to see Sparhawk and Parker as examples of well respected and clearly progressive members of my church who lived authentically. At Mary Bradford’s funeral, authenticity was a common theme as well. If she had decided to suppress her personality and beliefs to better fit in with the majority of her fellow church members, then she would have lost the uniqueness that made life meaningful not just to her, but to others on the margins who looked up to her and respected her. She was an anchor for her peers and readers who also didn’t want to follow the status quo. To many, that is her most important work — that she made others’ lives feel valid, because of how she chose to live her life. She impacted others just by being herself.

Shortly after Parker’s death, Sparhawk posted a tweet from Low’s account announcing her funeral.

It was simple, but it hit me hard —a tweet mentioning future plans at the LDS church, right before advocating for equal rights and justice, and being unapologetic about both. It’s something my grandmother would have done. Traditional norms can be hard to navigate when you feel like an outsider, but to Mimi Parker and Mary Bradford, sometimes it’s worth being “attacked by the noise” to unearth the beauty lying just beneath it.


Book References

Mary Bradford, Mr. Mustard Plaster and Other Mormon Essays, p. 36 & 60.

Other Reading/Listening

My favorite Low songs (Spotify playlist)
Low’s La Blogotheque performance
Low’s NPR Tiny Desk performance
“One Tree,” poem by Mary Bradford
Mary Bradford’s obituary
Salt Lake Tribune’s remembrance of Mary Bradford
Duluth News Tribune’s account of Mimi Parker’s funeral
Slate’s rememberance of Mimi Parker

Thanks to Taylor Parsell for her editing help and added insights.

Five Quality Tracks: September 2016

Grad school and work at the same time is hard. Sorry for the huge delay in posting my favorite tracks from September. Hopefully you don’t shrug this off as *so last month*, because September was pretty cool, music-wise. Let’s dive in.

1. Local Natives: “Dark Days”

One of the most underrated albums of the current decade is Gorilla Manor, the 2010 debut album from L.A. band Local Natives. In an indie rock genre saturated with cookie-cutter versions of the same band, Local Natives stood out with their wide-eyed songs and incredible, unique gift for complex harmonies. They’ve now released their third album, Sunlit Youth, which features a song we’ve already showcased as a quality track back in May (“Past Lives”), but the album is full of solid songs.

“Dark Days” is a joyous, hopeful, exhilarating 3-minute slice of winsome pop. Vocals, both lead and background, have always been the band’s strong point, and “Dark Days” showcases their vocal talent with subtle beauty. Kelcey Ayer takes lead, sounding vulnerable as he sings about the dark days of summer, while the band harmonizes behind him. They bring on guest vocalist Nina Persson of The Cardigans (the band that brought you the smash ’90s hit “Lovefool”) to sing the second verse and duet with Ayer towards the end, complementing each other beautifully. “Dark Days” gets into a groove right from the beginning and never lets up — the hook is full of guitar flourishes and drum fills, all anchored by a simple, effective bass line. The whole song is just so catchy and well-executed.

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D-Brad Music’s Best Albums of 2012

Tame Impala, just ruminating on their epic year

Tame Impala, just ruminating on their epic year

2012 is long gone, but the music lives on. Relive it right here. Luckily for us, music never gets old. Well, okay, when you hear Rihanna telling you to shine bright like a diamond YET AGAIN, then it does get old. But I promise, you’re going to like this stuff.

Singles have taken over for albums as the most important musical medium, with our download-heavy culture now, but there will always be something special about the ‘album.’ The cover, the track order, the high points and low points all contribute to its character.

Notice that each entry has a Spotify link, along with YouTube links to three key tracks from the album. Kick back and enjoy.

25. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Key Tracks: Emmylou | The Lion’s Roar | Blue
This Swedish female duo hit it big after covering Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, quickly showing the world their innate knack for bone-chilling harmonies. The Lion’s Roar is full of mountainous, pastoral folk rock for your next jaunt in the wilderness.

24. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Key Tracks: Freedom at 21 | Sixteen Saltines | Love Interruption
The mastermind behind the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather finally released his first solo album. Some of it rocked, some of it burned slow, but overall, it was a solid effort.

23. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber
Key Tracks: I Will Follow You | Mount Hopeless | Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?
Everything about this album, from the cover to the sound effects, scream 1967. The Summer of Love vibe is thick on this debut album from French singer Melody Prochet, produced by Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker. Personal favorite: “Mount Hopeless.”

22. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
Key Tracks: In A Big City | Still Life With Hot Deuce and Silver Platter | My Eating Disorder
Despite what many perceive as a failure to live up to their previous album, The Monitor, Titus Andronicus rocks hard on Local Business. My personal favorite track is “My Eating Disorder,” an 8-minute epic with harmonizing guitars that hearken back to Judas Priest.

21. Kishi Bashi – 151A
Key Tracks: Bright Whites | Manchester | I Am the Antichrist to You
Kishi Bashi wins the award for most underrated album of the year. It didn’t get a lot of attention, but it won the hearts of those that listened to it. You may have heard his single “Bright Whites,” but check out the whole album, beautifully orchestrated and carefully crafted. If anything, I encourage you to check out “Manchester”: “Will you be mine? I haven’t felt this alive in a long time.”

20. Ty Segall – Twins
Spotify | YouTube
Key Tracks: The Hill | Thank God for the Sinners | Gold On the Shore
Ty Segall, the garage rock hero from San Francisco via Laguna Beach, is a workaholic. He released three albums this year. Yeah, three. His solo effort, Twins, is a consistent and worthy addition to his catalog, full of blistering riffs mixed with more subdued melodies.

19. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action At a Distance
Key Tracks: Strangers | Eveningness | Remember Our Days
Lockett Pundt, the brainchild behind Lotus Plaza and guitarist for Deerhunter, kind of slipped this album in under the radar, but it won me over with its subtle beauty. Every track is hypnotic, understated, and downright appealing. “Remember Our Days” is one of my favorite songs of the year, perfect accompaniment for introspective. The shimmering guitar riff of “Eveningness” and looping guitars and snare drums of “Strangers” are highlights.

18. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Key Tracks: My Love is Real | Would That Not Be Nice | Like Ice Cream
Britt Daniel of Spoon is a beast. Everything he does is gold. His voice is pure rock n’ roll. That’s why everything about his new project Divine Fits, along with members of Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turks, was a shot of swagger and awesomeness. This is what a rock record should sound like. Just listen to that slinking bass line in “Would That Not Be Nice.”

17. Allah-Las – Allah-Las
Key Tracks: Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind) | Catamaran | Busman’s Holiday
Allah-Las conjure images of breezy beaches and good times with the greatest of ease. Many bands strive to capture the beach aura, but few are as effective and chill as these guys.

16. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
Key Tracks: Revelation Blues | Wind and Walls | To Just Grow Away
Kristian Matsson, the Swede known as the Tallest Man on Earth, is the master of acoustic ballads, complete with nasally Bob Dylan-esque voice. On his third album, There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson continues his consistent run of excellent albums, adding a bit of unique production techniques on this one.

15. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
Key Tracks: Give it Away | Desperation Breeds | Lusitania
Andrew Bird takes the cake for the smartest and most talented guy on this list. A violoin virtuoso with a perfect singing voice, Bird captivates with his poignant songwriting. Personal favorite: “Sifters”, in which he wonders what would happen if he and his lover were born in different eras. “What if we hadn’t been born at the same time / What if you were 75 and I were 9?”

14. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
Key Tracks: Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart | I Bought My Eyes | Wave Goodbye
Remember how I was talking about that workaholic kid from Laguna? This is him, again. Complete with backing band. The hardest garage rock out there.

13. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
Key Tracks: Do You… | Adorn | Use Me
Miguel rode the wave of an invigorated R&B scene (see: Frank Ocean, How to Dress Well, “Climax” by Usher, etc.). Although Miguel didn’t reach the popular heights of Frank Ocean, Miguel’s burst onto the scene was in many ways, just as good. “Adorn” is as sexy as it gets. “Do You…” is as catchy as it gets. Not a bad track on this whole album.

12. Chromatics – Kill For Love
Spotify | Soundcloud
Key Tracks: Kill For Love | Lady | Back From the Grave
Chromatics was originally slated to score the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling. Although that didn’t work out, their 2012 album Kill For Love caught me by surprise. I’ve said this a million times before, but it’s perfect for a night drive. Perfect. The mild electronic beats and melodies come in waves, breaking you away from the hypnotic calm moments.

11. Beach House – Bloom
Key Tracks: Lazuli | Myth | Other People
Bloom picks up where Teen Dream left off in 2010, improving upon Beach House’s excellent formula. The climactic moments of Bloom, such as at the end of “Lazuli,” are breathtaking. Every chorus on every song brings a huge payoff – you can’t wait to hear it and you never want it to end.

10. The xx – Coexist
Key Tracks: Chained | Angels | Sunset
It would have been a supremely daunting task to improve upon xx, the group’s 2009 debut. Instead of building on that album, the xx decided to take a step back and create an even more minimalistic album. Many saw the album as boring, disappointing, a “sophomore slump.” Those assessments are simply incorrect. Coexist is not as exciting as xx, but it is just as beautiful, if not more so. Melodies meander by, simply but impressively. The production shimmers as the two lead singers breathily sing tales of despair. Just check out this stripped down live version of “Fiction”. Amazing.

9. The Walkmen – Heaven
Key Tracks: We Can’t Be Beat | Heaven | Line By Line
The boys of the Walkmen have toned it down considerably since their marquee single from 10 years ago, “The Rat”. They’ve grown up and had kids, and their sound reflects it. There is so much introspection and beauty on this one record. “We Can’t Be Beat” contain a pensive acoustic guitar, along with harmonies from Fleet Foxes’ frontman Robin Pecknold. And “Line by Line” is perfect soundtrack for a sunrise (or sunset) over the trees.

8. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Key Tracks: Gun Has No Trigger | Offspring Are Blank | Dance For You
I’ve always thought of Dirty Projectors’ music as excellent accompaniment for a modern art museum. It’s weird and abstract, but still appeals to your emotions. Swing Lo Magellan is the most normal record they’ve ever made though. There’s more meaning and feeling then ever before. Crazy sound effects and unbelievable random bouts of harmony still color the album, but there’s something there under it: heart.

7. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Key Tracks: Sleeping Ute | Yet Again | Gun-Shy
“It remains difficult to relate to Grizzly Bear’s lyrics, but Shields’ skillful display of studio wizardry more than makes up for it. Grizzly Bear expertly combine the cerebral, technically tricky art-rock of Dirty Projectors with the pleasant folk harmonies and lush arrangements of Fleet Foxes. We get the best of both worlds — a psychedelic mish-mash of unique song structures, intricate ornamentation and beautiful vocals. Finding this terrain where abstract experimentalism meets catchy melodies can often be elusive, but Grizzly Bear roam across it with confidence. Opener “Sleeping Ute” epitomizes this convergence, featuring varying time signatures and stop-and-go tempos, providing a backdrop to a meandering but captivating melody. Fascinating instrumental flourishes abound — the bass tone on “Gun-Shy” or the flutelike synth line on “A Simple Answer.” And “Yet Again” could very well be the best song the band has ever written, with its swirling, ornate production and founding member Ed Droste’s impeccable melody.” –Daily Californian Review

6. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
Key Tracks: White Cedar | Lakeside View Apartments Suite | The Diaz Brothers
I’ll be honest, John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats blew me away with this record. I’ve always been interested in Darnielle and his incredible ability to churn out copious amounts of amazing songs, but this is the first album by him that really, truly connected with me. I’ll start saying this about every remaining album on the list, because that’s what happens as we approach #1, but dude: every song is good. The chorus and bass line on “Lakeside View Apartments Suite” is catchy, “Cry For Judas” is amazing, and the powerful refrain of “Amy a.k.a. Spent Gladiator” reverberates: “JUST STAY ALIVE.”

5. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Key Tracks: The House That Heaven Built | Younger Us | Fire’s Highway
When Japandroids are firing on all cylinders, there’s no stopping them. Their heart-thumping, fist-pumping brand of rock and roll makes you feel alive. I can’t even begin to describe the excitement that results from listening to “The Nights of Wine and Roses” in the car on a Friday night with endless possibilities ahead. The formula for Japandroids is simple but potent. Give way to your inhibitions and “give me younger us.”

4. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
Key Tracks: Stay Useless | Cut You | Separation
Attack On Memory came out of nowhere. Cloud Nothings were a pop punk band with nothing very unique to offer on their debut, but then came blistering through the music scene with their sophomore album, completely changing their sound (thanks in part to longtime Nirvana producer Steve Albini). This was by far one of the most consistent releases of the year. Every track is awesome. “Wasted Days” is incredible, “Stay Useless” is catchy, and “No Future / No Past” is absolutely punishing. The intersection of grunge, punk, pop, and garage thrashing never sounded so invigorating.

3. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Key Tracks: Elephant | Feels Like We Only Go Backwards | Mind Mischief
“Do not listen to Lonerism on your Macbook’s weak speakers. It will be like viewing a Van Gogh through a screen door. No, you need some headphones — or even better, some car speakers, so Tame Impala can soundtrack your modern-day magical mystery tour. On the second album from Kevin Parker’s psych throwback band Tame Impala, released in October, John Lennon is present in the vocals, Led Zeppelin in the riffs and Pink Floyd in the trippy wordplay. But no band has combined those elements as effectively as these Australian phenoms. Lonerism is heavy on reverb, fat bass tones and wobbly synths. Listen to it a few times so the swirling nuances can wash over you. When it sinks in, it doesn’t leave.” –Daily Californian Review.

2. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Key Tracks: Swimming Pools (Drank) | Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst | The Art of Peer Pressure
good kid, m.A.A.d. city is undeniably the best hip-hop album since Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s a masterpiece. The production is smooth and varied, Kendrick’s flow is infectious, and the lyrics paint a vivid picture of growing up in Compton. Every single track has something to offer, whether it be the ominous foreboding beat of “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the silky verse from Drake on “Poetic Justice,” the tales of youthful indiscretion on “The Art of Peer Pressure,” the epic closing to “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” or that Beach House sample on “Money Trees.” Ya bish.

1. Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE
Key Tracks: Thinkin’ Bout You | Forrest Gump | Pyramids
The year 2012 will be remembered as the year of Frank Ocean. He made a splash in a huge way. But here’s the thing: when you strip away all the backstory and the narrative associated with Ocean’s character, you’re still left with a stunning album in Channel ORANGE. Even if Ocean was the most boring and conventional dude on the planet, Channel ORANGE would still dazzle with its range, production, content, depth, and ambition.

Here’s what I said in my Daily Californian review: As Ocean’s perfect croon soaks into the soul on “Thinkin’ Bout You,” it is impossible not to reflect on all of Ocean’s qualities. He’s an immensely talented, creative, good-looking, up-and-coming pop star, but out of all the things going for him, his greatest asset is still his voice. Honestly, those vocal chords could be the eighth wonder of the world. Channel ORANGE is like a swim through a vast sea of swirling currents and serene beauty. With every gorgeous vocal flourish, Ocean’s tales of isolation and lost love burrow into your being. His soothing, pitch-perfect voice is enough to elevate him to stardom, but it’s his ear for sonic beauty and mind for lyrical boldness that carry him to greatness.

These 10 Upcoming Albums are Making Me Ridiculously Excited for Spring

The music gods have been raining down on us recently with a deluge of album announcements. Here are the 10 biggest reasons to get excited. The album covers that follow are pretty colorless overall, ensuring that the future year-end “Best Albums” post will not be the most riveting thing to look at. But riveting to listen to? That’s another story entirely.

Jack White – Blunderbuss
Release Date: April 24

The driving force of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather is now stepping out on his own for his first solo album.
“Sixteen Candles”

“Love Interruption”

Ty Segall/White Fence – Hair
Release Date: April 24

California garage rock hero Ty Segall teams up with 1960s psych revivalists White Fence for some raw rock n’ roll.
“I Am Not a Game”

Santigold – Master of My Make Believe
Release Date: May 1

The artist formerly known as Santogold gives us her sophomore album after a four-year hiatus. Check out “Disparate Youth” from a previous post.
“Big Mouth”

Beach House – Bloom
Release Date: May 15

Dream pop duo Beach House go for a more expansive sound, and they seem to have to hit the spot nicely.

Best Coast – The Only Place
Release Date: May 15

Best Coast clean up their sound for another summer soundtrack.
“The Only Place”

Sigur Rós – Valtari
Release Date: May 28

It’s been a while. But for something this epic, I’ll wait as long as you need me to, guys.
“Ekki Múkk”

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Release Date: June 5

My devotion to this Vancouver duo is very apparent, so it’s no surprise that I’m incredibly stoked for these guys’ second album.
“The House That Heaven Built”

The Walkmen – Heaven
Release Date: June 5

The Walkmen haven’t found the popularity as most of those on this list, but they have a solid run of consistently brilliant albums. Heaven should be no different.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Americana
Release Date: June 5

Dude is a legend, plain and simple.

The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
Release Date: June 12

I can’t imagine that the third album from this Swedish acoustic genius will sound much different than his previous releases, but that’s a good thing. Such a good thing.