Four albums that rocked the summer

By Jackson Maxwell

Summer 2014 was fascinating across the board in terms of new music.

For independent music in particular, it was a time when both fresh faces and long-dormant veteran artists rose to prominence, crafting some of the year’s most startling and innovative sounds.

On the Lo-Fi side of things came one of the summer’s most surprising masterpieces, Alex G’s “DSU.” Alex G is the pseudonym of Alex Giannascoli, a Temple University student who has been recording woozy, deceptively brilliant bedroom pop in his dorm room for the last three years.

“DSU,” released on the Brooklyn-based Orchid Tapes label June 17, is Giannascoli’s first major release, vividly showcasing all of his songwriting talents. Ragged, primitive riffs, crackly keyboards and gentle beats guide these songs, but merely serve as a backdrop for both Giannascoli’s immaculate sense of melody and touching vocal performances.

The guitars in “Serpent Is Lord” snake their way through, and encircle Giannascoli’s seemingly hesitant, but intimate singing. Songs like “After Ur Gone,” “Boy” and “Harvey” are about as perfect and pure as power-pop can get, and rise above their Lo-Fi origins to express emotion in a startlingly direct manner.

Going toe-to-toe with Alex G for best new independent artist of the summer was Toronto-based quintet Alvvays. The band’s self-titled debut, released July 22, led off with not one but two consecutive tracks that will likely be known as indie-rock classics for years to come. “Adult Diversion” opens with an irresistible, Motown-esque bass line, and only gets better from there. The bouncy verses flow seamlessly into the track’s earworm of a chorus, which then gives in to a shimmering guitar solo that functions as a perfect sonic embodiment of summer.

Lead singer Molly Rankin has a beautifully understated voice that perfectly balances confidence, coyness and restraint through each of the album’s nine tracks. But Rankin and the band truly strike gold on the album’s second song, “Archie, Marry Me,” which, sorry Iggy Azalea, was 2014’s song of the summer.

The song’s lyrics revolve around a familiar premise: boy and girl are in love, boy is afraid of the commitment the girl desperately wants. Rankin, as the girl, arrives at a simple conclusion in the song’s unbelievably catchy chorus: “Hey, hey/marry me Archie.” With those two songs, Alvvays launched one of the summer’s most bright, catchy and life-affirming albums.

Also released July 22 was Liam Betson’s “The Cover of Hunter,” a masterful, sprawling epic of suburban discontent, loneliness and melancholy. Betson, best known for his stints as a guitarist for New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus, had released solo albums before, but under the pseudonym Liam the Younger. His Liam the Younger albums fell mostly under the realm of the folk genre. His quite, contemplative songs relyed on gently strummed acoustic guitars to emphasize the quiet desolation Betson so vividly illustrated in his lyrics.

“The Cover of Hunter” is Betson’s most forthright rock record to date, flowing effortlessly between hushed verses and stunning, cathartic choruses. Enlisting Titus Andronicus members both past and present, Betson crafts a record that towers over the rest of his already impressive solo discography. While Titus Andronicus is still in the midst of recording its fourth album, fans of the band, and rock in general, can turn to this record as an example of a guitarist breaking out of the shadow of his former band in a huge way.

Despite the emergence of many new artists this summer, there were a few veterans that returned to flaunt their musical staying power. Chief amongst these resurfacings was the return of Spoon, the Texas rock quintet who released its eighth album, “They Want My Soul,” Aug. 5. The band’s first album in over four and a half years, “They Want My Soul” was a treasure trove, filled to the brim with every quality that has made the band so beloved over the past 15 years.

Each track is snappy and to the point, with lead singer Britt Daniel confidently delivering hook after hook directly into your brain, where it will likely stay on repeat for quite awhile. Daniel’s wit is still razor-sharp, punctuating his songs with a defiant attitude forged from the years of obscurity and critical indifference Spoon fought its way through before its rise to fame. The rhythm section of Rob Pope and Jim Eno is consistently note-perfect, accentuating Daniel’s wordplay with emphatic rhythms and subtle melodic innovation. Spoon is a band that has never backed down from a challenge, so it is quite fitting that the 20-year-old band not only remained relevant with their eighth release, but also made one of the best records of the summer.

Jackson Maxwell Jackson can be reached at [email protected]