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Best New Indie Songs & Albums, April 2014, Vol. I – Cloud Nothings, Small Black, Band of Skulls, Sweet Apple, De Lux

band-of-skulls-himalayanApril was a good month for music lovers, and record collectors. That also made it an incredibly laborious task to go through the stacks of releases. In fact, the entire process is symbolic of a larger truth – good things take time to come to fruition. Not only were there dozens upon dozens of fantastic limited edition vinyls, as singles, EPs, LPs, and box sets released on Record Store Day – the most successful RSD since the vinyl holiday started in 2009 – but there was also a flood of new, anticipated and notable albums dropped throughout the month that had nothing to do with RSD. In fact, the first week of releases for the month kicked off right on April 1st (drop day is always Tuesday, so the date for the first full week of releases in any given month is always the first Tuesday) with some of the best indie rock album releases so far this year, highlighted by standout singles from bands like Cloud Nothings, Small Black, Band of Skulls, Manchester Orchestra, S. Carey, Kaiser Chiefs, Saintseneca, Ausmeteants, and Pure X.

The volume of new music to sift through and review, in addition to the high stacks of official RSD releases, for the month of April was overwhelming, and set us back a bit. Most people don’t have hours and hours and hours that it takes to keep up with half of what is being released in any given month, let alone the time to sift through, listen to, select, code, list, edit, and publish a list of the top singles representing the best albums for a given week, and for all four weeks of the month. It’s a hugely time-consuming task, but well worth it, and because hundreds of thousands of people around the world know that there is really only one place on the web where they can get easy and reliable access to the top indie rock music, from both popular and signed artists to obscure DIY bands, organized into MP3 playlists, meaning that anyone, on any device, can easily play and save the hottest new indie rock and hear for the first time talented new artists with promising futures. No one else does it the way that we do, and we’ve listened to thousands of people’s feedback over the past seven years in order to perfect the posts and playlists to suit the preferences for the vast majority of regular listeners and newer readers.

And just in case you’re wondering about May, which has so quickly passed by, we’re also working diligently on publishing the top singles from new albums released this month too – those playlists of top singles are scheduled to be posted later this week, followed by what will be a steady flow of long posts and playlists profiling incredibly talented DIY artists and bands that many of you have probably never heard before.

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In addition to the first two weeks of April releases (weeks of April 1st and April 8th) covered in this post, volume two of the Best New Indie Songs and Albums for April 2014 is just about ready to go, and will be posted in just a few hours from now, so make sure to come back because you don’t want to miss the stunning array of fantastic music released for the weeks of April 15th and April 22th. Plus, our in-depth, extensive hunt for, and review of, the top vinyl singles released on Record Store Day is just about finished. The post is nearly 10,000 words long and features nearly 50 MP3s of new and re-issued songs (as limited editions vinyls) on vinyl released on Record Store Day, including dozens of rarities, some of which have never been heard – as far as we can see – on the web before because they only previously existed on vinyl.

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Whether you’re a fan of classic and indie rock (since there are so many similarities between the two), an avid or start-up vinyl collector – especially of limited editions – or a music lover that revels in the historical significance, and novelty, of the ‘vinyl holiday,’ there is something for everyone from Record Store Day, April 19th, 2014, which was also the biggest day for sales of vinyl records nationwide in the past two decades. If you haven’t seen the extensive post and playlist for the Top 30 vinyl album releases on RSD, you’ll definitely want to check that out.

Note: On May 19th, ex-FM unfortunately discontinued their built-in audio player for website publishers, which means we have to find a new option to allow you to stream, uninterrupted, all the songs on a page without having to click on each track to play it. For now, you can still click on the song link to hear it play in your browser or on your iPhone or Android device, as well as download any MP3 with a right-click ‘Save As’ functionality – so the access to songs hasn’t changed, just the format they’re played in. That said, we’re currently testing a number of other options, so stay tuned.

ex-fm-player

A snapshot of the now discontinued Ex-FM embedded audio player as it used to appear on our playlists posts. We're hoping to find another one just like it, so if you know of one, or want to build one, please let us know via Twitter, Facebook or even using the Comments box below.

Attention Developers: You can make a big difference for hundreds of thousands of people – if you are a developer who can custom build a streaming MP3 player for us for WordPress in either HTML5 or Flash (or a combo of the two), we want to hear from you. Please Twitter @IndieRockCafe with hashtag #audioplayerdev – or let us know on the IRC Facebook page; we will get back to you right away. Needless to say, whoever comes up with what we’re looking for will not only be providing a great service to music lovers around the world, but will also get credit for it and a link to their website and/or portfolio via IRC. Chances are, if it’s really cool, you could get a lot of praise and attention (including requests to build other plugins, widgets and apps) in the music blog world. This is a perfect opportunity for someone who wants to make a big splash on the web and have something fascinating to add to their resume and portfolio, as well as a great booster for advancing a career as a developer, and definitely an edge in competitive job interviews.

“Asleep at the Wheel” Band of Skulls from Himalayan on Shangri-La Music

“I’m Not Part of Me”Cloud Nothings from Here and Nowhere Else on Carpark / Mom + Pop

“Lines of Latitude” (ft. Frankie Rose) – Small Black from Real People on Jagjaguwar

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“Happy Alone”Saintseneca from Dark Arc on Anti

“Cope”Manchester Orchestra from Cope on Loma Vista / Republic

“Crown the Pines”S. Carey from Range of Light on Jagjaguwar

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So-So: The Pure X cover for 'Angel' was a bit of an improvement over the others; but that's not saying much

“Starlight”Pure X from Angel on Fat Possum

“Coming Home”Kaiser Chiefs from Education, Education, Education & War on ATO

“Tinnitus”Ausmuteants from Ausmuteants on Aarght / Goner Records

sweetappleageofglitter

Supergroup Sweet Apple released their new LP on green vinyl - a collector's item for J. Mascis/Dinosaur Jr. fans.

Top Singles from New Releases by Sweet Apple, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, The Fait, De Lux and Others

The top singles from new albums released during the second week of April 2014 come together to form a particularly rich and intriguing playlist, highlighting a spectacular and diverse range of indie and alternative artists and bands, including Sweet Apple, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, Denney and The Jets, De Lux, Sonic Avenue, King of Prussia, Incan Abraham, The Mary Onettes, The Faint, Doug Gillard, Your Friend, Young Boy, Ghetto Ghouls, Black Label Society, School of Language, OFF! and Paul Thomas Saunders.

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Terrible Album Covers: 'Parade On' by Doug Gillard

The Pervasive Disrespect For The Value of the Album Cover Art Form

In contrast to the musical quality of new albums released on April 8th was the alarming number of downright awful, ugly and unimaginative album covers that will forever degrade otherwise note-worthy albums. It’s not like you can go back and put a new cover on an album – whether viewing it from a physical vinyl or CD cover or digitally in iTunes or Spotify on iPhones, Android phones, or any other smartphone or tablet. The examples speak for themselves, and all we can wonder is ‘how could they (the people who make or influence the final decision) put out an album they want to appeal to people with such dog-ass ugly covers?” Come on people. Some of these covers were seemingly hacked together in a few minutes – literally. Again, there are the many examples below (and many, as most of you know, throughout any given year in the past 15 or so years especially with the death of the album) to ponder over. It’s especially baffling considering that some of the worst offenders are some of the best bands on some of the most respected labels; that’s like headache-inducing kind of bafflement. We even wanted to believe that some of the covers were just April Fool’s jokes – you know, sort of like: “Of course we wouldn’t slap such a terrible looking cover on one of our biggest releases of the year and then send it out to the world like that – it’s an April Fool’s joke, silly.”

But we know that is not the case and yet it still absolutely signifies something bigger, and more foul, is amidst, which is why we’re really highlighting it. An entire generation does not know the true value of exceptional album cover artwork nor have memories of a time when album covers were regarded as a high art form, topic of conversations – even controversies – and even so iconic at times that albums undoubtably sold more copies because of the artwork, and even became like mini posters on the walls of millions of teenagers.

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Terrible Album Covers: 'Mexican Coke' by Denney and The Jets'

We literally struggled to find a flagship album cover – like we do with all of the best new indie rock releases playlists – for this post because there were so few to choose from. Again, that is especially disappointing considering that so many of these albums are are not representative of their awful cover art. As long-time readers of IRC know, we include album cover art in all of our new album releases’ posts and playlists with a deliberate effort to feature the best album covers because they are the most deserving to be displayed.

But it is not always such an easy task to find quality album covers to include in album posts – not just for this week, but for many others. It’s a decline that has been happening almost as long – and during the same time period – as the decline of the once mighty American manufacturing base, and even for some of the same reasons – technology and the demand for cheaper goods. As vinyl album sales fell (although the trend is somewhat headed back in the right direction) off dramatically with the rise in popularity of non-physical – or ‘digital’ – music sales (and thanks in large part to a whole lot of music piracy), labels slashed the budgets for album production, with covers taking the biggest hit, thereby giving way to a general malaise that overcame much of the industry and culture in regards to album covers as more and more people took to downloading music online – and often illegally – and so much of the time, due to the inherent nature of this practice, never even saw the album covers (and in some cases, never even knew the titles of the albums they were poaching singles from). Despite these clear deficits, and disincentives, it’s the cover art for an album that may, or may not (partly based on the intrinsic value of the album cover itself), be around for decades into the future, let alone easily recognizable to people.

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One of the most recognizable albums in the history of rock music - The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - heralded an era where album cover art became an integral part of the music culture

During the era when the album ruled, from the late 1960s to the close of the 1980s (with the 1970′s clearly the heyday decade), the artwork that made up the cover of an artists’ newest album was taken very seriously, and mattered enormously. The cover art of The Beatles‘ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Hearts Club Band is arguably not only the most popular album cover artwork of all time, but it set the standard for album cover artwork for a generation afterwards. Almost over night, labels started to realize the power of the cover (as well as the sleeve and the inserts), and what followed was an age in which albums were in part defined, not only identified, by the cover art. Could you imagine Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon without the prism on the midnight black background?

But let’s face it, the song remains the same: it was the Internet that largely killed off – among other great things – the album cover as an integral part of the newest music releases. Sure, before everyone had the Internet, and Napster, the advent, and popularity, of the cassette and CD, started the cookie crumbling when it came to album cover art being respected as a serious art form as it was during the heyday of the vinyl album. In recent years, especially with the resurgence in popularity of vinyl, labels have been giving a bit more consideration to album cover art as part of the packaging to sell vinyls, but the art form itself is far from making a comeback. For the most part, labels and artists, even within the more creative indie and alternative rock genres, often are shockingly indifferent to album cover art. Yes, most of the album sales nowadays are CDs and MP3s, and so the industry, especially among the smaller labels – but even sadly the artists (which is the biggest shame of all) – doesn’t see much reason for spending money on creating alluring album covers. That said, you’re likely to see better album artwork coming from DIY bands, and to some extent, that is exactly the case; in fact, just spend a little time browsing through the DIY posts (and while you’re there discovering great music you’ve likely never heard before) of the past, and you’ll see the trend for yourself.

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Terrible Album Covers: Avery Tare's Slasher Flicks' 'Enter The Slasher House'

There have been so many awful and terrible album covers released in recent years by labels that it makes one wonder just what are they thinking? Those of you who have followed music closely for many years know exactly what we’re referring to. Most people can tell the difference between a terrible, or even not very good, album cover and one that is appealing, interesting and memorable. Any one who has closely followed the indie rock music scene over the past 10 to 15 years has seen their fair share of unimpressive album covers. And this week, as mentioned before, is largely symbolic of the mediocrity that has befallen the album cover art form in recent years. This post highlights just a small sampling of the dreary world of album cover art in the modern age, and a glimmer of hope that this largely lost art form will emerge from its mainstay mediocrity, where it has wallowed for too long, to once again become an exciting, creative and integral part of the album release. There is perhaps no better place for that resurrection to happen than within the indie rock genre, and one can only hope that the trend of vinyl sales will continue to climb – and demand for better album covers from music lovers continues to grow – ever so surely on the path of enlightenment towards restoring the integrity of the album cover art form within the alternative music culture.

Sweet-Apple

Sweet Apple’s Sophomore Release Satisfies Rock Sweet Tooth; New LPs from Avey Tare, Mary Onettes, King of Prussia and More

But there were some reasonably good album covers for the week too, including supergroup Sweet Apple‘s over for their sophomore release, The Golden Age of Glitter. That cover, together with a sneak peek at the green colored vinyl, ultimately ended up as the flagship album cover for this week’s top albums. And it it’s available, along with the band’s debut album on blue vinyl, via the following link. Sweet Apple features J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr., Heavy Blanket), Tim Parnin (Cobra Verde, Chuck Mosley), John Petkovic (Cobra Verde, Death of Samantha,Guided By Voices) and Dave Sweetapple (Witch, Vardlokk).

Yet it was the sheer number of appallingly ugly, particularly atrocious, and even to some degree, mildly insulting (to the fans’ sensibilities), album covers – and especially for albums that are musically great albums – released for the week of April 8th, that practically forced us to bring attention to the issue. You’ll see some of the examples we’re talking about below. As vinyl becomes more popular, this might help the situation somewhat, but it’s really up to the fans, bands and their labels to step it up and vow to put time, consideration, love, creativity, and even money, into the process of coming up with an appealing, or at least half-way decent, cover for their album releases. Afterall, it does matter, and people do care.

Furthermore, it’s almost an insult, especially when the album itself has some amazing music on it – the casual observer would not think so by looking at any of the many terrible album covers that have been released in recent years. We’ll continue to seek out and post the best album covers for our posts, since like awful, or just so-so, music, why would we waste our time, and your time, doing anything less. But, for these purposes, we are deliberately posting some terrible album covers, and we hope, in a small way, that it will shame the people responsible for not putting together fine album covers; these are not DIY artists without access to a graphics department or budget (and still in many of those cases, they manage to come up with suitable album covers). We’re pretty sure you’ll be able to spot which ones are the worst offenders; obviously, they stick out like a sore thumb.

“Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)” (feat. Mark Lanegan) – Sweet Apple from The Golden Age of Glitter on Teepee Records
Video: Sweet Apple’s “Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)” music video (featuring Mark Langman)

“Little Fang” - Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks from Enter the Slasher House on Domino

“Mama’s Got The Blues” (ft. Seth Murray of Natural Child) – Denney and the Jets from Mexican Coke on Burger Records

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So-So Album Cover: 'Voyage' by De Lux

“Make Space”De Lux from Voyage on Innovative Leisure

“Scum, Rise!” - Protomartyr from Under Color of Official Right on Hardly Art

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Terrible Album Cover: 'Portico' by The Mary Onettes

“Silence Is A Gun”The Mary Onettes from Portico on Labrador Records

“Actuary” - King of Prussia from Zonian Girls… And the Echoes That Surround Us All on Minty Fresh

“Concorde”Incan Abraham from Tolerance on White Iris Records
Video: Watch the “Concorde” music video via YouTube

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Terrible Album Cover: 'Ghetto Ghouls' by Ghetto Ghouls

“Peepshow”Ghetto Ghouls from Ghetto Ghouls on Monofonus Press
Video: View a live version of “Peepshot” via KVRX in Austin

“Ready For Death”Doug Gillard from Parade On on Nine Mile Records

“My Dying Time”Black Label Society from Catacombs of the Black Vatican on eOne

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Terrible Album Cover: 'Doom Abuse' by The Faint

“Help In the Head”The Faint from Doom Abuse on SQE
Video: Watch the official “Help In The Head” music video

young-and-sick

More bad album covers came in from Young Boy and Your Friend, but Young & Sick‘s self-titled debut album cover (above) was not so bad. All things considered, it was a doozy of a week for album cover art, especially considering the artists the covers represent, and the fine albums they serve as the forever-lasting visual for. It sends a message to music listeners, and fans, “we just really don’t care that much.” All of the Internet stories aside, and the fact that most people don’t buy albums anymore (although, again, Record Store Day indicates a trend in the other direction), it still says to just about everyone “we just don’t care that much about our album releases to put much thought or work into it.” For the bands that are handicapped by what the label dictates is the cover, we feel you, but take a stand because that is your work and that’s how it will always be seen because it’s the album’s cover art.

“Secret Place” - Young Boy from Other Summers on Saint Marie Records

“Tame One”Your Friend from Jekyll/Hyde EP on Domino

“Glass”Young & Sick from Young & Sick on Harvest

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“Kawai Celeste”Paul Thomas Saunders from Beautiful Desolation on Atlantic

“Hypnotized”OFF! from Wasted Years on Vice Records

“Dress Up”School of Language from Old Fears on Memphis Industries

Coming Up Next: The amazing weeks of music releases and top MP3 singles spanning April 15th through April 28th.

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