It looks like someone beat my offthegrid.fm editor Jake Sebastian to the punch on naming their band ▲ (or alt-J if you don’t feel like having the “Have you heard of ▲? No, not the word triangle, but the actual shape. Yeah.” conversation with your friends). The British troupe’s eclecticticity reminds me of Wild Beasts and Menomena at times, but make no mistake, ▲’s sound is definitely their own. It only takes a cursory listen to “Tessellate” before realizing that Joe Newman’s voice is one of a kind. The guy is able to twist and morph it into a variety of different shapes and the band has no trouble draping it in off-kilter keys and percussion. The video features trios of disinterested people as seen by a roving, voyeuristic spotlight while Joe unwraps an aquatic predator metaphor to describe how his latest love triangle went wrong. If “Tessellate” sticks with you, another good one to try is “Breezeblocks” and its inverted thriller video. If you find yourself wanting more after this, you probably owe it yourself to give ▲’s debut album An Awesome Wave a spin in its entirety. Especially if you like triangles.
Metric’s turned the synth up a few notches for new album (you guessed it) Synthetica and although nothing on it really reaches the same heights asFantasies gems like “Help I’m Alive,” or “Satellite Mind,” “Youth Without Youth” probably comes closest. The striding drums and insistent electric bass are reminiscent of a Muse song, but instead of having to deal with Matthew Bellamy’s overwrought emotional roller-coaster voice, we’ve got the frosty saunter of Emily Haines instead. The video features some slightly unsettling slow motion iconography while Emily mixes up her childhood schoolyard games with increasingly desperate and delirious situations. The uneasy effect is compounded by the horror movie whirring that hovers above, and it never really lets us get too comfortable (or let the cake/tire stackers take a break). Anyone curious enough to spin Synthetica will probably notice that “Yw/oY” is bookended by the similarly blood pumping “Artificial Nocturne” and the album’s most haunting track “Speed The Collapse.” If you consider yourself a fan of the band, you’ll probably want to experience Metric’s synthetical flavors in their natural album habitat.
I’m glad someone is still setting electro-house tunes to cutesy sci-fi animations while Daft Punk sit around in bathtubs full of Tron money (or whatever it is they’ve been doing for the last 5 years). Flight Facilities are an Australian duo that first appeared two years ago with their first single “Crave You,” and while it’s certainly good (how about the bass that shows up halfway through?), “With You,” paired with its Interstella 5555 inspired video, manages to be even better. Tales of forbidden love and longing have often turned a good song into a great one and “With You” is another great example of this. Of course, what better way to highlight FF’s shimmering synths and Grovesnor’s longing voice than with a bit of cartoon drama? Even though it appears that human-android relations are outlawed in Flight Facilities’ utopian future, no amount of secret agents or high speed hover taxi chases will keep our hero away from his girl. Now if we could only get these guys to drop more than one song a year.
You gotta love when artists are so compelled to create that even while their main bands are between albums, the individual members are still cranking out tunes. Deerhunter dropped Halcyon Digest (my favorite album of 2010) and last year brought us another offering from frontman Bradford Cox’s solo project, Atlas Sound. Now that we’re yet another year past that, it looks like it’s time for the other creative force behind Deerhunter, Lockett Pundt, to show us some love.
While Bradford is the guy getting (demanding?) the most attention, Lockett seems to be the man behind some of the more expansive, blissed out Deerhunter moments. Anyone remember “Desire Lines“? Yeah. Exactly.Spooky Action At A Distance is full of amber tinged guitar washes — including the sadly hopeful “Dusty Rhoads” and the late night sparkle on “Eveningness” — but the most compelling cut has to be “Monoliths.” The track revs up with a siren-like guitar that just doesn’t quit while Lockett reassures us that ‘one of these days, he’ll be around.’ There’s just something about repetitive quirks that, instead of being annoying, only provide a focal point for the rest of the song to branch out from. So here’s to all the side projects in the world. May they continue to facilitate artistic experimentation, alleviate band tensions, and drop us a track for the playlist once in awhile.
While not technically the first song on the album (that honor would fall on the aptly named track “Introduction”), “Hail Bop” is the first real tune on Django Django‘s self titled debut and it does everything that an opening cut should. Its pulsing synths, blood pumping drums, and ascending chords immediately draw us in and set the tone for an album that’s able to stay full of engaging ideas while meandering in quite a few directions. The glitchy chorus on “Default“, the mysterious desert mantra on “Firewater” and the ‘got to get to know – got to get to know – know you – know you’ chant on “Zumm Zumm” all point toward signs that these Brit’s aren’t fucking around. The band has drawn comparisons to The Beta Band (and not just because they share a pair of siblings) and with such a strong debut album, I would not be disappointed if these guys were able to pick up that electro-folk/brit-pop cult torch and run with it.
Aging pop star hit-writers turned electropop group Miike Snow are back with their sophomore album and sadly, the Swedish trio appeared to have succumbed to that dreaded slump. While Happy To You has a couple interesting moments, it doesn’t really come close to their self-titled debut. The first single “Paddling Out” isn’t a bad blood warmer, but it can’t hold a candle to “Animal” and while I’m interested to see how some other cuts like “The Wave” and “Pretender” sound in a live setting, I can’t help but feel that the studio versions are missing something. Luckily, there is one standout hiding out on the second half of the LP.
There are plenty of reasons why “Black Tin Box” is so good at doing that standy thing to neck hairs — the muffled steel drums, Andrew Wyatt’s filter heavy voice and chilling, wavering theremin synths. However, nothing propels “Black Tin Box” forward more than those drums. They first appear in the background, but as the song progresses they seem to know exactly when to swiftly pop out and drop some contrast into the dark moodscape, just before slinking back into the distance for Lykke Li’s guest spot. It’s not often that percussion winds up being the highlight of a song, but in Miike’s co-opted nursery rhyme, it makes perfect sense.
So The Shins frontman James Mercer has been taking some flak lately for ditching his old bandmates and hiring a new crew. Well guess what folks: when you’re the brains behind an operation and writing all the tunes, as long as you keep releasing quality songs, you get to do whatever the fuck you want. And before anyone accuses me of giving Mercer a pass, let me say this: I was ready to write this album off from the start. I mean, come on, the guy’s been traipsing around the world with Danger Mouse playing Broken Bells tunes for the last couple years. Could he really have time to come up with another album of songs worthy of being filed next to favorites like “New Slang”, “So Says I” and “Sea Legs”?
I didn’t really have much faith, but the answer to the question is actually a yes. Port Of Morrow pretty much delivers the goods. Sure, “Simple Song” might as well be named Sappy Song and the second half of the disc does drag slightly, but overall there is a whole lot of awesome new Shinsyness to digest. Mercer’s instantly identifiable voice sounds as good as ever and there are plenty of interesting themes on the album where it’s able to shine. The unwitting soldier’s tale contained in “The Rifle’s Spiral” comes roaring out of the gates and “No Way Down” tackles that weird first-world guilt feeling alongside some classic jangle (and an appropriately unsure-of-itself guitar solo).
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a Shins album if there weren’t some relationship woes. “Bait And Switch” is the highlight of the album and it’s where James confesses to us about how he ended up way over his head with a particularly fiery lady. It starts off with a short keyboard intro that glides the band into a tight, driving rhythm and it’s not long before Mercer’s voice starts finding places to soar into fluffy guitar fills. The exasperated way he falsettos ’she don’t settle dowwwwn’ at 2:00 is especially eye widening. If you weren’t sure of the band’s ability to still feel, well, Shinsy (for lack of a better term) while employing a brighter production on things, this track should put those fears to rest. Could it be? Are The Shins four for four? There doesn’t quite seem to be a consensus yet, but I think they’ve done it.
Who is this band? Mystical. Funky. Empowering. Provocative. Her inflection during the “I’m not just another chick” part. That fucking bell! Argh! Yup. Doin’ it for me. I may not know who Friends is, but I’m definitely keeping my eye out for future releases by them in case any should happen to reach the same levels of discoliciousness as this one.
The best track on Phantogram’s newest EP has a little of everything that makes the band so enchanting. Syncopated drums, Sarah Barthel’s dreamy voice and plenty of swirling synths and guitar. But it’s the chopped up electronic horn and vocal sample that keeps bringing me back. The way it wraps itself around that beat before letting Sarah and her Korg weave in and out makes it pretty hard to “keep my body still.” Sorry Phantogram, if you’re going to keep writing songs like this, you’d better get used to my “shake, shake, shake.”
It appears Justice has succumbed to the dreaded sophomore slump and will not be saving music in 2011. Gone is the heavy hitting bass and glitched out beats of Cross. And child choir choruses? Not one in sight. Everything’s been replaced by larger-than-life-styled prog-rock guitars. “On’n’on“‘s stalking throb draws comparisons to “Kashmir,” but while the dark Led Zeppelin song evokes thoughts of impending doom, “On’n’on” elicits feelings of determined hope. Throw in some kazoo-sounding fuzz and a psychedelic flute solo and we’ve got ourselves a banger. Justice may not have saved music in 2011, but at least this track isn’t bad listening while continuing the search for our next savior.
File this one under: Road trip music. “Come To The City” is so full of wistful restlessness and discovery (with a touch of nostalgia) that I can’t help but think it was written in the passenger seat of a car while cruising past and small towns and farmhouses. The progressive folk rock jaunt is soaring, expansive, and singer Adam Granduciel sounds strangely similar to former bandmate Kurt Vile (but don’t worry, this is a good thing.) Definitely a song to keep around for the next time you feel like hopping in the car and driving as far as you can.
..:: Fountains Of Wayne - Cold Comfort Flowers ::..
Forget for a minute that Fountains Of Wayne is the band that subjected us to that “Stacy’s Mom” song every hour on the hour on every rock station in the summer of 2003. Those of us in the know still remember the days when FoW was at their best, writing power pop gems like “Radiation Vibe” and “Hey Julie”. While their new album Sky Full Of Holes comes up way short of their previous four releases, there’s still one moment lurking in the mediocrity that deserves a listen. “Cold Comfort Flowers” seems unassuming at first, but once Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger launch into the chorus and bathe us in waves of euphoric harmonization, aesthetic chills are practically guaranteed.
While the unwashed masses keep wishing DJ Shadow would re-make Entroducing… everyone’s favorite instrumental hip-hop artist has gone on record saying that it just isn’t going to happen. However, it does sound like a little bit of the past has resurfaced on The Less You Know, The Better. “I’ve Been Trying” is reminiscent of The Private Press’ lost-in-time sounding “Six Days” — A lonely guy with a guitar get’s retrofitted by Shadow’s downtempo/trip-hop styled snare, descending chimes and warbled bass. Of course, the most amazing thing is that everything is done so seamlessly, one might have trouble believing that there are no instruments involved here. It’s all just a bunch of samples stitched together.
Everyone knows that breakups are good for music. (Anyone remember Beck’s Sea Change? Yeah, exactly.) So while it might feel rather heartless to be glad about Leslie Feist’s recent entrance into the ranks of the single and heartbroken, we can at least rest easy knowing that the world is probably getting some good new tunes out of the deal. “How Come You Never Go There” finds Feist blues-folk’ing as hard as she can. And even though her voice is laden with sorrow as she tries to piece together why her last relationship went south, it still seems effortless and even boasts a bit of swagger. Recommended for when you’re feeling slightly somber, yet determined to power through to the other side.