Made in the Dark (Astralwerks)
After the success of “Over and Over,” Hot Chip are suddenly ubiquitous. They’ve become the go-to guys for remixes of everyone from Amy Winehouse to The Rolling Stones, and were even asked to pen a song for Kylie Minogue’s latest (they declined). So, Made in the Dark comes with some pretty high expectations. Fortunately, they have delivered an album that proves they are worthy of all the acclaim.
Hot Chip have completely abandoned the shambolic sounds of their first album, while further developing the glistening pop moments of 2006’s The Warning. The first four tracks alone are an onslaught of danceable, brightly energetic tunes. The band moves through the insistent “Out at the Pictures,” the pounding dance breaks of “Shake a Fist,” the pure synthesizer pop of “Ready for the Floor,” and the bouncing, skittering beats of “Bendable Poseable.”
The energy level drops briefly for the dreamy balladry of “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love,” but the band never lets the listener rest for long. The slow moments that riddle the second half of the album are immediately followed by tracks like the world beat-meets-New Order funk of “One Pure Thought” or the rhythmic “Touch Too Much.”
By structuring their album this way, it is easy for the quieter moments to be eclipsed by the big beats. But that does not mean the ballads and soulful touches are mere filler. If anything, it is a testament to how much impact is made by the other tracks. Hot Chip simply threaten to overshadow themselves with their own mastery of dance grooves.
Hot Chip tour dates:
– Saturday, March 8 – Hamburg, DE – Uebel & Gefahrlich
– Sunday, March 9 – Berlin, DE – Postbahnhof
– Monday, March 10 – Munich, DE – Elserhalle
– Tuesday, March 11 – Cologne, DE – Gloria
– Thursday, March 13 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso
– Friday, March 14 – Brussels, Belgium – Botanique / Orangerie
– Saturday, March 15 – Lille, FR – Grand Mix
– Monday, March 17 – Paris, FR – Trabendo
– Tuesday, March 18 – Rennes, FR – Ubu
– Thursday, April 10 – Philadelphia, PA – Starlight Ballroom
– Friday, April 11 – Washington, D.C. – 9:30 Club
– Saturday, April 12 – New York, NY – Terminal 5
– Monday, April 14 – Boston, MA – Paradise
– Tuesday, April 15 – Montreal, QC – Metropolis
– Wednesday, April 16 – Toronto, ON – Phoenix
– Thursday, April 17 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre
– Friday, April 18 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
– Monday, April 21 – Vancouver, B.C. – Commodore Ballroom
– Tuesday, April 22 – Seattle, WA – Showbox
– Wednesday, April 23 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom
– Thursday, April 24 – San Francisco, CA – The FillmoreVampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend (XL)
Behold! It’s that time again, when one band out of a million are crowned the reigning kings of right now. The Vampire Weekend buzz has been building over the last 6 months or so, and seems ready to explode. Driving this frenzy is a worthwhile, if not mind-blowing, debut album, one whose beatific melodies are a teasing preview of springtime.
It’s impossible to read about this group of Columbia grads without seeing their work compared to Paul Simon’s Graceland. One has to wonder if the plethora of writers throwing around the G-word to encapsulate Vampire Weekend’s sound have bothered to play this 1986 album since its Grammy-winning heyday, or if they were even alive then. Yes, both incorporate sparkling African rhythms (in Simon’s case, via authentic African musicians), into their effusive, brainy New York pop. The Vampire Weekend boys even admit being influenced by a parent’s copy of the record, but the similarities are superficial. If the two works share anything, it has more to do with their mix of bubbly sonic optimism and a knack for highbrow storytelling than a strong geographic connection.
Murmurs of colonialism have followed the band, along with derision towards their Ivy League background (face it, “Walcott” could totally be the name of a Whit Stillman character). In truth, Vampire Weekend draw as much from art-pop and garden-variety indie rock sources as they do from traditional African sounds. Upper-crust strings (indigenous to the Upper West Side) dress “M79” and the aforementioned “Walcott” in mannered attitude; the offhand vocals on “Oxford Comma” trill with careless ennui. For every wobbly-kneed, awkward dance groove, there’s the prickly guitar melody of “Bryn,” which has a crisp, rousing Celtic feel.
For all their exposure, this isn’t yet a band with a personality-driven identity (I, and I suspect many listeners, can’t yet name an individual band member offhand). What stands out is their fresh, youthful feeling – the free-spirited bounce of “A-Punk,” the lovely back-and-forth of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and the excitement of confounding those who would rather music and culture stay in specifically designated boxes, never to mix inappropriately. If they become the biggest band in the world or we never hear from them again, this is a strong, infectious collection of songs that deviates from the everyday. And, damn it, that’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
– Amanda Langston
If they recover from performing on Saturday Night Live tonight, Vampire Weekend will perform (along with The Walkmen) at the Earl this Sunday, March 9.
Vampire Weekend tour dates:
– Monday, March 10 – Birmingham, AL – The Bottletree (w/The Walkmen)
– Tuesday, March 11 – New Orleans, LA – Pocket Park at the LBC quad, Tulane University
– Wednesday, March 19 – San Diego, CA – The Casbah (SOLD OUT)
– Thursday, March 20 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre (SOLD OUT)
– Saturday, March 22 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent (SOLD OUT)
– Sunday, March 23 – San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Shop (SOLD OUT)
– Tuesday, March 25 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge (SOLD OUT)
– Wednesday, March 26 – Seattle, WA – Nuemos (SOLD OUT)
– Thursday, March 27 – Vancouver, B.C. – Richards on Richards (SOLD OUT)
– Saturday, March 29 – Missoula, MT – The Badlander
– Sunday, March 30 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
– Monday, March 31 – Salt Lake City, UT – In the Venue
– Tuesday, April 1 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
– Thursday, April 3 – Minneapolis, MN – The Triple Rock Social Club
– Friday, April 4 – Madison, WI – The High Noon
– Saturday, April 5 – Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall
– Sunday, April 6 – Chicago, IL – Metro (SOLD OUT)
– Friday, April 11 – Providence, RI – Brown University Campus Green
– Friday, April 25 – Indio, CA – Coachella – 1 p.m.
– Thursday, May 1 – Bristol, UK – Bristol Bierkeller
– Friday, May 2 – Birmingham, UK – Birmingham Academy 2 (SOLD OUT)
– Saturday, May 3 – Edinburgh, UK – The Liquid Rooms
– Sunday, May 4 – Glasgow, UK – Oran Mor
– Tuesday, May 6 – Newcastle, UK – Northumbria University
– Wednesday, May 7 – Leeds, UK – The Cockpit (SOLD OUT)
– Thursday, May 8 – Manchester, UK – Manchester Academy 2 (SOLD OUT)
– Friday, May 9 – Minehead, UK – Camber Sands
– Monday, May 12 – Portsmouth, UK – Wedgewood Rooms
– Tuesday, May 13 – London, UK – Electric Ballroom (SOLD OUT)
– Friday, May 16 – Brighton, UK – Great Escape Festival – 1 p.m.
– Saturday, June 7 – Orlando, FL – The Social
– Sunday, June 8 – St. Augustine, FL – Cafe Eleven
– Thursday, June 12 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo – 1 p.m.Miss Kittin
BatBox (Nobody’s Bizzness)
DJ and musician Caroline Herve, better known by the moniker Miss Kittin, inexplicably dubs herself “Ms. Kittin” on the cover of her newest release, BatBox. Perhaps the minor name change echoes the subtle shift in her music from her previous, more experimental solo album. BatBox has a slicker, more polished sound, thanks to producer Pascal Gabriel, whose recent production credits include pop divas Dido, Kylie Minogue and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Despite the glossier production, Miss Kittin does not stray far from her usual formula. She has always been fascinated with the trappings of fame and celebrity (“Madame Hollywood,” “Frank Sinatra”) and continues to explore that theme on “Sunset Strip” and “Playmate of the Century.” Her trademark blend of deadpan delivery paired with Eurodisco electro beats is also evident throughout most of the album. She almost revels in it on “Machine Joy,” where she proclaims, “Joy is in the rhythm of the machine.”
But there are hints of new directions amid the usual sounds. A subtle goth undertone permeates the album, most notably in the album title and the cartoon bats gracing its cover. The theme continues on “Kittin is High,” with its reference to “vampire and witches” and her promise to “bite you in the neck” on “Solidasarockstar.” Even the guitar sounds on “Grace” are reminiscent of Joy Division and Bauhaus.
A gentleness also emerges on “Play Me a Tape,” where Miss Kittin urges a lover to play her a tape “to show me you love me.” Backed by sweet synthesizer sounds that would not be out of place on an early Depeche Mode recording, she demonstrates a charming, sensitive side. Stripped of her detached irony, she reveals the human behind the machines
– Saturday, March 8 – Tokyo, JP DJ/live BatBox release showcase @ Womb
– Saturday, March 15 – Singapore, SG DJ/live BatBox release showcase @ Zouk Club
– Thursday, March 27 – Paris, FR Special New Wave DJ set w/ The Hacker @ Le Paris – Paris
– Friday, March 28 – Montpelier, FR DJ/live BatBox release showcase @ La Villa Rouge
– Wednesday, April 23 – Berlin, DE DJ/live @ Watergate
– Saturday, May 3 – Offenbach, DE Robert Johnson
– Saturday, May 10 – Venice, IT Il Muretto
– Wednesday, May 21 – Paris, FR Mkth DJ set @ 15 years of Rex Club anniversary @ Rex Club
– Friday, May 30 – Sevilla, ES Territorios Festival @ Andalusian Center of Contemporary Art
Bolts of Melody (Hi-Speed Soul)
For me, Swervedriver’s Mezcal Head was one of the definitive albums of the early ’90s, fusing elements of grunge and shoegaze into a unique and powerful sound. Unfortunately, like most bands of that era, Swervedriver fell victim to label woes, with the follow-up, the wonderfully eclectic Ejector Seat Reservation, never receiving an American release, and their underrated swan song, 99th Dream, finally securing release through an indie label. After that, Swervedriver frontman Adam Franklin went even deeper underground, recording under the name Toshack Highway, and releasing surprisingly mellow electronica and lazy guitar ballads on a variety of small labels.
Which brings us to his solo debut, Bolts of Melody. The opening track, “Seize the Day,” could easily be a stripped-down demo from Swervedriver’s early days. The album continues by interspersing other gentle rave-ups with the mellow balladry Franklin had quietly been perfecting as Toshack Highway. Song titles such as “Ramonesland” and “Syd’s Eyes” indicate that Franklin’s not only drawing from his personal rock ‘n’ roll history, but rather from the entire mammoth genre itself.
And that’s where the album really succeeds – despite Franklin’s familiar voice and a few flashes of oversaturated guitar effects, most of these songs could have been beamed right out of the late ’60s or ’70s. A slightly lo-fi, hazy production helps preserve that timeless feel across the whole album. Franklin has managed to step out from under the shadow of Swervedriver’s mythic early period, by creating songs and sounds that have their own sense of history. I suspect discussions of his future work might be able to sidestep the “S” word completely.
Adam Franklin plays in support of Bolts of Melody at the EARL on Friday, October 5. His subsequent tour dates are as follows:
10.06.07 The Bottletree, Birmingham, AL
10.08.07 Proletariat, Houston, TX
10.09.07 The Mohawk, Austin, TX
10.10.07 The Cavern, Dallas, TX
10.11.07 Hi-Tone, Memphis, TN
10.12.07 The Basement, Nashville, TN
10.13.07 Bluebird, St. Louis, MO
10.15.07 The Record Bar, Kansas City, MO
10.16.07 The Waiting Room, Omaha, NE
10.17.07 400 Bar, Minneapolis, MN
10.18.07 Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL
10.19.07 Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI
10.20.07 Elbow Room, Ypsilanti, MI
10.21.07 Andyman’s Treehouse, Columbus, OH
10.22.07 Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, OH
10.23.07 Club CafĂ©, Pittsburgh, PA
10.24.07 Mohawk Place, Buffalo, NY
10.25.07 Drake Hotel, Toronto, ON
10.26.07 Zaphods, Ottawa, ON
10.27.07 Le National, Montreal,
Tuned To Love (Graveface)
The Loose Salute don’t seem too fussed about sticking to one genre in particular. However, steeped as they are in a particularly English sort of folkiness, it seems fairly certain that their sound will never get too heavy. On Tuned to Love, their infatuations include freewheeling country pop, plaintive ballads and breezy, let’s-put-on-a-show charmers. The light touch of Mojave 3 drummer Ian McCutcheon (who also assumes vocal duties) sets the band’s easygoing pace as it rambles into each of these areas and creates a gently confident debut.
Tuned to Love often captures the feeling of being lost and disconnected, most explicitly on the forlorn “Photographs and Tickets.” “All I have are photos / ticket stubs from old shows / That’s all I’m left with this time,” McCutcheon’s co-vocalist Lisa Billson explains in a velvet murmur. The track nicks a melody from Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” of all songs, as deftly as it evokes mournful nostalgia. It’s not all heartache, however; the Salute prove themselves fully capable of generating a joyful atmosphere. “Turn the Radio Up” exudes a lazy sensuality, while “Through the Stratosphere to the Bars” playfully recreates the twangy vibe of a 1970s radio hit.
Despite the mild first impression left by this laid-back album, it has a real durability, communicating both the restlessness of summer and the cozy feel of autumn. Pick it up now, and you can nod knowingly once your friends tune in to Love.
– Amanda Langston
Chicago supergroup The Sea and Cake were on a roll in the early part of the decade, with their Oui and One Bedroom LPs building to a fever pitch from the percussive, jazzy foundations of their 90s recordings to become instant classics of sophisticated, mature indie-pop. After a four year break during which Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt both released gorgeous, heavily orchestrated solo albums, the full band is back with Everybody.
The new album marks a slight change in sound, significantly scaling back and varied instrumentation and electronics that made their past few albums so jaw-droppingly impressive. What is amazing is how much Everybody still sounds just like The Sea and Cake even without those now-expected embellishments. John McEntire’s fluid beats, Prekop and Prewitt’s wonderful guitar interplay, and Prekop’s soothing, lazy voice are all at the forefront, and on the louder numbers the band seems re-energized with a sense of power that adds an interesting new dimension to their sound. For a band who never had much of a chance to rock, they do so very well, in their own restrained, classy way. At times, though, especially on the slower numbers, it’s hard not to long a bit for the delicate arrangements of the past few albums. However, considering their consistently high-quality output, it’s easy to go along with them, whether the new sound is just a break from complicated electronics or a transition to some new phase of the band’s career.
The Sea and Cake play the EARL this Tuesday, September 25 in support of Everybody. Meg Baird opens. The band’s subsequent tour dates are as follows (with Meg Baird unless indicated):
Wed., Sept. 26 – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC
Thurs., Sept. 27 – Satellite Ballroom – Charlottesville, VA
Fri., Sept. 28 – Sonar – Baltimore, MD
Sat., Sept. 29 – Warsaw – Brooklyn, NY (w/Antietam, Soft Circle)
Sun., Sept. 30 – Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, MA
Mon., Oct. 1 – Higher Ground – South Burlington, VT
Wed., Oct. 3 – Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland, OH
Thurs., Oct. 4 – Majestic Theatre – Detroit, MI
Fri., Oct. 5 – Metro – Chicago, IL (w/Meg Baird, Douglas McCombs & David Daniell Duo)
Fri., Oct. 26 – AV Cervantes Festival – Malaga, Spain
Sat., Oct. 27 – ZDB – Lisbon, Portugal
Sun., Oct. 28 – Teatro Vigo – Vigo, Spain
Mon., Oct. 29 – O Meu Mercedes – Porto, Portugal
Tues., Oct. 30 – University Auditorium – Huelva, Spain
Wed., Oct. 31 – University Auditorium – Cadiz, Spain
Fri., Nov. 2 – Tanned Tin Festival – Castellon, Spain
Sat., Nov. 3 – Auditorium – Zaragoza, Spain
Mon., Nov. 5 – Gaswerk – Winterthur, Switzerland
Tues., Nov. 6 – Enjoy Jazz Festival – Heidelberg, Germany
Wed., Nov. 7 – Gleiss 22 – Munster, Germany
Thurs., Nov. 8 – Zakk – Dusseldorf, Germany
Fri., Nov. 9 – Botanique – Brussels, Belgium
Sun., Nov. 11 – Koko – London, UK (Thrill Jockey Anniversary, featuring many TJ bands)
“Horse and I,” the opening track on Fur and Gold, immediately establishes Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes) as a fiercely original artist. In it, she sings about “mystic golden light” and mysterious rituals while accompanied by a driving harpsichord melody and haunting tribal rhythm. Dressed in her preferred garb of warrior makeup and headdress and playing the Baroque era’s favorite keyboard instrument, she’s like Siouxsie Sioux crossed with Tori Amos.
Khan’s evocative voice weaves in and out of a debut album that is rich in eclectic choices. “Prescilla,” a jaunty number replete with handclaps, mixes alongside the ethereal, This Mortal Coil vibe of “Seal Jubilee.” The tribal sounds of the opening track return on “Sarah,” but this time with subtle, jazzy brass. Khan even tackles a spare cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” as a bonus track. The centerpiece of the album, though, is “What’s a Girl to Do?,” Khan’s ode to a faded love affair. Amidst swirling harpsichord and delicate background vocals, she creates a gothic girl group epic, wondering how to proceed now that “kisses at night are replaced by tears.”
Dark and introspective, but with an overriding delicacy and innocence, Bat for Lashes sounds like the soundtrack to a vivid fever dream. But with music this rich, it is a dream you will not want to readily escape.
With her stylized cover art, delicate vocals, and poetic lyrics, Hannah Fury cannot avoid Kate Bush comparisons. And, indeed, Through the Gash‘s occasionally sinister, experimental sound owes much to masterworks like The Dreaming and Kate-influenced artists like Happy Rhodes. But Fury, like Rhodes, only uses these influences as a springboard to create her own unique sound.
A slightly uneasy undercurrent runs through Fury’s latest, from the creepy carousel music of “No Man Alive” to the truly scary sounds of “Beware the Touch” and “Status.” But it is the sweeter, quieter moments that stand out most. Bubbling synths bathe Fury in a soothing cocoon in “Girls That Glitter Love the Dark” and “Don’t Be Scared,” while delicate piano chords punctuate “Where the Wounds Are.”
Throughout the album, Fury sings in a hushed voice that seems to whisper forbidden secrets. The quiet delivery, however, belies the power in her words. In “Carnival Justice (The Gloves Are Off) Part II,” there is real venom behind the line, “So you love her? That little stain?” Meanwhile, in “The Carousel,” Fury reflects heartbreakingly over the death of a friend, lamenting, “Life is crucial surgery, a shard of glass pulled from a heart that bleeds.”
Through the Gash constantly alternates between quiet balladry and aggressive proclamations, so it is appropriate it ends with the lullaby “Never Look Back.” Accompanied by music box strains, Fury proclaims, “You can have the light of the moon. I prefer to exit through wounds,” a perfect summation of her celebration of the beauty in darkness.
On the surface, Tigers and Monkeys are a New York-based rock band, which is as inadequate a description as noting that ice cream is a cold dessert item. Sure, this sextet plays guitars, bangs on drums and makes a joyful noise, but the way their sound comes together is not at all what you’ve come to expect when you hear the phrase “New York rock,” i.e., art school cool or indie quirk. Like the album title says, this is a band that gets loose, freely borrowing from different musical styles as needed. Twang rubs up against soul, bolstered by a grimy, raucous garage foundation, and everything feels inspired at least as much by early, foot-stomping rock as by more predictable post-punk sources.
The delayed release of Loose Mouth (a Spring release got moved to July) means that I’ve been playing the album for a few months now without it ever growing old. The controlled chaos of rowdier tunes slows down occasionally for torchy or more vulnerable numbers, and it all fits together in a happy jumble. Fans who know frontwoman Shonali Bhowmik from her previous band, Ultrababyfat, will appreciate what she contributes to the Tigers and Monkeys experience. Bhowmik’s odd lyrics and the gymnast’s flexibility of her hoarse, bewitching vocals are unique pleasures. For those who encounter her here for the first time, getting acquainted will be half the fun.
The phrase “teen sensation” is more likely to conjure thoughts of American Idol winner Jordin Sparks than that of an introspective folk singer. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to give Will Stratton’s remarkable debut a few spins without marveling that it was created before his twentieth birthday. Instead of carefully styled, squeaky-clean marketability, Stratton offers a finely honed sensitivity borne of emotions close to the surface of the young heart.
Rippling with banjo and wrapped up in a haze of wispy strings, What the Night Said bears the mark of its folk contemporaries (Mark Kozelek, Iron & Wine) as well as that of genre forbears Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel (“Fireflies” fits nicely alongside their early efforts). Stratton’s soft-spoken musings radiate sincerity, allowing lines like “snow blankets everything in forgiveness” and even a straightforward Robert Frost reference to avoid the fate of the overly precious. The record’s tiptoe vibe creates the feeling that anything louder might wake the household. For Stratton, this atmosphere is exactly right. He knows that something small and quiet can resonate like something epic.
Occasionally, music comes along that you are convinced already existed in some alternate universe of pure pop bliss. Such is the case with The Great Unwanted, the remarkably confident debut by Greenwich, England’s Lucky Soul. From the breezy opening cut, “Add Your Light To Mine, Baby,” to the charming “shake, shake, shimmy” that punctuates “Lips Are Unhappy,” every song sounds like a lost classic.
The band’s blend of early 60s pop, girl group harmonies, and Wall of Sound production fits in perfectly with the recent spate of revivalists like Amy Winehouse and The Pipettes, while lead singer Ali Howard’s evocative voice recalls Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell and The Cardigans’ Nina Persson. This combination of epic sound and tender vocals accentuates the undercurrent of romantic longing in songs like “Struck Dumb” and “The Towering Inferno,” lending a surprising counterpoint to their sprightly sound. “The Last Song” even hints at future forays into country with its quiet, stripped-down steel guitars.
Joyous songs reign, though, especially in the outsider anthem “Ain’t Never Been Cool” and the “Cool Jerk”- emulating “Get Outta Town!” When Howard sings “take your shoes off, we’re going barefoot on the dance floor,” it seems like the only natural response to such pop perfection.
Just like the serious artist who dodges accusations of pretension, those devoted to making direct, purely pleasurable music can catch a hard time for not seeming sufficiently grown-up. Fortunately, if The Icicles have heard this argument, it’s not holding them back. Hungry for summer, these Michigan-based romantics do their part to summon warmer days with this collection of cheery, naive sugar pop. Optimistic and driven by round, bouncy tempos, the band generates its own sunshine
The Icicles’ wide-eyed sound is a refreshing, air-conditioned blast of keyboard shimmy, melodic guitar jangle and good-natured feminine voices lilting in unison. This vibe bears a strong resemblance to that of early Dressy Bessy; indeed, Arrivals and their previous effort, A Hundred Patterns, was mixed by sometime DB collaborator Britt Myers. The band rides its twinkly, primitive fun wagon through songs loaded with both wistful nostalgia (“Fall Day”) and gleeful gibberish (“La Ti Da”). Lyricist/singer Gretchen DeVault can be overly plainspoken (“I’m so crazy about you,” she declares on “Crazy”), but her pronouncements bear something of Jonathan Richman’s matter-of-fact nature, delighting in stating exactly what she means.
With its special kind of willful innocence, Arrivals & Departures should be a hit with discerning pop fans as well as hip elementary school students. The adult world pokes its head in occasionally, but much like their longed-for summer days, The Icicles’ world is a beautiful place to be.
The nervy, tightly wound dorkiness that made the Kaiser Chiefs’ 2005 debut CD, Employment, so accessible and fun has now developed a thick skin and a cynical, world-weary disposition. The transformation has made them both tougher and more aware. The evidence is everywhere on their new album, from song titles, notably “Everything Is Average Nowadays” and “Learnt My Lesson Well,” to the title track, which seemingly attacks gullible tabloid readers and fair-weather fans. “We are the angry mob. We read the papers every day. We like who we like, we hate who we hate, but we’re also easily swayed.” This new worldview comes equipped with a cocky swagger. In “Highroyds,” singer Ricky Wilson describes a typical outcast high school moment as if it were from a bygone era. “Standing outside nightclubs in the snow is not very cool or impressive. They let in all the girls from the year below. No need for IDs with those dresses.” Their new place in the in-crowd has jaded them. The song closes with this thought: “Got a text from an ex. She wants to know when we’re in London next. ‘And will you write a song about me?’ I don’t think so.”
Touring the world has made them see their hometown differently. In “I Can Do It Without You,” Wilson notes, “None of the buildings even look the same, and underneath them all the shops have changed.” In “Heat Dies Down,” we learn that even the simple thought of marriage is nauseating. “I doubt I could stomach twenty years. Spending time at hers, talking to that Mother. ‘Cos I got a wider knowledge of the world. I just can’t face another argument about the rent. It all seems unimportant in the grander scheme of things.” Normal life has become stifling and unappealing, and yet, Wilson resents his success. The album closes with him begging for retirement, in the song of the same name. “Now my place in history is surely assured. I will be remembered here for evermore.”
The album succeeds in spite of how whiny this all reads in print, in much the same way that Morrissey has built a career on the delicate combination of hubris and self-loathing. It’s a decidedly British point of view, and the Kaiser Chiefs, using words like “rubbish” and phrases like “that impressed me quite,” are as British as Springsteen is American. Listening to Yours Truly, Angry Mob, you can hear the grand tradition of British music coursing through its veins: The Kinks’ defiantly English subject matter, the angular power pop of XTC, the pithy wit of The Smiths, and the art school urbanity of Blur. The piano intro of “Learnt My Lesson Well” is a dead ringer for The Housemartins. The CD booklet depicts keyboardist Peanut eating Heinz baked beans, a la The Who Sell Out. Even the pissed-off title of their record sounds properly polits. It’s a record that Anglophiles will eat up quicker than those baked beans. But for those who don’t fancy this sort of thing, their Britishness may prove to be an obstacle too difficult to overcome. That would be a shame, as they have made a stellar sophomore album, beefier and darker than the first, and hopefully only hinting at what’s to come.
Their pop instincts as sharp as their rhythm section is relentless, Plastic Parachute have the best of everything – the commercial appeal of someone like Kelly Clarkson (big, bold and radio-ready) with the pecularity and attitude of the best New Wave hits. While still a young band (this is their first release), the quintet demonstrates that they know plenty about crafting music that glues itself into the memory.
Swell bursts with confidence from its opening track (“Simply Ordinary”) onward. The record, produced by Dave Darling, may be too slick for some tastes, but the brassy onslaught of big guitars, thumping bass and swelling choruses suits the ‘Chutes. This is a band that seems to have no pretenses when it comes to aping obscure influences or trying to seem arty – they gravitate naturally towards the most accessible rhythms and melodies around and hold on tight.
Although the band (Ricky and MichaelAngelo Brewer, Clint Johnston and Brian Lewis) is cracking, the personality and lyrical sensibility of vocalist Deb Hooks is Plastic Parachute’s greatest asset. Hooks injects individual obsessions into her songs, dreaming of Garbo-style romance and a guy “with a little more substance” on the spunky history-book fantasy “Houdini” (though it bears pointing out that no one ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole). Her passionate, sexy-weird delivery brings to mind unpredictable 80s frontwomen like Terri Nunn or Dale Bozzio, and she fits comfortably into that niche without coming across as a mere imitator.
Plastic Parachute are currently working on a follow-up to Swell somewhere in Kansas. It seems destined to be stylish, off-kilter, and as their prophetically named singer would no doubt agree, undeniably hooky as hell.
Depite the outrageous beauty of their music, The Inner Banks come on with a restrained modesty, allowing their smooth 7-song debut to speak for itself. The duo merges spacey electronica, grand fantasy and roots-based folk impulses into one sophisticated package, while steering clear of the snooze-inducing pitfalls such a tasteful sound might imply. Instead, the songs manage to intrigue in their own quiet way. Lush, Moon Safari-style ballads like “Electric” twinkle and flow with a languid sigh, while “Buried West” and “Anthem” find the common ground in spaghetti Westerns and Space Age glamour. The majority of tracks are instrumental, but when Caroline Schutz does raise her voice, she sounds like a shy alien who’s adopted “Glittering Sky” as her galactic hymn.
The Inner Banks are soothing but smart, knowing which melodic buttons to push but also hinting at a rich interior world. Let’s hope that there’s more of their artfully overcast music yet to come.
A typical musical collaboration generally involves a superstar duet, or, for more D.I.Y.-minded bands, perhaps a split 7-inch. Not so with the recent collective effort from Austin’s innovative The Octopus Project and Pittsburgh adventurers Black Moth Super Rainbow. The House of Apples and Eyeballs, save for a pair of tracks, features both bands merging into one collective psychedelic behemoth to alter consciousness everywhere.
If these are terms you can live with, this collaboration has many rewards. Just as the two acts involved cannot claim most of these tracks as theirs alone, this is not music concerned with beginnings and ends. It’s all about connecting with the immediate, and the excitement of discovering what lies in the next musical phrase. This recording feels like a game in which all sounds are potential music sources. The squishy “Marshmallow Window” rides a wheezy keyboard groove, “All the Friends You Can Eat” employs indecipherable alien vocals, and “Lollipopsichord” sounds as though it samples both a vacuum cleaner and the sound of a toilet flushing. The effect is such that one track melts into another in a fuzzy, tactile sonic storm that bends the brain and challenges the ears. If the album has a weakness, it’s that it rapidly jumps from one idea to another, but given the fertile minds of its creators, this seems hard to avoid.
On their own, Black Moth Super Rainbow continue in the vein of Apples and Eyeballs, submerging the listener in a full-on sensual assault, complete with titles that suggest vivid mental pictures of space freaks and altered realities (“Jump Into My Mouth and Breathe the Stardust,” anyone?). Dandelion Gum, out May 15, pieces together kaleidoscope fragments of sound in a manner reminiscent of a more organic Avalanches, and tells the imaginative story of candy-making, forest-dwelling witches who lure wanderers with their wares. This free-associative approach relies heavily on keys, theremin and heavily distorted vocals, which come across as yet another instrument or, when clear enough to understand, speak the language of a sci-fi hippie nature cult (“I love the sunrise / You love the flowers / I miss the sunlight / You are my flower”). With tracks called “Drippy Eye” and “When the Sun Grows On Your Tongue” and the sounds to match, pure expression wins the day over pedestrian real-world considerations.
A little whiz-bang-pow is always welcome in the too-often predictable indie world. These records radiate wonder and excitement; they’re like buying a ticket to your own private adventure.
Consistency is a difficult thing to criticize. Being reliable is virtuous and honorable. But like that boyfriend or girlfriend who’s always there for you but never buys you unexpected gifts or screws you in the afternoon, consistency can get a little stale. Eleven years and four albums into their career, Fountains of Wayne are still delivering the goods, but as their paramour, you kind of want to start a fight just to stir up some excitement.
Traffic and Weather is not a bad album, and in fact, all of the elements that made you first fall for Fountains of Wayne are still in place. Chris Collingwood, in his usual deadpan delivery, is still telling poignant and witty tales about lonesome losers puttering around the New York and New Jersey suburbs, painting little pictures about places and things you never knew were deserving of song subjects being devoted to them. This time around, the scope seems to have widened to include observations on travel, perhaps written while on tour. “Fire in the Canyon,” a lovely country number, has a distinctly Southwestern feel, chronicling the soulless monotony of living in hotels. “Seatbacks and Traytables” focuses that same frustration on the repetition of air travel. “Michael and Heather At the Baggage Claim” is a vignette about watching the titular characters find their luggage in an airport. “I-95” describes a truck stop with the band’s typical eye for detail.
They sell posters of girls washing cars
And unicorns and stars
And Guns ‘n’ Roses album covers
They’ve got most of the Barney DVDs
Coffee mugs and tees
That say ‘Virginia Is For Lovers’
While those songs and a few others (“Someone To Love” and “This Better Be Good” specifically) are worthy entries into the Fountains of Wayne catalog, many of these songs just don’t work. The title track, about news anchors lusting for one another, is kind of silly. “Revolving Dora” is a bad pun put to music and nothing more. “Strapped for Cash,” full of thin keyboards and processed backing vocals, is a bad song you desperately wish someone had vetoed. Likewise, “Planet of Weed” is an embarrassment, not even strong enough to be a B-side.
There’s a Randy Newman lyric which says, “Each record that I’m making sounds like a record that I’ve made, just not as good,” and that more or less sums up what you have here. As the record ends, you find yourself still in love with Fountains of Wayne, realizing the two of you are simply going through a rough patch. The formula that makes the relationship work is still intact, but the songs as a whole are not as strong as on past efforts. Still, they have a unique voice, and their mediocrity is better than many others’ strongest work. That alone makes it worth standing by your band.
Twenty-five years between solo albums may seem like an unduly long time, but on Out of the Woods, Tracey Thorn’s follow-up to her 1982 solo debut A Distant Shore, it feels like a natural progression. In the intervening years, Thorn and partner Ben Watt explored diverse musical styles as Everything But the Girl, touching on everything from bossa nova to skittering modern dance beats. As a results of those forays, Thorn has learned the best settings for her distinctively rich voice.
The tone of Out of the Woods is set with the stately “Here It Comes Again,” where Thorn’s delicately high vocals are bathed in plucking strings and symphonic flourishes, followed by the bittersweet electronica of “A-Z,” an ode to London’s ability to “save a life.” Thorn sprinkles bright numbers throughout the set, revisiting the breakout club success of “Missing” on “Grand Canyon,” offering up the sprightly, 80s pop of the first single, “It’s All True,” and exploring a surprisingly sexy side on a cover of Arthur Russell’s “Get Around To It,” with The Rapture’s Gabe Andruzzi on saxophone.
The focus, however, is on more bittersweet, introspective fare. “Easy” and “Falling Off a Log” are classic trip-hop numbers reminiscent of the sound Everything But the Girl mastered in the mid-90s. Elsewhere, Thorn nostalgically namechecks childhood heroes Terry Hall, Siouxsie Sioux and Edwyn Collins (“Hands Up to the Ceiling”), ruminates on motherhood (“Nowhere Near”), and breaks down to the accompaniment of spare, chiming synths (“By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept”). The mood is only lightened with the funky, midtempo closing track, “Raise the Roof.” Yet, the tone of the album is never depressing. Thorn instead chooses to envelop the listener in a staggeringly beautiful downbeat melancholy, punctuated with moments of transcendent joy. It’s a sober, but hopeful, reflection on life itself from a master of the genre.
Whether breathing into a harmonica or interpreting a Zombies classic (“This Will Be Our Year”) with soulful sincerity, Paul Schalda carves out a distinctive presence in a crowded field. Despite his optimistic choice of cover tune, Schalda’s band Pablo offers a sharp take on being young and emotionally adrift. Pablo, which features Schalda’s brother Will and wife Maggie in supporting roles, wraps his declarations of unrest in mumbly, unpretentious warmth. Their rootsy, acoustic city-meets-country approach has the earnestness of Ben Kweller and the slippery white-boy blues of “Loser”-era Beck, with a rocker’s heart in place of Mr. Hansen’s robot parts.
Pablo mainly operates within a hazy, low-key paradigm, the better to showcase sing-along melodies and a light dusting of psychedelia. “Get Around” hums with a bright arrangement and bitter reflections on losing faith; boho finger snaps and a rich piano sound dress up the title track. This is a band that excels at what Alicia Silverstone’s Cher would term “complaint rock.” Their most effective anthem, “Loser Crew,” builds to a grand, anthemic expression of angst (“Why I can’t get out of / My own fucking shadow / Is a mystery to me”).
Pablo has taken its message to the people via tours with folksy acts like Jennifer O’Connor and Kevin Devine, as well as youth-skewing bands like The Hush Sound and Straylight Run. One uncharitable teen who I spoke with at the latter event seemed unimpressed, but give her a few years. She’ll eventually figure out who The Zombies are, and that Pablo casts uncertainty in the loveliest of lights.
Every artist starts somewhere; this one picked up a guitar and pressed record. The Demos is just that, a peek inside the workbook of Hollywood-based singer-songwriter Kurt Adam, who lies serene and content on his CD cover, instrument in hand. While this is a rough, self-recorded collection, the results are memorable. Adam has a sweet and plaintive voice that leaves vapor trails over his stripped-down tunes, with a mood and overall musical style not unlike a more sedate Rhett Miller. Bouncy numbers like “Wake Me Up” and “Good Sorrow” are representative of his laid-back introspection, while the refrain of “Haven’t We All” resonates with vulnerability. Lest he be penned in by one sound, “Brand New Start” shifts focus with a bent melody and droning vocal.
There are a number of songs here which deserve more formal treatment. However, the simplicity of Adam’s voice and guitar provide a strong foundation on their own; one hopes that they’re not too overdressed in their final form. Adam’s solid melodies and quiet focus draw you in, but his relatable everyman quality is also a valuable asset. In local terms, he’s the kind of singer who could develop a faithful Eddie’s Attic crowd – and I mean that in the least annoying way possible.