September 2nd, 2014 2:14am

All Your Thoughtless Words

Merchandise “Enemy”

I was not particularly interested in the earlier incarnation of Merchandise. I didn’t hear fully formed songs in their recordings, and I don’t think that being a band who plays a lot of DIY gigs is even remotely intriguing. But this new version of the band on 4AD has my attention, in part because they’ve embraced a level of craft and a particular approach to recording that reminds me mainly of music that’s extremely unfashionable among the sort of people who had up til now embraced a band like Merchandise – R.E.M., Joshua Tree-era U2, James, later Tears for Fears, and all manner of tastefully produced early ‘90s major label alt-music. They’re good at too! “Enemy,” the best cut on their new record, sounds like Peter Buck strumming alongside The Edge over a relaxed yet brisk beat. There’s a lot of implied negative space in the music, but it’s not begging you to notice that like a lot of airy indie rock does. They’ve just absorbed something really key about the way Brian Eno produced bands like U2 and James – you can play things very straight forward and really let people hear the chords clearly, but it will pop a bit more if you add just a touch of ambience.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 29th, 2014 12:01pm

Every Time You Think Of Me

QT “Hey QT”

This song, a collaboration, between Sophie and A.G. Cook from PC Music, may be actual proof that the universe likes me and wants me to be happy. This is all concentrate energy and joy, and somehow manages to feel fresh and new while also feeling vaguely nostalgic. I’m not sure for what – does it just feel like a pop song from 10, 20, 30 years ago? Is it more about reconnecting with the feeling of loving a silly pop song when you’re very young? Either way, this feels like a big step in Sophie’s evolution in particular – there’s a lot more to the structure of the song than the blunt minimalism of the first two singles, and there seems to be something more pointed here about the way he insists on pitch-shifting his voice to sound like a female singer.

Buy it from Beatport.

August 27th, 2014 2:14am

When My Love’s Around

Ty Segall “The Singer”

In a strange way, this song strikes me as the midway point between Pavement in 1995 and Oasis in 1995. I say “in a strange way” because neither of those bands really did waltzes, and it doesn’t literally sound exactly like either band. But on this song – and a few others – Segall is gesturing towards a shabby psychedelic balladry that Stephen Malkmus sometimes gestures towards, but can’t quite do. And it’s also in the solo, and the pleasing slackness of the rhythm section. The Oasis part is in the nasal pinch of Segall’s voice, and the more refined side of the arrangement, which goes all in on a sort of drama Malkmus has always shied away from. It’s a magnificent song, and maybe it’s ridiculous for me to say this after spending an entire paragraph comparing him to other artists, but I feel like this is the song/the album where Segall has really found his voice as an artist.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 26th, 2014 12:14pm

You’re Handling It Well, Lover

The New Pornographers “Dancehall Domine”

Of all the songs on The New Pornographers’ sixth album Brill Bruisers, “Dancehall Domine” is the one that most reminds me of the sleek, turbo-charged sound that made me fall in love with the band back in the very early ‘00s. They never really abandoned that sound, but this one feels like a fresh spin on the signature sound – a little colder, a little harder. I really like the lyrics, which seem to be addressed to a newly famous person, and it made me realize just how many New Pornographers songs address the idea of fame and chasing status. “Dancehall Domine” works so well because it’s both skeptical of the social constructs of fame, but also really sympathetic to someone who may suddenly feel very overwhelmed and out of their depth.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 25th, 2014 12:42pm

If There’s No Music Up In Heaven, What’s It For?

Arcade Fire @ Barclays Center 8/24/2014
Reflektor / Flashbulb Eyes / Power Out / Rebellion (Lies) / Joan of Arc / Rococo / The Suburbs / Ready to Start / Tunnels / We Exist / My Body Is A Cage / No Cars Go / Haiti / Afterlife / It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) / Sprawl II // Dream Baby Dream (with David Byrne) / Here Comes the Night Time / Normal Person / Wake Up

Arcade Fire “Here Comes the Night Time”

I’ve seen a bunch of Arcade Fire shows going back to 2007 in venues of varying shapes and sizes – a small church, a huge field, a converted movie palace, an arena, a makeshift club – and this was, by FAR, the best show I’ve ever seen them play. The tour they’re on now is the one where they’ve fully realized all of their ideas and aesthetics, and pushed them further into this colorful carnival spirit that I think it took a while for them to fully inhabit. When I saw them last year, they were using a lot of the same costumes and the bobble head people, etc, but it just wasn’t quite there yet. It all seemed forced.

But now all the Reflektor songs are very lived-in and they fans know them well, and the band is working with a much bigger stage and higher production values. They can pull off performance art staging like dramatizing Orpheus’ quest for Eurydice during “It’s Never Over” and have it seem fun and cool rather than dorky and pretentious, and end “Wake Up” by leaving the venue on a New Orleans second line playing a jazz version of the song. They can have guys in high heels dancing to “We Exist” on a stage in the middle of the room, and get David Byrne to dress up like a dracula and sing backup on a Suicide cover. They can blast confetti and have a bunch of auxiliary percussionists and genuinely make people dance through much of the set. It just clicks. This whole carnival thing is part of them now, and it’s a good thing – a problem with the earlier incarnation of their show was that it was just a bit too dour, and all deep dark catharsis and not much pure fun. Now they are pulling off a full tonal range, and it’s a far richer experience.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 22nd, 2014 3:49am

It’s Not Enough To Watch A Movie

Girlpool “American Beauty”

These girls are putting up a bratty front in this song, and you can tell they’re pretty excited to push the envelope a bit by singing “eat me out to American Beauty. That’s fun, but what really makes this work is that they’re not too cool for their own song and are singing very genuinely about lust. There’s a tacit acknowledgment in this song of the willingness to be vulnerable in order to follow through on that, and the way you can try to keep some defenses up even after you have.

Buy it from Girlpool’s BandCamp page.

August 21st, 2014 3:18am

Boy Or Girl Or Supercomputer

Kero Kero Bonito “Sick Beat”

It’s funny to get this song in the same week that Taylor Swift dropped a single in which she describes a totally conventional pop 4/4 as a “sick beat.” This track actually does make good on the promise of a sick beat, and taps into the same manic, surrealistic pop aesthetic of this trio’s South London contemporaries – A.G. Cook, Sophie, the general PC Music crew. Whereas Cook’s tracks feel like they could veer off in another musical, tonal, or lyrical direction at any moment, “Sick Beats” is a lot more linear. This is more about energy and color, and the way the lyrics slip in and out of English, and keep flipping between inane, silly nostalgia and lines that clearly come from a mature, feminist perspective.

Buy it from iTunes.

August 19th, 2014 4:06pm

Hopeless Without Your Love

Nicholas Krgovich “The Backlot”

The first line of the chorus of this song should resonate with, well, most any human being who has moved on from a relationship: “I don’t know what came along and tricked me into believing that you were the only one for me.” There’s a lot of ways you could deliver a sentiment like that, but Nicholas Krgovich and his collaborators undersell it a bit, and make it feel like the sort of rational hindsight a few years after it all goes wrong, rather than the immediate aftermath. The entire song is lovely and calm, but the airiness of the arrangement is offset by the blunt rhythms played on the piano. That gives it some oomph and texture, but also makes the emotion of the song feel very strong and grounded.

Buy it from Tin Angel Records.

August 14th, 2014 12:24pm

Devils Don’t Lie

Kimbra “Madhouse”

Who knew that Kimbra, the girl from that “Somebody That I Used To Know” song, had it in her to make a solid art-funk album that legitimately sounds like late ’80s Prince? I like these little surprises in life. “Madhouse” is the most overtly Prince-ish track on the record, but there’s echoes of a lot of music he’s made or inspired over the years throughout the album. (I hear Erykah Badu, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson, of Montreal, Spektrum, Janelle Monaé in there too.) But despite belonging to this lineage of freaky funk pop, it doesn’t feel rote or devoid of imagination. The production feels very fresh and contemporary, and her persona is different. She’s not a big character like a lot of the artists I’ve mentioned, but she has a distinct tone to her voice, and a way of implying that she’s at a simmer, but about to roll over to a boil.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 13th, 2014 12:34pm

Away From The Light

Mr. Twin Sister “Blush”

Back when Mr. Twin Sister was known simply as Twin Sister, the band’s best material were the tracks where they strayed away from shoegaze-y indie stuff and embraced a very mid-90s moody sophistication. They wisely have kept moving in that direction, and “Blush,” a single from their forthcoming record, nails this aesthetic better than anything I’ve heard them or most anyone else do in recent years. “Blush” falls somewhere between early, straightforwardly soulful Erykah Badu and the rich, smoky atmosphere of trip-hop era Portishead – this is so obvious that virtually all descriptions of the song mention this, but it’s such an inspired combination that it now feels shocking that no one has done it before. I hope this isn’t a fluke for them, because it’d be fantastic to have a full album of songs in this vein.

Visit the Mr Twin Sister site.

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