July 12, 2009
So you’re like me, and you have a soft spot for old school electropop with some disco tendencies, but considering how many bands are filling the world’s need for this kind of music, you may think, “Do we really need one more band like that?” Then you find a really good one and you might as well have asked, “Does the world really need one more flower?” After a most unpromising opener, “Orange Shirt,” New York City based Discovery, featuring members of Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, won me over with tracks like “Osaka Loop Line” and especially “Carby,” easily the highlight of the album. There’s also an inventive electronic cover of the Jacksons’ “I Want You Back,” which will probably draw a number of listeners to LP by itself. The record’s sound, which sometimes recalls the Tom Tom Club, is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it’s just creative and fun enough to merit a listen. Plus, can there be too many summer pop soundtracks to your life, particularly one that doesn’t stick around long enough to wear out its welcome, clocking in at just under half an hour? Well, okay, maybe, but this is pretty good just the same. Standout cuts: “Osaka Loop Line,” “Swing Tree,” “Carby” and “I Want You Back.”
June 19, 2009
After a strong, fast paced first half, Music For Men, the new album from Portland based band the Gossip, slows down a lot towards the end, unfortunately putting the brakes on what is otherwise is pretty terrific dance record. Fortunately, the album follows up the concluding two disco and soul-styled ballads with an uncredited B-52’s style rocker, “Spare Me From The Mold,” which closes Music For Men on a high note. It’s not that the ballads are bad, as it’s pretty clear that lead singer Beth Ditto, who possesses one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in modern rock, could sing just about anything and make it sound compelling. It’s just the faster paced songs, which mix up New Wave, punk and disco influences almost seamlessly, are just so much better: Any band would kill to have songs as dance floor ready as the first single, “Heavy Cross,” as well as “8th Wonder” and “Pop Goes The World” and that closing number. (“Men In Love” would be included, too, were it not for a strangely uninspired chorus.) Despite some of my misgivings, I still recommend Music For Men, because when the Gossip are at the top of their game, they play dance oriented rock like they invented it, and that’s just too much good fun to miss.
June 8, 2009
First time listeners to the self-titled LP from New York City’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band may be forgiven for thinking they’re in for a prog rock fest based on the opening track, “The Journey to Serra da Estrela,” despite the presence of some funk and disco touches. Those funk and disco touches take over by the second track, “All Of The Above,” however, and are in full force by “You’ll Disappear,” which features a vocal by Carol C. that simultaneously recalls both the Fifth Dimension and the Tom Tom Club. The band, aside from the aforementioned genres, weave some 60’s influenced soul and psychedelic rock into the mix as well, and the result is some pretty sweet sounding, often slow burning jams, most hovering around the six minute mark, which gives the tracks ample room to breathe. The vocals are a mix of male and female, and the musicianship is inventive and top drawer, with some notably good guitar work. The album starts to run out of gas towards the end, but The Phenomenal Handclap Band is nevertheless an auspicious dance rock debut. Standout cuts: “All Of The Above,” “You’ll Disappear,” “15 To 20” and “The Martyr.”
May 24, 2009
“And if I could, I would refrigerate this moment…”
When Jarvis Cocker released his solo debut back in 2006, titled Jarvis, I found myself thinking I should be liking it more than I actually did, considering my admiration for his work with Pulp. This is definitely not the case with his second solo album, the Steve Albini produced Further Complications, which is flat out a pretty fabulous album from start to finish. It’s the sort of album that keeps finding new ways to kick your ass with every track, as Cocker runs through 60’s inspired pop, garage and punk rock, soul and even some dance numbers to boot. Much has been written about Further Complications about Cocker’s supposed “midlife crisis,” but I think it’s safe to say that to the extent that the album is about that, the midlife crisis has seldom been taken up in modern music with such ferocious wit and brutal, often cringeworthy honesty. Startlingly, it all comes to a joyous close with “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong),” which, true to its title, is a nearly nine minute disco song, on which Cocker channels a little Barry White. Further Complications is the sound of a freshly inspired Cocker reasserting himself as one of the great music makers of his generation, and you really ought to hear it. Standout cuts: “Angela,” “Leftovers,” “Slush” and “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong).”
May 20, 2009
The debut LP from Boston based band Passion Pit arrives with a lot of “album of the year” hype, the sort of hype that can work for or against artists. I was very much looking forward to hearing this album, at any rate, and while I liked a lot of it, I’m pretty sure this isn’t an album of the year, at least for me. That said, I did like a good portion of the album a lot. Passion Pit melds together 80’s synthpop, modern electropop, indie guitar rock and a healthy dollop of disco with falsetto vocals and the occasional children’s chorus to create often densely layered songs. When it works, it really works, resulting in exuberant pop like “Moth’s Wings,” my favorite track on the album, or tracks like “The Reeling,” “Sleepyhead” or “Swimming In The Flood.” Other tracks on Manners aren’t necessarily bad, but they frequently lack the sort of invigorating kick that the music on Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours or Ladyhawke’s self-titled debut has, or the soaring starry-eyed brainy delirium found on Kelley Polar’s I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling. All that said, I recommend that synthpop and electropop fans give Manners a listen just the same, as this album may just be right up your alley.
April 24, 2009
Though the new album from the Juan MacLean (John MacLean working with vocalist Nancy Whang and musician/DFA label boss James Murphy) draws from a broad range of electronic and dance influences from the 70’s through now, once MacLean’s vocals kick in, most people will be thinking of one band in particular: The Human League. In fact, MacLean has described The Future Will Come as “a disco inflected Human League sounding record,” which will give you an idea of its basic sound, but not how immensely pleasurable and out and out fun this record is from first note to last. The tracks range from the high energy opening track and the fantastic singles “One Day” and “Happy House” to more moody, slower numbers like “Human Disaster” and “Tonight.” Many of the songs are duets featuring MacLean and Whang, though it’s Whang who kicks off the album with lead vocals on “The Simple Life,” one of the long songs that bookend the record. (The third long song, “Tonight,” arrives right at the midpoint.) Far from being simply a “retro” record, The Future Will Come functions more as a joyous celebration of the musical influences that have brought us to where we are now, and will continue to push us forward to where we need to be. Standout cuts: “The Simple Life,” “One Day,” “Human Disaster” and “Happy Home.”
October 22, 2008
“Lamping is the name of a rather dreadful hunting technique where, hunters go into the forest at night, flood an area in light, then shoot,or capture,the animals as they panic and run from their hiding places.
this album is my attempt at doing this to my proverbial skeletons. i haven’t yet decided if i should shoot or just capture them though.” – Kevin Barnes, lead singer and songwriter for Of Montreal
The latest release from Of Montreal is a concept album about a self-described middle aged “black she-male” named Georgie Fruit, veteran of a 70’s funk band as well as multiple sex changes. Skeletal Lamping, with its subject matter coupled with Barnes’ mission statement for the album, quoted in part above, is the most ambitious, deliberately challenging and even confrontational album Of Montreal has released to date. It takes a lot of risks, and while not all of them pay off, the album is nevertheless compelling throughout because though Barnes and the band set out to confound listener expectations with Skeletal Lamping, they’ve still made an entertaining, frequently delightful set of music, liberally dosed with funk and a little disco to boot. Describing Of Montreal’s sound as “psychedelic pop” seems woefully inadequate at this point, since the densely layered music on Skeletal Lamping restlessly jumps from style to style multiple times, sometimes even within the context of a single song, effectively mimicking a fractured, fragmented consciousness. The lyrics are sexually frank, sometimes strange, sometimes disturbing and repellent, other times witty and joyous, expressing the profound ambivalence of the album’s main character and perhaps of Barnes himself, who has described himself as spending most of his time “in a state of mild confusion and pensiveness.” Skeletal Lamping is a fascinating, provocative, flawed, sometimes incoherent but utterly alive piece of work. You may love it or you may hate it, but if you’re a fan of indie rock and pop, you should give it at least a listen. Standout cuts: “Nonpareil Of Favor,” “Wicked Wisdom,” “An Eluardian Instance” and “Id Engager.”
August 4, 2008
If you were wondering what it would have sounded like had the Cure opted to pursue a career in disco pop, wonder no longer, as you have your answer in Jacksonville, Florida based band Black Kids. Throw some Cut Copy and the Go! Team and you’ll get a better sense of what their latest album, Partie Traumatic, sounds like overall. Though the faster tunes are catchy enough, “I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again)” (love that 60’s style wrap-up !) and “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” in particular, Black Kids won me over with their more midtempo material, beginning with “Hurricane Jane” and “I’m Making Eyes At You.” On those songs, they seemed to be on surer ground, or at the very least, they seemed more relaxed and not trying so hard, and the songs end up imbued with an effortless sounding and vastly appealing charm. I don’t think Black Kids are at the top of their game yet, but Partie Traumatic is fun for the most part, and I recommend giving it a listen, especially if you happen to be a fan of indie dance pop.
June 9, 2008
When I first read about the New York City based band the Virgins, they were described as “post-punk,” which makes me think that term must have such a broad meaning that it really has has no meaning. The music on their debut album is in fact disco flavored pop rock for the most part, the kind that used to rule the AM airwaves in the late 70’s, with a nod towards 80’s New Wave dance bands like ABC. Only a handful of songs, “Fernando Pando,” “Hey Hey Girl” (both more familiar sounding indie pop) and “Radio Christiane” (which sounds a bit like the Strokes) fall outside of this category. Now that you know what the album sounds like, is it actually good? Well, quite good, in fact. The first four tracks, “She’s Expensive,” “One Week Of Danger,” “Rich Girls” and “Teen Lovers” are the highlights here, all inspired and fun dance tracks. The Virgins don’t exactly reinvent the wheel here musically, but they do manage to give it a few extra spins, and while the emphasis here seems to be more on having fun than making art, the band manages to do a bit of both. They inject some 21st century sardonic humor into a musical form that seems a lot more entertaining in their hands than it did the first time around. If you liked Kelley Polar’s I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling from earlier this year, then you may want to give the Virgins a listen, too.
June 2, 2008
The new album (and first post-major label release) from Portland based band the Dandy Warhols is as spacey and out there as the title may suggest to some listeners. …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… is also epic in its scope, maybe even a little bombastic and self-indulgent, and resists easy categorization, which is almost certainly intentional. It’s rock, pop, funk, soul, disco, it’s space rock, it’s blissed out psychedelic rock, it’s electronica. It’s got a beat and you can dance to it. (“Welcome To The Third World” is maybe the wildest track here. It sounds like a re-imagining of “Some Girls” by the Rolling Stones as a funk and disco number, with a rap beat by way of the Sugar Hill Gang.) Which album is it most like? Well, all of them put together, maybe playing at the same time. The album is designed to play endlessly, the beginning and the end linked together by a single repeated sound, so you may not notice right away, like me, when the album has actually concluded and restarted. And it never has to, really, if you don’t want it to. …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… is the sort of album you’ll want to listen to over and over, in part because there’s just so much packed in it, but most importantly, because it’s a fun, entertaining and sometimes exhilarating listen. The last track, the nearly 15 minute “Musee D’Nougat,” seemed excessive to me when I first saw its running time, but it turns out it’s a nice way to ease out of the album and then ease back in if you’re so inclined. Standout cuts: “The World The People Together (Come On),” “Wasp In The Lotus,” “Talk Radio” and “The Legend of The Last of the Outlaw Truckers AKA the Ballad of Sherriff Shorty.”
I obtained my copy of …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… by becoming a member of the band’s new subscription service, which I thought sounded like a good deal, and a good way to support a favorite band. For information on the subscription service, you can go to their official site: