Mew – No More Stories…

August 27, 2009

mewAdequately describing the music on Danish band Mew’s new album, No More Stories…, would seem to bear out the oft repeated quote that goes, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” (Elvis Costello went on to add that it was “a really stupid thing to want to do.”) That said, my impression of the general sound of the album is what music made by Sigur Ros, Animal Collective and Brian Wilson might sound like. It’s a beautifully made record, sometimes densely layered, other times not, imbued with a sense of wonder and a melancholia that often co-exist side by side inside a song. Though No More Stories… aims to push some boundaries, it’s also very accessible and highly listenable, reaching a sort of high point in the second half of the record with three tracks that constitutes a section unto themselves, “Hawaii,” “Vaccine” and “Tricks Of The Trade.” The songs are emblematic of the rest of the record in that they seamlessly blend pop with elements of folk, electronica, world music and rock into a soaring, heady, gorgeous mix. Fans of experimental and indie pop should definitely not miss this record, which is certainly one of the best releases of the summer. Standout cuts: “Beach,” “Silas The Magic Car,” “Cartoons And Macramé Wounds” and “Tricks Of The Trade.”

stilllifestillnightLast year, I referred to Beach House’s album Devotion as “David Lynch movie music,” which I defined as being “beautiful, dreamily paced, sometimes eerie sounding…” Brooklyn based trio Au Revoir Simone’s first couple of albums certainly fell into that category, and unsurprisingly, they accompanied Lynch on a few of his readings for his last book tour. (Lynch has referred to their band and their music as “Innocent, hip and new.”) To some degree, Still Night, Still Life is more of the same, waif-like vocals, dream pop and folk melded with sometimes lushly produced, sometimes minimalist electropop. There are some subtle changes, however, as the band has added some hard edges to their music here and there, and lyrically, the songs are decidedly more sophisticated than innocent, concerned as they are with the hard reality of relationships, the consequences of some personal choices, and the resistance of some to face the future, owing to the past: “I’m moving on / I hope you’re coming with me…” The best material may be featured in the first half of the album, but in general, Still Night, Still Light is filled with lovely, often captivating music, and is a solid follow up to their breakthrough album, The Bird Of Music. Standout cuts: “Another Likely Story,” “Shadows,” “Knight Of Wands” and “Trace A Line.”

Catskills, New York based band Mercury Rev’s latest album reminded me of a lot of different bands at once: Tangerine Dream, Ryūichi Sakamoto, Yes, a little bit of Sigur Rós, a little bit of early Moby. It’s blissed out, multilayered dream pop done on a mostly epic scale, with one of the highlights, “Dream Of A Young Girl As A Flower,” topping out at nearly eight minutes. Some tracks held up for me better than other tracks on repeated listens, my favorites being the opener, “Snowflake In A Hot World,” “People Are So Unpredictable” and the aforementioned track. I found the first single, “Senses On Fire,” didn’t actually do a whole lot for me. All in all, Snowflake Midnight is both an ambitious work and a mixed bag, but when it’s good, it’s very good.

“You were born on a black day, shot through with starlight…”

After a couple of spotty albums that nevertheless contained some very inspired material, Spiritualized releases their best album since Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, its landmark 1997 release: Songs In A&E (which stands for Accident and Emergency, for you non-UK readers) features a set of music largely inspired by frontman J. Spaceman’s (aka Jason Pierce) near-fatal bout with double pneumonia in 2005. Some of them are stark ruminations on mortality, as with “Death Take Your Fiddle,” a slow burning number complete with respirator sounds, while others are romantic tunes, often done on epic scales, such as the current single, “Soul On Fire” and the most excellent “Baby I’m A Fool,” which builds into a psychedelic folk rock jam. Towards the end, there’s also a spooky and powerful tune called “Borrowed Your Gun,” which may be about inherited familial anger or else family violence, physical or emotional, real or imagined. “Good Night Goodnight” ends the album on a lovely mixture of melancholy and hope. The music features Spiritualized’s usual mix of rock, soul, shoegaze and space rock, along with rousing choral arrangements. J. Spaceman’s often poetic lyrics touches on the album’s weighty themes without feeling cliched or sappily sentimental. Songs In A&E is an important work from one of this generation’s most unique and innovative bands.

No Age – Nouns

May 11, 2008

Second album from Los Angeles based band No Age is a potent mixture of punk, noise rock and pop, and a bit of shoegaze and dream pop, sometimes all mixed into a single song. It took me a few listens to really get a bead on the album as it seemed to run together the first couple of listens, but as it’s only half an hour long, repeat listens were no problem. Once I got a handle on it, I really started to enjoy it and appreciate the switches in style throughout the 12 tracks. There are only two members of No Age, but the impressive wall of sound and noise they throw up sometimes belies that. Nouns is like Guided By Voices, the Pixies and My Bloody Valentine crossed with Sonic Youth at their most dissonant and experimental, and if that sounds good, No Age is the band for you. Standout cuts: “Teen Creeps,” “Cappo,” “Sleeper Hold” and “Brain Burner.”

Portland based band the Helio Sequence mixes up some dream pop, 80’s synth pop, some shoegaze and a couple of stabs at acoustic folk for their fourth album, Keep Your Eyes Ahead. On the final tracks, “Broken Afternoon” and “No Regrets,” they even sound a bit like Bob Dylan and a country blues band, respectively. It’s an appealingly varied album, highlighted by soaring vocals and guitars, the latter of which often recalls bands like New Order or the Cure. I think it’s their strongest album yet, certainly my favorite by them so far. Definitely worth a listen for indie pop fans. “Can’t Say No,” “You Can Come To Me,” “Shed Your Love” and “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.”

atlassoundRichly textured, intensely personal fusion of dream and noise pop from Atlas Sound, a side project of Bradford Cox, otherwise a member of Deerhunter. The intensely personal part you may or may not get at first, if ever without an explanation (available online, fortunately), since some of the lyrics are so personal as to be abstract, but then those lyrics are often lost in the mix, obscured by instrumentation, static or droning sounds, anyway. Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel can be seen as an album akin to David Bowie’s Low, where the feeling one gets from the music presented is as important than anything said (or sung) directly. That said, the music here is by turns beautiful and unsettling, and for a record that’s so highly experimental for the most part, it’s also highly listenable. Worth checking out for fans of adventrous pop. Standout cuts: “Recent Bedroom,” “River Card,” “Cold As Ice” and “Ativan.”

NOTE: Many thanks to Danny Wilbon, who wrote in and pointed out some incorrect information I’d read concerning Cox’s other band and then repeated for this review. It’s since been corrected.

Beach House – Devotion

February 28, 2008

beachhousedevotionBaltimore based band Beach House’s second album, Devotion, falls into a personal category of music I call “David Lynch movie music.” I think it’s because the kind of beautiful, dreamily paced, sometimes eerie sounding music that Beach House plays reminds me of that odd song from Eraserhead, “In Heaven,” or else “Mysteries Of Love” from Blue Velvet. This is in no way a criticism, though, as I think Beach House is very good at making music like this without falling into repetition or vapidity. They also manage to convey melancholia without being depressing, and really, a lot of the music here is anything but melancholy or depressing. On this sophomore effort, the songs are more densely layered than on their debut, and they play with a wider range of styles, so that some songs sound like 90’s shoegaze mixed with 50’s and 60’s vocal group sounds. Think Mazzy Star doing Burt Bacharach tunes, for example. I wouldn’t call this a great album, as I think Beach House are still working their way towards greatness, but there are plenty of great moments, enough to recommend Devotion. Standout cuts: “You Came To Me,” “Gila,” “Heart Of Chambers” and “Astronaut.”

headlightssomeracingChampaign, Illinois band Headlights try out some dream pop for their second LP, Some Racing, Some Stopping, setting aside the guitar based indie rock that largely characterized their debut. The results fall somewhere between early Rilo Kiley and Julee Cruise’s first album, that is, sweetness mixed with moodiness, with lush, richly atmospheric production. There are even echoes of Simon and Garfunkel to be heard here (or later Elliott Smith, dependent on your musical reference points). Erin Fein, who sang the majority of the songs on the last album, trades off vocals more evenly with bandmate Tristan Wraight, with good results, as they both have appealing voices, and sound great when they harmonize together. Hearing Headlights go in this direction may throw some fans they garnered on their first album, but it’s not so radical a change that you can’t tell who the band is anymore, and aside from that, it’s a creative way to avoid a sophomore slump while expanding and pushing the boundaries of their musical chops at the same time. All this to say, Headlights fans are going to in for a surprise when they hear this album, though I think it’s going to be a good one, and for all other listeners, well it’s just good music. Standout cuts: “Cherry Tulips,” “Market Girl,” “Some Racing, Some Stopping” and “Towers.”