thejuanmacleanThough 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.”

High Places

October 3, 2008

Every now and then, artists emerge to re-energize the electronic music scene, and the latest to do that is Brooklyn based band High Places (Mary Pearson and Robert Barber), who make their LP debut with this album. The songs on High Places are alternately clever, fun, childlike and haunting. Pearson’s naive, delicate vocals are augmented by an often densely layered wall of sound, created from an impressively wide range of traditional instruments coupled with, and I have to say I’m happy to be able to say this in a music review, common household goods. The result is music that’s simultaneously evocative and embracing of the world at large, but also intimate and elemental. If you liked their singles collection, I can safely say you will like this High Places release even more. I’ve heard nothing like it so far this year. Standout cuts: “The Storm,” “Vision’s The First…,” “Golden” and “From Stardust To Sentience.”

“I’m going to take you home…”

The new album from New York City based band TV On The Radio is their first record that’s really, truly bowled me over. It’s like Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Prince, the Clash and David Bowie somehow got together and made some electronic music, inviting in string and horn sections along the way. It’s ambitious and positively overflowing with ideas to the point where it’s difficult to take it all in on a single listen. Dear Science seems like one of those perfectly timed albums that captures a moment in time, the feel of a nation and a world on the verge of what may be enormous changes, charged with both hope and a profound ambivalence. The lyrics are optimistic but tempered by caution, forward thinking but deeply worried about the present. Dear Science is a reminder why many of us like music to begin with, because it moves us, makes us want to move, and connects us with all the things with which we want to be connected. And did I mention that it rocks, and is funky as all get out? This is inspired stuff, and you really should listen to it, because it was made just for you. Standout cuts: “Halfway Home,” “Dancing Choose,” “Golden Age” and “Shout Me Out.”

sigurrosThe new album from Icelandic band Sigur Rós starts out on an unexpectedly sunny note, with “Gobbledigook” and “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur,” which, the first track (and first single) in particular, have a much poppier sound than I’ve ever heard from them. The rest of the album has a similarly lighter feel overall, and contains moments of quiet, sometimes melancholy beauty that can sometimes culminate in epic symphonic codas, as on tracks like “Festival” and “Ára Bátur,” the latter track done with a full orchestra and choir. Like M83’s recent release, Saturdays = Youth, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (translated by the band as “with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”) seems a paean to youth and possibility, here symbolized by the promise of the summer season. It’s a beautiful album, poppy without being sweet or sentimental, epic without being melodramatic, a soundtrack to the summer you always hoped you would have. Highly recommended.

Second EP this year from Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur highlights eight songs done with drum machines and synthesizers, woven into Arthur’s unique brand of folk and rock, infused with a poet’s sensibility. The result is a cool, sultry and sexy set of music, more soulful and funky than just about anything else Arthur has released in the past. A number of the songs have Jen Turner on background vocals or else dueting with him, to great effect, as she’s a perfect complement to his voice, and vice versa. Greg Dulli also contributes guest vocals to “Nothing 2 Hide,” one of the best tracks included here. I liked Could We Survive, the first of four projected EPs from Arthur this year, but I have to say, I love Crazy Rain. I can’t wait to hear Vagabond Skies, the next in this series, due out next month. Standout cuts (though I like all the songs): “Killer’s Knife,” “Nothing 2 Hide,” “Radio Euphoria” and “Hunter.”