Headlights – Wildlife

October 15, 2009

headlightswildlifeI don’t think there’s any doubt that Champaign, Illinois based band Headlights ranks as one of the finest emerging American indie rock bands going. Their third album, Wildlife, further solidifies their standing, striking just the right balance between the guitar based indie rock of their first record and the dream pop of their second. Erin Fein and Tristan Wraight once again trade off vocals, amid music that’s often densely layered, atmospheric and melancholic. (More buoyant sounding songs like “Secrets,” “Get Going” and “I Don’t Mind At All” provide counterweight to that last quality.) There’s also a notable lyrical maturity that permeates the entire record, but especially evident on songs like “Love Song For Buddy,” “We’re All Animals” and the haunting “Slow Down Town.” It’s hard to imagine them delivering a more satisfying record than this one, one that keeps getting more beautiful and complex the more one listens to it. Standout cuts: “Secrets,” “Get Going,” “I Don’t Mind At All” and “Slow Down Town.”


clienteleIf you’re a dedicated fan of indie pop, odds are you already know about UK based band the Clientele, who’ve been making breathy, lushly produced pop since the turn of the century. Bonfires on the Heath represents all the qualities that have earned them their fanbase: Airy, dreamy vocals backed by rich and eclectic instrumentation, featuring strings, horn sections, organs, the occasional sitar and a healthy amount of reverb and acoustic guitar, all deeply influenced by 60’s and 70’s pop and psychedelia, styles they’ve made very much their own. For the most part, Bonfires On The Heath is about as laid back as its title may suggest, though there are couple of quick rockers, the all too brief “Sketch” and “Share The Night.” The overall mood is by turns romantic, pastoral, nostalgic, dreamlike and certainly haunting. I haven’t decided where this album ranks among the Clientele’s body of work, but that aside, it’s some pretty terrific music from a band that’s managed to carve their out own distinctive niche in modern indie pop. Standout cuts: “I Wonder Who We Are,” “Harvest Time,” “Never Anyone But You” and “Tonight.”


inandoutofcontrolA cursory listen to In And Out Of Control, the new album from Danish but US based band the Raveonettes, may give the impression that the band is playing it safe and treading on familiar musical ground, but it’s in fact one of their strongest albums yet. Yes, their mix of droning, fuzzy guitars with 50’s and 60’s rock and pop is still in effect here, but it’s in the service of darker, sometimes harsher material, both lyrically and musically, as songs with titles like “Boys Who Rape (Should Be Destroyed)” and “Suicide” might indicate. “Break Up Girls!” starts with a shrillness that almost sounds like screaming, and the album in general has a more confrontational feel to it. Somehow they’ve managed to make it all sound energizing and dance floor ready for the most part, despite the overall dark tone. I wonder if this is an album some fans will feel put off by, but I liked it a lot, and definitely recommend giving it a chance. Standout cuts: “Bang!,” “Gone Forever,” “Last Dance” and “Break Up Girls!”


Girls – Album

September 27, 2009

girlsalbumAlbum, the new record from San Francisco based band Girls (Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White), didn’t exactly set me on fire the first time I heard it. I didn’t hate it, but something about the way it mixed 50’s and 60’s rock and pop styles with distinctly modern, angst ridden and sometimes profane lyrics just rubbed me the wrong way. I did like “Hellhole Ratface,” however, which starts out as a gentle Wall Of Sound influenced ballad and gradually builds into a droning guitar shoegaze influenced workout. It’s such a good song that I had to go back and listen to the album again, and I finally started to get what was bugging me about the record. The songs that influence the material on Album are frequently about complex emotions and situations that are distilled into simple, sometimes deliberately evasive lyrics. Girls, however, bring those complexities to the surface with startling and often deeply unsettling honesty, as on “Lust For Life”: “I wish I had a father / Maybe then I would’ve turned out right / But now I’m just crazy, totally mad / Yeah, I’m just crazy, I’m fucked in the head…” Of course, bands like Belle and Sebastian have made sweet sounding music laced with lyrical acid in the past, but yet the work Girls have done on Album has a unique power all its own, accomplished without a surfeit of irony or campiness. If you can listen to the album on its own terms, I think it will make for a remarkable experience. Standout cuts: “Lust For Life,” “Laura,” “Hellhole Ratface” and “Summertime.”


The Clean – Mister Pop

September 19, 2009

theclean“I’m not here for a long time / I’m just here for a good time…”

New Zealand band the Clean has been around, on and off, since 1978, but their current record has influences that stretch back a decade or so earlier than that. With songs entitled “Are You Really on Drugs?,” “In the Dream Life U Need a Rubber Soul” and “Moonjumper,” the observant track listing reader may guess there’s a least a modicum of psychedelic influence on the proceedings, and as it turns out, there’s quite a lot. Mister Pop fuses breezy, charming pop, often Kinks inspired, to a dreamy, almost hallucingenic like music, with dreamy vocals and a distinctly Eastern influence on some tracks. It’s inspired stuff, and it’s great fun to listen to, the kind of music that one won’t fully appreciate with just a single listen. Recommended for fans of experimental and psychedelic infused pop. Standout cuts: “Loog,” “Are You Really on Drugs?,” “In the Dream Life U Need a Rubber Soul” and “Simple Fix.”


takenbytreeseastEast Of Eden, the second album from Taken By Trees, the solo project of Victoria Bergsman, may be a short album with 9 tracks clocking in just over 32 minutes, but it packs a pretty powerful wallop by its conclusion. The core material of the album was recorded over a six day period in Pakistan with the help of local musicians. It’s an almost perfectly conceived set of moody acoustic indie pop augmented, enhanced and sometimes transformed by the contributions of the musicians with which Bergsman collaborated. In the middle of the record Bergsman has also placed two non-English language tracks, one in Swedish and the other a Pakistani track called “Wapas Karna,” and follows those up with an inspired cover of the Animal Collective song “My Girls,” here entitled “My Boys.” It ends on a lovely note with the instrumental “Bekännelse,” which preserves the ambient noises of its original recording session, including what sounds like the shout of a child at the very beginning. East Of Eden will certainly take its place as one of the most memorable indie pop records of the year. Standout cuts: “To Lose Someone,” “Watch The Waves,” “Greyest Love Of All” and “My Boys.”


mastersoftheburialMeant to evoke nocturnal wanderings of the mind as one prepares to go to sleep, Amy Millan’s second solo album, Masters Of The Burial, is appropriately moody, melancholy and occasionally oddly hopeful. Loss, getting lost and letting go are all themes visited and revisited in the 11 tracks included here, which are a mix of original songs and covers. Musically, county is obviously a primary influence on Masters Of The Burial, but Millan also weaves in folk and pop as well, and makes the most of string and horn sections that appear, sometimes in very subtle ways, on some of the songs. Front and center, however, is her gorgeous, evocative voice, one of my favorites in contemporary indie pop. This is a beautiful, elegantly crafted album, and definitely recommended. Standout cuts: “Bruised Ghosts,” “Old Perfume,” “Bury This” and “Run For Me.”


Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

September 13, 2009

popularsongsI suppose there’s no typical way an album from Hoboken based band Yo La Tengo sounds like at this point, even 25 years into their career. Perhaps the one question a longtime Yo La Tengo listener may ask is, “Well, are there any long songs?” And why, yes, there are, three of them, in fact, that comprise the last three tracks on the record and account for over half of the 70 minute plus total running time. The first of these long songs, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” is a lovely ballad that pairs its male and female vocals with a distorted guitar line that runs through the entirety of its 9 minute plus length. The other two tracks are mostly instrumental, the final track ending the album with a nearly 16 minute acid rock guitar jam. So that’s over half the album, time-wise. What about the first 9 tracks? They’re a blend of indie, psychedelic and garage rock, with some 60’s inspired pop and lounge numbers thrown in as well. In other words, it’s similar in approach to their two recent albums, with similarly excellent results, by and large. I could have done with at least one more rocker along the lines of “Nothing To Hide,” and generally speaking, Popular Songs doesn’t quite rise to the delirious heights of 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, but it’s still good stuff. Standout cuts: “Here To Fall,” “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar,” “Nothing To Hide” and “Periodically Double Or Triple.”


theverybestWarm Heart Of Africa, the new album from London based band the Very Best(Esau Mwamwaya with Radioclit, a production team featuring Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg, all African expatriates) takes African music and blends it with contemporary indie pop, rap, hip hop and 80’s synthpop into a stylish, ingratiating mix. That Mwamwaya sings most of the album in Chichewa, the native language in his home country of Malawi, will make it no less irresistible or even accessible for fans of innovative, broadly influenced and spirited indie pop. (Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. provide guest vocals as well.) I can see this album rocketing to the top of a lot of top 10 lists, but that’s not why you should listen to it: You should listen to it because it’s good, fun music created by a trio of uniquely talented artists. Standout cuts: “Yalira,” “Warm Heart Of Africa,” “Nsokoto” and “Mfumu.”


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.”