higherthanthestarsListeners who were sold on Brooklyn band The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s combination of droning fuzzy guitar/Wall of Sound rock and jangle/twee pop will find this EP, which features four new songs along some remixes, to be pretty much required listening. The songs, most of which have been staples of their live show, are as good as anything on their debut record, released earlier this year. The title track may be my favorite song by them so far, in fact, and the EP’s got a stellar remix done by none other than Saint Etienne. That song and the other highlight here, “Falling Star,” in particular have a strong 80’s feeling to them, while “103” and “Twins” owe a debt to both 80’s Jesus and Mary Chain and 90’s bands like My Bloody Valentine. I think I actually enjoy this EP better than I did the LP; at any rate, this will be a band I will be paying special attention to from now on.


JJ – JJ N° 2

August 17, 2009

jjno2JJ N° 2, the debut album from Swedish band JJ, with its 9 tracks, clocks in at just under 27 minutes, but it nevertheless makes a huge impression. It’s a ethereal sounding mix of Saint Etienne and Air-style electronica with folky sounding indie pop, as well a heavy dose of the vintage world travelogue film sound of New Zealand’s the Ruby Suns, with an emphasis on African and tropical rhythms. (It also features a track inspired by Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.”) What also makes it intriguing are idiosyncratic touches like the inclusion of studio chatter and noise, the singer clearing her voice before a song starts, the unexpected inclusion of a loud, random and profane sample in the midst of the acoustic closer, all of which give the whole project a strange, slightly off the cuff feel. It’s certainly worth a listen for indie pop fans. Standout cuts: “Things Will Never Be The Same Again,” “From Africa To Malaga,” “Are You Still In Vallda?,” and “Intermezzo.”


thesounds_albumartworkrgbOne of the appeals of seeing a concert by Swedish band the Sounds is their determination that everyone in the audience have a great time, since they’re seeing, after all, the greatest band in the world. Super charismatic lead singer Maja Ivarsson introduces songs by saying, “Here comes another hit,” and the band plays with such passion and commitment that for the duration of the song, it’s not just a hit, it’s a super hit! For their third album, Crossing The Rubicon, they haven’t altered their formula much: It’s more of the same propulsive New Wave and punk inspired pop they’ve been doing since their 2003 debut, Living In America. They sound rather like a less serious minded the Killers, albeit with a heavy Blondie influence and a singer with a Swedish accent, though they are no less ambitious. They’re at their best with their dance rock numbers, like the opener and current single, “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake,” and later tracks like “Beatbox” and “Underground.” Their slower numbers tend towards the sentimental, as on “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” case in point, but that said, “Dorchester Hotel” and “Midnight Sun” are album highlights as well, the latter track coming in a second half that features slower numbers in general. When they’re at the top of their game, the Sounds make some pretty irresistible dance music, and Crossing The Rubicon features enough of them at the top of their game to make it a worthwhile listen for fans and people looking for unpretentious and unabashedly entertaining pop.


passionpitThe 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.


stvincentactorMix up some Jane Siberry, Kate Bush, Bjork or Suzanne Vega circa 99.9 F along with some Roxy Music and Cocteau Twins and a good amount of industrial influence, and you have a close approximation of singer/songwriter Anne Clark aka St. Vincent’s sophomore album, Actor. Though largely filled with electronic based music, Clark and her collaborators layer guitars, strings and an impressive array of other instrumentation over many of the songs, so virtually every track has its own character and frequently its own set of sonic surprises to uncork on listeners. At least two of the songs rise effectively into loud crescendos, while other tracks are more low key, though often more unsettling than soothing. If there’s not a song quite as immediately addictive as the title track, “Marry Me,” on her debut album, there are enough beautiful and odd and flat out appealingly noisy moments to make up for it. It’s not a huge leap forward from St. Vincent’s debut, but it’s a promising progression, anyway. Standout cuts: “The Strangers,” “Actor Out Of Work,” “Black Rainbow” and “Marrow.”


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.”


grandduchyGrand Duchy is husband and wife Black Francis (aka Frank Black aka Charles Thompson) and Violet Clark, and Petit Fours is their debut album. It’s pretty much a winner, 9 tracks of New Wave and 80’s inspired pop, heavy on the synthesizers, with a touch of the Pixies, especially on “Black Suit,” one of the album highlights. Clark’s vocals tend to recall the Pixies as well, as she can sound a lot like Kim Deal at times, though not to the point of distraction. Clark and Black Francis trade off on lead vocal duties, with Clark doing most of the singing, though Black Francis makes his presence known on every song just the same, either through his musical influence or his very cool, distinctive guitar playing throughout. I’m not sure if Grand Duchy will turn out to be a one off project or not, but it’s yielded a pretty enjoyable album, with some great tunes. Definitely worth a listen, for fans of Black Francis/Frank Black and the Pixies, and for fans of indie pop in general. Standout cuts: “Lovesick,” “Fort Wayne,” “Black Suit” and “Ermesinde.”


batforlashes_twosunsWith her striking second album, Two Suns, Bat For Lashes (Natasha Khan) puts her own gloss on musical territory mined by the likes of Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Bjork and P.J. Harvey. The result is eclectic, high gloss electropop, with some world music flourishes as well as nods to 80’s synthpop and 90’s trip hop. While most of Two Suns is alluring and often quite arresting and beautiful, there are a couple of tracks that could have used some fleshing out, “Peace Of Mind” and “The Big Sleep” in particular, which start out in promising ways but end too soon. In general, however, the commitment to relative brevity (none of the songs crack the five minute mark, and most of them hover around four minutes) works in the album’s favor, as Khan has crafted the best of the material here into densely packed, shimmering little gems. Standout cuts: “Glass,” “Daniel,” “Siren Song” and “Two Planets.”


Little Boots – Arecibo

January 29, 2009

littlebootsLittle Boots (Victoria Hesketh) makes her American debut with her EP, Arecibo, which includes her first two UK singles, “Stuck On Repeat” and “Meddle,” along with some dynamic remixes of both tracks. “Stuck On Repeat” is firmly in Ladytron and Clinic territory, while “Meddle” is a bouncy electropop number, wherein Hesketh shows off a voice with some soul to it, not unlike Alison Moyet or Annie Lennox. They’re both solid singles, but “Meddle” leaped into favorite song territory as soon as I heard it. A full length release is due in the very near future, and if Arecibo is any indication, it should be very good stuff.



November 20, 2008

ladyhawkeThe self titled debut from New Zealand singer/songwriter Ladyhawke (Pip Brown) is charming, ingratiating synthesizer driven rock that immediately hits all the pop pleasure centers. Her music evokes such 70’s and 80’s acts as Kim Wilde, Gary Numan, Devo, Sheila E, Missing Persons and Depeche Mode, and has a decidedly retro feel, but she’s so good at finding new hooks in music from a bygone era that most listeners will be happy to party like it’s 1985. It drifts a bit too far into Belinda Carlisle solo territory towards the end of the album for my taste, but in general, Ladyhawke is a lot of good, uncomplicated fun. Fans of bands like Cut Copy, Freezepop, Ladytron and Santogold will want to take note of Ladyhawke’s unabashedly entertaining music. Standout cuts: “Magic,” “My Delirium,” “Paris Is Burning” and “Dusk Til Dawn.”