Andrew Paschal: The Durham, NC duo has a way of crafting sparse electropop gems with an easy, natural openness to them. “Die Young” is no exception, and places among their strongest efforts to date. Amelia Meath delivers memorable, almost folksy hooks without veering too far into the saccharine or hokey, as Sylvan Esso has at times done in the past. Not that the song doesn’t also have its own glaring darkness: I can’t decide whether I think it’s about actual suicide deferred by sudden love, or if Meath merely sings about faking her death to make a getaway and then having to scrap that plan too. I hope the latter; the airy “Die Young” would not quite do justice to a topic as weighty as suicide, and would come across in that case as a little emotionally manipulative. If nothing else, though, you can always choose simply to bask in the warm, synthy sunshine and ignore the irony. [7/10]
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Adriane Pontecorvo: The tale Murs tells is a poignant one, painting a picture of living life in constant danger. Each part of the story is true for someone; Murs makes that clear. There are moments of hope, of seeking refuge in music that comes from artists who understand growing up among violence and poverty, but in the end, the message is clear: for countless people, particularly black Americans, the social system has failed, leading to far too many young lives lost. From a lyrical standpoint, “GBKW” hits hard, and from a production standpoint, Murs has put together an impeccable piece of music. These are uncomfortable images, and Murs confronts his listeners with each one, letting us know that avoiding the problem sure as hell isn’t going to fix it. [9/10]
New wave synthpop band Animotion returns to music 26 years after their last work. Both of the original frontpeople of the group, Bill Wadhams and Astrid Plane, are back along with a revamped line-up for their new album Raise Your Expectations, which released 20 January via Invisible Hands Music. Animotion burst onto the fertile new wave back in 1985 with the mega hit “Obsession” (UK: #5 / US #6 on the charts), as well as further hit singles Let Him Go and “I Engineer” from the group’s 1986 release, Strange Behavior. Sadly, the original group broke up after that, and another album appeared in 1989, but with none of the original members.
Chicago’s JC Brooks attracted major critical acclaim for his band’s soulful music following two superb releases on Bloodshot Records. Now, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound are working under the title of their frontman and they’ve moved over to Rock Ridge Music for a new album, The Neon Jungle, that ratchets up the rock side of their sound. On “Drive”, we see JC Brooks blending soul and funk with post-punk and rock. It’s a broad sound freely drawing from multiple genres in popular music, you know, kinda like Prince. Heading for Prince territory offers the band a rich terrain to experiment and further develop their unique sound. JC Brooks says, “I feel like we carry that ethos with the genre-mixing blend of soul music we write, and the punk aspect is more about our DIY determination to get out there onstage and engage with our live crowds on a visceral level.”
For those who prefer the melodic pop side of rock music, Cotton Mather has surely been a source of much fun over the past 27 years. Austin’s Cotton Mather plays irresistible Beatlesque pop crossed with an early Elvis Costello sneer. Frontman Robert Harrison’s voice has always reminded me a bit of John Lennon, who as my original musical hero makes me instantly swoon when I hear a Cotton Mather track. Cotton Mather’s Kontiki is their 1997 pop masterpiece, and if you’ve never heard it, I highly recommend listening to it right after this track. But what impresses most about Cotton Mather is that they continue to make relevant, exciting, brilliant music to this day.