Band of Skulls always keep it real and true to the roots of rock and roll with their heavily blues-influenced sound that’s thoroughly modern. This year saw the release of the band’s fourth album, By Default. Drummer Matt Hayward says that they “went back to square one… The first three records were like a trilogy, a piece of work in of themselves. We wanted to do those things, and we did them all. We took a breath, took a look at what we’d done, and started from scratch again.” It’s always good for the creative process to start with a fresh canvas from time to time and Band of Skulls clearly benefitted from the approach.
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Adriane Pontecorvo: Driving, ‘80s-style synthpop laced with vapors, sex. and recklessness. Marie Fisker’s voice switches between crystal clear and smoky, going from low and calm to high moans and back in a beautiful crossing of the spectrum. The video follows the same path as Fisker’s voice, blurring earthy realism and the uncanny: a grim nighttime walk through concrete streets and tunnels leads to a supermarket full of nude shoppers and erotic encounters on boxes of detergent under a hail of dollar bills. It’s a sensual, surreal piece with an electric charge to it. [8/10]
Dan Kok: The most recent album by this Norwegian experimental jazz group, Starfire, came out over a year ago, but the recent release of this companion music video adds another layer of interest and depth to the music. The song itself is a dense and tightly packed seven-minute composition that drifts between sweeping mystical clarinets and strings and driving, intense electronic sections. And the video, an equally jarring short film made with eerie wooden marionettes, enhancing this idea of duality. The images and cultural markers experienced by the traveler in the video often have two sides that are at odds with one another. The result is a strange viewing experience, but also one that has a perfectly matched soundtrack to accompany it. [8/10]
Not a lot of people know of the Marches, but the select people that know of Richard Conti’s found-instrument experiment know that as he compiles his songs one single take at a time, he eventually turns simple, funky melodies into something that sounds both old-school and modern at the same time, his albums walking a fine line between the familiar and the new, creating for a visceral, exciting listening experience.
Indeed, the Marches’ 2008 full-length, 4.a.m. Is the New Midnight and the covers-driven Director of Photography EP in 2010 helped establish Conti as a reliable savant of styles both old and new, his hammering horn-attack cover of Adele’s “Cold Shoulder” bringing actual adrenaline to the original while original works like the too-funky “Bad Touch” could very well have been masterminded by the kind folks at Daptone Records. (Full disclosure: The Marches even contributed a song to this writer’s own free compilation album Good With Words, adapting a cover song which then lead off the Director of Photography EP.)
Max Totsky: Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman is chock full of songs that really shouldn’t work on paper but somehow find a way to be entertaining/captivating in a slightly post-tasteful way. “Side to Side” is not one of the album’s stronger tracks, but it epitomizes its strongest quality. It makes a bizarre combination (Grande and Minaj singing about ridiculously rough sex over a dancehall-infused over a Max Martin instrumental) and turns it into convincing pop-radio fodder. It’s one of the most unabashedly infectious tracks Grande has put out, subbing her typically refined style of pop for something a bit less pristine, a bit sweatier. Grande might actually “run pop”, but ‘Side to Side’ works on very different terms than her best tracks, the most clear-cut choice from a single from an album with many. [7/10]