Bringing together the soulful folk of Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver project and the systematic, Steve Reich-like patters of fellow Wisconsin natives Colonies Collection of Bees, Volcano Choir’s “Island, IS” represents an inevitable (but perfect) distillation of electro-folk. Vernon’s layered vocals float atop dense, alternating melodic lines that are warped by samplers. Driven by tapping, but tense percussion, the song’s structure propels Vernon’s wail to a crescendo unlike what we’ve heard from Bon Iver. The song’s finale is perhaps one of the finest minute-and-a-halves of music to be heard this year.
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With the sizzling and joyous track “Surprise Hotel”, the debut album of Los Angeles afro-pop collective Fool’s Gold erupts with an exotic mix of African rhythms, percolating rock melodies, and purring synths. You can’t just listen. You must dance. The fantastic fusion of music and lyrics (sung mostly in Hebrew) sends you on an ancient journey that’s majestic, yet intimate—and more unique than most contemporary afro-pop attempts. Never letting up, the song celebrates the communal and spiritual ferocity of Fela Kuti.
“Hang You From the Heavens” is perhaps most representative of how you would expect the Dead Weather to sound. Jack White demolishes the drum kit, particularly the hi-hats, while Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence hit a slew of grimy notes and tones. As if that’s not enough, Alison Mosshart’s sexy-as-hell vocals make the track worthy of a cigarette break. It might not be the best track off Horehound, but it’s certainly up there.
While the R. Kelly/Jay-Z collaboration failed miserably, the vinyl-only “Moth/Wolf Cub” single showed that bizarre genre crossovers could work. Four Tet was one of the primary founders of folktronica and Burial was one of the names that made dubstep the household name it now is. Locked in a room together, their sounds combined in a breathtaking fashion. Burial’s patient beats roll on smoothly under Four Tet’s ethereal cut-up loops. “Moth” is significantly subdued and minimal, but the B-side “Wolf Cub” is where the partnership really cooks, beginning with a distinctly Four Tet-sounding, diced hand piano and evolving to include Burial’s stuttering beat and moody atmosphere. It would be nice to hear more come out of this.
From its title to its punchline, this song is clever, a coming-of-age-in-a-library tale with bodies pressed against the spines of books. Not just clever, though. The puns barely cover the tangible feeling of excitement turning to disappointment (a.k.a. growing up). Musically, it captures both the rush of feeling loved and its come-down. It’s a firecracker with an air of sadness: the perfect metaphor for the way hot new bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are treated as superstars one day, then yesterday’s news. They seem to be powering right through that cycle, however, on the strength of songs like this.