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The Walkmen

Lisbon

(Fat Possum; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: 13 Sep 2010)

Review [14.Sep.2010]

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The Walkmen
Lisbon


This is a remarkable record, and the best so far from New York’s Walkmen. For a band that can sometimes come across a bit samey—for between lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s raspy vocals, Matt Barrick’s perfectly lazy drums, and Paul Maroon’s trebley guitars, theirs is a deeply distinctive sound—on Lisbon they use their considerable strengths to their advantage. By turns sad, anxious, and passionate, Leithauser’s plaintive songs lie on a bed of flat-out gorgeous melodies and soundcapes. For the first time, they have made a complete, unified, and damn near perfect record. On a standout tune such as “Angela Surf City”, as the guitars swell and ebb like the Iberian sea, and the pounding drums carry us along, on top of it all, though Leithauser croons about loneliness, dejection, anxiety, and disappointment, you can’t keep from smiling. Stuart Henderson


 

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Underworld

Barking

(Om; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: 13 Sep 2010)

Review [26.Sep.2010]

59



Underworld
Barking


When DJ Darren Emerson left Underworld after three albums of turning a synthpop band into a techno band, there was most certainly an adjustment period, though not in the most obvious way. Rather than returning to their synthpop roots, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith decided to keep dancing, but they never quite got the hang of it like they did when Emerson was around. While moments of brilliance punctuated the studio albums since then, it’s not until Barking that they put together an album that could be listened to and enjoyed from start to finish. What they didn’t do is come to this brilliance on their own—it seems that Underworld works best when there is a third member augmenting the songwriting process of Hyde and Smith. What the duo did was recruit a whole bunch of “third members”, putting together what is essentially an album full of singles, collaborations that each carry their own unique identities but still sound unmistakably like Underworld. The variety of collaborations grants Barking the sort of replay value an Underworld album hasn’t had in what seems like ages. It’ll never be their most commercially successful venture, but Barking may well be their most lasting work. Mike Schiller


 

 



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Emeralds

Does It Look Like I’m Here?

(Editions Mego; US: 10 Jun 2010; UK: 24 May 2010)

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Emeralds
Does It Look Like I’m Here?


At one point, Emeralds threw so many cassettes against the wall that they figured something had to stick. Now they make kosmische nuggets as intimately rendered as the gems of their namesake, so crystalline and gorgeous that it’d be worth getting trapped down a Chilean mine to spring forth its beauty. From the diabetically sweet opener “Candy Shoppe” onward, Emeralds’s labyrinthine synth patterns prove hypnotic and narcotic, leaving the listener with only the slightest amount of consciousness to wipe the drool from his or her chin, appreciate the parial blend of Mark McGuire’s prodigious swirling guitar work, and restart the experience to bliss out or dive in again. Too alive and invigorated to be hypnagogic, too anxious for its waveforms to be categorized as “chill”, Emeralds departed from their dear peers for the arty luxury of Editions Mego (famous for distortion-laden ambient symphonies like Fennesz’s major works) and wound up giving those folks one of their definitive releases. Timothy Gabriele


 

 



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Los Campesinos!

Romance Is Boring

(Arts & Crafts; US: 26 Jan 2010; UK: 1 Feb 2010)

Review [25.Jan.2010]

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Los Campesinos!
Romance Is Boring


In just a couple of years, the young English band Los Campesinos! has released about three dozen songs, mostly terrific. The most recent batch are clustered together on Romance Is Boring, and the first half of the record sounds typically exuberant, with the rollicking “Those Are Listed Buildings” and the pogoing title track. But the punk energy is moodier this time and, especially in the back half (think of it as side two), the songs turn more reflective, as in the lovely “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State”, or downright anguished, as in the majestic tension of “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future”. By this point, the band seems to be on a mission to redeem confessional oversharing from years of emo whines. “Let’s talk about you for a minute,” singer and lyricist Gareth Campesinos suggests at the outset, probably aware of how fleeting those 60 seconds or so will be. It’s not narcissism; it’s just that with these restless tales of fumbling and/or spastic courtship, there’s always a troubled “me” to match that elusive “you”. Jesse Hassenger


 

 



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Women

Public Strain

(Flemish Eye; US: 28 Sep 2010; UK: 23 Aug 2010)

Review [23.Nov.2010]

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Women
Public Strain


Though the onstage fight that prompted Women to cancel their fall tour may spell the band’s end, at least it came after they released Public Strain. Women play counterintuitive noise pop that mixes the best of rock over the last few decades: the sunny singalong melodies of ‘60s pop set to the driving minimalism of ‘70s Krautrock with the sharp angling guitars of ‘80s post punk all buried under the ambient feedback squall of ‘90s indie music. It’s like listening to the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle or the Beach Boys’ Smile while in a coma. The pop perfection drowns in echo, reverb, darkness, but tries to pull you into the light. From the strangely singalong opener “Can’t You See”, which sounds like the Mamas & the Papas playing in the snowstorm of the album’s cover photo, to the climactic multi-part closer of “Eyesore”, like a fight between Sonic Youth and the Hollies that no one wins. Women travel the tricky strait between the monolithic Scylla of pop and the swirling Charybdis of noise. Scott Branson


 

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Jónsi

Go

(XL; US: 6 Apr 2010; UK: 5 Apr 2010)

Review [7.Apr.2010]

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Jónsi
Go


When Sigur Rós released Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust back in 2008, few—if any—were prepared for the out-and-out curveball that was just hurled their way: Iceland’s all-time soundscape kings had just made their pop album, full of fat basslines, catchy looped melodies, perky acoustic guitars, and a sense of out-and-out joy that was absent from their first few albums and only hinted at on 2005’s Takk. With Go however, angelic mouthpiece Jónsi hasn’t merely jumped head-on into the pop landscape: he’s done it on his own terms. By replacing drummers with tribal percussionists, watching only two of its nine tracks toe over the five-minute mark, and painting his songs with vivid Technicolor flourishes (multi-tracked vocal harmonies, cut-up mandolins, enough woodwinds to kill a horse), Jónsi has crafted a record that doesn’t merely entertain: it demands attention. The pace is remarkably brisk (even the ballads aren’t weighed down by drawn-out tempos), and his voice still sounds as sweet and naïve as ever in discussing young love (like on the thundering highlight “Animal Arithmetic”) and fractured camaraderie (the fluid “Sinking Friendships”), slowly drawing the listener into his own world of childlike wonder. It’s doubtful that anyone could’ve imagined Jónsi having an album as joyous and replay-ready as Go in him (especially after his decisively mixed Riceboy Sleeps project), but months after its release, it’s obvious that this is an album we’ll still be talking about for years to come. Evan Sawdey


 

 



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MGMT

Congratulations

(Sony; US: 13 Apr 2010; UK: 12 Apr 2010)

Review [12.Apr.2010]

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MGMT
Congratulations


It is easy to see why bandwagoneers just hanging around for another “Kids” leapt away from MGMT as soon as their 2010 album Congratulations started streaming. The Brooklyn ensemble’s first album as MGMT, Oracular Spectacular, was packed with psych-pop and new-new wave hits, all under the guide of Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. Uncomfortable sitting on that formula, they pushed their fan base to its limits with Congratulations, taking a turn for the esoteric side of psychedelia inhabited by the likes of Electric Prunes and Moby Grape, this time with Pete Kember of Spaceman 3 behind the board. The sound became grittier, more authentically retro as they ran through a pastiche of styles ranging from late ‘60s British Invasion to early ‘80s neo-psychedelia. Their lyrics dove into the deep end, rife with flower child musings and enough obscure music reference to make Ugly Things readers cream. There is simply no denying the fact that whatever promise these daytrippers showed on Oracular Spectacular, they fulfilled with Congratulations. Alan Ranta


 

 



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Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian Write About Love

(Matador/Rough Trade; US: 12 Oct 2010; UK: 11 Oct 2010)

Review [10.Oct.2010]

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Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian Write About Love


In the contemporary pop music landscape, the spoils of critical acclaim and commercial success often go to those who have left love behind. Love is passé, replaced by hits about telephones, odes to video phones, and absurdly explicit oversharing of beautiful dark twisted fantasies. For listeners seeking something a bit more fulfilling than lust and technology, Belle & Sebastian arrive to write about love. Fueled by the momentum of energetic 2006 album The Life Pursuit and the girl-group styling of Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl, Belle & Sebastian Write About Love hits the sweet spot early and often. Though nothing on the album tops Sarah Martin’s lead track “I Didn’t See it Coming”, the album offers a series of romantic musings not unfamiliar with doubt, but overall hopeful. Guest singers Norah Jones and Carey Mulligan deliver fresh inspiration atop the band’s appealingly orchestrated arrangements. For one more album, for one more year, Belle & Sebastian have kept love alive. Thomas Britt


 

 



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Robert Plant

Band of Joy

(Rounder; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: 13 Sep 2010)

Review [21.Sep.2010]

52



Robert Plant
Band of Joy


When plans for a sequel to Raising Sand, Robert Plant’s Grammy-winning album with Alison Krauss fell through, Plant turned to Raising Sand guitarist Buddy Miller to produce a separate set of roots songs, this time with harmonies from Patty Griffin and a band of ace players alongside Miller, including multi-instrumental ringer Darrell Scott. With Miller’s impeccable taste and his encyclopedic knowledge of roots music, Band of Joy oozes with almighty musicality. Plant sounds loose and inspired, ranging from romantic croons (“Falling in Love Again”) to goth-roots murmurs (“Silver Rider”) to bluesy strummers (“Central Two-O-Nine”). Chalk it up to a genuine revival for Plant, one rock legend who has found a way to negotiate the burdens of his glorious past by embracing the sublime sounds of another. Steve Leftridge


 

 



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Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles

(Fiction; US: 8 Jun 2010; UK: 7 Jun 2010)

Review [3.Jun.2010]
Review [20.Jul.2008]

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Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles


One of my greatest fears is that I will lose my passion, my hunger, my fever for new music. That I will no longer feel the burning desire for the alchemy of holy noise as I did in my youth. That I will “lose my religion”. These days, like some accurs’d Vampire clinging to immortality, I gotta drink deep or die. But each time I threaten to fall into dust something brings me back. Crystal Castles give me that fire again. Daylight in the dark. The possibilities, the glamour, the romance, the danger, the underdog ambition, the lifeblood. So much depended on this second record being everything I needed it to be. I needed it to keep me alive. It is all this and more. From frenzied feral ferociousness (“Doe Deer”) to fragile poetry (“Celestica”) to contorted freakshow oddities (“I Am Made Of Chalk”) it rages triumphantly against the dying of the light. I still believe in magic, I still believe in Crystal Castles. Matt James


 
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