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School of Seven Bells

Disconnect from Desire

(Vagrant/Ghostly International; US: 13 Jul 2010; UK: 12 Jul 2010)

Review [15.Jul.2010]

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School of Seven Bells
Disconnect from Desire


If Disconnect From Desire‘s fluid vocal harmonizing calls on an ancient musical form, the rest of the album matches driving guitar pop with the jittery pace of any interesting modern electronic dance records. Wielding consistently pitch-bent, contorted guitar phrases and a sturdier song structure on Disconnect, School of Seven Bells fleshes out the winning blend of techno and the bleary dream state explored on 2008’s Alpinisms. “Camarilla” references stuttering new wave-era synths, and the glitch and fuzz of “Babelonia” will have most fondly recalling Stereolab’s Switched On, but there is more than nostalgia at work. Luminous vocal pairups from sibling members Alejandra and Claudia Deheza brighten dense and mysterious textures on Disconnect. It’s far more accessible than the lot baked into the devious rhythms on their debut, but it’s weird and beautiful, transmitting from some pleasant, grassy stretch between Manchester and Manhattan. Dominic Umile


 

 



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Owen Pallett

Heartland

(Domino; US: ; UK: 18 Jan 2010)

Review [4.Feb.2010]

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Owen Pallett
Heartland


From Joanna Newsom to Janelle Monáe to Sufjan Stevens, 2010 saw no shortage of pop eccentrics, but even they would have had to work hard to out-weird a multi-layered concept album in which the central character rages against his creator, a wrathful, God-like author who un-coincidentally shares his name with the album’s creator. It is a work of meta-fictional gymnastics worthy of Flann O’Brien or Charlie Kaufman, but Pallett, a favored collaborator of (among others) 2010 MVP’s the Arcade Fire, is wise enough to keep the album as tuneful and good-humored as it is brainy, a worthy listen even for those who don’t wish to untangle his convoluted lyrical knots. That’s because Pallett, who has already recorded two outstanding albums under the name Final Fantasy, has graced Heartland with his most sonically ornate yet lushly beautiful compositions yet, remembering, as far too few of his oddball peers seem to, that the best route from the ears to the mind is still the one that goes through the heart. Jer Fairall


 

 



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Superchunk

Majesty Shredding

(Merge; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: 21 Sep 2010)

Review [16.Sep.2010]

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Superchunk
Majesty Shredding


If history holds 2010 as the “The Year Indie Broke”, (through, not down) then it is fitting that the elder statesmen (and -woman) in Superchunk got to deliver two terrific State of the Indie Union addresses on the opening salvos of Majesty Shredding, their first album in nine years: “Digging For Something” and “My Gap Feels Weird”. Mac McCaughan and the gang don’t always know what that weird something, but throughout, they float their theories: the push-pull rhythms of the aforementioned “My Gap Feels Weird” (the title of which was supplied by McCaughan’s daughter, post-tooth loss, but it more than covers the space and time since 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up); the graceful strings of “Fractures in Plastic”; the rumble of “Learned to Surf”; the fever pitch of “Crossed Wires” and “Rope Light”. Truly, the album is nothing less than a celebration of the last quarter-century of big-hearted, big-guitared indie rock… and a blueprint for the next. Here’s to Superchunk aging gracefully… and not heeding their last album’s title. Stephen Haag


 

 



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Yeasayer

Odd Blood

(Secretly Canadian; US: 9 Feb 2010; UK: 8 Feb 2010)

Review [11.Feb.2010]

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Yeasayer
Odd Blood


Releasing a synth-happy indie album in 2010 doesn’t set you up to set yourself apart, but when said synth-happy indie album is Odd Blood, well, that’s a different story. Yeasayer’s second album is a revelation, a masterwork that digests and distills its influences—‘80s British pop, ‘90s dance club beats, maybe even some experimental Yeasayer contemporaries—before applying them, and the resulting listening experience is one of both head-nodding familiarity and surprise. Selections like “Ambling Alp” find singer Chris Keating in control of what could be chaos—pounding tom-toms, crescendos of effects—leading the group through focused anthems and comedowns alike, songs equally suited to the dance floor or hip college radio. Odd Blood‘s sonic perfection, aided by former Peter Gabriel drummer Jerry Marotta, does nothing to whitewash the unbridled energy that crackles between the melodies and bubbles among shifting rhythms; no, it enhances it, instead polishing the sounds to a reflective sheen, revealing deep facets of the music that might otherwise be lost if a lo-fi approach was deployed. Michael Lello


 

 



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Josh Ritter

So Runs the World Away

(Pytheas; US: 4 May 2010; UK: 4 May 2010)

Review [29.Apr.2010]

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Josh Ritter
So Runs the World Away


A shimmering aural and lyrical paean to humanity’s essential questing impulse, the fifth LP from the Idahoan neo-folk master craftsman is stunningly well-attuned to the senses of yearning and existential absence that motivate that impulse. Ritter’s exquisite collection of songs features wandering mariners (the epic waves of “Change of Time”), lovesick Egyptian mummies (“The Curse”, the album’s bittersweet high point), philosophical chemists and mountaintop seers (“Lark”), grim polar adventurers (“Another New World”), and recurring black holes. But balance is everything; just when the soft bitterness of empiricism threatens to overwhelm (as it does on the cacophonous “Rattling Locks”), a stubborn sense of hopefulness beckons us back from the brink (“Lantern”). So Runs the World Away has a celestial scope that transcends its chosen contexts. Ritter suggests that the gleaming horizons aimed for by the boldest among us can never quite be reached, and even the effort to approach them comes at a great cost. And yet, he quests on, and so do we. Ross Langager


 

 



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Swans

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

(Young God; US: 27 Sep 2010; UK: 20 Sep 2010)

Review [27.Sep.2010]

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Swans
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky


It’s truly great to have Swans back (this is a Swans record, and not just because Norman Westberg is here), but not for nostalgic reasons. Michael Gira hasn’t lost an ounce of the towering rage and disgust that characterize his most harrowing work, as “Jim”, “My Birth”, and “Eden Prison” ably demonstrate, but My Father… also tips its hat to Gira’s sonically gentler work with the Angels of Light on the self-excoriating “Reeling the Liars In” and finds some horrifically deadened midpoint between Neu! and the Stooges for the monolithic opening dirge “No Words/No Thoughts”. And if you think Gira’s take on religion or emotional range isn’t nuanced enough, you’re not paying enough attention; skip to the ending “Little Mouth” again, and try and really grapple with what Gira’s saying there. Is he undercutting the bold heresy of the rest of the record, or is something else entirely going on? Whatever you decide, it’s a striking, troubling, compelling moment on a record full of them. Ian Mathers


 

 



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Erykah Badu

New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh

(Motown; US: 30 Mar 2010; UK: 29 Mar 2010)

Review [29.Mar.2010]

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Erykah Badu
New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh


The ankh is the Egyptian symbol of life, but what makes life so grand? Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh suggests the answer is love, even when it pushes us around. Finding one’s optimal “freak-quency” is a subtle theme throughout, while the grooves knock sublimely with equal nods to Eddie Kendricks, Notorious B.I.G., and Paul McCartney & Wings. Part Two smoothes the edginess of Part One‘s quirky political brilliance, recalling the warm, bottom-heavy records and lithe extended jams in Ms. Badu’s catalog. Still, it’s her devastatingly emotive vocals driving the point home that there are two basic emotions: fear and love. Ms. Badu shows us how the two intertwine in songs like the magnificent three-movement finale “Out My Mind, Just in Time”, the J. Dilla produced “Love”, and lead single “Window Seat” (along with its controversial commando video). “You don’t want to fall in love with me,” she declares. But we already have. Quentin Huff


 

 



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Autechre

Oversteps

(Warp; US: 23 Mar 2010; UK: 22 Mar 2010)

Review [31.Mar.2010]

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Autechre
Oversteps


The burden of being Autechre may finally have lifted for Sean Booth and Rob Brown. For a solid ten years, it has seemed that the duo had been unable to remove itself from a spirited session of “Can You Top This?”, pushing identifiable melody and rhythm away in favor of bending the concept of whether their art can be classified as “sound” or “music”. Oversteps sounds like the first album since perhaps their self-titled “black” LP (a.k.a. LP5) that Autechre created with an audience in mind. Oversteps will most reward the audience that has stuck with them through (and perhaps even enjoyed) the albums since Confield, as it uses many of the frequency-bending and static-manipulating tricks they learned throughout that stretch in a way that can more readily fall on the “music” side of the spectrum. Watching Booth and Brown achieve this balance of styles results in the sort of experimentation that’s difficult to find even in music typically classified as experimental. As it turned out, Autechre didn’t need to sacrifice its academic side for the sake of rediscovering its populist side. Mike Schiller


 

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Midlake

The Courage of Others

(Bella Union; US: 2 Feb 2010; UK: 1 Feb 2010)

Review [1.Jun.2010]

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Midlake
The Courage of Others


Midlake’s last release, 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, should have served as the Denton, Texas, quintet’s breakthrough effort. The album featured one of the year’s best rock songs (“Roscoe”) and revealed a group with tremendous talent and potential. Unfortunately, Van Occupanther—with its emphasis on staggeringly beautiful vocal harmonies, elegant string arrangements, and complex lyrics—flew largely under the radar in a year when the album charts were ruled by electronics-heavy bands and garage rock groups like Arctic Monkeys, the Hold Steady, and TV on the Radio. Now, with their first release in nearly four years, Midlake are again on the verge of something great. The Courage of Others is the band’s best album to date and somehow manages to top Van Occupanther in nearly every way—a formidable accomplishment in itself. The album expands on the ensemble’s somber, subtlely-layered, folk-infused album rock sound, which continues to show Midlake’s love affair with Fleetwood Mac. The songwriting is tighter and more hook-laden. The lyrics, filled with vivid medieval imagery, are as cerebral as ever. And the production is exquisitely warm and inviting, with each layer of acoustic guitar, vocal harmony, violin, and woodwind coming through with crystalline clarity. The Courage of Others should be a signal to the music world that a great band has arrived. Michael Kabran


 

 



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Christian Scott

Yesterday You Said Tomorrow

(Concord; US: 30 Mar 2010; UK: 1 Feb 2010)

41



Christian Scott
Yesterday You Said Tomorrow


In the press materials accompanying Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, Christian Scott describes the album as an homage to the music of the 1960s—from John Coltrane and Charles Mingus to Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. And as an ode to that great era, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow wholly succeeds, from Scott’s Miles Davis-esque trumpet tone to the progressive political messages behind the songs and their titles (e.g., “American’t”, “Angola, LA & the 13th Amendment”, “Jenacide (The Inevitable Rise and Fall of the Bloodless Revolution)”) to the album’s be-pop-infused cool jazz compositions to its warm production courtesy of Rudy Van Gelder, the legendary producer who recorded countless landmark jazz albums in the 1960s. However, what ultimately makes Yesterday You Said Tomorrow a masterpiece isn’t its evocation of the sound of a lost time but rather its complete encapsulation of the sound of today. Scott, perhaps better than any other jazz musican around, creates music that is representative of the present day musical landscape, with its musical influences as diverse as ever. Yesterday You Said Tomorrow touches on hip-hop, rock, folk, electronica, and, of course, jazz all the while maintaining strong pop sensibilities. The melodies are blue and achingly beautiful, soaring above deceptively simple, head-nodding, swinging beats. The arrangements are sparse, leaving room for big vibrating chords and playful, mildly atonal improvisations. Yesterday You Said Tomorrow is truly a cross-generational triumph. Michael Kabran


My introduction to Christian Scott was admittedly naive. I didn’t approach him from the understanding of a jazz head who’d seen him rise through the ranks of trumpeters in New Orleans’ 9th Ward. I simply heard he’d cover Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” and wanted to give it a listen. But it took all of a half a spin before I realized the man’s discography was an essential document of modern jazz, with Yesterday You Said Tomorrow arriving as the pinnacle of his career to this point. His trumpet tone is instantly recognizable, blending the muted tones of Jon Hassell and Miles Davis’ more reserved works with a breeziness that often recalls the vocals of soft jazz. It’s not surprising he cites his main inspiration as his mother’s singing voice of all things. Yesterday You Said Tomorrow is also notable in Scott’s discography for taking a bit of a Marsalis approach to jazz, interpreting arrangements as political talking points, using both titles and audio cues to attempt to spark conversation among the album’s listeners. Through his music, he addresses the parallel natures of Angolan and Los Angeles racism through the eyes of the 13th Amendment, compares local police to the Ku Klux Klan, addresses the Jena 6 and much more. Yesterday You Said Tomorrow is certainly a sad album buoyed by the early, transcendental rendition of Yorke’s “Eraser”. But because of that one bright moment, and the amazing tone of Scott’s trumpet throughout, one never steps away from Yesterday You Said Tomorrow feeling defeated. The endgame of this album is undoubtedly a renewed spirit, a renewed sense of hope for the overlooked throughout the world. Jazz may be a relic of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s to many, but Christian Scott is certainly one of the artists fighting that notion expertly. David Amidon


 
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