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Sloan

The Double Cross

(Yep Roc; US: 10 May 2011; UK: 9 May 2011)

Review [11.May.2011]


Sloan
The Double Cross


Sloan celebrated 20 years as a band in 2011 with this cleverly-named album that served as a potent reminder of what great power-pop sounds like. The songs are super-catchy, but they rock hard enough to keep the hooks from becoming saccharine. The album opens with four consecutive uptempo tracks, and each one flows seamlessly into the next. The pounding “Follow the Leader” slides right into the excellent pop of “The Answer Was You”, which fades into the singalong single “Unkind” and crashes into the snotty “Shadow of Love.” When the album finally takes a breath, it’s for “She’s Slowing Down Again”, one of drummer Andrew Scott’s best songs in a long time. The remainder of the album is just as solid. From the acoustic “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” to the ‘bright ‘70s pop of “Your Daddy Will Do” to the 90-second pop-punk blast of “I’ve Gotta Know”, Sloan is firing on all cylinders here. The fact that The Double Cross clocks in at just under 34 minutes is proof that a great album doesn’t have a minimum time limit. Chris Conaton


 

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Son Lux

We Are Rising

(Anticon; US: 31 May 2011)


Son Lux
We Are Rising


Ryan Lott (aka Son Lux) is the wave of the future. We Are Rising was written and recorded from scratch over a 28-day period through the patronage of NPR. Think Kickstarter on a grand scale, hey why not? Son Lux is the kind of project ripe for this type of collaboration. The resulting album is a successful mash-up of organic and self created electronic sounds that is a beautiful melting pot. Let’s hope we hear more of this zeitgeist emerge as talented musicians continue to experiment with, “... sounds whose origins are acoustic but whose qualities are clearly augmented”. This approach on We Are Rising results in not the best, but one of the most worthwhile albums of 2011. The thoughtful and surprising arrangements, production, and sounds are atypical inside of the pop music landscape. His unique industrial beats are placed on the same par as the string quartet. Son Lux live shows are a mix of modern dance, drums, strings, and computer samples mixed and triggered live. Ryan Lott has a knack for approaching his compositions like a computer guy, then somehow humanizing them in a way that is seldom heard. A musician for the 21st century. Progressive musicianship, patronage of the arts, and a true spirit of collaboration make this one of the slipped discs of 2011. Philip Majorins


 

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Omar Souleyman

Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts

(Sublime Frequencies; US: 30 Aug 2011; UK: 5 Sep 2011)

Review [9.Oct.2011]


Omar Souleyman
Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts


The Syrian pop singer Omar Souleyman set off to Europe thinking that he would make the entire continent exhausted and deaf. Who could stand in his way? No one, says Haflat Gharbia. No one could stand in his way. The man is a juggernaut. A showman. His energy is inexhaustible. Like a jackhammer he sings about love. Like a strobe light: his keyboard. And Sublime Frequencies will assist him with this raw-messy bleeding crammed recording. Not an ideal recording, says someone who was there—one of the musicians is almost inaudible. But we’re not here for perfection. We’re here for the exhaustion, the deafness, and the spectacle of his stamina. Deanne Sole


 

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SubRosa

No Help For the Mighty Ones

(Profound Lore; US: 1 Mar 2011; UK: 7 Mar 2011)

Review [22.Mar.2011]


SubRosa
No Help For the Mighty Ones


Crushingly, densely, almost impossibly thunderously melodic, No Help for the Mighty Ones is probably more accessible than most doom metal. That the main melodic elements are the female voice and the electric violin aren’t typical for the form, to boot. But whether you’re a metal devotee or novice, there’s something towering and inescapable about these songs (even the brief, a cappella version of folk ballad “House Carpenter”), something filled with rage and defiance for the mighty ones, for the systems that would hold us down, even within ourselves. “Then I turned myself against myself / I waged a war within myself,” they sing on “Stonecarver”. And in all of its sweat and blood, here is the sound of that hard, necessary struggle. “One day, I’ll be like a bird in flight,” they swear, and this album is the sound of them taking wing. Ian Mathers


 

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Alex Turner

Submarine OST

(Domino; US: 15 Mar 2011)


Alex Turner
Submarine OST


Submarinewas a nice film but nothing to write home about, yet its soundtrack is a heartbreaking, knee-buckling gorgeous little album. This decidedly minor in scope, but immense in depth, EP starts pitch perfectly with a simple piano and acoustic guitar preview of “Stuck on the Puzzle”, which appears in full, four songs later on the album. Cutting off before the chorus, the song flashes the humble beauty of Turner’s songwriting. Turner paints decidedly in between the lines on this one but is able to show the potential power of touching pop balladry. Still, considering that his day job is fronting one of the world’s biggest rock bands, the Arctic Monkeys—who themselves released a much more talked about album in 2011—it seems unlikely that this soundtrack will be discussed often as he cements his legacy. But it does stand as a testament to the range of one the generation’s most skilled songsmiths. Jesse Fox


 

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Chad VanGaalen

Diaper Island

(Sub Pop; US: 17 May 2011)


Chad VanGaalen
Diaper Island


After producing two records by Women, the Calgary-based recording artist emerged wild-eyed from his home studio, having merged Soft Airplane’s homespun psychedelic lo-pop with a visceral, seemingly Women-inspired garage-grunge urgency to brilliant effect. VanGaalen’s earlier records were pieced together from an unruly archive of basement home recordings; Diaper Island, by contrast, is the first to be recorded in VanGaalen’s home studio, and it sounds purposeful, noisy, even uncharacteristically riff-driven. “Willow Tree” fans will heed well the whistling melancholia of “Sara” and the eerie, piercing “Shave My Pussy”, but they’ll have to contend with the unexpected squall of “Burning Photographs” and “Blonde Hash” along the way. The result is the artist’s most confident and distinctly band-like statement yet. Women is apparently defunct, but VanGaalen seems to have more left turns in him yet. Zach Schonfeld


 

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Vektor

Outer Isolation

(Megaforce; US: 6 Dec 2011)


Vektor
Outer Isolation


Arriving late in the year, the third album by Arizona thrash metal band Vektor slid in past the deadlines for the year-end lists, and by the beginning of December, many, yours truly included, were aghast at just how good Outer Isolation turned out to be. While most young thrash bands are perfectly content staying within the same rigid formula as bands like Testament and Kreator, Vektor actually tries to do something original on this record, throwing in dissonant riffs and sci-fi-obsessed lyrical themes that bear an uncanny resemblance to Canadian metal innovators Voivod. Considering that Voivod is one of the most inimitable bands in metal history, that’s very high praise, and Vektor takes that influence and creates something they can call their own, the end result being one of the cleverest thrash albums in years. Adrien Begrand


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