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March is when spring is sprung, and the same goes for the album release schedule. Most notably, this month boasts Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball and some long-awaited returns, especially the first album by a revamped Shins in five years. As always, though, some of the most compelling listens this month are ones that come from off the radar by new artists and unsung favorites alike.


 

 



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Bowerbirds

The Clearing

(Dead Oceans; US: 6 Mar 2012; UK: 5 Mar 2012)

Review [14.Mar.2012]
Bowerbirds
The Clearing


If you’ve grown comfortable with the stately, pastoral folk that Bowerbirds have offered on their first two, beautiful records, well then the North Carolina outfit is set to knock you right out of that comfort zone. The songs are still swaying, sweet tunes—that much stays the same—but the production and layering on The Clearing are wholly new. Electric guitars swell and keys moan airily over these tracks. Drums are not happy to thump away off in some distant corner—they announce their presence with a subtle but powerful authority. Sure the new direction on the third album from a band with more resources at their disposal is nothing new, but the striking thing this time out is how Bowerbirds maintain their fragile intimacy among all these shimmering layers. It’s not that The Clearing gets louder, it just gets bigger, spreading out in some pretty fascinating ways. Matthew Fiander


About “The Clearing” by Bowerbirds from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.


 

 



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Julia Holter

Ekstasis

(RVNG Intl; US: 8 Mar 2012; UK: 8 Mar 2012)

Review [8.Mar.2012]
Julia Holter
Ekstasis


Julia Holter’s often mesmerizing art-pop certainly stands along side the work of high-concept eccentrics like Julianna Barwick and Grimes’ Claire Boucher. Yet while the entrancing, impressionistic soundscapes on Ekstasis recall those of her adventurous contemporaries, what sets Holter apart is a mercurial, even playful quality that comes through in the broad, eclectic musical vocabulary that’s at her disposal. Ekstasis may maintain a consistently haunting undertone that keeps you engrossed, but it’s Holter’s ability to sprinkle in unexpected embellishments that really grabs your attention, whether it’s her crisp, playful vocals, spry synth jaunts, or accessible enough experimentation. With a kitchen sink full of instrumental effects and sleights-of-hand, Ekstasis is ethereal music that’s got more than enough weight to it. Arnold Pan


 

 



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Magnetic Fields

Love at the Bottom of the Sea

(Merge; US: 6 Mar 2012; UK: 5 Mar 2012)

Magnetic Fields
Love at the Bottom of the Sea


The Magnetic Fields spent their stint at Nonesuch delving into different genres with each album. There was the orchestral pop of i, the dense noise-pop of Distortion, and the Brit-folk leanings of Realism. Now that they’ve returned to the Merge fold, however, Stephin Merritt and company have also returned to their sardonic and scattershot earlier sounds. This is the kind of wandering, schizo-electro-folk-pop record the band used to make—pre69 Love Songs—but it rarely feels like retreat. Songs like “God Wants Us to Wait”, “Andrew in Drag”, and “The Only Boy in Town” mix Merritt’s trademark deadpan wit with equal parts empathy and heartache. More importantly, though, breaking away from the conceit of following one genre through an album has given the band its spontaneity back, so Love at the Bottom of the Sea sounds both like vintage Magnetic Fields and a new fruitful chapter. It’s still eye rolls and groans—mixed with true declarations of love—but, with sharp and varied compositions, the approach sounds fresh as ever. Matthew Fiander


 

 



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The Men

Open Your Heart

(Sacred Bones; US: 6 Mar 2012; UK: 12 Mar 2012)

Review [17.Apr.2012]
The Men
Open Your Heart


You can’t blame your average indie fan of being tired with the whole retro thing that’s been all the rage the past few years, but the Men have a real knack for making familiar sounds feel vibrant and in-your-face on Open Your Heart. That might be because the Men are going for more of a raw and rambunctious aesthetic rather than a low-profile lo-fi deal, splitting the difference between the iconoclastic art-rock of vintage ‘80s Sonic Youth and the ragged power-pop of the Replacements. You could say the Men start with skewed, off-kilter harmonics à la Daydream Nation and give it Tim-like rock-hero drive, or vice versa, though that would be giving the Men’s own vision the short shrift. That’s because Open Your Heart triggers the kind of adrenaline rush that simple nostalgia could never stir up. Arnold Pan


 

 



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White Rabbits

Milk Famous

(TBD; US: 6 Mar 2012; UK: 5 Mar 2012)

Review [22.Apr.2012]
White Rabbits
Milk Famous


White Rabbits introduced themselves with 2007’s Fort Nightly, but they really made their presence known on the Britt Daniel-produced It’s Frightening. For its third record, Milk Famous, the band picks up the artier experiments of its predecessor and builds on them, making a more expansive and often fascinating record. Rather than muddy up their angular pop with Daniel’s production noodling, here White Rabbits mesh studio layering with their live, propulsive sound, making some sort of electro-power-pop hybrid. The resulting songs are lush but never languid, intricate but rarely overdone. If It’s Frightening was exciting for its wild abandon, for the feeling of hearing a band come into its own, Milk Famous will strike you for its sheer confidence and sure hand even as it uncovers all its sonic surprises. Plenty of steps forward here and hardly a growing pain to be found: not a bad feat for a hotly anticipated third record. Matthew Fiander


 

New Releases for March 2012


March 6


Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself (Mom+Pop)
Ceremony, Zoo (Matador)
Elfin Saddle, Devastates (Constellation)
Tim Fite, Ain’t, Ain’t, Ain’t (ANTI-)
I See Hawks, New Kind of Lonely (Western Seeds)
Kaiser Chiefs, Start the Revolution Without Me (Cooperative)
Miniature Tigers, Mia Pharaoh (Modern Art)
Nite Jewel, One Second of Love (Secretly Canadian)
Pond (Tame Impala side project), Beard Wives Denim (Xenon)
Royal Baths, Better Luck Next Life (Kanine)
Todd Snider, Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (Aimless)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Wrecking Ball (Columbia)
St. Lucia, St. Lucia EP (Neon Gold/Columbia)
Xiu Xiu, Always (Polyvinyl)
Yellow Ostrich, Strange Land (Barsuk)


March 13


Cannibal Corpse, Torture (Metal Blade)
Decemberists, We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11-08.11) (Capitol)
Delta Spirt, Delta Spirit (Rounder)
Feedtime, The Aberrant Years (Sub Pop)
Freshkills, Raise Up the Sheets (Bat Rabies Alert/The End)
Say Anything, Anarchy My Dear (Equal Vision)
Shooter Jennings, Family Man (Eone)
Spoek Mathambo, Farther Creeper (Sub Pop)
Lucero, Woman & Work (ATO)
Ting Tings, Sounds from Nowheresville (Columbia)
Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando (Act Music and Vision)


March 16


Chris Brown, Fortune (RCA)


March 20


Anti-Flag, The General Strike (Side One Dummy)
Choir of Young Believers, Rhine Gold (Ghostly International)
Adam Lambert, Trespassing (RCA)
Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, Rot Gut, Domestic (Mareil)
Brad Meldau, Ode (Nonesuch)
Paul Motian and Masaaki Kikuchi, Sunrise (ECM)
Odd Future, The OF Tape, Volume 2 (Columbia)
Lee Renaldo, Between the Times & the Tides (Matador)
Luke Roberts, Ice Gates at Throop & Newport (Thrill Jockey)
Daniel Rossen, Silent Hour/Golden Mile (Warp)
The Shins, Port of Morrow (Aural Apothecary/Columbia)
Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)
Tanlines, Mixed Emotions (Matador)
Unsane, Wreck (Alternative Tentacles)
Paul van Dyk, Evolution (Vandit)
The Wedding Present, Valentina (Scopitones)


March 27


La Sera, Sees the Light (Hardly Art)
Madonna, MDNA (Interscope)
The Mars Volta, Nocturniquet (Warner Bros.)
Pinkunoizu, Free Time! (Full Time Hobby)
Races, Year of the Witch (Frenchkiss)
Lionel Richie, Tuskegee (Mercury Nashville)
Alasdair Roberts and Mairi Morison, Urstan (Drag City)
Rocket Juice and the Moon (featuring Damon Albarn and Flea), Rocket Juice and the Moon (Honest Jon’s)
Miike Snow, Happy to You (Republic)
THEEsatisfaction, Awe Naturale (Sub Pop)
Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel about Me Now (101)
Mirel Wagner, Mirel Wagner (Friendly Fire)
Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
Young Prisms, In Between (Kanine)

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