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The Icarus Line

Slave Vows

(Agitated)

Review [16.Jul.2013]

65



The Icarus Line
Slave Vows


In an alternate reality where whatever went wrong in American music history that led to the mainstream popularity of bands like Nickelback didn’t occur, the Icarus Line‘s Slave Vows is topping the rock charts. Boiled down to its core, it’s everything that once made rock great and also what it should be again. It’s dangerous and sexy, grimy and chaotic and just sinister as fuck. Opener “Dark Circles” defines slowly-mounting tension over its 11 minutes, building from a noisy dirgefest then snapping into a brooding, tide-rolling meditation. “Marathon Man” is a grinding rhythm of reveling in your chosen debauchery and nihilism, coalescing in feedback walls, barbaric yawps and strangled saxophone bleats. For immediate terror, the stimulant-addled “No Money Music” fits the bill and closer “Rats Ass” is a swampy mess of the best variety. For those rock aficionados grown cynical, Slave Vows is a salve for your disillusionment (though, that the record isn’t more recognized may have the adverse effect of further validating your jadedness). Cole Waterman


 

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Studio Killers

Studio Killers

(Studio Killers Records)

64



Studio Killers
Studio Killers


It appears there’s a popular trend as of late, for a singer’s true identity to be initially shrouded in mystery, in order to garner attention. Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee’s multimedia project/persona Iamamiwhoami is the perfect example, but electronic audio-visual collective Studio Killers win the prize for most enigmatic. Purportedly hailing from London and Hawaii, the lead singer, represented by a curvaceous, mascara-dripping femme fatale, sounds uncannily similar to Teemu William Brunila, the male former frontman of Finish band the Crash. Who knows?  Who cares when the music is this delicious.


Arriving in 2011 with a paint-splattered animated video to accompany their blistering hot single “Ode to the Bouncer”, the virtual band (think Gorillaz) of Chubby Cherry, Goldie Foxx, and Dyna Mink finally released their debut, self-titled album this summer. It was well worth waiting two years for. Filled to the brim with philosophical and pop cultural lyrical references, the dance floor ready, scathingly witty collection of songs is devoid of any filler and dispels the notion that the pop album is a dying breed. Studio Killers have crafted one of 2013’s finest records, pop or otherwise. Ryan Lathan


 

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Lorde

Pure Heroine

(Motown / Universal)

Review [10.Oct.2013]

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Lorde
Pure Heroine


It seems as though recent dance music has been nothing but a bombardment of screeching vocals, pounding drums, and the loudest synthesizers ever known to humankind. Music trends always seem to swing back and forth with the next biggest fad being the zag to the mainstream established zig. Lorde‘s Pure Heroine is that zag. Touting influences from Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey, Lorde has that waifish look accompanied by a powerhouse voice that seems completely unbefitting of such a small thing. Pure Heroine is the antithesis of the wannabe-anthem dance tracks that have permeated long enough. Every track is restrained, quietly executed and a complete pleasure to listen to. She manages all the power and punch with such minimal instrumentation that you forget there is very little going on. Pure Heroine is refreshing to tired ears. Enio Chiola


 

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The Haxan Cloak

Excavation

(Tri Angle)

62



The Haxan Cloak
Excavation


In a year where electronic music (Fuck Buttons, the extraordinary occult-themed Outer Church compilation) occasionally rivalled extreme metal for darkness and depravity, the most eldritch album was undoubtedly Excavation by the Haxan Cloak. Released as a thematic follow-up to 2011’s eponymous death-folk debut, the record saw gloom auteur Bobby Krlic expanding his sonic palate to construct a singular aural landscape representing the journey of the soul post-mortem. Beginning with “Consumed”‘s opening plummet-through-the-trapdoor sub-bass, before reaching an undulating, entirely ominous conclusion with “The Drop”, the album is relentlessly atmospheric in its imagining of the undiscovered country. With its churning percussion, and atonal pseudo-church organ meanwhile, the two-part “The Mirror Reflecting” may well be the single most relentlessly-oppressive piece of music released all year. Abandon hope… Phil Mason


 

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Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience

(RCA)

Review [17.Mar.2013]

61



Justin Timberlake
The 20/20 Experience (Part 1)


After dropping the first half of The 20/20 Experience this spring, Justin Timberlake stood accused of practicing eight-minute songs without a permit, in addition to polymath likeability in the age of niche-marketing. Complainants propped their disdain on shifty metrics of formalism and authenticity, as if only such rigid standards—and a docile whipping boy—could erase the shame of loving pop. The rest of us, meanwhile, saw scant reason to resist the advances of 20/20‘s euphoric, thoroughly modern riff on the song-suite soul of Stevie Wonder and Isaac Hayes. Timbaland is once again Timberlake’s wingman of choice, and his 24-karat soundscapes are volubly yet shrewdly habit-forming. But it’s the triple-threat himself who closes the deal. When the same skinny white guy playing an urban faux-honky for the brothers Coen here extols the virtues of “thick” women, it’s charm that makes that posturing endearing. Timberlake’s, like his voice, might be thin, but it’s flexible and never quits, and some nights, that’s all you really need. Benjamin Aspray


 

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Icona Pop

This Is… Icona Pop

(Big Beat)

60



Icona Pop
This Is… Icona Pop


Icona Pop is the hipster’s answer to Katy Perry. Not that there’s anything wrong with Katy Perry, but Icona Pop has this alterna-chick edge that no other mainstream pop artist seems to possess right now. Singing songs written almost entirely by other people, produced by other people and with an image that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was composed by other people, Icona Pop manage (somehow) to trudge through all the traditional credentials that would secure a “cool” place in music by backing themselves with some of the smartest and funnest (I know it’s not a word) tracks since Robyn’s Body Parts. From the scathing and reckless anthem “I Love It” (which is everywhere!) to the power pop “All Night” and “Light Me Up” you got to give it up for girls that sing: “I won’t hesitate / Even if I go down in flames / Light me up!” These girls came to party. Enio Chiola


 

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In Solitude

Sister

(Metal Blade)

Review [13.Nov.2013]

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In Solitude
Sister


On their third record, Sister, In Solitude has found a way to absorb their influences and claim a sound of their own. The classic metal foundation laid down by their obsession with Mercyful Fate remains squarely in place. On top of that they’ve mixed post-punk, death rock, goth and more, opening doors into other modes of dark expression. But it isn’t just a broadening of the sound that makes this record so special. In Solitude have a new confidence. Singer Pelle Åhman frees himself from the constraints of aping Mercyful Fate’s King Diamond and finds a howling voice that is truly his. Guitarists Niklas Lindström and Henrik Palm stake a claim with their new palette, mixing a ‘70s tone with a more modern attack. By removing the shackles of their singular influence, In Solitude step into a black light spot of their own. Erik Highter


 

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Paramore

Paramore

(Fueled by Ramen)

Review [2.May.2013]

58



Paramore
Paramore


After the success of 2007’s Riot!, being sucked into the vortex of Twilight cross-promotion, and releasing the underwhelming Brand New Eyes in 2009, Paramore had some serious growing up to do. Musically they were at a dead end, and brothers Zac and Josh Farro quit he band in bitter fashion. Freed of that excess weight, and backed up by superior musicians, Hayley Williams and guitarist Taylor York—the band’s best songwriter—finally had the freedom to flex their musical chops, and emerged triumphant on Paramore. Musically varied, vibrant, and mature, it ambitiously careens between edgy hard rock (“Fast in My Car”, “Now”, “Anklebiters”), ‘80s R&B (“Ain’t It Fun”), power pop (“Daydreaming”), tender balladry (“Hate to See Your Heart Break”), and lavish Spector-esque melodrama (”(One of Those) Crazy Girls”). At the heart of it all is Williams, who sounds liberated, injecting her ebullient personality into the music with gusto. Led by the irresistible “Still Into You”, Paramore is a wonderful moment of transcendence for Williams and her band. Adrien Begrand


 

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Suede

Bloodsports

(Warner Music)

Review [18.Mar.2013]

57



Suede
Bloodsports


A decade in self-exile obviously lit one hell of a fire in Brett Anderson’s scrawny belly. There were scores to settle. The messy split that followed 2002’s underperforming A New Morning had all but sentenced this once-beloved band of outsiders to pop’s dumper of doom. From rags to riches to digging ditches. They were becoming a mere footnote to the ‘90s falling somewhere below Tony Blair’s grin, NUTS magazine, Oasis and Blur’s playground bickering and Ginger Spice’s cleavage, though mercifully above Shed Seven. Bloodsports was their death-or-glory chance to pull their legacy from the fire and scale the museum walls leaving Dodgy, Cast and Toploader behind for good. In doing so they crafted this admirably heroic comeback which magically fused the snaked-hipped glitterpop of Coming Up with the melancholy martyrs and doomed devotion of Dog Man Star. A bittersweet and bruised record wrapped wise with scars, lust, secrets and lies. “I smile as the rope cuts through me,” barks Anderson defiantly as the brooding “Sabotage” descends. And the band played on! O Captain, My Captain our future is still unwritten! Matt James


 

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Popstrangers

Antipodes

(Carpark)

Review [27.Feb.2013]

56



Popstrangers
Antipodes


Every day, you can find a new band that is co-opting the holy altar of ‘90s alternative rock, and often it’s a very, very bad imitation of what came before, bands unsure if they want to be Pavement or Soul Asylum or some terrible iteration in-between. For this New Zealand trio, however, their debut album Antipodes isn’t a mere tribute, it’s an out-and-out synthesis. You can hear that dirty basement sweat percolate between reverberating guitar plucks, capable of dark atmospherics in songs like “Occasion” and then unleashing radio-ready pop hooks in the form of tracks like “Heaven”. The group is smart about song structures, the familiar sonic elements that immediately invoke nostalgia but not towards any one specific band, and best of all, their plan is never overthought. Antipodes reminds us of those great alt-rock albums because it never overplays its hand, going straight for flannel catharsis over visceral impact, Popstrangers the whole time being wise enough to remember that you can’t have one without the other. Evan Sawdey


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