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Jason Isbell

Southeastern

(Southeastern)

Review [18.Jun.2013]

5



Jason Isbell
Southeastern


After cutting his teeth with celebrated Southern-rockers the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell struck out on his own, releasing three respectable, well-received albums, but nothing that had the potent energy of his Drive-By Truckers-era gems like “Outfit” or “Decoration Day”. However, with his fourth album, Southeastern, a newly-sober Isbell gives us his best solo work yet. That sounds like a tried and true rock ‘n’ roll tale, but to describe Southeastern as his “sober” album is really to sell this first-rate collection short. In fact, it’s Isbell’s storytelling, not his sobriety, that has the spotlight here, as he slips deftly from one narrative voice another, from a killer on the lam in “Live Oak” to a man whose drinking buddy is dying of cancer in “Elephant”. And even the one song openly dealing with his addiction, “Cover Me Up”, sidesteps the pitfall of self-pity and ends up damn near close to perfect. Taylor Coe


 

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Disclosure

Settle

(Island)

Review [6.Jun.2013]

4



Disclosure
Settle


The instant-classic hype around brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence‘s full-length debut Settle places it next to Chemical Brothers’ Surrender, Basement Jaxx’s Rooty, and Daft Punk’s Discovery in the pantheon of that rarest of birds, the electronic crossover hit. But where those albums and their canonized kin were confrontations in a rockist world, Settle is cool and calm with no underarm wetness, a cocksure amalgam of 2-step textures, micro-house thrift, and furtively foolproof hooks. Since getting at the tailbone through the solar plexus is the club-rat lingua franca these days, it’s really only natural that the grazing of hipbones and undulant waists envisaged by Disclosure’s bass-first, drums-second method would hail a second coming. Whether or not it really is can be left to the chinstrokers; with dance tracks this deep, this funky, this finely tuned to mechanics of endorphin release, no ass will know the difference. Benjamin Aspray


 

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The Knife

Shaking the Habitual

(Mute)

Review [7.Apr.2013]

3



The Knife
Shaking the Habitual


Shaking the Habitual might be a complex, difficult, multi-layered listen, but there’s at least one way the Knife is being completely direct on its latest opus: the album’s title says everything that needs to be about the album’s raison d’être. Getting you out of your comfort zone—be it musically, politically, socially speaking—is the Knife’s stated intention, something the sibling duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer accomplishes by combining theory and practice to make button-pushing theses potent as both manifestos and sing-along refrains. Indeed, Shaking the Habitual is a turn of phrase that applies equally to the listening experience the 90-minute set inspires and to the group that made it: Maybe you thought of the Knife as an electronic band before, so what do you make of the warm, natural elements (particularly the rich, tribal percussion) on an album where the organic parts stand out as much as its synthetic pleasures? And while pop isn’t a description that readily comes to mind with these iconoclastic experimenters, there’s no denying that there are moments here that grab you viscerally like chart-toppers from another dimension, especially the subliminal grooves of “Full of Fire” and the theatrical yearning of the Björk-ian “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”. What the Knife has achieved on Shaking the Habitual is not only to break down commonplaces, but also create a new vocabulary for a new musical syntax. Arnold Pan


 

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Neko Case

The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

(Anti-)

2



Neko Case
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You


Whenever Neko Case finds time to put out a solo record, it’s a guarantee that it will be idiosyncratic and fascinating. The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You is no exception. Portions of the album reflect the gothic alt-country sound that she made her name on, while others are miles removed from that genre classification. The latter category includes songs like the fierce and funny “Man”, which approaches melodic punk. The a cappella story song “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” finds Case displaying disgust and sympathy in equal measure for a mother who was unspeakably mean to her child in public. The catchy “City Swans” is the closest Case has ever come to the baroque power-pop style of her other band, The New Pornographers, and excellent closer “Ragtime” rides a “Sweet Jane” bassline into a horn-laden celebration. Meanwhile, tracks like the contemplative opener “Wild Creatures” and the built-in sing along “Night Still Comes” find Case exploring different sides of her more traditional style. The quiet “I’m From Nowhere” is a hell of a country ballad, while the rousing “Bracing for Sunday” contains the album’s best couplet: “I only ever held one love / Her name was Mary Ann / She died having a child from her brother / He died because I murdered him.” This is top-notch material from a great musician. Chris Conaton


 

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Vampire Weekend

Modern Vampires of the City

(XL)

Review [13.May.2013]

1



Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City


Vampire Weekend‘s third album is mostly slow songs, thick with religious imagery—shut up, not like the Avett Brothers! Let’s try this: I defy you to find another album on this list with more beautiful drum sounds. Recall the explosive snare fills in semi-hit “Diane Young”. They’re worlds away from the dry gallop that propels “Worship You”, and neither song approaches the tape-manipulated boom-bap of “Step”. You could spend a lovely afternoon nodding your head to Chris Tomson’s drum parts, curled up with music tech magazines and horchata. But after a while, other elements would start creeping into your mind. “Step”, for instance, appropriates culture from Oakland rappers Souls of Mischief and Johann “the original Nuremberg trial” Pachelbel, an unexpected pairing that sounds great together, i.e. the story of this album, and that goes double for Ezra Koenig’s God lyrics. No doubt youth groups and/or music writers (**cough**) are hunkering down to write theological exegeses of Modern Vampires’ spiritual themes, and God bless ‘em, but they oughtn’t neglect the precisely calculated musical effects of sonic mastermind Rostam Batmanglij. The album’s nine-ten punch of “Worship You” and “Ya Hey” mixes worship language, simple tunes, and unexpected timbres to trigger whichever brain center gets off on needing the divine. These guys probe brain lobes for a living, and they know exactly what they’re doing. Josh Langhoff


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