Part 3: From Perfume Genius to Xiu Xiu

[18 January 2011]

By PopMatters Staff


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Perfume Genius

Learning

(Matador)

Perfume Genius
Learning

Released in the calm of summer to quiet acclaim, the debut album from the one-man project of 26-year-old Seattle songwriter Mike Haderas might not have received the buzz of some of his other Matador labelmates in 2010. However, it’s with a keen sense of detail on Learning that he touches upon such nerve-chafing, emotionally charged subjects as drug addiction, child molestation and the frailty of the family dynamic with a sensitivity and realism that belie his mere quarter-century on this earth. The fractured loveliness of the sonic fragrances by which this Perfume Genius rests these unsettling thoughts—a lo-fidelity bouillabaisse of Atlas Sound at its sparest, Sparklehorse at its quietest and Elliott Smith at his weirdest—comprised some of the most intimate and intriguing listens of the year, if not the decade. One can only hope more people will be listening next time. Ron Hart

 


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Liz Phair

Funstyle

(Rocket Science  )

Liz Phair
Funstyle

We’ve been hating Liz Phair for a really long time now. It’s been almost 10 years since the release of her self-titled 2003 album Liz Phair where the full out revolt against this once Indie Princess began. 10 years! That’s a long time to keep up the hate. On 3 July 2010, Phair quietly released Funstyle to the masses and everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) on the internet tried their damnedest to intellectualize this unabashed move. Almost as if to suggest it was all calculated, this new smorgasbord of a record is some grandiose statement about her life and her music: “What is she doing?”; “What does she mean?”; “Why is she singing these things?”; “Has she finally gone completely insane?” I think the internet takes itself much too seriously, and Phair, aware of it all, was taking the piss out on all of us. Funstyle is the lunatic rantings of a magnificent singer/songwriter who knows more than people give her credit for. She’s not seriously rapping, she’s not really presenting “Beat Is Up” as some wondrous ‘high art’ statement meant for pontification by media communications majors. Get over yourself. In 2010 Liz Phair managed to stomp on all these conversations about “What’s happened to Liz Phair!?” by taking control of the endless tautological conversation and redirecting it into something less serious and more productive. We don’t need your hateration in this dancerie! Enio Chiola

 


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Plan B

The Defamation of Strickland Banks

(679/Atlantic)

Plan B
The Defamation of Strickland Banks

 
British rapper/musician Ben Drew’s debut, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, was filled with graphic rap tales about violence in contemporary England. Drew, aka Plan B, still has the darker side of life in mind on follow-up The Defamation of Strickland Banks, a concept album concerning a soul singer’s wrongful incarceration. This time, however, the subject matter is amplified by a far sweeter sound. A few digressions into rap aside, Drew spends this outing singing beautifully before backdrops of caramel smooth soul and R&B. While not the sweetest, “The Recluse” is a Defamation standout, its noisy soul swagger never once relenting its conviction. It’s likely these songs about life on the inside will never appear on a sensual soul compilation, but that doesn’t mean listening is any less pleasurable or rewarding. Maria Schurr

 


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The Posies

Blood / Candy

(Rykodisc  )

The Posies
Blood / Candy

Their first release since 2005’s Every Kind of Light, the Posies’ Blood / Candy serves as a return to form for the power pop masters. Opening with three guest duets (Hugh Cornwell, Kay Hanley, and Lisa Lobsinger, respectively), the album’s energy is immediate and infectious. The Posies have always been a band built on melody, both catchy and intricate, whether drenched in ‘90s guitar fuzz or stripped down in acoustic versions, and Blood / Candy delivers on both. From the perfectly Posies “Take Care of Yourself” to the deceptively plaintive “For the Ashes” to “Licenses to Hide”, a ballad turned classic rock anthem turned ramshackle sing along, this is an album made by a band unafraid to experiment all the while remaining true to themselves. Blood / Candy may not be the Posies’ best album, but it’s still a pretty great one and they deserve all the attention a band this good can get. J.M. Suarez

 


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Diana Reyes

Ámamae, Bésame

(EMI Latin)

Diana Reyes
Ámamae, Bésame

Diana Reyes has been making good albums for years, but Ámame, Bésame (“Love Me, Kiss Me”) is an explosion of color and energy like nothing else in her catalogue. It’s also a breakthrough for duranguense, the Chicago-based techno-polka style that often sounds like its recording budget came from a smashed piggy bank. This time, with a major label budget and some seasoned producers, the bands and arrangements really sparkle. With their madcap woodwind lines and beat changes, Reyes’s bands resemble Carl Stalling’s orchestra performing Europop songs during Oktoberfest. The polkas are faster and louder, and Reyes alternates them with more pop-wise techno cumbias, even covering a couple Selena tunes. Here’s what hasn’t changed: Reyes still sings the hell out of her songs. She commands her arrangements with a powerful, husky conviction that remains melodrama-free, even while hinting at some secret pain between the lines. One of 2010’s best dance-pop albums. Josh Langhoff

 

Röyksopp and more...


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Alasdair Roberts

Too Long in This Condition

(Drag City)

Alasdair Roberts
Too Long in This Condition

Although he made his name pursuing an innovative approach to folk music that emphasised surreal imagery, deliberate anachronism, and distinctive phrasing, Alasdair Roberts has always based his work on traditional forms. On Too Long in This Condition he paid homage to this bedrock with ten traditional ballads and one instrumental, including spellbinding versions of “The Daemon Lover”, “Long Lankin”, and “Barbara Allen”. Roberts enlisted the help of a strong team of folkies and folk-rockers, who provide meat to his typically skeletal arrangements for voice and (weirdly tuned) acoustic guitar. Harmony vocals were provided by young folk singer Emily Portman (whose own The Glamoury, with its magical realist lyrics set to timeless melodies, was another standout release of 2010). The mixture of weirdness and timelessness that has been at the heart of all Roberts’s work, and which connects him to fellow Glaswegians the Incredible String Band, was as present here as in his self-written material, proving that surreality is as old as the hills. Another nice nod to the past came with the idiosyncratic liner notes, which mixed folkloric detail, guitar tunings, and whimsy in the manner of classic British folk albums of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Richard Elliott

 


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Jack Rose

Luck in the Valley

(Thrill Jockey)

Jack Rose
Luck in the Valley

When Jack Rose passed away at age 38 in December of 2009, it was a gut shot, a sudden loss of a huge and unique musical talent. To hear his last album as a sad reminder of his passing is to miss just how damned alive this record is. Like his other masterpiece, Kensington Blues, Luck in the Valley mines pre-war folk and blues, but Rose’s playing isn’t haunted by the past, it is invigorated by it. The bright snapping notes of “When Tailgate Drops, the Bullshit Stops” pulls you in, while the more exploratory “Tree in the Valley” surrounds you with its wandering feel. Rose, at the top of a crop of virtuoso acoustic players, is unsurprisingly impressive with his playing here. What makes this album brilliant isn’t the virtuosity of his performance, but rather the generosity of his sound. Rose never hides behind his intricate guitar playing, and this final album shows the best example of how he reaches past impressive technique to pull meaning out of those notes. The result is an instrumental album that seems to have more to say than the most verbose lyricists manage, and what it is saying—that wordless feel, that buzzing hope—comes out in every vital note of this record. Jack Rose is, and will be, sorely missed, but this is the kind of record that will live with you for a long time to come. Matthew Fiander

 


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Röyksopp

Senior

(Astralwerks)

Röyksopp
Senior

Long touted as a more subdued sequel to 2009’s buoyant Junior, it was perhaps not surprising that Röyksopp’s fourth album would meet with an altogether more muted critical response. The relative silence did the Norwegian electro duo an injustice however, as Senior betrayed at least as great a level of care and thoughtfulness on its creators’ part as had its predecessor. Without doubt, this oblique record demands an investment from the listener, but it’s an investment that yields a more than worthwhile return; scratch beneath their glassy surfaces and each of these tracks reveals a dark chasm brimming with mystique and subtlety of atmosphere. Here lies the difference between Junior and Senior: where the former had a gripping immediacy, the latter takes longer to unfurl its more considered charms, bringing an intriguing close to an extraordinary pair of albums. Andy Johnson

 


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Salem

King Night

(Columbia)

Salem
King Night

Salem’s beautifully affecting full length debut King Night finds itself luring somewhere between ooOoO’s more urban experimentation and the direction many might have expected Ethan Coen to take Crystal Castles with II. However theirs is, at first listen, a more abrasive sound that slowly reveals layers of intricate pop references, though at times barely audible. 2010 was a big year for imaginative drum patterns and the use of distortion and effects on these. With King Night, Salem emerge as amongst the cream of this particular crop. From the title track’s wallowing groove to the slow mo trip-hop of “Trapdoor”, the attention to detail is clear to see. “Hound’s” constantly morphing pattern demonstrates beyond this a knowledge and execution far exceeding your usual debut. Building an atmosphere of noir—labeled witch-house earlier in the year—with distorting layers within the sound, just as you start to see a formula develop in the albums opening six tracks the record turns into a far more sprawling and immersive affair. When the album changes at “Redlights”, the hints of excellence in its opening section are affirmed by some very bold—and perhaps previously unexpected—song craft in the record’s five closing tracks. Robert McCallum

 


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Sasquatch

III

(Small Stone)

Sasquatch
III

What sets Sasquatch apart from the hordes of other hard-rockers out there is their ability to hit that sweet spot between brain-deadening fuzz and propulsive energy. Most stoner-sludge bands set up camp in the downtempo end of the scale, but a fair number of Sasquatch tunes you could safely listen to while operating heavy machinery. Hell, you could even dance to “Get Out of Here” or “Walkin’ Shoes” or “No More Time”. Even their slow tunes, which are many, are never lethargic. Meanwhile, stealth sort-of-mellow track “New Disguise” reveals that rarest of rarities: the heavy rocker who can actually sing. No Cookie Monster growling for this band. Keith Gibbs ain’t Pavoratti, but he howls and snarls like an existential coyote. All of the above add up to a can’t lose combination: fuzzed-to-the-gills rocking freakouts sporting irresistible riffs, decent singing, solid musicianship, and an utter absence of pretension or gimmickry. Sure, the lyrics are dumber than dirt. Would you want it any other way? David Maine

 

Bruce Springsteen and more...


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Gil Scott-Heron

I’m New Here

(XL)

Gil Scott-Heron
I’m New Here

This is not the Gil Scott-Heron I thought I knew. This is a weird and wily 28-minute masterpiece of ironies. His voice is gruffer, grittier yet somehow still intimate and familiar. Electronic vibes and chilling blues replaced the exuberant jazz we expected, but the soul is intact. The man who influenced hip-hop wields his wisdom over a Kanye West sample, and maybe hip-hop’s self-absorption prompted Scott-Heron’s unflinching introspection. How odd that, among the spoken word selections, Scott-Heron—the songwriter, poet, and novelist—would regale us with cover tunes, skillfully wrought though they are, but the real irony is that they fit his personal challenges as perfectly as confessions from his own pen. There are no sweeping political statements, no pithy observations of the world’s current state, and his penchant for wordplay is confined to the rigors of living and the art of striving for more than survival. Then again, perhaps the true revolutionary recognizes brutal self-critique as a form of activism, knowing that self-reflection is a sign of strength, not surrender. Quentin B. Huff

 


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Screaming Females

Castle Talk

(Don Giovanni)

Screaming Females
Castle Talk

It’s probably not possible for Screaming Females to ever become as big as frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s super-sized musical persona. While the New Jersey power-punk trio has more or less flown under the radar when it comes to blogosphere hype and widespread critical acclaim, that definitely has nothing to do with the group’s bold, in-your-face sound. Tempting though it may be to describe the coed band as a street-tough Sleater-Kinney minus the politics, that would be giving the short shrift to the distinctiveness of Paternoster’s own caterwauling voice and bruising songwriting. On their latest album Castle Talk, Screaming Females swagger around more like bar-band brawlers than neo-riot-grrrls, considering the sloshed riffage of “Laura and Marty” and the rough-and-tumble guitar heroics of “I Don’t Mind It”. And when Paternoster growls “I could be the boss of you any day” on “Boss”, she might as well be issuing a mission statement about her band’s bombastic appeal. Arnold Pan

 


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Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore

Dear Companion

(Sub Pop)

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore
Dear Companion

I wish I’d given Dear Companion a higher rating when I reviewed it back in the spring. At the time I thought it was lovely, but I scoffed at the idea of calling it a protest album—too polite, too pristine, and definitely too precocious. Protest music needs to arise out of a preconceived sense of urgency: Dear Companion is more about wanting to protest something and not really knowing how. But as I dwelt with Dear Companion throughout 2010, I came to recognize that as a strength. Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore are two songwriters trying to teach themselves an idea of home that they’ll be the first to admit is somewhat foreign to them. So they set out to make a record about mountains, and ended up with a lovingly written, deeply felt, 11-song rumination on home, place and identity. Dear Companion reminds us that those are ideas that need to be tended to, cared for, because they’re changing, breaking apart before our very eyes. Steve Slagg

 


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Bruce Springsteen

The Promise

(Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen
The Promise

The epic rock grandeur of 1975’s Born to Run may have made him a star, but it was 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, when those romantic dreams came crashing down in a sinewy windstorm of squealing guitars and bawling vocals about shut-down strangers and hotrod angels, that forever sealed the deal for Bruce Springsteen’s biggest fans. And now comes 22 outtakes from the Darkness, sessions, a series of songs that overwhelm by the volume and awesomeness of peak Bruceness. The studio take of “Because the Night” is here, finally, but that’s only the 16th best song on this treasure trove. What’s most immediately head-spinning among the tracks are the un-Darkness-like songs, a bunch of would’ve-been-pop-classics like “Gotta Get That Feeling”, “Ain’t Good Enough For You”, “The Little Things (My Baby Does)”, etc., songs that other writers would have sold souls for but that Bruce left in the vault for over 30 years. Year-end list-makers didn’t know quite what to do with The Promise—should this be considered a new album? A reissue? It was neither really. Then again, it only makes sense to place The Promise, an album that offers boundless returns of both historical weight and brand-new enchantment, in a class all by itself. Steve Leftridge

 


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Sun Araw

On Patrol

(Sun Ark)

Sun Araw
On Patrol

The word “jam” could practically have been invented for Cameron Stallones, the cap wearing pioneer behind Sun Araw’s celestial grooves. Creativity runs throughout the record’s core, from the wandering slow jam of “Ma Halo” through the echoing ryhthms of “Stakeout”—the first of two songs featuring the cassette tape loving W. Giacchi—via the subliminal wander of “Deep Cover” to the Neil Young on the moon-esque fret play of Dimension Alley. There’s a clever reticence throughout, with the use of intricate bass, echo and distortion that creates a depth in the music, thus setting him very much apart from the hipster pack. Stallones started the year much the same as he ended the last: with a mind altering live release featuring remix from none other than the technical wizardry of fellow Los Angelean, Matthew David. The experimentation of Sun Araw seems to be a light that continues to burn bright in a music scene of dull quick fixes and dim baseless blog hype. Robert McCallum

 

Trembling Bells and more...


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Sun City Girls

Funeral Mariachi

(Abduction)

Sun City Girls
Funeral Mariachi

Funeral Mariachi is my favorite listen of 2010 and may be the best record of the Sun City Girls’ industriously exotic, provocative, 30-year career. This final album contains track after track of beautiful, cinematic, erotic, hummable music; as poignant and bizarre as a remembered stroll through a labyrinth of Day of the Dead artifacts with someone you really desire. It’s a fantastic simple eulogy for the group and their deceased drummer Charles Gocher but (Sir) Richard Bishop’s tense spaghetti-Eastern meets surf-pollution guitar and the SCG’s bile-sweet, cold-hearted mysticism ensures no sentimentality. Funeral Mariachi is an album in the old sense but the whistling, piano, and (is that?) melotron, on “Vine Street Piano” is a sublime standout. They cover Morricone, mock notions of authenticity, and celebrate life and death (“When I was dead I looked exactly like you / Now I’m alive where nothing is true”). They also showcase East/West guitar and vocal styles, and blend a slightly camp Beckettian theatrical hilarity with instrumental reverence worthy of Sketches of Spain. Most of all, though, they offer the perfect gateway into their ecstatic, sanctified, blasphemous world: the Sublime Frequencies collections of African and Eastern music, the vast (much deleted) SCG catalog, Alan Bishop’s newer collaborations and Sir Richard’s fantastic solo guitar discs and his new group: Rangda. Pass the tequila and keffiyeh. D.M. Edwards

 


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Tame Impala

Innerspeaker

(Universal)

Tame Impala
Innerspeaker

This Aussie export from Perth blends late ‘60s/early ‘70s lo-fi, guitar-driven rock with flecks of contemporary production to create dreamy, futuristic soundscapes. Much has been said about lead singer, Kevin Parker’s uncanny vocal similarities to John Lennon—and this is indeed fascinating—but it’s really the construction, propulsion, and classic sound of the songs that drive the album. Album opener “It Is Not Meant to Be” kicks off the album with a phased guitar and a rolling bass line that is discarded before the verse. However, Tame Impala’s ability to revisit certain sounds and ideas without sounding redundant is part of what makes this album an intriguing listen every time; and not long after that opening sequence is seemingly abandoned, it’s brought back. It’s a microcosm of what this band seems to represent. While they rely heavily on sounds from a bygone era, they certainly do not sound as if they are defined by it. While employing this technique, most groups would end up sounding derivative, but Tame Impala sounds like they’ve found something forgotten or left behind… something worth revisiting. Matthew Craig Werner

 


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Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

The Brutalist Bricks

(Matador)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks

Is it possible to listen to a new Ted Leo release without wondering if he’s lightened up yet? Hearing Leo sing on the exuberant opener to The Brutalist Bricks, “The Mighty Sparrow”, it’s hard to remember the angry young man I saw play on election night 2004. No one in the crowd that night was exactly dancing a jig, but Leo’s palpable pain and frustration made me wonder if he might just bail—on this country, on music, on everything. Fortunately, he has persevered, and even found a way to reclaim the buoyancy of the best of his back catalogue. After a few years of label-hopping, The Brutalist Bricks is the band’s first outing on Matador Records, which might prove to be the perfect home for the Pharmacist formula: sterling pop instinct with an inexorable hardcore past. Ted Leo is still the only guy on the block who writes rock lyrics like “There was a resolution pending on the United Nations floor”, so don’t get it twisted, he’s still Ted Leo. But almost a decade after the peerless Hearts of Oak, he’s finally made another record as enjoyable as it is righteous. Jennifer Cooke

 


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Tired Pony

The Place We Ran From

(Mom & Pop)

Tired Pony
The Place We Ran From

Talk about a late holiday bonus… last January, Gary Lightbody’s invitation to members of R.E.M. and Belle & Sebastian opened up this Americana side project to contributions from M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel and Editors frontman Tom Smith. But for a man surrounded by such talent, the Ireland native sounds awfully lonely here in the West. On this debut, Lightbody lays out 10 beautifully windswept sea shanties that read like a weary traveler’s diary. Even the weaker tracks exhibit the profound ache felt only by someone far from home but still not where he wants to be. Except for a catchy bastard of a single (“Dead American Writers”), rockers were pointedly relegated to B-sides; this is one for starry nights viewed through cracked apartment windows, contemplating life’s rich pageant. The best part is on “The Deepest Ocean There Is” where Peter Buck’s baritone guitar lets you know just how deep the sea goes. Alex Bahler

 


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Trembling Bells

Abandoned Love

(Honest Jon’s)

Trembling Bells
Abandoned Love

A lot of bands have been exploring the sounds of ‘60s and ‘70s British folk rock in recent times. Where Midlake’s dalliance with the sound of “Electric Eden” (to quote the title of Rob Young’s recent book on English music) has been the most documented, the work of lesser known Glasgow collective Trembling Bells has been even more interesting. Bringing together musicians from the worlds of folk, early music, rock, jazz, and free improv (where band leader, drummer, songwriter and occasional vocalist Alex Neilsen first honed his craft), Trembling Bells produce musical confections whose eclecticism recalls that of another Glasgow institution (and obvious influence), the Incredible String Band. Second album Abandoned Love presented tales of pirates in Yorkshire, doomed Septembers, and shipwreck victims. There were traces of country rock among the grooves, though they owed more to the kind of dalliance with country practised by the ISB and Fairport Convention in the ‘60s, an imaginary country distorted by distance. It was clear that this was a British record, from Lavinia Blackwall’s Collins/Denny/Prior-channelling vocals, through the glam-rock swagger to the brass band flourishes. Brilliant proof of Neilson’s vision, the health of the Glasgow music scene, and the continued strength of the Honest Jon’s label. Richard Elliott

 


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Scott Wells

Day Songs

(Root Strata)

Scott Wells
Day Songs

Some discs slip out of earshot for a very good reason. At an unknown time, in an unknown place, an unknown musician named Scott Wells recorded Day Songs and printed just 100 copies of it for the entire world. He housed the copies lovingly in chipboard cases and gave each one a unique, hand-painted watercolor cover. Then, he quietly walked into the San Francisco offices of Root Strata, left the records in their mailbox, and walked out.

It’s easy to hear why the label heads were floored when they spun the surprise that awaited them: Day Songs is a mutedly gorgeous, seductively brief, guitar-based ambient record in the Root Strata aesthetic, where layered drones and sparkling tones conjure a soft, pillowy atmosphere. Faint sounds of rustling and old metallic creaks give it an especially earthen feel, while plucked harmonics approximate wind chimes, as if you’re drinking in the day from someone’s rustic front porch. Though the album shifts gradually over its 20 minutes, the beauty is actually in its smooth consistency. It sounds like a folk song’s single strum stretched languorously over a long distance, so that every flickering, decaying element is perceptible. That only 100 records were ever produced, and that Wells put so much care into the packaging, makes Day Songs appear like something of rare preciousness—an imperial topaz in the rough, glistening under the afternoon sun. Mike Newmark

 

Brian Wilson and more...


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Wildlife

Strike Hard, Young Diamond

(Easy Tiger)

Wildlife
Strike Hard, Young Diamond

There’s not much that sets the youthful Wildlife apart from the rest of the indie rock pack, except that they’re great. Their debut Strike Hard, Young Diamond is a concept album about—what else?—the vagaries of young adulthood, carried by huge hooks played on—what else?—huge guitars, a fair-weather horn section, and the occasional banjo. The key to its distinction beyond empty ebullience is its accuracy. The shout-along chorus “Move to the city / Move back home / Move to another city” turns futile optimism into something of a spiritual triumph. “I’ve got a fire to keep my house warm / I’ve got shoes but they’re worn through” is privileged self-loathing’s hand-to-mouth posturing. And “Killing For Fun” goes down fighting when there’s no one to fight. They gained my attention when half a “leak” of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs was really this album, and honest-to-goodness, these heart-on-sleeve Canadians make those heart-on-sleeve Canadians sound, well, kind of old. Benjamin Aspray

 


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Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

(Walt Disney)

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

You cannot overstate the significance of a genius like Brian Wilson reinterpreting the work of a titan like George Gershwin, but the storied Beach Boy’s Reimagines Gershwin shouldn’t be treated merely as a footnote or even a full chapter in the chronicle of American popular song. No, the album is instead a vibrant and lush collection of tunes, treated alternately with reverence (“I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”) and playfulness (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, “I Got Rhythm”). It’s another notch in the belt of Wilson’s late-career comeback, following in the improbable completion of Smile and his most recent collection of all-new material, That Lucky Old Sun, and it stands up as not only a tribute to one of the founders of a beloved form but also as a living, breathing example of a modern artist who still has plenty to say. Michael Lello

 


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Peter Wolf

Midnight Souvenirs

(Verve/UME)

Peter Wolf
Midnight Souvenirs

Rock fans who have followed him through his days with the Hallucinations and J. Geils Band have known for years that Peter Wolf is a rare treasure—if he visits your local classic rock station to guest-DJ while on tour, be sure to cancel all other engagements and tune in to hear a master at work and learn a thing or 12 about rock history—so it’s not news that Midnight Souvenirs is good. But it’s a pleasant surprise that the record is firing-on-all-cylinders great. Whether on his own (“I Don’t Wanna Know”) or with ringers like Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynne and Neko Case who play off his shaggy vocals beautifully (especially the latter on the goosebump-inducing “Green Grass of Summer”), covering Allen Toussaint (“Everything I Do (Gonna Be Funky)”), giving his libido a workout on “Overnight Lows”, or mourning fellow-musical-wandering soul Willy DeVille on “The Night Comes Down”, Midnight Souvenirs finds the 64-year-old Wolf in full command of his rock/soul/R&B/funk talents—and hell, he even painted the album cover. Stephen Haag

 


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Wolf Parade

Expo 86

(Sub Pop)

Wolf Parade
Expo 86

What Wolf Parade does—guitar work buttressed by synths, or vice versa, depending on perspective—isn’t particularly unique in the current indie rock pantheon. But how Wolf Parade does it—with verve and emotion, with a seemingly tossed-off approach that results in sprawling songs that somehow maintain their melodic drive—is different and memorable and makes for a rich listening experience. There’s a prominent photo of Wolf Parade performing live in the liner booklet, which might stand out as incongruous for a studio album, but it’s appropriate, considering the raw nature of the tracks, many of which sound like they could’ve sprung from soundcheck jams. This is evident from the get-go with opener “Cloud Shadow on the Moon”, which has no introduction and seems to begin at mid-verse. Michael Lello

 


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Women

Public Strain

(Flemish Eye)

Women
Public Strain

The Calgary-based quartet’s sophomore effort bleeds and snarls like a fractured tribute to Evol-era Sonic Youth with an occasional interest in Fugazi-esque two-guitar attack (“Heat Distraction”) or messy krautrock (“China Steps”). Hooky in parts, fiercely noisy and lo-fi in others (the recording process reportedly made use of boom boxes and tape machines), Public Strain was produced by multitalented Canadian artist Chad VanGaalen, whose Soft Airplane was one of 2008’s greatest (and most underappreciated) records. Almost as overlooked (but not nearly as pretty), Public Strain plays out like Halycon Digest‘s uglier, tantrum-prone cousin. It’s also an impressively confident hint at where this band is headed next. (Unless it has already broken up. Which is apparently uncertain.) Zach Schonfeld

 


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Xiu Xiu

Dear God, I Hate Myself

(Kill Rock Stars)

Xiu Xiu
Dear God, I Hate Myself

I bought plenty of vinyl records in 2010, but the one that I seemed to pick out of my collection the most often was the seventh studio album from the rather avant-garde Xiu Xiu, fronted by Jamie Stewart. It’s not a perfect record, as it does have its share of filler—particularly in the two bonus tracks that can be downloaded as MP3—and it boasts a rather strange and out-of-place cover of the folk standard “Cumberland Gap”. However, listening to this LP is akin to driving past a bad car wreck in that you simply can’t turn away. Filled with all sorts of eight-bit videogame-esque blips and bloops, Dear God, I Hate Myself is the kind of album Trent Reznor might have made if he’d been influenced by old-school Nintendo games, Kate Bush and the Smiths instead of industrial and Europop music. The album also has some sublimely delicious moments in the title track, “Chocolate Makes You Happy” and the astounding “This Too Shall Pass Away (For Freddy)”. Dear God, I Hate Myself is a puzzling record, full of high and lows, and perhaps this is what makes it so returnable. It’s enigmatic and strange, and something you have to listen to over and over again, simply to try to make sense of its sprawl. Zachary Houle

 

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/135894-part-3-from-perfume-genius-to-xiu-xiu/