Slipped Discs 2011 - Part 1: From 13Ghosts to Friendly Fires

[30 January 2012]

By PopMatters Staff


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13Ghosts

Garland of Bottle Flies

(Skybucket; US: 8 Nov 2011; UK: 8 Nov 2011)

13Ghosts
Garland of Bottle Flies

Garland of Bottleflies exists where several dark fringe lines cross. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll record at turns quiet and brash, but its conflicted, restless, paranoid, violent, literate Southern Gothic heart elevates it above most other records released in 2011. Principal songwriter/vocalist Bradley Armstrong paints a number of bleak portraits—a man cryptically revealing that he has killed his woman, a man discussing medication with his doctor, a blow-by-blow account of the world’s most epic bar fight—that all bristle with this restless energy of people just trying to find their way. It’s a record that travels in circles that many of us don’t know, but its basic feeling of unease with the world around us should feel all too familiar with many listeners who find themselves entranced by this record’s confused, often medicated glow. Andrew Gilstrap

 


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Akron/Family

S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

(Dead Oceans; US: 8 Feb 2011; UK: 17 Jan 2011)

Akron/Family
S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

On paper, Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (say that ten times fast—or just once) is presented as Akron/Family’s most deliriously experimental release yet. Supposedly the record arrived on Dead Oceans’ doorstep in the form of “four blown out song fragments on a TDK CDR in a ziplock bag, three pictures, and a typewritten note”, plus a diorama. The band cites “underground Japanese noise cassettes” and “emotional Cagean field recordings” among its inspiration; the record, they claim, was recorded in an abandoned Detroit train station. Despite all the mythology, however, the album works because its most cosmic moments (opener “Silly Bears”, “A Aaa O A Way”, “Say What You Want To”) are so well buoyed by achingly gorgeous slices of psych-pop. “Island”, “Fuji II (Single Pane)”, and “Cast a Net” are particularly shimmering highlights—not only of this album, but this band’s prolific six-year winning streak. Zach Schonfeld

 


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Julianna Barwick

The Magic Place

(Asthmatic Kitty; US: 22 Feb 2011; UK: 2 May 2011)

Julianna Barwick
The Magic Place

Considering how nuanced Julianna Barwick’s indescribable music is, it’s not entirely surprising that it might slip through the cracks or be missed altogether. But her first long-player The Magic Place is the quintessential example of an album that grows on you with repeated listens: What on first blush sounds like pleasant background music that transforms new-agey strains into art-pop reveals itself to be much more over time. The seamlessly connected tracks on The Magic Place work on the micro level as well as on the grandest scale, as subtle touches like sparse loops, simple piano notes, and Barwick’s ethereal voice build on one another to create impressionistic compositions that could probably fill the most awe-inspiring gothic cathedral. At its best, The Magic Place taps into a sense of spirituality that can reach the smallest iota of one’s soul and feel universal all at the same time. Arnold Pan

 


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Beastwars

Beastwars

(Destroy; US: 9 May 2011)

Beastwars
Beastwars

A home-country top 20 debut, sold-out shows, rock award nominations, an acclaimed video, award winning cover art and a beer brewed in their honor—New Zealand’s downtempo titans Beastwars had a triumphant 2011. The band’s self-titled debut—recorded in a scant few days and spilling over with palpable urgency—is the unacknowledged, mutated and illegitimate child of an extremely unholy union between the Jesus Lizard, early Soundgarden and Black Sabbath. Fronted by a lead singer whose unsettling charisma has all the hypnotism of a manically unhinged end-times preacher, Beastwars deliver primordial sermons from the crumbling mount. With a crushing blend of apocalyptic terror slathered with lugubrious atmospherics, the band’s twisted psychedelic narratives are set around stripped-back distorting riffs that revel in their dissonance. Cathartic, claustrophobic and oozing with peril, the rotten heart of the Antipodes has never been so spectacularly, or wantonly, exposed. Craig Hayes

 


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Beastie Boys

Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2

(Capitol; US: 3 May 2011; UK: 2 May 2011)

Beastie Boys
Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2

I haven’t picked up Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 for a few months. But once I gave it another spin, I was amazed at how easily the songs came back into memory. The playful strut of “Nonstop Disco Powerpack”, the Kenny Rogers roaster namedrop in “Long Burn the Fire” and the thomping “Too Many Rappers” quickly come to mind. For the Beastie Boys, the best way to commemorate surviving a cancer scare is to keep partying—and if the scene has changed, you can always pretend it hasn’t. Hot Sauce may not be the reinvention fans have hoped for since Check Your Head, but what it lacks in surprises more than makes up for in exuberance. It’s only fitting that the same year the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the band released an album that justifies their inclusion with rock’s elite.  Sean McCarthy

 


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Beirut

The Rip Tide

(Pompeii; US: 30 Aug 2011; UK: 30 Aug 2011)

Beirut
The Rip Tide

In 2006, Beirut’s Zach Condon released his debut Gulag Orkestaras a wunderkind—a bizarre 19-year-old, whose music would’ve sat equally as comfortably in 1906. Now five years later, The Rip Tideis the work of a grizzled (for a 25-year-old) veteran less concerned with making a splash than simply playing the music he enjoys. The Eastern European influence is still there—just check the accordion pumps that open the album—but it’s undeniably more radio friendly (assuming your preferred station is NPR). The album does mark an effort to be his most relatable, both in terms of pop leaning songwriting and the inward nature of the lyrics. Condon’s tendency to jump sharply between influences leaves him forever unpredictable but after The Rip Tide one can be certain whatever he does do next it will be assured, and unmistakably Beirut. Jesse Fox

Kate Bush and more...


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Kate Bush

50 Words for Snow

(Anti-/Fish People; US: 21 Nov 2011; UK: 21 Nov 2011)

Kate Bush
50 Words for Snow

With only one song (barely) under seven minutes, the melodies, lyrics, and ideas on Snow pile up as slowly as its namesake, and are just as gorgeous. Bush has done “skittery” cold before, in old songs like “Waking the Witch”, where snow and ice are a prison or a trap. Thankfully she didn’t go for that same kind of fearful energy this time around. Here, snow and cold are friends and, in the case of “Misty”, even lovers. Snow is a patient, confident album that handles its concept extremely well. More importantly, it signals that Bush remains a vital artist who may be entering a new stage of creativity and inspiration. That’s an idea that makes many of us feel very warm inside. Andrew Gilstrap

 


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The Builders and the Butchers

Dead Reckoning

(Badman; US: 22 Feb 2011; UK: 22 Feb 2011)

The Builders and the Butchers
Dead Reckoning

The Builders and the Butchers share some of the geeky-folk DNA with fellow Portlanders the Decemberists—and Ryan Sollee’s adenoidal voice is, if anything, even reedier and more anguished than Colin Meloy’s—but B&B claim an even darker, more gothic landscape as their own. Mandolin and bazouki lend unusual textures to the expected guitars bass and drums, but the real triumph here is in the songwriting. Breathlessly apocalyptic numbers like “Rotten to the Core” and “Black Elevator”—the elevator in question being the one that takes you to Hell—rub shoulders with downtempo dirges “Family Tree” and “Moon Is on the March”. Sure, the 80-second “Blood for You” is a throwaway, but that’s the only misstep on this, one of the best albums of 2011, and a criminally overlooked one. David Maine

 


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Zachary Cale

Noise of Welcome

(All Hands Electric; US: 17 May 2011; UK: Import)

Zachary Cale
Noise of Welcome

When folk acts like Fleet Foxes seem so badly to want to give us a hug with their sound, it’s nice to know there’s guys like Zachary Cale out there. Cale’s brilliant 2011 album, Noise of Welcome, was the best folk record released all year. It’s as tuneful as any of those other guys, but Cale anchors his songs with a sonic heft that keeps them obscured and shadowy in all the best ways. They’re not navel gazing or downtrodden, just bittersweet and honest, from the early-morning gauze of “Blake’s Way” to the hushed croak of “Hello Oblivion”, Cale sings about heartache and loss openly, and the sweet groan of his voice sells every word—but this never feels like self-pity. Instead, these songs reach out in a real way, to comfort us not by washing us in sepia tones and sweeping flourishes, but by letting us feel the songs deeply for all their complex tones and moods and textures. The space between the notes of his finger-picked guitar often conveys more emotion than any number of hazy layers possibly could. Noise of Welcome is the folk record you should have heard in 2011. So start 2012 off right with this one. Matthew Fiander

 


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Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi

(Domino; US: 18 Jan 2011; UK: 17 Jan 2011)

Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi

The comparisons to PJ Harvey were inevitable when Anna Calvi’s debut album surfaced in January, simply because she’s a husky-voiced singer whose dark compositions are accentuated by piercing guitar work. Although that influence is present in the music, the deeper you dig into this remarkable little record is just how unique and rich it actually is. With a flair for the theatrical that’s not far removed from Florence Welch and a knack for the sultry melodrama of everything from Angelo Badalamenti, to Richard Hawley, to Phil Spector’s girl groups, Calvi’s compositions seductively veer from the tender (“Desire”) to the downright fierce (“First We Kiss”). All that, and she can shred a mean guitar too, her blues and flamenco-inspired leads immediately setting her apart from her peers. Adrien Begrand

 


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Caveman

CoCo Beware

(Original Recordings Group; US: 15 Nov 2011)

Caveman
CoCo Beware

In a time when everyone is seemingly obsessed with what is groundbreaking and entirely new, I find great pleasure in a band like Caveman. This debut is pure pop caffeine. It has hooks, choruses—you know, all the elements that used to make a great song way back when. The tight chord transition and emotive plead found in “Old Friend”—a song seemingly about an affair between a woman and the couple’s friend—contrasts beautifully with the light, feathery glockenspiel shimmering through “December 28th” and the woo woo woo’s that ring true of any lullaby. Each song on the album brings the listener to a different place sonically and by default emotionally. To me, Coco Beware, was the soundtrack to my 2011 and an album that played in the background while I drove, read and reflected on the year that was. Eddie Ciminelli

 


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CocknBullKid

Adulthood

(Island; UK: 7 Jun 2011)

CocknBullKid
Adulthood

Anita Blay’s punchy, beat-driven sound first caused a stir back in 2008, bringing a much-needed edge of lyrical introspection to the sugar-rush highs of the electro revival. Then she disappeared from the scene, taking her time over a debut album, Adulthood, that finally made its appearance in 2011. Blay’s verve, intelligence and ear for a melody acquired a new synthpop sheen courtesy of producer Liam Howe. No amount of production, though, could mask her sharp and occasionally gloomy wit, which still retains that acid bite. The standout track here is “Dumb”, where she skewers romantic delusions about a bad relationship as a moody synth backing underlines the heartbreak behind the tough talk. Too innovative to be pigeonholed as yet another mouthy singer-songwriter, Blay’s got the perfect combination of cynicism and heart, teamed with the fashion sense of Grace Jones. She can’t fail. Gem Wheeler

Cut Copy and more...


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Ry Cooder

Pull Up Some Dust & Sit Down

(Nonesuch; US: 29 Aug 2011)

Ry Cooder
Pull Up Some Dust & Sit Down

Ry Cooder, revered for his more recent forays into ethno-music, returned this year to mine the populist vein of his much beloved early period, specifically Into the Purple Valley, a classic 1972 album of songs for the downtrodden of the early 20th century. Cooder drags that populism into the 21st century, with songs of his own that rail against the greed of bankers, immigration paranoia, needless wars, cable news rabble rousers and politicians. He even takes on the persona of John Lee Hooker and announces his run for President. This is authentic music about the underclass, beautifully played and sung. It has the flavors of modern America channeled through an earlier period—south-of-the border, blues, dust bowl folk. This is a fine and topical Ry Cooder album. Kevin Ott

 


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Cut Copy

Zonoscope

(Modular; US: 8 Feb 2011; UK: 7 Feb 2011)

Cut Copy
Zonoscope

In 2011, Cut Copy was at the forefront of what I like to call the New New Wave, along with other ‘80s revivalists like Destroyer and the Smith Westerns. Their excellent album Zonoscope is heavily influenced by the music of David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Grace Jones, but like their peers, Cut Copy offer up a version of ‘80s electronic music that could only have been created in this day and age. The album is chock-full of sleek, effortless gems, from the woozy psychedelia of opener “Need You Now” and “Where I’m Going” to the impeccable dancehall strut of “Take Me Over” and “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat”. It’s hard to say why Zonoscope, well-received by critics, didn’t get more attention on year-end lists—an early February release may have had a hand in that—but this is intelligent, infectious dance music, and it’s one of my favorites of 2011. Billy Hepfinger

 


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Cymbals Eat Guitars

Lenses Alien

(Barsuk; US: 30 Aug 2011; UK: 29 Aug 2011)

Cymbals Eat Guitars
Lenses Alien

After two years, two lineup changes, and seemingly endless touring, the Staten Island-based indie outfit regrouped to record its sophomore effort, the much-anticipated follow-up to 2009’s Why There Are Mountains. So the band flexed its newfound fame, signing to Barsuk and hiring John Agnello, industry veteran known for work with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., to produce. Despite opener “Rifle Eyeshot (Proper Name)”—a sprawling 8.5-minute number that careens from punkish abandon to droney noise squall and back again—Lenses Alien isn’t a retread of the band’s debut: this is a tighter, leaner Cymbals, mostly content to play the Keep It Like a Secret to Mountains’ more sprawling Perfect From Now On. (When I interviewed singer Joseph D’Agostino in August, he mentioned instances in which Agnello encouraged the band to trim down, slicing a whole outro from “Definite Darkness”, cutting “Another Tunguska” down to three minutes.) What Lenses Alien lacks in compositional sprawl it more than makes up for with instrumental confidence and tight, masterful songcraft: highlights “Keep Me Waiting”, “Definite Darkness”, and “Shore Points” are terse, energized slices of indie-rock glory, paying homage to the ‘90s while keeping Cymbals relevant. Zach Schonfeld

 


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The Dang-It Bobbys

Big Trouble

(The Dang-It Bobbys; US: 20 Sep 2011)

The Dang-It Bobbys
Big Trouble

The Dang-It Bobbys take on Americana is driven by Kris Bauman’s great singing voice and his gift for writing strong melodies. Those two strengths will get you pretty far, but it helps that the rest of the band, anchored by Luca Bendetti’s guitar, are rock solid players. Nearly everything the band tries on Big Trouble is wildly successful. The poppy opener “Middle Ground” is an instant singalong, as is the jaunty, funny “Sad Sack”. Slower tracks like “I Love You”, dominated by Benedetti’s nimble finger-picked guitar, and the melancholy “Somehow”, with its lovely harmonies and subtle melodica accompaniment, are beautiful. Even the two instrumentals, the jug-band bluegrass of “Whiskey Strut” and the racing minor-key picking of “Roadkill Jerky”, manage to sound distinctive. The cherry on top is the album’s title track, an amusing story-song in which the narrator uses his less-than-perfect Spanish skills to try to pay off a police officer when a Mexican trip goes all wrong. Chris Conaton

 


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The Dear Hunter

The Color Spectrum: The Complete Collection

(Triple Crown; US: 1 Nov 2011)

The Dear Hunter
The Color Spectrum: The Complete Collection

Whatever happened to grandiose musical statements? Some of the greatest artistic achievements have come in massive double or triple album packages, from the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. to the Clash’s London Calling and even the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, but recently, they’ve all but disappeared due to audiences’ shrinking attention spans. So, for those of us who long for big artistic statements, we have the Dear Hunter’s The Color Spectrum. A nine-EP collection of 36 songs divided into colors, it certainly qualifies as a declaration of (enormous) intent. But more important, it’s musically both diverse and brilliant. From the sunshine pop of “She’s Always Singing” to the industrial sounds of “Take What You Need”, there seems to be very little that Casey Crescenzo and the Dear Hunter can’t do. Ambition and the concept album aren’t dead—one just needs to dig a little further down than before. Nianyi Hong

 


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Brett Dennen

Loverboy

(Dualtone; UK: 12 Apr 2011)

Brett Dennen
Loverboy

I’m having a hell of a time deciding which song from Brett Dennen’s Loverboy I should pick for my Best of 2011 playlist. I’m leaning toward the swingy got-your-back testimony of “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” or the cute hand-clapper “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)”. Then again, it’s awfully tempting to choose the super-smoove “Frozen in Slow Motion,” featuring Dennen’s buttery turkey-fried phrasing or the filthy, hip-dysplasia-inducing “Must Be Losing My Mind”. This red-headed, California beanpole has been around awhile, putting out soulful folk-pop winners since ‘04, but his fourth full-length is the songwriter at his most exuberantly funky, last year’s lost summer-bliss record. So I can’t decide on one song, so I guess I’ll do what I’ve been doing for months now and give this fun, addictive album another spin. Steve Leftridge

Dirty Beaches and more...


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Dirty Beaches

Badlands

(Zoo; US: 29 Mar 2011; UK: 29 Mar 2011)

Dirty Beaches
Badlands

Alex Zhang Hungtai sounds like he resides in an alternate universe from a treatment for a David Lynch or Wong Kar Wai film. As Dirty Beaches, Hungtai conjures up soundscapes that are as surreal as the films of those auteurs, like something you’d hear on a car radio while driving through Twin Peaks or playing in the background of a Hong Kong dive bar. On Badlands, Hungtai creates music that doesn’t just sound like it’s from another time and place, but another dimension altogether. With its scuzzed-out guitar and crude, crackling samples, Badlands comes off like an uncanny hit parade beamed in from a secret radio station in Area 51 and piped into a haunted transistor radio. Putting a twisted twist on oldies genres from rockabilly to Motown, Hungtai’s music is all about how melancholic and bittersweet nostalgia can be. Arnold Pan

 


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Dom

Family of Love EP

(Astralwerks; US: 9 Aug 2011)

Dom
Family of Love EP

Dom has released only two EPs, but his relatively spare output does not contain a single dud. Either Dom is very selective about what he releases, or everything that pops into his head is irresistible. 2011’s Family of Love EP is only 16 minutes, but it was one of the better 16-minute stretches of music in 2011 musically, full of graceful and crunchy guitar work, smooth bass, and sweet, unassuming lyrics. Every song practically gleams with appeal, and each is an eloquent statement on behalf of pop simplicity: there are few frills and a verse, chorus, verse, chorus structure. But on the brilliant “Damn”, Dom doesn’t go from a bridge to a satisfying resolution with a last chorus, he gives the guitars the last word instead. It’s one of Dom’s best tricks, and the only way to get more of those hooks is to start the EP again. Elias Leight

 


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Drake

Take Care

(Universal; US: 15 Nov 2011)

Drake
Take Care

2011 was a good and bad year for Drake. To start with the bad, he became hip-hop’s most targeted rapper since Ja Rule, but the good was that he continued to fuse hip-hop and R&B with the critically acclaimed Take Care. Drake regaled his listeners with tales of his struggles with fame, lost love opportunities, and narratives on his past. Drake also showed why he is one of rap’s top hit-making songwriters, penning tunes such as the catchy “Headlines”, the Nicki Minaj assisted “Make Me Proud”, and the player hater anthem of 2011, “Marvins Room”. Other songs such as “Cameras”, “HYFR”, and “Underground Kings” were hits with fans and critics, and many claim Drake delivered by far his most consistent work. Grammys 2013. Watch out for it. Brad Washington

 


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Steve Earle

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

(New West; US: 26 Apr 2011; UK: 25 Apr 2011)

Steve Earle
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Perhaps the most surprising thing about I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is how, after a decade as a neuveau-folk protest singer, the legendary songwriter Steve Earle has finally stepped back and let his songs speak for themselves. Now that he’s no longer trying to compete with James McMurtry for the title of “most political songwriter”, he’s able to fully focus on telling the stories of his multi-faceted characters, and what results is an unbelievably timely album. Earle sounds vibrant and refreshingly relevant on these dozen tracks, and it’s a shame the album came out in May. Despite being swallowed up by a year’s worth of equally solid releases, this album is a spectacular return to form from a remarkable songwriter and shouldn’t be missed. Jonathan Sanders

 


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Eisley

The Valley

(Equal Vision; US: 1 Mar 2011; UK: 7 Mar 2011)

Eisley
The Valley

It would be futile to try and express my appreciation of The Valley without acknowledging how personal the subject matter is to me. Certainly, Sherri DuPree-Bemis’ painful divorce, which led to the creation of the album, serves as an immediate point of reference for anyone who has lived through such an ordeal. Yet as therapeutic as this collection of songs is for someone in the midst of pain, it’s also a grand presentation of the human condition and the struggle for hope in a broken world. From a strictly musical standpoint, this third full-length release from the band captures everything beautiful about their past work while showcasing a maturity and continuity that had been absent in the past. For the first time, the DuPree sisters’ lauded storytelling abilities intersected with a real-life situation that demanded expression and resolution. In a genre that seems to demand awareness yet sometimes loses sight of personal reflection, The Valley shines as an example of what indie pop should sound and feel like. Kiel Hauck

 


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Elzhi

Elmatic

(Self-released)

Elzhi
Elmatic

It seems unlikely that an album based on one of the most classic hip-hop albums of all time, Nas’s Illmatic could work, and yet Detriot rapper Elzhi not only makes it work, he knocks this record out of the park. Backed by Will Sessions, Elzhi and company bring an organic feel to these songs, and pay tribute to the original beats while Elzhi himself uses his favorite rap album as a foundation to tell his own story. He moves Nas’s New York to his own Detriot—see “Detroit State of Mind”—and often borrow snippets of Nas’s original lines to weave into his own. In all of this, though, nothing really feels borrowed. Elzhi’s flow is his own here, and awfully impressive, managing to be both image-dense and full of compelling narratives that keep your interest. He both pays tribute to his hero and uses his hero’s music to tell his own fascinating story. If Illmatic shows us Nas’s New York, warts and all, Elzhi gives us a picture of a Detriot we might not have known, one that is uniquely his, and clearly close to his heart. Matthew Fiander

The Felice Brothers and more...


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Extra Classic

Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam

(Manimal Vinyl; US: 11 Oct 2011; UK: 10 Oct 2011)

Extra Classic
Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam

On paper, one may assume an album of throwback reggae made by a couple of fair-skinned people from California would be a sure miss, if not downright sacrilege. Thankfully, the masterminds behind Extra Classic—Adrianne Verhoeven, former singer/keyboardist for The Anniversary, and Alex de Landa of the Papercuts and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone fame—did it right. Showing an unabashed love and deep respect for the pioneers of this most Jamaican music, Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam was recorded entirely on 8-track tape with vintage recording equipment appropriate to the era of reggae’s golden age, the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lyrics are passionate, political, and party friendly, the melodies and beats are the right kind of righteous groove, and the purely analog production is warm and spacious, awash in reverb and ganja haze. If it sounds right and it feels right, it’s right on, brother. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Alan Ranta

 


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The Felice Brothers

Celebration, Florida

(Fat Possum; US: 10 May 2011; UK: 23 May 2011)

The Felice Brothers
Celebration, Florida

With Celebration, Florida, the Felice Brothers came out of the woods. While their sound has deep roots in the forest of American folk music, the brother’s latest record was as rural and rootsy as watching soap operas in a Florida condo. Still they fit in the over-evolved world of Americana, in that dead space between the traditionalist holler of old-time acts and the pop sensibilities of new-folk. Some songs on the audaciously produced Celebration, Florida hit with the force of a wild haymaker and others with a gentle caress, and some did both. By utilizing a multitude of instruments that range from 808’s to washboards and accordions to violins, a mere five “brothers” made the noise of an entire family reunion and exposed one of music’s truths: the best folk bands of today are those who show no allegiance or accuracy to the form. Kevin Curtin

 


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Fort Frances

The Atlas

(Roadblock; UK: 8 Feb 2011)

Fort Frances
The Atlas

Chicago-based band Fort Frances, led by David McMillin, has created the kind of subtle, unassuming record that grows on you gradually. The Atlas is heavy on atmosphere and pathos, spinning tales of love and loss against a simple, sublime texture of acoustic guitars, ethereal background vocals, and melodic piano lines. The songs sound simultaneously familiar and different from anything you’ve ever heard before. If McMillin and company wear their hearts on their sleeves a bit, it’s to the album’s benefit, not detriment. The map of the human heart painted on The Atlas rings so true that it’s a pleasure to explore its contours. Jacob Adams

 


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John Foxx and the Maths

Interplay

(Metamatic; US: 22 Mar 2011)

John Foxx and the Maths
Interplay

Electro may have undergone a resurgence in the past few years, but when it comes to pushing the genre’s boundaries, we still look to its pioneers. After a slew of brilliant collaborations, John Foxx teamed up with fellow analogue enthusiast Benge in 2011 to create the magnificent Interplay. The technology may be vintage, but, true to Foxxian form, the ideas are light years ahead of the rest. The record’s mood shifts intriguingly, alternately pulsing with tension and humming with a delicate melancholy. Twisted synths collide with threatening beats while Foxx lasers the architects of the financial crash on the ominous “Shatterproof”, while all his sci-fi leanings are brought to bear on the propulsive “Destination”. The moody title track and the gentle, ethereal closer, “The Good Shadow” see Foxx at his reflective best. Together, the synth legend and the electro archaeologist have uncovered a rich seam of sonic potential. Keep digging, gentlemen. Gem Wheeler

 


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Friendly Fires

Pala

(XL; US: 24 May 2011; UK: 11 May 2011)

Friendly Fires
Pala

Everything I read about this album this year didn’t talk about its emotional content. Friendly Fires start with a song about not being able to live up to the past, then one about finding a tape with your voice on it, a song about being afraid of true love, one about travel that actually captures what’s annoying and ecstatic about it, one about wanting someone who’s bad for you, one about an imaginary island paradise where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts, a song that venerates someone who can show the narrator true beauty, one that’s the opposite of an earlier one and wants nothing more than true love, one that’s a plea for salvation, one that’s a pledge of devotion, and one that’s a surrender to the love that’s been chasing or chased by our narrator all album. Which wouldn’t be so remarkable if Pala weren’t one of the best marriage of dance music and rock-band format since New Order. Ian Mathers

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/153911-part-1-from-13ghosts-to-friendly-fires/