-->
Music

The Standard: Albatross

Zeth Lundy

Portland, Oregon quartet's second album in as many years is dramatic tension in search of a worthy epic.


The Standard

Albatross

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
UK Release Date: 2005-10-10
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Somewhere across the blinding vistas of theatricality, straddling the jagged edge of drama, you can catch a glimpse of the Standard -- squint your eyes, because they're not really residents of the area, only surveyors. There are pretensions out in them thar hills -- histrionics, too -- and the Portland, Oregon quartet points them out: androgynous Bowieisms hiding beneath a clammy boulder, nervous Byrne-ities trembling in the elaborate foliage, R.E.M. righteousness courting the speed of sound in the cloudless sky. The Standard looks, but it doesn't touch. The rules of the land, like those of national parks, are respected; rock's overindulgences are left to their natural preserve until they're carelessly cloned by someone with less tact.

Cloning is for those determined to dominate with formula -- those who do it all from memory leave that blueprint stuff in the wilderness. Besides, the Standard is an urban band and Albatross, its second album in as many years for Yep Roc, is city rock: cagey, serrated, nocturnal. Luminescent pianos flutter skyward, guitars cast taut nets, and Tim Putnam's voice burrows inside itself, quaking under the pressure of the songs' pregnant constructions. In more ways than one, the Standard is dramatic tension in search of a worthy epic.

A record of imposing and frequent beauty, Albatross never crosses the line into grandiose bombast. It withholds release and conclusion, and does so with utmost sincerity, as if it would never feel comfortable letting its insides spill out. It promises ridiculous self-indulgences but (wisely) never delivers. At times, the heightened tease can get a wee bit precious; the moody nervousness can trigger bouts of severe anxiety in the listener. (Not that the other option is any better; in the six-minute "In Waves", when the band loosens its belt, its flailing doesn't necessarily behoove it.) When the album sticks to its nail-biting anti-pop livewires, it's riveting: the humbling altitude drop at the heart of the moody "Red Drop"; the primal drum pattern and sleigh bells that usher "Play the Part" into low-visibility terrain; the rare acoustic guitars in "Closed Rooms" that add a darker shade to the already autumnal tone; "A Curtain Drawn"'s extended coda sending delay box Morse code to '80s apparitions. Meanwhile, Putnam's lyrics -- when they can be extracted from his mushy mumbling -- make fumbling impressions in the dark, turning ambiguities into mantras, as if "Tell them all what they cannot say" becomes fact the moment it leaves his lips.

Unlike previous albums, the Standard decided to write and record Albatross simultaneously rather than obsess over its minutia. The result is a record that sounds mindful of its own steps -- and, at times, afraid of its own shadow -- but elegantly so; the more it trembles, the more confident it appears. The Standard keeps its choruses on a shorter leash than usual (in fact, traditional "choruses" are scarce within Albatross' walls), instead banking on its songs' inevitable pressure shifts. The dreamy pace of "Not Asleep", which is nearly meditative, is interrupted by changeling piano chords and unexpected handclaps; "Red Drop" tosses a cautious B section into the quickly approaching path of the A section. They're moments that one can both anticipate and be taken aback by -- evidence that if the Standard learned anything from its dramatic studies, it's that often the element of surprise is a perfect fit.

7
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image