Sunday, April 12, 2009

New, noteworthy, forthcoming, etc.

There’s been an astonishing amount of new music released in the past few weeks, so I’ve written my longest blog post ever in an attempt to make sense of (some of) it all.

“Daniel” by Bat for Lashes (a.k.a. Natasha Khan) is my favorite song of the moment. Kate Bush comparisons are apt (and based on the merits of this song Khan is perhaps the first proper heir to the Kate Bush throne since Tori Amos), but there’s a certain romanticism here that’s been absent from too much of pop music since the 80s. One almost expects Khan to start imitating Concrete Blonde and singing about teenage vampires. Daniel, when I first saw you I knew that you had a flame in your heart… I haven’t been so in love since “Kim and Jessie” in April 2008 or “The Magic Position” in April 2007.

It should be obvious by now that the Pet Shop Boys will never make bad music, but I’m still a bit surprised by the lyrical sharpness and musical sophistication of some of the songs from their new album Yes.

Score! 20 Years of Merge Records is a new covers compilation celebrating the label’s unexpected success and longevity. Any number of its tracks might pique your interest, but I only have ears for The Magnetic Fields’ “Yeah! Oh Yeah!” as interpreted by Tracey Thorn (of Everything But the Girl) and Jens Lekman (of Jens Lekman). It’s not as funny as the original, but it is appropriately morose and very well sung.

[listen] Score! 20 Years of Merge Records

Merge superstars Superchunk have new material for the first time in 8 years, on a just-released EP called Leaves in the Gutter. After such a long absence, you’d expect they’ve either mellowed with age (though singer Mac McCaughan has recently been as giddy as ever with his other band Portastatic) or have returned to announce their continued vitality. Thank God it’s the latter.

[listen] Superchunk - Leaves in the Gutter

During a recent performance at the Varsity Theater, Bob Mould claimed that “I’m Sorry Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Anymore,” from his new album Life and Times, is the best song he’s written in years. It’s not even as good as the other two I’ve heard from Life and Times, but it does feature that earnest Mouldian sentimentalism that I love so much.

Youth Group should be as beloved as Death Cab for Cutie, but despite soundtrack appearances on The OC and elsewhere, they seem doomed to semi-obscurity. Sadly, no Alphaville covers are to be found on their new The Night Is Ours, but they’re still in love with the 80s.

[mp3] Youth Group - "All This Will Pass"

Peter Bjorn & John already defied expectations for the follow-up to 2006’s breakthrough Writer’s Block by releasing a breezy instrumental album last year, so now they’re free to do anything they want on the new Living Thing.

[mp3] Peter Bjorn & John - "Living Thing"

Micachu & The Shapes, in the manner of Los Campesinos!, create music of purposeful messiness that makes Pavement look like a traditional rock ‘n’ roll band in hindsight. The new Jewellery is hit-or-miss, but some of it really hits.

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (a.k.a. Owen Ashworth) has a song called "Missoula" on new rarities compilation Advance Base Battery Life and another called "Northfield MN" on new album proper Vs. Children. It seems he's closing in on me, but it's easy to take comfort in his songs even if you don't call those places home.

[listen] Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - "Man O' War" and more

The Kingsbury Manx have been making shady (by which I mean sunny) pop music since the outset of the 00s, and they continue to do so on the new Ascenseur Ouvert!, where they sound as mellifluously serene and unassuming as The Clientele (or perhaps a bit less assuming).

[listen] The Kingsbury Manx - "Well, Whatever" and more

I will always love Emily Haines best for the haunting vocals and piano playing on her solo debut Knives Don’t Have Your Back, but she always has a lot of propulsive synth-pop to get out of her system, and she’s revived her band Metric to record some of it on the new Fantasies.

[mp3] Metric - "Gold Guns Girls"

Most ex-punk rockers end up playing country music in their middle age, and John Doe & The Sadies are no exception. Doe was the leader of the great Los Angeles punk band X, and The Sadies have previously served as the backing band for The Mekons’ Jon Langford. They sound like they’ve finally found happiness on the new Country Club.

The Sleepover Disaster are a shoegazing band from Fresno, California. That’s not an oxymoron; maybe only in smoggy Fresno could they have conceived a music so beautifully dense. They sound a great deal like late 80s/early 90s British shoegaze wunderkinds Kitchens of Distinction, but a band doesn’t reach Sleepover Disaster’s level of ear-bleeding delirium purely through imitation. I’m a bit behind the times in selling the merits of Hover (released in February), but better late than never.

[mp3] The Sleepover Disaster - "Funnel Cloud," "Friend," and more

Gliss play a sort of shoegazing/garage rock hybrid on the new Devotion Implosion, or maybe they’re just continually rewriting “Just Like Honey.” I’ve noted before that the best shoegazing and dream pop bands are the ones with the most appropriate band, album and song names. Gliss… Hover… Funnel Cloud… there’s been no shortage recently.

[mp3] Gliss - "Morning Light"

If James Yogurt was right, Obits might be a godsend. They’re a new Sub Pop band that cares nothing for self-introspection; on I Blame You, they want only to rock (in a classic Sub Pop way, I mean).

[mp3] Obits - "Fake Kinkade"

When Liner Notes went to press, I hadn’t actually listened much to Kingdom of Rust by Doves, but I can now say the following continues to be true: they’ve built for themselves a remarkably consistent body of work.

The Courteeners released their debut St. Jude last year, and on their recent tour opening for Morrissey they seem to be doing everything in their power to gain an audience in the U.S. (giant banner, perfectly timed jacket removals, merch table plug, etc.). Their brand of Brit-pop is a bit generic, but last Monday at the State Theater singer Liam Fray reached such a peak of emotional intensity during the chorus of standout “Please Don’t” that you could believe they’re in it for more than the money.

[watch] The Courteeners - "Please Don't"

After their merely good debut album failed to deliver on the promise of their first two brilliant EPs, Voxtrot went into hiding, and have now reemerged with the song “Trepanation Party.” The way they’re aping the 80s might seem desperate, but they pull it off beautifully, thanks to those booming drums (which could stand to be a bit more booming).

[mp3] Voxtrot - "Trepanation Party"

Crystal Stilts might never change. Digital single “Love is a Wave” is another sludgy pop delight.

[mp3] Crystal Stilts - "Love is a Wave"

One can’t expect The Mary Onettes to have another set of heavenly melodies so soon after their sparkling 2007 debut, so the new 3-song EP Dare is a much more modest offering, both in terms of length and catchiness. Still, its 12 minutes are ethereal and pretty and demonstrate again that though they sound like the great 80s pop band that never was, they have a style distinctly their own.

[listen] The Mary Onettes - "Dare" and more

Maximo Park released what might be my favorite debut album of the decade, A Certain Trigger, in 2005, and then seemed to lose a good deal of their energy (though none of their loudness) on follow-up Our Earthly Pleasures. The two leaked tracks from forthcoming Quicken the Heart promise good things, if not a return to past greatness (one wonders why singer Paul Smith wants to blend in with the band now, rather than lead the way with his expressive and acrobatic vocals). Lead single “The Kids Are Sick Again” sounds a bit shapeless at first, but then reaches a synth-fueled glory at the 2:30 mark that reveals the preceding minutes as perfectly planned buildup. Good stuff.


Blogger Esha said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:09 AM  
Blogger aaron said...

jesus dude! this is to blog posts what "emancipation" is to prince albums. anyways:

•i heard that bat for lashes song a few times before i realized how good it is, which is pretty.

•"earnest mouldian sentimentalism" is the name of my new band

•pb&j song sucks

•the first track on the metric album is a lot cooler, i think:

•is the opening drum part of "morning light" a quotation of "just like honey" or "be my baby"?

•fuck kinkade, bands should drink the real thing

11:24 PM  
Blogger Geoff said...

I think of it as the Lotus Flow3r of blog posts.

-I heard that Bat for Lashes song a few seconds before it changed my life irrevocably

-I like the PB&J song, though the critical consensus is otherwise

-Agreed about the other Metric song, way catchy and way stuck in my head after recently hearing it no less than three times from the glorious WMCN monitors--chart it Aaron!

6:59 PM  

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