Catching Up (Albums from Spring/Summer 2012) Part I
“Catching Up” is a feature where we attempt to make up for the sin of getting buried in promo emails by writing a few sentences about some of the stuff that has left an impression of the last couple months but hasn’t made its way into a post of its own. Today I am catching up on the new stuff from bands that mostly are well covered, but each left just enough of a dent in my brain to warrant a few sentences on a post such as this. Some I couldn’t ignore because I really liked it, others I couldn’t ignore because it was a surprise, while others were pretty epic disappointments. Forgive the brevity and dig some (relatively) new music.
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
Like a more indie focused AC/DC, Japandroids are a band that write music that hits in such a visceral way that it almost feels like it should be a guilty pleasure. I was worried after the resounding success of their breakout LP Post-Nothing that the band would coast forward on a wave that never again reach the heights of their major label debut, but their recent LP Celebration Rock puts those worries to bed. From the frantic and euphoric riffs of “Younger Us” and “The House that Heaven Built” to the stunning (almost) ballad “Continuous Thunder,” the band prove without a doubt that Post-Nothing was no fluke.
Instrumental music takes many forms, but venturing into textured, almost classic rock sounds is not the most common avenue for bands to take. Blues Control’s latest LP, Valley Tangents, out now on Drag City, is a warm and organic adventure from this ventern noise/instrumental group. “Gypsum” has a noodling feel to it, sounding almost like a wonked out version of the Charlie Brown theme, while “Iron Pigs” is a fine example of controlled chaos, with sounds collapsing from every angle in a perfect mess. Valley Tangents is a collection that manages to feel both comfortable and worn in without losing its adventorous edge.
If you are looking for a soundtrack to your next mushroom fueled excursion through an enchanted forest, I have just the soundtrack for you. With no reservations about stripping the sound down to the bare bones, Dolphins Into the Future (Lieven Martens) create the kind of new age synth music that sprouts colors and scents with its minimalist but vivid sound collages. An album that is conversely easy to absorb and sonically challenging, Canto Arquipélago definitely isn’t for everyone, but could be just the tunes for the more, shall we say, free spirited amongst us. If you buy the ticket, give yourself a quite room and enter with an open mind, as this record isn’t going to fit next to most anything else you will be listening to.
Either a) I was giving Big K.R.I.T a pass because he was an “underground” rapper on his self released mixtapes b) he really has changed on his major label debut or c) I really missed something from the point where I was a big fan of his to my near disgust with his Live from the Underground LP. On his first “real” album, the K.R.I.T beats, which on his mixtapes were some of the best in the last few years, feel mailed in and more interested in hooks than the soulful, thick groove that he had created in the past. Even worse is the change from someone who, while not being Dead Prez or Pharaohe Monch, seemed above having a song with Ludacris extolling the need for women to get on his dick. It is embarrassing, especially for an artist who seemed to have already proven that he was above that shit, but I guess his inner teenager was excited about a record deal and decided to go that route. One of the biggest musical disappointments of the year for me.
With LCD Soundsystem gone for good, Hot Chip are clearly the next in line for the indie-dance throne. Luckily their latest effort, In Our Heads, is as good as anything in their incredibly solid back catalog and proves them more than worthy for the title. Frontman Alexis Taylor’s blue eyed electro soul is as buoyant and spirited as ever on the record, with the band producing some of the most concise and funky material it has to date. The songs seem to burst with colors while other “electronic” bands are barley able to seem human. The band have succeed again with their delicate, and impressive, walk bringing together soul, R&B and Electronic dance music. I hope LCD Soundsystem do come back, but if not, Hot Chip seem more than able to keep the flame (or glow stick) burning.
R.I.P is the latest sonic adventure from London DJ/producer Darren Cunningham (aka Actress). The record is an exercise in minimalist, restrained electronic music. The 15 songs on the record are subdued yet intense, with the faint beat pulsing through the record at just enough pace to keep it alive, without ever devolving into the cliques that can come from a standard electronic/IDM record. The record straddles the line, and probably going completely into, the territory of ambient music, but the fuzzy tones and the dreamy walls of sound never come close to losing your attention. Another album that isn’t for the faint or heart (nor the short of attention), but it is well worth finding yourself immersed in the hypnotic sounds of R.I.P.
I am glad I didn’t know what the VC & MG stood for before hearing Ssss (it is the initials of Vince Clarke of early Depeche Mode + Yaz +Erasure and Martin Gore of the more famous iteration of Depeche Mode). If I had known, I would have taken my bias against Depeche Mode and would have quickly turned my nose away from this record, which would have been a shame. Doubling down on the strong house/techno sound that the band apparently toyed with early in their career (all I know is the arena rock stuff), Ssss is a take-no-prisoners, Sherman’s March to the dancefloor album that doesn’t hold back for one second. The record is in your face, so willing to layer lush synths with block rocking beats that it was hard to resist. It is a fun, spirited record that makes even me, not a fan of the genre, want to get out on the dance floor. Ssss is, to me, proof that if you are going to do something, your best chance is a devil may care attitude and a willingness to go all out. Ssss done to any degree less than what became the final product would be cheesy and a letdown, which is far from the amazing collection that these two old timers put together.