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|Death, 50s nostalgia and indie rock collide on Mister Heavenly’s debut LP, Out of Love. It sounds like something hatched in an advertising war room: let’s take sunny 50s pop hooks, dark lyrical themes and a bit of indie rock bombast, mix it together in a totally not lo-fi package and see what the kids think. Well, we think it sounds pretty cool (for something that could have come from an advertising war room).
Who are the ad wizards behind this LP? It’s actually a cast of not-so-familiar names from familiar bands: Modest Mouse’s Joe Plummer, Man Man’s Ryan Kattner and Islands’ Nick Thorburn. The croon-vs-howl vocal interplay between Kattner and Thornburn keep Out of Love afloat, but Plummer’s drumming is the spark that keeps the ship moving. Alas, the obsession with 50s rhythm and melody wears thin by the album’s midpoint and never really recovers. Still, Out of Love is a worthy experiment with some very cool highlights.
Standout Tracks: “Bronx Sniper” is one of the best rock songs we’ve heard this year. Early single “Pineapple Girl” is still one of our favorites. And “the very cool “Reggae Pie” would have been totally awesome if it were two minutes shorter.
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|After their mind-bending, space-aged turn on Kid A (the band’s fourth album, released in 2000), Radiohead was slowly creeping back into rock territory. But on their eighth LP, King of Limbs, the band has shifted back into orbit with a sound more reminiscent of jazzy, cosmic electronica than rock. And while that type of shift can lead to an uneven, jagged object, Limbs is a smooth, dark gem with subtle highlights and a cool glow.
Confusing to fans, critics and retailers alike, King of Limbs is an album without a genre. It falls closer on the music spectrum to Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma than Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, and while everybody says they like it when their favorite music doesn’t easily fit into a category, many people aren’t happy with Radiohead’s Limbs. But that’s the trouble with musicians like Radiohead that act like artists. It’s demanded they defy expectations, and inevitable they will occasionally disappoint.
For me, this makes Radiohead a fun band to watch, but not one that I get too emotionally invested in. So, for me, King of Limbs isn’t a disappointment. I like it. But it’s not an album I’d recommend either.
Radiohead don’t care whether or not you like how King of Limbs sounds. This isn’t pop. Instead, Limbs is an experiment in how far Radiohead can push guitars, bass and drums into the future without totally conceding their jobs to a computer. As most true artistic experiments turn out, King of Limbs is not a hit. There aren’t any block-rocking beats, sing-songy choruses or hit singles. This is a subtle album with a comfortable mood.
Though King of Limbs doesn’t grab you with sticky melodies and bold choruses, it is an easy album to listen to. Highlights include the shuffling, dour “Lotus Flower”, the anxious and melodic “Little By Little” and “Give Up the Ghost”, a beautiful, spacey acoustic ballad where the band sounds about as conventional and accessible as they’re gonna get.
There’s not a bad song on King of Limbs, but after repeated listens, the short, spare LP doesn’t really stick in your head. It passes easily and occupies a space by itself. It’s a lonely, muted expression. And though many people turn to music for something outgoing and bold, Radiohead simply weren’t in that kind of mood when they recorded this album.
||As an EP, eighties-wave atari-electronica guy Com Truise’s Cyanide Sisters works really well (released last year, free download here). As a bonus-tracked LP (released this year), Cyanide Sisters (aka Seth Healy from Princeton, NJ) gets a little repetitive (which is a common challenge in this genre).
But at $5.99 through Amazon.com ($6.99 at iTunes), it’s a pretty good deal. And if you’re not familiar with the eighties atari electronica that’s been slowly emerging from the chillwave movement (see Toro y Moi’s first album, Washed Out and Neon Indian), this is a reasonable entry point (though not as strong as Ford and Lopatin‘s 2010 EP released under the name “Games“).
Cyanide Sisters starts on stable footing with the title track and “Sundriped”, but by the time you get to the third song, “Basf Ace”, it’s hard to distinguish between the songs you’ve heard (with the exception of some slight tempo changes). But things start cooking with “Slow Peels” and hit their stride with the lush, melodic “lwywaw” and swaggering “Norkuy”.
On the album’s closing third, the bonus tracks, Com Truise maintains the flow, but doesn’t break any new ground. However, you’ll want to stay tuned for “Space Dust”, which is one of the albums highlights and the song on Cyanide Sisters that most closely resembles the chill wave movement of yore.
|Expectations were high for Cut Copy’s third studio release, Zonoscope. It’s the followup to 2008′s commercial and critical success, the mad killer, In Ghost Colors. The pressure was on, and unfortunately the band came up short.
On In Ghost Colors, Cut Copy masterfully combined dance pop, rock and rave-techno components, and glossed it with a bold sheen of 80s style. It was an inspired, swaggering amphetamine that wowed critics and had kids dancing their brains out. High score.
Enter Zonoscope. Once again, Cut Copy brings a familiar set of tools to the table (dance rhythms, rock beats, pop structures and psychedelic rave textures), but they’re dulled and worn on Zonoscope, creating a monochromatic, ordinary object. It’s as though Cut Copy is trying to reinvent themselves by dialing down all the settings on the television: tint, brightness, color and contrast. What they should have done is tossed out the television, bought an LCD screen and cranked all the setting up.
The first three songs are hard to get through. The laid-back vocal textures that sounded so ironic, so cool in the high-voltage setting of In Ghost Colors range from boring to bad in the drab confines of Zonoscope. And the synths range from unnoticed to annoying (especially the keyboard stabs in “Take Me Over” that recall Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”… ugh). Probably the worst song on the first half of the album is the jock jam-inspired “Where I’m Going”. (See what I mean?)
Things do warm up a bit at “Pharaohs and Pyramids” (a decent, 80s-washed new wave pop song) and the band seems to hit a gentle boil at “Blink and You’ll Miss A Revolution”. But neither of these songs would have made the cut on In Ghost Colors.
The best part of the album is the final act. “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” is a slow-rolling, stylish slice of synthpop. On “Corner of the Sky”, a mid-tempo dance cut, the band finally shows a flash of the inspiration present on In Ghost Colors. And “Sun God”, probably the best track on the album, revolves around a swaggering, pounding beat layered with psychedelic synth textures and bold, crawling keyboard riffs. Unfortunately, “Sun God” is the last song on the album (Will anybody still be listening?) and it clocks in at 15 minutes (So if listeners haven’t already tuned out, they will by the 11 or 12-minute mark).
Zonosocpe isn’t horrible. It’s just an ordinary album with the unfortunate task of following up one of the best albums of the last ten years. Cut Copy will recover from this. They’re talented artists that have been in the game for a decade. Now that the pressure of following up In Ghost Colors is out of the way, I’m very curious to hear what they come up with next.
Standout Tracks: “Corner of the Sky”, “Hanging onto Every Heartbeat”, “Sun God”
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