Four years after the belated Valentine’s-Day-gift-turned-hyped-EP Chunk of Change, the formation of a five member band, a charming debut LP (Manners) and popularity and adoration that have made them household names (more like apartment/loft for the young and hip), Michael Angelakos has a lot to be proud of regarding his electro-pop project Passion Pit. But what he has in store for their second release, Gossamer, is anything but congenial. As a matter of fact, this just might be the saddest pop album of the year.
Right now in indie music, artists creating hybrids of diverse styles is becoming the norm. St. Vincent, Death Grips and The Weeknd are merely a few who’ve developed careers and influence by smashing two distinctly different genres together with a certain finesse, in the process making remarkable art that was previously inconceivable. Of course, there are subtler forms of this and that’s where you’ll find Passion Pit. With sugary, rock candy-esque pop jams and troubled lyrics about complicated love, Manners proved to be an album of authentic, delectable synth-pop with surprisingly profound lyrical thought. And in a sense, the same can be said of Gossamer. Their latest, however, covers a heap of darker, more mature issues with an incontrovertibly more defined agenda to get Angelakos’feelings across; the album would benefit from some clarity.
Many critics noted a certain post-success of Manners, and how unappreciated its brooding and stressed emotional nature was due to the glossy and infectious pop arrangements. That notion is of more concern to me on Gossamer than it was on Manners. It’s not like Passion Pit make any sacrifice with their loving pop-craft, and the same goes for their anxious lyricism. Yet, as most people listen, the pop is clearly going to come first, and if that’s all they get out of a song on Gossamer, that’s just fine. Also, in that scope, Gossamer plays as a lesser and forgettable record when juxtaposed to past efforts. There’s obvious influence from new wave ’70s/’80s radio pop, but it tends to stick less when you’re used to the more original college-rock-gone-synth-pop hybrid found on Manners. The challenge of separating the pop from the emotional weight of Angelakos’ psyche becomes tougher considering how cohesively they work on Gossamer. On tracks from Manners like “Moth’s Wings” and “Seaweed Song”, the differentiation was easily made; easily heard, piercing lyrics made clear the unsettling sadness Angelakos’ poetry had to offer. Songs on Gossamer like “I’ll Be Alright” or “Carried Away” obscure that moroseness, and without a sheet of lyrics, you’d never know it. There are certain moments where it is more obvious; the intro, “Mirrored Sea” or the closer “Where We Belong,” where Passion Pit shifts gears to make pop music that sounds more stressed, all show signs. But a full play-through of Gossamer wouldn’t let on to what’s really going on inside, and that’s a shame.
When examined closely, Gossamer can be a gorgeously studded record with harrowing tales of depression and abuse, but it doesn’t let on easily, and my primary concern is exactly that. Gossamer would be a true winner had it contained with the elegant accentuation of Manners. Passion Pit is certainly growing in all the right ways artistically, but Gossamer illustrates that it is not easy to build art out of clashing ideas.
For the past three years, moonlit drum circles and hippie singalongs on beaches and college campuses alike have kept the magic of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros alive from sea to shining sea. Their debut LP, Up from Below, proved to be one of the most darling efforts in reviving indie freak folk and it reached popular circulation, sparking current generations to mimic those joys, emboldened with glamorized ’60s hippie wonderment. While Edward Sharpe has garnered all it could with endless “aw-shucks”-isms and retro appeal, their real challenge comes with their sophomore album, Here, which offers new artistic directions while simultaneously renewing their previous set of songs with an updated spirituality.
In an old Nick Hornby essay about Nelly Furtado’s ”I’m Like a Bird” (find it in his book “Songbook”), he defended well-crafted pop music from the scrutiny the genre receives from music snobs, altogether stating that songs like “I’m Like a Bird” have their worth as interesting and, frankly, fun pieces of music; entertainment and enlightenment can come hand in hand, as much as people shy away from that fact. This circumstantial argument also applies to Edward Sharpe’s popularity, especially their prized badge song: “Home”. Sometimes, the higher you stick your nose in the air, the more you’re missing out on the magic.
In a sense, that’s the approach some will have to take when listening to Here as a whole. Spanning only nine songs, Edward Sharpe maintain their twinkled, dollop o’ honey-esque sweetness with their bucolic instrumentation and slightly seasoned, denser subject matter. The album inadvertently runs the risk of being pigeon-holed by listeners opposed to simpler, more accessible folk-pop tunes. Much like M. Ward’s recent A Wasteland Companion or Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls, Here falls under the same strain of records that base their appeal off of a nearly interactive experience: what makes this album great is up to you. The artist has drawn out a blueprint, laid out the tools, and given you the choice of building your own meta-physical creation out it. I don’t mean that in the same way people love a Dave Matthews Band or Phish record or in the same way one could decipher an ambient or post-rock album. It’s unfair to label a group like Edward Sharpe, who constantly try to be loved and understood in a myriad of ways. They’re not interested in putting themselves out there to be judged, scrutinized, or nit-picked. Whether its the cheery best-friend romantics of “That’s What’s Up” or the tactfully spiritual “Dear Believer”, their intent is to be very personal, as if there isn’t an artistic statement to be made, but more of a kindred interaction between you and the audio. They might be on the other side of the stage, but on Here, all Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros want to do is sit next to you, watch the sunset, and understand life a little bit more with you.
As Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr. digs into the pop-friendly realm of blistering self-assessment where the only obvious method is to pump out insanely engaging, dance-friendly numbers. Throughout Confess, listeners aren’t sure whether to root for Lewis or hope he’ll just stop investing in unrequited love. Regardless, his latest record sees him getting over his humble debut album, Forget, as an electronic star with a predisposition to bad decisions.
Throughout Confess, he is thematically bound to his own heart and how it may affect others. On “Five Seconds,” he sings on the chorus, “Five seconds in your heart/Straight to the heart/I can’t get to your heart.” Much of the song is concerned with his heart, your heart, and the absolute impossibility of getting into either. “Five Seconds” has been in heavy rotation across music sites this summer and the biggest reason is his delivery; the pure frustration when he belts, “That’s no way to get it on” is a side of Twin Shadow that hasn’t yet been fully explored. His obsession with lust and romance comes genuinely from his persona, seen on the cover wearing a leather jacket and come-hither demeanor. However, he follows “Five Seconds” with “Run My Heart” where he sings “You don’t run my heart/So don’t you dare,” and he seems too preoccupied by the word “heart.” Also, while frequently singing about love, he continually dismisses his feelings. In “Golden Light” he sings “Some people say there’s a golden light/You’re the golden light/And if I chase after you/Doesn’t mean that it’s true.” This is not to suggest poor songwriting on his part, just that Twin Shadow as a persona is fundamentally flawed and repeatedly brings himself to the brink of affection, but reserves just enough gusto to pull himself away at the last second.
Confess has given Lewis a chance to develop songs further than Forget, which was much more synth-heavy, featuring vocals that were slightly warped. “Golden Light” plays around with some steel drums, featuring a return to the quiet-verse and loud-chorus method that worked so well on “Five Seconds”; thankfully the approach doesn’t feel gimmicky. “The One” sounds like a Morrissey collaboration with Depeche Mode. The change in his inflection to fit the down-tempo beat and the overall sound keeps with his previous work in the New Wave genre. As the track blossoms, he assumes the same vocal style of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and the purpose of his confusing display of impersonations becomes difficult to pin-down. “I Don’t Care” sounds eerily similar to One Republic’s “Apologize,” but only because of the piano and, thankfully, less because of Lewis’ performance. His music adheres to a genre of his own creation, which appears to be a collage of sounds from the 80s. “Beg For The Night” ends with a sweet guitar solo accompanied by Lewis’ crooning and sweeping synths. What I like most about Twin Shadow is that, though he’s not the strongest vocalist, he absolutely devotes himself to his melodies and never falters from being a hopeless romantic in the process.
Twin Shadow comes across as an old soul, touching on timeless concepts such as waiting home alone on a Friday night or being together because it’s the summer. Confess gives insight to the complex life of Twin Shadow, heavily emphasizing tortured love songs. We’re fortunate that he’s complex enough to avoid outright happiness and write an album that shows notable growth and development.
The term “Celebration Rock” comes across as less of a title or even a genre and more like a location: a chunk of stone hurtling through space on which the sweatiest and loudest basement show is perpetually thrown throughout the ages. Japandroids are no strangers to this genre of traditional garage rock, especially when they were first starting out in Vancouver, British Columbia. They found it difficult to break into a tight-knit local scene so they spent a lot of their time setting up house shows and adhering to the kind of DIY lifestyle that inherently fuels bands with bombastic performances. Celebration Rock, their third album, is similar to their older material, but everything seems tighter and more defined.
On the album-opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” they sing “Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do,” and I can’t help but appreciate their honesty and avoidance of coming across as anything but themselves. In hindsight, “The House That Heaven Built” was an odd single for them to release because it isn’t necessarily the best track on the record but when each song goes in the same general direction it’s hard to distinguish which is best. “Adrenaline Nightshift” is perhaps the most accessible song on the album; it balances a simple melody with a drunken sing-a-long chorus to truly emulate the feeling of an audience in a live concert setting. “Continuous Thunder” closes out the album with the most guarded sound, slowing the infinite party to examine some honest concerns. They sing, “If I had all of the answers/And you had the body you wanted/Would we love with a legendary fire?” with the same conviction as their other songs, making them seem like real thoughts, not just artistic license. But, it’s not like Celebration Rock just simply ends. The final track leads into the first track, suggesting a cyclical nature to the record. The record begins with the sound of fireworks in a celebratory atmosphere, but after listening through a few times, the fireworks toward the end sound like the amps fizzling out as the show ends.
Celebration Rock has an unusual quality that fully encompass pit-stained rock without totally falling into a stereotype. Their “whoa-oh”s are all in-order, the song structures are generally similar, every song has basically the same tempo, but nothing feels ornamental. The pure energy within these thirty-five minutes carries this album beyond any other purpose than living in the immediate now as you make your way through the passive, motionless crowd to meet your new friends in the pulsing mosh-pit. Celebration Rock may seem youthful in its seemingly simplistic approach, but everything else about it cries out against becoming a fully-fledged adult with responsibilities.
Secluded for the better part of the last year, the London quintet, Zulu Winter, wrote and recorded their debut album, with little to no wrap up, outside two tremendously popular singles, “Never Leave” and “Let’s Move Back to Front”, followed by “We Should Be Swimming”. They received the typical accolades that incur dozens of comparisons to contemporaries, some more warranted than others. With a list of influences and references as distinct as Armenian director Sergei Parajanov and Alice Coltrane, it’s hard to know what to make of the final product, Language. Frontman Will Daunt leads the band with his falsetto vocals and penchant for xylophones, albeit with little innovation, continuing the argument that Zulu Winter might not be completely living up to their potential.
Claimed as the umpteenth “new Vaccines”, it’s natural for the hype machine to go on overdrive with Zulu Winter, especially when nearly every blog reviews and artist’s first work, even if it’s only been months since their formation. Going on small tour with similar acts Clock Opera and Outfit, then venturing to America at the early part of this year, they kept their album completely under wraps outside of the few tracks they played on the road. Opening for the massively popular band Keane, they opened themselves up to comparisons won’t stop anytime soon. The restrictive nature of being a “buzz band” seemingly took its toll, and the pressure to continue on their current route was overwhelming, but the music still contains a certain appeal, even if it’s to an audience of mainstream pop fans.
The opener, “Key To My Heart” starts off with Afrobeat percussion and droning field recordings, alluding to a grandiose spirit that never quite arrives. Not a bad song, but the song never evolves into what it promised. “We Should Be Swimming” is a great step up, with throbbing bass that could be played on any dance floor on both sides of the Atlantic, but again it doesn’t live up to expectations. The songs that follow (“Bitter Moon” through “Silver Tongue”) continue on the same vein. The first single “Let’s Move Back to Front”, provides something different. It has a strong Morrissey influence; there’s no other way to describe such macabre lyrics delivered in such a delighted manner.
I suppose I’m mostly baffled at the lack of experimentation, the likes of which they had alluded to in interviews and articles I’ve read over the past few months. Despite the various mixtapes they posted to their blog or the mentions of musical influences such as Bradford Cox, the crisp, detailed, run-of-the-mill nature of their production proved much to the contrary. While I enjoyed most of the album, I couldn’t differentiate where the aforementioned influences started and where the lofty contemporary sound ended. From the heap of sound, the best comparison I can draw is to English indie rock band Wild Beasts, but again, this band’s biggest detriment is their lack of identity; I can only draw comparisons and cite obvious influences.
While the record has its various flaws, and I have my various reservations, Zulu Winter have assembled a well-crafted first effort. It’s easy to take offense at failure to deliver on their promises and ambitions, especially with a band whose reputation precedes them so much as Zulu Winter, but despite its various shortcomings Language has an underlining groundwork for something more inspired.
It’s part of the band’s story that’s rarely seen, but when I first stumbled upon them last year, Baltimore’s Lands & Peoples had shifted from the wide-eyed foursome of their SXSW days (only just a few months before) to a somewhat more nebulous and mysteriously undefined incarnation. Through an email (mostly sent out of curiosity), I discovered Lands & Peoples had whittled itself down to a twosome and were experimenting more, and it seems they succeeded at finding an absolutely riveting new setup. If you haven’t seen the duo live, it’s a thing of real beauty: a conglomerate of electronics, like a rack of synthesizers, are set up across from each other, accompanied by pedals galore. Guitars and basses are frequently handed off; a drum kit is sometimes struck while standing – it’s all entrancingly complex and yet on Pop Guilt, the group’s debut full length, there’s an intricacy of an entirely different sort. Perhaps that’s because at the time of Pop Guilt’s initial inception, Lands & Peoples were still a four-piece with a full cast of various talented people in tow.
The swooping, craning clarinet in “Ukulele” and the fullness of sound of “In Living Color” are luxuries Lands & Peoples no longer have access to as a duo, but still contain unshakable elements of the band’s core sound, much like the utter emotive power of Caleb Moore and Beau Cole’s vocals. “Ghosts” is the only obvious remnant of the foursome to carry over into the duo’s new sound, and it serves as another reminder of the boys’ vocal chops; sudden changes in mood and bursts of emotion pretty much define the track.
Despite the fact that the duo might not feasibly be able to recreate the bulk of it live (at least not without some hefty creative changes), Pop Guilt is an album where the duo’s origins can be clearly seen. Album opener “Three Shots” is just the sort of percussion-heavy jam-centric experimental piece you’d be likely to hear a recent show. The perfect beginning of “I Tried” builds a cluster of highly percussive effects – there’s fleeting chime hits, claps, staccato-bass riffs; it all sets the stage for one of the most bewilderingly catchy melodies on the album as Caleb Moore croons about all the things he’d do for love. “Don’t” captures the rapturous harmonies the duo have pretty much made their standard before launching into a rather bombastic and distinct b-section. The song ultimately settles into a deep bass groove with all the other parts flittering, fluttering, and noodling around it.
So, why release an album of songs they can’t resurrect in their live set? Pop Guilt gives us a glimpse into a rather interesting part of the band’s history. It also gives longtime fans a sense of closure, as well as proving that even in their earlier days, Lands & Peoples still knew how to combine memorable, singable pop melodies, and just the right amount of unexpected twists and turns to make each listen as enriching as the first. So as Lands & Peoples gets more comfortable with their latest arrangement and tightens up, branches out, and otherwise expands their exceptionally distinctive skill set, Pop Guilt will remain a notable benchmark of the band’s skill as purveyors of radically unique yet charming, ear-catching pop. It’s certainly a tough effort to beat, but the band will no doubt surpass it, given their proven inventiveness and talent.
Metric went big last time around. Fantasies,the band’s fourth album, was “all about pushing [Metric] out into the world”, in the words of lead singer Emily Haines, and boy did it succeed in that respect: the glossy, unashamedly poppy album garnered commercial success that matched its critical acclaim, despite not being released on a label, and the band even picked up a couple of Juno awards and some spots on a few movie soundtracks off the back of it. Metric show no intention of shrinking from this newly earned spotlight on Synthetica, another collection of almost brazenly accessible guitar and synth pop tunes that have been polished to a shine.
The album’s title is suggestive of its tech theme. Perhaps surprisingly for a band whose online presence is a considerable factor in its success and whose songwriting featured in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a movie whose aesthetic was almost entirely informed by digital culture, Metric’s attitude towards the internet age is not all that positive. The title track frames connectivity as an addiction that quashes individuality – “We’re all the time confined to fit the mould” – and presents an attempt at escape: “Hey, I’m not synthetica/I’ll keep the life that I’ve got.” The struggle against the encroachments of technology may not be the most original theme, but it’s somewhat arresting to hear it coming from Metric specifically.
That being said, this struggle doesn’t pervade the lyrics of the album as much as its title might suggest, and it’s telling that the song “Synthetica” is relegated to a lowly eighth on the album’s track list and finishes somewhat abruptly once its angry rallying cry has been delivered. Album opener “Artificial Nocturne”, however, is given plenty of time to expand and is thematically much closer to Metric’s norm: Haines’ usual lyrical melodrama is present right from the typically blunt first line – “I’m as fucked up as they say”. Her open-ended angst is, after a reverberating intro that could well serve as the crowd silencing opener of many a future Metric gig, eventually grounded by some super tight instrumentation. The song thickens and demonstrates all of the sonic expansiveness that made Metric sound so noticeably bigger on Fantasies, but it’s not indulgent: no instrument feels out of place.
This combination of morose lyrics and incredibly tight, crowd ready tunes is really what defines Synthetica. That’s not to say that every song on Synthetica sounds the same: “Clone” is a disarmingly sweet song on an album that, lyrically though not sonically, is for the most part a pretty gloomy affair, even on the suspiciously cute sounding “Lost Kitten”. Then, of course, there’s Lou Reed’s shaky cameo on “The Wanderlust”, which is certainly something different. I’m not the first person to express bafflement at his presence on this album and I certainly won’t be the last.
These tracks do bring a little breadth to proceedings, but its Synthetica’sresolutely pop-oriented first half that really shines. “Youth Without Youth”, “Speed The Collapse” and “Breathing Underwater” all have a little something of Placebo about them; Haines’ vocals occasionally have a certain irritating twang to them, but any potential objection to this is overcome by the sheer catchiness of these tunes. You will almost certainly find yourself singing along.
So while Synthetica isn’t a one note album,the note that Metric play most is also the one they play best. Here’s hoping Metric keep aiming for a bigger sound, for those of us who like our pop music to be huge but our pop stars to be grounded.
Cults’ debut, released in June, is one of my favorite albums of the year. The New York duo share a lot of common traits with Colorado band South Of France, so understandably, I’m really digging their debut, “Kings EP”.
The band’s origins revolved around music, as the duo, long time friends multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeff Cormack and singer Emily Ashley would sit around, listening to music and making CDs for each other. That is, until the day Emily brought a song she had written to Jeff that she wanted to him to produce. The song impressed the producer, who, after completing it decided that it would fit nicely amongst the songs he was working on and the two decided to form a band.
The result is the second track on the EP, “Reflections and Shadow Casting”, a tune that, after a seemingly upbeat opening, turns sombre for a small intro and then hits its stride just past the 30 second mark, when the drums kick in and both voices sing in unison. Musically, it sounds like something Cults’ might have put together, with male-female interplay and voices slathered in reverb and noise that evoke the sounds of the ’50s and ’60s while sounding very much present day.
The strength of the EP comes in its consistency. At just three songs, all roughly the same length, the songs flow incredibly well, and have just enough variation to keep things interesting. Opener “Kings” comes is much more upbeat than the other two, presenting a straight-up pop song in which voices trade off until the chorus, where Cormack takes charge, leaving his female counterpart to background “oooh’s” which add just the right amount of color.
The closing track “Ghost Rider” opens with a guitar riff that becomes a motif for the song and would not be out of place on a surf-pop record (in fact, it reminds me of a song that I can’t quite place). The song is layered with handclaps, the noise/reverb combination I mentioned earlier, and incredibly catchy melodies that make the tune hit all the right spots.
One thing the band should keep in mind for the future is to let their own voice shine through, because the EP’s biggest fault is that it teeters on the copycat line at times. The tunes are good, but are sometimes lacking in a bit of originality, considering how recent the Cults album is.
The band’s influences strike me as varying from the usual clichés up-and-coming artists usually name (note to those seeking coverage: classics are great, but they’re overdone, seek something new), and list Peter, Bjorn and John, Arcade Fire, Beach House, Cults, Sleigh Bells or Tame Impala as such.
A common factor among those bands is that they all created and insane amount of buzz when they started and were able to follow through with solid debut efforts (I personally don’t like Sleigh Bells, but our editors considered it the best album of last year, so that’s saying something). I’m just hoping South Of France’s debut, which will be completed by the end of January, follows suit. I’m looking forward to it.
[Listen/Download] - Afrojack - “Replica” (Daft Punk Vs. Yelle Vs. Katy Perry Vs. Bloc Party Vs. Major Lazer)
This post is a “QuickPick”. QuickPicks are my attempt at getting all of the music that’s sent to me that I like (or just music I like but have no words for because it’s so awesome), out into the dubya dots.
Any time I get sent music that I like I “star” it in Gmail and then go back and listen to it a day later. If it’s still as good as it was a day before then it goes up on the site, but sometimes I get backlogged and can’t get through writing up pieces for each artist and stay on top of the game, so hopefully this will alleviate some of the logs of rear. You’ll still get the MP3s, pictures, links and fresh fruit that you’ve come to know and love around here, you’ll just get less of my inarticulate musings (win for you!).
Afrojack - “Replica” (Daft Punk Vs. Yelle Vs. Katy Perry Vs. Bloc Party Vs. Major Lazer)
I’ve been looking for this for a few days now and I knew it was only a matter of time.
We’ve seen it time and time again this year, days or weeks before an album is released a song is either sent to radio stations and played before it’s meant to be, or it’s leakedand radio stations play it thinking it’s a legit release, only for the song to be removed from their site, or even when one of the new Sufjan Stevens tracks was played on Norwegian radio and the radio rip was flying around, Asthmatic Kitty then released a high quality version.
So here’s another taster (radio rip unfortunately) of what’s to come from the new Kings Of Leon album, out in about two weeks or so and called “Come Around Sundown”. I gotta say that even though I’ve been a huge fan for years now, they seem to be getting a bit pretentious, but maybe that’s just me.
Buy “Come Around Sundown”
Kings Of Leon - “The Immortals”