Category Archives: New Releases, 2012

Add some music to your day #16: Four Very Important Records (June 2012)

Four personally significant new records dropped in a three-week stretch near the end of spring 2012, sort of my musical equivalent of a solar eclipse. No small potatoes, these. Ex-Blue Niler Paul Buchanan is my favourite singer from the 1980s. Saint Etienne is my favourite band since 1990. I think Beach House made the best record of 2010. And you might’ve heard I like The Beach Boys. There’s little stylistic common ground among the four, but together they created a sort of dream vortex of previous champions aiming to soundtrack summer 2012. How’d they do?

New records are like the new T.V. season or a new year of school: eventually they’ll be bunched together in a body of work or experience, but in the moment they’re disproportionately important. Evaluation’s not an exact science, especially from such a cramped perspective, but one thing’s certain: a good record from a pet favourite is a sigh of relief and a bad one’s an affront. Sometimes new records make me nervous.

PAUL BUCHANAN – Mid Air

Paul Buchanan once said five albums would make a good career; 28 years after The Blue Nile’s first, he’s made his marker, and Mid Air’s finally cast Buchanan in the role he was born to play – saloon singer. Playing both halves of the Sinatra-Bill Miller combo, Mid Air‘s lo-fi execution sacrifices cinematic TBN flourishes for aching immediacy, removing Buchanan from the pigeonhole of his band’s box and into the realm of anyone who ever ruminated over simple piano chords in a backstreet dive. Unsurprisingly, it’s awfully affecting: haunting and haunted, and the closest spiritual companion to the magnificent pair of ‘80s TBN albums as we’re likely to get. Several of TBN’s best songs eschewed drums (notably, “Easter Parade,” “Regret,” “From A Late Night Train,” “Family Life”), but this record’s hush goes deeper, past the bridge and over the hillside into extreme reflectiveness. That’s not to say Mid Air is close to AWATR or Hats in scale or song. But it restores Buchanan to his rightful place as a real go-to when chips are down. The voice still creaks while it searches for the higher notes, and wraps beautifully around the simplest of phrases (a disastrous “tear stains on your pillow/I was drunk when I danced with the bride/Let it go” denouement; a knowing “life goes by and you learn/how to watch your bridges burn” shrug). It’s anyone’s guess where art and life intersect with Buchanan, but that’s what makes his sketches ring with everyman wisdom and wry regret. Primarily a guitarist in his band’s day, Buchanan’s reliance on piano further eases Mid Air onto terra firma (heck, there’s even a touch of distant trumpet, just like the old days), but it’s a double-edged knife that leads to my only plaint: ex-communicated Niler Paul Joseph Moore might’ve worked magic with these brief songs (only one over 2:57), a few of which seem built for longer, fuller arrangements and suffer for lack of same (Buchanan’s instrumental skills are purely workmanlike; his chordings can be choppily rudimentary). But Mid Air is generous with displays of his innate songwriting genius, even if it’s held to a modest scale. “Mid Air,” “I Remember You,” “Wedding Party,” “My True Country” and “After Dark” aren’t run-of-the-mill voice-and-piano bedsit musings. They are wonderful, they are proof a Paul Buchanan exists.

 

THE BEACH BOYS – That’s Why God Made The Radio

Nothing that’s come out of the Brian Wilson camp since Carl’s death seemed possible in 1998. Back in 2004, the SMiLE album/tour was the cherry atop an impressive six-year solo run, but he’s still defying best-before dates eight years later. Here, on the eve of his 70th birthday, The Beach Boys have released their first record in 20 years, the first with Brian’s involvement in 27, the first with him at the helm in 35.

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There’s no template for how a new record by a rock band with an average age of 68 is supposed to sound, but what I do know is That’s Why God Made The Radio is better than the ones The Beach Boys were making when they were pushing 40, with a significantly greater degree of creative health and spirit. Admittedly such things matter more to long-time fans than new converts or the casually curious. I’m not recommending Radio to newbies. But to the beleaguered diehards, the thrill doesn’t end with the act of purchasing the product: Songs still matter to head Boy Brian, and he’s supplied six really good ones. They begin and end the album – which leaves a prolonged sag in the middle – but judicious iPod planning left me shaking my head in happy wonder. The title track may be more arrangement and performance than song, but it’s spectacular on those first two fronts, a brilliant stroke as lead single, because it both sounds like a post-surf/car Beach Boys song ought to and like nothing else on radio in years (except, maybe, Grizzly Bear’s three-year-old “Two Weeks”): unashamedly sumptuous and wonderfully well-sung. I think it belongs in the canon. Second single, the relatively spartan “Isn’t It Time,” surprisingly steers clear of imitation: although its lyrics are throwback, the ukulele-as-lead instrument and neat octave-doubling harmonies are new wrinkles in the Beach Boy sound. Radio closes with a sequence that’s earned a lot of attention and admiration, a three-song suite that hearkens back to a later California sound, the ‘70s singer-songwriter domain of Newman, King, Dennis Wilson et al, albeit with superb, fully integrated BB harmonies. Maybe it’s what The Beach Boys might’ve sounded like in the late-’70s if it hadn’t all gone tits-up. “From Here To Back Again” features the evidently ageless Al Jardine on lead, a delicate two-part song with a jaunty whistling tag; “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Summer’s Gone” are Brian showcases of a piece with a couple of tracks from That Lucky Old Sun – unhurried reveries on aging, loss and loneliness which might seem unusual for a Beach Boys record if you recall the forced jollity of their “adult” albums, but not so much with Pet Sounds or “In My Room” considered. While it’s jarring to hear Wilson sing lines like “sometimes I realize my days are getting on,” “sunlight’s fading and there’s not much left to say” and “summer’s gone, it’s finally sinking in,” the frail beauty of his weathered tone, the deep swells of support from the backing vocals and strings, the hypnotic drag of the sun-speckled music are the surest signs of genius still lurking in his compositional bag. Throughout Radio, the sound is great. Jardine, Wilson and Bruce Johnston fill the middle range admirably. Mike Love doesn’t get a lot of lead here, and when he does it’s on ballads, which minimizes creeping nasality. Brian’s live band plays on most of the tracks, although only Jeffrey Foskett sings, taking the high tenor and falsetto “Brian” parts. He fits. That Radio’s saggy portion shows fallibility hardly matters – the fact I’m thinking critically about a new Beach Boys album 42 years after the release of the song that lends its name to this column (“Add Some Music To Your Day,” geddit?) is one of the great events of this summer.

 

BEACH HOUSE – Bloom

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Beach House’s Bloom is more a refinement than Great Leap Forward, but now they’re on fire. The sharpest songs have a new and thrilling pop bite atop the expected glazy force, and Alex Scally’s single-note guitar style has edged into Disintegration territory, meaning anything they’re considering for a single or T.V. show appearance sounds positively mesmerizing. The new approachabiity is a rare treat, a kind of tangibility most of their dream-pop peers can’t touch. Bloom’s incandescence sounds great, but the songs hold up, too. “Lazuli” dazzles for every one of its 302 seconds, from the frayed, square-wave organ arpeggio intro to the beautifully staggered three-part contrapuntal vocal built into the last two minutes. Phenomenally grand but outfitted with a few inspired stripped-down breaks, swooning but cool, it’s a surefire finalist for my favourite song of the year. “Wishes” and “Myth” are nearly as good, superhero flick-sized walls of sound peaking with what’s becoming Victoria Legrand’s go-to move: the one-line lyric bridge that speaks of some unimaginable sadness (“one in your life, it happens once and rarely twice,” “or let the ashes fly, help me to name it, help me to name it”), either preceding or following searing, effect-heavy guitar passages that suck the air out of your chest. Bloom never hurries to the payoff; tension abounds in delayed choruses and suspended breaks. I suppose you could call Bloom’s songs a little samey – an accusation you might level at Disintegration or a Cocteau Twins record, too – but the bits that poke through the haze, a bristling solo or one of those torrid vocal bridges, dazzle and amaze. I get wistfulness from Bloom, but I bet it soundtracks euphoric love and bruised despair just as well. Simply put, this is an uncommonly great band at a new peak. Is it the best band in the world right now?

 

SAINT ETIENNE – Words And Music By Saint Etienne

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It shouldn’t register as a surprise to anyone in the know that Bob Stanley – in his other professional life, away from co-helming what is, for my money, the best damn pop band of the past 22 years – will publish a book on pop history next year. As Saint Etienne’s once prodigious work rate slowed in the middle of the last decade, Stanley returned to rock writing, regularly contributing pieces to Mojo, The Guardian and Pitchfork among others, showing the same archivist zeal that’s always tugged at the skirt of Et’s modern dance pop. What might be surprising, however, is how the newest Etienne LP – their first in seven years – functions as a totally serviceable introduction to the band for those who might only have a remix or two on their iPhone. Words And Music By Saint Etienne – a concept album about the age-defying emotional connection forged between artist and fan – is sometimes so damn good it gives me goosebumps. Of a piece with any Etienne record since 1994’s Tiger Bay, Words And Music is chock-a-block with floor-filling uptempos in all sorts of intriguing shades, no doubt aided by cannily chosen production hands (Tim Powell, Richard X, Nick Coler, Rob Davis and honorary Et Ian Catt), but the vision remains Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell’s. Referential songs about record collecting, DJs, gig-going and the centrist vibe regarding music as the most emotionally rewarding of all art forms might be gratingly cute in other hands, but Etienne set the emotional tone brilliantly with a mostly spoken-word opener “Over The Border,” which is one of the most intelligent things they’ve ever done, because it frames the following 40 minutes as a record about loving music for people who love music. Etienne’s played this card before (“Join Our Club,” “Clark Co. Record Fair”), but even without that knowledge, Words And Music is still a gas. Shades of chugging Italo, bright house, Philly disco and Baelaeric stompers abound, but the biggest surprise for vet fans might be “When I Was 17”’s indie guitar bounce. It wears extremely well. As they did on 2005’s Tales From Turnpike House, Etienne apply some thickening agents to Cracknell’s increasingly feathery singing – a great idea then and now. Longtime pal Debsey Wykes pops in to harmonize on the terrific “Haunted Jukebox,” and Brit disco chanteuse Tina Charles guests on three numbers, including “Answer Song,” which is one of the best songs they’ve ever done, a pop-soul tune Bacharach might’ve written had he started a few decades later, with a whomping string hook riding over a churning electro groove, and a gamine sexual/sensuality that explodes in the sky-punching chorus. Taking a cue from Smokey Robinson, the song’s title employs a time-tested pop music trope to deliver its more universal message of romantic longing, which is ultimately what both music in general, and Words And Music in particular, are about: as one-hit wonder Stardust put it in 1998, “music sounds better with you.”

All in all, that’s a heckuva good batch of records. Summer’s sounding better already.

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Add some music to your day #15: New stuff, May 2012

Thoughts on new music from May, wrapped up in a tidy package. I bet these people don’t get much direct sunlight.

DYLAN ETTINGER – Lifetime Of Romance

Variations on The Human League circa Fast Product: dour synthesizer music twisted into recognizable form via a sneaky pop streak. At its best (“Disparager,” “Arco Iris”), Lifetime Of Romance grooves – not by being especially clubby or danceable, but by possessing a rhythmic centre that holds the fort while Ettinger lobs sore-throated, son-of-Todd Baechle wails into the abyss. Nobody’s idea of a gifted singer, Ettinger’s brief stanzas – verses as mantras, really – are another instrument in the mix, towered over by mountains of reverb and Moog bursts, but they’re hardly throwaway, and occasional detours into falsetto are startling and even a little amusing. There’s an urgency in the vocals that’s hard to dislike, which is sort of how I feel about Lifetime Of Romance in general: it’s dark music – think those fiery orange/red/purple Manhattan skies Spider-Man swung through in the ‘60s Ralph Bakshi cartoons – but it’s got a brawny energy that belies the initial impression of cold stasis. “Maude” embodies this best: icy pads hover for four minutes with guest saxophone providing a rattling human counterpoint to Ettinger’s burbling synthscape, before a creaky “Nightclubbing” CompuRhythm pattern refocuses the song for the second four-minute segment, an anguished Disintegration-like essay on sundered domesticity.

 

KILLING JOKE – MMXII

Here’s the force of nature that is Killing Joke, back for a second helping with the reconstituted original lineup and firing on every damn cylinder. The Mayan calendar tolls for Jaz Coleman as Ragnarok did 30 years prior; whether that leads to tomfoolery this time ‘round (read: band-splintering skedaddling to Iceland to escape the maaaadness) only time’ll tell, but while we wait, enjoy this doomsday soundtrack. Loads of good stuff here. In an era marked by stifling compression on hard music, top-dog mixing here grants all sorts of room for the arrangements to roam. Every major facet of the complex Killing Joke sound’s accounted for: ominous dub-throb, galloping dance-punk, metallic brawling, even a healthy return to Brighter Than A Thousand Suns-style synthpop. It’s not scattershot variety for variety’s sake, either: MMXII plays like a custom-built festival bill of likemindeds edited down to an invigorating 50-minute highlight package. Coleman adapts his singing accordingly: I haven’t heard his ice-cool “Love Like Blood” croon so much in years, but it sounds terrific amid the sphincter-clenched punk yowls and full-throated bellowing. Whatever he takes for sore throats, I want. My own preference for “Pssyche”/”Bloodsport”-styled dance music is covered by “Rapture,” “Colony Collapse” and “Trance,” excellent tunes in varying rhythmic settings (piledriving, swinging and chugging, respectively); those with a yen for sprawling, half-speed Joke are well served by great album bookends in “Pole Shift” and “On All Hallow’s Eve.” Joke’s politics are all over the record: “FEMA Camp” essays rumoured American-based internment camps for high-risk citizens; several songs outline environmental failings and technological overreliance in the face of stiff corporate rule. The lyric sheet’s filled with URLs for further reading. That the links will evolve or disappear entirely over time encapsulates the Joke conundrum: learn and act now or surrender this toe-hold. MMXII’s grim and critical outlook isn’t rounded out by scepticism – “marvel at the mysteries of quantum immortality” and “bring gifts and spirits, good wine…light up the graveyards to show how much we all care” sound like words by those who intend to dance around the bonfires while they wait out the apocalypse. That glimmer of sunlight delivers MMXII from the stigma of single-minded browbeating. All in all, a vivid, arresting album.

 

LIONESS – The Golden Killer

The two guys wear full face-covering skulls onstage, which is impressively ludicrous. I don’t mean to laugh at Lioness because it’s possible they’re dead serious about this, and I started listening to pop in an era defined by Adam Ant’s “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” mantra. Still, #Lulz. Compelling in controlled amounts, the music of Lioness more-or-less picks up where controller.controller left off in 2006 (Jeff Scheven and Ronnie Morris were members): regimented, vigorous death-disco that sounds great if you walk in halfway through one of their support slots with other stuff on your mind, but lacks the creative panache to withstand the rigors of an LP. It’s not like I can pick out any rotten songs, but The Golden Killer has as much variety as a steakhouse’s prix fixe menu after last seating. The girl singer makes an impressive sound – lion on a hot tin roof – which is I imagine much easier without wearing a skull.

 

CRAFT SPELLS – Gallery

A mildly disappointing EP that seeks to add a little punch to Idle Labor’s pastel-hued Factory Records post-punk, but doesn’t quite have the songs to finish the transition of power. Among the moves:  Justin Vallesteros no longer sounds like Ian Curtis at the other end of a long tunnel – he’s got a better voice than most of his Captured Tracks brethren and he’s wisely pushed it up in the mix. And even though the bass playing’s less propulsive than it was on Idle Labor, the momentum’s earned back with everything else in crisper colours. Although attractively dreamy, Gallery is also a little lazy (consider “Still Left With Me”’s overreliance on an unadventurous riff, and the next track’s very similar chorus melody). The clear highlight – the aptly named “Burst” – mixes thrusting bass, chiming guitars, a direct drum attack and a beachy vibe that wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s Technique. (No chorus, either, and I didn’t notice ‘til about the fifth time through. Nice one.) But for all the careful cropping and composition, Gallery’s edges have curled up in the sun.

Add some music to your day #14: New stuff, March-April 2012

Thoughts on new music from March and April, wrapped up in a tidy package. Tough times for some dependable vets (unless your name is Tindersticks).

TINDERSTICKS – The Something Rain

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Music for nights of solitude – not of the forlorn variety, but more for those occasions when there’s no hurry to get any place and it can warm you like a fuzzy blanket while long shadows play across the apartment walls. Something like The National, but more soulfully cinematic and instrumentally varied, with shards of sax, twinkling glockenspiel and keening violins complementing trad rock tools to build mid- and crawl-tempo set pieces about disorientation and disappointment. “Show Me Everything” – not the first song to lift the classic guitar line from Hot Chocolate’s “Emma” (hello, “Thieves Like Us”) – and “This Fire Of Autumn” exemplify The Something Rain’s deft restraint, with each instrument, including Stuart Staples’ voice, woven into a fluid mass, determined but mostly absent of typical rock accents. These songs have momentum, and eventually steam up the windows, but the thing is you never see the switch being thrown. Nice work, you magicians. “Come Inside” is gorgeous and it knows it, hovering for nearly eight hypnotic minutes, a reminder of mood music’s supreme purpose: to enhance what’s already in play. At hush level, its gentle gait might even be described as a balm, a noble trait in any good sad song. It works even better on loop play (trust me, there are worse ways to spend 23 minutes). Here’s one of my favourite phrases: A very fine record by a veteran band on good form.

 

TRUST – Trst

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I’m thinking I ought to get a Maya Postepski app for my phone. She’s got unimpeachable taste in the bands she drums with, anchoring some awfully good, dark synthpop in the past couple of years. I saw Trust open for Washed Out in 2010, and although the vibe was great, the songs choked in deadpan gothic squalor. On this duo’s first LP, Trst, that problem’s been rslvd. Cavernously reverbed yet thoughtfully gated, good melodies ooze over Postepski’s clipped beats, mostly via bell-like synths , thickly whooshing pads and the Vincent Price-with-a-mouthful-of-marbles vocal stylings of Robert Alfons, who manages to sound like the creepiest cryptkeeper since Peter Murphy, without actually tipping over into stagey ridiculousness. He’s only decipherable part of the time – so Murph’s got him beat there – but crucially, he’s got range, often stepping out of baritone murk and into the kind of light where most vampires fear to tread. The peppy, driving “Dressed For Space” and hypnotic “Bulbform” sound awfully energized with that filthy-sounding lisp. The record wraps with its best track, “Sulk,” which restates the band’s strengths: pretty gusts of atmos, monophonic melodies, a vampire singing on the edge of sunlight, a metronomic beat and sympathetic mixing from Damien Taylor, who recorded Postepski’s other band, Austra. I’m a fan.

 

MAGNETIC FIELDS – Love At The Bottom Of The Sea

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A misfire, Stephin Merritt squeezing into an old pair of pants but not exactly squeezing out sparks. Love At The Bottom Of The Sea is a wet fart despite a return to the keyboard arrangements and tinkity pinkety rhyme patterns that marked the Mags’ peak performances from a good dozen years ago. “Born For Love,” “I’ve Run Away To Join The Fairies” and “I Don’t Like Your Tone” are all fine, typical Merritt vehicles, dependably bittersweet and sonorously sung, with enough funhouse play to keep the record bobbing above the surface. Unfortunately, eight of Sea’s songs – half the LP – are sung by Shirley Simms, and they quash momentum every time. They’re lighter in tone and dumber in lyric content; damningly, it’s all I can do to not think of The Fountains Of Wayne’s smirking, feckless tropes, and I stopped buying records by those nerds years ago. Merritt’s “Andrew In Drag” is an undeniable bullseye, though. Make sure you hear that one.

 

THE SHINS – Port Of Morrow

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It takes work to get into Port Of Morrow. It’s neither as immediate nor as sparky as peak Shins, and maybe this can be attributed to James Mercer diverting some of his song stock to Broken Bells in 2010, and to a band overhaul that left him last Shin standing. It’s a solo record in all but name. But it’s also been five years since Wincing The Night Away, and Mercer’s tied to Sony Columbia, where beans are doubtless being counted. Essentially a collaboration between Mercer and producer/multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin (ex-Shins appear on four tracks), Morrow’s downbeat, reflective cast still affords a small clutch of lovely, winding melodies and wonderful singing (“Bait & Switch” and “40 Mark Strasse” are noteworthies), but it’s only a moderate yield considering how much time Mercer’s had to create and craft. I’ll concede this could be a grower if you’ll concede I may not be in a rush to find out for myself.

 

TANLINES – Mixed Emotions

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Credit Tanlines with an imaginative aesthetic that mixes spare synth lines and serrated, highlife guitar with dominant, polyrhythmic percussion tracks for a fresh take on confessional indiepop. The singing is equally uncommon: unusual phrasing and accenting on lyrics that make a meal out of line repetition – it might be borrowed from South African pop, if I had to hazard a guess (these guys are white Brooklynites). Whatever, the admixture’s really quite attractive and listenable. On the negative side of the ledger, that staunch approach to song arrangement leaves the first half of Mixed Emotions sounding awfully samey; it’s a little counterintuitive to leave the best melodies to the back end. But some of those really stick: “Not The Same”’s gritty choruses, “Rain Delay”’s encapsulation of the pretty stop/start tension Tanlines are going for, and “Cactus”…well, that one’s absolutely gorgeous, possessed of a passage sure to rank among my favourite 79 seconds of the musical year. A flawed record, then, but one of occasional excellence. (And ahoy the Pet Sounds-lovin’ nod, found in “Lost Somewhere”’s big bite out of “I Know There’s An Answer”’s chorus.)

 

PAUL WELLER – Sonik Kicks

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Never having been a fervent Jam acoloyte – Paul Weller’s melodies were seldom as sharp as his fashions – I’m not the ideal candidate for whatever he’s hawking. But sometimes you walk into your local shop and a shiny cover catches the eye before the brain has a chance to remind you what the ear’s long known. (I snagged the current Mojo with the Weller cover before I left, too. Clearly I can’t be trusted with an excess of cash.) Sonik Kicks is fairly named. That bluff voice – a roughened croon always on the verge of a nasty snarl – is well intact, and the musical setting – gnarled post-punk with strong electronic shading – is active and physical. As ever with this guy, it’s the melodies that ground the flight. They service the song but seldom startle or amaze. Simon Dine’s the collaborator: Mojo informs me he builds the frames and Weller brings the paint, which might be straightjacketing the proceedings, given how vertical most of Sonik Kicks is. Some nice work across the usual panoply of Weller styles (“Kling I Klang” bashes and bangs, “That Dangerous Age” shimmies and bops, “Be Happy Children” deftly reasserts his capable embrace of white soul) neither rescues this record from the Not Bad But… pile nor guarantees my patronage next time around.

Add some music to your day #13: New stuff, January-February 2012

Thoughts on new music from January and February, wrapped up in a tidy package. Four of these will be on the year-end Top 25.

CHAIRLIFT – Something

The first Chairlift LP had one absolutely delightful art-pop number (“Evident Utensil”) and some nice second bananas, but still I bundled these guys with the likes of Captain, Go! Team, Black Kids and other pan flashes: briefly intriguing pretenders destined for shuffle play purgatory. But Something is something else – an unexpected Great Leap Forward into superior songwriting and all the relevance that attends it. Chairlift, down to a girl-boy duo with studio assistance, is still mining glistening ‘80s-biting dream pop, but nearly every song on Something has a moment – a winning chorus, a dramatic payoff, a lovely sound design – that lofts the band past the middle-of-the-pack and into the upper echelon of the newish new wave we’ve been listening to for half a decade. It helps that Caroline Polachek has a lovely, flexible voice and the brief to keep the lyrics audible. But the music’s got a lot of hustle, too:  “I Belong In Your Arms” sounds like a breezy 45 from about 1984; “Sidewalk Safari” churns over wobbly, interweaving melodic lines; “Met Before” kitchen sinks stately keys and heavily reverbed girl-group vocals over thudding Californian garage rock. On a cooler tip, “Frigid Spring” is delectable, a watercolour of breathy coos, twinkling keys and acoustic washes, heir to the debut album’s promisingly arty singles. Recall that “Bruises” was an iPod Nano jingle in 2008; Something debunks hipster taint with surpassingly strong material.

 

PORCELAIN RAFT – Strange Weekend

One of the most stimulating efforts I’ve heard from the endless pack of studio rats masquerading as bands, Porcelain Raft’s appeal lies in massed layers of trebly, kaleidoscopic sounds morphing into warm whorls of psychedelic dream pop, with some spectacularly beautiful results. Strange Weekend – the first solo album from 39-year-old serial collaborator Mauro Remiddi – is one of those relatively rare treats where the artist attains impressive conceptual cohesiveness through playing everything himself, filtering ostensibly rock-based instrumentation through the mix with cleverly deconstructionist flair. Especially whatever the hell he’s using for rhythm beds! The drum patterns are chopped, pureed and liquefied, but never at the expense of the momentum which drives and anchors Weekend’s swooningly appealing singles “Put Me To Sleep” and “Until You Speak From Your Heart.” Remiddi seems to have tapped into a sort of nostalgic prettiness despite the clatter – an old trick Thomas Dolby mastered on The Golden Age Of Wireless­ – but some of the more graceful passages (“Is It Too Deep For You?” and especially “Backwords”) recall Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s woozy stateliness. Dolby and OMD were terrific at invoking old grandeur through modern synthetic means, and the best moments of Strange Weekend repeatedly get there. Remiddi’s singing voice, which ranges from a harsh, Bolanesque lisp to a thin, keening tenor, is suited to both the material and the sibilant mix. On the closing “The Way In” there’s even a stab at Brett Anderson-scale ballad singing over appropriately melancholic strums and whooshes. This guy’s a great architect.

 

AIR – Le Voyage Dans La Lune

On the one hand, from the perspective of sound and intent, a moderately encouraging step away from the soporific, airbrushed fussiness that dominated the records they made in 2007 and 2009. On the other hand, from the perspective of songs and execution, a discouraging affirmation of Air’s enduring staleness. I was in the record store the week before this came out when some guy told his friend, “I’m really nervous about the new Air record.” You may recall Air occupying an exalted space in people’s minds a dozen years ago, riding a wave of otherworldly early singles, a dizzyingly grand debut album and a darkly affecting soundtrack LP. But now the disappointments outnumber the triumphs, and all the weaker records have come in succession. La Voyage Dans La Lune, an imaginary soundtrack to a century-old silent film, is a well-intentioned bummer. In reaching back for the feel of old glories, but failing to deliver anything you might remember an hour after playing it, Air’s bag is no longer worthy of such record-store hand-wringing. It’s always a downer to realize the goodwill’s spent, isn’t it.

 

FIELD MUSIC – Plumb

Fervidly inventive yet frustratingly fitful, Plumb’s hooks race by like samples from the golden age of T.V. show theme writing, dangling earworms long enough to capture attention but not to pay the pleasure zone. That flaw undermines the nicely shaped narrative, great sound (“significantly less compression and limiting than most contemporary records,” boasts the liner) and deep well of creative mojo. Plumb’s both too taxing and too brief: 35 minutes is a long time to absorb ideas whizzing by at warp speed; conversely, few of Plumb’s 15 fragmented tunes can stand on their own. Despite attention spans shaved to fractions of what they were in simpler times, pop music’s digestibility – not advertising jingle pop nor T.V. theme pop – is still founded on hook deployment. On Plumb? Well, how many unresolved notions comprise “Choosing Sides”? The brilliance of, say, SMiLE, is that while it’s built on modular arrangements it also sparks cognitive enjoyment through repetition and recurrence. But Plumb comes like lightning. In spite of themselves, a few songs are written to completion anyway, and are pretty affecting, whether lyrically (social exclusion brought about by careless time management in “Sorry Again, Mate”) or musically (the gorgeously searing strings that fill “From Hide And Seek To Heartache” to bursting). I’m buying the next Field Music record because I believe, I believe, but I think they shoot themselves in the foot about a dozen times on Plumb.

 

GRIMES – Visions

I’ve read she digs Animal Collective and it shows on Visions, which is surprisingly organic for a record built on brief, recurring melodic phrases. Not that the loops are so deft you don’t realize what’s going on, but the burbling synth-plus-beats work is fresh and invigorating throughout. Although live performances occasionally veer into twee ether, she holds it together as a vocalist here too, despite a delivery that essentially kills at least half the words before they reach the mic. Thus, it’s not so much an impediment as an artistic statement. Allowing for the featherweight vocals, the heavy lifting’s left to the music, which is tight and clubby, sometimes hinting at late-’80s chart cheese (“Oblivion”), sometimes nodding at Eurodisco narcotism (“Be A Body”), sometimes evincing the queasy otherness Lynch, Badalamenti and Cruise might’ve dreamt up for Twin Peaks if its time had come 20 years later (“Symphonia IX [My Wait Is U]”). Mostly, though, Visions retains an elemental approachability despite its animated idiosyncrasies, which is the best of both worlds for Grimes. A little like good AnCo, genuine pop moments appear throughout, long enough for some listeners to connect the dots and possibly hear things that aren’t really there. Is that why it’s called Visions, Claire?

 

FRANKIE ROSE – Interstellar

A lovely – and sometimes dark – album that reminds me somewhat of last year’s Miracle Fortress set, both of ‘em sparkling recordings that forestall most knee-jerk retro tags despite their reliance upon cozily familiar instrumentation. Icy synths, syncopated drumbeats and chorused guitars abound, but their deployment’s what makes Interstellar glow. Frankie cushions her modest voice with close harmony double-tracking that occasionally suggests Dolores O’Riordan purring in neutral. It’s a pleasant sound that works wonders on the peppy “Daylight Sky,” which cleverly trades that vocal approach off and on with a similar close-harmony synth melody, or on “Pair Of Wings,” which bursts into M83-like Technicolor over its final minute. Interstellar’s songs won’t smack you over the head with the kind of tension-releasing middle eights that’d cost Smokey Robinson any sleepless nights: a few songs somehow reach the three-minute mark without any real resolution. But nervy tunes like “Night Swim” and “Moon In My Mind” are so dynamically solid you don’t notice unless you’re listening for it. A classy effort that’ll probably fly under the radar but oughtta reward every pair of ears it graces. And I’ll bet this sounds great under a starry September sky.