May’s shopping bag: one I couldn’t get enough of, and two I may send to the same storage room as the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the first Indy Jones flick.
TV ON THE RADIO – Nine Types Of Light
Cue another round of twitchy art rock and witchy Macbeth singing voices. Second verse, same as the first. TVotR remind me of bands like The Doors, The Cars, The Ramones: good, yes, but stuck in a moment they just can’t get out of. The new TVotR opens with the gang sounding exactly like The National for all of about 90 seconds, before resuming their appointed rounds. But Nine Types Of Light sports no adrenaline rush to match “Wolf Like Me” and no barnstorming funk to rival “Golden Age.” There’s a nice mid-album peak: the elegiac “Killer Crane” actually sounds like a sunrise to me, and lead single “Will Do”’s an affecting, melodic, straightforward love song. Both sound great. But by the time the record winds down with “Caffeinated Consciousness”’s grinding, lazy, two-chord “Guns In The Sky” verse melody, Nine Types has mouldered as often as its smouldered. Not as good as previous efforts.
AUSTRA – Feel It Break
Gloomy, taut synthpop in a darkwave vein, delivered with impressive reserve considering tools at leader and singer Katie Stelmanis’ disposal. In more than one way Feel It Break reminds me of Eurythmics circa Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), itself a terrific artefact of similar atmospherically melodic starkness. The opera-schooled Stelmanis stacks coolly controlled vocal tracks with crackling energy and harmonic invention, but the surgical preciseness of her vibrato-filled leads is what’ll catch the ear. Aren’t we lucky she digs synths? One of Break’s lesser lights (throbbing club track “Beat And The Pulse”) got all the early notices due to a NSFW video, but there’re several stronger songs on tap: “Hate Crime,” “The Villain” and “Shoot The Water” form a 12-minute, mid-album stretch as good as anything I’ve heard all year, and the slinky, twinkling “Darken Her Horse” has all the icy hauteur of early Goldfrapp, or even mid-period Banshees. Beautifully recorded and nicely paced, the first full-length Austra feels like that distant rumble of thunder, portending something bigger that stays on the mind until the rain explodes the cloud cover. It’s the record I’ve returned to most often in the first half of 2011.
FLEET FOXES – Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes was a band many were compelled to listen to once, in the wake of critical ejaculate spattered so far and wide it made you mute the world around you when “White Winter Hymnal” came on the radio. You know, just in case. (Me, I’ve got that weak-in-the-presence-of-intricate-harmony-singing thing going, too.) Now, pastoral throwbacks are as much of a challenge for me as Trans is for CSN&Y fans, but good songs sometimes trump mundane idioms. Happens a few times here. While there’s nothing as gorgeous as the first LP’s “He Doesn’t Know Why,” Helplessness Blues does sport the robust “Lorelai,” which soars and sparkles like My Morning Jacket’s “Golden,” even as it borrows a little too liberally from Dylan’s “4th Time Around.” (Copyists abound in every arena, see.) In the interests of disclosure: “Sim Sala Bim,” The Plains/Bitter Dancer” and “The Shrine/An Argument” have been on repeat, too. But the rest of Blues is slipping from memory.