Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
Youth Lagoon aka Trevor Powers at only 22 was the precocious new kid on the indie block with 2011’s The Year of Hibernation. Though a strong debut, the album could get a bit precious as one would expect when listening to a 22-year-old’s debut indie pop album. But if The Year of Hibernation was sugary, Bughouse is coated with codeine syrup. It’s a woozy collection of psychedelic pop, as eccentric as it is rousing. “Mute” sprawls with epic grandeur in its first minute before breaking down into spiraling sounds of broken-down toys and keyboards. Powers’ vocals climb to the top of his manic creation, which gradually becomes a psych rocker with a gorgeous guitar solo. “Attic Door” is prime Syd Barrett in Wonderland weirdo psychedelia, while “Pelican Man” takes a similar notion to Sgt. Pepper’s-style pop heights. As Wondrous Bughouse progresses, it seems to grow more assured, as mid-album cut “Dropla” makes for the album’s catchiest moment — an eyes-wide-open pop song in the vein of Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips’ finest, built on the naÃ¯ve, repeated couplet “you’ll never die.” True to its Strawberry Alarm Clock title, “Raspberry Cane” is a beautiful slice of acidic sunshine pop that moves from esoteric to a crowd-pleasing refrain that marks Powers’ most classic pop moment to date. It’s a wondrous thing to hear, indeed.
Rhye - Woman
LP $18.98 [LP out 3/12]
Effortlessly sexy, nuanced soul pop comes to us from L.A.’s Rhye. The duo of Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal have a knack for including perfect detail, in the way “Open” creates its serenity with only a handful of elements: a simple beat, with just a bass drum and finger-snapping snare; a three-chord arrangement of organ layered with Asiatic synth lines; lush, soulful strings; and Milosh’s feminized vocals. Single “The Fall” is the definition of seductive, with Milosh’s entreats so plain-faced and naked (“Make love to me … don’t run away”), they’d be embarrassing were they not delivered as breathily as possible — they sound alluring rather than desperate — while musically the song is somewhere between the reclaimed French pop of Stereolab and beat-driven ’90s R&B. Milosh sings more expressively on “Last Dance,” a synth-funk love song that wisely balances its more synthetic sounds with organic touches like grimy funk guitars and a lack of heavy effects on Milosh’s voice. Milosh’s male Sade vocals may be a tough pill to swallow for some listeners at first, but he’ll pretty much melt you down over time, and Rhye are smart enough to not overdo it, offering synth-pop tracks (“3 Days,” “Hunger”) to break it up, though “Shed Some Blood” is pure Quiet Storm. My advice: let go of your reservations and let Woman seduce you.
Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving
Thurston Moore has a new band, and you better get out of his way. After ending Sonic Youth’s legendary run and releasing a gleaming acoustic solo album (Demolished Thoughts) and nutso collab with now ex-wife Kim Gordon and Yoko Ono, Moore is back in rawk mode on Chelsea Light Moving. “Sleeping Where I Fall” is built on Moore’s more recent Stones-influenced chords as well as his own inventive dissonant guitarwork, building into a heavy passage that showcases his band as more than a bunch of hired hands. Drummer John Moloney (of Sunburned Hand of the Man) in particular offers muscular, measured beatwork that nicely compliments the metallic guitarwork of bandmates Moore, Samara Lubelski (of Jackie-O Motherfucker and others) and Keith Wood (Hush Arbors) on “Alighted.” Chelsea Moving Light is fast and heavy throughout, like a metalhead cousin to Sonic Youth and sometimes echoing that band more straight-on, as on the Goo-era freakout “Burroughs.” Chelsea Moving Light don’t quite come close to taking the place of the beloved Sonic Youth, but they get close to establishing their own identity on “Empires of Time,” featuring some of Moore’s most pulverizing and tense guitarwork in some time, and “Mohawk,” a spare, slow-burning track with striking guitar and violin drone with Moore’s beat-inspired poetry spoken above. On Chelsea Moving Light, Moore sounds hungry again and, with a group of talented collaborators and without a legacy of material hanging over him, willing to put it all out there for the sake of his art.
The Men – New Moon
The Men go Wilco on New Moon, an album that largely breaks with the bracing post-hardcore sound of last year’s Open Your Heart and its predecessor, Leave Home. For listeners expecting the sound of those records, the jangly acoustic guitar and piano that open the album on “Open the Door” are a bit jarring, as are singer Mark Perro’s vocals, which sound road-weary rather than fresh-faced as before. The change makes more sense on songs like “Half Angel Half Light,” a power-folk barnburner that retains the energy of their previous work which showcasing the band’s apparent desire to create songs with more of an emotional impact. You could hardly call New Moon a folk record, though. “I Saw Her Face” begins as a two-chord, Crazy Horse-style psych rocker, sounding fine and grimey until the band says “f*ck it” and breaks into a full tilt gallop for the song’s thrilling final portion. From here on out, after the instrumental “High and Lonesome,” which sounds like Galaxie 500 on a country kick, the album grows stronger, as The Men are decent songwriters, but they’re a spectacular rock band. “The Brass” is pure Stooges-style fury; and “Electric” throws care to the wind and deals out good ol’ indie rock of the highest caliber, with thrilling breaks and ascendent riffs. It’s on these songs that New Moon truly shines.
Madeleine Peyroux – The Blue Room
Madeleine Peyroux has managed to be both classy and unstuffy in her career, lending her Billie Holiday-meets-Patsy Cline vocals to covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith, among others. This time she takes on Ray Charles, specifically his 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, and throws in a few songs by Cohen, Buddy Holly, Randy Newman and Warren Zevon. What could have sounded disjointed instead plays out as an inspired collection by an artist following her muse, delivering songs she clearly reveres in her own buttery voice with an easy jazz style that aims for inclusiveness. Her laid-back take on “Bye Bye Love” is utterly endearing, delivering lines like “I feel like I could die” with a sardonic twist. Similarly, she turns around the manic regret of Holly’s “Changing All Those Changes” and gives it a feel of morose acceptance. And her take on Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” is simply exquisite. Peyroux succeeds once again at giving much-beloved (and some much-covered) songs her own flavor on The Blue Room.
How To Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion
LP $32.98 [LP out 3/19]
The debut album from How to Destroy Angels (or How to destroy angels_, if you’re being all NIN about it) allows Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor to sit in the producer’s throne he’s been keeping warm since scoring The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Here with his soundtrack co-producer Atticus Ross, as well as Nine Inch Nails graphic designer Rob Sheridan, Reznor creates a moodier, less hard-hitting landscape than his Nine Inch past, more in line with his soundtrack work and featuring the breathy vocals of Reznor’s wife, Mariqeen Maandig. Maandig’s presence is that of a fleeting ghost on many of the tracks, subtly unsettling on “Keep It Together,” on which she trades sexy whispers with Reznor. Maandig steps more into the spotlight on “And the Sky Began to Scream,” which sounds like a glitched-out remix of a Curve track with Maandig sounding as though she’s singing from underneath a pillow — creepy. By the time HTDA go full industrial throttle four tracks in on “Welcome Oblivion,” it’s a welcome thing, as Maandig finally lets loose with a shrieking vocal over the producers’ industrial thud. “Ice Age” sounds plucked from the glacial expanse of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a foreboding techno-folk ballad with lovely vocals from Maandig, who generally seems more comfortable with expressive shading than belting but emerges as a welcome human element of HTDA’s post-industrial gloom. Welcome Oblivion tempers its menace with icy beauty, though it’s just as fun when they go pop, as on “Too Late, All Gone,” in which Reznor can’t resist jumping on the mic for the song’s big chorus.
They Might Be Giants - Nanobots
Sixteen albums in and They Might Be Giants are as manic as ever. Nanobots is 25 songs, 45 minutes, with no filler, as the band trims its songs of any excess verses or space.
The Cave Singers – Naomi
The Cave Singers continue to evolve on their rootsy fourth album. Rising from the ashes of beloved indie rockers Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Cave Singers sound fully committed to a new sound on Naomi. “Canopy” moves along gracefully like a Bob Dylan or Paul Simon song, with a little spring in its step to propel its folky sound.