No Joy – Wait to Pleasure
A mistake some neo-shoegaze bands make is avoiding the loud guitars the genre is partially based upon without making up for it in melody or some other distinguishing feature. Not so with No Joy, whose debut Ghost Blonde was slathered in distortion and reverb — so much so, in fact, that it did tend to wash them out. Not so with follow-up Wait to Pleasure, which ratchets up the songwriting without sacrificing much in the way of pulverizing guitar power, in a way previewed on their Negaverse EP last year. “E” tunnels along on the strength of a heavily distorted bass that gives anchor to Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd’s guitar feedback and cooing vocals. “Hare Tarot Lies” crushes through with heavy power chords and femme vocals that recall the best of ’90s female-led alt-rock bands (underrated acts like Lush and Veruca Salt) while paying homage to their usual checklist of influences, such as Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. With the sonics in check, No Joy seem to feel free to explore their pop side on the rest of the album, on the church-like melodies of “Prodigy” and Strawberry Switchblade-esque '80s pop of “Lunar Phobia.” Not all of their gambits work, as they miss a vocal cue on “Slug Night” that could have made it a single, and “Blue Neck Riviera’s” rapping is questionable, even if the song is saved by a melodically charging second half. But even these foibles are mostly endearing, as Wait to Pleasure never wears out its welcome across its 11 tracks. They sound like a band secure in their own sound and trying out new things here and there, occasionally coming up with a power-pop gem like “Lizard Kids,” featuring sweet vocals akin to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval over muscular, bass-driven riffs. One expects them to continue tinkering with their sound; Wait to Pleasure suggests No Joy can become a great pop band. For now, they’ll have to settle for being one of the best shoegaze bands around.
Phoenix – Bankrupt!
Deluxe CD $15.98
You have to respect a band that reaches unexpected success in the U.S. and turns around to make one of its weirdest albums yet, rather than reaching further into the pop bucket. Such is the case with France’s Phoenix, who follow the radio-friendly Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix with another album of embracing guitar pop that makes more room for differing moods and atmosphere. Opener “Entertainment” lives up to its title, sounding like globetrotter pop, with an Asian-inspired synth line giving the song its hook, Britpop songwriting stringing it together and punk energy moving the whole thing along. Songs like “The Real Thing” and “S.O.S. in Bel Air” are so drenched in minor-key synths that they come out as sweet bummers, resisting the urge to overturn their moodiness with the big pop payoffs of songs like “Lisztomania.” You have moody sound pieces like the title track butting up to Phoenix’s detailed single-oriented material, like the awesomely titled “Drakkar Noir,” which surmises what The Strokes may have sounded like, had they successfully integrated synthesizers into their sound without losing their cool or their hookiness. Fans may miss the bigger hooks of the band’s previous work. So what. Bankrupt! is a juicier listen, given its dense layering, dynamic songwriting and bold pacing.
Junip – Junip
Junip continues to grow into a full-fleged band with its own sound separate from frontman Jose Gonzalez’s better-known solo career on their self-titled second album. “Your Life, Your Call” is built on a simple, four-note bassline and synthesizers, which clear the high air for Gonzalez’s vocals to come through clearly, enunciating his pop savvy. Junip is less reliant on Gonzalez’s vibrant acoustic guitar playing, with synthesizers on songs like “So Clear” offering a fine counterpoint to Gonzalez’s somber voice and island-vibe guitar. However, longtime Gonzalez fans probably won’t mind the updates, especially since he still pulls out steady strums on songs like melancholy opener “Line of Fire” — it just sounds even better when used judiciously as one element to Junip’s growing sound. With Gonzalez’s reliable songwriting at the helm, Junip finds him and his band successfully turning over a new leaf.
Young Galaxy – Ultramarine
Canadian electro-pop band Young Galaxy is a band who has slowly and steadily grown its audience and sound such that its fourth album, Ultramarine, is a joy whether you’re a longtime fan of the band or new to them. Its embracing, pop-oriented yet appealingly low-key sound favors swirling, arpeggiated synthesizers, tribal beats and vocals that don’t go to heavy on the reverb, so that Catherine McCandless’ husky voice and bright lyrics come through crisply, particularly on the bouncy “Fall for You” or “New Summer,” an OMD-ish, sumptuous synth-pop ballad. Young Galaxy can’t claim many points on originality, it’s true, but few can claim to create music as consistently pleasing as they do on Ultramarine.
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