The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Deluxe CD $19.98
As always, The Knife mean to disturb and provoke you, and Shaking the Habitual is their most adventurous statement to date. They begin the two-disc set with one of the more pop-oriented pieces — of course, The Knife’s defintion of pop involves alien distortion on Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocals, which are growly and swoop in and out of conventional melodicism to begin with. On “A Tooth for an Eye,” it’s fairly typical, if highly accomplished, fare for The Knife, as Andersson’s warped vocals match her and Olaf Dreijer’s tribal beatwork and synths that bellow and squelch like steam machinery. This in no way prepares you for the set’s second song, the nine-minute “Full of Fire,” whose machine-gun beats are the accessible part of a demonic pop song in which synths bleep atonally like tea kettles and swirl like locusts, while Andersson’s vocals sound like they’ve been run over by tires full of syringes. Even with its mammoth run-time and demanding sound, it never falters in fascinating and keeping a fanged vice grip on the listener. You feel your hair stand on end and you start to sweat with each new turn. “A Cherry on Top” starts with five minutes of wraithlike synths before Andersson comes in with a digitally deepened voice in a sort of gender, culture, genre-bending near 10 minutes that’s both bewildering and bold. Of course The Knife’s freaky sounds can be grating or seemingly unusual for the sake of it sometimes — I opened a hotel website with a man singing in Hawaiian during the flute-laden “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” and didn’t notice for a full minute — and pieces like the nearly silent, nearly 20-minute “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized” are more interesting in concept and as a breather than they are in actual sound. But Shaking the Habitual harkens back to a time when albums were meant to be an experience, something puzzled over, abandoned and returned to and studied, not streamed while searching for hotels. It’s anti-pop, but claims that it is “unlistenable” are unfounded. Even at nearly 10 minutes and with truly messed up sounds housed within in, “Raging Lung” is a pop song, with movements and parts that hit you and break through the din — when Andersson keeps coming in with her “that’s when it hurts” line ranks among the best pop moments on the album. “Networking” drops vocals almost entirely in favor of a Kraftwerkian cold synth rave-up, and it ends up one of the album’s catchiest songs in the process. “Stay Out Here” also features guest vocals from Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess and artist Emily Roysdon that make the song a kind of horror house anthem as the singers’ vocals bounce off one another and come together in eerie harmony in a padded cell of wavelike synths and skittering beats. The Knife make many demands on you — of your time, of your patience and of your willingness to let go of preconceived notions of pop — on Shaking the Habitual. Trust them — you’ll emerge from the experience feeling as though you’ve gained a new understanding of what pop music can be. Few artists alive today can claim the same effect.
Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Deluxe LP $26.98
By now Kurt Vile has the corner on slacker folk-rock. Through his numerous solo releases and with The War on Drugs, he spins out classic rock riffs with strangely detached vocals and production heavy on reverb, rendering everything instantly familiar yet intriguingly just out of reach. Wakin on a Pretty Daze doesn’t stray from this formula, but Vile seems to mix the ingredients better each time. “Wakin on a Pretty Day” starts the album in a typically woozy fashion for vile, its gooey production and running time at first seeming to drag, then lodging in your head after about a third listen. Vile’s melodies have a way of not seeming to stick at first until they come humming out of your mouth without you realizing it. “KV Crimes” has a kind of “is he serious” three-chord rawk riff that Vile promptly undercuts with one of his most wonderfully disinterested vocal deliveries to date. It’s like J. Mascis or Thurston Moore covering Tom Petty in earnest. “Was All Talk” flirts with the sort of krautrock beats he especially is fond of in The War on Drugs, slowly intoxicating as it leaps along. Despite its great opening, Vile reserves choice moments for those who stick around through the sleepier songs. “Pure Pain” cuts up its acoustic riffs with engrossing stop-start dynamics that unexpectedly move into a fluttering middle section; in “Shame Chamber” (awesome title), Vile breaks up his ornate chord changes with impassioned, unexpected yelps; the also awesomely titled “Air Bud” sees Vile opening up a bit with an electronic beat behind him that suits his country jangle just fine and invites him to make his melodies more pop-oriented, his soloing more epic. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is a boon for Vile fans and should garner him plenty of new ones, displaying him firing on all cylinders — albeit at his own cool pace.
James Blake - Overgrown
Overgrown thankfully doesn’t renege on James Blake's promise or give in to the temptation to go too mainstream with his sound, a dramatic resetting of R&B in the context of forward-thinking electronica, dubstep and sample-based sound. Songs like “Digital Lion” are as out-there as his previous work, but the focus is on Blake as a performer and not only a producer, starting out expressively among ominously clanging and surging electronics, foreboding sounds for the rest of the song, when Blake’s beats patter endlessly with bubbling synths and his own voice is sampled and laid overhead in a sort of one-man seance. He retains a certain soulfulness however outre his music gets, and with a song like “Dim,” he barely screws with what is a pretty straightforward soul ballad, reminiscent of his cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.”
Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
Young British Jake Bugg appears to fill the void of “young Dylans” the press collectively fawns over every so often. Thankfully, Bugg’s got more than just good looks, a nasally voice and an acoustic guitar — he has all of those things, to be sure, but his tunes, like the immediately memorable “Lightning Bolt,” also have legs to carry the hype with an appealing country swagger.
Julieta Venegas - Los Momentos
Meixcan alt-pop star Julieta Venegas combines social commentary on the rampant drug violence in Mexico with vibrant pop beaths and melacholody melodies. She'll be at Amoeba Hollywood performing April 16 at 6 p.m.
M83 – Oblivion [OST]
It’s no surprise that M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has turned his sights to soundtracking films. His last album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was a double album Gonzalez said sountracked an imaginary film, and his music has always been epic in scope, with narrative overtones — remember Before the Dawn Heals Us’ “Car Chase Terror”? But the soundtrack to Oblivion, a sci-fi epic starring Tom Cruise and directed by Joseph Koskinski (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tron Legacy), is not just another M83 album. It’s a legit soundtrack, with surging, foreboding strings, empty space and epic builds, something Gonzalez has always succeeded at — just looking at the soundwaves produced on “Waking Up,” it’s a surefooted, triangular build that never lets up. As you might expect, Gonzalez pulls influence from classic soundtrack music, something he has always done with his music but even more so here, with horror movie swells on “Tech 49” that lead to bubbling crescendos reminiscent of Phillip Glass. “StarWaves” is classic M83, especially toward the end, when its synth stabs flutter like shoegaze guitars. “Odyssey Rescue’s” dark tones call to mind Danny Elfman’s Batman soundtracks as well as Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, another key touchstone across the album. However, Gonzalez isn’t just playing fanboy nostalgia here. He leaves his mark, on pieces like “Earth 2077,” which is unmistakably M83 in tonality and scope — just replace the strings with guitars and synths, while the very M83 drums that pop up now and then across the soundtrack are always welcome. Similarly, “Canyon Battle,” though it wouldn’t sound out of place on a number of action film soundtracks, features plenty of M83 key touches, like squealing background synths and a huge drum finish that leaves your pulse pounding. The scene stealer here though would be the song with vocals, the title track, which features Susanne Sundfor singing soulfully over Gonzalez’ John Carpenter-esque themes. While more typical M83 music would’ve done just nicely as film soundtrack, it’s nice to hear Gonzalez stretch by using traditional soundtrack instrumentation and tropes, subverting them slightly here and there while paying homage to some masters of the genre.