It should be no surprise that Real Estate’s third album is another impeccably crafted piece of beautiful guitar music. The New Jersey band has only made the necessary updates to their sound over the past few years, like polishing a statue into perfection. The album’s first few tracks offer everything we’ve come to love about this band, with sunny jangle-pop songs (opener “Had to Hear” and single “Talking Backwards”) butting next to nostalgic, minor-key songs about suburban splendor and decay—like being depressed about seeing a high school friend that never moved on, Matt Mondanile (also of Ducktails) sings “I walk past these houses where we once stood/I see past lives, but somehow you’re still here,” with perfect precision on “Past Lives.” Real Estate’s lyrics have often taken a back seat to their shimmering guitarwork, but here they’re a bit more prominent, shining a light on Mondanile’s minimalist approach—despite how lovely the music is, songs like “Crime” are pretty depressing when you get down to it, with lyrics like “I wanna die/lonely and uptight.” Musically things have expanded a bit, as the band throws in more overt nudges toward easy listening and ’70s singer-songwriters in “The Bend” and country tinges in the gauzy, pretty “How I Might Live.” Instrumentally, these guys are just top notch, as they make instrumental “April’s Song” an album highlight, even without Mondanile’s soothing vocals, allowing his tremoloed, romantic guitar lines to do the singing for him. Atlas is simply a stunningly beautiful piece of guitar pop.
When I first put on Joyland, I was afraid. Grandiose, beautiful synths and mournful vocals begin it like some damn Sigur Ros album. Where were the dirty, dark disco jams? Well wait just a second pardner, cause that New Agey opening is a red herring for Trust’s nastiest set of jammers yet. “Geryon” sounds like a zombie singing over ’90s Eurodisco. The title track warps those vocals into a higher register for diva-ish freestyle pop. While it’s a lot of fun, some tracks on Joyland fuse that desire to be taken a little more seriously hinted at by the title track with Trust’s poppier ambitions, like the OMD-style, subtly catchy “Are We Arc?,” the dynamic, multilayered disco of “Capitol,” and “Icabod,” which lets Robert Alfons’ throaty vocals move a bit in their low register and rise for a rousing chorus. So while Trust are more fun than your average modern synth-pop band, using a variety of influences in the service of crafting great dance songs, they also shouldn’t be dismissed as just a party band. Joyland proves Trust is a band to hold onto.
A legend of Laurel Canyon folk, Linda Perhacs returns with her first album in more than 40 years. She’s been living life as a dentist while an Internet-age cult built around her New Age-folk album Parallelograms, with Devendra Banhart asking her to appear on his album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Modern acolytes like Julia Holter and Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) help out here, helping transform compositions like “River of God” into stunning, swirling pools of layered vocals, softly plucked acoustic guitars and light touches or organ and backward guitar. Songs like “Daybreak” are simple and beautiful, seeming to well up with light as they progress, while songs like “Intensity” are more directly strange and alluring, combining New Agey aphorisms (“We are in the rhythm of an energy sea,” for instance) with exciting polyrhythms, woven strands of vocals and intriguing musical touches that seem to spill out perfectly. It’s a similar story to Animal Collective’s work with Vashti Bunyan a few years back, and similarly, The Sound of All Things is a complete triumph.
New Captured Tracks signee Axxa/Abraxas (aka 23-year-old Ben Asbury) delivers psych-rock treats on his debut LP. With nods to C86-style college rock (the lovely "I Almost Fell") and classic rock touches, Asbury isn't your average fey songsmith, unleashing as many blistering guitar solos as he does soft melodies.
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