The amazing new album from Arcade Fire proves the band was, and is, worthy of all that damn praise and hype that's been heaped upon the band since its inception. It also proves you can teach an old dog new tricks, as the band largely ditches the orchestral indie rock of their previous releases in favor of lean, mean groove-oriented jams. This isn't to say Reflektor is somehow less complex than their earlier work; the title track alone is a seven-and-a-half minute odyssey that sets the tone for an album that gives listeners a dance song while seemingly satirizing itself at the same time—are they the reflectors, repeating past sounds for the sake of accessibility? Are we the mirrors, reflecting what we want onto our musicians? It poses interesting artistic questions while giving us visceral thrills. Reflektor continues with more pensive groovers. "We Exist" pulls off a "Billie Jean" rip through "Reflektor's" staging of borrowed sounds, yet its also a silky rocker worthy of its own ripoffs, peeling into half-time chorus that that keeps listeners on their toes. The band successfully ventures into dub reggae on "Flashbulb Eyes"—no really, don't roll your eyes until you hear it—which moves into the tribal opening of "Here Comes the Night," making use of the band's many-membered setup for a dynamic, smooth jam that questions the concept of heaven in an accessible way, much as their forebears in Talking Heads did on "Heaven." "Normal Person" is like a response to The Suburbs' "Roccoco," which took hipsters to task for pretentiousness—this Robert Palmer-style rocker asks, "Is anything as strange as a normal person?" Reflektor's second half struggles for the same energy as its first, it offers the kind of sonic exploration the band perhaps hasn't always let itself undergo, like venturing into krautrock on "Porno," and more of the sort of spiritual questioning posed on "Here Comes the Night" pops up on "Afterlife," a much-wanted followup to The Suburbs' "The Sprawl II." It's a lot to take in at once, but you could listen to Reflektor ten times in a row and find a new song or idea to latch onto that you hadn't noticed before. It's the next logical step for a band who has carefully considered each release thus far, and it's also one of the year's best.
Cass McCombs’ wonderful new record, Big Wheel and Others, is a big record, in length (22 tracks), scope and humanity. Ostensibly a folk-rock record, it dabbles in country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and just about every other genre that can be lumped into the general, overarching term “Americana.” Yet this isn’t a reverent record by any means. Much as his prior records did, such as 2011’s double whammy of Wit’s End and Humor Risk, songs veer into avant-garde atmospherics; lyrics defy their genre’s constraints, such as the country-rockin’ “Big Wheel,” which delves into the manhood country music often stands upon (“the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” he sings, before later undercutting such manly imagery with lyrics like “a man with a man, how more manly can you get? I may be 5-foot-one, but you’re all wet”). Interspersing the tracks are interludes cut from the 1970 documentary short Sean, about a hippie kid who smokes weed, plus two versions of the same song, “Brighter!,” one sung with the late actress Karen Black, with whom McCombs also dueted on the Catacombs highlight “Dreams-Come-True-Girl.” I sat down to ask McCombs about the epic new album.
Lee Bannon – “216”
Lee Bannon’s “216” starts and ends with a simple piano passage filtered into ethereal bookends for a series of twists that gives “216” a dreamlike quality, where everything can change in an instant, from a simple hip-hop beat to dread-inducing tones and squelches. At just under six minutes, it feels inifinitely longer given the level of care given to each sequence, sort of like waking up from a five-minute nap and having dreamed up a lifetime. The Sacramento-based producer’s Alternate/Endings LP is due Dec. 9 on Ninja Tune.
White Fence – “Swagger Vets and Double Moon” (Live)
White Fence aka Tim Presley is one prolific dude, releasing wonderful lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll records regularly like it ain’t no thang. He’s releasing a live album Nov. 5 called Live in San Francisco, the first in Castle Face’s new “Live in San Francisco” series. The set was recorded at Amnesia San Francisco on a Tascam 388 for maximum lo-fi goodness. Except more live awesomeness from Castle Face down the line!
The Stone Roses were one of the best and most beloved Britpop bands of the early ’90s, helping the dance-influenced Madchester sound of the late ’80s and early ’90s take the British charts by storm with their classic self-titled debut album. In the U.S. their immediate impact was smaller, yet their influence stretched from predecessors like Oasis to more recent bands including Jagwar Ma and Diiv. Their sound, a blend of jangly guitars not unlike those employed by Johnny Marr in The Smiths with dancier beats and psychedelic effects, helped make them NME cover stars at the time, as did the presence of cocky, charismatic frontman Ian Brown, who once declared the band would become “the biggest band ever.” The band's second album failed to take off, and the band broke up in 1996. They reunited in 2012, after 16 years, to headline the Coachella Music and Arts Festival and have even garnered the Twitter ire of one Azealia Banks, as sure a sign as any that the band’s relevance continues today.
On Nov. 7 American Express will present The Drop: Divided & United — Music of The Civil War at 7:30pm., featuring performances by Chris Hillman, John Doe and Lee Ann Womack, as well a panel discussion with the performers. Amoeba is proud to sponsor the event. Tickets are $15; you can pick them up here.
The show kicks off the album Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War, which features songs from the Civil War era, as picked by Randall Poster, a music supervisor who has worked with the likes of Wes Anderson, Martin Scorcese and Todd Haynes. The album, out Nov. 5 on ATO Records, is available for preorder now and includes 32 tracks on two discs, with appearances by the aforementioned artists plus Loretta Lynn, Steve Earle, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dolly Parton and many more.