Layers of heavily effected guitar hang loosely as a faded tapestry behind Michael Vidal’s pensive croon on his first release as a solo artist. Formerly the frontman for L.A.’s great tropical-punks-turned-darkwavers Abe Vigoda, Vidal is a modern-day goth romantic with his deep voice and yearning lyrics, the gleaming guitar lines and gently pulsing beat of “Dreams (Come Back to Me)” calling to mind bands like Cocteau Twins and The Durutti Column. “Burn” is the emotional centerpiece, as Vidal’s sensitive lyricism pours over looped arpeggiated guitars on a track that recalls the best of The Cure or Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins. Drizzling instrumental “Mono No Aware” moves into the percolating guitars of “Appraisal,” while “Sky Blue” takes that mechanically layered guitar and gives it a regal flair, evoking its namesake somehow both scientifically and dreamily. The album closes on a wash of guitars so hazily rendered they could to float away. At just seven songs, the album manages to leave its mark, a heavenly set of songs for nostalgic dreamers.
Producer and member of The xx Jamie Smith has finallly released his debut LP, and it feels like a game-changer. Favoring melody and atmosphere over showy beatwork, In Colour is able to wrangle a wide variety of sounds into a living, breathing whole. Tracks like “Gosh” layer found sounds and field recordings underneath appealing synth lines. Mellower tracks like “Sleep Sound” and “SeeSaw” are terrific after-hours jams, like passing out outside a rave and letting the beats pulse through your dreams. The xx member Oliver Sim shows up to lend his narcotic vocals to the noirish “Stranger in a Room,” while fellow xx singer Romy Madley Croft smears black mascara all over the heartbreak beat of “Loud Places,” which makes wonderful use of a sample of Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” on the song’s rousing chorus. Though it’s a bit jarring to hear rapper Young Thug and dancehall artist Popcaan on the following track, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” the song itself is a worthy hip-hop crossover that enlivens the album as a whole. It may sound cheesy, but In Colour really does prove that trip-hop, post-punk, house and hip-hop can call reside under the same roof, as Smith expertly strings these sounds together into new nocturnal anthems. It’s not too soon to call this a new electronic masterwork.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with Multi-Love. The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag, Multi-Love is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s one of the best things we’ve heard all year.
Hot Chip - Why Make Sense?
Hot Chip’s latest album title, a sentiment borrowed from their forebears in Talking Heads, is a great guiding principle for the British electro-pop band. Their sixth studio album finds the group abandoning any art-pop pretenses as well as any desire to become overtly mainstream and produce some of its best music yet. “Huarache Lights’” synths pulse like sirens that push your ass to start moving. Over a cyborg beat, Alex Tayor sings, “we’ve been staying up all night, just deleting the days,” instantly summoning the decadence or temporarily losing yourself on the dancefloor. Hot Chip can get a little goofy, giving a potentially heartfelt ballad the lyrical content and title of “White Wine and Fried Chicken,” but things never approach Chromeo levels of silliness, elegantly striking the balance between earnestness and not giving a shit. This serves to make their sonic mining of ’80s genres like synth-funk and house work smoothly—they’re not too self-serious to pull off such sounds while still paying adequate homage to those influences. It doesn’t hurt that the band has never sounded more confident, nor has the music sounded so strong since their breakthrough second album, The Warning, particularly as on the sublime, ethereal house track “Need You Now.” Spin it a few times and the band’s sly hooks take hold and don’t let go. Why Make Sense? makes the case that Hot Chip continue to be the best band of their kind.
Power-pop wunderkind Mikal Cronin’s new album is a significant leap forward for the singer/songwriter. While just as hooky as its preceding albums, MCIII is more heartfelt and intricate, boasting a six-song suite that has some of the album’s best melodies. “Turn Around” starts the album out with a somber tune nestled amid a flurry of electric guitars, violins and pianos. “Made Up My Mind” blasts off with a rocketship riff, while Cronin’s voice breaks under the weight of a breakup. Flourishes like horns, strings and acoustic guitars help give the album a sense of unified orchestration, while dynamics in songs like “Say,” full of cool, bass-driven breakdowns, make each song stand out. But the suite that makes up the last half of the album is its masterstroke. It moves from the spare and aching “i) Alone” to the heavy guitars of “ii) Gold,” through its outro played on the Greek stringed tzouras and into punk and singer/songwriter territory. Each song moves into the next beautifully and makes MCIII feel like Cronin’s Abbey Road. We’ve known Cronin has chops since playing bass with Ty Segall and could entertain freely on his first two albums, but MCIII is his first that feels like his own classic. Watch the just-released "Turn Around" video below, starring comedians Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal.