Heron Oblivion's axes clash like fighting wolves, tangling like the brambles and branches that adorn the album cover. Keeping all this Crazy Horse-style madness reined in are the heart-stopping vocals of Meg Baird of Espers. Her voice can simmer low and quavering like a classic British folk singer and then rise to seemingly unattainable heights on songs like the climactic "Your Hollows." The Bay Area band is a supergroup of sorts, with members of psych-rock groups like Comets on Fire and Six Organs of Admittance. I'm sure it's even better live, so don't miss a chance to see them, including today at Amoeba SF at 6 p.m. Read my interview with the band here.
School of Seven Bell’s fourth and final album is a beautiful tribute to the band and its founding member Benjamin Curtis, who died three years ago after battling a rare form of lymphoma, leaving co-member Alejandra Deheza to finish the album they’d started with another producer. But SVIIB isn’t an overly sad affair, though knowledge of the story behind it certainly cast the lyrics of sadness and longing in a different light — most of them were written before Curtis’ diagnosis, in the wake up of the breakup of Curtis and bandmate Alejandra Deheza’s romantic relationship and their forging forward as friends and bandmates. SVIIB looks back fondly on their time together. The band’s combination of dream-pop and electro-pop has never been more lucidly realized than on songs like “Ablaze,” which opens the album on a rush of teenage emotion and big synth-laden beats, like Erasure’s new-wave optimism reimagined for a generation weaned on M83 and Chvrches. “There was a you before me, there was a me before you,” Dehenza sings with hip-hop inflected delivery on “On My Heart.” “A Thousand Times More’s” New Order-style heartfelt synth-pop and the freestyle-flavored “Signals” call to mind happier times for the band, when they were a trio on albums like Disconnect From Desire. On the devastating “Confusion,” Deheza sings wearily over a billowing cloud of synths and organs, exhaling the line, “I understand nothing of these changes,” with the sense of sitting at rock bottom and staring upward. That impression of a light in the tunnel that SVIIB leaves you with makes the album feel not like a sad ending, but a celebration of their work.
Wild Nothing’s third album is a glorious thing. It’s an album that transcends any genre tags like dream pop or indie pop that dogged Jack Tatum’s work in the past — it’s simply a first-class pop album in the vein of Roxy Music’s sophisticated artpop classic, Avalon. Life of Pause is Tatum’s most varied release thus far. “Reichpop” opens regally with a wall of vibraphones, slick new wave beat and Tatum’s cool breath of a vocal. “A Woman’s Wisdom’s” ethereal soul moves into sugary, MBV-inspired shoegazer “Japanese Alice” and through the lush, synth-heavy title track, the languidly sexy “Alien” and “To Know You’s” motorik beat and cinematic guitar shimmer. Neil Young-inspired folk songcraft inform “Adore,” and things return to slinky grooves for “TV Queen” and “Wherever I,” touches of sax and strings adding an air of cheek and class. In the past, you could have pinned Tatum down as someone who admirably filtered influences like C86-style college rock and dream-pop but ultimately wore them on his sleeve. Life of Pause sheds any such limitations and is easily one of the best indie rock releases of the early new year.
I missed last week since I was on vacation, so here are my picks for the past two weeks!
Brooklyn’s Diiv are back after four years with an album that delivers on the promise of their debut, Oshin. Musically, Zachary Cole Smith and co. still dole out shimmering guitar-pop nuggets that surf on waves of reverb and atmospheric distortion. Songs like “Under the Sun” offer a pure rush of new wave beats and summery melodies, even as Smith’s lyrics delve into his struggle with addiction. It follows one of The Cure’s best tricks: sounding lively even at their bleakest. Songs like “Dopamine” are far from numbed out — Smith’s jaunty vocal is as close as he’d let himself get to Tom Petty, while still encased in a fog of reverb. Is The Is Are is a bit sprawling at 17 tracks, and after a dynamite opening, some of its shorter tracks in the middle don’t sink in, compared with the relatively taut Oshin. But that also gives Is The Is Are room to roam and the feeling of some alt-rock record of yore, like a Guided By Voices or Sonic Youth album (speaking of the latter, Smith’s girlfriend, Sky Ferreira, shows up to play Kim Gordon on the breathy “Blue Boredom”). Smith also should get credit for expanding his guitar palette while keeping things trim and stylistically consistent, adding My Bloody Valentine-style bends and distortion to his crisp, Felt-ish tones only when necessary. As layers of heavily distorted riffs close out “Waste of Breath” like interlocking corroded piping (epic by Diiv standards at nearly six minutes), Smith’s talents are firmly re-established.
Savages take all the nonsense that comes with being a much-hyped buzz band and pummel it into the ground on their intense sophomore album. Love and its various manifestations fuels these songs — “if you don’t love me, don’t love anybody,” androgynous frontwoman Jehnny Beth sings over a grinding riff on “The Answer.” The jagged post-punk groove of a song like “Husbands” returns on “Evil,” though it’s darker and more drawn out, as the band knows it can command attention without having to shake it out as it once did. Though many of these songs go for the jugular, restraint serves the band well on “Adore,” a slow-burner that clears the way for a Beth’s singular refrain, “I adore life,” a statement of purpose that drives the band into a fearless crescendo. It takes that kind of conviction to overcome the bullshit of being in an all-female band and both held to an unfair standard and knocked down by anyone tired of the hype — as if the breathless coverage of the band’s live shows and prior album, Silence Yourself, was at all their fault. It doesn’t matter, anyway —the band’s follow-up album is endlessly intriguing and, despite lacking obvious hooks, grips you the more you listen. Simply allow the band to exist on its own terms, and you won’t be disappointed by Adore Life. Watch their episode of "What's In My Bag?" below.