In the latter half of their career, Belle & Sebastian have consistently tried to balance the desire to appeal to a wider audience with more outward-facing pop songs alongside the bookish indie pop that netted them a cult of worshipping devotees in the first place. They’ve never done it quite as successfully as they have here on Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Opener “Nobody’s Empire,” with its marching beat, glowing synths and gospel choir backup vocals comes off like a statement of purpose: This will be a richly produced pop album (courtesy of Ben H. Allen III, who’s worked both with the indie-pop elite and hip-hop artists), so gear up. The band comes up with one of its most radio-ready singles to date on “The Party Line,” a disco-rock track with typically clever lyrics and a booming synth riff that won’t quit. The best Stevie Jackson-led song in years comes on the bittersweet beatnik funk of “Perfect Couples.” “Play for Today” is synthy and light, with ace guest vocals from Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee Penny. And it’s safe to say Belle & Sebastian have the only ABBA-esque synth-pop track that name-checks Sylvia Plath. But Belle & Sebastian want to do more than make us dance. Several tracks hue closer to their ’90s incarnation while still retaining the fuller production present on the album’s more immediate moments. The European folk-flavored “The Everlasting Muse” is rich with mandolin, horns and clap-along breakdowns. The slow-rolling, string-laden “Ever Had a Little Faith” is reminiscent of early B&S highlight “The Boys of Track and Field.” And Sarah Martin gets to sing lead on both the swoony “The Power of Three” and rollicking “The Book of You,” with some ripping guitarwork to boot. So it’s not the introverted Belle & Sebastian of yore. But this edition of Belle & Sebastian manages to help them evolve without losing what made them special. It’s a win-win for fans new and old, on one of Belle & Sebastian’s best albums in years.
Sego – “Wicket Youth” video
These Utah-via-L.A. Kitsune signees immediately get me for referencing Wicket the ewok from Return of the Jedi. Even if that’s not what they’re referencing, that’s not the point—“Wicket Youth” touches on familiar ’80s influences without really sounding like they’re retreading, instead infusing refreshingly plainspoken lyrics about nostalgia for youth with sparkling synth-pop flourishes. And it’s got a very ’80s, handrawn-style video to match. The Wicket Youth EP is out Oct. 27.
Cool Ghouls – “What a Dream I Had”
Here’s the third track from the forthcoming Cool Ghouls album A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye, out Nov. 11 on Empty Cellar. It’s perhaps the most impressive track they’ve debuted yet, built on a slow, steady jangle and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” harmonies. Cool Ghouls keep the dream of San Francisco alive with songs like “What a Dream I Had.” Stream the track via Wondering Sound, and read my interview with them here.
|Hanni El Khatib|
Hanni El Khatib released a batch of catchy garage-rock tunes last year called Head in the Dirt, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Read my interview with him here, and check out his episode of “What’s In My Bag?” below:
Hanni El Khatib - What's In My Bag?
Watch and comment on YouTube
Youth Code – “Carried Mask”
L.A. dark synth music duo Youth Code has unveiled another song from their upcoming self-titled debut album, which will be released Sept. 3 on Dais. It’s a throbbing number reminiscent of industrial/EBM music pioneers like Ministry and Skinny Puppy, with a taut dance beat to match its grind and screeched vocals. It makes me want to go to Das Bunker and dance to darkwave all night. Can’t wait for this album!
Boardwalk – “I’m to Blame” video
Nostalgic, dreamy stuff from new L.A. duo Boardwalk. Fans of Beach House and Mazzy Star should feel right at home within the folds of this organ-fueled blanket of lo-fi dream pop. Surprisingly, their debut album will find a home on L.A.-based Stones Throw Records, which has grown and diversified from its beats-driven roots. Boardwalk is due Oct. 15.
Starting a new feature to highlight some recent tracks available to download on the Amoeba site. Take a listen and if you like them, add them to your Amoeba shopping cart (you won’t be charged until you check out). All downloads are in the $.98 MP3 format; visit the album page to pick up higher-res M4A or WAV files.
Mikal Cronin – “Weight”
Starting with a stately piano and acoustic jangle, “Weight” opens Mikal Cronin’s excellent MCII on a classy note. Those Rubber Soul-style harmonies and crunching guitars at the chorus don’t hurt, either. This one’s a free download. (From the album MCII)
Ancient Animals – “Teen Wolf”