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Album Picks: Daft Punk, The National, Majical Cloudz, Pharmakon

Posted by Billy Gil, May 21, 2013 09:30am | Post a Comment

Daft PunkRandom Access Memories

daft punk random access memoriesCD $12.98

LP $36.98

Daft Punk’s outrageous new album starts with a bang, a fanfare of funk guitars, synths and growing static noise that sounds not unlike the opening of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” From there Random Access Memories takes off into a nearly double-album length set of songs pairing musical heroes both new (Panda Bear) and beloved (Chic’s Nile Rodgers) to deliver something that is inspired by funk and prog-rock albums of the 1970s while retaining the musically adventurous spirit that has thus far defined Daft Punk. On the album’s best songs, Rodgers’ unmistakable riffs breathe excitement into Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s arrangements and give purpose to their robot-rock voices — “let the music in tonight … give life back to music” they intone on “Give Life Back to Music” while Rodgers and co. make dancefloor resistance futile. One of Daft Punk’s heroes, Giorgio Moroder, appears in interview before classic Moroder oscillating synthesizers take us into vintage German discotheques in “Giorgio by Moroder.” Detractors may find Random Access Memories’ pacing questionable, as the set loses a bit of steam until a mid-album set of tracks really send the album into the stratosphere — Pharell brings hip-hop edge to “Lose Yourself to Dance” and the already indelible first single, “Get Lucky,” while “Touch,” featuring Paul Williams of “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainbow Connection” fame, is one of Random Access Memories’ truest joys. Even with numerous party-starters, Random Access Memories is by no means an easy album, taking prog’s excess to heart with its long running time and more soundtrack-ish instrumental passages, but even these have a certain magic, like the beautiful digital washes of “Motherboard.” The album’s lived-in, layered feel is a remarkable achievement in an era of instant-pleasure electronic jams that Daft Punk themselves helped usher in with their dynamite early singles and albums. The wide-open, warm feel of Random Access Memories represents new ground for Daft Punk. Its singles already feel like new classics, while its expanse rewards the patient listener.

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Album Picks: Vampire Weekend, Small Black, Eluvium, Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood, Classixx, Wild Nothing

Posted by Billy Gil, May 14, 2013 10:28am | Post a Comment

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

vampire weekend modern vampires of the cityCD $12.98

LP $18.98

Limited Edition LP $19.98

Download $9.98

Every time the world turns against Vampire Weekend, they have a way of turning around and shattering expectations. From the get-go, the band was dogged with Strokes comparisons and scoffs of Ivy League grads pilfering African music while singing about rich people. But none of those things could stop people from enjoying their immensely enjoyable first album, their underrated second one and now their third pop opus, Modern Vampires of the City. It’s low-key like Contra, but Modern Vampires’ hooks are silkier and more ingratiating. “Step” waltzes with a gorgeous collegiate melody, featuring some of the finest singing to date by Ezra Koenig, who’s finally mastered that Paul Simon trill. He also extends his voice beyond its comfort zone, taking on Buddy Holly-style hiccupping and extending his range up and down (aided by digital skewing) while the band rocks a solid shuffle on the cleverly titled “Diane Young.” It’s one of their best singles yet. Koenig’s lyrics, too, retain their wittiness and specificity, though they are open enough to make your own implications — “though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me we got our own sense of time,” he sings memorably in “Hannah Hunt,” which ends with a beautiful, well-earned climax in which Koenig tears his lungs out belting. The band mostly stays supportive, only going full-tilt on a few songs, like the galloping “Worship You,” which allows Koenig to spit verse at lightning speed, or pulling out grand pop moments in “Unbelievers” and the uber-strange “Ya Hey,” which pairs its intricate melodies with hyper-warped vocal tricks. Modern Vampires doesn’t go for obvious, occasionally obscuring itself in too much oddity and not ripping loose often enough. But few bands at this level are still taking these many chances, and pulling it off more often than not. Vampire Weekend’s freewheeling Modern Vampires of the City firmly perches the band back in the top echelon of bands making music today.

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Album Picks: Savages, Deerhunter, Mikal Cronin

Posted by Billy Gil, May 7, 2013 09:00am | Post a Comment

SavagesSilence Yourself

savages silence yourselfCD $12.98

LP $18.98

Savages’ primal, post-punk-inspired sound demands your full attention. From the get-go, Silence Yourself is no warm-hearted embrace of a record — its first song is called “Shut Up,” and then there’s that title. But theirs isn’t an empty confrontation; the British band delivers in spades with songs that dive into your bloodstream and live in you before you know it. “I Am Here” declares itself as a bearing for what’s to come, as if frontwoman Jehnny Beth is grabbing your hand and coaxing you toward your own future. “I am here, no more fear, no more dark shadows, let it come,” she sings chillingly in a mid-range trill somewhere between Siouxsie, Jeff Buckley and Rush’s Geddy Lee. Her band works into a froth that leads to an inevitable conclusion of Ayse Hassan’s pulverizing bass and Fay Milton’s bashing drums while Beth and guitarist Gemma Thompson trade ghostly exchanges above. Silence Yourself isn’t entirely full-throttle though; as any good post-punk devotee knows, the trick is pairing those moments with eerie, atmospheric tunes, and that’s exactly what Savages do, allowing for songs like “Waiting for a Sign,” which summons a combination of apocalyptic sound from Thompson’s guitar and Beth’s banshee wail, while Hassan and Milton keep things anchored in a glacial groove. “Dead Nature” follows, full of empty, echoing dread; these two songs allow the record to reach a midpoint of hollowed-out intensity before ratcheting back up the energy, on songs like “She Will,” which starts as the friendliest and danciest song on the record, until they make that chorus into an uncompromising sexual tirade. “Hit Me” and “Husbands” round out the album by allowing the band to play with full abandon. In the latter, Beth takes the confines of marriage and makes them into a virtual prison, crying “husbands” in frightening, alien repetition. The album’s piano-led, cabaret-esque closer, “Marshall Dear,” speaks great promise of Savages, as Beth goes lower in register and more operatic and the band tempers its great noise-making capabilities. It’s a riveting debut record from start to finish. We knew it was gonna be good judging by the advance press and last year’s I Am Here live EP, but Silence Yourself still smashes expectations and leaves you sitting in smoke, begging for more.

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Album Picks: The Haxan Cloak, !!!, Akron/Family, Hanni El Khatib

Posted by Billy Gil, April 30, 2013 09:34am | Post a Comment

The Haxan CloakExcavation

haxan cloak excavationCD $12.98

LP $19.98

Download $9.98

The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation is an aptly named trip into the other side of the human ego. It takes listeners on a ride through dark ride, requiring several listens for its movements to sink in and rewarding the patient with a unique listening experience. Starting with deep bass drum hits on “Consumed,” it moves into the two-part “Excavation,” which at first feels like travelling at the deepest part of the ocean, drumless and with little light let in, but deep sonar blasts of bass, heartbeats and backward sound guide us as if we’re seeing the unseen. Part two opens the chasm a bit, with squelching beats you could almost dance to, were they not so brutal and irregular. “Mara” sounds like the exact moment the protagonist finds the body in film noir or horror film, build on unseemly strings and a door-slamming beat. The two-part “The Mirror Reflecting” gets even deeper, with a beautifully decayed last quarter, and the nearly 13-minute “The Drop” actually finds The Haxan Cloak’s Bobby Krlic at his most open and easy to follow, with melodic synths that sound like a synth-pop song slowed to quarter-speed. Though it provides few easy entry points and demands much of its listener, The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation is a worthwhile journey, even just to say you made it to the other side.

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Albums Out April 23: No Joy, Phoenix, Junip, Young Galaxy

Posted by Billy Gil, April 23, 2013 04:35pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

No JoyWait to Pleasure

No Joy Wait to PleasureCD $10.98

LP $16.98

A mistake some neo-shoegaze bands make is avoiding the loud guitars the genre is partially based upon without making up for it in melody or some other distinguishing feature. Not so with No Joy, whose debut Ghost Blonde was slathered in distortion and reverb — so much so, in fact, that it did tend to wash them out. Not so with follow-up Wait to Pleasure, which ratchets up the songwriting without sacrificing much in the way of pulverizing guitar power, in a way previewed on their Negaverse EP last year. “E” tunnels along on the strength of a heavily distorted bass that gives anchor to Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd’s guitar feedback and cooing vocals. “Hare Tarot Lies” crushes through with heavy power chords and femme vocals that recall the best of ’90s female-led alt-rock bands (underrated acts like Lush and Veruca Salt) while paying homage to their usual checklist of influences, such as Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. With the sonics in check, No Joy seem to feel free to explore their pop side on the rest of the album, on the church-like melodies of “Prodigy” and Strawberry Switchblade-esque '80s pop of “Lunar Phobia.” Not all of their gambits work, as they miss a vocal cue on “Slug Night” that could have made it a single, and “Blue Neck Riviera’s” rapping is questionable, even if the song is saved by a melodically charging second half. But even these foibles are mostly endearing, as Wait to Pleasure never wears out its welcome across its 11 tracks. They sound like a band secure in their own sound and trying out new things here and there, occasionally coming up with a power-pop gem like “Lizard Kids,” featuring sweet vocals akin to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval over muscular, bass-driven riffs. One expects them to continue tinkering with their sound; Wait to Pleasure suggests No Joy can become a great pop band. For now, they’ll have to settle for being one of the best shoegaze bands around.

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