Thee Oh Sees’ perhaps final LP encapsulates what the band has done so well for the past decade while still forging new territory. The album balances songs that thump around in dark corners with those that bang out brilliantly. “Penetrating Eye” explores spacey moog sounds even as it unleashes an unholy howl of Sabbath guitars. “Put Some Reverb on My Brother” has a terrifically snarling little riff and sneering performance by John Dwyer, with saxophones that add extra pop. The title track has great, big Who-style guitarwork, making it one of the band’s most all-embracing rock tracks yet. “The King’s Noise” tries on some regal riffs and strings for a bit of proggy psychedelia. But for all of Drop’s catchiness, it’s the band’s ability to warp garage-rock guitars into something truly strange and unnerving that gets us every time, as on the spacey, scary “Transparent World.” If this is truly the end of Thee Oh Sees, they’ve gone out with a bang on one of their strongest albums yet.
There’s been a hole in our hearts lately where dance-rock bands of yore used to reside. De Lux fill that hole admirably with immediate, expansive dance rockers that aren’t short on detail or hooks. “Better at Making Time” opens the album subtly, letting its disco bass groove enter four minutes in after giving Sean Guerin’s David Byrne-ish vocals a chance to sink in. “Movements” is a true groover, made up of a bunch of interlocking parts—a simple-yet-effective bassline and guitar lick in lockstep, washy synths and chiming bells—while Guerin’s vocals get wilder and wilder. The duo of multi-instrumentalists Guerin and Isaac Franco let each song breathe and unfold at its own speed, giving it a couple minutes in “I’ve Got to Make a Solid Statement (No More Likes & Ums)” before singing a word so we that Stevie Wonder-style clavinet and spacey effects can soak in. Of course, when they get to it, as on the superb “Love Is a Phase,” the result is a space-disco opus that leaves you head over heels for the band. Though Voyage is stuffed with cool references, they never feel forced or overdone. It feels as though the young band has digested decades of smart party jams and picked the choices parts to make their own thing—though you could compare them to LCD Soundsystem or The Rapture, for instance, on songs like “Make Space,” most of the time De Lux never sound imitative of those bands, as tunes like the interstellar “On the Day” stand completely on their own. It makes Voyage all the more pleasurable, and not at all in a guilty way. Smart disco-punk that makes us dance while satisfying our inner music-snobs? We’ll take it and more, please.
Mac DeMarco wrongly gets called “slacker rock.” At only 23 he’s releasing his third album, and it’s one of the best things we’ve heard all year. The title track is a swaying, gleefully glum blues track, its charming, singalong quality masking some quarterlife crisis (“Always feeling tired, smiling when required/write another year off and kindly resign,” suggesting some darkness behind DeMarco’s goofy grin). “Brother” features DeMarco sumptuously singing while milky guitars dance beneath the surface. It’s one of the loveliest tunes he’s ever produced. Songs like “Goodbye Weekend,” with its woozy, intoxicating guitar line and lovely jazz tones, speak to what a strong songwriter DeMarco has always been beneath it all. And while he’s all the better for ditching some of the affectations he sported on the still-great Rock and Roll Night Club in favor of a streamlined sound he’s dubbed “jizz jazz,” DeMarco can still pull some conceptually striking songs, like “Passing Out the Pieces,” which uses heavily effected harpsichord and booming synth-bass to create miraculous millennial psychedelia, pulling in some of the good ol’ Beatles/Kinks/Beach Boys influence he’s seemed to (probably smartly) avoid showing thus far in his career. Salad Days shows DeMarco to be a classical songwriter with the ability to turn an amiable, if not immediately memorable, voice and intricate yet mangled guitarwork into tunes that pull at you in unexpected, emotional ways. So he can’t be bothered to shower or cut his hair—we wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s a gutsy move to call your album Singles, but in the case of Future Islands, their fourth album and first for 4AD, it’s appropriate. The album is packed with songs that are both immaculately written and catchy as hell, as Future Islands mine new wave and pop-rock for all they’re worth. Just as lead singer Samuel Herring’s dynamite performance style and swingin’ dance moves have won people over (David Letterman, famously), the band gives it their all on songs like “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, is given the perfect backdrop of stargazing new-wave rock that should bring together fans of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cure to The Killers with lighter-waving glee. The synths of “Spirit” bring up memories of B-Movie's “Nowhere Girl,” but Herring’s unique voice keep Future Islands from ever veering into purely nostalgic territory. “A Song For Our Grandfathers” is dreamy yet packs an emotional punch. Herring seems to get more and more insistent over the sprightly “Light House,” almost completely out of step with the band, yet it works so much better than it would have if he played it straight, getting in your face and making it impossible to merely have the song on in the background. On “Like the Moon,” a sexy, pulsating groove gives Herring the chance to kill it vocally, crooning romantically. But his best vocal performance comes next, on “Fall From Grace”—over a simple waltz, Herring goes deep into the bowels of his voice to deliver a performance somewhere between Tom Waits, The National’s Matt Berniger and a black metal singer. Charisma like his doesn’t come around all the time, and as a band, Future Islands are smart enough to stay out of the way while crafting terrific songs that stand on their own. Before you know it, you’ve listened to Singles like five times and still can’t wait to hear it again.
The War on Drugs’ dreamy country-rock music evokes slow motion, even as its songs move at a sprightly pace. The driving rhythm behind "Under the Pressure" is caked in heavily reverbed guitars and washes of synthesizer, even as real-life guitar solos and Adam Granduciel's vocals come through more clearly than ever before. Similarly "Red Eyes" is like some lost '80s collaboration between The Highwaymen and The Cure, effusing brilliant colors with its bright synths and yelping vocals, but the most stunning moment comes in the minute or so in the middle of the songs when a third of the sound is stripped away, leaving a gorgeous, introspective bridge before Granduciel's yelp brings everything crashing back, while the rhythm stays insistent as always. Lost in the Dream invites repeat listens—atmospheric pieces like "The Haunting Idle" keep things spacious, yet the band comes back for the Bruce Springsteen-vibing "Burning" in the albums latter half. As its title would suggest, it's an album to get lost in. It feels like seeing the entire open road ahead of you, coasting yet seemingly to move in place while the sun sets and middle-of-nowhere stations play Bruce and Tom Petty in the background.