Album Picks: Wild Nothing, Swans, Divine Fits, Plus Albums Out Today

Posted by Billy Gil, August 28, 2012 07:37pm | Post a Comment
This is it, we're entering the hot season for new releases. Next week sees the release of new albums from Cat Power, Animal Collective and Deerhoof, to name a few. But plenty of great releases snuck up on us this week too; here are a few of my favorites:

wild nothing nocturneWild Nothing - Nocturne
Wild Nothing’s Gemini was a warm, digitally enhaned indie-pop love letter to its inspiration, college rock of the 1980s. Since that release, Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum has had a couple of releases, the Golden Haze EP and the Nowhere single, that have further proven Tatum an equal to his forebears, and that continues with Nocturne, which sands down any outlier sounds and offers a solidified statement of purpose for Wild Nothing. As you might guess from titles like “Nocturne” and “Midnight Sound,” the album is full of swooning nighttime pop, with swirling, delayed guitars, lovelorn vocals and synth washes lapping underneath it all. While the album’s opening three songs (“Shadow,” “Midnight Song” and “Nocturne) set the tone thematically, the more you listen to Nocturne, the more the shier songs stay with you, like “This Chain Won’t Break,” with its freestyle beat and bassline a weirdly perfect fit to its twee synths and melodies, or “Paradise,” a glorious New Wave totem that sounds like whitewashed memories of an ’80s prom. However, Nocturne doesn’t fall into the trap of sounding overly reverential to the ’80s because Tatum’s songs have become more confident, as he pulls off a refrain like “only Heather makes me feel this way” on the Cure-ish “Only Heather.” Nocturne gets so many things right, with its sneaking melodies, dreamy guitar textures and dreamier lyrics are Tatum’s alone, that everything feels like inspiration rather than pastiche.

swans seerSwansThe Seer
It feels fitting for me that I started listening to Swans’ The Seer after watching Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Similarly to that director’s work, Swans’ music is severe and feels hopeless yet true beyond its fantastical details. Beginning with a rather accessible (by their standards) entrypoint, “Lunacy” begins with a relatively innocuous repeating guitar riff and builds to a chorus of ominous lyrics before delving into an extended passage of sound punctuated by cries of “lunacy!” It peels back into a somber acoustic passage that calls to mind frontman Michael Gira’s Americana work in Angels of Light during Swans’ hiatus. From there, The Seer journeys into deeper black canyons of noise with only momentary flecks of light breaking through. “Mother of the World” actually sounds like a lost No Wave-era classic in its beginning, with its atonal riff and breathy vocals, but stretches past its logical constraints and falls into a swaying, chanting refrain that again makes use of a dark folk sound. This makes way for the spare vocal performance of “The Wolf,” little more than Gira singing over a light sound wash that actually feels like an old spiritual, a minute-and-a-half necessary soulful reprieve in the midst of The Seer’s extraordinary austerity. Following that is the half-hour title track, a deep coal mine of drone, recasting folk instrumentation and rock drums as tools of endless toil. But what is it that those bulging guitar surges in the background and Gira’s toneless vocal convey? A sense of impending doom, or determination, or something in between — futility despite struggle? And the way it ultimately crashes down on itself with raging noise before fading into gradual blankness and back to its droning point of origin. It’s as intensely moving as it is unspeakable to describe. The Seer seems to speak in harsh truths of life and death, but its open-ended and engagingness within that framework make it impossible to ignore, difficult to shake. It’s one of the year’s hallmark listening experiences.

divine fitsDivine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
It’s consistent. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it isn’t; there have been plenty of albums I thought I loved lately that ultimately had just a couple of great tracks and the rest duds, while the debut by Divine Fits, a supergroup of sorts featuring Spoon’s Britt Daniels, former Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade singer Dan Boeckner, New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown, and Alex Fischel on keyboards, is chockfull of quality. That should be expected judging by Divine Fits’ memebers’ other bands, which have always tended toward consistency over flashy singles. And so, A Thing Called Divine Fits plays much as one might expect, if familiar with its players previous material, and that’s a good thing. “Flaggin a Ride” and “Would That Not Be Nice” feature some of Daniel’s most balls-to-the-wall vocals in years, bouncing along with the kind of grooves you’d find in a Spoon song, yet more aggressive in attack, perhaps given Boeckner and Brown’s involvement. For his part, Boeckner, who it’s great to have back, given his other bands’ hiatuses, blows it out of the water on sexy opener “My Love is Real,” sort of an electrified, modern take on Hall & Oates. It’s a rare thing to have a supergroup in which if the members declared it to be their new primary focus, that would be just fine.

Also released this week:

dan deaconDan DeaconAmerica
Dan Deacon’s America starts with a buzzsaw synth as if too announce the serrated listening experience that is Dan Deacon. Both sugary and over-the-top, Deacon’s electronic constructions are exhaustive marvels of sound, looping hyperspeed synthesizer riffs into infinity. When vocals are added to the mix, the results can be rewarding pop songs, as in the muscular “Lots,” whose aggressive beats and distorted vocals are softened by a swooning choral pool in the background. “Crash Jam” similarly goes for the jugular with a straight-ahead beat and propulsive vocal, like a reworking of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn.” This is not to say America doesn’t have its sweet moments; the aptly titled rococo “Prettyboy” includes synthesized oboes and strings that suggest automated romance. Though still a fan of excess — a four-part “USA” suite, complete with vibraphone breakdowns, fattens America’s back end, no pun intended — Deacon’s ability to step it down a notch from his previous work and his fondness for orchestral flourishes, especially those celestial harmonies lining the vocal tracks, makes America a more mature and ultimately more gratifying experience than anything Deacon has done before.
matthew dearMatthew Dear Beams
Matthew Dear’s latest album continues the streak of dance noir that reached its pinnacle on 2010’s Black City with his new album, Beams. Dear sounds confident in his dark disco sound, spinning out nasty jams like “Earthforms” and “Fighting is Futile” with grace. Particularly grabbing is opener “Her Fantasy,” in which Dear’s toneless vocal deadpans through a forest of lush syncopated electronics, singing navelgazing lines like “Do I feel love like all of the others or this feeling only mine?” which take a second to unravel. The way Dear gets off his ass halfway through and sounds suddenly passionate surprises and feels revelatory. Dear also shows an affinity for the affecting techno-ballad on Beams on “Ahead of Myself,” a sprightly diversion from the rest of the album that could nestle itself on nearly any end-of-summer mixtape. Remarkably paced and consistently rewarding while never overwrought, Beams is just the latest notch in the pole for the electronic pop artist.

the orbThe OrbThe Observer in the Star House
The Orb team with dub reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry on an album of mostly new material that fuses The Orb’s ambient house sound to that pioneered by Perry, showing the innate similarities in their stylistically different genres mesh well, due to the ability of both to focus on basic elements of throb, drone and building songs from the ground up. “H.O.O.” is a glorious example of how natural the pairing can sound as Perry vocalizes in and out of The Orb’s warm groove. A pair of reworkings should also pique interests, as anyone who’s heard both The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” and Perry’s “Police & Thieves” a thousand times should delight at their respective reworkings, as The Orb’s becomes the slower, funkier “Golden Clouds” and “Police & Thieves” stays faithful to the sound of the original but gets chopped and melded until slightly askew, it pours smoothly out, and the lyric “a new generation will rise” seems more fitting than ever.

lawlessLawless Soundtrack [Music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis]
The highly anticipated gangster drama Lawless was both written and soundtracked by Nick Cave, whose music has always held an all-encompassing quality such that it creates its own world of sound and word, from the days of The Birthday Party through his solo work, with The Bad Seeds and Grinderman. Similarly with their work on The Road and The Proposition, Cave collaborates with The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis on a dark Americana soundtrack, but this time, instead of atmospheric tracks, Cave and Ellis create a band, The Bootleggers, who lend furious country jangle to a host of covers by artists from John Lee Hooker to Captain Beefheart and The Velvet Underground. Ever the voice of grizzled pathos, Mark Lanegan paints a vivid picture on a rollicking covers of Joe Walsh’s “Fire and Brimstone” and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’s “Sure Nuff ‘N’ Yes I Do.” Emmylou Harris’ presence is highly welcomed on a pair of originals from Cave that sweeten their surroundings, particularly the touching “Cosmonaut.” The biggest revelation is perhaps a pair of covers of the Velvet’s “While Light/White Heat,” the first featuring Lanegan lightening up while the band has too much fun oozing fiddle over the art-rock classic, while bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley makes it a weary spiritual. Altogether the soundtrack succeeds by sidestepping the perils of taking such a collection too seriously, with Cave, Ellis and co. seemingly like a true band inviting friends to pick up the banjo or jug and join in.

Also released this week were albums from Alanis Morissette, Tamia, Minus the Bear, Jim Gaffigan and Easy Star All-Stars; see a full list here. Out today on Blu-ray are Battleship, Boardwalk Empire: Season Two, Double Indemnity, Harvey, Homeland: Season One, Pirates! Band of Misfits, Think Like a Man and Walking Dead: Season Two; see a full list here.

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Wild Nothing (14), Album Picks (146), New Releases (214), Divine Fits (3), Swans (15)