Album Picks: Melody's Echo Chamber, Chris Cohen, The Soft Pack, Lavender Diamond, Plus Albums Out Tuesday

Posted by Billy Gil, September 25, 2012 04:30pm | Post a Comment
Album Picks:
Melody's Echo ChamberMelody’s Echo ChamberMelody’s Echo Chamber
My favorite new band out right now is Melody’s Echo Chamber, whose enchanting self-titled debut is a study in ebullient dream-pop perfection. The story goes that Melody Prochet hooked up with Aussie psych-rock greats Tame Impala, calling on the band’s Kevin Parer to beef up her beauteous, French-pop-inspired arrangements with the kind of soaring sonics employed by that band. What comes out is indeed a perfect marriage. It’s one of those records where the cover perfectly captures the mood: mysterious, colorful and ethereal, you get lost in the folds of this record and don’t want to come out. Fans of Broadcast and Blonde Redhead, take note. The only downside is that aside from a few strong standouts, like the garage rocky opener “I Follow You” and lush (and Lush-esque) “Endless Shore,” the record blurs together. No matter — for fans of this kind of thing, you won’t know where the time has gone. As with like-minded peers A Sunny Day in Glasgow, the emphasis is more on album as experience, following dissociative dream logic in which melodies and arrangements are allowed to meander and linger and flow into one another in a singular happening. In a word, divine.
Chris CohenChris CohenOvergrown Path
Chris Cohen is one of the great underappreciated guitar players of our generation — listen back to Deerhoof records from when he was in the band for proof of his and John Dieterich’s insane riffery and interplay. Since leaving that band, he’s spent time with projects such as Cryptacize, but now on his first solo album and John Cale Paris 1919 moment, we get to see what a strong singer, songwriter and arranger he is, as well. “Monad” opens the album with the sort of skewed guitarwork that will make early Deerhoof fans squeal, but that quickly fades into a brisk, smart soft-pop track punctuated by splashy drums, not unlike one of Yo La Tengo’s more ornate songs. Cohen packs his intricate guitarwork into skilled compositions, such as the Latin-psych vibing “Caller No.99,” in a way that was never as apparent in his flashier Deerhoof contributions. Though his voice is unremarkable, its nice-guy pleasantness carries listeners swiftly through mellow but tricky compositions, avoiding the sort of fussiness that could have resulted with punchier performances. By the time you arrive at the sweet “bum bum bum bums” of the irresistible “Optimist High,” you’re floating on a cloud of contentment and ready to follow Cohen just about anywhere. Overgrown Path is really the perfect fall album, cozy and warm and subtly, almost magically, life-affirming.

the soft pack strappedThe Soft PackStrapped
The Soft Pack update their winning formula of hooks-first, propulsive rock ‘n’ roll on Strapped. “Saratoga” surges fast and bubbles over into the frothy jangle-pop of “Second Look,” replete with a heavily effected saxophone solo. “Tallboy’s” organ riff and cheeky lyrics make double-hangover regret sound like a blast. “Bobby Brown” pairs islandy riffs and a synth hook with Matt Lamkin’s deadpan vocals in a song that feels like a perfect fleeting romance. The band keeps things rolling smoothly, much as they did on their first album, with songs that rarely break the three-minute mark, employing a brevity most bands unwisely chuck and keeping things sounding youthful and brisk, even on balladesque jams like “Everything I Know,” save for an aquatic rock epic that ends the album, “Captain Ace.” “Jump on in, the water’s fine, we make mistakes and leave them all behind” Lamkin sings on “Ray’s Mistake.” The thing is, they rarely do.
Lavender Diamond Incorruptible HeartLavender DiamondIncorruptible Heart
The operatic folk of Lavender Diamond has always felt like a welcome ray of beauty and earnestness amongst L.A.’s too cool music scene. So any time they release music it’s a good thing; Incorruptible Heart is their first album in five years, not counting frontwoman Becky Stark’s side project The Living Sisters, with Inara George and Eleni Mandell. It’s a logical progression of their sound, following 2007’s excellent Imagine Our Love, imbuing the band’s stargazing folk with appropriately reverb-laden, dreamy production and big, slow kick drums that ups the girl-group reference point and allows Stark’s incredible voice — wispy, yet heartfelt and engaging — to burrow even further into your heart. Tracks like “Forgive” are a classic example of how Lavender Diamond can take a few chords, minimal lyrics and an on-the-nose sentiment like the virtue of forgiveness and make it feel essential. Thought most of Incorruptible Heart isn’t exactly new territory for the band, they mix things up with electro-pop track “Light My Way,” perhaps pointing to a new direction the band could continue to pursue. For now, though, Incorruptible Heart is a welcome bit of orchestral folk beauty that reminds us simple, direct music can be hugely effective when performed with the dedication Lavender Diamond clearly have for their sound. P.S. stick around for showstopping bonus track “Why Oh Why” for the surest sign of what Stark’s voice can do since their hallmark early song “You Broke My Heart.”

Also Out Today:
No Doubt Push & ShoveNo DoubtPush & Shove
No Doubt were on the cusp of ’80s revivalism and dancehall appreciation, so it’s no surprise they stick to these guns on Push & Shove. “Settle Down” has a great laid-back dancehall vibe without any unwelcome desperate attempt to get back on the radio — they know they’ll get there without pandering. However, they also could fit nicely between Nicki Minaj and Drake on pop/hip-hop radio with the big, pulsing “Looking Hot,” their 2010s radio calling card. Elsewhere, they indulge their ’80s pop and ska worshipping roots (after all, this is a band that started in the ’80s) on the Berlin-by-way-of-Gaga “One More Summer” and the too-fun, horn blasting title track. Some of the album’s mid-section gets bloated with digitized over-production, sounding best when Stefani is allowed to emote through the sound like on the power-ballad “Gravity,” featuring a welcome mature lyrical turn from Stefani as she sings of a relationship (or her band) with sobering gratitude: “We’re so lucky, still holding on.”
Dum Dum Girls End of DazeDum Dum GirlsEnd of Daze EP
The awesome Dum Dum girls have done it again with a fabulous new EP. Read more about it on BillyJam’s recent blog post.


Mumford & Sons BabelMumford & SonsBabel
Mumford & Sons exploded into rock music in 2010 with an album that made huge sounds from small instruments, employing banjo, acoustic guitar, standup bass and other antiquated instrumentation to build stadium-folk that sounded like Fleet Foxes on creatine. On Babel, Mumford & Sons resist any sort of attempts at “modernizing” or overproducing their sound and instead stick with what works best for them, delivering song after song that roar and shuffle through passionate folk-inspired rock, starting with the booming title track, in which Marcus Mumford and co. sound like the Union Army (never mind that they’re British) booming onto the field with battle-cry vocals and cannon blasts of drums. Spring for the bonus edition and you’ll get a cover of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” featuring the man himself playing with the band, plus two more tracks.
Bettye LavetteBettye LavetteThankful N’ Thoughtful
On the opening track of her new album, Bettye Lavette sings on Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken” of so many things broken and fucked up and offers such little reprieve — “ain’t no use jiving, ain’t no use in jokin’, look around you, everything is broken,” she sings — that it would be the ultimate in defeatism if not for the ferocious growl with which Lavette sings “eevvvverything is broken.” Clearly, this is not a woman who is broken easily, after achieving only moderate success for decades since the ’60s before breaking through with 2005’s female-artist cover album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise. On this new covers album, she takes on The Black Keys, Ewan MacColl, Tom Waits, Neil Young and a score of others who have helped popularize the blues over the past century. Lavette’s jagged voice helps put unify the tracks into the context of their blues roots, while her crack band do their best to set her up and get out of her way. “You don’t have the blues like me” she intones on Chris Youlden’s “I’m Tired.” You’ll be inclined to agree.
Green Day UnoGreen DayUno
After the huge success (critically and commercially) of Green Day’s second-wind, politically charged release American Idiot, they stumbled a bit with the ponderous 21st Century Breakdown. Now, Green Day aims to recapture their old sound with the first of three albums to be released this year, Uno. Rather than aiming for radio with an oversaturated sound, songs like “Stay the Night” highlight their classic power-pop influence (hopefully, songs like this lead kids back to band like The Knack and The Plimsouls for examples of precursors to Green Day’s poppified punk sound), while “Carpe Diem” is Clash-worshipping fun. There’s also quite a bit of Devo in Armstrong’s nasally delivery in the verses of the otherwise screamy “Let Yourself Go” (remember their new wave side project The Network?). By looking back once again to their forebears rather than spinning in circles, Green Day refind the inspiration that once fueled classics like Dookie. Other than a like-it-or-not dance rock diversion of a first single (“Kill the DJ”), this is classic Green Day. Let’s hope Armstrong carries through his recent turmoil!
Murs & FashawnMurs & FashawnThis Generation
Two alt-hip-hop stars, one established and one up-and-coming, team for this tasty, low-key one-off collaboration. Like an indie Watch the Throne, Murs and Fashawn’s style mesh well, and the duo provides a wealth of memorable moments, with excellent production from Beatnick & K-Salaam and a couple of turns from singer Adrian on standouts “This Generation,” which allows them to rap over a soulful backbeat and reggae sample, and the regally nasty “Reina del Barrio (Ghetto Queen).” Though not overtly experimental, This Generation’s deft construction and spirited performances should appeal to just about any indie hip-hop aficionado.

Relevant Tags

Mumford & Sons (6), Dum Dum Girls (15), No Doubt (3), Lavender Diamond (3), The Soft Pack (12), Chris Cohen (3), Melody's Echo Chamber (2), Bettye Lavette (1), Green Day (12), Murs (29), Fashawn (10)