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

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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.


Small Black - Limits Of Desire

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Small Black’s lush Limits of Desire proves there’s more to the Brooklyn band than the limiting chillwave genre would suggest. Much as chums and genre-mates Washed Out and Toro y Moi did with their sophomore albums, Limits of Desire finds them significantly upping the ante, coming across like vintage U2 after taking muscle relaxers on opener “Free at Dawn,” with all of the epic melodicism and none of the melodrama that that implies. “Canoe” is brilliantly catchy with a high cooed melody and battling synths, bearing some resemblance to M83 but, you know, chilled out. “No Stranger” introduces a light dance beat, pushing the vocals further toward the front of the mix and giving Small Black one of their best singles yet. The reason it works is that while a song like “Sophie” might be your perfect poolside jam for the summer, it doesn’t aim to be just that. Particularly in the way “Sophie’s” romantic sophistication dissolves into whispered nothings that lead into the danceable “Breathless,” Small Black have a knack for elegant pacing and delivering the jams, while making it all sound effortless. Limits of Love is putting in an early bid for the perfect summery pop album of 2013.



EluviumNightmare Ending

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Music inevitably lives with us as we experience our daily lives. Matthew Cooper makes music as Eluvium that seems to make the mundane more epic, the insufferable peaceful. His ambient washes of sound never feel smothering; rather, they are canvases of sound that open up new possibilities. The organ drones of “Don’t Get Any Closer” feel like a pan-religious ceremony. “Warm” lifts off from there and sends us through the clouds with angelic tones. “By the Rails” pulls us back in from drifting away with its heartbeat throb. Though Eluvium’s music favors drawn-out, slow-motion movements, there’s an emotional push-and-pull at its core that keeps it interesting as well as soothing, and Nightmare Ending is immaculately paced, such as the way the nearly nine-minute, more obscure “Unknown Variation” is followed by the short and straightforward piano piece “Caroling” — either piece might have fallen flat, if not for the other’s presence. Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo also makes a welcome appearance here on album closer “Happiness,” which will bring wide smiles to any fan of either (or both) acts. Why Cooper chose to title his latest album Nightmare Ending is anyone’s guess. It’s like a beautiful dream throughout.


Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - Black Pudding

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Mark Lanegan’s voice could sand paint down to the drywall, and he’s found yet another perfect foil in British multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. For those unfamiliar, Garwood’s guitarwork is absolutely hypnotic, as featured in the flamenco-style, Lanegan-less title track, or in the dancing electric and acoustic notes of “Driver.” Often times it sounds like just them two jamming in a room, and the lack of drums in particular pulls you in to experience their chemistry and what each artist offers. Lanegan can sound far away, as in the dusky “Pentecostal,” or direct and elegiac, in “War Memorial.” Garwood’s subtle guitar pieces sound carefully, patiently constructed, as if he’s been playing them for ages, waiting for Lanegan to pull up a stool and join him. “Death comes creeping in, he don’t speak a word,” Lanegan sings creepily on “Death Rides a White Horse,” while Garwood spins out Americana drone behind him. The only time they break up the reverie for "Cold Molly," a deliciously nasty bit of electro-blues that opens an entirely new aspect to the collaboration. For the most part, it’s beautiful, ancient-sounding music that somehow doesn’t feel heavy-handed, allowing you to drift away within it.


Classixx - Hanging Gardens

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We've been popping off on Classixx's singles for a while now, particularly the funky, dancetastic "All You're Waiting For," Featuring Nancy Whang, formerly of LCD Soundsystem. Thankfully, the L.A. act's debut album doesn't disappoint. It features brilliant electro-pop singles, such as the neverending party anthem "Holding On," but it holds together as an album as well, with calmer passages breaking up the party jams. Relatively vocal-free DJ music rarely bothers this much with songcraft. Hanging Gardens is rife with it.



WIld Nothing - Empty Estate

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Wild Nothing aka Jack Tatum's two album are terrific pieces of electronic-tinged new romantic pop, but he's just as good at the short-form, as his Golden Haze EP and Go-Betweens-vibing "Nowhere" single proved. It seems to a place for Tatum to try out new ideas separate from his honed full albums, and the Empty Estate EP is another fine departure for Tatum. Using different instruments and textures than before, the EP finds Tatum venturing further into new territory. While opener "The Body in Rainfall" is buzzy, '90s-style power pop, the next song is the stuttering, funky "Ocean Repeating (Big-eyed Girl)." "On Guyot," meanwhile, is a nostalgic sound piece that replaces vocals with dreamy, arpeggiating synthesizers. But to say the release is wildy varied shouldn't imply it's scattershot. By the time we reach the intoxicating centerpiece "A Dancing Shell," which sees Tatum singing an spoken-word tone over a deep electro groove, it's clear Tatum is more concerned here with quality than continuity. Even with its stylistic shifts, Empty Estate is as thoroughly brilliant and pleasurable as anything Tatum has released thus far, and it speaks highly of what's to come.


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Album Picks (146), New Albums (213), New Releases (214), Vampire Weekend (13), Small Black (3), Eluvium (1), Mark Lanegan (6), Duke Garwood (1), Classixx (7), Wild Nothing (14)