Album Picks: Future Islands, Lavender Country, Liars, Caetano Veloso

Posted by Billy Gil, March 25, 2014 09:23am | Post a Comment

Future Islands - Singles (LP, CD, Cassette or Download)

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.



Lavender Country - Lavender Country (LP, CD or Download)

Lavender Country’s resurgence after decades of obscurity is one of the more remarkable stories in underground music you’ll hear. The band is legendary for being the first-known band to write a gay-themed country album, 1973’s Lavender Country. The band of two gay men, one lesbian and one straight man proved a unified front as activists in the mid-’70s gay civil rights movement, performing at the first Seattle Pride in 1974 and playing at other Pride events in Oregon and California before breaking up in 1976. Nearly a quarter of a century after that, they were yanked out of near anonymity when they were recognized by the Journal of Country Music in 2000 and have been playing live once again. Revisiting their debut album in this reissue reveals how well it’s held up as a warm collection of classic country songs with a gay thematic flair. “Come Out Singing” is kind of country kin to Tom Robinson’s “Glad to Be Gay,” as Patrick Haggerty sings “Wakin’ up to say hip hip hooray, I’m glad I’m gay” over sprightly piano, guitar and fiddle. “Waltzing Will Trilogy’s” country jangle masks a heartbreaking story of a young man forced into electroshock therapy for being gay, a stunning reminder of how recently such treatment was considered the norm. “Georgie Pie” sounds more like British folk than country, even Beatles-esque in its morose arrangement and poetic lyrics (“If I touched you in the street, would your mouth go dry?” Haggerty sings of a man hiding his sexuality). Though Lavender Country draw attention for how rare it is to have a country band singing about gay men and women—and for badass, bawdy songs like “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears”—at their heart, these are plain ol’ country songs, detailed the struggles of oppressed people. 



Liars - Mess (LP or CD)

Mess is a truly f-ed up party record. “TAKE MY PANTS OFF. SMELL MY SOCKS. EAT MY FACE OFF” Angus Andrew sings like a downtuned sexual robot over ravey opener “Mask Maker,” with weird noise breaks and touches that bring us back to Liars’ first, electroclash album. That song seamlessly moves into the nasty “Vox Tuned D.E.D.,” a slithering jam that should land anyone with a darkwave/EBM fetish in heaven. “I’m No Gold” sounds more like the kind of atonal headlong rockers found on Liars and Sisterworld, with synths in the place of guitars. Though the album doesn’t maintain that level of energy throughout, they thankfully continue to explore some of the more mature territory they embarked on with their last album, WIXIW, on songs like the spare “Can’t Hear Well” and grimy “Darkslide,” the latter a foray into British-style dubstep, while songs like “Boyzone” recall the noise experiments of earlier albums like the great Drum’s Not Dead. But it’s the party jams that stay with you the longest here, like the minimal wave-inspired “Mess On a Mission.” Without compromising an inch, Liars have made their most fun album in years.



Caetano Veloso Abracaco (CD)

Finally released in the U.S., the latest from the master of Tropicalia sees Caetano Veloso stretching into new textures. Oftentimes an older, established artist such as Veloso venturing into rock territory can spell trouble, but Veloso only adds to his already rich sound where he feels he needs to, throwing cruddy guitar and downtuned vocals into the otherwise buoyant “A Bossa Nova E Foda,” giving “Estou Triste” a Velvetsy waltz feel and throwing rhythmic curveballs into “Funk Melodico,” from two-step beat breaks to beatboxing. At 71, Veloso can still keep us guessing on Abracaco.

See all of this week's new releases here.

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Album Picks (146), New Albums (213), New Releases (215), Future Islands (10), Lavender Country (1), Liars (13), Caetano Veloso (3)