Album Picks: Savages, Shearwater, Chairlift, The Besnard Lakes, Charlie Hilton

Posted by Billy Gil, January 22, 2016 09:24am | Post a Comment

Savages - Adore Life

Savages take all the nonsense that comes with being a much-hyped buzz band and pummel it into the ground on their intense sophomore album. Love and its various manifestations fuels these songs — “if you don’t love me, don’t love anybody,” androgynous frontwoman Jehnny Beth sings over a grinding riff on “The Answer.” The jagged post-punk groove of a song like “Husbands” returns on “Evil,” though it’s darker and more drawn out, as the band knows it can command attention without having to shake it out as it once did. Though many of these songs go for the jugular, restraint serves the band well on “Adore,” a slow-burner that clears the way for a Beth’s singular refrain, “I adore life,” a statement of purpose that drives the band into a fearless crescendo. It takes that kind of conviction to overcome the bullshit of being in an all-female band and both held to an unfair standard and knocked down by anyone tired of the hype — as if the breathless coverage of the band’s live shows and prior album, Silence Yourself, was at all their fault. It doesn’t matter, anyway —the band’s follow-up album is endlessly intriguing and, despite lacking obvious hooks, grips you the more you listen. Simply allow the band to exist on its own terms, and you won’t be disappointed by Adore Life. Watch their episode of "What's In My Bag?" below.


ShearwaterJet Plane & Oxbow

Jonathan Meiburg’s Shearwater has been one of the quietly great indie rock bands of the past 15 years, neither quite getting the due of their contemporaries, nor flaming out like some of them. As admirable as they’ve been, it must have been frustrating to Meiburg to consistently fly just under the radar because Jet Plane & Oxbow finds Shearwater swinging for the fences and ending up with their best and most compulsively listenable album in years. “Prime” has the feel of film soundtrack opening, its fanciful stringed instruments and synth arpeggios painting a dazzling new age-inspired tapestry. Shearwater’s underheralded ability to distill its grandiosity and naturalistic imagery into taut guitar pop songs comes to the fore on the catchy “Quiet Americans” and jangling “A Long Time Away.” And on “Filaments,” a krautrock-ish groove, layered instrumentation and Meiberg’s commanding performance come together for a moment that ranks among the band’s best. It’s easy to point to where Shearwater have ditched the subtlety that served them well in the past in favor of hooks and drama that work equally well — seriously, “Pale King” is rousing enough to have won over the Coldplay fans they once played in front of when opening for that band. But the band still allows for more contemplative moments, with Dead Can Dance-style world-goth touches dotting the dark corners of these songs, while dusky closer “Stray Light at Clouds Hill” allows for Meiberg to unleash his throaty tenor to stunning heights. It’s a beautiful album to hold from afar but totally affecting when you get in close.


Chairlift - Moth

Moth is a fitting title for Chairlift’s third album. The band’s status has measurably risen over the past few years thanks in large part to lead singer Caroline Polachek writing an excellent song on Beyonce’s self-titled album (“No Angel”). And they’ve taken that bump and risen to the occasion but emerged from their chrysalis with strangeness intact. Check out the way lead single “Cha-Ching” zigs when you think it’ll zag, its hip hop-inspired beat allowing Polachek to hopscotch around without regard to expectation. The band themselves seems to address the change on excellent tunes like “Polymorphing,” a slinky, weird bit of bizzaro adult contemporary. Elsewhere, they live up to the high bar set by previous breakthrough single, “I Belong in Your Arms,” with the glowing synthpop of “Romeo,” its muscular pop verses leading into a gorgeous, Berlin-esque chorus. That combination of the production skills to work with one of the top names in the industry, but the smarts to know how to be selective with who they work with, can be heard in a tune like “Moth to the Flame,” which isn’t on its surface that different than the radio pop of an Ellie Goulding or Taylor Swift but is littered with quirks and details. And Moth has some of their best pure songs, in addition to sounds — “Crying in Public” is a sweet electro-ballad that benefits from Polachek’s direct lyrics and unadorned vocals. Moth finds Chairlift grabbing at the pop brass ring but doing so in their own idiosyncratic way.


The Besnard LakesA Coliseum Complex Museum

The Besnard Lakes continue to make grandiose, headphone-friendly rock ‘n’ roll that’s a pleasure to get lost in on their latest. Its breathtaking opening cut, “Bray Road Beast,” presents everything the band does well: soaring, Beach Boys-esque harmonies; the meticulous studio sonics of a proggy shoegaze band; Western touches and a total dedication to producing songs that emanate power and grace. If you’re on board with the band’s penchant for the dramatic, they deliver in spades. “Golden Lion” packs some of the band’s best hooks and moments into taut shoegaze pop. “Pressure of Our Plans” lets the band space out on some trippy lyrics, loping basslines and mountainous reverb. Husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas sing as one, and the six-piece band moves in such synchronicity that it’s almost too well-oiled — you wish they’d dirty things up a bit. But there’s no doubt that A Coliseum Complex Museum captivates. It’s music that pours through you and leaves you feeling ecstatic.


Charlie Hilton - Palana

The singer from Portland’s Blouse goes solo on this sweet debut of whispery indie pop. Kind of like a modern version of Astrud Gilberto, Hilton’s gently swaying voice calls to mind a kind of seaside loneliness on songs like “Something For Us All.” Blouse fans should know to expect a healthy mix of analog synths and post-punk guitarwork, and Palana also is a bit reminiscent of the sorely missed Broadcast, both in its mechanically sexy sound and surrealistic bent. Hilton has a lilt and affectation that makes songs like the solitary “Funny Anyway” feel like modern versions of tunes Francoise Hardy or Nico performed, as Hilton sings “put your arms around me, tell me I’m OK” amid strings, acoustic guitar and watery lo-fi production, courtesy of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait. Hilton still has a ways to go in carving out a distinctive personality of her own, but her impeccable taste and flawless execution goes a long way. The album is especially strong when Hilton steps out of the shadows a bit, as on the wallflower anthem “Let’s Go to a Party” (“I just want to see you and want to be seen,” she sings longingly over a casio-style beat). Palana is a charming take on a timeless sound.

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Album Picks (146), New Albums (213), New Releases (214), Shearwater (2), Savages (13), Chairlift (5), The Besnard Lakes (1), Charlie Hilton (2)