|& It Was U||Total Loss|| |
|How To Dress Well|
|Apocalypse Dreams||Lonerism|| |
|Still Life||Still Life|| |
|Veil of Isis||Apocryphon|| |
|Uh la la||Eso Es Lo Que Hay|| |
|La Piñata||Bossalinis & Fooliyones|| |
|Just Being Pushed||SIX|| |
There's a better than decent chance that, no matter where you are, Perth, Australia is pretty far away, a fact that pretty much makes Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker an isolated pop genius' isolated pop genius. Working mostly by himself, Parker mines this solitude with brilliant results on Tame Impala's sophomore effort, Lonerism. Diving headfirst into the realm of pop music, the way Parker uses keyboards to explore more traditional melodies makes the album feel like the McCartney to Innerspeaker's Lennon, blending the familiar with the far out to craft a Revolver-esque psych-pop experience. This shift from the guitar-heavy sound of the debut to a more synthed-out approach gives the album a more expansive feeling, allowing Parker to explore new textures through layer after layer of melody. As with Innerspeaker, sonic architect Dave Fridmann handles the mixing, and though he wasn't involved in the recording process, Lonerism definitely shares the producer's knack for using the space as an instrument in and of itself. This layering of not just sounds, but environments, creates a serene and lonely patchwork of sound, texture, and atmosphere that's a pleasure to explore, offering something different with every journey into its swirling haze of classic pop melody and modern, more experimental, construction. Most importantly, the partnership allows Fridmann to help shape Tame Impala's wild, starry-eyed ambition into something enveloping and accessible, a trick he's performed for the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev again and again. This combination gives Lonerism the best of both worlds, allowing it the creative freedom to emerge as one of the most impressive albums of the home-recording era while still feeling superbly refined.
Gregory Heaney, Rovi
After conquering the realms of fantasy and science fiction, classic metal revivalists the Sword head into a more metaphysical space on their fourth album, Apocryphon. Though they return to the looser, more groove-heavy sound of their earlier work, the spacy influence of Warp Riders can still be felt here and there, with songs like "Execrator" bringing occasional flourishes of psychedelic, effects-drenched guitar work. All over the album it feels as though the Sword are bringing together everything they've learned from their other records, and with its combination of ambition, heaviness, and swagger, titular album-closer "Apocryphon" feels like a one-song "best-of", bringing everything the band has done before it together into a singular epic metal journey. This combination makes for a sound that isn't so much more mature as it is more refined. The Sword feel more confident and in control on Apocryphon, and the feeling comes through with each titanic riff. And while we're on the subject of rough edges, singer John Cronise delivers his best performance yet. Listening to "Cloak of Feathers," his vocals feel more powerful and substantial, and with the frontman feeling more in command, everything else seems to follow suit. The bottom line here is that for all of their tweaks and changes, the Sword are still a band all about massive riffs and epic lyrics, and while other bands might be more structurally complex or aggressive, few can offer the instant cosmic journey that dropping the needle on Apocryphon can.
On his second How to Dress Well album Total Loss, Tom Krell abandons much of the murky mystery of his debut, Love Remains, undescoring the R&B roots of his music. "When I Was in Trouble" introduces Krell's new aesthetic, bathing his falsetto vocals -- now freed of the static and distortion that cloaked them on his debut -- in electronics that manage to be gloomy and glowing at the same time; on "Struggle," reverb surrounds his voice like a halo. Letting his more-or-less naked vocal stand out so clearly offers an entirely different kind of vulnerability than the one he displayed on Love Remains, but How to Dress Well still works best when Krell favors the more ethereal side of his music, blurring together his influences into something unique. He does this especially well on the fittingly frosty "Cold Nites," which grows from clacking typewriters into a surprisingly epic lament; "Say My Name or Say Whatever," with its dreamy spoken word passages and blurry synths, is one of the more logical progressions from Love Remains' mystique. Similarly, "Running Back"'s mix of church-like reverb and a beat-full of pops and sighs finds a happy medium between Krell's debut and his new approach, while "Ocean Floor for Everything" feels like a more literal, lower-pitched Balam Acab track. Ultimately, Total Loss reflects a trade-off of one type of emotional expression for another, and the change from the ghostly intimacy of Krell's debut to this clearer, more overt music makes for a prettier, more polished set of songs that are a little less strikingly original than what came before them. Considering how divisive Love Remains' intentional sonic flaws were, if listeners can hear How to Dress Well better on Total Loss, then that counts for something.
Heather Phares, Rovi
A trio of inevitably unequal proportions, Ultraísta consists of London-based artist/singer-songwriter Laura Bettinson (whose other musical endeavors include Femme and Dimbleby & Capper) and Los Angeleno session drummer Joey Waronker (Walt Mink, Ima Robot, Beck, R.E.M.), along with the headline-stealing Nigel Godrich -- longtime producer for (and sometimes designated "honorary member" of) Radiohead. The easy and obvious comparisons (and the pre-release anticipation from Radiohead fans) are readily borne out by the music on Ultraísta's self-titled debut, whose dense, dreamy matrix of buzzing synths, precise but bloodless drumming, digital stutters, and liquid clicks immediately recalls the similarly dominant textures on The King of Limbs and, to a lesser extent, Kid A and Thom Yorke's The Eraser. (Waronker and Godrich, who've previously crossed paths on projects with Air, Beck, and Paul McCartney, among others, also play together in the Yorke-led Atoms for Peace.) That's not to underplay Bettinson's contributions to the project, which, according to interviews, was conducted as a full three-way collaboration. Her vocals, while not always the most prominent element of a given track -- the clearest indication that this is undeniably a producer's record -- definitely help give the album its distinctive character, one which hearkens back to the '90s-era arty ennui of Broadcast, Stereolab, and early Goldfrapp. Like those groups' singers, Bettinson's presence here is human and personable but not overly demonstrative, equally able to step forward, on more melodically inclined pieces like "Bad Insect," "Static Light," and the bewitching "Smalltalk" (not coincidentally, the same three cuts that were made available prior to the album's release), or to blend into the shimmering expanse of sound, as with the drifting, incantatory fragments permeating "You're Out." As a collection of songs, and particularly as a "pop" record (inspirations for the group reportedly included Rye Rye and Whigfield, which seems far-fetched at best), Ultraísta feels a bit unfulfilled, but as a work of sound and atmosphere, it's captivating, predictably excellent work worthy of attention not only from fans of Godrich's better-known buddies (and especially those who might have found The King of Limbs to be slightly too distant or understated), but anyone with an interest in the still-fertile interstices between atmospheric electronica and indie rock.
K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi
Empty Flowers are composed of current and former members of risk-taking bands such as Cable, Zodiak, and Balboa, so it stands to reason that their 2012 debut effort for Translation Loss, the cryptically named Six, would amount to a very unconventional musical proposition. But perhaps the biggest surprise in store is how all those involved essentially turn their backs on the heavy-handed approach shared by their groups of origin, in exchange for minimalist frameworks upon which voices, guitars, bass, and drums almost tango -- with and without each other -- in very unexpected and oftentimes perplexing, even unsettling ways. Opener "Resonate," with the rather abstract, textural, almost industrial approach of its echoing percussive wallops and free-floating embellishments, is in many ways a red herring, because subsequent offerings like the title cut, "Police," and "Satellite Rust," though persistently discordant and unpredictable in how they blend their various instruments, quickly rein in these experiments into more traditional indie rock arrangements. The melodic quotient is upped a little further by "Just Being Pushed," "Ice on Wings," and "Call a Priest" (remove that radio signal interference and the latter is almost lovely), but not to the point of divesting Empty Flowers of their obvious inspirations in noise rock, post-rock, and the Amphetamine Reptile sound. Needless to say, it's the unnatural coexistence of these varied influences that drives the unique sonic perspective presented by Six, and while the album will inevitably appeal to a narrow audience as a result, there's no disguising its striking individuality.
Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi