San Francisco lo-fi duo Two Gallants have been cruising along just fine with their brand of punk-tinged folk-rock, releasing three excellent albums on indie mainstay Saddle Creek before relocating to ATO Records for album number 4, the recently-released The Bloom and the Blight. A track like “Ride Away” is a fine example of the pair’s overall aesthetic, running Adam Stephen’s guitar ragged and highlighting his throaty, powerful vocals and Tyson Vogel’s pounding drums. The apocalyptic imagery and general dusty, campfire tone imbue everything here, planting Two Gallants and The Bloom and the Blight firmly in Americana territory with an outlaw bite.
Two Gallants – “Ride Away”
After March’s superb release Break It Yourself, one would have expected Chicago multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird to take it easy on the road for the remainder of the year, enjoying the success of the best album of his career. Instead, he just popped out another album, a so-called “companion piece” to Break It Yourself’s textured folk and fingerpicking goodness. Hands of Glory is more innately country, the rugged, sepia-tinged mirror image of Break It Yourself and one that is as effortlessly authentic as all of Bird’s discography. “Orpheo” is perhaps the best representation of Hands of Glory’s aim, a reworking of Break It Yourself’s majestic “Orpheo Looks Back” to a more rustic, contemplative acoustic shuffle. It’s lovely.
Andrew Bird – “Orpheo”
Alison Sudol aka A Fine Frenzy has changed in her red locks for blonde ones, and with that comes a third album that is far more ambitious than anything the singer-songwriter has ever attempted. Pines is an imposing record, coming in at over an hour and ostensibly an overarching story where each song leads into the other, like “chapter[s] that lead into the next,” as Sudol herself described it. It also comes with a companion book and a short animated film, and although I don’t know how Pines works with those, I can confirm that the album lives up to its grand concept, more contemplative and folky than her previous works. Whether its the strong thematic threads or just a greater focus, Pines is definitely her most engaging work. “Sailingsong” is the catchiest thing here, a welcome up tempo burst that pops up optimistically at the midpoint of the record.
A Fine Frenzy – “Sailingsong”
Blissed out indie pop duo Earlimart release their seventh album tomorrow. Entitled System Preferences, the record continues down the slow burning path that 2008′s Hymn & Her laid out. With Ariana Murray’s vocals now firmly entrenched alongside founder and Elliott Smith-worshipper Aaron Espinoza, System Preferences is a meticulously produced collection of midtempo singer-songwriter pop, with a focus on gorgeous melodic inflections and haunting lyrics than any captivating hooks. Opener “U&Me” is a fine example, never rising above more than a druggy mist but percolating together pleasantly enough in that hazy guitar and piano motif near the end. Music easy to get lost in.
Earlimart – “U&Me”
German producer Alex Ridha aka Boys Noize just dropped his third proper LP, and it’s a prototypical electro banger from one of my favorites in the genre. Out of the Black is more focused around building up songs with proper structure and then pulling and twisting them into what most have to expect from Boys Noize: a warped, tech-y, slightly sinister brand of electro house. “Rocky 2″ is a fine example of the harder side of things, almost as unrelenting as his punishing/fantastic live show. Please, Boys Noize, just no more collaborations with Snoop Dogg.
Boys Noize – “Rocky 2″
San Diego indie patriarchs Pinback have only released four albums in their fifteen year career, so fifth record Information Retrieved is kind of a big deal for fans. Set for release October 16, Information Retrieved is a welcome return to the band’s brainy take on indie rock, with the requisite attention to tiny details and impressive musicianship that has been a hallmark of the group forever. “Glide” is a fine example, layering numerous vocal lines over a spindly guitar track and a light, shuffling drum pattern. RIYL: Built to Spill, The American Analog Set, Yo La Tengo.
Pinback – “Glide”
My favorite ginger is releasing his third solo album today, entitled Shut Down the Streets on Matador Records. A.C. Newman has always been the driving force behind the New Pornographers‘, the more straitlaced pop scholar to Dan Bejar’s crazy, off-kilter firebrand, and his solo work has always polished those pop instincts, oftentimes more contemplative and bucolic than his work with the New Pornos. Shut Down the Streets is probably his most mellow work yet, working in a wider palette of sounds and instruments than usual and keeping things at a steady, pastoral midtempo for much of the record. “Strings” is a perfect example, weaving slowly up through that plucked melody and booming percussion and some always welcome harmonies from fellow New Porno Neko Case, all accompanying a melody that keeps rising to a fulfilling, horn-drenched apex.
A.C. Newman – “Strings”
So, the long-awaited breakup album came not via a new Death Cab for Cutie but frontman Ben Gibbard’s first proper solo album. Death Cab’s 2011 release Codes and Keys waffled around atmospheric synths and songs that preferred to stretch out rather than get to the point. Gibbard’s new record, Former Lives, is a much more simple affair, rooted in a holy trinity of guitar, piano, and Gibbard’s preternaturally lovely voice. It’s all the better for it, allowing the music to center around the classic melodies and the lyrics (always Gibbard’s strongest talent). The underrated Aimee Mann joins in on “Bigger Than Love,” the album’s surging centerpiece.
Ben Gibbard – “Bigger Than Love”
Because of Montreal never does anything half-assed, Kevin Barnes and company will be releasing a voluminous rarities compilation on October 23, entitled Daughter of Cloud (sixteen originals and an out-of-left-field Buffalo Springfield cover), just a few months after releasing one of 2012′s weirdest albums. “Micro University” is one of the confirmed tracks, and reminds me a bit of the band’s emphasis on funk on Skeletal Lamping along with the more straightforward pop inflections of Satanic Panic in the Attic.
of Montreal – “Micro University”
Brooklyn lo-fi folksters Woods continue their remarkably consistent run with seventh album Bend Beyond, just released last week on the band’s own Woodsist label (for some perspective, they’ve only been in existence since 2005). The rapid pace hasn’t undermined their core sound however, and Bend Beyond takes things farther in the pop direction than ever before. That’s not too much of a problem, though; the group’s songwriting has always been rock-solid, and their move to greater hooks and a wider studio palette only enhance many of the melodies here. The production value is sharp and sparkling, the songs rarely find the time to go beyond three and a half minutes, and those ’60s psychedelia and ’90s lo-fi touchstones are still in well evidence. “Find Them Empty,” with its needling guitar motif and chaotic layering, is a good example of the band’s disparate influences coming together nicely.
Woods – “Find Them Empty”
Canadian electro-pop group Dragonette just released their third album, Bodyparts, on Universal Music last week. It’s the same hi-octane pop (heavy on the synths and breakbeats, with some fine electro house production here and there to boot) that people have come to expect from the lovely Martina Sorbara and bandmates Dan Kurtz and Joel Stouffer, but I do think the songwriting has become much more consistent over the course of an album-length here. “Run Run Run” is the opener here, starting slowly out of the gate with a synth line extremely indebted to the ’80s before launching into a sky-high bridge that Sorbara unsurprisingly kills.
Dragonette – “Run Run Run”
From east to west – Swedish songwriter Victoria Bergsman aka Taken By Trees has had a hankering for international travels the past few years which resulted in 2009′s lovely, underrated East of Eden. That enchanting album took Eastern music (particularly Pakistani) and welded it to Bergsman’s twee, melodically airtight indie-pop. New album (and third under this moniker) Other Worlds continues the trend, this time inspired from Bergsman’s trip to Hawaii. The album is more clearly in the pop arena than East of Eden was; Bergsman’s talents as seen with Peter Bjorn & John and her time as frontwoman of the Concretes have clearly not deserted her. The island elements are omnipresent, though, although here it is less directly implicated in the instruments and tones than East of Eden. As the album’s press release says, it’s less a representation of the state’s music and more an evocation of “sandy toes, hidden waterfalls, the dreams you have after a long day at the beach.” “Highest High” is a good taste of what you’re going to get from Other Worlds, and it sounds about right.
Taken By Trees – “Highest High”