Posts tagged: new wave

Shout Out Louds – Optica

By , February 27, 2013 12:00 pm

optica

Shout Out Louds – Optica

Merge Records 2013

Rating: 6/10

Our late, great Robin Smith called Our Ill Wills “a collection of songs that captured whatever they wanted to capture in their fleeting minutes,” an album “sung delicately and beautifully” and “a sugar hit even at its saddest,” and that’s about as compelling a summary of Shout Out Louds’ wistful, sunset-streaked romanticism as I could ever hope to muster. Smith called them cute and irrelevant, too, but mixed messages aside, Our Ill Wills was a highpoint for Swedish indie pop, for a genre and culture that dominated the blogosphere back when getting a song on an iPod commercial meant something. The craftsmanship and melodicism that made Shout Out Louds the Great Northern Hope has never really abandoned them, but the emotional nakedness that singer Adam Olenius used to drag us through the dirt with him appeared to be left out in the cold after “Hard Rain” ended with thunder in 2007. That’s a shame, too – their last effort, Work, was a pristine, efficient model of indie pop, sparkling in its harmonies and immediate in its hooks but with a production that was cold to the touch. It was the wrong kind of icy northern beauty.

Shout Out Louds’ core aesthetic has always been wrapping up the heartbreak and the grief and the nostalgia, all those pesky human frailties, around a wonderfully warm tapestry of bright, impeccably produced pop. It helps that Olenius yips like the Swedish Robert Smith, but the weight of the world – or the weight of the collective critical shrug that greeted Work – has had its effect. That spirited yelp is more controlled and conversational, a happy voice only on its face but still game; the lilting, Shins-y “Sugar” and the measured disco-rock of “Illusions” start Optica off on the right clog. Even when Olenius is little more than a withdrawn mumble on “Glasgow,” the band’s golden ear for production pays off, bringing in the lovely Bebban Stenborg for some backing vocals that shoots the melancholia through with a vibrant bit of whimsy. Despite doubling down on an electronic sound that pays homage to New Order and washed-out ‘80s dance, Optica feels more lived-in than its uber-professional predecessor, earnest and inviting despite the voluminous, cold soundscapes it inhabits. Glacial first single “Blue Ice” has no right to sound as interesting as it is – a warmed over midtempo ballad, one of many that swoon along to expansive synths and indulge in lyrics cribbed from your high school’s worst closeted romantic – but that lush production is a cosmic joy, painted in the same glorious Technicolor swathes the band’s video for it evokes.

The choruses are huge, the production immaculate, the vocal performances an adequately torn mix of regret and heartbreak and sugary climaxes, yet Optica never really latches on in any meaningful way. The closest it comes is when dissonance threatens to break through and rip that carefully woven tapestry just a little. Stenborg’s brisk turn on the creepy “Hermila,” the hot-blooded “14th of July,” and the antagonistic guitar squawks and discordant synths that twist through closer “Destroy” like the ghost in the machine all stand out mainly because they demand the facade let its guard down for a second, to let those emotional cracks reveal themselves in more than just the lyrics. It’s a paradoxical situation for Shout Out Louds – the better they’ve gotten at refining their craft, at writing the perfect chorus and combining them seamlessly with organic, vivid sonics, the further away they’ve gotten from the wounded empathy that drove their earlier records. At least ice burns. Optica too often feels like nothing at all.




Shout Out Louds took their time with these songs, recording for about 1.5 years in a small Stockholm studio and producing themselves for the first time with help from Johannes Berglund. A theme emerged and Optica was born, an album celebrating color and light from a band confident in its sound.
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Passion Pit – Cry Like A Ghost

By , July 19, 2012 10:00 am

Never thought I’d be drooling over the new Passion Pit album, but something happened in between 2009′s break-out Manners and next week’s follow-up Gossamer – singer Michael Angelakos realized that he didn’t have to hold that falsetto for so damn long to sound halfway decent, and the band grew into and more confident in their indie pop, synth-heavy sound, which has never lacked for hooks. The result is a confident album that is less grating without losing any of the warm accessibility of Manners – choruses like the haunting one in slow jam “Cry Like A Ghost” (“Sylviaaaaa” – shout out to Miike Snow!) are all over the place here. If they keep it up, they have much more than a flash-in-the-pan future ahead of them.

 Passion Pit – “Cry Like A Ghost”

The Drums – What You Were

By , October 19, 2011 10:00 am

Few bands have surprised me more this year than Brooklyn post-punkers the Drums and their sophomore record Portamento. Their 2010 debut was fun, if a little derivative, and the quick follow-up reeked a bit of milking the bandwagon for all they could before it left the station. Portamento, however, is leaps and bounds above the self-titled debut, with stronger lyrics, more full-bodied arrangements and melodies that put much of their (quite catchy) first album to shame. Check it out if you like poppy, new wave inspired bands (think Surfer Blood).

The Drums – “What You Were”

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

By , October 18, 2011 10:00 am

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Mute 2011

Rating: 9/10

There’s a point a little more than a fourth of the way into Anthony Gonzalez’ latest art-pop manifesto where it all starts to make sense. The day-glo synths, the cavalcade of gated drums and chintzy keyboards, the near-slavish devotion to ‘80s pop tropes – it’s not just flattery, not merely a homage meant to evoke the sounds of the past that 2008’s Saturdays=Youth satisfactorily accomplished. It’s fitting that it’s not Gonzalez who lays out Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s mission, but a young child. “Do you want to play with me? / We can be a whole group of friends,” the child asks on “Raconte – Moi Une Histoire,” and it doesn’t matter whether this kid is male or female, where he is from or what her intentions are. “We would be hundreds, thousands, millions / the biggest group of friends the world has ever seen / jumping and laughing forever / it would be great, right?”  It’s an undoubtedly immature statement, but that’s what makes it so perfect. By stripping away the concerns of adults, of age and background and history, it becomes primal and universal: love and hope. Has there ever been a better argument for music?

A cynic would see this as cheesy, much like Gonzalez’s musical influences, or suggest a clever metaphor for drug use (or a blunt one – “blue becomes red and red becomes blue / and your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy / and everything looks like a giant cupcake.” Kids – aren’t they just the darndest?). Those people are missing the point. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a classic bedroom pop record, but not for its Breakfast Club-inspired musical scenery, nor for its confessional attitude. It’s bedroom pop in the sense that it’s constantly dreaming – of a better time, of a better world, of a better place where that group of a million friends jumping and laughing forever isn’t so ridiculous. It’s a tribute to the music of Gonzalez’ youth that still sounds fresh and vital in ways that its own inspirations never did. It’s a celebration of that same youth and that state of mind, a wide-eyed look at what could be. Most of all, it’s Gonzalez’s imagination run wild, and in that respect, it is a colossal achievement.

Could Gonzalez have trimmed the fat down a little? The double-album conceit is almost never necessary, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is no exception. The various interludes are some of the most interesting bits of music on the record, but their length is what does them in. Given Gonzalez’s seemingly effortless way of creating a pop hook out of nothing, it would have been fascinating to see the sketches of “Train To Pluton” or “Another Wave From You” develop further. Instead, they’re simply teases: beautiful, gorgeous ones at that, but still unnecessary to the overall arc of the album. The 22-song length is intimidating, and Gonzalez never gives you a chance to catch your breath – pop anthem after pop anthem is the order of the day here, massive multi-tracked walls of sound and spacey synths that stretch on into fields of reverb. Occasionally there is a comedown; the lovely minor-key “Splendor” comes to mind, so oddly placed between “Another Wave From You”’s cascading build-up and the upbeat guitar pop of “Year One, One UFO;” and “Wait,” where an acoustic guitar does more for the song than any of Gonzalez’s surging keyboards. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is, quite frankly, a titanic record, and Gonzalez would have it no other way.

It has to be, of course. If Saturdays=Youth was M83’s take on the ‘80s, all those wonderful spoken word bits recalling the best of ‘80s schlock and the synths the best of that era’s vapidity and material glamor, then Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the ‘80s. At times here, Gonzalez sounds almost like a relic – his yelp recalls Peter Gabriel, and his penchant for bombastic choruses and bigger, better hooks emphasizes the best of soon-forgotten ‘80s pop music. The sequence that kicks off the album, from “Intro” to “Reunion,” is some of the best pop music ever made, ‘00s or ‘80s or otherwise. The saxophone that closes out epic first single “Midnight City” would have to be considered intentionally ironic if anyone other than M83 had included it – here, it just sounds so damn right. Elsewhere, it’s the little things that pop out at you, even over the walls of sparkling production that Gonzalez has so meticulously crafted – the funky bass that propels “Claudia Lewis;” the effervescent keyboard line that weaves its way over the top of “Steve McQueen”’s noise pop; the way Gonzalez, never the most powerful of vocalists, holds his own on a duet with Zola Jesus on “Intro.”

Yes, for all the gloss and layers of sound thrown onto track after track here, sometimes to excess, M83 have done this before. Saturdays=Youth was just as brilliant in its conceptual execution and in its painstakingly detailed production work. What separates Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming from that record and the rest of M83’s catalog is in its consistency, something that a double album would seem to make impossible. Yet every song here hits close to home, to the record’s goal of celebrating the past by creating music that resonates so perfectly in the present. Few people could so totally ape the sounds of a bygone (not to mention much-maligned) era and come out with something that sounds so pulse-poundingly fresh as Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. In its execution, the record is near flawless, an essential distillation of the sounds of Gonzalez’s youth, nostalgia and melancholy and happiness all mixed up into a sparkling pop stew. In its spirit, it’s incredibly heartening, the musical equivalent of inspiring people to think back on their past, their childhood, that one moment where playing together as one wasn’t such a laughable notion. It’s hopeful and heartbreaking all at once. You don’t have to have lived through the ‘80s to appreciate Gonzalez’s aim – you just have to have lived.

M83 – “Reunion”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical

By , September 27, 2011 10:00 am

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical

Red General Catalog 2011

Rating: 5/10

“Same Mistake” almost had me believing again. The four-on-the-floor, hi-hat-happy beat, the fact that Alec Ounsworth no longer sounds like the bastardized child of David Byrne and the sound a junkyard cat makes in heat, the irresistible melody. It’s a great song, in the vein of “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” and “Is this Love,” songs that captured the offbeat quirkiness that originally endeared CYHSY to the early blogosphere. 2007’s Some Loud Thunder’s critical and commercial misstep was turning that lovable wackiness into something obtuse and increasingly insular, easy to appreciate for what the band was doing but hard to actually like. Ounsworth’s affected off-key yelp had become annoying and the songs prickly and divergent, fleeing from that pop framework that grounded Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and turned it into such a frenetic, unexpected ball of happily nervous energy. Four years and one “indefinite” hiatus later and it’s a bit odd to process Hysterical, given that the scene CYHSY grew out of has largely passed on or morphed into something altogether new. For all its problems, Some Loud Thunder had a definite identity; Hysterical, sadly, has none.

Hysterical sounds great. The production emphasizes sparkly guitars and trebly reverb courtesy of seasoned vet John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, many more), and Ounsworth’s vocal inflections resemble more a controlled burn and less Dan Bejar on methamphetamines.  He’s matured, and so has the band – gone are the pointless attempts to scare away listeners with an abrasive opening track a la “Clap Your Hands!” Things are tight, controlled; the title track gallops along a foreboding synth line and a relentless rhythm, while the snappy footwork and crystal-clear cymbals on “Same Mistake” could almost be called martial. The fact that Ounsworth can pen a credible ballad like “In A Motel” that places the focus on his voice and pull it off is something that would have been laughed off on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. And all of it, of course, sounds like something you’ve already heard before.

There’s shades of the Killers, on the jittery “Maniac” and “Misspent Youth;” a tinge of Two Door Cinema Club on the rote post-punk “Ketamine and Ecstasy;” any number of replaceable bands on any number of 4/4, vaguely dance-inflected tracks here with shiny hooks and shiner guitar tones (“Yesterday, Never,” “The Witness’s Dull Surprise,” “Same Mistake”… you get the idea). It gives Hysterical an uncomfortable aura of sameness, something previously foreign to a CYHSY record. That same excited feeling I got when I first heard “Same Mistake,” the one that reminded me of “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth’s” sugar-high of a melody, faded quickly when song after song failed to distinguish itself from any number of middle-of-the-road, vaguely new-wave-influenced bands. The fact that a ragged, two-and-a-half-minute guitar solo that appears out of nowhere the otherwise routine “Into Your Alien Arms” can qualify as a surprise on a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record is a bit sad.

Only on closer “Adam’s Plane” do CYHSY even approach the measured mix between weird and accessible that made their debut such a gratifying mix of edginess and heartfelt charm. It takes them seven minutes of fiddling around with rattling pianos, random tonal shifts and a pleasantly throwback Ounsworth vocal performance/howl to compensate for the straightforward indie of the previous eleven songs. It’s an afterthought, one that is as out of place in the context of Hysterical as Hysterical is in the context of CYHSY’s discography. For a band that once never failed to make an impression, be it positive or nauseating, the fact that the best Hysterical can muster is indifference is simply disappointing.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “In A Motel”

Handsome Furs – When I Get Back

By , June 30, 2011 11:00 am

Wolf Parade may be done (or the more politically correct “on indefinite hiatus”), but their members have never had trouble working out their creative energies: along with WP side projects like Sunset Rubdown and Frog Eyes there’s former vocalist and guitarist Dan Boeckner’s Handsome Furs side group with wife Alexei Perry. Their new album Sound Kapital was released this past week to critical acclaim, with a heavy emphasis on keyboards over guitars. “When I Get Back” is the record’s opening track and makes a good case for the band’s new direction. For the first time in three albums, Handsome Furs sound more like their own group than just another Wolf Parade vanity project, and that’s a good thing for everyone involved.

Handsome Furs – “When I Get Back”

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