Last week in this space, I brought to you the March edition of this “Pirate Guide”—the “Sonic Boom” feature wherein I offer brief reviews of a host of new records—and promised that I would return post haste with a second installment, because my words had gotten away from me, and my space had too soon run out. So I’ve returned to make good on my promise; here we are, here we go.
I don’t know to what specific indie subgenre Shearwater exactly belong—maybe slow-core or post-rock or something similarly stuffy and limiting and lame—but whatever it is, they are better than that. For my money, they’ve been one of the best bands in the world, any genre, for two albums now: 2008’s Rook, and this, The Golden Archipelago, a deliberate, delicate work showcasing a mastery of texture, negative space and construction. Still, for all its miniscule, finely wrought details and layered intricacies, this is bold music, calling to mind the lush, late-night atmospherics of Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis and David Sylvian, but with a sense of urgency and anthemry sometimes lacking in those (very, very great) artists. [9/10]
Black metal was born in Norway, which may be why new Norwegian black metal often sounds more nostalgic than progressive: The scene’s demand for “troo”-ness (trooth?) and disdain for “false metal” can manifest itself in the form of musical homogeneity. Those looking for forward-thinking black metal often need look elsewhere: places like Italy, Japan, the States and France—the latter of which has produced some of the most stunning work in the genre over the last several years, from the likes of Peste Noire, Amesoeurs, Alcest and Blut Aus Nord, among others. Les Discrets perked up ears last year, when they released a split EP with Alcest, but the band’s debut full-length puts them immediately at the front of the pack. Black metal in reputation only, Les Discrets deliver nuanced metallic darkwave/shoegaze of devastating beauty. Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées is rich with shimmering guitars and slow-building crescendos, and its magnificent sadness and wonder are viscerally felt, almost unnervingly so. [9/10]
The Monitor is allegedly a concept album about the Civil War, and I’m sure it is just that, but frankly, that concept doesn’t jump out at me. Maybe it’s because most of the lyrics are slurred and/or shouted, or maybe it’s because my grip on American history is shaky at best, but if I didn’t know the hook going in, I probably would never make the connection—and even so, the album wouldn’t suffer a lick in my eyes. Furthermore, I find the whole Civil War thing to be a pretentious and boring conceit, whereas The Monitor is anything but pretentious and boring—it’s brash and radiant and exuberant, bearing some resemblance to the best work of The Replacements or The Hold Steady in its loose, drunken feel, its fuzzy guitars and galloping rhythms, its warm, welcoming attitude and its sing-along choruses. [8/10]
Look, I’m a sucker for a Scottish accent. Scroll through my iPod and you’ll find Idlewild and Biffy Clyro and Malcolm Middleton and Teenage Fanclub and Belle & Sebastian and The Twilight Sad and The Delgados and Glasvegas and Franz Ferdinand and…heck, even crap like Travis and Snow Patrol. I am a sucker. Something in the sound, the rhythm, the thick, heavy tone has a narcotic effect on me. So, any time I discuss a Scottish band, that reaction must be taken into account. What’s more, the last album from Selkirk, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit, 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight, holds a place very close to my heart—like, I have relationships with some of its songs that feel as important and real to me as some of my relationships with friends and family members. So I have an inability to properly judge The Winter of Mixed Drinks—my expectations are unnaturally high, and I don’t know how to manage or mitigate them. In a sense, I can’t help but be disappointed, because I’m not just judging music here—I’m trying to locate in these songs a set of feelings from my own life, and perhaps trying to recreate those feelings. So when I hear moments that meet or exceed those expectations (“Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” “The Wrestle,” “Living in Colour”), I go lightheaded and feel a swell of emotion similar to a high school crush. When the songs fall short of my expectations (“Nothing Like You,” “Man/Bag of Sand,” “Foot Shooter”), I feel personally let down, dejected, almost rejected. And this is no way to be a critic of music, because it is not a critical mindset. It is, however, the only way to be a fan of music, the only way I know of, anyway, and the best way, by far, as far as I’m concerned. [7/10]
Did you know Lilith Fair is back this summer? And did you know Kelly Clarkson is on the bill? I think that’s a pretty cool juxtaposition, don’t you? Right? Anyway, that kinda describes Marina & The Diamonds, too: Like, what would you get if you crossed Kelly Clarkson and Lilith Fair? If your answer to that question was The Family Jewels, it would seem like a pretty reasonable answer. It’s got the radio-ready Swedish sweetness of bubblegum pop, but the smart, idiosyncratic style and general weirdness of, say, Regina Spektor. (Another way of phrasing all this might just be to say “Florence and the Machine” and leave it at that.) And when it’s good—“Are You Satisfied?,” “Hollywood”—the album feels like it’s delivering on ancient, impossible promises made by pop music some decades ago. It’s not always that magical or intoxicating, but then, nothing ever is. [6/10]