Other Music are our friends. They curate selections of vinyl and CDs for the front desk marketplace at Ace New York, and this is their latest collection. You can come check it out for yourself — everything’s up on the wall by the taxidermy. If you come stay and want something good to play in your room, just call the front desk and they’ll send some things up. Here’s what OM have to say about their new favorites:
DANGER MOUSE/SPARKLEHORSE - DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
This official release comes a year later than anybody intended, with much water under the bridge, yet it allows us a fresh perspective on what brought Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse together in the first place: blasted pop songs, featuring a corral bursting with some of this generation’s great vocalists. With a guest list that includes Wayne Coyne, Julian Casablancas, the late Chesnutt, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, Jason Lytle, James Mercer, David Lynch, Gruff Rhys, Nina Persson, and Black Francis, it’s tough to go wrong. Each song takes on the additional burden of seeming “of a piece” with the whole concept of the album, while being composed of singers who are, to say the least, individualistic and stylistically at odds. Linkous’ glitch-pocked alt-country turns out to be the perfect kind of loose thread that wraps everything together. Combining shimmering, tremolo-heavy electric guitars and otherworldly analog static with digital hiss, Linkous and Danger Mouse create a rough-hewn texture that molds itself comfortably around crooners like Coyne, throat scratchers like Casablancas, and angels like Vega. The lush string arrangement serves as a mirror to Coyne’s voice on opener “Revenge,” while a loping loner’s shuffle accompanies Super Furry Animals’ frontman Rhys fittingly down the road of “Just War.” In my mind, the nicest surprises come from the women of the record, with Vega and Perrson (of the Cardigans) both delivering performances that are genuine and warm-spirited.
WOLF PARADE - EXPO 86
Sometimes it can be hard to define the things that make a band. At this point, trying to quantify the past and present projects with Wolf Parade ties can be a strain on the brain. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, the two main songwriting forces behind the Parade, have been just as prolific with their other projects as they have their better-known band. In light of increased exposure to these disparate groups, Wolf Parade starts to emerge as a precarious balancing act — one that stands and falls by how well these opposing forces can work together to spark a greater whole. Fortunately, the group sounds more like a band than they ever have here. From the start, the band have always pulled as much from art-rock and prog-rock (Bowie/Eno/Roxy) as heartland classic rock (Springsteen/Petty), creating eccentric anthems for a future breed. They keep the pillars firmly in place here, but the album benefits from better sequencing and a more seamless integration of Krug and Boeckner’s voices than we’ve previously heard. Most importantly, the band sounds absolutely on fire, coming closer than they’ve ever managed to approximating the feverish intensity of their live show thanks to drummer Arlen Thompson’s bombastic production (and tub-thumping!). For my money this band has always done the art-damaged modern anthem better than both the Arcade Fire-spawned theater troupes or the neo-Springsteen devil-in-blue-jeans contenders. Look no further than “What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way)” for proof of all this band’s legion rock and roll powers at work simultaneously. When was the last time an indie record sounded good cranked?
DELOREAN - SUBIZA
This Barcelona-based four-piece has been kicking around for the better part of the past decade, creating solid but somewhat forgettable dance-rock that lands somewhere between !!! and the Faint, depending on what album you’re listening to. This makes the arrival of their fourth full-length all the more surprising — a record that shows a band finally coming into its own ten years past their inception. Named after the Basque town it was recorded in, the album title Subiza doubles as a not-so-subtle clue that the group are trading the angular, post-punky guitars and the urgent, tick-a-tick hi-hat drive of their earlier releases for the sunnier and druggier sounds of ’90s Ibiza. No, they’re not the first indie-pop band in recent years to bathe themselves in Balearic grooves; Air France, jj, Studio and Tough Alliance — incidentally all Swedish groups — beat Delorean to that tropical punch. But Subiza is certainly the most refreshing and uplifting mergers of house and rock of the aforementioned. The album comes storming in with “Stay Close,” a blissful opener that makes you think of Animal Collective gone baggy in the best possible way, as a euphoric wash of Merriweather Post Pavillion-esque harmonies crest over neon-colored synth arpeggios and the endless swell of a beat that never actually kicks in. And from there, the record doesn’t let up; “Real Life” gallops along ravey pianos and pitch-shifted vocal accents while in “Warmer Places,” steel drum samples and singer Ekhi Lopetegi’s shimmering chorus reframe the song’s Euro-trance cues and tumbling beats into a feel-good dance-pop anthem — of the non-guilty pleasure kind.
MIA - /\/\/\Y/\
M.I.A.’s latest notes from the political-pop underground are a digital mosh pit of clashing sounds, public discourse vs. private themes, and 21st century technology. No longer the new “it” girl on the scene, but with more eyes on her than ever before, Maya Arulpragasam, offers up her edgiest, most abrasive, most challenging, and in my opinion, her strongest album to date. Still entrenched in the sound clash of the Mad Decent crew, production comes mainly from Diplo, Switch, Rusko and Blaqstarr, delivering M.I.A.’s take on the B-More sound clash of dancehall, crunk, dubstep, chip tune, and future ghetto beats. The album starts with an intro based on the children’s rhyme game of hand-bone, updated as “the headphones connected to the iPhone, connected to the Internet, connected to the government,” voiced by her brother Sugu. “The Message” may be child-like, yet the riffs on our own connections to and reliance on artificial intelligence in this digital age run deeper than any game. From there “Steppin’ Up” sets gears grinding, churning and scratching, a pounding and screeching metallic assault, with M.I.A. riding the clanking rhythm in good stride. Throughout, the collage of infectiously intrusive and in-your-face digital noises create an uneasy seesaw of contemporary beat making: A volatile mix of real life, hard beats, and global culture that fuels my fire. She’s good like that.
KONONO NO.1 - ASSUME CRASH POSITION
It’s hard to believe it’s been six years now since the urban buzz and rumble of Congolese band Konono No. 1 first reached widespread acclaim and recognition with their Congotronics and Lubuaku albums. This album has been eagerly anticipated, and I’m happy to say that the group manages to evolve somewhat sonically while still remaining instantly recognizable. The jury rigged junkyard sound system that gave them their signature Congo-punk sound has been scaled back a tad and cleaned up slightly, less a sellout bid than an attempt to make room in their dense sonic stew for additional instrumentation previously unexplored in their repertoire. Electric bass, a bit of keyboards, even guitar are added into the mix to embellish but never overshadow what is the Konono sound. The percussion also sounds more direct this time around, focused less on the skittering hubcap hi-hats and more on hand drums and even a bit of traps at times. The attack of hands on skins adds to the ferocity, and the round robin vocal turns amongst band members balances that with a more jubilant, even melodic strand than ever before. Most important, though, are the tunes. The skeleton is the same, but the muscle and fat build a different beast this time. If you’re a fan, there will be much here to love. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s more accessible, but it’s nice to hear the group take in a bit of the influence they’ve obviously instilled upon many western bands, and in turn make a step forward, creating a maturation of their sound after 30-plus years of existence. That’s talent right there.
SLEIGH BELLS - TREATS
Sleigh Bells have recorded a really great pop record, if a bit aggressive and bombastic. The duo takes chopped-up sample beats in the vein of Swizz Beats, Diplo, XXXChange, etc., and they infuse an in-the-red punk rawness, a clear awareness of hip-hop production blueprint, and some Lolita-pop vocals, and turns it into thirty-two of the most dense, catchy, head-bobbing minutes of music I’ve heard in a while. There’s been talk in Other Music lately amongst a few staffers about how, when it comes to electronic-/beat-oriented music, the dirtier, grimier, and just plain more messed-up the beats sound, the better, and I swear, people have been listening, because these tracks chug forth like pixelated digital undead monsters, while singer Alexis Krauss sings the beasts lullabies to get them to not eat her brain. This record’s good, folks.
BOOKS - THE WAY OUT
In our current era of constant media-oversaturation, a five-year absence certainly feels like it may as well be a lifetime. But that’s exactly how long it’s been since the duo known as the Books last graced listeners with an album’s worth of their hodgepodge pop confections, meticulously crafted from the odd assemblage of the conventional (guitar, cello) and the decidedly less so (bizarro vocal samples, other assorted aural detritus). And in this case, absence has truly worked to the group’s advantage, as one pass through The Way Out, the duo’s newest record (and first for the Temporary Residence label), feels as warm and comforting as a conversation with an old friend that you haven’t seen in some time. And while that mix of acoustic and electronic instruments and sounds that the Books favored was clearly not something that they alone championed, they’ve still managed to put their stamp on it, crafting songs that sound wholly original within the paradigm.
THE WORLD ENDS – VARIOUS ARTISTS
Yes, it is a premise you may well be familiar with at this point — 1970s Nigerian guitar funk and psychedelia — but we all know it is a fertile genre, and few can do it like the Soundway label. Thirty-two tracks from obscure and wonderful artists of all stripes, on a double disc.
SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS - DISCONNECT FROM DESIRE
On their sophomore full-length, the trio of producer/guitarist Benjamin Curtis and the sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza once again pay heartfelt tribute to shoegaze and dreampop icons, but Disconnect from Desire offers a crisper, more fully realized version of their established sound. As on the stellar first single, “Windstorm,” the Deheza’s intoxicating harmonies often stand in for guitar or keyboard hooks, delivering My Bloody Valentine-worthy riffs with vocals alone, and the sisters’ close tones and layered approach is reminiscent of Stereolab’s best stuff, in a more modern context. “Heart Is Strange” brings to mind of New Order circa Technique, and Curtis can deliver more of-the-moment club-ready grooves as well. Fittingly enough, while more pop oriented than Alpinisms, Disconnect from Desire can nonetheless put the listener in a dream-like trance state; something not many artists are able to do once in their careers, let alone on back to back albums.