Arcade Fire have never been a band shy of tackling big themes. Their momentous debut album Funeral addressed death, somehow making it seem invigorating and inspiring, as well as tragic, epic and heartrending, while 2007's Neon Bible melded religion and natural disasters (the tsunami, the New Orleans floods) in a portentous, unsettling blend of pomp and darkness.
That Janelle Monáe is from a drama background comes as no surprise after even the most cursory listen to her music. The young singer and dancer originally moved to New York from her Kansas hometown to study Theatre, before making the switch to music that seems inevitable given her evident talents. The love of the dramatic, though, and sense of storytelling in her work, remain as markers of her previous direction.
Halcyon Digest is a triumph of multilayered nuance, and repeated listens reveal its genius buried just beyond the obvious.
Mischievous from the word go, Yeasayer's second album Odd Blood opens with a musical red herring. With its clunky electronics, cow bells and slo-mo vocals, The Children sounds like a nasty 1970s Peter Gabriel single played at 33rpm. It's best taken as a palate cleanser, providing a clear break between the stately mystique of their debut All Hour Cymbals and the unashamedly crowd-pleasing yet deceptively complex remainder of the new album.
While not perfect, The Fool is a very promising début that grows in stature on every listen. If you're willing to put the time in, this could easily live up to the hype.
When Vampire Weekend first appeared in 2006, they seemed to strike the same regenerative effect into the indie-rock circuit that fellow New Yorkers The Strokes had managed at the beginning of the new century.
For, with the simple act of imbuing their songs with some Afro-pop rhythms, Vampire Weekend pulled off the not inconsiderable trick of making music that sounded gloriously familiar and intriguingly different and fresh at the same time. Blo gs buzzed, indie-discos rocked and songs like A-Punk and M79 soon sounded like old friends.
Surfer Blood are JP Pitts, Tyler Schwarz, Thomas Fekete and Brian Black, four men in their early twenties from Palm Beach, Florida. No surfers themselves, despite their band's name, the music that they produce does nonetheless seem, on some level, informed by the ocean besides which they grew up.
Portland, Oregon trio Menomena take a lot of disjointed loops and tear them apart, spin them round and reconstruct them. It's a bit of musical puff-puff-pass, with each band member contributing something and feeding the data into a band-built looping computer program. Sounds alarmingly avant garde, right? And perhaps it is, in theory, but Menomena come across as surprisingly accessible and pop-oriented, even in the midst of all their computerised hyperactivity.
For what it sets out to do, it's damn near perfect, and what higher praise is there than that?
Bethany Cosentino, until recently, was part of an obscure California-based psychedelia outift called Pocahaunted. Although to some extent they rose to popularity, it's incomparable to the success Cosentino has already achieved under the more streamlined pop direction of Best Coast in the space of just over a year.
That brilliant title is certainly a good start. Such inventive use of language immediately undercuts the argument that Antwan Patton has always been the lesser half of OutKast.
This fourth album from Matthew Houck's Phosphorescent project originally came out in May but is being reissued so soon simply to tie in with Houck's early September UK tour. As its title might imply, it's not exactly the most radical or original of 2010 releases. However, its handling of various Americana and alt-country tropes is so assured and lush that it certainly deserves a second push.
It all adds up to Stern's most fully realised, most rounded album yet, and a huge step in her evolution as an artist.
A degree of wariness is to be expected when confronted with yet another hipster-endorsed New York band - after all, there seems to be a different one every month. Yet, for once, it looks as if Sleigh Bells may just justify the hype - for from the very first note of Treats, you know you're listening to something extraordinary.
Music tends to follow the general rule of thumb that if you can get three examples of something then it can be called a trend. Only in music it's called a genre, and it usually ends up slowly ruining the thing it's supposed to be defining. You get the feeling that as 'chillwave' slowly becomes shorthand for everything vaguely summery or a little bit hazy, that in amongst the shimmering keyboards and padded drums you can make out the death knell.
While the capricious, erratic behaviour of musical mavericks like Neil Young and Bob Dylan might enthral their followers, it's always nice when a recording artist behaves in a rather more sensible, rational way. Five-piece pop act Hot Chip are a case in point. From the listener's perspective, it seems as if Hot Chip have behaved rather like a customer services-orientated business: they've listened to their customers' complaints, and they've sought t o remedy their faults.