Baltimore is as musically diverse as anywhere else, but in 2008, indie rockers associate the city with colorful, energetic music, from the expatriated Animal Collective to Dan Deacon's Wham City crew. The music of Beach House, the Baltimore-based duo of multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally and vocalist/organist Victoria Legrand, is a shadow narrative running parallel to this trend: Their delicate, lovelorn pop comes in the form of deathly waltzes and dark pastoral dirge s on which Legrand sings about desire, loss, and dreams as if telling a ghost story, splitting the difference between lovely and creepy.
There's nothing like a nice surprise from musicians you love. In 1981, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and producer Brian Eno united for one of the most fruitful partnerships of the post-punk era to release My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a groundbreaking record that made prominent use of sampled soundbytes and disembodied voices in place of singing. The album, recorded betwee n sessions for the Talking Heads' essential Remain in Light LP, was released with surprisingly little fanfare, yet pioneered and popularized methods that have since become part of our musical lexicon.
Kevin Martin, under a dozen-or-so aliases and across numerous genres, has been screwing around with deep bass for well over a decade. 1997's Tapping the Conversation-- a concept album conceived as a surrogate soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation-- was his first release as the Bug, and in retrospect, it sounds like an alternate-universe prototype of dubstep, based on instrumental hip-hop rather than UK garage rhythms. By the time he issued his 2003 follow-up Pressure, he'd already charged headlong into heavy digital ragga, building a repertoire of grimy, distorted beats that mutated dancehall into a glitchy, blown-out commotion.
On The Mixtape About Nothing, Wale emerges fully-formed as a rapper and as a thinker, a lightning-witted, irreverent guy blessed with both an infectious swagger and a sound moral compass.
As I was finishing an interview with Gregg Gillis in July 2006, he casually mentioned his desire to see M. Night Shyamalan's just-released fantasy movie Lady in the Water. Given the film's wretched reviews-- a pitiful 24% on Rotten Tomatoes-- and the train-wreck hype surrounding it, I thought he was kidding. He wasn't; Gillis liked some of Shyamalan's other flicks, so he wanted to check this one out. Simple. And it's this omnivorous, pleasure-seeking attitude toward pop culture that defines his work as Girl Talk. (Luckily, his taste in music is superior to his taste in film.)
On the surface, Scottish trio Frightened Rabbit are like a lot of other bands. You could file them away with other musicians from their Glasgow scene, or other bassist-free groups, or other bands of literal brothers (frontman Scott and drummer Grant Hutchison are siblings). But somehow, despite the fact that their methods are well-worn, their product is one-of-a-kind, as their consistently great second album (in under a y ear, no less!) attests.
The Hold Steady weren't the likeliest candidates for success. Pulling together after the demise of the imaginative, verbose, and mostly overlooked indie act Lifter Puller, Craig Finn relocated to New York to start a new band. Holding to his distinctive poet-lost-at-karaoke delivery, Finn-- like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü before him-- began unashamedly mining classic rock radio for inspiration. Surprisingly, it's the latter group you can hear on opening track "Constructive Summer", and not just in its title's resemblance to one of Hüsker Dü's most celebrated songs.
Hip-hop's earliest records often relied on faded, scratchy source material run through entry-level equipment. Even as technology advanced, the grain and the gristle stuck around-- sometimes out of necessity, sometimes as an extra ingredient. Over time, those aged, decaying sounds burrowed their way underground to crop up in pockets of IDM, dubstep, and indie hip-hop, resulting in music, built around texture more than bass or treble, that often sounded ragge d at birth.
Bradford Cox spent the summer he was 16 in a children's hospital having multiple surgeries on his chest and back. His condition, Marfan syndrome, has proven difficult to separate from his music. Cox's lost summer hangs over his songs, and his gawky physique has been the dress-draped centerpiece of his band's confrontational live shows. At the same time, he can also be defensive about his appearance, using it to explain why his music's detractors are sometimes as hyperbolic as his most fervent admirers. Thousands of words later, other music critics still ask me what I could possibly like in Cox's work.
Gang Gang Dance's third album, God's Money, remains a revelation three years after its release. Pouring the muffled art-beats of 2004's Revival of the Shittest and the extended space-jams of 2004's Gang Gang Dance into structured songs, the record was starry and dreamy, yet also taut and focused. It made evident what was implicit from the start-- that these four hyperactive talents with underground pedigrees (see the Cranium, SSAB Songs, Angelblood, et. al.) could funnel their ideas into melodic pop without diluting them.
Santi White used to work in A&R, which gives her put-downs on debut single "Creator" a professional air: "Sit tight I know what you are/ Mad bright but you ain't no star." As Santogold, White is putting her knowledge of star quality into practical effect. At its best, her album's cross-genre confidence is dazzling, combining dub, new wave, and hip-hop to create some of the year's freshest pop. At its worst, it feels annoyingly overthought.
Floating around the internet last fall before emerging on a 7" in November, Fuck Buttons' "Bright Tomorrow" proved surprisingly resilient. The duo's blunt repetition of simple elements-- metronomic drum-machine, chugging synth, blissful keyboard, and distorted screams-- seems like a formula for tedium. But the song somehow gets stronger with each replay. For a noise group, Fuck Buttons are surprisingly welcoming-- for noise music, anyway-- and their mix of dreamy melody and abrasive climax evokes strange stylistic bedfellows: Yo La Tengo and Ministry, My Bloody Valentine and Prurient, Spacemen 3 and Black Dice.
On both record and onstage, the Walkmen have always reached for the rafters-- often at the risk falling on their collective faces or completely overshadowing their moodier material. In the light of their previous powerful singles and go-for-broke performances, the New York band's latest album, You & Me, might seem like a step down. However, it's the first that fully commits to their seductive, eminently soused-sounding late night sulk. If there are people who still consider the Walkmen a singles act-- granted, that will happen when you write a couple of the best rock singles of the decade-- You & Me might finally convince them otherwise.
Whether it's their second release or their 60th (no one's even pretending to be sure), Fucked Up's The Chemistry of Common Life is really easy to get excited about. A lot's been made about how it could possibly revitalize hardcore, although framing it within genre terms tends to lead to the wrong questions: Is it too melodic and instrumentally diverse to qualify as hardcore? Maybe. Is it heavy and chaotic enough to sa tisfy fans of the debut, even while it dramatically broadens their fanbase? Possibly. Can a band as destructive as Fucked Up really carry an entire scene on their sweaty, unshaven backs? Stranger things have happened.
Crystal Castles prefer traveling light. While the hotly-tipped and already hotly-contested Toronto duo's basement party set-up doesn't look like it'll fill up the passenger seat on a tour van, they also like to play fast and loose with their associations. They've remixed at a Hot Chip-like pace for everyone from Bloc Party to Uffie to Klaxons, but they're not a part of your nu-rave genre (really, who is?), or blog house for that matter. Their de but LP partly picks from 7" and 12"s that have been available in some format since 2005, and it's every bit as difficult to pin down.
This is Wayne's moment and he embraces it on his own terms. Instead of hiding his bootleg-bred quirks in anticipation of the big-budget spotlight, he distills the myriad metaphors, convulsing flows, and vein-splitting emotions into a commercially gratifying package that's as weird as it wants to be
Bring any baggage you want to this record, and it still returns nothing but warm, airy, low-gimmick pop, peppy, clever, and yes, unpretentious
This is shit-hot thrilling music. But it's also brainy and ambivalent, and more engaging for it.
The resulting 2xCD set captures urgent and imaginative songs that reorganize 4AD haze, off-kilter indie pop, crashing garage-punk, forward-leaning krautrock, and hypnotic Kranky ambience into a singular-sounding call-to-arms.
In Ghost Colours earns its smiles with a combination of ingenuity and easiness that you don't often come by, and for that, even in April, it already feels like a triumph.
For all the album's winding paths and unexpected vistas, Fleet Foxes' harmonies remain the primary draw, and they've written and arranged these songs to showcase their shared vocals.