by Jericho Cerrona
While not quite the speaker-blowing sprawl of dissonance and lo-fi cacophony one would expect from Brooklyn noisemakers Lightning Bolt, Fantasy Empire nonetheless attempts at a certain kind of rampaging clarity. Intense heavy metal-esque riffing, coiled drumming, and herky-jerky time signatures are all here in force, as is the howling, muffled vocals. Pure intensity from start to finish.
27-year-old Melbourne native Courtney Barnett has a knack for couching witty barbs and self-referential lines under the guise of down-to-earth slacker rock, and on her debut LP, she makes an unequivocal bid for alt-rock stardom. Using her mistakes, misunderstandings, and insecurities as fodder for humorously self-reflexive tunes, Barnett strings together disparate words into colorful patchwork stories of disillusionment that also happens to rock.
Strange Trails is the kind of record that will inevitably be compared to works by artists such as Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, but this beguiling collection of rustic, guitar-and-bass indie folk nevertheless transcends such comparisons. Lead singer Ben Schneider has a ruggedly winsome delivery and the washed-out Americana sonic stylings here are ambitiously layered, resulting in the perfect soundtrack for the wandering troubadour.
If drone-psych is a thing, than Portland outfit Moon Duo likely lay claim to the genre. Densely repetitive and overflowing with monochromatic grooves and swirling organs, Shadow of the Sun sees the band ditching the drum machine for a human being behind the kit, which adds a certain tenacity to their one/two chord psychedelic attack. The hazy vocals, pummeling organ, and fuzzy guitar solos are no match for the mortal listener.
Soak (aka Bridie Monds-Watson) is only 18-years-old, but her much buzzed about debut Before We Forgot How To Dream is the work of emotional clarity and simple, yet undeniably ambitious, songwriting. Using her soft, wispy voice as a way of extrapolating growing up bored and aimless without a hint of ironic detachment, Soak indulges in fable-like melodies backed up acoustic guitar, piano, and subtle effects. Rarely has youth sounded this mature.
A hypnotic fusion of Afro-beat, blues, and West African rhythms, Tal National's Zoy Zoy is a complete marvel; an album that succeeds almost solely on the strength of its musicians, all of which bring the ruckus. The call-and-response vocal chanting have a distinctly West African feel, but there's also dazzling twin guitar riffs and intricate drumming throughout. A joyous, life-affirming piece of extraordinary musicianship.
Another month; another retro electro-pop act. In this case, its Baltimore-based Lower Dens' third LP Escape from Evil; a simultaneously alluring and distancing slab of goth-tinged experimental pop. Jana Hunter's theatrical, high-pitched falsetto and the shimmery synth-laden soundscapes all add up to something with melodic hooks aplenty, but just enough off-center weirdness to grab the indie crowd. New-wave chic wrapped in modern garb.
Kate Staples, the sonic mastermind and voice behind This is the Kit, is a warmly expressive tour guide throughout Bashed Out; a record that weaves folk, 90s-inflected art rock, and electronic flourishes over the course of 10 tracks. Staples' hushed vocals provide an emotional center to songs that contain pop-oriented hooks, but just as often tip toward the avant-garde. Overall, a carefully constructed, subtly ambitious effort.
Jamie xx (born Jamie Smith), is essentially a producer; cobbling together various samples, sounds, clips, and choice deep cuts from his record collection. On the strength of his debut In Colour, however, he's also a legitimate artist. Anyone can pull things from various media and get the dancefloor raging, but it takes skill to appropriate such things into a musical tapestry that wiggles into your eardrums and refuses to leave. Smith has created something magical here; constructing loops that build, crash, and overwhelm just as often as they soothe.
Two members of the Los Angeles rap trio Acid Reign (Beond and Gajah, respectively), along with Osaka-based MC Gebo, have collaborated on a startling forward thinking hip-hop album that bristles with raw energy and exhilarating verve. The rhymes come fast like splintering arrows, the production weaves fractured beats with jazzy interludes, and the overall effect of the LP, despite the bevy of producers and guest spots, is one of complete cohesion.