From First to Last to simply first, Sonny Moore’s debut as an electro fiend with a penchant for wicked bass drops and unintelligible Auto-Tune somehow worked, in its own messy way. Skrillex will never win any critical awards, but as the rawest form of party starter, few could match up to the relentless stream of house, electro and dubstep that Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites spits out. Pills not included. – Rudy K.
Girls’ follow-up EP still wrestles with all the youthful pensiveness that made Album such a revelation but this time Christopher Owens’ melodrama ditches its scrappy lo-fi distinction for a timeless, polished gleam that’s much more welcoming. With partner Chet “JR” White’s production coming into full swing, this is the sound of a confessional with guitars evolving into an actual band. – Kiran S.
The Jezabels are the rarest kind of alternative rock band. They’re musicians who don’t let accessibility get in the way of artistic ambition, who boast a rhythm section operating as much more than just second-fiddle to the vocals and, well, a front-lady who only gushing hyperbole works to aptly describe. Dark Storm is big, glittering and well worth your attention. – Kiran S.
Every Toby Driver release, if not necessarily palatable, is certainly fascinating, nuanced, and essential. As unconventional as it is, Stained Glass is the first Driver release since Choirs of the Eye that feels like it was composed with a certain catchiness in mind. From the languid ostinati to the noisy synthesizer soloing, this piece is full of strange but rapturous ideas that fit together like abstract puzzle pieces. Nick G.
If you were to listen to any instrumental stem from Active Child’s EP Sunrooms in isolation, you’d be struck by how remote, alien and bleak the melodies and timbres sound. Even when the parts start to overlap Active Child’s harmonies remain sparse and cold. But once the indie choir boy – or to use my own term, hipster castrati – vocals preside over the mix, these songs transform into warm, soulful ballads that possess a melancholy that will linger well after the gratuitous reverb and echo fades. – Nick G.
New York-based indie-pop trio fun. make the listener feel as if they are genuinely at the venue on their 5 song EP Live At Fingerprints. Released as part of the celebrations for Record Store Day, fun.’s performance is so natural, sincere and real that one can’t help but enjoy the intimate experience. Creating magic with just their voices, a couple of acoustic guitars, a piano and the barest of percussion, they. even provide an hilarious anecdote or two. It’s almost enough to make you forget that ‘Be Calm’ and ‘Barlights’ are excluded from these delightful 29 minutes. – Davey Boy
Funeral For A Friend’s u-turn to the heavier sound displayed in their formative years is one step away from being complete. If the 4 track Young and Defenceless EP is any guide, then it is a process that will leave every fan they’ve picked up along the way in raptures. While all songs are musically hard-hitting and contain drummer Ryan Richards’ near forgotten screams, each of them is accessible, immediate & catchy. See lead single & EP opener ‘Serpents In Solitude’ as the perfect example. – Davey Boy
Diplo and Switch’s foray into dancehall becomes a more worldly affair with the Lazers Never Die EP. The better of the two new tracks, ‘Sound of Siren,’ puts M.I.A. over a dancehall beat and manages to surpass any song on Maya; she finally sounds at home again with Diplo turning in a real track for her, perhaps because it is more for his benefit. Remixes comprise most of the EP, including a dependably strange remix of dance anthem ‘Jump Up’ by Thom Yorke and a dependably banging remix of ‘Bruk Out’ by Portuguese kuduro powerhouse Buraka Som Sistema. – Tyler F.
The ever-changing Trophy Scars gave us one of the greatest, most surprising albums of 2009 in Bad Luck, full of ridiculously unique songwriting and home to one of the most well-executed concepts in recent memory. Darkness, Oh Hell amps up the elements that made that album great: more piano, more strings, more off-time drumming, and more of Jerry Jones’s fantastic vocals. For such a tidy little thirty-minute listen, the EP feels surprisingly complete, culminating in the swelling heartbreak of ‘Time in Heaven, Forever in Hell.’ – Channing F.
Cruel Black Dove are a relatively new band, but they’ve already been turning heads with their blend of electronics-driven alt. rock and gothic overtones. If their 2008 release, Full Powers, was the sound of a band tentatively stepping into their own niche, then The Myth and the Sum is the sound of them solidifying that formula. The atmospheres are moodier, the electronics are chill and effective, and the vocals of Anastasia Dimou expertly guide the entire affair. – Trey S.
The release of Frank Turner’s Rock & Roll EP in December caught us a little unawares – though, given his solid album-a-year track record, it probably shouldn’t have done. Essentially, Rock & Roll is an appendix to 2009’s full-length Poetry of the Deed, carrying on the full-band folk rock sound developed on that record. Lead single ‘I Still Believe’ is a slightly cheesy toast to the power of rock & roll to invigorate the spirit (hence the title), but as a rhetorical device it’s hard to find fault with the instantly memorable “hear ye” refrain. There’s a hint of the Decemberists to the epic ‘Pass It Along,’ though the highlight is driving rocker ‘To Absent Friends,’ a rather self-explanatory tribute to friends who’ve packed up for greener pastures. – Dave D.
Seems like a lot of fans of this album feel the need to apologise for the title – but why? Rap has always been at its best when it’s fueled by raw ambition, and Black Milk spends this album rapping like he needs to, like making the album of the year is his destiny. So what if he didn’t manage it? He remains one of the best beatmakers in the world right now, at least. – Nick B.
What exactly are Broken Social Scene apologizing for with their new record? As the patriarchs of a mammoth scene, Broken Social Scene don’t really have anything more to prove. It’s fitting, then, that Forgiveness Rock Record turns inward, focusing on beefing up the production and creating intricate compositions to get lost in. While it might be a tad grandiose (not to mention way too long), it’s exactly what one should expect from a band so wonderfully outsized as this one. – Rudy K.
It might sound a little more adventurous for the group, but at its core Sed Non Satiata’s self-titled is yet another exemplary European emo release. The band dive a little deeper into ambiance and indulge a bit more in clean vocals, but they haven’t abandoned their love of crushing climaxes. Opener ‘Les Colonnes de Soie’ might be their best song yet, a poly-rhythmic rocker that foreshadows the ambitious, wonderful album within. A solid record from one of the most consistent bands of the genre. – Adam D.
As “summer bands” tend to go, Surfer Blood are one of the few that actually sound relevant. Unlike contemporaries Best Coast and Wavves, Surfer Blood forgo the nostalgia temptingly offered by low production values and, as a result, transcend the surfer-tune gimmick and sound vitally honest. Astro Coast is a catchy, immediate album filled with so many hooks one has to worry about whether the band will have enough for the rest of their career. But for the time being, we have this record, an irresistible piece of guitar pop that breezes by without any tricks or misgivings. – Adam D.
With Black Noise, Pantha du Prince continues to develop as an artist, building on the sound he established on 2007’s This Bliss. Much like its predecessor, it’s a rewarding listen; shrouded in a lush minimalism, the album sporadically comes to life, such as in the shimmering ‘Bohemian Forest’ or the melodious ‘Satellite Snyper.’ Consistently excellent and occasionally brilliant, Black Noise is one of the year’s most fulfilling electronic records. – Mike S.
One of the most striking characteristics of More Than Life’s debut LP might be the fact that it’s devoid of a final catharsis. It’s as passionate as it is painful and channeled through striking, relentless fury but by its end, the utter devastation rings far louder than any notion of relief. Get acquainted with the soul-crushing young torchbearers of melodic hardcore. – Kiran S.
While math rock in 2010 was tame, two of the genre’s most esteemed acts, Tera Melos and Maps and Atlases, traded their quirky math rock styles for pop. Longtime fans see the transition as a cop out, but in the case of Maps and Atlases in particular, it wraps their quirky sense of melody in a package more digestible and, in the end, more enjoyable. Perch Patchwork sees the evolution of both Dave Davison as a singer and the group as songwriters. – Tyler F.
After the full-on assault of their first album, it was inevitable that the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank should see the Irish instrumental rockers take the tempo down a notch. Clearly inspired by their travels in Japan over the past couple of years, Adebisi Shank have added greater depth and subtlety to their sound, a trait immediately apparent in ebullient opener ‘International Dreambeat’ and the carnival-like atmosphere of ‘Masa’ and ‘Genki Shank.’ The (almost) mindless noodling that made the First Album such a thrilling listen remains, but overall the Second Album is a more melodic and ultimately more balanced album. – Dave D.
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