Monday, July 8, 2013

Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends

      Released June 4, 2013

            For a band, the sign that you’re finally getting somewhere is when a well-known producer asks to work with your next album.   When asked by Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Joseph Burton – multi-Grammy winner, producer, musician, and collaborator – the 5-piece, Portland-based band, Portugal. The Man, was more than willing to scrap two weeks of recording and eight out of ten already-finished tracks to “start fresh”.  The result?  A smooth, upbeat indie-rock-anthem-album that irons out the kinks (and unfortunately, some of the quirks) that the two consistent members, John Gourley and Zach Carothers, have been developing since 2006.  The work certainly sounds good: the vocals are cleaner than ever, and the band uses consistent instrumental choices, and one track flows flawlessly to the next.  In a sense, they’ve become more streamlined and consistent… but don’t expect any surprises.  It’s all straight-up-indie rock.
            On their website, Facebook, and pretty much everywhere else, Portugal. The Man can’t stop talking about their experience working with the producer.  In other places, the album is touted as their most “mainstream yet”, and when you’re indie, that can be either encouraging or damning.  Tracks such as Holy Roller [Hallelujah] and Evil Friends stick out only in that they’re the most energetic of the group, whereas softer ballads like Plastic Soldiers and Waves excel in being, well, soft and ballad-y.  Together they all sound good, but that’s about it.  Fans of the band will find familiar thematic material throughout, songs about finding ones place amongst friends and enemies and how everybody’s doing the same, too.  Those new to the band can either pick up something earlier of theirs or, as a new album has been released practically every year since their inception, wait until next year.  There’s things to like about Evil Friends, but there’s not much there to love.
            Recommended tracks: Evil Friends, Holy Roller [Hallelujah], Purple Yellow Red and Blue

Sounds like:  Broken Bells, Maps & Atlases, Local Natives, Cold War Kids, Minus the Bear

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Released June 10, 2013

            In 1993, philosopher Jaques Derrida introduced the concept “hauntology” to explain how the romanticized past always overshadows our perception of the present.  Intended at the time as an explanation for continued Marxist undercurrents, this kind of nostalgic present-setting often appears in art, music included.  Enter Boards of Canada.  This band’s music contrasts a sweetened past to the perceived bitterness of the future, and with their newest release, Tomorrow’s Harvest, this tradition continues in an even darker direction.  Known for their mixing of ambient passages with song-like vignettes amongst 1970s analogue tones, the two Scottish brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin took their latest creation to an even darker plane than previous releases – nostalgic sounds like computer start-up tones and spoken word distort around one another between deep bass passages and slowed rhythm, making the ‘altered present’ even darker.
            Amongst different artist names, shifting membership, and changing labels, Boards of Canada comes from a history that is hard to pin down.  Their first directly traceable release, Twoism, appeared in 1992, and established the rough ambient-vignette format that we hear today.  In Tomorrow’s Harvest, songs like Palace Posy and New Seeds particularly stand out amongst the wash due to their surprising rhythmic and melodic complexity.  However, this is not an album to pick and choose random tracks from to listen to – it sounds best heard all-the-way through as motives of sound (both analogue and digital), textures, and specific moods appear and re-appear in contrasting ways. 
            Old fans of the band will certainly appreciate the darker progression that brings us to their latest release.  Many instances lead the listener to understand the album as fully orchestrated, every moment created with precise taste to contrast the present and the idealized past.  Those familiar will enjoy the familiar format with a more ominous mood.  However, if you’re new to the band, I would not suggest it as a good introduction to their work as a whole.  Instead, check out Geogaddi, as it comes off as lighter and contains less ambient material, includes a more clear contrast between ‘nostalgic’ bits and ‘present’ bits, and represents the turning-point in which Boards of Canada begins to grow dark.   Then, check out Tomorrow’s Harvest and see if it also has the ability to haunt.

            Suggested tracks: Palace Posy, Split your Infinities, New Seeds

            Similar artists: Aphex Twin, Bibio, Burial, Autechre, Tycho

Friday, June 28, 2013

Empire of the Sun - Ice on the Dune

 Released June 14, 2013

          If two words perfectly describe Empire of the Sun’s new release Ice on the Dune, “ice” and “dune” aren’t far from the mark.  Mixing crisp melodic synth, round, deep bass, and hypnotic vocals over laid-back, surf-rock beats, the Australian duo’s sophomore release serves up a chilled-out dish equally suited for afternoons on the beach and evenings on the town.  In many ways, the album represents a more refined edge to what producers Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore presented in their last release, 2008’s double-platinum Walking on a Dream, whose title track won single of the year in Australia’s ARIA Music Awards of 2009.  While Walking on a Dream had its hits, this release takes a step towards icy refinement.  Throughout the new record, tracks consistently boast a driving dancablity from one to the next, smoothed over with sensual vocals, and tightened together with a sharp synth present throughout.  Tracks like the Alive and Surround Sound are the perfect iced drink for both days in the sun and nights out.
            Ice on the Dune certainly boasts an impeccable taste for detail in both production and melodic choice.  However, if you’re picking up this album for your own listening, be aware that the intro track to the record says very little about the content of the release itself.  As an attempt as an orchestral intro, Lux does very little in conveying the mood for the rest of the pieces and comes across soft and fantastical rather than crisp and icy like the rest of the tracks.  And if you’re a sucker for lyrics, don’t expect to be blown away in that category, either, provided you can hear all of them.  But, let’s be honest – Empire of the Sun’s fun, precise style invites us to dance more than anything else.  As a whole, the album feels like an iced drink, sweating in the sun or a breeze off of Superior on a hot summer day.

            Recommended tracks: Alive, Awakening, Surround Sound
            Similar artists: Miike Snow, MGMT, Pnau, Phoenix