Any band christening itself ‘Wonderful’ better live up to its name! Well, based on this boisterous, gleeful track, at least these Seattle-based freaksters stand a good chance of making many music lovers feel very warm and fuzzy. No mean feat to imbue a song with simultaneous genres – this is psychedelic, ethnic, folky and ethereal, all at once! The band will be releasing its new album Wake Up to Dreamland on 21st June. Worth that second look.
THE BIRD & THE BEE Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (Blue Note)
It’s a good time to be a Hall & Oates fan. What with the recent 4CD retrospective set and now, TWO tribute albums. Of the two, this tribute from indie pop duo The Bird & the Bee is infinitely more palatable and possibly closer to the spirit of Hall & Oates. Basically, eight Hall & Oates songs are covered with the opening Heard It On the Radio (which strangely sounds like ABBA!) the only original.
Basically no risks taken with the Hall & Oates songs selected to be given the Bird & the Bee treatment viz the hits. Therefore, we get gorgeously straight versions of some of my all-time favourite music i.e. Sara Smile, Kiss on my List, She’s Gone and One on One. I mean, folks, the main attraction of this tribute is hearing the wondrous vox of Inara George singing those lovely melodies.
And the version here of Kiss on my List will bring you to tears… no contest. Highly recommended.
For fans of classic post-punk and beyond, Swedish band The Radio Dept. is an absolute treat. Combining indie twee pop with electronic sensibilities, The Radio Dept. has produced delightfully melodic pop slabs of mood and atmosphere – a potent mix!
On this, the band’s third album, the hybrid process has been honed to a fine art. The pulsating synths and chiming guitars manage to strike a fine balance to create something unique. The beats are never too intrusive and exist to serve the tunes and yet they are an entity unto themselves nonetheless.
For most of Clinging to a Scheme, The Radio Dept. can do no wrong, pulling out miraculous melodies and irresistible rhythms on mesmerizing tracks like the gleaming Domestic Scene, the slinky Heaven’s On Fire, the dynamic New Order-channeling This Time Around, the throbbing Never Follow Suit, the dreamy Token of Gratitude, the incisive The Video Dept., the thoughtful Memory Loss, the noisy OMD-referencing Four Months in the Shade and the plaintively atmospheric You Stopped Making Sense.
Yes, I realize that I’ve listed practically the entire album but that’s a simple measure of how great Clinging to a Scheme is. A delight in every sense of the word. Only thing left for me to say is that it will definitely be one of the finest albums you will listen to this year. Essential!
Oh, and of course, The Radio Dept. will be playing in Singapore on 7th April. Details TBA.
LET’S WRESTLE In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s (Merge)
This album is the sort of freewheeling beautiful mess one would be expected to become obsessed with. I mean, Engish trio, Let’s Wrestle – Wesley Patrick Gonzalez (vocals and guitar), Mike Lightning (bass and vocals), and Darkus Bishop (drums) – like to play it as if they don’t give a fuck but listening to this fine LP, it’s clear that they obviously do. And they have the chops and attitude to match.
Don’t let the austere production and light arrangements fool you into believing that these songs are anything but well-crafted and finely-honed. Betraying catholic tastes that includes The Beatles, Neil Young, Pavement, Nirvana, Swell Maps, Pixies, The Raincoats, Bowie, Beach Boys, Fugazi, ELO, Dinosaur Jr, Buddy Holly, Black Sabbath, The Clean, Denim, Grandaddy, Husker Du, Wire, Yo La Tengo, Phil Spector (*whew*), Let’s Wrestle has delivered a quirky, melodic, spiky mini-masterpiece.
IT’S A KING THING Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo (Self-released)
I must admit what caught the eye about It’s A King Thing was the list of references they cited – the first 2 Weezer albums, The Lemonheads, Nada Surf, Ben Kweller, Superdrag, The Shins, Guided By Voices – right?!
But honestly, It’s A King Thing really comes across like a quirky, anti-folk version of Weezer. There is not an ounce of “rock” in these charming songs, in fact, much of Buffalo is rather twee, if I may say so, and evokes memories of mid-80s Scottish pop bands.
So just imagine if Rivers Cuomo collaborated with Kimya Dawson, and you might get an inkling of what It’s A King Thing is trying to achieve.
Yes, this duo actually consists of a pair of brothers – Justin and Mark Faircloth – and this six-track EP is a pleasing concoction of ambient country-folk-rock, informed by post-punk revival sensibilities. Therefore, resonating keyboards brighten mid-tempo rustic numbers like Confederate Dance and All We Ever Wanted. Elsewhere, the memorable chorus lines of Wasted Youth and Boyfriend will keep you returning to this enjoyable indie-pop EP time and time again.
Merely describing Raleigh, North Carolina sextet Annuals as an indie-pop outfit isn’t really much help. To these ears, Annuals is a creative unit which is passionate about creating eclectic, genuine pop-rock music. Therefore, on this new EP, Annuals demonstrate that they are equally at home with lusty country-folk (Flesh and Blood), whimsical rootsy jaunts (Holler and Howl), Latin-flavoured pop candy (Loxstep), world music-informed percussive nuggets (Sweet Sister) and atmospheric, moody pieces (Turncloaking).
Regular PoP visitors will be aware that the genre that I’ve coined for artists like Annuals is “widescreen rock”, which includes the likes of Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips and the now-defunct Grandaddy. Meaning that these bands paint on a epic canvas and is all-inclusive in the genre-bending exercise they call songwriting. Well, Annuals is a widerscreen rock band, if I ever heard one. Displaying an impressive range of styles, Annuals is a band that surprises with every musical turn. My favourite kind!
In this day and age, it can be difficult for bands/artists to resist the temptation to make their music as loud as possible. Therefore, you have to hand it to artists like Fanshaw (nee Olivia Fetherstonhaugh), where the artistic imperative is subtle tones and mood created by minimal instrumentation.
Not in the least immediate, music like those found on Dark Eyes requires the greater dedication and longer attention spans than your average casual pop listener can muster. A challenge indeed.
That said, there are songs like Strong Hips, which lie on the fringe of acceptable, accessible alt-rock. Certainly, with a fuller production and sexier arrangement, who knows what Fanshaw might achieve?
Personally, what sells me is the rootsier material like Vegas or O Sailor, where the authentic country feel slays every single time. Overall, Dark Eyes is an album for those enamored of the esoteric and thus is not for all tastes.