Goes well with: Four Tet, Junior Boys, Matthew Dear
Every music fan has a few groups she or he are constantly on the fence about. With Caribou, I've swayed between adulation and annoyance for awhile—long enough to witness Dan Snaith change not only his moniker (from Manitoba) but, also, repeatedly, his style.
Snaith has released some pretty good records in the past 10 years, with 2003's Up in Flames topping the list. That album was an unhinged collision of blown-out breaks laid across '60s psych melodies, and it probably sounds as fresh today as it did upon release. Follow-up The Milk of Human Kindness was a cool melding of '70s prog and repetitive rhythms (see: Krautrock) but lacked a certain passion and sincerity. Two years later, Andorra was an overrated excursion into full-on pop songwriting.
And now, we have Swim, which has gone all tech-house on us. Claiming to have a renewed interest in club music, Snaith has created an album full of sterile burps and gurgles and very few actual hooks. It all feels so detached, so hermetic. The one memorable song here—the single, “Odessa”—glides along pleasantly enough on a jerky progression of keyboard throbs, but it's more like background music for a shopping trip to Banana Republic than something you might hear on a dance floor.
Maybe I don't take enough drugs or go to enough clubs to appreciate what Snaith is onto here. But if making Swim sound appealing is contingent upon those two things, I'm not all that interested.
In Evening Air
Goes well with: Cold Cave, New Order, Human League
Sometimes we can't control whether we like a band. It just happens, the way it should—the music strikes an emotional chord and fans are converted. I had absolutely no preconceived notions during my first listen to Future Islands' new album. Didn't know much about them and, frankly, didn't expect to care.
That is, until I got about a minute into “Long Flight,” which might be the most immediate pop song I've heard all year. Singer Sam Herring has an inimitable croon, somewhere between Tom Waits and Tracy Chapman (!), but not nearly as off-putting as that combination suggests. His is a sad yet sassy delivery that recalls several R&B divas, which could be very dicey with lesser pipes but instead comes off as insanely original.
There is real expression in this music, and it's anchored by Herring's beautiful voice. “Walking Through that Door” is nearly the equal of “Long Flight,” with its sparkling keyboards and steady drum-machine pulse, and “An Apology” takes a more muted approach, providing a hypnotic platform for Herring's yearns and desires. You can't fake emotion like his, and that voice remains the centerpiece throughout. Sometimes, an artist takes a bold chance and it pays off wildly. In Evening Air is one of those occasions. A lovely record.
Future Islands play Thursday, May 20, at Tin Can Ale House.
The New Pornographers
Goes well with: The Shins, Rogue Wave, Apples in Stereo
The first three albums by The New Pornographers will forever stand as the perfect collision of mature songwriting and youthful abandon. What made these guys special wasn't the fact that Neko Case sang some of the songs; it was that a group of 30-somethings came up with entire albums full of songs that could wear down a 13-year-old on a Jolt cola high.
Perhaps a more fitting title for this album would have been After the Sugar Rush. Sure, there are some manic moments here, but it just feels like a more revved-up version of their last album, Challengers, which slightly stunk. There are some bright spots, such as Dan Bejar's close-to-raging “Silver Jenny Dollar,” but once again, this disc sounds more like an A.C. Newman solo album than any of the now-classic New Pornographers releases.
For the sake of sounding like a grumpy old man, imagine how much better “A Bite Out of My Bed” would have been had the strings been substituted by a sweet synthesizer hook courtesy of Blaine Thurier. There's a chance it would have actually sounded like The New Pornographers and not Dexy's Midnight Runners. Is Blaine even in this band anymore?
If you are looking for a New Pornographers disc full of varied instrumentation, mellower songs and a mature feel, this may be a good fit for you. Be warned, though: You'll be listening to a crappy New Pornographers album.