Bodies of Water | A Certain Feeling | Secretly Canadian

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L.A. husband-and-wife team David and Meredith Metcalf front this very interesting and hugely enjoyable band whose material is a bloody gold mine of smart genre mashup and instrumental adventure. Opening track “Gold, Tan, Peach and Grey” begins with a medieval-esque vocal harmony that segues into a cleverly melodicized but nicely spare rock ditty. Like much of the album, the song takes its arrangement cues from a variety of late-’60s to early-’70s pop-rock and progressive styles — loads of complex vocal harmonies, no skimping on the trumpets and organs, plus some of that trendy dueling prog guitar/keyboard-in-unison showoffery. The elaborate yet pop-direct structures offer constant surprises, which gives the album a genial, pleasant vibe that should temper predictable criticisms that this musically aspiring band is being pretentious or whatever. Bodies’ facile interpretations of this wide range of pictures/emotions is impressive, and the ambition of the entire enterprise is a joy to behold.

—John Payne

Conor Oberst | Conor Oberst | Merge

There’s a telling moment a minute into this album’s second-to-last song, the midtempo Americana-bleeding rocker “Souled Out!!!” Erstwhile Bright Eyes main man Oberst is casually ramping up to some precocious observation about death and heaven (of course) when a woman’s voice, in Spanish, blurts through the track. Someone in the band cracks up — one of them hit the wrong button — but the singer just chuckles and skips his line. Conor Oberst has let his hair down. And ironically, he did so by chopping off his uncomely Banderas mane and moving to Mexico with his new ensemble (of old friends), the Mystic Valley Band. Unencumbered by the Bright Eyes mantle, Conor stretches out over a collection of upbeat road songs that are at times poignant (as in the Devendra-like warbler “Cape Canaveral”) and often profound (“Moab,” which suggests Willie Nelson), but mostly plain enjoyable. The sheer ebullience of freewheeling stompers like “I Don’t Want to Die (In the Hospital)” more than excuses the occasional lazy dips into Wildflowers-era Petty-ness.

—Chris Martins

The Pinker Tones | Wild Animals | Nacional Records

The Pinker Tones are two very wily cats. The Spanish electro duo have an eerie gift for resuscitating semicomatose musical forms, and they ply this Frankenstein methodology to everything from funk, dance-pop and reggae to Euro-bubblegum trash. In other hands, that would amount to a meaningless laundry list of purported influences, but the Pinker Tones revivify the familiar with both inescapable grace and almost blindingly sunny atmospherics. It’s a quite fragile, personalized style — get a load of the group’s remix album, More Colours! — on which a host of knob twiddlers (including Kinky, the Submarines and Nortec Collective) managed to transform almost every track from the Tones’ superbly surrealistic debut, The Million Colour Revolution, into either a sinking lead balloon or an ugly, oozing mud pie. What the Pinker Tones specialize in — a fast-moving, openly derivative pop alchemy — is remarkably difficult to pull off, but their overt fizziness masks a tremendously artful facility, a style that, incorrectly proportioned, merely comes off as annoying hokum.

On Wild Animals, the frighteningly capable oddballs eschew the comfort zones of fantasy and surrealism for a hard look at the realities of day-to-day life. Understand, however, that their maddeningly gifted lives are carried out on a different level from most — the Pinker Tones, for instance, speak not only their native Catalan but also fluent French, German and English (and they’re currently studying Italian). Much of it still sounds as if they were raised on Jupiter rather than in Barcelona, but even their groove-happy chants of celebration (“Electrotumbao,” “S.E.X.Y.R.O.B.O.T.”) play as both ingenuous and cynical, pulsing with ironical undercurrents. Overall, the disc is a sequence of sophisticated, savory audio bonbons, but at certain points they get down to cases and deliver graphic, palpable statements on our drear 21st-century existence; most notable is the remarkable “24,” which, with four words, manages to crystallize the neu-wasteland of MySpace bands and their death-by-quantity threat: “No Music/More Ears.” Crafty bastards.

—Jonny Whiteside

Sic Alps | U.S. Ez | Siltbreeze

Don’t get hung up on the moniker. Sic Alps’ Mike Donovan and Mark Hartman seem the sort predisposed to cipher. Balanced upon focus and fuzz, the duo avoids cliché as it flirts wantonly with the sort of classicism (dis)embodied by big rock & roll ghosts. The key is in the band’s delivery, a euphonious cacophony that feels like a series of broken falls: vocals; gushed, overdriven guitar; and piece-of-shit drum kit teeter as if balanced on a ledge. It sounds like a slapstick mess because it is a slapstick mess. The garage-rock template reigns for good goddamn reason, but Alps channel the Sonics, Small Faces, Seeds et al. with luxuriously softened and ambiguous emotional overtones. Like most great garage, there’s big boredom and prowling anxiety, sexy’d up with no hope of interface. “Sing Song Waitress” proves one still can stroke the snake without “Pictures of Lily.”

Donovan breathes lyrics as banally inchoate as a post-bloody-mary-breakfast read of Beckett’s Molloy: The transmission is wobbly and unfocused, even as the dangerously thin phrases convey multitudes. Think trash-rock deconstructionists Royal Trux by way of the Who, tossed with bits of Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs: all omnipresent either actually or subliminally, becoming one or the other like irritant AM radio stations that refuse to stay within their frequencies. When Donovan sings, “I know I put down every word and letter in its place,” it’s clear that there’s something askew and inaccurate about the statement. And, thankfully, neither he nor Hartman seem intent on correcting it.

—Stewart Voegtlin

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