Take note Bloc Party. This is how you do histrionic, nostalgic and bombastic arena rock for indie kids without coming off like total fucking pussies. A Weekend in the City wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good either, and by the end of it I wanted to give Kele a handkerchief, pat him on the back and tell him to “grow a pair.” (Oh c'mon, you know you wanted to too). Of course, A Twilight Sad has yet to cross over to the 16-year old Gossip Girl demographic, a fact that can largely be attributed to the minimal promotional budget of tiny British-indie Fat Cat Records, coupled with lead singer James Graham's Groundskeeper Willie-thick Scottish brogue. But if you can get past making jokes about “greased Scotsmen,” and “North Kilt Town,” few bands have their ability to reconcile the divide between massive anthemic balladry and intimate bedroom confessionals. As The Twilight Sad's grinding winter-white guitars and rowdy rhythm section blur with Graham's lonely claustrophobia, it's hard not to be convinced that by the end of their career, this band is going to be rolling in their retirement grease.
Vol. 3 in the Beat Konducta series is another banger for the blunted set, one that largely flew under the radar, ignored in the frenzy to lavish praise on the Graduation of that other much more famous rapper/producer that dropped his album the week after Madlib Like its predecessor, last year’s nearly as strong Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes, Vol. 3 scores an imaginary film. Unlike the previous collection that focused on stitching together a bunch of ridiculously listenable funk and soul samples, this time Madlib toted his bong to India, crafting a seamless 29 minute mix of looped sitars and gritty dusty drums, patches of Bollywood dialogue, and Redman vocal samples. Oriental flutes and vinyl crackle. Order some Lamb Curry and Cheese Naan, roll a Grape Dutch and serve (No Marques Houston.)
You can tell everything you need to know about Good Arrows, the third album from British “folktronica” sextet, Tunng, from its title's unsettling connotations of benevolent violence. But that might be the best way to describe these 11 gorgeous folky meditations, full of skeletal guitars and suffocating electronic organs, wistful acoustic ballads fading into clattering crashing codas. Think Four Tet crossed with Fairport Convention, and you'd be close. But there's something more haunting about Tunng and the way they artfully conceal their poison in the foggy drift of their songs; setting morose lyrics of rats crawling down spines, bullets smashing into teeth and a collapsing sky against some of the year's prettiest guitar melodies. Tunng's stories might not always be pleasant, but no matter what, its arrows always stick.
Here's how you know if you listen to too much music, put on We All Belong, the fourth record from throwback Philadelphia rockers, Dr. Dog. If you don't like it at least a little bit, there's a good chance that you love music so much that you actually hate it and don't even know. Ask yourself, do I write about music for a living on the Internet? Do I wear glasses for “the look”? Do I own at least two Xiu Xiu records? If so, you might want to seek help at from a trained medical professional.
Taking a quick look at We All Belong's Metacritic score, you notice a weird discrepancy between the print outlets and the Internet, with the record receiving high praise from Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and the Village Voice, but searing put-downs from Pitchfork and Pop Matters (no one liked 'em at Stylus either.) That's bullshit. I'll throw down for Dr. Dog any day. Granted, I'm not the only defender these guys have, the 4.4 Pitchfork review of Easy Beat album, all but called the NYT's Kaleffa Sanneh a bitch for raving about these guys, while You Set the Scene has practically turned into a Dr. Dog fan-blog with his collection of year-end lists, but for the most part Dr. Dog have been saddled with the critical death curse for some nebulous perceived lack of sonic innovation Granted, it's true that Dr. Dog don't tread any new territory that Band, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys haven't walked before. But so what? Who cares if they aren't re-inventing the wheel on fire, Dr. Dog have at least one thing in common with the groups they ostensibly imitate: they understand how to write a good song.
Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer finds Of Montreal frontman, Kevin Barnes burying a final sequin-sheathed dagger into the back of the whimsical Beatles experimentation of his first records, turning to Prince and Bowie to ground his most epic album yet. It's the sort of work you'd call mature, if only it so wasn't. On Hissing Fauna, Barnes is ever the drama queen, writing 12-minute synthesizer dirges to his wife, constantallly tormented by his own demons, still knowingly pretentious enough to title his lead single, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse.” Ostensibly, this should make for a textbook case of overreaching lead singer makes horrifically stupid “concept album” (Barnes has described in interviews that Hissing Fauna is about his transformation from mild-mannered Kevin Barnes into a party animal named Georgie Fruit). Instead, he managed to brilliantly re-invent glam rock for the Internet Age.