CD Reviews (Online Only)

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Let’s just get this over with: Whatever any of your friends shrieking "sellout" might tell you, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is still very much a Modest Mouse album. Isaac Brock hasn’t gotten any nicer, his lyrics haven’t gotten any less bleak, and while the music may no longer be quite the instrumental equivalent of the lead singer’s inimitable bark, it has by no means gotten quiet, boring or polite. Modest Mouse has changed a little, as would any band worth their salt that’s been making amazing music this long. But you need not fear the change.

It would be impossible to discuss the album without talking about what everyone’s talking about, namely the addition of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to the band. Perhaps it’s his influence that’s smoothed out the band’s guitar sound, turning down the distortion. That might have governed tracks such as "Fire it Up" and "Florida" had they appeared on an earlier album. This change, however, is a subtle one. It takes a few listens to realize why and how the band sounds a little different.

But if Marr’s making things a little prettier, the rest of the band, and Brock in particular, are making sure that they keep the hard livin’ coming all the harder. "Missed the Boat," quite possibly the most straight-up melodic track on the album, is hardly an upper of a tune. The sneered "Aw, fuck it, I guess we lost" on the brilliantly drunk-and-depressed "Parting of the Sensory" is one of those little moments in music that makes you realize you’re listening to a great band. And Brock’s trademark vocal line is in fine form, part percussion instrument on "Education", part snarl on "March into the Sea," part old-time-country sadness everywhere. Modest Mouse hasn’t gotten anywhere remotely approaching sunny, warm, or cuddly—fortunately.

—Ariel Toft

Let’s get one thing clear: the new LCD Soundsystem album is not dance-rock. It’s not even related to the likes of Franz Ferdinand, the Bravery, the Killers or barely even the Faint. Not on the same planet, even. Some may lump LCD in with those disco-bound guitar slingers, but to be clear, Sound of Silver is not dance rock. What it is, and this is an approximate genre, is "electro-house-techno-funk-disco-punk-rock-pop-krautrock." Got it? Good.

James Murphy (head LCD-er and DFA Records producer) has an uncanny knack for hypnotizing tracks that hit the eight minute mark while feeling like a three-minute pop song; numbers like the sensuous, droning "Get Innocuous!" push with triple-tracked vocals, programmed beats, syncopated drums, bells and a throbbing synth bassline (which alludes to Kraftwerk’s "The Robots"). Four minutes in, it’s hard to believe Murphy spent all that time layering sound upon sound; his gift for organic arrangement and development is incredibly impressive, if not astounding.

If LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled album punished and hammered through singles like "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" and "Tribulations," their follow-up lets the album breathe with streamlined arrangements and an emphasis on repetition. Although they nod to their breakthrough singles with "North American Scum," which acts like LCD paint-by-numbers, the rest of the album’s cuts, especially the Neu!-esque "All My Friends," let the listeners get swept up instead of trying to knock them over.

The organic sweep of the album’s best cuts, like the droning "Someone Great," accomplish a difficult task: they make electronic music feel emotional. Murphy’s brilliance, for all its genre-borrowing, is pulling something truly human out of his heaps of synthesizers and drum machines. Sound of Silver finds him making incredible, emotive music—it just happens to move to a dance beat.

—Tyler McCauley

Amon Tobin laid out his aesthetic right up front by calling his first album Bricolage, saying everything already was and always would be a collage. His first three albums hued close to the jungle drum and bass genre, employing jazz samples (horns, drum breaks, pianos) to create a dense, reverb-heavy wall of sound that was groovy—but far from danceable. Tobin, however, doesn’t simply play the samples: First, he plays with them, mutating them, bending them to his will. His synethesia of sound and sight and touch is both unsettling and exhilarating.

Tobin’s last album was a soundtrack for a Tom Clancy video game, but one might argue Tobin’s been building soundtracks, however dissonant, his whole career. Fitting, then, Foley Room is named after the booths used to add crucial sound effects to movies. Culled primarily from field recordings instead of vinyl samples, the album nevertheless retains Tobin’s signature layered aesthetic. The sound of a motorcycle becomes a sawtooth synth growl, egg beaters become restless high hats, and bird chirps go underwater, bubbling. Then the strings come in—courtesy of Kronos Quartet, no less.

While there are, in fact, twelve songs on the album, they coalesce as a whole, negating individuation. You can hear the song breaks but Tobin’s entire catalogue is more about how an entire album works with you, pushing buttons and toying with your senses.

To go along with his usual bombastic beats and twist-’em-up samples, Tobin uses Kronos’s strings to help broaden his work. Earlier records, while precise, felt dense on purpose but Foley Room is never weighted by its herd of samples. This may be thanks to sound engineer Vid Cousins, as every pop and slam imbedded in the album pops and slams in an acutely organized sound space, but it’s Tobin pairing sounds, in the end, that make the album.

—Ryland Walker Knight

As a genre, indie-rock is sorely lacking in romance. There’s a good deal of cuddly albums and a fair amount of horny ones out there, but rare is the band that actually bothers with some good-natured seduction.

So thank goodness for Andrew Whiteman. Broken Social Scene’s lead guitarist has been instrumental in crafting that collective’s intelligently sexy sound. As frontman for Apostle of Hustle, Whiteman turns down the catharsis, opting instead for fluid, Havana-tinged melodies. If you’re familiar with BSS but not AoH, think more "Looks Just Like the Sun" and less "K.C. Accidental".

Thematically, not much has changed since the band’s moody debut, Folkloric Feel. Whiteman still invokes alcoholic and lustful imagery as reference points for abstract meditations on uncertainty and loss. But where Folkloric Feel wallowed, National Anthem of Nowhere propels confidently forward toward who-knows-what. The album has an emphasis on mobility that transforms "What am I gonna do with myself?" from Folkloric Feel’s defeated rhetorical into an honest, eager question.

That forward momentum is tempered somewhat by Whiteman’s languid and smoky vocals, but rather than creating tension, the disparity between the vocals and guitars on some of the faster-paced songs—particularly the title track—create a nice equilibrium that emanates good vibes without requiring a specific mood or setting on the part of the listener in the way the previous album did.

Even in defeat, though, Whiteman maintains his swagger. "Nonono," a gracefully demure closer about losing love, shrugs more than it pines. "Wake up in the evening fortunes suddenly change," he sighs. It’s a weary-eyed observation from a man who’s learned to embrace life’s fleeting nature by never standing still. Unless you’ve got your next twenty years all planned out, this stuff will likely resonate. And the romance is a nice bonus.

—Robert Bergin


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