Chrvches: Every Open Eye

6 Dec

By Travis Carlyle

Chvrches_-_Every_Open_EyeScottish Synth-poppers, Chvrches, have released their long-awaited follow-up to debut album, The Bones of What You Believe (2013). Hip teens across the globe now have a second album to cue guests into their house drink-ups and slumber parties with.

Joking aside, the band has garnered wide acclaim within a musical genre that is overloaded with similar-sounding “talent” and thematic concerns as deep as rain puddles on suburban walkways.

While I enjoyed their first release, I couldn’t help but feel that bands like Sleigh Bells have crisper, more adventurous electronics – while singers like Kiesza out-range and out-perform Chvrches’ vocalist, Lauren Mayberry.

But what of their latest release, Every Open Eye? For a start, Chvrches have done the standard second album “we must justify the praise” approach – they’ve gotten more serious and have a more resolute sound. The electronic hooks are definitely stronger, with the wishy-washy, dreamscape instrumentals of their first release nowhere near as prevalent here – they are now replaced with actual instrumental presence instead of an atmospheric background.

“Never Ending Circles”, the album’s starting point, could quite easily have come off of my favourite Sleigh Bells release, Treat. The drops are heavy – almost dubsteppy – with Mayberry’s hollow and haunting harmony hovering over it all. Even lyrically, Chvrches seem to have grown from the toddler booties of their first release and are now sporting brand new brogues.

Here’s to taking what you came for

And here’s to running off the pain

And here’s to just another no man

If you want another

Say you need another

Here’s to never ending circles

And building them on top of me

And here’s to another no man

If you want another

Say you need another

There’s a definite, serious (feminist at that) feel from the outset here, one that carries over strongly into “Leave A Trace”.

One of the hallmarks of Chvrches’ first release was a variety in song structure and pace – something too many pop-something bands of 2015 fail to grasp. “Empty Threat”, for example, almost rings true as a singalong stadium-anthem… that’s one of the last things I expected to hear on this release.

I mentioned earlier that Chvrches have grown up in this release – and I stand by that. The big downside to growing up, though, is that you often become more predictable… and Chvrches sadly do this too.

Entering the last four tracks of the album just feels like they’re playing it all safe, the dynamism that Sleigh Bells and M83 (two bands I would compare most strongly to Chvrches) is nowhere to be found. “Down Side of Me” honestly just sounds like a worse version of “Make Them Gold”, and that’s a real shame for the promise this album shows at its outset.

This remains a solid release with some stunning singles (“Never Ending Circles” and “Make Them Gold” my favourites), just not the special something that The Bones of What You Believe turned out to be.

Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars

4 Dec

Thank Your Lucky StarsIn their second album of the year – an impressive feat in itself – Beach House takes a pointed step in the electronically stripped-down direction it dithered in earlier this year with Depression Cherry.

Thank Your Lucky Stars is stippled with grungy lead guitar, raw vocals and tracks featuring comparatively minimal instrumental use for a band so known for its echoes and layers.

In songs like “She’s So Lovely”, “All Your Yeahs”, and “Common Girl”, Beach House coyly reveals a previously-obscured talent for simple, captivating and thought-provoking songs, their bare presentation rendering Victoria Legrand’s high, whispery voice more striking than before.

While the single finder on Beach House’s website (you feed it three of your favourite Beach House songs; it recommends a track for you off Thank Your Lucky Stars) is a charming slice of computer magic, it reads me wrong with its suggestion of “She’s So Lovely”, no matter how captivating this song’s contagious melancholy.

My favourite track off this album, hands down, is “One Thing”. This 90s-nostalgic, sentimental grunge track is eerily and astoundingly reminiscent of early Radiohead in its chord progression and vocal melody, complete with distorted power chords.

With this release, combined with Depression Cherry, Beach House has rapidly climbed from a band I liked but didn’t think about very often, to a band I will probably pepper my “it’s okay, not many people have heard of them” conversations with whenever I make poor attempts at socializing.

Thank you, Beach House – with these nine tracks, at least one sad person feels slightly more understood.

Battles: La Di Da Di

4 Dec

La Di Da Di album art

By Travis Carlyle

Battles are a band known to me more for the differences between their first (Mirrored: 2007) and second (Gloss Drop: 2011) full-length releases than for any strict musical direction. Following their lead vocalist packing his bags mid-Gloss Drop (a move which meant the album had a number of external contributors) – La Di Da Di is the band’s first top-to-bottom instrumental release.

La Di Da Di begins, grows and ends as an extremely focused and engaging album. While past releases can arguably be bracketed as washy, art-pop-esque creations – Battles’ 2015 collection has a stripped-down focus and seriousness that their previous work did not have the slightest interest in catering to.

A more instrumentally direct and specific product, La Di Da Di works in intricate and deft decisions in all the ways that prior work resembled broad ‘yeah that will do’ brush strokes. Without having to pander to vocal elements, La Di Da Di is able to engage a listener focus with subtle rhythm shifts and an almost filmic development in instrumental progression.

“Summer Simmer” is a six-minute masterpiece with a slow shift from a dominating bassline to a keyboard-centered treble barely noticeable as the song progresses.

Other notable songs on the album include “Dot Com” and “FF Bada” (which is probably my favourite) – again, down to the engaging and intelligent harmonic shifts each has. It seems strange to say, but the cut-down nature of this album has added more to Battles’ work than any vocal-imbued collaboration they have yet produced.

 

Beach House: Depression Cherry

3 Dec

Beach HouseDepression Cherry‘s first studio album since Bloom feels rawer and more edgy than the 2012 release.

Depression Cherry features some remarkable instrumental scenes: the swelling buildup that is “Levitation”, the starting track gently and poignantly tugging you by the heart-strings into the album’s understated poignance; the gritty lead guitar singing bittersweetly over the echoey vocal layers in “Sparks”.

The vocals – particularly Victoria Legrand’s – seem to have been brought forward from their instrumental environs: as a result, Depression Cherry feels more intimate than the musicbox of echoes that was Bloom.

Apparently moving into darker emotional territory, the US duo’s fifth studio album presents a plaintive collection of melodies which make Bloom‘s seem almost glib and repetitive by comparison.

In places – “10:37”; “PPP” – the album feels like a collection of old-school love ballads clothed in new-age synth work.

All in all, Beach House’s Depression Cherry is a subtle but sharp tug out of dream pop’s hazy torpor, and has piqued my interest in a band I had until now relegated to background music.

It’s December again.

1 Dec

Oh cute: did you, precious fictional reader who actually pays attention to this blog, think I’d outgrown it by now?

Hah. Nope. #Sorrynotsorry, I’m still pretentious enough to think acknowledging my own pretentiousness somehow mitigates this characteristic.

For those of you just joining me: every year since 2011 I’ve written one music review of an indie(ish) album that has come out that year for (just about) each day in December.

As a creature of laziness rather than habit, who enjoys overanalyzing the known rather than acknowledging the unknown, this has become my only trusted way of discovering new music, and a reassuringly joyful ritual.

And so I’m continuing the tradition this year, this time in collaboration with my other half, himself briefly a music review podcaster at some point, and essentially a more heterosexual and less misanthropic version of myself.

Shell+Trav

[90s house party, Grahamstown, 2013]

I’ll post a review on odd-numbered days, and Travis Carlyle over here will take the even-numbers.

Enjoy, losers.

Brand New: Daisy

9 Aug

Daisy twists in a new, experimental direction for Brand New.

The band ventures into new territory with audio samples (the album begins and ends with what sounds like a vintage recording of a woman singing to piano accompaniment in perhaps the 1920s), trippy editing (“Be Gone”), banjo (“In a Jar”) and textbook grunge (“Bed”).

It’s wonderful to listen to a band that has established such a distinctive style playing with sound in a way that broadens their conceptual reach.

Title track “Daisy” begins with an audio sample of a preacher announcing a hymn, proceeding with lyrics repurposing biblical imagery into a message of despair rather than hope.

Brand New: The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

9 Aug

This is the album in which, under smoother instrumental blending, Brand New’s mourning, longing, reflection and rage come together into one potent, cohesive response to, as the album’s title suggests, the clashing coexistence of evil and mercy in and around us all.

The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is one of the rare masterpieces that is the “no-skip” album, in which every track could stand alone as a brilliant piece of work.

While “Degausser” cathartically rips at me with what sounds like a children’s choir screaming along, “Jesus Christ” is my standout favourite track.