The first words on 'Innocence Is Kinky' are “That night / I watched people f---ing on my computer / Nobody can see me looking anyway.” The Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval’s second full-length under her own name is full of sexual and bodily imagery, some lyrics more abstract than others. It’s paired with a kind of lacerated, bruised mixture of noise, ambient music, punk rock and folk, along with a fractured, inverted songwriting sensibility that’s just as eager to violently push and pull at the listener’s expectations as it is to offer warm and vulnerable emotion, often stark and overwhelming. Given Hval's blunt line readings and the ever-changing song structures, it’s easy to let the music bounce off you as it comes. At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder what Hval is actually up to.
The most prominent emotion on 'Crawling Up the Stairs' is frustration. On the record’s second track, 'Someone Else,' vocalist Nate Grace growls out the line “You know I earned it / So, c’mon, and give me all your / love” like an unhinged lover shouting self-loathing into the dark. It’s one of most devastating and immediate moments in rock music this year. Grace’s voice roils into a teeth-gritted mess as the words seem to roar out of him from somewhere deep. By contrast, the music is cloudy, calm and isolated, causing the words to sound like they're being yelled into an uncaring void.
With their tightly woven 2009 self-titled EP, Brooklyn’s Small Black rode in with a wave of hazy synth nostalgia-ists like Washed Out, Neon Indian and Memory Tapes. They followed it up a year later with a full-length called 'New Chain. The album made it clear that they were more leaders than followers in the then-booming field of bedroom-pop pioneers. There was an edge to their lyrics and a depth of emotion in their sound that made all those slinky hooks stick. Now, with even the echo of that initial boom behind us and the stigma surrounding the scene still lingering, where does Small Black go?
A band described as "chiptune" or "8-bit" is liable to lose potential listeners not qualified to handle such vocabulary, and Anamanaguchi's biggest hurdle is, essentially, opportunity. Even if you get past a name that reads "you'll never properly pronounce me," research into their genre leads to an technological explanation of chiptune that's not easy to grasp without a strong computer or music background. But, for most listeners, simply knowing that sound chips from old Nintendo and Gameboy consoles are employed is enough to explain the soundscape that frames 'Endless Fantasy.'
MS MR's long-awaited debut LP, 'Secondhand Rapture,' arrives with success seeming certain. By opening with five songs that should already be familiar to listeners, the duo stacks the deck in their favor, assuring goodwill from the audience by the time the first five tracks -- their four-song EP and first single -- finish their run.
A couple years back, Wampire were the first band on at a small show in Eagle Rock, Calif., that featured No Joy and Woods. For those that arrived early, Wampire made an impact, though less for what they played than for how they played it. The room was dark, save for colorful lights provided by the band, and as a fog machine pumped out an excessive amount of fog, Wampire performed a significant portion of the set while dancing around with the audience.
With two critically acclaimed, fundamentally very different albums to this credit, Wild Nothing mastermind Jack Tatum has quickly followed up last year's 'Nocturne' with another release virtually long enough to be an LP. Again, Tatum has shifted gears, and the 'Empty Estate EP' is, at its core, very different than its predecessors.
While the EP format may lead some to assume these songs are spares left off of 'Nocturne' for reasons of theme or tone or -- gasp -- quality, Tatum actually made that album over 10 days last November following a period of heavy touring that left the songwriter, as he says in a press release, "feeling a lot of things."
Where Kisses started to go wrong in recording their sophomore release is hard to pinpoint, but the phrase "disappear here" probably played a major role. The duo of Jesse Kival and Zinzi Edmundson displayed plenty of talent on their 2010 debut, 'The Heart of the Nightlife,' but somewhere between then and now, the duo made decisions in both creative direction and overarching musical philosophy that suggest questionable taste. As a result, the ideas at the very core of 'Kids In L.A.' are not only problematic, but frustrating to hear.
As you probably already know, the guys in Vampire Weekend graduated from Columbia. They aren't poor. With their dapper, upper-crust fashion sense, it often looks like they just walked off the set of 'The Royal Tenenbaums.' And -- just in case you missed out while reading all the beard-stroking think-pieces about their position as indie-rock high-brow trend-setters -- they've also released two excellent LPs of springy, sophisticated pop. On their self-titled debut, frontman Ezra Keonig asked what's bound to be his tombstone punchline, "Who gives a f--- about an Oxford comma?" In retrospect, it sounds like pre-emptive self-defense. Vampire Weekend write great music -- who gives a f--- about their backstory?
Savages make an immediate impression. That's true from their name to the glowering, haunted faces on the cover of their debut LP, ‘Silence Yourself,’ to their contortionist gothic post-punk sound to vocalist Jenny Beth’s savage (yup) dismantling of 21st century identity politics.
They’re an outfit that neatly fits the timeless four-piece rock ’n’ roll band mold -- each member playing a vital and identifiable role (forget post-punk, let’s talk Led Zeppelin and the Stooges) -- yet are in no way indebted to it. It’s not surprising the press has made sure to play up the band’s peripheral elements rather than the music itself. They’re an undeniably magnetic bunch, and their confrontational energy is apparent even before the music starts.