-- Intro: This week Beach House has released yet another record less than two months after its previous offering, indie-rockers Deerhunter explore more subtle territory, former Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla releases an album of ambient instrumentals and new-comer Raury fuses R&B, hip-hop and folk in an intriguing way.
quicklist: 1 title: Beach House’s “Thank Your Lucky Stars” **** text: Beach House’s last album, “Depression Cherry” was only released on Aug. 28. Two weeks ago the duo announced that they had “Thank Your Lucky Stars” in the pipeline and frankly, their label, Sub-Pop, deserves credit for allowing them to release two albums in such rapid succession.
“Thank Your Lucky Stars” continues the evolution of “Depression Cherry.” It is clear that Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally really want to push their sound forward and these nine songs do that more effectively than the ones on their predecessor. This is a slightly better record because for a few fleeting moments it gets the duo out of their lush comfort zone. Opener “Majorette” and later track, “One Thing” both possess a rock edge, while at the same time not sacrificing the act’s signature sound. In other words, this is an obvious step forward but it is one more likely to surprise than offend the fans of their signature sound.
As on “Depression Cherry,” Legrand continues to stretch herself out as a vocalist. While on previous records she would often revel in her throaty rasp, these two 2015 offerings find her reaching further into her higher register for ethereal effect. The post-Cure indie rock of “All Your Yeahs” finds her delivering an intense, echo-drenched performance.
Both this album and “Depression Cherry” could have been culled down to one disc or released as a double album. That would have made sense; however, even though they are obviously two sides of the same coin, it is good that they exist as separate entities. There was a time when I felt like Beach House were stylistically stagnant. Both 2009’s “Teen Dream” and 2012’s “Bloom” came off as meditations on the same sort of chilled, lullaby-meets “Pet Sounds” formula. The 18 songs that they have released this year show that they had room to grow. This progression will no doubt continue over time.
“One Thing” It always seemed clear that Beach House had a foot in the shoegaze and dream-pop worlds, but the guitar noise that opens this track combined with the catchy, heavy riff at the center of the song cements that feeling. They should explore this side of their sound more frequently.
“Majorette” Less-heavy and more dreamy, this opener gives a bit of edge to the familiar formula. It just feels a bit looser, as if it has been given a little more room to breathe.
quicklist: 2 title: Deerhunter’s “Fading Frontier” **** text: Eleven years since their debut and seven albums in, Deerhunter’s mastermind Bradford Cox can still deliver some surprises. The nine tracks on “Fading Frontier” are enveloping in their scope, as if begging to be blasted on a larger system. And yet, a song like “Living My Life” with its electro-beat and its insistence, anchored by the repetition of the track’s title seem to indicate some possible desires to cross over into more pop-friendly territory. As the bass bubbles along, you can picture this song as a chilled party jam.
This is a cleaner, sleeker effort when compared to the playfully ragged energy found on their last album, “Monomania.” While this record doesn’t quite possess the darker, focused art-rock whimsy found on 2010’s career-high-point “Halcyon Digest,” it does deliver a brief, yet entrancing multi-hued collection.
The relaxed electro-lounge of “Leather And Wood” sits comfortably side-by-side with the effectively sleazy funk of the appropriately-titled “Snakeskin.” In general, when compared to their earlier records, though, this record is more delicate, with the guitars turned down further than usual. “Ad Astra” (which was written by guitarist Lockett Pundt) for instance has a spacey, meditative quality that is accented by lush synths.
The brevity of this album tightens its intentions but some listeners may find this record to be a song or two shorter than expected. But maybe the point is to leave the listeners wanting more.
With “Fading Frontier,” Deerhunter have given us an album that deserves to go beyond the usual confines of the indie-rock press. It’s a tight, adventurous record with plenty of key moments.
“Snakeskin” By far the most upbeat track on the album that plays like something Bowie might have released during his funkier moments of the seventies. It is groovy and wonderfully scuzzy at the same time.
“Carrion” This closing track uses the word “Carrion” like “Carry On” for a double meaning, perhaps equating the end of a relationship with death. It clocks in at just under three minutes, but has one of the catchiest tunes on the record.
“Ad Astra” The most experimental track on the record, this is also one of the best and most sonically compelling. When it kicks into its groove, it possesses a hushed beauty.
quicklist: 3 title: Chris Walla’s “Tape Loops” ***1/2 text: For his first album since departing Death Cab For Cutie, noted and celebrated indie hero and music producer, Chris Walla has chosen to go the instrumental route. If you were familiar with Walla’s 2008 album, “Field Manual,” which explored more straight-forward and similar terrain to his work with Death Cab, “Tape Loops” is a completely different animal and should be listened to with fresh ears.
There are only five tracks total here. Three of them are eight minutes and over. The album itself offers warm, ambient, reflective soundscapes similar to the bonus disc Moby offered with his album, “Hotel.” It sounds like a synth and piano-heavy movie score, and a melancholy one at that.
Admittedly, this is a gutsy record for Walla. Most people know him as a founder of Death Cab and for his production on work by bands like Nada Surf, Tegan and Sara, Telekinesis and more. Most long-time fans probably won’t get what they are expecting from this album. It is definitely not a piece of work meant for casual listening. This is the kind of album you put on, turn up and let wash all over you while sitting in a room that is otherwise silent.
This is an exercise in minimalism. Sadly, in a world where immediate pop-driven catchiness is more frequently rewarded, there aren’t enough places to celebrate an album of this sort. This is the work of a composer. It is delicate and beautifully thought-provoking. But it is also full of subtlety and nuance and thus demands constant attention. It is not an album that will leave you humming, but if you listen to it at the right time, it will still leave you affected.
“Introductions” This song clocks in at eight minutes in length. Something about this brings back memories of sitting in a big room on a sofa in a house and listening to a grandfather clock chime. Again, there’s a really potent sadness engrained in the mix.
“Kanta’s Theme” At 6:43, this is one of the shorter tracks of the five here. It has a similar tone to “Introductions,” although it is perhaps a tad more melodic in its approach. With this album, Walla was definitely going for a unified theme.
quicklist: 4 title: Raury’s “All We Need” **** text: Raury is a little hard to classify. That’s a good thing. On his debut full-length he comes off like a folk-singer for a generation raised on hip-hop. He raps occasionally while he strums a guitar and sings socially-conscious songs that speak to the current climate. He croons about love and the environment. It seems as a musician, he takes influence from equal measure from Gil Scott-Heron, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and Prince. In many ways this is both a left-field hip-hop record and a throwback to the protest records of the sixties.
There is a smoothness to his work. Examples like “Peace Prevail” and “Kingdom Come” each have a serene quality that brings to mind Tommy James’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Even when he is rapping, for the most part he keeps his flow low-key in tone. Raury is definitely not any sort of cookie-cutter artist. You can’t point to him and say that he is easily part of a trend. But like Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” “All We Need” is a firm wake-up call to the instability of these times. This album may come with a more laid-back delivery, but it comes from a similarly tumultuous place. Raury comes off as a gentle soul who still isn’t afraid to show frustration. The brief “Love Is Not A Four Letter Word” makes a strong impression in both its intentions and its anger towards a younger flame who is obviously not equipped to take Raury’s love seriously. It is a kiss off and yet it achieves a nice balance with its emotional vulnerability.
The fact that Raury has so many heavy-hitters in his corner speaks volumes about his level of artistry. The presence of RZA ,Big K.R.I.T. and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello in guest spots on here should earn him some major bonus points.
“All We Need” is a quite a bold collection. Especially when you consider the artist who created it is only 19 years old. He’s much more mature than his years would convey. Any open-minded fan of style-shifting music should give this album a spin. “All We Need” shows that Raury should have a very bright future if he continues to stick with his artistic vision. This is an extremely promising debut album.
“Mama” This track somehow brings to mind both the opening section of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” I has perhaps unintentional, inspirational echoes of both and yet, with this track Raury proves he can write a pretty strong, winding melody of his own.
“Trap Tears” (Featuring Key!) Perhaps it is the Spanish-style guitar-line during the verses that makes this track stand out. During the chorus, the bass suddenly bubbles up and the beat slows down and it becomes a bit a club jam of sorts.
“Devil’s Whisper” There’s so much going on here with this track as it focuses on the materialistic world fueled by ego, drugs and violence. Religion sometimes serves as a bit of a backbone to Raury’s approach and here it is used quite effectively. He wants peace. He wants people to respect themselves and respect each other. His rapped verse that closes this track is one of the only times he really raises his voice and he does so with commanding momentum. When he screams here, it is an act of desperation as if he’s begging people to hear his pleas.
Next Week: Carrie Underwood, Elvis Costello and more.