Dan Deacon – Bromst
The cover art of Bromst features a tent, glowing in the backyard of some summer night. The pattern on the fabric isn’t fatigue green or camouflage – its red and blue diamonds, like Merlin’s wizard cap.
That’s perfect imagery for Deacon’s sophomore record, which continues in the vein of Spiderman of the Rings, especially Wham City!
Deacon’s sound has always felt retro, like the remixed soundtrack of an epic SuperNES RPG. Bromst specializes in mechanized buildups that feel incredibly warm, close, even human. Like summer campfire songs filtered through a Willy Wonka gadget. He’s even brought back the chipmunk-chant.
At times the noise feels too much (Red F, Get Older) – like you’ll get an ear seizure. But there’s a great middle region, with highlights include Padding Ghost (pirates vs. chipmunks), Snookered (reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros), and Of the Mountains (M83s ambient record).
Deacon has a classical music background and it shows, taking hyper-energetic motifs and expressing them in epileptic fits: piano, xylophone, saxophone, and pure otherworldly synths. But he has the soul of an 8-year-old boy – his stuff just feels tinted like an 80s Saturday morning cartoon.
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight
One way to avoid the sophomore slump is remake your debut. This is what FF did with You Could Have Been So Much Better (the title a tongue-in-cheek self-dig). A three-peat would have been too much. Tonight takes the now well-known formula (bass-heavy rock with a funk tempo) and adds a synthesizer.
At least it’s danceable. A good number of the songs are retreads of past efforts, but Lucid Dreams probably best fits what they were aiming for. It morphs seamlessly between a grungy rock stomper and a synthy tweak-out, capturing that time of night beyond weariness, beyond revelry, when there’s a moment of intense clarity.
Even if their music is pedestrian, Franz Ferdinand has always had their eyes set on an existential plane. Engaging in revelry but not satisfied, continually seeking out the next buzz, the next rush, the next thrill. Who knows if they’ll find it? Regardless, they make cool covers (Britney Spears, LCD Soundsystem).
Doves – Kingdom of Rust
On their earlier records (Last Broadcast, Lost Souls), Doves felt like chameleons of sound, experimenting with genre and styles: one minute blues, the next standard guitar rock, then heavily produced atmosphere, and acoustic strum-along ballads. With Some Cities (and now Kingdom of Rust), they’ve solidified their sound, centered on Jez Williams’s weary baritone and a standard bass-heavy Brit rock.
Kingdom of Rust expands on a discordant minor key, imagery of decaying infrastructure, the final days of the modern world. Jetstream clashes driving percussion with lethargic lyrics and a synth ascension, like a rainbow against thunderheads. The title track matches their angsty ballad format, a lot like The Sulpher Man or Valley.
Unfortunately, none of the songs engage in that joyful bittersweet melody found in their old stuff (Caught by the River, Sea Song). Part of me wishes they’d leave the dreary grunge of London’s East End and return to wide and varied Americana.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
These days, electropop is in. Even the most grungy, garage rock, East Village post-punk band feels the pull of digital manipulation. And sure, it’s catchy. Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always had pop-music sensibilities. They just glammed it up with authentic drunken stage antics and killer guitar work.
It’s Blitz is darkly atmospheric, like the soundtrack to a cyberpunk film. They’ve kept the militaristic, violent imagery so common in punk. Still, it feels neutered to a degree – Karen O contained, robotic, possibly sedated. It’s more Ladytron, less Sex Pistols. Maybe the city of the future found a way to settle her screams. If anything, that’s frightening.
The Decemberists – Hazards of Love
Rock opera and theme albums have been out for quite some time. But with all their in vogue anachronisms, Colin Meloy probably thought – why not? He’s always been a songwriter heavily into narrative. Each song a tale in itself. So why not extend it to album length? He already did something similar with The Tain.
Starting out “My true love went riding out in white and green and gray”, they’re off to a good start. What follows is a twisted tale of tragic lovers in a Victorian setting, colorful villains, magical realism, and tangential episodes. In short, the Hazards of Love.
Overall, the piece drags at parts, soars in others. The opening tracks set a good pace, but once the guest vocalists step onto stage, the feel is off. By The Rake’s Song, Colin is back in true form, voicing a dastardly lecher, backed by thunderous percussion. Annan Water is another standout, a sorrowful ode to a fast river with steady acoustic strums.
The Decemberists are one of the most original and talented bands out there. I’m not going to dock them for experimenting. As long as they stay fresh, and authentically old-fashioned, I’m a fan.