We zany Mew fans finally get a taste — thanks, Pitchfork! — of the upcoming album No More Stories. . .(which won’t be released in the U.S. until August 25th) with the first single “Introducing Palace Players.” My immediate reaction to the song is ambivalent; I’ve worried that this album might get the Franz Ferdinand treatment, since producer Rich Costey has also worked with those Scots, and it’s true that the angular guitars and dirty disco sounds are more than a little reminiscent. However, the pop sensibility in the melody is purely Mew, as well as the off-kilter beat that slowly coalesces into a loping groove. I’ll have to reserve my judgement for the rest of the album. Mew songs tend to be overstuffed and sound a bit messy out of context. But, in the meantime, hurray!
Get ready for the Passion Pit backlash! They were hyped even before the release of their first full-length with only the Chunk of Change EP to their name (and moderate success with the single “Sleepyhead,” which reappears here). The band’s brand of overly-caffeinated pop music sung in a piercing falsetto is sure to inspire a love it/hate it reaction among listeners. They’ve already gained frequent comparisons to MGMT, but where MGMT have a retro-affected coolness even on their most hyperactive party tracks, Passion Pit seems painfully sincere.
Honestly, I’m having a conflicted relationship with this record. My first impression(s) are that I dislike it, yet I find myself strangely compelled to play it over and over again. The catchy numbers do get under your skin whether you like it or not. It seems that the members of the band have absorbed all of electronic music from the last two decades: you have the squealing, cheap-sounding synth racket of early 90s dance pop mixed with the ambience of late 90s trip-hop and the 21st century disco resurgence. The results are sometimes more than a little shrill, like the churning, headache-inducing single “The Reeling.” The first track “Make Light” and the previously mentioned single “Sleepyhead” are charming enough, and the shimmery, anthemic “Moths Wings” is a welcome relief sandwiched between two dance-heavy tracks. Slow-burner “Swimming in the Flood” is also a nice detox, coming as it does between a couple of pretty mediocre songs that I’ve already forgotten. Manners is about half of a great party album, and half sugar-high hangover.
The first time I listened through Blood from a Stone, the third full-length album by Norwegian singer Hanne Hukkelberg, my headphones were dying and buzzing with some ear-tickling ferocity. For a good twenty minutes, I was almost convinced the vibrations were just part of the music, another one of Hukkelberg’s sonic experiments. After I adjusted the settings on my headphones, it was a relief to hear clarity in the vocals and arrangements, but that strange first impression had temporarily provided an interesting lens through which to view this collection of surreal, and sometimes disturbing, compositions.
The new album, in some ways, is a far cry from the crisp intimacy of 2006’s Rykestrasse 68; the jazzy quiver in Hukkelberg’s voice is mostly gone, replaced by a direct certainty, and so is the airy looseness of the songs. She’s still up to her old trick of using unconventional instruments for percussion, but there’s nothing here as obvious as the purring cats, street noise, or clacking typewriters of Rykestrasse 68. The pieces on Blood from a Stone, with their juxtapositions between organic sounds and dark tones, remind me strongly of Denmark’s Under Byen, but Hukkelberg’s songs are a lot more linear and tuneful by comparison. (Side note: I’m often compelled toward Scandinavian music, like a magpie to shiny things.)
This latest record contains a couple songs (the nearly radio-ready title track, and “In Here/Out There”) that are as close to pure pop as anything Hukkelberg’s written in recent memory, but she always throws a wrench in the proceedings to keep things from getting too harmonious; something’s off-key, or the beat lags ever-so-slightly behind. The lazy interplay of bass and the muffled thumping on “Seventeen” (a dark horse candidate for favorite song here) creeps under the skin as the song slowly builds to a surprisingly melodic finish. A small handful of songs, including “No Mascara Tears” and “No One But Yourself” get lost in melodies that have nightmarish twists and turns. “Salt of the Earth,” in particular, tends to meander through some sinister “movements” without ever gaining foothold. Truth is, the album never quite wakes up from the bad dream, and it leaves us with a lingering feeling of unease in the closer, “Bygd Til By” the record’s only Norwegian-language song. The slow space jam perfectly mirrors the album cover: a picture of a woman in a glass bubble, holding a glowing orb against a landscape that’s half-alien and half-familiar. It’s often the familiar parts that are the most unsettling.
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I don’t understand a word of Danish, but the NRK site posted a video interview of Mew’s lead singer Jonas Bjerre and guitarist Bo Madsen talking about the new album, No More Stories... What I can tell you is that the video gives us our very first sound-bytes of a few new songs. From what I can hear, the music sounds a little more upbeat, and a lot more straightforward, than 2005’s moody space opera And the Glass-Handed Kites, but still ambitious as ever. The brief clips give me hope that this album will let the songs (and the vocals) have more breathing room; Kiteswas beautiful, but frustratingly dense in its production.
Video highlights for a non-Danish speaker: a few more minutes to gaze at the adorable Bjerre is always welcome, and He of the Magic Moustache (that’s Madsen, for those who aren’t hip) has a fancy new haircut!
I’ve just been looking at the lineup of album releases for the next couple of months, and it’s pretty impressive. Tuesday after next (May 19th) is a big one, with releases by Iron & Wine (not actually new, but a round-up of previously unreleased material), Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy) and John Vanderslice.
May 26th, of course, is the week we’ve all been waiting for when the new Grizzly Bear finally arrives (although it leaked awhile ago — I’m trying not to give in to temptation!).
And the following weeks will see new releases by Elvis Costello, Dirty Projectors, Riceboy Sleeps (the side project by Sigur Ros frontman), Regina Spektor, Dinosaur Jr., Wilco, and God Help the Girl (Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian’s solo project).
The current word on Mew‘s No More Stories… is an August 19th release (in Finland), with the first single “Repeater Beater” premiering the first of June (and a few European tour dates this summer with Nine Inch Nails. Weird). Woo! Something concrete, finally.
Also looking forward to having more time with music this summer as I leave the ghosts of the school year behind.
I stumbled across this track the other day on Pitchfork’s Forkcast (don’t even start with me, haters), and I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. Now, I know it’s become trendy to trash talk Pitchfork (fighting snark with snark?), but sometimes they get it right, and the hip tastemakers there do have an uncanny ability to suss out great songs from otherwise unremarkable albums. The man behind Choir of Young Believers is a Copenhagen-based singer/songwriter, Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, formerly of Danish band Lake Placid. A quick listen-through of his other solo work reveals that he mostly performs simple acoustic songs, making the pop extravaganza of “Action/Reaction” a bit of an outlier.
The song starts out a little cutesy with chirpy “oh oh” vocals and a lazy melody straight out of a mid-nineties beach ballad, but somewhere around the 54-second mark, when the chorus kicks in, you’re hearing something special. And I especially the love the evil-sounding synth that undercuts the cheerful percussion. The song keeps moving at a nice pace, always reaching bigger and better climaxes, all the way up through the sublime final moments. This album doesn’t come out until August, but I sincerely hope that the rest of it will offer more of this kind of big pop composition (yes, I’m a sucker for drama) as opposed to the usual quiet fare.