Bandwagon Selects: Recent Record Reviews Edition #5

Hey October, sorry we're a little late. But a lot of research has been going into our truckload of music selects of the month. Here, take it. It's chock-full of Cats, Dinosaur, Stars, a Rose and somewhere, a manual on How To Dress Well. Cool stuff. 

Cat Power / Sun

Chan Marshall may look like Cat Power circa Moon Pix on the Sun album but she is definitely not the same person. After a hiatus of almost six years, Cat Power is back with Sun. Already making it on “Best of 2012” lists everywhere, this one is another stellar record by this stunning lady. But it hasn’t been an easy six years for Cat Power. Having to deal with personal issues that affected her music making, it only seems right that Sun is a sort of declaration of independence for Chan Marshall. Less nostalgia, more opinions, Sun is a new venture musically for Marshall as well. It sounds a lot more street than sad-guitar/piano. Though you still can hear her on guitar in ‘Cherokee,’ the album is most driven by synths and beats. And Sun is definitely and album full of strong, eloquent anthems. Starting with the first single of the album ‘Ruin’, Marshall sharply retorts ‘Bitchin’/Complainin’/When some people ain’t got shit to eat’. But it’s got heart too, the 11 minute ‘Nothin But Time’ was written to cheer up her ex-lover’s teenage daughter. Whatever we think we know about Cat Power, she has violated in this album, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Standout tracks: 
Ruin, Nothin But Time, Manhattan

Dum Dum Girls / End of Daze EP

Man, the when it comes to EPs, Dum Dum Girls excel. Last year’s He Gets Me High was a turning point for the band. Graduating from their lo-fi and fuzz pop roots, Kristin “Dee Dee” Gundred showcased her voice more on the record – same goes for End of Daze. ‘Lord Knows’ is possibly one of the most profound songs by the Dum Dum Girls. Dee Dee sings beautifully over a simple chord progression on remorse and regret, a reversal from their earlier hit, ‘Coming Down’. There is also a great cover of ‘Trees and Flowers’ by Scottish New Wave group, Strawberry Switchblade (For I hate the trees and I hate the flowers/and I hate the buildings and the way they tower over me). Commanding, articulate and sincere, while you can still trace the heavy reverb and distorted riffs, Dee Dee lets her voice (and songwriting) be heard on all the songs. There are no weak ones in this confident mix.

Standout tracks:Lord Knows, I Got Nothing, Trees and Flowers

Stars / The North

After the heady and stuffy The Five Ghosts in 2010, The North comes as a breath of fresh air. Although still dwelling in the topical matters of lost time, it feels a little less forced, and a little less pretentious this time. Opener ‘The Theory of Relativity’ starts off with a fuzzy audio sample, just like their famous track, ‘Your Ex-Lover Is Dead’ but just as soon as the music starts, soft woozy synths roll in and while we know it is the old Stars (But it can’t be 93 sadly, ‘cause I wish it would forever), the element of sonic playfulness on their songs in The North demonstrates a new, more experimental Stars. The band’s tradmark shuffling duet between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan is also given a new refreshing boost with the new sound in this album. Millan’s voice is truly the highlight in this album as she takes on lead vocals in ‘Through The Mines,’ ‘Lights Changing Colour’ and ‘Progress’, and on the emotional duet ‘Do You Want To Die Together?’ This updated take on the theme of lost time definitely warrants a ‘Welcome Back’ shoutout for Stars. Maybe there is a future in nostalgia.

Standout tracks: 
The Theory of Relativity, The North, Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It

Lucy Rose / Like I Used To

Lucy Rose has been around for a while now, singing and touring with Bombay Bicycle Club, a homely track somewhere on the internet, a few videos on YouTube, but no album… until now that is. So it is only fair that Like I Used To is a sort of long awaited album. The album is full of heartfelt songs that Rose has penned herself. You see a bit about an awkward relationship, longing, sad people, falling in love, taciturn lovers and you understand why she has taken so long to come up with a record. Like I Used To is an observant and thoughtful piece of work. But the heart of the album is her voice and guitar work. Lucy Rose has the kind of voice that is quiet but could well quieten a noisy room. It is delicate but direct, potentially leading to sob-worthy territory but demure. A relatively safe album but what is fascinating about Lucy Rose is that she has the potential to follow in the steps of posh folk chanteuse, Laura Marling, or radio-friendly colleague, Ed Sheeran or gloomy folk lady, Daughter or even Feist, just pick one. Or possibly, Lucy Rose is capable of a wild tangent all on her own.

Standout tracks: 
Scar, Bikes, Middle of The Bed

Dinosaur Jr. / I Bet On Sky

How can a band, post-2005 reunion after an eight year break come up with three consecutively great albums? If you need lessons, take them from Dinosaur Jr. Grunge, garage rock, slacker rock, 80s, 90s, alternative – the stuff you hear being said about Dinosaur Jr. all the time, but really, it’s all true. That saying, I Bet On Sky is Dinosaur Jr.’s cleanest (musically) album up to date.  The ten tracks in this album are foolproof rock out music that still retains the slacker sound. It still possesses that laid back feel and the 90s vibe is prominent. Possibly the most accessible heavy album of the year, it will keep fans happy as well as sit well with other music on the radio. In 2012, Dinosaur Jr. are now playing together better than ever and they have to worry about competition because there is no one out there that sounds like them.

Standout tracks: 
Rude, Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know, What Was That

David Byrne & St. Vincent / Love This Giant

It is as though David Byrne never runs out of creative juice. With his concept album, Here Lies Love on former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos he won a lot of attention – both positive and negative – on choosing to work on a topic so controversial. But this is the guy who balances perfectly, intellect and emotional indifference. Annie Clark aka St. Vincent is also somewhat of an observing outsider, unfazed by what she sees so it is only unsurprising that these two should collaborate. The most obvious thing about Love This Giant is the generosity of horns. Everywhere and on every track, this is an amalgamation of complex worldbeat rhythms, sketchy electronics, cinematic orchestrations and Vincent’s cool, even vocals are a perfect match for Byrne’s. Closing track ‘Outside of Space And Time’ itself is a good sypnosis of the entire album – futuristic, arty, eccentric but accessible.

Standout tracks: 
Lazarus, Optimist, Outside of Space And Time

How To Dress Well / Total Loss

Tom Krell’s musical project How To Dress Well is a project that could only be borne in today’s musical era - an extremely polished sound consisting of crooning R&B influenced vocals, post-dubstep instrumentals and sensual pop sensibilities. Total Loss is simply drenched in mournful waves of emotion, enhanced by the quivering falsettos not unlike Justin Vernon’s. But Krell’s soulful trills aren’t the only things that we look out for here; the minimalist yet intense atmospherics make the album almost cinematic in expression. It’s introspective, it’s intimate, it’s moving and it’s literally Total Loss.

Standout tracks:
Cold Nites, & It Was U, Ocean Floor For Everything

Grizzly Bear / Shields

Texture is everything in Shields, the fourth LP by Brooklyn indie darlings Grizzly Bear. Intricate and vibrant in soundscapes, the record provides a variety of memorable, pensive songs that express the trademark Grizzly Bear vulnerability, but with a lot more layers and instrumental flourish. It’s definitely the folksiest of their discography, with more acoustic twangs, bluesy riffs and croons. It’s also one of the most beautiful records you’ll ever listen to this year. The best description I’ve heard of the album comes from a Consequence of Sound review - “Shields is about the barriers we constantly build to protect ourselves from other people, from the outside world, and ultimately, from ourselves.” 

Standout tracks:
Sleeping Ute, Yet Again, Gun-Shy

The xx / Coexist 

The xx go even more minimalist. Don’t know how they managed it, but they did. Abandoning the poppy partialities of their previous album, Coexist sounds more like an massive cavern than a deserted island. The tracks take on a more hazier and driftier quality, an intentional design that creates more space and focus on Sim’s and Madley-Croft’s R&B influenced vocals. Jamie on the other hand, demonstrates all that he learnt from his solo post-dubstep project with more subdued drums and 2-step beats. Unabashedly lush and supremely self-restrained, it’s a more finely-tuned sound that certainly shouldn’t surprise old fans, but doesn’t necessarily garner new ones. 

Standout tracks:
Chained, Fiction, Sunset.

Caspian / Waking Season

Caspian has always stayed under the post-rock radar, never exceeding expectations (or  defying genre conventions) nor being too inadequate. With Waking Season, it seems that the Massachusetts post-rockers finally grew out of their mediocre shell and went to build one of this year’s most enjoyable instrumental record. Waking Season finds the perfect balance between airy atmospheres and climaxing crescendoes, indulging in superbly crafted build-ups and swirling echoes. It’s a more coherent and profound effort overall, although at times it feels a little too cautious for my taste. Long live post-rock!

Standout tracks:
Long The Desert Mile, Porcellous, Halls Of The Summer

Lymbyc Systym / Symbolyst

Despite having a simple combination of synth melodies and acoustic drumbeats, Lymbyc Systym have always been known to deliver well-produced and wholesome tunes overflowing with pop sensibilities and organic vibes. Symbolyst is a culmination of sorts of all the best elements of their instrumental electronic pop sound, and also one of their infectious albums to date. The Bell brothers seem to work closer this time round, with instrumental parts playing off each other seamlessly - the tracks just seem to meld into one another. It’s a cloying rush of melodious synth twinkles dripping with warm tones and resonating reverbs, combined with some pretty sweet drumming.

Standout tracks:
Downtime, Eyes Forward, Dragon Year

Text: Ilyas Sholihyn & Delfina Utomo