Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Music: A Survey

There's no counting the number of bands that employ retro guitar, scruffy production values, and a sense of detached irony, but World Festival of Youth and Students throws in a soaring soprano vocal line that takes the band into a territory all its on. On their sophomore outing, I Am the Person I Know Best, World Festival bring a fresh energy to songs about family relationships, living in a media-saturated culture, and the sometimes alienating lifestyle of the travelling professional musician.

Miracle Girls can be relied to deliver a cheerful, jangling sort of antidote to radio pop music, and they do not let us down on To Hate His Friends, their fourth effort. The songs are connected with a loose theme of how it's better to be single than attached, although it's not clear whether this was planned or is just a natural result of the Miracle Girls' way of thinking. The title track is pretty funny; the album closer "Home, Office, Home, Office, Grave" is, despite the title, one of the funniest songs I've heard this year.

for other people is the gloomiest record yet for Athens, Georgia based Gomishan City. Filled with brooding rock meditations on death and longing -- think Bob Mould meets The Smiths -- this record is packed with the kind of music you love to feel bad to.

Murder At the Windmill's ...in a pinstripe suit is a low-fi song cycle about the decline, decay, and possibly the death (it's all very ambiguous) of a stereotypical high-powered businessman. Halfway between the classic Tom Waits album Frank's Wild Years and some kind of strange bluegrass dirge, this is the kind of record that seems at first merely bizarre, but then quickly gets under your skin if you let it.

The oddly-named Charles P. Steinmetz Academic Center are a Scottish quintet whose music features textured, brooding electronic soundscapes underlaying vigorous acoustic-guitar driven pop tunes. Steinmetz, the lead singer, has a terrific tenor, soaring up into a bold falsetto on "What One Has to Do," the title track of their third album.

You would not expect a woman with the stage name of "Oswald Pornbacher" to record conventional songs. Her new album "as quickly as possible" might well be named "as quirkily as possible," as odd instruments, time signatures, lyrics, and tempos bounce around almost, but not quite, at random. People who like songs to end in predictable ways may be made uncomfortable.

History of Nunuvut continues to produce noisy, quirky college rock, jangly guitars and vocal harmonies underlain with a rich cello line. Frightened of the Old Ones refers not to the band's own musical history -- fans will find this new album instantly familiar -- but to a series of old girlfriends, described to hilarious effect in the title track.

Gunthorpe, Nottinghamshire is not for everyone. With a blasting attack powered by no less than three heavily distorted electric guitars, G.N. has been fairly accused of being musically sloppy. On their new record, Whatever Your Task May Be, there is evidence of improving songcraft in there under the noisy assault.

Sythesizer-driven prog rock that could have fallen straight out of the mid-70s, USS Luckenbach nevertheless seem to be right at home in the current musical landscape. If they are at times a bit bombastic, it is great pretension to dance to. On Reason Shines But Dimly they are once again cerebral and virtuosic, but not too much so for their own good.

Crystal Palace emerges from a five-year drought with what at first listen sounds like an especially boisterous house party. Listening closely to the lyrics under the rich textures -- I'm pretty sure I hear oboes and bagpipes in there -- reveals a darker side to the album. Many of these rollicking, uptempo songs are about grief, about loss of illusions and loss of faith. Not often are the dark and the light of human existence -- Unbridled Joy and Nothing at All, indeed -- so beautifully combined in pop music.

Also recommended, especially for anyone puzzled about any of the above: The new Motorins album, Southern efficiency and Northern charm.


DrSchnell said...

This reminds me a bit of Jorge Luis Borge's reviews/analyses of non-existent, and indeed, non-writable books. Well done!

Jenners said...

Are these for real or did you make them up? These all look fake.

Rebel said...

Awesome! ;) You'll have to send me a copy of "Miracle Girls" you know, as soon as it comes out.

Morgan said...

You need to do mine.

Anonymous said...

Nice cover art on "for other people".

Anonymous said...

Yeah! I thought that this might be something like the meme when I saw the sea picture. Not sure why but it struck me as a Flickr photo but you had me second guessing with the reviews. Well done!

Eversaved said...

You know, I was really excited about investigating some new music since I'm getting kind of bored of rotating Bon Iver, Feist, Rilo Kiley, and The Tallest Man on Earth ad nauseum.

Then I went to itunes and couldn't find a single album.

THEN I went to comments to see if other people had suggestions for where to find them. Then my hope was dashed against the jagged rocks with the simultaneous realization that a) no real music research had been done for me and b) I am dumb.

Michael5000 said...

@Ms. Saved: You sometimes say just the right thing to make a simple blogger very, very happy.