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Album Review: Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion

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For a bunch of Brooklynites playing noise-pop, Crystal Stilts has been pretty quiet since their critically acclaimed debut album, Alight of Night, dropped in 2008. Their latest offering, In Love With Oblivion, is pretty much the same as what we heard back then: Some catchy hooks and solid, well-layered pop rock buried in derivative synth techniques. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but there’s another, fatal flaw that prevents Oblivion from ever getting off the ground.

Oblivion‘s first track, “Sycamore Tree,” gave me reason to cock my eyebrow–its initial whistling wind effects and haphazard piano sounds like a poor attempt to recreate the last minute of “A Day in the Life”–but given some time to develop, the band proves that it can make the simplest of three-chord progressions interesting. It certainly doesn’t hurt to throw in a little synth organ or mandolin, as I’m convinced I hear on “Precarious Stair.” Guitarist JB Townsend and keyboardist Kyle Forester are pretty tremendous together, lending what can only be called a sneaky enthusiasm to the essentially bare-bones instrumentation at work here.

Still, there’s something stopping the band from playing nicely with each other, and that something is Brad Hargett’s vocals. Bearing a healthy, droning baritone voice that has made him a darling of the New York post-pop scene, it may very well be that Hargett has talent; I wouldn’t know, because every single song on Oblivion is infected with his apparent lust for echo chambers within echo chambers within echo chambers.

Some tracks are worse than others, but overall, it’s completely unreasonable to expect anyone to ever understand more than a quarter of Hargett’s lyrics. This creates two problems: It makes Hargett a totally extraneous member of the band (being unintelligible might work for chestnuts like Ozzy, but there’s no excuse if you don’t have brain damage), and more importantly, it muddies up what would otherwise be some pretty fun, simple rock music.

It’s a shame that the vocals destroy Crystal Stilts’ music so completely; it’s one of the only complaints I had about Oblivion. Yes, there’s no new ground being broken here–even for the band’s own limited catalog–but it’s derivative in such a straightforward way that you wind up going along with it almost by instinct; you’re drawn in before you had a chance to realize you’ve heard this before.

Still, though they might be able to swing from hook to hook like a monkey in a meat freezer, it’s just not fun to listen to Spaceman Hargett for 43 minutes. I’ll be back when the Stilts go instrumental.

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Yelle – Safari Disco Club

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When Yelle arrived on the scene in 2006, it was with “Je Veux Te Voir,” an attitude-packed and hilariously vulgar diss track directed toward rapper Cuizinier for his misogynistic views. The 2007 debut album, Pop Up, spawned two more minor hits with “A Cause des Garçons” and “Ce Jeu.” The French trio, led by singer Julie Budet, established themselves as purveyors of summery electropop. Then, they all but disappeared.

To a certain extent, Yelle have kept busy since their first album, remixing Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘n’ Cold” and appearing on the Kennedy track “John and Yoko,” as well as covering “Who’s That Girl?” by Robyn. However, in such a fast-paced music environment, no one can afford to take four years between albums unless the result is something that could universally be considered a masterpiece. Yelle’s sophomore release, Safari Disco Club, is a good effort that falls short of legendary status.

They’ve grown out of the youthful spirit of Pop Up, though “C’est Pas Une Vie” packs a bright punch, while “Que Veux-Tu” and “Unillusion” make good use of ’80s pop references. Songs like “Chimie Physique” and “La Musique” are much more mature in tone than anything Yelle have released before. There’s also more actual singing from Budet, rather than the sing-rapping previously employed. Safari Disco Club showcases a more developed act, but it doesn’t sound like four years’ worth of growth. The more subdued approach makes sense, but the songs aren’t as engaging as established fans might expect.

The dance scene has changed drastically since Yelle’s debut. This isn’t to say that producers GrandMarnier and Tepr should have gone for a dubstep approach—it wouldn’t suit Budet’s voice, though “S’Eteint le Soleil” has hints of grimey bass—but in an environment where the fresh-faced Londoner Katy B is poised for a takeover, it’s difficult to see where Yelle’s role is now.

The album sounds solid, with plenty of agile synths to spare, but it’s difficult to see what role it plays; it’s not exactly more of the same, but it may as well be. Safari Disco Club is worth a listen, but it fails to assert itself as something that demands listeners’ attention.

https://youtu.be/c53iVBzdBiY

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

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In the five years since Canadian chamber-rock band Broken Social Scene released its last album, lead Scenester Kevin Drew has ably stepped into indie-stardom, nurturing mass-anticipation for the collective’s upcoming opus.

Enter Forgiveness Rock Record. With the Toronto outfit choosing to explore every bit of the space that their physical largesse affords, the wait has been worth it—even if the album requires a bit of stamina in order to fully grasp the triumph.

Perhaps the group—composed of a fluid membership that often numbers well into double digits—is finally becoming exactly what it is they were likely always going to be: a dramatic, sweeping and engrossing baroque-rock troupe. Besides, it’s not often that a group that has featured a melodica in the past acts as though it’s a power-pop trio, which many of their earlier songs have suggested.

While a lack of sonic cohesion does make itself evident, as the result of a mixed bag of styles that can often distract rather than attract, the significant and unifying thread of Kevin Drew’s Jeff Tweedy-esque, achy vocals equip the entire proceedings with immense heart. Some sort of binding agent is necessary, however, due to the divergent styles showcased. By showing off their skills in Post-rock (“Meet Me in the Basement”), bombastic, arena-anthems (“World Sick”), playful prog (“Chase Scene”) and effective melody making (“Texico Bitches”), it’s quite clear that this is a group that is more comfortable stretching their musical legs than the average listener will likely be sinking their teeth into this album.

Given the amount of time between records, not only is Forgiveness Rock Record an example of good things coming to those who wait, but also, to those who also don’t mind putting forth a little effort to gain great reward.

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Album Reviews

EP Review: Dan Fisk — Bruises from the Backseat

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When an album’s liner notes list multiple banjo players on the same song, you know it’s going to be an enjoyable listen. Dan Fisk has two banjo pickers on“Life and Limb,”  from his new solo EP, but that’s not the only thing he’s got going for him on Bruises from the Backseat (out 6/28).

Fisk (an upstate New Yorker who’s spent the past decade in Virginia), has a radio-ready, slightly raspy voice and solid songwriting skills. Album opener “A Thousand Love Songs” is the highlight of the disc, and had it been released fifteen years ago when Vertical Horizon and Matchbox 20 were flying up the charts, Fisk would probably be blowing his nose with $20 bills right now.

The EP’s sole cover is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stranded in a Limousine,” which features fellow area singer-songwriter Ted Garber on harmonica. It feels a little out of place among the more mellow tracks on the record, but it’s definitely a fun listen.

Bruises from the Backseat is a promising solo release from Fisk. Let’s hope a full-length record is next.

Listen If You Like: Duncan Sheik, The Wallflowers, Joe Pug, Jason Mraz

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