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Album Reviews

Album Review: The Feelies – Here Before

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There’s no rule against bands re-forming years or even decades after their heyday, nor any script detailing how they should go about it. Inspiration can come in many forms and at any time—when you’re 22 or when you’re 52, when you’re sleeping on couches or when you’re paying off a house. It’s not inconceivable—or particularly damning—that artists might be motivated by money or emboldened by the acclaim of a younger generation only just discovering their back catalog, so long as there’s a point and the music’s good. Or at least not embarrassing.

The past few years are littered with albums that fans of Big Star, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls might rather ignore, but there are always exceptions to the rule—surprising albums that wreck a perfectly good generalization. Dinosaur Jr’s pair of comeback albums stand alongside, and in some cases even exceed, their most popular albums, and Majesty Shredding, the first Superchunk album in more than a decade, ably recaptured the caustic bounce of their early ‘90s material.

Re-enter the Feelies, the favorite sons—and daughter—of Haledon, New Jersey, who re-formed three years ago at the behest of Sonic Youth and who are now releasing their hiatus-ending record. It’s titled, aptly enough, Here Before, and while it’s not indispensible, it sounds like a sturdy continuation of their sound rather than a re-creation of some rock-historical trend.

In 1980, the Feelies’ debut, (also) aptly titled Crazy Rhythms, introduced a feisty jangle that linked the strident noise of Wire and Gang of Four to the chiming riffs of R.E.M. and Translator. It was such a frantic sound, so tense and uncontrollable, that in retrospect it seems impossible they could pin it down for another album. Their follow-up, recorded with a different line-up, was necessarily calmer: musically The Good Earth was less abrasive and perhaps more accessible, but lyrically, it was just as obscure as ever, as though the songs were reluctant to surrender their meanings too quickly.

That’s the line-up that reunited in 2008, and The Good Earth is the sound the Feelies return to on Here Before. They don’t break a sweat, but that doesn’t mean they’re complacent, hesitant, or-gasp—old. Instead, the band slows the rhythms until the guitars almost drone, with Gleen Mercer’s pleasingly flat vocals floating calmly above the din, not unlike fellow New Jerseyites Yo La Tengo. These songs are more patient and more careful, emphasizing the texture between Mercer and Bob Million’s guitars, which jangle exquisitely on “Way Down” and “When You Know.” As they repeat and overlap, the guitars become hypnotic, especially on a slow, sober track like “Morning Comes,” although at times the repetition lapses into tedium.

Still, Here Before is the rare comeback album that shows no desperation, no hesitancy or rust, which only reinforces the guarded optimism of Mercer’s lyrics. Age has bolstered their introspection and turned it into something like warm nostalgia, allowing the band to make their signature sound speak of ruminative adulthood rather than defiant youth.

Who could have written such a satisfying new chapter, when the Feelies settle into being a solid pop band with a distinctive sound and a lot of good memories?

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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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