Un-Murdered Darlings

No ideas were harmed in making this album

by Dan MacRae

Arcade Fire

cd-arcadefireArcade Fire
Reflektor
Universal
3.5 out of 5

Reflektor is 100 per cent the album you think it is. It’s enormous and “important” and needlessly bloated and filled with supremely gorgeous moments that nestle up to lengthy chunklets that smack of unnecessary dicking around. You know how Régine did that thing on Saturday Night Live where she left the stage to move like a robot inside a phone booth of mirrors while Arcade Fire played the title track? It’s like that, but over two compact discs.

Nothing is reined in on this one. Every impulse is massaged, fed growth hormones and awarded a bronze statue for its service. It’s almost as if the band saw the episode of The Office where Jim and Pam baptized their baby in an Arcade Fire T-shirt, and was all like “WHOA DUDEMEISTER, ARE WE MOM & DAD ROCK NOW? WE NEED TO MIX SHIT UP!”

(They probably wouldn’t have said it like that. Odds are they would have communicated this to each other using meaningful glances at an abandoned toffee warehouse or something.)

It’s an approach that doles out some big Big BIG moments (like the beautifully swollen “Here Comes The Night Time”), as well as its fair share of bathtub farts (the reggae tourism number “Flashbulb Eyes” comes to mind). Reflektor is a place where stompy Neil Young-style rock numbers rub elbows with sun-kissed The La’s-indebted guitar pop and avant-garde fitness jamz. Oh, and there are also assorted stretches that sound like they were crafted to be played at a monarch’s self-immolation ceremony. Every idea is a home-run swing with the best bits being knocked out of the park and every missed opportunity smacking of unintentional self-parody.

Reflektor wears its gargantuan size like a badge of honour. This isn’t an album built on meticulously chosen edits; it’s more like something where no draft was scrapped and every new idea was spackled on over top. It’s an approach that offers up some dazzling highs.

I just wonder how great this would be without excess weight dragging it down.

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cd-perryKaty Perry
Prism
Capitol
4 out of 5

Frosting! Fireworks! Foam parties with puppies and kittens! Katy Perry’s back and she’s got fucking tunes for days, dude. Prism is Katy showing off supreme confidence in her pop majesty. First-class house bangers (“Walking On Air”), gooey pop confections (“Birthday,” “International Smile”) and self-affirmation anthems (“Roar”) are the order of the day.

(Best not to comb through the lyrics. No amount of “is this about Russell Brand?” curiosity can even-out lines about “Hurt Locker lovers.”)

Prism is guilty of feeling a bit phony in parts, but it’s good phony. Authentic phony. The phony Katy Perry believes in. Phony we can all believe in, really. /Dan MacRae

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cd-yamantakaYamantaka // Sonic Titan
UZU
Paper Bag Records
3.5 out of 5

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s sophomore album Uzu nicely follows the surprise success of their 2011 self-titled debut — but it also references YT//ST’s live show, which is famously replete with D.I.Y. theatrical sets and costumes that reference  the band members’ diasporic cultural heritage.

That heritage is used to great effect throughout Uzu, actually for example, a traditional Iroquois song woven into the single, “One”.

I loved YT//ST’s first record, which was strong on sound though a little thin on songwriting. This new album improves on that — Uzu is modeled as a rock opera and often deploys instrumental stretches that feel like the background for unseen actions. However, it’s exactly some of those moments that lose me a little. I just don’t find all the jams to be musically interesting. Otherwise, the thematic scope, singer Ruby Kato Attwood’s soprano, the ’80s effects and the record’s dynamic range are its key strengths. /Amber Goodwyn

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cd-kashkaKASHKA
Bound
Play the Triangle
3.5 out of 5

If KASHKA had made an entire album that sounded like tracks three through five, I’d be raving about Bound. Toronto “folkpoptronica” artist Kat Burns (ex-Forest City Lovers) has a sweet, delicate soprano that’s most effective when the music behind her has some heft. The dark, dance floor groove of “We Let the Shadow In” is where this ideal combination coalesces — over a pulsing beat, ominous bass line and forceful snare hits, Burns sings about the dangers of getting wrapped up in your own head at the expense of connecting with another person. Likewise, “Prophet” contrasts the warmth of Burn’s vocals with a chilling electronic beat and “Body Like Lead” balances her tremulous delivery with a rock solid rhythm section.

Next go-round, I’d love to hear Burns go all the way with this sound, instead of mixing it in with the more subdued moments. /Gillian Mahoney

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cd-losampLos Campesinos!
No Blues
Wichita
4 out of 5

I hope these reviews help you guys find good bands you’re might not be familiar with. Case in point: Los Campesinos!. This six-piece Welsh indie group has released four albums of energetic, cacophonic, cluttered and verrry wordy pop, and they’re probably worth your time if that sounds like the sort of music you like. Their fifth album, No Blues, is more of the same.

As always, lead singer Gareth Paisey (he goes by Gareth Campesinos! — everyone in the band takes the last name Campesinos!; the word means “peasant”) talks more than he sings, so a listener’s affection/tolerance for Paisey’s voice might determine whether they like this. I’m a fan — although 30 per cent less Paisey-opening-his-mouth would dramatically improve No Blues (so would a female co-lead vocalist).

No Blues is a little uneven. The standout track is “Avocado, Baby”, and the six-minute album closer “Selling Rope (Swan Dive To Estuary)” is gorgeous. Too bad I was sick of Paisey’s vocals by that point. Get a second singer guys, seriously. /Stephen Whitworth

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cd-shadeBottomless Pit
Shade Perennial
Comedy Minus One
4 out of 5

Chicago’s Bottomless Pit are more particular and consistent in their sound than most rock bands. The blueprint they’ve laid out for themselves filters New Order through Neil Young, with each song anchored by hypnotic, Amen-break drumming (Google it) and mournful baritone guitar. Hell, most of their songs are in the same key, even. But while the parameters are strict, the content never suffers. On Shade Perennial (which may as well be the Bottomless Pit motto) we meet the band three albums into their career and they’re as emotionally gripping as ever. A lot of that comes from the chemistry between guitarists Andy Cohen and Tim Midyett, who’ve played music together since the ’80s. You can feel their connection in the laser-like twin solos of “Incurable Feeling” (the closest the band may ever come to a pop single) and the simple, somehow heartbreaking opening notes of “Bare Feet”. That chemistry is a huge part of what makes Bottomless Pit one of the most necessary bands around. /Mason Pitzel

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cd-berubeMark Berube
Russian Dolls
Bonsound
3 out of 5

The metaphor of repetition and layering in the title Russian Dolls is reinforced by the cover. It depicts the tousle-haired Montrealer, swathed in a neck warmer, inset against a larger version of the same image. It’s not that Berube, with the aid of multi-instrumentalist Kristina Koropecki and producer Jace Lasek, establishes certain musical motifs in the album’s 11 songs and then revisits them repeatedly in a process akin to opening a set of wooden matryoshka dolls. But through the meticulous layering of instruments like cello, autoharp, piano, synth and organ, coupled with contemplative lyrics about the contradictions of modern life, he does invite listeners to immerse themselves in the baroque musical landscape he’s created. /Gregory Beatty

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cd-russianRussian Circles
Memorial
Sargent House
4 out of 5

It’s cute when an instrumental metal band (for example, Russian Circles), or its fans, insist on distinguishing between the more “metal” stuff a band plays and the quiet bits in between. Word to the wise: delicate passages of contemplative beauty are parts of a bunch of metal subgenres, and they’re as integral to instrumental post-metal as the riffing is.

Anyway. On Memorial, Russian Circles’ fifth album, the band’s extreme dynamics are on full display, pairing doomy guitar churns with blackened guitar leads (“1777,” “Burial”) with icy, dreamlike melancholia that wouldn’t be out of place on a particularly gloomy Mogwai record. The title track hammers that comparison home, closing out Memorial with Chelsea Wolfe’s reverb-smothered vocals.

I hope none of this suggests Russian Circles is derivative; while the band plays to formula at times, the pervasive feeling of doom gives Memorial a characteristic heaviness that’s as good for casual headbanging as it is for, say, making supper. /John Cameron

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cd-moonfaceMoonface
Julia With Blue Jeans On
Paper Bag
3 out of 5

“Everyone Is Noah, Everyone Is the Ark”, in title and content, speaks to a universal experience — the truth that miseries are similarly miserable. Funny, then, that a lot of Julia With Blue Jeans On takes the form of Spencer Krug — the man behind Moonface — addressing a lady or ladies in the second person, the classic pop song concern.

He also shows if not a disillusionment then at least a difficulty with that kind of songcraft. “It’s a mad man’s game making the commonplace unreal,” he sings on the title track.

It’s not like Krug has been absorbed in trite clichés his whole career. His work, with Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown and now as a solo artist under the name Moonface, never seemed concerned with trends. Julia certainly isn’t. This set of songs, featuring just Krug and his piano, wander about, dwelling in odd spots and taking unexpected turns. The work isn’t demonstratively virtuosic but is always emphatic and full. It’s an interesting path for Krug, no matter what dividends it pays out now. /James Brotheridge

2013-10-31