Tuesday, April 03, 2012

3-Sentence Reviews: Music from Spring 2012

Big surprise here: the US release of Of Monsters and Men's album My Head is an Animal is still good.  It features a couple extra songs added to its Icelandic release, with "Mountain Sound" in particular making this already amazing album even better than it was before.  What scores the band the most points, though, is that they're awesome people, taking time to mingle with their fans after a concert and having a blast playing through their first US tour.

For a band whose first album had hints of breaking through into something truly great, it's a little disappointing to hear The Vespers' sophomore album The Fourth Wall be merely different rather than brilliant.  It's not necessarily an improvement on Tell Your Mama, more of a stylistic shift to encompass more overtly Christian themes and embrace its Deep-South spiritual roots, with the few infectiously sunny up-tempo pieces seeming further out of place the more you listen to the album.  Sooner or later, The Vespers will need to pick a stylistic direction and stay with it--or, better yet, release multiple albums in multiple styles--but it's tough not to like the quartet's ambition in drawing from so many genres, and their mastery of vocal harmony is among the best there is.

Every Shins album so far, including Port of Morrow, has seen increasing levels of production: Oh, Inverted World suffered for its low production and lo-fi-ness in general; Chutes Too Narrow had more production and was a better album because of it; Wincing the Night Away really hit a sweet spot and was easily the greatest thing the Shins have done so far.  The term "overproduced" is enough overused that it's basically meaningless, but the fresh, indie-pop hooks of Wincing have largely been replaced by a smooth gloss that doesn't offend but doesn't easily excite either.  "For A Fool" and "It's Only Life" are entirely forgettable, medicore-at-best attempts at something mid-tempo; fortunately "The Rifle's Spiral" and "No Way Down" keep some of the old pop brilliance, and "September" is among the most heartfelt and lovely things James Mercer has come up with.

Making Mirrors, by an artist who calls himself Gotye and pronounces it "go-tee-ay," is one of those odd albums that somehow decided to choose its very worst song for its breakout radio single.  Like probably a majority of listeners familiar with him, I was first introduced to Gotye by having "Somebody That I Used to Know" forced on me by FM radio (Live 105.3, I'm looking at you), and from it, I erroneously concluded that Gotye was mumbly and boring.  It's not as standout an album as some would proclaim, filled with bizarre auditory non sequiturs and containing an unfortunate miscue in the form of an autotuned reggae track called "State of the Art," but "I Feel Better" and "In Your Light" take all the best elements of 60s-70s Motown, funk, and even Southern rock to turn out music I actually want to listen to.

This month's "late to the party" entry comes from Mr. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, which given my general enthusiasm for all things indie folk is about as egregious an omission as Fleet Foxes were a few months ago.  It's actually not as folky as it could have been given its standout single "Home" (they got this one right; except for the irritating spoken-word passage, it's by far the best track on the album).  A liberal application of horn section and the occasional harmonica works really well; some unfortunate vocal quirks (spoken passages, changes in register, deliberate not-quite-on-the-beat singing) are nowhere near as clever as they think they are; and the constant genre experiments might either be refreshing or exhausting depending on your mood.

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