A lo-fi pop chronicling of love, loss and longing.
No one who knew of singer/guitarist Michelle Zauner faulted her when she put her Philadelphia-based indie-rock band Little Big League on hiatus and returned home to Oregon after discovering her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.
Nor would anyone have been surprised had Zauner put down her guitar for the foreseeable future as she coped with the emotions of losing a mother and having to care for her widowed father.
However, Zauner discovered inspiration in sorrow. After gestating her grief over the course of a year, Zauner has now birthed one of the most beautiful and life-affirming albums in recent memory – Psychopomp.
Working in collaboration with musician Ned Eisenberg, Japanese Breakfast may not be as hard-hitting sonically as Little Big League, but lyrically and thematically, it’s more vulnerable and intense than anything Zauner has created before.
Radkey, the young brotherly trio who hail from Missouri, make no attempts at hiding their influences on their debut album Dark Black Makeup. Smooth, sexy, soulful punk rock, these guys do an admirable job matching the sonic fury of the bands they attempt to emulate – Glenn Danzig-era The Misfits, Black Flag and Bad Brains. At the very least these guys have great taste.
With a sound almost as interesting as their backstory – they dropped out of school after only one year, were home schooled by their mother and chose their father to manage their careers – Radkey’s music sounds as if it is informed only by 80s’ punk, comic books, and slasher flicks.
While horribly derivative at times – seriously, what the hell is with that opening to the track “Le Song” which they totally crib from the intro to My Chemical Romance’s “Na Na Na” – Dark Black Makeup is a debut that demands your attention. Musicians this young and who possess such raw talent can only look forward to greatness.
“And where do we go / Where do we go,” asks Arcade Fire’s vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne on “Afterlife,” one of the new tracks from the Montreal-based indie rock band’s latest album, Reflektor.
The question of where to go, at least musically, was one that Arcade Fire must have ruminated upon quite a bit after receiving their Album of the Year Grammy award for their 2010 album The Suburbs. After all, they shocked the music world by beating out the likes of mega pop stars Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, the American country pop of Lady Antebellum and the prolific rapper Eminem.
This accolade saw them become one of the biggest and most important rock bands in the world as they were able to, if only for one February night at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, drive a stake into the heart of the ugly and bloated monster that is the pop music industry.
Where the band should go next was also a question many longtime fans found themselves anxiously pondering – would the lure of mainstream adoration corrupt the band? Would the sweet taste of popular acceptance subvert Arcade Fire’s powerfully independent music into something watered down and commercialized?
Over the course of Los Campesinos’ prolific seven-year career – they have released five albums, two EPs and a live album – the indie pop band from Wales have made a name for themselves due to their constantly evolving sound, which has bounced between the fey and playful twee vibe of their debut album Hold on Now, Youngster…, the manic-depressive quality of 2010’s Romance is Boring or the darkly brooding atmosphere of 2011’s Hello Sadness.
Impressively, Los Campesinos’ sonic changes over the years have never once been jarring, as there has always been the shared commonality of front man Gareth Paisey’s intensely personal, and often humorous, lyrics.
“There is no blues that can sound quite as heartfelt as mine,” declares Paisey on the band’s latest album No Blues.
Never underestimate an artist’s ability to mine the failures of their own personal lives for creative inspiration.
Case in point – New York indie pop duo Cults. The group, consisting of singer/lyricist Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion on guitar, revealed they had ended their real-life romantic relationship after the release of their 2011 debut album.
Cults’ sophomore album, Static, is an earnest documentation of the deterioration of that relationship.
Given the fact that countless musicians have attempted to capture sonically the emotional struggle one endures while weathering the storm of a particularly nasty breakup – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Adele’s 21, and Sea Change by Beck all come to mind – one cannot claim Static is, thematically, entirely original.
However, despite the overabundance of breakup songs in American pop music, the universal themes of a broken heart – the loss and betrayal of love – are so powerfully relatable, it’s hard to knock Cults for tackling the subject – especially considering their familiarity with it.
The album opens with the hazy sounds of dream pop as Follin’s child-like voice, imbued with melancholy, sings to herself that she “knows,” as the sad twang of an electric guitar cuts through the foggy cloud of reverb which is omnipresent throughout all 11 tracks. Whether she “knows” her relationship is dead, or “knows” her partner has been less than faithful, “I Know” makes for a gorgeously honest start to the album.
After the release of Matthew Good’s Lights of Endangered Species album in 2011, many fans of the Canadian musician wondered if Good had fallen too far down the rabbit hole of complex and intricately arranged alternative rock music. Would he ever release a more easily accessible album that harkened back to his earlier work?
On Sept. 24, Good answered that question affirmatively when he released Arrows of Desire, a stripped-down rock record that, sonically and lyrically, more closely resembles the work of his former group The Matthew Good Band than his later and more experimental solo releases.
When Good announced earlier this year that he would be making a return to an earlier and more commercially viable sound on Arrows of Desire – the title of which was taken from a line found in the William Blake poem “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” – many fans wondered if this was a commercial rather than a creative decision.
Though the songs found on Arrows of Desire are rather straightforward, to say Good sacrificed his creativity in making this record would be way off the mark.
Unlike Lights of Endangered Species – which was heavily influenced by modern and big band jazz as well as the post rock sounds of Explosions in the Sky – Arrows of Desire was birthed out of Good’s love for the alternative rock music of the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s. Good has stated in several interviews that his rediscovery of such bands as The Afghan Whigs and The Pixies was what inspired him to make his latest record.