Saturday, February 19, 2011

Album Reviews

James Blake (4/5). British dubstep musician James Blake has named The XX as an inspiration, and certainly that is evident in his minimalist approach, but his rootsy approach is more akin to that of a plugged-in Bon Iver. "Lindisfarne I," for example, recalls Bon Iver's "Woods," consisting almost solely of an a Capella auto-tuned vocal. "Lindisfarne II" brings in the spare electronic melody making the parallel with The XX clearer. "Unluck" begins with electronic textures akin to LCD Soundsystem but Blake's soulful style pushes music somewhere closer to old school R&B. "The Wilhelm Scream," named after the infamous sound effect popularlized by Star Wars, is a gorgeous piece of electronic melancholy. The background textures start off light and clear, becomingly increasingly deep and murky, like Blake himself is sinking deeper into a muddled despair. Blake sounds best on his remake of Feist's "Limit to Your Love," having removed the auto-tune to let the slight rasp of his voice add a personal touch to the song's interplay of prominent acoustic piano and electronic bass. That the songs on the album's latter half are less grand than the first is not a major problem, since they adhere to the album's general mood and sound. Best: The Wilhelm Scream, Limit to Your Love, Unluck.

Destroyer - Kaputt (3.5/5). Kaputt is the ninth album from Canadian indie pop group Destroyer, a band I'd never heard of before until this album, which has gotten generally favorable reviews. This morning, that this album came on right after Pet Shop Boy's Please and I didn't notice the difference until the vocals came in should you give you an idea about the signposts for this work. Think sophisticated adult-oriented '80s pop with some hints of jazz. The first few songs pop along in this vein, and then comes the rather arresting "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," a dramatic, track with an effective extended instrumental opening, even if its synth flute sounds like it should be backing some sort of sleazy made-for-TV melodrama. "Poor in Love" and the title track are lovely too, with a more expansive sound augmented by some horns. They're probably the most pop-oriented song of the set. The dreamy synth-based sound is interesting, but I can't see myself making this a must-listen later in the year, and other groups have mined the '80s synth-pop sound enough that this doesn't add anything significant to the conversation. Best: Kaputt, Poor in Love, Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.

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