Album Reviews

Before I get to the year in review, there are a few more albums that I received last year – it still seems strange to say that – that I wanted to discuss before going ahead with my end of the year review.

 

Liars

WIXIW

Mute Records

Release Date: June 5, 2012

 

WIXIW actually comers from a misspelling of the phrase “wish you,” a familiar and universal statement of longing and hope that once misspelled becomes shrouded and difficult to understand, as Liars’ lead singer Andrew Angus has mentioned in the album’s pre-release interviews.  The album is the trio’s sixth studio release, and the follow up to their critically acclaimed 2010 release, Sisterworld. Self-produced and recorded in Los Angeles, with additional production assistance from Mute Records boss, Daniel Miller, WIXIW is an unusual album, even for a band known to be iconoclastic. Starting off with album opener “The Exact Colour of Doubt” and “Octagon,” the album manages to be the soundtrack to the sort of fever dream that has one in the grips of paralyzing, anxious dread – beneath the shadows, there’s something that will surely kill you. The melody of “A Ring On Every Finger” seemingly borrows from an old childhood tune and it creates an additional sense of anxious dread. “Brats” manages to simultaneous buzz about like an angry swarm of wasps and stomp like an obnoxious brat after a sugar fix. WIXIW seems to be heavily influenced by the dark carnival of Pink Floyd and the modern anxieties of Radiohead, and much like the work of those two bands, it feels Liars’ latest effort burrows its sweaty palms into your brain. It’s among a small set of electronica that won me over because it’s so fucking odd.

 

Grimes

Visions

4AD Records

Release Date: February 21, 2012

 

When Claire Boucher moved from Vancouver to Montreal, she quickly became part of the city’s burgeoning DIY scene – a scene where the punk ethos and pop music collide, resulting in a rather unique community based around psychedelic revelry and religiosity. Boucher was naturally inspired by this scene, and started her own musical project back in 2010, Grimes, which has gained notoriety both within Montreal and across North America. Part of that notoriety stems from the fact that Boucher has been quite prolific as Visions was Boucher’s fourth full-length release over the past two years. Although the material is generally sparse enough for Boucher’s bird-like voice to float and dart throughout the mix, sonically it owes a great debt to the eccentric 80s pop ingénues of Kate Bush, and to late 80s/early 90s house music – it sounds eerily familiar and alien simultaneously, and in a way that’s difficult to pin down. Unlike most electronica albums released lately, if you listen to one single you may automatically get a sense of the whole album’s delicate, arresting beauty but you have to listen to the album to truly get a sense of how the material seems to dissipate into air, like ether and smoke. “Nightmusic” for example, playfully borrows a melody most people will remember from childhood before gently swelling and throbbing with excitement – perhaps for the endless possibility of the club and what the night could hold. A song like “Skin” among others feels skittish yet strangely coquettish. As an album it’s full of subtleties that could be lost by those with short attention spans.

 

Birds & Batteries

Stray Light

Eightmaps Records

Release Date August 7, 2012

 

Formed in 2005, the Bay Area-based indie electro pop act Birds & Batteries has won over audiences nationally with what is reportedly an amazing live show, and three critically acclaimed records under their collective belts. The act’s fourth and latest release, Stray Light is a collection of synth based pop that’s heavily influenced from the 80s – it shouldn’t be surprising that “Let the Door Swing” has a hook that sounds eerily familiar to A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)” but like most of the material on the album it possess hazy, dream-like feel. It manages to be intimate, yet grand in scale with a heartfelt sincerity that underlies the material’s slickness. “Are You At Peace?” is a hauntingly pretty track that manages to sound a lot like a lullaby.

And these guys know how to write a catchy hook. “I Want You” has an incredibly catchy hook while sounding like an over-sexed come on; and the hook of “Love Is Coming In” is pretty inventive – the hook is set up around handclaps fed through delay and reverb throughout the song. But despite how great the album sounds as a whole, its catchy hooks and its utter sincerity, it feels all too familiar and I imagine that those who remember (and truly love) the 80s will say the same.