Nick Senior | Decoy Music | popstrangers.com
I continue to follow the hipster music culture for one reason, and one reason only: occasionally you find something worthwhile. For every band full of bland bullshit, you discover something excellent. To be clear, not all indie rock falls into this category. However, the rule is this: if Pitchfork or Sputnikmusic is hyping the hell out of a new release, then there is some hipster with a musical boner. Hence, when I discovered Popstrangers’ lead-off single “Heaven”, I knew this was my kind of hipster shit.
Coming out of the land where Lord of the Rings was filmed, New Zealand’s Popstrangers wields an interesting musical mix. The band clearly grew up on Nirvana, Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine; thus, fans of a mix of grunge, shoegaze, and psych rock will be happily at home here. Ironically enough, what really carries the band through the entirety of Antipodes is their attention to pop melody. Sure, the riffs are solid, the haze is piled on thick, but the real winner is the hooks. Unlike similarly minded Naomi Punk, there is enough sheen to allow the surprisingly strong melodies to really shine through. The only glaring mistake is when the band forgets how to write a melody. Some of the tracks focus too much on being hazy or psychedelic, rather than actually being good.
Marcus Moore | Drowned in Sound | suunsband.tumblr.com
As pervasive as it is, music will not save you.
At least that’s what Suuns want you to think. Their new album, Images Du Futur, is a petulant procession of sullen rock grit that writhes your senses before it soothes the agitation. From the onset, there’s a clear sense of crabbiness here, but that irritation — coupled with the band’s bottom-heavy compositions — works well toward the Montreal quartet’s dark ethos. From it, you get the sense that these dudes wanted to be punk rockers. Or maybe they’re garage rockers. There’s some funk in there, too. However, this is something much heavier and more electronic than before. It’s dance music with rugged edges: in an instant, you feel the need to start a fight; just as suddenly, there’s a desire to blast it out the window on some hip-hop shit.
Jonathan Bromwich | Pitchfork | lapalux.com
. . . He’s more confident on Nostalchic, walking the line between chaos and stability to create a sound that resembles a jittery, discombobulated version of chillwave. Brainfeeder’s Hip-Hop Beats N’ Bass blueprint is still present, but it isn’t the focus on the album. Instead, on tracks like the back-to-back standouts “Flower” and “Swallowing Smoke”, Howard’s working with a hundred little slivers of the same core melody, rearranging them again and again by attaching them to different portions of the beat until, by the end of the song, they fit together smoothly. It’s sampling as fine art– as precise and painstaking as a mosaic.
With all these separate elements floating around, it’s possible for things to get a little too messy. “Kelly Brook” is muddled and unpleasant, shot through with sounds that don’t make sense with each other. It’s as if the pieces of several different songs were never properly separated and it’s one of the few moments on the album where Howard doesn’t appear to be in total control.
Vocalists appear throughout Nostalchic, serving as amplified versions of their sampled counterparts from the guest-free tracks. Though Jenna Andrews has a strong showing on the languorous “One Thing” and Kerry Leatham’s distorted voice adds depth to the standout “Without You”, Lapalux is actually his own most reliable performer. On “Walking Words” he’s familiar enough with the beat to insert what sounds like his own murmurs and distortion directly into the spaces available and his vocal ends up mimicking the track’s motion perfectly.
Neil Spencer | The Guardian | facebook.com/owinysigomaband
The Euro-African import-export trade continues in full swing. This London-Nairobi troupe were spawned in Kenya when five young Brits met Joseph Nyamungu, a master of the eight-stringed African lyre. Their debut brought deft techno touches to Kenya’s nyatiti tradition, while this follow-up, for which Joseph and friends came to London, deepens the alchemy. Electro-beats spar with booming congas, guitars chatter with the nyatiti and rich African vocals contrast with the band’s harmonies. Norbat Okelo is spare and spooky, Owiny Techno is Afro-psychedelia and Harpoon Land groove-heavy pop for Stone Rose fans who want to move on. Ingenious.
Randall Roberts | The Los Angeles Times | cumbancha.com/bombino
. . . the guitarist, 33, has witnessed much on the way to his new album, “Nomad,” which was produced by Black Keys’ singer-guitarist and Grammy Award-winning producer Dan Auerbach. While Bombino was touring the festival circuit and drawing legions of admirers – including a couple more gigs at the Mint in L.A. – the northern Mali region near his home was overrun by Muslim extremists, who devastated the vibrant artistic culture until being repelled by French and African troops. (In the last week, the situation has once again become unstable.)
Bombino issued a statement decrying the extremists’ actions, calling them “devastating beyond words” and declaring: “These invaders are not welcome in any of our lands and we reject their philosophies and their idea of Islam.”
On “Nomad,” his first album for the estimable Nonesuch Records imprint, the musician offers a more transcendent and celebratory philosophy, but not through overt political arguments.
Rather, by setting to song meditations on life, patience, history and heritage – sung in his native Tuareg tongue – Bombino and his band have released a killer document not only for fans of North African guitar music; anyone who has ever appreciated a master player make magic on a Fender while a band, which on “Nomad” is augmented by a few Auerbach’s go-to session men, organizes structures behind him, will find comfort in Bombino’s music.
. . . “All these world music artists always get recorded like they’re artifacts — like they’re field recordings,” Auerbach said. “I put them in the studio and we recorded a studio record — and it’s so psychedelic. It’s crazy.” Though the two didn’t share a common language, they were able to communicate enough to make it work.
Auerbach said he marveled at Bombino’s approach. While overdubbing his fretwork to create layers of sound, for example, Auerbach witnessed the guitarist’s precision. “He would triple his guitar leads, and he’d do it note-for-note, first take. It sounds massive. His guitar’s running through fuzz pedals, with double drummers playing at the same time — lots of percussion.”
Lindsey Zoladz | Pitchfork | facebook.com/waxahatchee
Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield’s new album, is going to be heard. But from its opening moments, you get the sense that she’s ready for it, the newfound assurance, steadiness, and clarity of her voice immediately obvious. “We are late, we are loud, we remain connected as you’re reading out loud,” she sings on the smolderingly evocative opener, “Hollow Bedroom”. Like American Weekend, it begins with just a guitar and a voice, though this time the instrument’s plugged in and the recording sounds more professional. (It was still recorded at home, this time in the Philadelphia house she shares with her sister and bandmates.) But it’s no less intimate– if anything, the clean recording only brings you in tighter. Crutchfield’s voice rises to be heard over the distortion that kicks in during the song’s final minute. “And I don’t believe that I care at all,” she sings with quiet defiance. “What they hear through these walls.”