Sometimes, it's important that we all take a step back and realize the gifted artists that we get to appreciate on a daily basis. Especially with the Internet. Seriously, we get to consume art and culture at an unparalleled rate. It's important to be mindful of how special that is, and really take it in when the good stuff comes along.
When you’re the “It Band” of the blogosphere, consistency is the name of the game. Fleet Foxes picked up on that right away, and they gracefully sidestepped the sophomore slump with Helplessness Blues, an ornate, 12-track exploration of existential humility. Picking up where their last album left off, the album’s title track swells with shambling acoustic strums and Robin Pecknold’s earnest croon, blooming into lilting guitar bends and ascending vocals. Though the group’s woodsy guitar meets wall-of-harmonies aesthetic remains firmly intact, they do show signs of branching out beyond their comfort zone. “The Shrine/An Argument” begins with nimbly picked melodies and splashing percussion, before launching into a brass-infused, psychedelic dénouement. If that sounds gutsy, wait till you hear it. Unfortunately, Helplessness Blues is sometimes too clean, detracting from the group’s often chamber-ready melodies. Their self-titled debut had an aura of fog wrapped around its vocals and that inviting mist has been processed away, resulting in a record that sounds crisper but feels colder. Still, it’s the songs that are the real stars, like the frail guitar pluck of “Blue Spotted Tail,” which showcases a band that has the skills to stick around.
Key Cuts: The Plains/Bitter Dancer, Helplessness Blues, Blue Spotted Tail
Fans have been salivating for Allison Mosshart and Jamie Hince to return ever since Mosshart’s first stint with The Dead Weather. Thankfully, their wait wasn’t in vain. While it took 4 years, Blood Pressures is an undeniable achievement in craftsmanship, an album assembled with THX punch, phantasmal atmospheres, and behemoth-sized beats. From the urban goth crawl of “Satellite” to the buzzsaw blues bash of “Heart Is A Beating Drum,” The Kills flex an impressive amount of muscle over 11 tracks. The largest difference this time around seems to be how brash and expansive their sound has become. While they still explore scant minimalism (The haunting piano of “The Last Goodbye”) it’s interesting to see Hince and Mosshart tinker with their drum machine/guitar arsenal, enhancing it with ghostly backing vocals and broken acoustics. This results in their most meaty album yet, which seems suits them even if it isn't lower-than-lo-fi. Though the album’s aimless midsection disrupts an exciting ride, late record highlights like the robo-sleaze of “Damned If She Do” reminds listeners why they fell in love with The Kills in the first place: The irresistible, palpable tension present in every rough riff, monstrous snare snap, and Mosshart sigh.
Key Cuts: Satellite, Heart Is A Beating Drum, Damned If She Do
With the hodgepodgey, fuzzed-out Dear Science, still fresh in everyone's mind, TV On The Radio did the only possible they could do: Slow things down and smooth things out. In doing so they’ve created their strongest album yet, a record that eschews much of their dissonant genre hopping for a tightly focused, uplifting affair. Nine Types Of Light unfolds delicately, whether it’s on the scattered beats and climbing synths of “You” or the glitzed-out low-end shuffle of “New Cannonball Run.” Though Tunde Adebimpe, David Stiek, and Kyp Malone continue to back each other with soaring vocals, the real draw is in the record’s expansive arrangements. “Killer Crane” is a near 6 and a half-minute exploration of shimmering keyboards and gentle banjo twang, with Adebimpe’s soothing chorus holding it all together. Conceptually, love and authenticity seem to preoccupy the band on Nine Types Of Light, especially within the tech-heavy confines of our day-to-day lives. On the pounding, string laced “Will Do,” Adebimpe shares his insights over creeping guitar textures and soft xylophone, “It might be impractical to seek out a new romance/We won’t know the actual if we never take the chance…” Here, TV On The Radio’s insistence not only makes for a fine discussion point on modern intimacy, but also embodies the ethos behind their musicianship. Nine Types Of Light is a record born of pure freedom, the sound of a band solidifying their sound instead of mixing and matching those of other musicians.
Key Cuts: You, Killer Crane, Will Do