Musically-speaking, the past month gave us a lot. New albums by a wide swath of indie rock and pop artists have been aplenty. While admittedly my thoughts here won’t be as in depth as I usually shoot for, let’s go over some of the best of this early autumn’s releases, starting with New York’s own Holy Ghost!
Holy Ghost!’s Dynamics their second LP and second released by DFA Records, is a mature sophomore effort. While offering their recognizable slice of the “DFA Sound” pie, Dynamics differs from the band’s self-titled album in that it sounds more grown up – deeper, richer, more confident. These NYC natives still push their own brand of downtown synthpop dance music, but this time they’re concerned with the changes occurring in the city, especially as it relates to the “hip” music scene. “Changing of the Guard” is a statement about what preceded Holy Ghost! as well as those kids coming up from behind. (Maybe everyone at DFA worries about losing their edge?) “Okay” opens the album in fine fashion, the first single a meditation on learning how to act mature in relationships. Summer in New York City – that always-on-the-go time filled with plentiful boozy brunches and nights so late they are early – is captured in “Dumb Disco Ideas.” This song tells us to take advantage of bountiful times both during the year and in life. After all, our energetic youth will leave us at some point. Holy Ghost! should feel good about this second effort. The experimentation works and has expanded their sound but without altering it too much to lose their uniqueness. My only complaint is that “Teenagers in Heat” was omitted from the record. The video, which captures present-day New York citiscapes through the lens of throwback VHS-quality nostalgia, is below for your viewing and auditory pleasure.
It’s been hard to figure MGMT. The raging success of Oracular Spectacular led them down a rebellious rabbit hole, in which they recorded Congratulations, a record that confused some and outright pissed off others. Trying to be as open-minded as possible to the artistic temperament, I must admit as a listener that everything on OS – from the mega-jams on the front half to the deep, affecting “b-sides” on the back – shames 77% of Congratulations. (“Someone’s Missing” and “Flash Delirium” are the second album’s only tracks worthy of repeat listens, in my view.) So I had both hopes and questions about MGMT’s self-titled album, released September 17. On the whole, the album is good, not offering major radio hits like OS, granted, but also not losing its own way on a weird acid-induced meander like their second record, either. “Your Life is a Lie” I love for its head-on albeit pessimistic view of existence. (Sometimes you just need a morbid laugh.) “I Love You Too, Death,” replete with mashed sound bytes, offers a take on equally dark themes. One main question I had before the album’s release, as I’m sure many others did too, was which direction MGMT would go: Would they decide to be rock stars? Or would they decide to make music that only they wanted to hear? After having full access to the LP, it seems that they’ve done something in between. These songs originated from within Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, and it’s obvious that had they not liked these tracks enough to release them, they wouldn’t have. But they’ve also given more structure and melody to these ten songs, making them generally more pleasing to the ear than anything from Congratulations. In the end, my response to MGMT may just be this: After any sort of “congratulations,” I can only say “thank you.”
So CHVRCHES is pretty great. Their debut LP, The Bones of What You Believe, was released last month and is generally impressive. “Recover,” the titled track from their earlier EP, will likely be played during a saccharine-sad moment in the Entourage movie, when it finally comes. (If not there, then watch and listen for it somewhere on HBO.) The slightly more upbeat “The Mother We Share” is the height of serious catchiness and will remind you of a day when you were disappointed by life yet also paradoxically buoyed by some cosmic force. Lauren Mayberry’s beautiful voice allows CHVRCHES to address immensely deep and depressing content while nevertheless making it a fun listen. Her pipes, combined with the synth churning out a steady pop fuzz, place CHVRCHES in the same category as M83, Stars, and Passion Pit – these bands juxtapose the most human emotions with the most machine of instruments to reflect the larger digital way we live today. The LP offers a distinctive sound without getting repetitive, a more than promising start for such a new band.
One of the most important musical events from September 2013 came from Arcade Fire. (Go figure. These guys seem to never do anything that’s unimportant or, at very least, memorably weird.) The lead-up to the debut of “Reflektor” on 9/9 at 9 pm EDT was all over the internet. Their two videos – one innovatively interactive, one more standard of a bygone MTV era – got millions of hits. Their appearance on SNL and the following release of “Here Comes the Night Time” have cemented their status in the larger popular culture. While not claiming fanboy status, I must say, I love Arcade Fire. Funeral was an immaculate debut, The Suburbs was a magnum opus. Even Neon Bible – by some standards subpar and flat – amazes me. Though there are still three-plus weeks before their fourth LP drops, the music we’ve been allowed – from “Reflektor,” with magical touches by James Murphy and David Bowie, to the Haitian-influenced tracks from their Roman Coppola-directed mini-feature – promises even greater things to come. And considering past accomplishments include “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” these greater things, I can only imagine, will be nothing less than head explosion-inducing.
September gave us a lot, y’all. And October promises even more. I speak not only of Reflektor but also of new releases from of Montreal, Sleigh Bells, The Avett Brothers, and one guy named Paul McCartney. Even in the digital age, when any guy can theoretically make a record with ProTools in his parents’ basement, it’s heartening to know that there are still great real musicians out there putting it all on the line. Until next time. Cheers.