In Our Bedroom After the War
(Arts & Crafts)
If the saga of this album were to be personified in retrospect, then the war referred to in the title would be the artists versus the internet. The bedroom would be from where this Canadian quintet (with ties to Broken Social Scene) uploaded its own fourth full-length to iTunes three months prior to its physical release to stave off a premature leak. And while this may have been to the gain of voracious blog trollers, the necessary MP3 compression was to the detriment of this coy album's dynamics.
In Our Bedroom After the War lends credence to the perception that Canadian musicians hibernate for much of the year, dreaming of huddled instrumentation and waking only to orchestrate. The result is splashes of romance and gray drifts, hard-packed arrangements and dusts of anxiety. It's a muddle of emotions played out on a glossy chamber-pop battlefield. If love is war, these friends to the north are decorated veterans, survivors of many a skirmish in the frosty heartland.
In Our Bedroom After the War aims for the scope of Dr. Zhivago, The English Patient, or any other widescreen production that swoons and swells. There are tugging ballads ("Personal," "Window Bird") and giddy rave-ups ("The Night Starts Here," "Bitches in Tokyo") alike, and when Stars let fully lose ("Take Me to the Riot," "Midnight Coward"), it's as if a reformed Smiths, the Sea and Cake, and that dog. had commandeered the bandwagon and imbued it with the same stage-preened vulnerability and vibrato channeled by Morrissey. The thing about such soft focus, however, is that it lacks an edge. And without a defined edge it's hard to go over the edge, to change people's perceptions of your craft. In Our Bedroom After the War is another well-plotted album filling inner emptiness with euphoric expanse and tandem attacks. It's not revolutionary or revelatory, but it will connect with those pining for rounded pomp. TONY WARE
Save the World
If Kompakt records is the Super Friends (or the Justice League or whatever), then Superpitcher and Michael Mayer are its Batman and Superman, respectively. (Justus Köhncke is, say, the Green Lantern; Rex the Dog is the Flash, but I digress.) Superpitcher tends to be dark and moody, almost shy in his productions; Mayer can be a little brighter and more exuberantly populist. Both are superheroic, and fans could likely argue for hours over who might win in a head-to-head fight.
Fortunately, Mayer and Superpitcher (real name: Aksel Schaufler) aren't duking it out, they're joining forces to do no less than Save the World. Their collaborative debut promises "to rival Tommy in the concept album stakes, with a storyline, heroes, a live show, and visuals courtesy of illustrator Kat Menschik," according to its (possible tongue-in-cheek) press release. The songs don't really bear out any solid concept or narrative, but the album art at least is perfectly hilarious, and I'd sure rather listen to Save the World than Tommy.
The duo turn away from the steady, minimal thump that Kompakt has built an electronic empire on to explore more diverse electroacoustic territory, including spaced-out disco ("Saturndays," "The Art of Letting Go,"), Kraftwerkian pop ("Us & Them"), mellow Kosmische ("The Lonesome King"), and the odd lounge coda "Cocktails for Two." There's also more recognizable fare, such as the taut techno of "Two of Us" and the pleasant pop ambient of "Please Sunrise." As could be expected from such seasoned producers, the quality of sound here is impeccable, but not all these ventures succeed. "The Art of Letting Go" is a terrifically catchy song, buoyed by wiggling bass and Superpitcher's breathy singing; "Two of Us" would make an excellent entry into Kompakt's Speicher 12-inch series; and the wobbling "Planet of the Sick" is a fine dance-floor cut full of synth gurgles and stabs punctuated by an occasional authoritative piano tone. But the more ranging efforts—"Cocktails for Two" or "The Lonesome King"—don't really capitalize on our heroes' strengths. ERIC GRANDY
LES SAVY FAV
Let's Stay Friends
Let's Stay Friends is Les Savy Fav's first proper album in six years, following the brilliant singles collection Inches, an off-and-on hiatus punctuated by a handful of live shows, a couple promising Australian-only tour 7-inches, and some dispiriting talk of an ambient album (the scrapped Rabbit Trancing). The album title seems like the kind of empty platitude you might write in the yearbook of someone you never expected to see again, like "Have a great summer!" But, according to the band, it's a sincere statement about sticking together, "a resolution to defy the forces which wear away at our innocence and enthusiasm." So it's a sweet sentiment for the sort-of reunion, but it's also just a reasonable set of goals, as opposed to, say, an impossibly ambitious manifesto. The result is, fittingly, a fine but not totally triumphant album.
The album smartly references the band's past work, though at times it begins to feel like repetition. "Pots & Pans" marches forth on restrained martial snare rolls and bright, rising guitars, telling the hopeful story of a band, like a bright side or a prequel to Inches opener "Meet Me in the Dollar Bin." "The Year Before the Year 2000" recalls and rebukes Tim Harrington's lyrical penchant for morbid and apocalyptic imagery ("If my dear/you think the end is near/please do check/your frontal hemisphere") while updating the desperate dance rock of "The Sweat Descends." "The Equestrian" is a fried, distorted rocker in the vein of "The Rodeo" or "Blackouts on Thursday," except with less of a chorus to hold on to. Throughout, the band further polish their transcendent postpunk ("Scotchguard the Credit Card"), freak funk ("Patty Lee"), and touched balladry ("Comes & Goes")—Seth Jabour's guitar work is especially striking, as always—without breaking too much new ground (though there is some flute on the existential meditation "Brace Yourself" and some merry brass flourishes on closer "The Lowest Bitter").
Harrington is as hyperactive and witty a lyricist as ever. On "Raging in the Plague Age" (previously available on an Australian tour 7-inch), he manages to simultaneously send up AC/DC and Edgar Allan Poe ("I used to hold the biggest balls/deep inside my castle walls") while revisiting a favorite subject—living it up in the shadow of death—illustrated here as a bubonic, medieval kegger. On the moon-howling, drum machine–driven "What Would Wolves Do?" Harrington reflects on a mythological early human past ("We saw the ocean and drank it down/'cause we were giants... we slept with lions") as an extended metaphor for faded youth (the inverse of the band's chief theme).
Let's Stay Friends doesn't quite live up to the years of pent-up expectation after only a couple weeks of listening—which is to say it's not immediately my new favorite Fav—but it's growing on me rapidly. Sure, guys, let's stay friends. ERIC GRANDY
Roots & Echoes
In the three records since the Coral's 2002 debut, the Liverpool six-piece have receded further into the fabric of modern throwbackism and that lucrative grab bag from which TV commercials and soundtracks are pulled. What the Crystal Method did with techno to car commercials in the late '90s (see "Return to Vegas," page 47), the Coral and their jangly, retro-rocking UK peers—most notably the Zutons and Little Barrie—have done to hipster lifestyle ads in their native country. These bands are heard by millions and yet remain mostly invisible. What this fact says about the Coral: They're very good at mirroring the zeitgeist, and very bad at advancing it.
Their latest, Roots & Echoes, offers a little to like, a little to shrug at. Like a framed Ansel Adams print or an NBA sixth man, the Coral display reliable talent, but, thanks to overfamiliarity, rarely rise above merely competent. They'll never surpass the gritty, sea-chantey garage soul of their first single, "Dreaming of You," so five years later, they're content to live in the song's shadow and crank out non–sea chantey garage soul.
Here's where I could go into a song-by-song rundown of highlights and lowlights, but there's no point. Not that it all sounds the same—tempos and volumes and aggressiveness differ from Zombies-like organ grinding to electrified slide-guitar funk-lite to strummy balladry à la Neil Diamond's mid-'70s cocktail soul—but, yeah, it's nothing new. It's all really, really okay. Serviceable. Nonoffensive. Good for playing during conversations on road trips, for unexpected covers (see Amy Winehouse doing the Zutons' "Valerie"), or for soundtracking an Urban Outfitters commercial. Great if you like that kind of stuff. JONATHAN ZWICKEL