Come into My House
Irony, detachment, self- awareness—all pretty typical traits of (usually white) indie-rock types toying with hiphop, electro, or R&B, but tricky ones to pull off. At best, as with Hot Chip's Coming on Strong, these emotional stances can provide lyrical grist and some good punch lines. At worst, such distance can come off as condescending or minstrely, the sense of cultural otherness— whether guilty or transgressively thrilling—eclipsing the actual music.
Which is why No Kids' Come into My House is so refreshing. The Canadian trio of Julia Chirka, Justin Kellam, and Nick Krgovich (three-fourths of the critically lauded P:ano) touch on cooled-down, robotic R&B, but they approach such sounds as just another source on their sonic palette, with no hand-wringing about appropriation, only sincere investment. They sample from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis as casually as they might from Jan & Dean; the band's odd, baroque pop suggests the symphonic ambitions of Sufjan Stevens and the nu–Arthur Russellisms of Kelley Polar as much as they do the aloof drum-machine funk of early Hot Chip.
T-Pain-esque Auto-Tune and a faint echo of Renee Scroggins's eerie "UFO" guitar appear on the chorus of the sighing "Listen for It/Courtyard Music." "The Puddle" is a lilting, palpitating hybrid of show tune and soul. There are shades of new jack on "The Beaches All Closed," while "For Halloween" is slightly screwed chamber pop. Everything is fair game, and everything is fully absorbed into No Kids' peculiar, rarefied, but ultimately persuasive musical vision.
Central to that vision is the setting of a vacant or dormant house, some chilly beachfront property only occasionally inhabited, a getaway built for Great Gatsby–style leisure-class ennui. This place is especially prevalent on dour opener "Great Escape" and the swooning, subtropical "Old Iron Gate." If any distance is acknowledged here, it's the longing gap between these songs' singers and their subjects.
No Kids' eclecticism sticks because the songwriting is smart, subtle, and full of careful details; their singing is up to the task as well, their voices clean and clear—when that Auto-Tune appears, it's remarkable because, unlike with T-Pain, here the technique tints voices that you know are capable of the melody without technologic aid (see the agile melisma on "Neighbour's Party"). Come into My House is a studied synthesis of forms, a sweetly sad song cycle about loneliness and domesticity, and a totally singular pop record. ERIC GRANDY
Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel
The internet can fuck a band just as fast and crudely as it can catapult them from tour CD-Rs to your little sister's iPod. This past year's been gnarly for backlashes—Idolator's screed against the Black Kids and, a few weeks back, the Village Voice's no-holds-barred tirade on Vampire Weekend hit both hard. And then there's Deerhunter, Bradford Cox's whirlpool-rock project that, in 2007, was instantly the salvation of everything interesting in music and, seconds later, the product of an artist high on his own eccentricity, masturbating for the microphones.
Which brings us to Atlas Sound. Cox has described the solo project as his "liberation" from band confines, which suggests that Cox has something to prove with Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel. And boy does he. Cox has taken a step back from the droning, passive-aggressive punk of Deerhunter to make a deeply satisfying, deep-space pop album that meditates before it confronts, hums before it growls.
Skip the self-indulgent opener—basically a young child telling a ghost story as a strummed guitar builds in the background. Start with "Recent Bedroom," a skyscraping track in which Cox's otherworldly voice clambers out of the album's feedback and skronk on a ladder of clean and clear guitar melody. That voice—alien, ethereal, and bizarrely seductive—unifies tracks here that normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other. "Quarantined" is rooted in frank, loud percussion and "Scraping Past" rides an odd little techno beat, but both still drift as much as the megadelayed daydream "Ready, Set, Glow." Let the Blind Lead is inviting and warm, proof that Cox can excel without Deerhunter's half-panicked drones or the band's attendant baggage. MICHAEL BYRNE
Jukebox is Cat Power's second album of cover songs (her first being 2000's The Covers Record). The concept is can't-miss: Chan Marshall (backed by Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Judah Bauer of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) reworks and pays homage to Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and James Brown. Of course that's going to be good. And Jukebox is pleasant, but it misses the pain and desperate longing that Marshall sings so well. The risk of intimacy isn't there. Yes, it's stripped down and, yes, the sound of Chan's voice is beautiful. But the velvet in her rasp is aimless, and the beauty alone can't hold it down. Jukebox is just too safe.
The first three songs are basically the same: Sinatra's "New York, New York," Hank Williams's "Ramblin' (Wo)man," and her own "Metal Heart" all come out of the same blender sounding like half-assed tinkerings, all monotone keyboard and vacant, directionless vocals. Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You" sounds like a boring Stones jam. Finally, with the Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion," the gears catch—acoustic guitar and Bauer's Ry Cooder–like haze lock into melody and find a chorus.
You want Marshall to make these songs more her own, and indeed, "Song to Bobby," the album's only original, is Jukebox's high point. It recounts Chan's obsession and eventual meeting with Bob Dylan, revealing vocals supported by lonely piano and bright guitar. It's a glimmer of intimacy and risk lost in the album's mediocrity. If you want pleasant background Cat Power, you now have Jukebox. If you need a song to get you through the darkness of the night, put on You Are Free. TRENT MOORMAN