Album Review Revue
Five New Releases to Be Happy About This Month
(In the Red)
The Intelligence make you wonder why anyone bothers with sweated-over studio polish. The band's sixth album, Males, further confirms that they are among the world's finest ambassadors for the quick, raw way of recording. Which isn't to say that the Intelligence—who are led by sole constant member Lars Finberg—sound slapdash. Rather, the sometimes-Seattle-based Finberg and his far-flung abettors—Susanna Welbourne, Beren Ekine-Huett (Eat Skull), and Chris Woodhouse (Karate Party), who also produced Males—nail the art of appearing nonchalant while grinding out concise, catchy songs that spring mostly from post-punk's grimy groin (think the Fall, Swell Maps).
The album starts with the deceptively titled "Bong Life"—deceptive because the Intelligence are one of the least pot-friendly groups going; this is more amphetamine blam à la Wire's "Mr. Suit" than jam-band meandering. "Tuned to Puke" is an urgently woozy churn whose strangely ascending chorus and bizarrely tuned guitar break new ground for the Intelligence. In fact, their guitar and keyboard work throughout Males has never sounded so varied and adventurous.
The most momentous, earwormy cut on the record, "LikeLikeLikeLikeLikeLike," initially seems like a poke at Facebook culture. But it becomes apparent that Finberg is talking about the middle of California, where the topless go and say "like" a lot. The band really turns the screws tightly throughout the song, till the end when one ax spirals into the ether. Prepare to have "Like" nest in your mind for hours.
"Males"—the longest song in the Intelligence's history—gradually intensifies from pleasant pop to noise-rock beast to brown-sound-flirting, low-frequency vandalism in its 4:47. It's the capper on an album that displays the Intelligence's ability to create hooky songs that blast away the cobwebs of rock history with incredible vigor. DAVE SEGAL
Root for Ruin
Fifteen years into being a band, and after taking a brief hiatus in the mid-'00s, Les Savy Fav can now comfortably approach albums and tours with all the intensity that a group of old friends might reserve for an annual fishing trip.
Which is not to say that new album Root for Ruin, the band's fifth full-length (not counting the excellent compilation Inches), is without intensity. The band's usual teeth-grinding post-punk guitar riffs and vocalist Tim Harrington's red-faced howling are both present, starting with the album's opening tracks, the tense, pinpricking "Appetites" and the charging "Dirty Knails." But the album's best songs, the ones most likely to wind up on your imaginary Les Savy Fav greatest-hits compilation (Les Songs Fav?), are its more mellow numbers, particularly the ensuing three-song run of "Sleepless in Silverlake," "Let's Get Out of Here," and "Lips n' Stuff."
"Sleepless" is a gently wired night drive around a City of Angels that's both heated-swimming-pool pleasant and jittering with midlife anxiety ("These kids'll kill ya just because they can/Their teeth are bleached and their tits are tan"); the track glides on an easy disco drum shuffle, a circling 16th-note riff, and guitar echoes that coalesce into far-off seagull squalls. (The band recently expanded back to a five-piece, adding second guitarist Andrew Reuland.) "Let's Get Out of Here" adds drums that ramp up and roll out on the choruses and soft background vocals; the lyrics are desperate at the edges, wanting to be wanted, wanting to escape in love, all the while the walls closing in. Harrington's typical black humor and arch doom-and-gloom are in effect here, as ever. "Lips n' Stuff" is an upbeat, insinuating build to one cute little punch line (I won't ruin it here).
"High and Unhinged" is another highlight, but the whole album expertly balances the band's mellow and more manic aspects, and taken in sequence, there's hardly a weak link. Ruin keeps looming, and Les Savy Fav keep on being a band worth rooting for. ERIC GRANDY
As Of Montreal continue to mutate, the only thing you can count on is that they're probably not going to suddenly start getting less weird. Kevin Barnes and company have previously gone from the twee psych of their early Elephant 6 years to the synth-saturated indie-rock operatics of The Sunlandic Twins and Hissing Fauna; False Priest improves upon the template of 2008's Skeletal Lamping while abandoning its song-fracturing ADD, twisting electro-funk, R&B, and ornate pop to Barnes's idiosyncratic ends.
The result is ambitious, sonically wide-screen (with production from Jon Brion), and stylistically diverse. Album opener "I Feel Ya' Strutter" is ELO/Xanadu-style roller boogie (no accident that this album's listening parties were staged at roller rinks). "Our Riotous Defects" has Barnes interjecting hilarious spoken-word reminiscences and complaints over a stretching bass line, "ba ba ba ba" backing vocals, and flute between choruses of "You're just a crazy girl." That track features Janelle Monáe, as does the equally excellent "Enemy Gene," which alternates between Barnes's sedate, synthy verses and the soft fluttering of their duet choruses.
The best song here is "Famine Affair." The bass line is buoyant, the bright little guitar melody leading into the verse sounds like something New Order would've let slip at a particularly blissful moment, and the vocals' pleading quality gives the track an affecting ambiguity: Is this a song you sing to yourself sincerely, or to someone else with literal irony? Barnes sings, "I don't love you anymore" with a voice that's absolutely choked up in love, regardless of whether it's a good thing. I can't really tell you what happens in the three tracks after this one; I just keep rewinding to play "Famine Affair" again. ERIC GRANDY
From the Cradle to the Rave
Producer and DJ Marcus Lambkin (aka Shit Robot) has long been a low-key figure at DFA, providing the occasional remix and releasing a string of fine 12-inches, but keeping a pretty low profile. That could well change with the release of his debut full-length, a streamlined album of analog Italo-disco; hot, bubbling techno; and classic house featuring the plethora of guest vocalists you'd expect from someone who's spent time hanging around the Death from Above studios.
D.C. punk agent provocateur Ian Svenonius delivers a squealing, screaming, sarcastic plea for sanity in the modern world of adult responsibilities over the acid-synth and house pianos of "Simple Things (Work It Out)." Juan MacLean pops up amid the flaring guitar solos and wobbling bass synth of "Grim Receiver." Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor lends his fey falsetto to the frosty synths and life-support-steady beat of "Losing My Patience." James Murphy, who coproduced several songs here, does a clipped, funky baritone on the steam-releasing "Tuff Enuff," while Lambkin does his own hammy, pitched-down sing-speaking on the low-rumbling "I Found Love."
Throughout, Shit Robot's productions are of the muscular, club-ready quality you expect from DFA, and the songs are both efficient enough to sit nicely in a well-selected DJ mix and catchy enough to stand on their own. ERIC GRANDY
(Fourthcity/Journal of Popular Noise)
Local crew Truckasauras's 2008 debut, Tea Parties, Guns and Valor, was a melodically rich collection of head-nodding analog electro. Quarters gives that formula extra life in the form of poppier tunes and more upbeat tempos, and with the added firepower of a Korg MS-20 synthesizer (check the acid squelches and filter sweeps) and the benefit of an analog tape recording. It's brighter and fuller than the debut, and it's also a more streamlined album (Tea Parties came loaded with remixes; this album clocks in at a lean 30 minutes with only nine tracks, including the Truck's excellent version of Sleepy Eyes of Death's "Crushed by Stars"). It's everything good about their debut made better, like when the sequel to your fave video game comes out on the next generation platform. ERIC GRANDY