The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band
In the half-decade since the last Imperial Teen album, the band's four comrades have been running a hair salon, scoring television, raising a baby, and fronting another band (Will Schwartz's electro-pop project Hey Willpower). Hence the name of their new album, The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the extended break, the album is an exhilarating blast of pop perfection. These music veterans are as effervescent and excited as ever. Like their color-coordinated stage wear, Imperial Teen's music has always been a triumph of sophisticated simplicity, and that's here in spades. From bratty, buoyant songs such as "Everything" and "One Two," to the sultry strains of "Shim Sham," and the retro-cool of "Fallen Idol," you can still get a contact high from the band's obvious chemistry and the joy they take in making beautiful music together.
It's refreshing to know that 11 years after releasing their debut—and in spite of the hair, the television scores, a growing family, and another band that could have split them apart—Imperial Teen haven't skipped a beat. BARBARA MITCHELL
The New Pornographers: Two talented yet disparate composers, four vocalists, at least half a dozen band members, and a comprehensive breadth of pop smarts that makes the combined faculty and student body of Berklee College of Music look like a cage of chart-reading monkeys. With so many balls in play, you'd expect the them to get hopelessly entangled, like some oversized Muppet spider, dancing furiously to an ever-accelerating accompaniment. Yet,miraculously, the Pornos twist and whirl, from start to finish, with nary a misstep on Challengers.
In terms of instrumentation, the Canadian supergroup's fourth full-length is their most ambitious to date. The melancholy closer, "The Spirit of Giving" (one of three songs by Destroyer's Dan Bejar; the remainder spring from the mind of A. C. Newman), features harp, French horn, and accordion. On "Adventures in Solitude," the conjoined vocals of Newman and Kathryn Calder croon "we thought we lost you" over and over, banjo and mandolin notes hovering around them like chipper summer insects.
Continuing the progression of 2005's Twin Cinema, the 12 new tracks further expand the group's stylistic repertoire. There are still glimpses of their bristling power pop of yore, particularly on the art school twist "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth." Yet the program also encompasses a six-and-a-half-minute epic that features some of Newman's niftiest lyrics ("You are not the first to wake up/to learn your lines before you have the part"), a ditty driven primarily by tremolo guitar ("Failsafe"), and the desolate "Go Places," tenderly sung by Neko Case. Forget what those initial numbers look like; it all adds up magnificently. KURT B. REIGHLEY
Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
Wasn't the whole idea behind Junior Senior just instant gratification? Jesper Mortensen (Junior) and Jeppe Laursen's (Senior) shameless concoctions—big, ripe hooks; immediately ingratiating party chants; and beats intended to move everything from house parties to stadiums—weren't exactly a gradual-appreciation sort of proposition. So it's curious that the Danish duo's second album has taken two full years to come out in the U.S. Maybe 2003's D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat so perfectly concentrated the dozens of prior pop thrills it recalled, either directly ("C'mon" is a direct steal from "Mony Mony") or merely in drive-by manner (the falsetto "oooh"s of "Rhythm Bandits" is straight from the Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout"), that most Americans probably figured they'd heard everything they needed to. Or maybe it just didn't sell enough records to make a label want to scramble for the follow-up.
But Hey Hey My My Yo Yo ought to be a big hit with people who adored D-D-Don't: It's occasionally cloying (the milky vocal harmonies in the background of "I Like Music" and "No No Nos" evoke wayward Care Bears) and doesn't peak as high as the debut, but it's more consistent overall. They still proudly steal from all over the place, not least themselves: "Take My Time" is reminiscent of the D-D-Don't hit "Move Your Feet" with more electro-R&B glide, while "We R the Handclaps" suggests a lot of quality time spent with the KC and the Sunshine Band catalog. When Mortensen and Laursen chant on "Hip Hopallula," "There's too much good stuff out there to ignore," they could be talking about themselves. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Hey, everybody, did you hear? It's the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love! Besides boomer-age magazine publishers and the nostalgia industry (right, same thing), who fucking cares? Actually, from the sound of his fourth album—the first two recorded as Manitoba—Dan Snaith, now known as Caribou, does. Boy, does he ever: From the gloriously wussy folk-rock vocal harmonies to the flutes hidden behind feedback to the glowing-gold haze hanging over every song (this album sounds the way overexposed film stock looks), Andorra evokes bygone psychedelia as aptly as any recent album.
Snaith's music isn't merely a throwback, though. Caribou expands to a full band live, but his albums are done alone with a laptop. You'd hardly guess it listening to "Sandy," with its concentric-circular guitar picking and drums that sound like the Byrds' Michael Clarke leaning on the toms. You might also figure any chorus that goes, "Sometimes in her eyes I see forever/I can't believe what we've found/I know in time we'll be together/And now our love will make this sound," would have to come from a lighter-headed, lysergic past. Instead, Snaith's dazed, undermixed vocals give them a modern wink.
Musical detail is everything with psychedelia, and Snaith piles on the little touches: the pinging synths bouncing around "After Hours" and the electric keyboards and cello underpinning "She's the One" (sung by Jeremy Greenspan). But Snaith flattens it all into a beguiling 2-D matte finish, so that what hits you first is the sound in full. The whole dazzles; the parts sort themselves out later. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI
Places Like This
Places Like This is the work of a leaner and meaner Architecture in Helsinki. The band have sloughed off former members Isobel Knowles and Tara Shackell to become a sextet, and they've separated geographically, with main singer/songwriter Cameron Bird migrating to Brooklyn while the rest of the band remain in their native Melbourne. They've ditched the geeky instrumentation charts that appeared on their old album sleeves for bright illustrations by Will Sweeney, although they've lost little of the actual instrumentation—there's still plenty of conga, trombone, synthesizer, and the like.
Unfortunately, they have lost some of the trembling enthusiasm that made In Case We Die such an unexpected triumph. Bird's winningly timid and breathy vocals have become more of a strained, blustery growl. And where that album's instrumental bombast was complemented by a kind of scrappy rush and held together by sweet, sentimental melodies, this new album's bursts of fanfare and funk are disjointed, those endearing melodies largely replaced by gaudy, unsatisfying hooks.
There are exceptions that find Bird and crew (especially sometimes vocalist Kellie Sutherland) still sounding as wide-eyed and gleeful as ever. Lead single "Heart It Races," with its layers of stoned background vocals and steel drums, is playful and catchy. "Like It or Not" is a charmer full of cute keyboard bounces, shaky acoustic guitar, cheery trombone, and absurd vocals. And Sutherland's singing on "Nothing's Wrong" hits the same sweet spot as In Case We Die's "Wishbone." These tracks all recall Architecture's best work, but they're stranded amid relative duds such as "Feather in a Baseball Cap," "Debbie," and "Same Old Innocence." Places Like This is a merely good record with some great songs. As the sequel to the brilliant In Case We Die, it's a disappointment. ERIC GRANDY
Finn Crisp Ahk-mak Wasa Ritz