Play Drums + Bass
C.O.C.O. (pronounced "see oh see oh," btw), is the Olympia duo of Chris (C) Sutton and Olivia (O) Ness. The two do exactly what their third full-length promises: They play drums and bass. Nothing more, nothing less.
As they've been doing it for the past seven years, Sutton and Ness have tamed the rock-and-roll beast, making their dance combo purr like a lo-fi kitten. Their well-established style of swapped vocals and musical simplicity are highlighted on tracks like the rollicking "For You," the cocky "We Gotta Right," and the tiki-hut jam "Much to Learn." But the most innovative part of Play Drums comes during the final trilogy of songs.
While the majority of C.O.C.O.'s songs are free of unnecessary flourish—as organic as possible while still being plugged in—the aptly titled instrumental "Asteroids" lands a good dose of outer space by way of distortion, atmospheric guitar feedback, and unidentified flying noises. It's a dance-off on another planet. "High Low" brings things back down to earth. Sexy bass flirts with the subtle snare while Ness does her smoky siren croon. "The End" explodes into a party of drum rolls and friends (I assume) hooting and hollering in the studio—it's the way things would end if the band had been playing in your living room all along. MEGAN SELING
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly
File Le Loup under electro-banjodelica—this is the album Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel would record if he underwent a Lawnmower Man–type brain boost and suddenly faced an existential crisis of faith. Only Castanets' 2005 sleeper First Light's Freeze incorporates banjo with as chilling and eerie results.
Yes: chilling banjo. It's the lead instrument here, picked delicately by Le Loup mastermind Sam Simkoff, recalling a Deliverance-style faceless foreboding, though more damning. Simkoff's banjo seeps quietly through dark woods and mingles with wisps of transistor radio, ethereal vocal harmonies, and soft forest-floor rhythms. Or it's dropped altogether in favor of front-porchy hand claps and a mist of digital fizz and humming synth chords—as on the sinister, intriguing "We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!"—to make for deliciously mysterious freak-folk grandeur. Though minimal in his approach, Simkoff is going for a thematic blockbuster; just check the album title. "Oh this world was made for ending" becomes an endlessly looped mantra in "Planes Like Vultures," and on "I Had a Dream I Died," the album's funereal closer, backed by a looped and refracted chorus, he repeats "This is the end..." until the sample dissolves into squelched, staticky feedback and, finally, birdsong.
It's powerful stuff. Songs bleed into one another and fade in and out like movements. Starting off with "Canto I" and ending with "Canto XXXVI" (a reference to Dante's Inferno), there's a vague but definite narrative continuity here, a diffuse tone poem that blearily stalks between life and death, never settling for either. JONATHAN ZWICKEL
Modeselektor's debut full-length, Hello Mom!, succeeded in part because of a certain element of surprise. For those not following the duo of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary's odd 12-inch singles and compilation appearances, the album must have seemed to come out of nowhere. And its eclectic yet thoroughly synthesized mix of electro, dub, hiphop, breaks, and ambient kept the listener guessing from track to track, never sure what mode these selectors would land on next.
The duo's sophomore effort, Happy Birthday! (both Bronsert and Szary are new fathers), may have fewer shocks in store—in fact, it sometimes feels like a retread—but this sequel more than makes up for the familiarity with Modeselektor's signature, impeccable sound design. Synths bounce and squiggle, tones ping like sonar or bubble up and burst, beats and samples pulse and disintegrate.
Some guests from the first album return here—French rap crew TTC add their vocal charisma to digitally stuttered club creeper "2000007" and Rhythm & Sound crooner Paul St. Hilaire delivers the coolly Teutonic dub ballad "Let Your Love Grow." Some new collaborators show up as well, notably a typically ethereal Thom Yorke (he's a fan) on the dubstep-steeped "The White Flash," Berlin-based hiphop puppetry troupe (seriously) Puppetmastaz on trunk-rattler "The Dark Side of the Sun," and Otto von Schirach on the demented Miami bass of "Hyper Hyper."
Even with such company, the star is always Bronsert and Szary's productions. The album's unabetted tracks—the playfully menacing "Happy Birthday," with its loping guitar and deep, punchy bass; the ghostly, clave-driven "Godspeed;" the caustic arpeggios of "Sucker Pin" and "Black Block;" the soft-focus haze of "EM Ocean" and "Edgar"—only further cement Modeselektor's place in 2000007 as producers of formidable breadth, depth, and skill. ERIC GRANDY
Playtime Is Over
Given that UK grime producer/MC Wiley has announced plans to retire from record making (aside from a possible, occasional behind-the-scenes gig), not to mention the no-really-I'm-serious tenor of its title, you'd be within your rights to think his second solo album might drag along. This notion takes roughly 10 seconds of listening per track to disabuse. Musically, the range of Playtime Is Over is exuberant, almost carefree—bulbous bass and playful scare-flick violins on "Bow E3," musty, phased strings on "Baby Girl," floating bells on "Letter 2 Dizzee," the piping little tunelet propelling "Getalong Gang." None of this will sound unprecedented to those familiar with 2004's Treddin' on Thin Ice (or In at the Deep End, the 2005 disc Wiley produced with his crew, Roll Deep), but it's an impressive array nevertheless.
The lyrics are another story, though not to the degree you might think given Wiley's apparent dissatisfaction with his own career path. Playtime Is Over isn't dour or bitter; even "Letter 2 Dizzee," about the Rascal he once mentored, attempts to bury the pair's hatchet: "What's going on, brother?/I got to the stage where I wouldn't never judge no other/No race, no creed, no human, no color/Nothing ain't changed except I'm the best now/It doesn't matter, I'm still your big brother... We've made up a lot of ground." But his spirits aren't really in his boasts; you remember "Bow E3" not for its shouts to his East London neighborhood but for that beat, those hand claps, that b-line. Wiley is a producer first; his intended stepping back from the mic makes all the sense in the world. MICHAEL-ANGELO MATOS
Autumn of the Seraphs
(Touch and Go)
Pinback are a band of remarkable consistency. While the band's core songwriters, Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV, get their kicks out in a myriad of solo and side projects with varying degrees of quality, Pinback continues to deliver with all the precision and excellence of a finely tuned Swiss watch.
Pinback's songs have a linear quality, their trajectory and design apparent from the start. But their catalog doesn't resemble a straight line so much as it does a Möbius strip, with every album returning to and refining the same sense of ambience and melodic approach. Their latest, Autumn of the Seraphs, is another salve of intricately assembled musical arithmetic and sleepy melodies.
Autumn of the Seraphs starts with the up-tempo "From Nothing to Nowhere," with its mix of calculated urgency and dreamy choruses, before settling into more laconic territory with songs like "How We Breathe" and the acoustic ennui of "Walters." But the highlights come in the last half of the album's sequencing, where deeper hooks take hold in the bass grooves and the bits of synth and electronic punctuation are more smoothly incorporated into the overall aesthetic. "Blue Harvest," has the nimble touch of the Police, and songs like "Subbing for Eden," and "Devil You Know," neatly shift between loping verses and cyclical, oceanic choruses.
So it goes that Autumn of the Seraphs will not offer any big surprises to Pinback fans, but why should it? The customary layers of gauzy vocals, sharp guitar lines offset by syncopated bass, and the mechanical precision of their songs is as solid as ever; the complexity of the arrangements only somewhat diminished by their familiarity. CHRISTOPHER HONG
THE GO! TEAM
Proof of Youth
When Brighton's the Go! Team released its debut on these shores in March 2005 (over a year after its UK/European bow), the "group," aka sampler fiend Ian Parton, wore its influences on fluttering French-cuffed sleeves. There was no mistaking an appreciation for late-70s block parties, piano ballads, and TV themes, all cobbled together with equal parts electro and indie rock. This brassy, iPod-friendly amalgam of double-Dutch treble bombs and bombastic percussion wooed and won the hearts of bloggers, advertising agencies, and booking agents, requiring Parton to recruit a cadre of musicians and one MC to translate the sampledelic Thunder, Lightning, Strike for the stage. Now, after several summers of festivals—an eternity on the internet—the six-person strong Go! Team brings their buoyant approach back to the record shelves with another cheer-worthy, if not quite as blue-chip album.
On Proof of Youth, the blissed-out pastiche is intact, even more overtly so. Elements collide with a fierceness, as if the front stoop of 227 or What's Happening Now! was blitzed by Michael Knight in KITT. On highlights such as "Fake ID" and the "Keys to the City," bristly Sonic Youth/Pastels guitar jitters and melodic pirouettes—triple axels, really—are corralled by horns like cowboy yelps. "Flashlight Fight," features Chuck D and finds the Go! Team doing Bomb Squad as if laid down by the Daptones in a Sergio Leone sandstorm, while "I Never Needed It Now So Much," featuring Solex, pulls on Vince Guaraldi's jazz whimsy. There's nothing as unabashedly wistful as select swatches of Thunder, Lightning, Strike, though a couple tracks come close.
Taut production distinguishes Proof of Youth from earlier Go! Team material, giving the album a more focused, forward velocity than the breezier, swinging Thunder, Lightning, Strike. But Proof of Youth doesn't stray too far from the formula. This album won't overly distress or impress those familiar with the Go! Team's bedrock-solid bubblegum, but it should please plenty. TONY WARE