BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE PRESENTS: KEVIN DREW

Spirit If...

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(Arts & Crafts)

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Its ungainliness aside, Spirit If...'s attribution—to Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew—is telling. Like a Canadian indie-rock take on KISS's solo albums, Broken Social Scene recently announced plans to focus the spotlight on the sprawling collective's individual players. First up is founding singer/guitarist Kevin Drew. But the fact that Spirit If... isn't credited simply to Drew isn't a calculated use of brand name; it's an acknowledgement of some very real contributions from other band members. If you were to listen to this record blind, you'd more likely hear a new Broken Social Scene record than a solo joint.

There are too many great songs among the album's 14 tracks to single them all out. Opener "Farewell to the Pressure Kids" explodes with overdriven drums and drowned-out shouts, settles into a moaning ambient interlude, and resolves into an acoustic whisper aided by horns and woodwinds. "F—ked Up Kid" is an airy, gliding mope. "Frightening Lives" is a drum machine–fueled drive pierced by distorted guitars and keyboards. "Broke Me Up" and "Gang Bang Suicide" come closest to sounding like solo ventures, but even these are abetted by vocal harmonies and layers of instrumentation.

Considering Drew's guiding influence on Broken Social Scene, and the band's involvement on Spirit If..., it's no surprise this "solo" album doesn't radically diverge from their gorgeous, pacific reveries and washed-out layers of sound. And, really, who would want it to? Drew and his collaborators have developed a winning technique for wrapping sweet vocals and smart, simple songwriting in yards and yards of studio tape, splicing together subtle multitrack spaces and symphonies out of disjointed recording sessions performed by an ever-shifting number of musicians. Any given BSS song might contain a dozen musicians or just one engineer, and Spirit If... has that same impenetrable but inviting depth. ERIC GRANDY

ANIMAL COLLECTIVE

Strawberry Jam

(Domino Records)

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It was a roundabout transformation, but Animal Collective have finally become the dance-music band they've always hinted at. The shift is obvious from the first offbeat tone of "Peacebone"—Strawberry Jam's disorientation is textbook disco; the weirdness is all textural shock at the expense of freeform structure. Those old bong-hit interludes and organic guitar swirls are mostly gone, replaced with possessed synths. If there were guitar hidden in these tracks, you'd never know it. Ironic then that Animal Collective's strangest palette of sounds should make for their poppiest album yet.

Strawberry Jam doesn't start with a slow build—it drops straight into mania. Opening with Avey Tare's raptor screech on "Peacebone," the band sound accelerated even when the tempo isn't. Chalk it up to the song's relentless pulse, but Tare's nervous frenzy doesn't hurt, either. Flipping between mystical weirdism and upper-register strain, Tare's vocal delivery borrows from Marc Bolan and David Byrne, making him sound like an art-school version of Shakira.

"Fireworks" is one of the few tracks that could have been at home on Feels, if only because the sonics aren't so strange. Epic and contemplative, the song is a tribute to the Fourth of July, complete with corporal snares and a marching choir. At almost seven minutes, it's too long to be a conventional pop song, but it sounds like one anyway. It's the prettiest thing on the album, the only spot aside from "Cuckoo Cuckoo" where you can cleanly identify "real" instrumentation.

Panda Bear closes out the album with "Derek," a '60s-era pastiche full of "Leader of the Pack" drum heft and Beach Boys romanticism. Shameless with its influences and structure, the bookend placement of "Derek" is thoughtful—the final hint for everyone still confused. For the last seven albums, Animal Collective's pop moments, like "Grass," seemed like distractions from the band's real goal. Strawberry Jam suggests a new read: Perhaps the band's experimentation has been grasping for pop from the start. BRANDON IVERS

Animal Collective play Neumo's Fri Sept 14, with Wizard Prison and Eric Copeland.

THE CAVE SINGERS

Invitation Songs

(Matador)

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There's more to the Cave Singers than three guys making music, and whatever it is surpasses the old sum/parts cliché. These Invitation Songs are sixth-sensual, precognitive. Minimal in instrumentation and arrangement, the Cave Singers' music is outside of time, recalling hand-me-down hardships and sepia-toned mythology too lived-in to belong to the memory of its makers or listeners. The Seattle band—Derek Fudesco on guitar, Marty Lund on drums, and singer Pete Quirk, all hailing from other, very different projects—probably never attended a Prohibition-era Appalachian wake or marched through Virginia in a Civil War drum line or called out field hollers on a Louisiana plantation. Probably: Past lives may be involved. Something spooky is going on here.

Each of these tunes carries a haunting melody or brain-burrowing inflection that's repeated over the song's course—the line "I must be lost this time," croaked in Quirk's bluesy, adenoidal rasp; Fudesco's three-chord guitar part on "Seeds of Night"; his simple picking on "Royal Lawns"—but there are no hooks, per se. Normally, music so linear would slip in and out of mind, but there's an accumulated grit and gravity that settles it, like campfire sing-alongs or pre-gramophone work songs, into memory. Accents are used sparingly, startlingly, for maximum effect—eerie trumpet, gothic piano, faraway melodica. They're not entirely acoustic, either: "Helen" flows over cosmic, digitized syncopation; "Oh Christine" hums with synthy drone; and the bass on "Called" is otherworldly.

The title Invitation Songs implies something yet to come, a mystery awaiting revelation. The record dwells in the mystery rather than the revelation, leaving the listener to figure out where exactly it's coming from and where it may be going. JONATHAN ZWICKEL

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