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The sticker affixed to the front of Tony Allen's new album says it all, really. "Perhaps the greatest drummer ever," reads a quote from Brian Eno; "Without Tony Allen, there'd be no Afrobeat," reads a quote from the late Fela Kuti. And then there's the cover of the album proper, which features the matter-of-fact sub-tag "another one from the underground sensation." Yet despite all the falir, it's that last one-- "underground sensation" that stings, and really rings true.
It'd be a shame if history only remembered the Futureheads for one near-perfect album (2004's self-titled debut) and for being unlikely forerunners of the current Kate Bush revival (thanks to that album's heroic "Hounds of Love" cover). But that tricky balance-- between buzzsaw aggression, mathematical complexity, and bubblegum accessibility-- the Sunderland quartet once deftly executed proved difficult to strike on subsequent releases. The result was a more pedestrian, power-pop aesthetic, and, by 2008's This Is Not the World , a band once near the head of the post-millennial post-punk class was threatening to be demoted to one of its also-rans. It's a situation the Futureheads themselves seem all too aware of-- as singer Barry Hyde observes toward the end of their new, fourth album: "The first 5,000 miles/ Are the hardest steps to take/ But then your autopilot/ Kicks in for the journey's sake."
Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Farid Al Atrache, and Mohamed Abdel Wahab are often referred to as the "four greats" of Arabic music. Al Atrache was Syrian, the rest were Egyptian, and all four are genuine legends in the Arab-speaking world, their music still widely played and loved. Omar Khorshid played guitar in the orchestras of two of them. He made his first foray into professional music in the mid-60s, playing in one of the Arab world's first beat groups, Les Petit Chats, and in 1968, Hafez saw them perform in Alexandria, Egypt, and asked Khorshid to join his group. Hafez worked at the time with innovative composer Baligh Hamdi, and with Khorshid in the band, they made some amazing recordings that broadened the scope of Egyptian orchestral pop music.
It's been five years since we last heard from Washington, D.C.'s Medications. Devin Ocampo and Chad Molter formed the band from the ashes of Faraquet, and on the group's debut EP and first LP, there was a clear tension between the knotty, agile post-punk of their former group and a more pop-informed tendency.
Sweden's Radio Dept. have spent their career to date quietly building up a devoted fanbase by filtering traditional indie and dream-pop sounds through an electronic haze. They've admirably honored their genre's history every step of the way, incorporating elements of vintage Slumberland noise-pop, sadder 80s UK indie sounds, and the kind of romantic, low-key dance-pop typically associated with Saint Etienne, or more recently, the Tough Alliance. The band's relatively low profile is partly due to the infrequency of their output: Up to now, they've released only two LPs throughout their 13-year career, along with a handful of EPs and singles. As with their last two albums, Clinging to a Scheme stands to further expand the Radio Dept.'
No one can accuse Justin Ringle of being an optimist. As the leader of Portland, Ore., folk outfit Horse Feathers, he's trawled in dark subject matter that recalls Southern gothic authors William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. Words like "regret" and "shame" make regular appearances in his lyrics-- alongside references to hard church pews, blood-stained snow, and sinners who take human and animal forms. All this misery may come across as disingenuous considering the band's PacNW roots, but somehow Horse Feathers have managed to rise above being consigned as cultural backseat drivers, weaving hushed, ornate arrangements that ably serve Ringle's uneasy imagery. 2008's House With No Name was slightly more sprightly than Horse Feathers' 2006 debut, the dourly titled Words Are Dead , but there was still an undercurrent of depression, owed both to the droning hum provided by cellist/vocalist Catherine Odell and Ringle's voice.
This isn't technically Daughters' final album, but after recording, half the band quit, and whatever the remaining members (vocalist Alexis Marshall and drummer Jonathan Syverson) come up with in the future probably won't sound much like this. In a February 2010 interview with Noisecreep.com , Marshall all but says so while discussing the new album: "[Former guitarist] Nick [Sadler] wrote a lot of the stuff on there, and he was really looking to make it accessible, and see how it fared... There are definitely parts of the record that were written to see how people will respond, which is kind of disappointing." If Sadler's name sounds familiar, it's probably from the decidedly non-Daughters-like charms of his other group, Fang Island. While he's not officially credited as a songwriter-- the songs on Daughters are attributed to the entire group-- Sadler is listed as a co-producer, which might explain the album's relatively less abrasive sound.
The ladies and gentlemen of Avi Buffalo are all about 19, and you might say they do a good job acting their age; they're ponderous but not brooding, strident yet skeptical, and really, really horny. As his band saunters around him, frontlad Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg finds himself "lost in your summer cum" and puzzles over mortality: "Too much time to die," he and bandmate Rebecca Coleman sing in unison, "and I don't wanna die." His voice, never too far from a crack, lends that riff on impermanence the same weight as his takes on young lust. For all their age-appropriate fumbling, Avi Buffalo seem graceful beyond their years as songwriters. As many starkly intimate moments as they muster, a few of their tunes unfurl into near-epic lengths, gallantly breezing through moods and motifs. Snatches of Wilco's easy early-2000s amble, Built to Spill's curly fretwork, and Shins-y shuffle turn up everywhere here, occasionally all at once.
Eugene Hutz, tireless rabble-rousing frontman for gypsy-punk iconoclasts Gogol Bordello, has traveled great literal and spiritual distances to be where he is today. A teenage Hutz immigrated to the United States as a political refugee in the early 1990s at the conclusion of an arduous journey begun in his native Ukraine. Assembling his band in New York City in 1999, he's spent over two decades pouring passion and sweat into establishing Gogol Bordello as one of America's most chaotically enthralling live acts and relentlessly ebullient recording artists.
Laura Burhenn, the singer and songwriter of the Mynabirds, was previously one half of the Washington, D.C. indie duo Georgie James. That's not terribly indicative of what her new band sounds like, however. Georgie James' polite, unmemorable brand of aughts-era indie pop has very little to do with the full-blown country and soul style of the Mynabirds' debut. Nevertheless, that bit of context highlights a major creative leap for Burhenn.
When I say the Black Swans' new songs are "haunted," I mean that as literally as the word can be interpreted. After the Columbus, Ohio, band finished recording its second album Change! , violinist Noel Sayre died suddenly in a swimming pool accident in July 2008.
Écailles de Lune , the second LP from romantic black metallurgists Alcest, is the most fully realized effort to date from its frontman and lone constant Neige. The spindly Frenchman has been a member of a half-dozen bands, from the brittle Peste Noire to the wildly and willfully diverse coed quartet Amesoeurs. Since 2005, Neige has been releasing music as Alcest that ranges from the black metal of 2005 EP Le Secret to the Red House Painters-via-Justin Broadrick 2007 LP, Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde .
Forgiveness is not a sentiment often associated with rock music. Anger, despair, infatuation, sure. But forgiveness is more complicated, and tougher to fit into a four-minute song. Broken Social Scene know all about heartbreak-- they've spent most of the last decade crafting songs about it with almost unparalleled zeal. Their story is filled with scurrilous encounters , backstabbings, and break-ups on par with most 70s arena-rockers, and they've crashed and rebuilt so many times that it's nearly impossible to keep track of who was where at any given moment. But they've also used that flexibility to their advantage: Their epochal 2002 breakout You Forgot It In People was the joyous sound of friends banding together to boost each other up, while 2005's Broken Social Scene was the dizzying sound of friends fizzing out into solo endeavors and outside pursuits.
After all of the awful shit Crystal Castles did in the wake of their success, a whole lot of people hoped their new album would be terrible. Sorry, haters: 2010's Crystal Castles improves on their (also self-titled) debut in nearly every way. The latest from the Toronto-based electro duo is reminiscent of the jump forward taken by Deerhunter between Cryptograms and Microcastle , or Fuck Buttons from Street Horrrsing to Tarot Sport. Like those acts, Crystal Castles have reconciled with their detractors instead of running from them. By staying true to themselves, they've created a more focused, propulsive, and satisfying follow-up.
Future Islands have described their first full-length for Thrill Jockey, recorded after relocating to Baltimore and falling in with Dan Deacon's Wham City collective, as "post-wave." Taking cues from early Devo and New Order and replacing the dance-pop movement with rich characterization and storytelling, they've found themselves at a pleasant distance from most formal genre comparisons. Their music is playful but steeped in subtle detail, with both emotional heft and a pungent sense of theatricality. Playing together since their college days in North Carolina but not truly finalizing the band until 2006, the trio seems comfortable bouncing ideas off each other while remaining anchored in their individual roles. J. Gerrit Welmers' synth work reinterprets those crystalline new wave textures and enhances them with feedback and buttery depth, sometimes accented with sparse snippets of programmed drums and rusted samples.